Monday, December 08, 2014

12/08 Monday Quickie

*Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Ohio State: I'm with Spencer Hall on this.

*Madison Bumgarner is SI Sportsman of the Year: No quibbles. (Only because THE event of 2014 was the World Cup, I would give runner-up to Tim Howard.)

*NFL Sunday: The Super Bowl pairing is coming from the Pats, Seahawks and Packers.

*The two college hoops wins from the past week that I'm filing away for March: Duke over Wisconsin in Madison and Arizona over Gonzaga in Tucson.

*On a personal note, I am so saddened by the death of Olivia Barker, a standout USA TODAY reporter who was my journalism "protege" (as we liked to joke) back in high school. My deepest condolences go out to her family, friends and colleagues -- and especially her husband and 5-year-old son.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

12/07 Final CFB Hangover Quickie

OK, so Alabama and Oregon are obvious for the college football playoff foursome.

FSU gets my vote - as much as I'd enjoy the schadenfreude - because I can't fathom an unbeaten defending national champ not making the playoff field. That's three.

That fourth spot -- the one that's going to get decimated by Alabama -- should not be Ohio State.

The Big Ten was a farce this season, and Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, barely a bowl team. It's the worst loss among playoff contender resumes.

So it's down to TCU and Baylor, which is nearly impossible.

TCU has a slightly better overall resume; Baylor beat TCU head to head.

Here's where I net out, and I'll admit it's simplistic: What's the point, if the tiebreaker for extremely similar resumes isn't "Well, who won when they played each other?"

I know Baylor has engaged a PR firm -- to much derision -- to help lobby their case. That was a waste of money. I think it's a very simple message: "We played a playoff game with TCU and won."

(And I know I am clearly not discounting nearly enough that Baylor beat TCU in Waco, not in Fort Worth or on a neutral field. This wasn't a true playoff between the teams, like we got with Alabama-Mizzou, Oregon-Arizona, Ohio State-Wisconsin or FSU-Georgia Tech. TCU, of course, should simply sit tight with "You're right, Committee: Resume matters.")

Foursome I'd pick:
(1) Alabama
(2) Oregon
(3) FSU
(4) Baylor

But if the committee goes with TCU over Baylor, I won't be outraged. (Personally, I'd rather see TCU play Alabama or Oregon than see Baylor play Alabama or Oregon.)

I will be slightly more outraged if the committee decides to sidestep "TCU vs. Baylor" entirely and goes with Ohio State. That's just a cop-out, because OSU's resume is so flimsy.

And if they keep TCU and take Ohio State over FSU, I will merely chuckle at the inanity of it all. Ohio State fans in 2002 sure had no problem with "close wins in games they probably should've lost."

Foursome I think WILL be picked:
(1) Alabama
(2) Oregon
(3) TCU
(4) FSU

*I think the committee will punish Baylor for its seemingly soft strength of schedule (nevermind that Ohio State's CONFERENCE schedule was a joke).

*I can't see a scenario where they drop TCU from 3 to "out" after TCU destroyed a team they needed to destroy.

*I can't see a scenario where the committee excludes an unbeaten defending national champ for a team from a mediocre conference with a really ugly loss on their resume. (But it could happen!)

A few takeaways:

*This is still way better than a "clean" two-team decision that would have left us with Alabama and Oregon and not even a nominal discussion about the others. (Except maybe regional outrage about snubbing an unbeaten defending champ.)

*The problem with the "four team" solution isn't the argument at the margin; it's the way it basically locks in at the top. Here's what I mean:

If you give Alabama and Oregon and even Urban's Ohio State (in a Big Ten year that isn't beyond mediocre) an annual mulligan for that one fluky loss -- rather than having that fluky loss seemingly derail their title chances -- that will be three of your four playoff teams almost every year, short of FSU going unbeaten and crashing the party (which is unlikely in non-Jameis years). The worry is less about "Who gets snubbed?" than creating an enduring (and boring) three-team playoff oligopoly of Alabama-Oregon-Ohio State, thanks to a system that offers a built-in mulligan.

*We're getting an 8-team playoff sooner than you think.

*As always, post-selection sound and fury will signify nothing, and we'll all settle in for the novel three-game process to determine a national champ, of whom we will all universally recognize.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 01, 2014

12/01 Monday Mania Quickie

*If the college football season ended today (only one more week to say that!), my playoff foursome would be: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and TCU.

*If Baylor throttles Kansas State, I could see them jumping TCU. Have a hard time seeing Ohio State with a QB3 beating Wisconsin. The SEC has cannibalized itself.

*Absolutely on board with everyone else saying that yesterday's Pats-Packers game will end up being prelude to a Super Bowl rematch.

*I'm ready for the Johnny Manziel Era in Cleveland.

*Kobe!

*Hard not to imagine that Will Muschamp ends up as defensive coordinator at Auburn. (And probably too much to hope that Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze ends up at Florida.)

*Love Mo'Ne Davis being tabbed as SI for Kids' Sports Kid of the Year. (She's arguably worthy of Sports Person of the Year for Sports Illustrated, full stop.)

*By the way, SI For Kids is a phenomenal magazine. Not a great magazine -- a phenomenal one. If you have kids, it's a must-have.

*Great news for my friends at SB Nation and Vox Media about their big new funding round.

*This Chris Rock Q&A is as good as folks are saying.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

11/27 Giving Thanks Quickie

Let's start with the usual caveat: This is a flimsy list of sports-related things I'm thankful for, specifically from this past year. (The "Big Things" I'm thankful for -- my family, my health, my friends, the life I get to lead -- go without question.) As always, this list is clearly incomplete:

*Mo'Ne Davis.
*Obsessive World Cup consumption.
*Madison Bumgarner in Game 7.
*Adam Silver's resolve.
*Becky Hammon's new gig.
*Michael Sam's moment.
*Russell Wilson.
*Richard Sherman's rant.
*Seeing UConn women's hoops in person.
*Florida's Final Four run.
*Watching Peak Spurs in June.
*Kevin Durant's MVP speech.
*Kliff Kingsbury at SXSW.
*Charlie Strong at Texas.
*Casper mattresses.
*Nuzzel (launched-in-2014 app I use most).
*Serial.
*Rooting for Paul Pierce (wait...what?)
*Northwestern beating Notre Dame.
*Two more teams for a college football playoff.
*Great sportswriting (Quickish 14 for 14 TBD).
*Watching my kids play sports.
*TinyLetter (Subscribe!)
*The Wizards' playoff run.

Most of all, thanks to you for your continued support of this blog, the newsletter and all of the other things I'm futzing around with. More than a decade after I first connected with many of you, I appreciate it more than ever.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 24, 2014

11/24 Monday Monday Quickie

*Yes, that Odell Beckham Jr. catch WAS the play of the year in the NFL and a wildly fun time on the internet last night.

*You can already see it coming: The CFB Playoff Committee will snub Mississippi State for "regional balance" -- probably Ohio State. Nevermind that the Big Ten is terrible this season.

*Look at the Red Sox: Hanley! And maybe Sandoval! (I'm not sure I'd pay Hanley that much money, but Sandoval feels like a solid pick-up.)

*My Wizards beating the Cavs on Friday night wasn't the revelation (although it was extremely fun to watch); it was my Wiz beating the Bucks the next night, a game they historically always lose.

*So intrigued by ESPN's over-the-top play with the Cricket World Cup. It'll be very successful, I'm betting. (But what does that even mean? I'm actually not so sure.)

*For those wondering why media companies have never created a successful social platform, I would ask them to remember that fantasy sports (via ESPN, Yahoo and CBS) have been pretty successful as social platforms. (If you want to quibble that ESPN's platform was built by Starwave, a hybrid media-technology company, I'll take your point - I lived it - but Starwave was closer to a media co than not.)

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/16 CFB Hangover Quickie

Four-team playoff if the season ended today:

*Alabama
*Oregon
*FSU
*TCU

It's hard for me not to give a second spot to an SEC team -- Mississippi State lost by 5 on the road at Alabama, the best team in the country. (It is crazy to think that Georgia is a confounding loss to Florida away from absolutely being in the playoff mix.)

The other contenders are flawed: FSU had trouble with Miami. TCU had trouble with Kansas, for god's sake. (Baylor beat Kansas by 46.) Oregon's best resume fodder (Arizona St) just lost to Oregon St. But if all three win out, they're in; they control their own fate.

Baylor and Ohio State are theoretically in the mix, but including them would undermine any claim that the playoff committee values "strength of schedule."

The murkiness at the top is (probably) good for the sport -- the only constant is that Alabama still rules. (And giving them a once-a-season mulligan only tilts things in their favor more.)

Next week's most consequential game: (The schedule sure doesn't look promising. Then again, you could have said the same thing about this week, except for the Alabama-MSU game.)

Two other notes:

*Northwestern shocks Notre Dame in South Bend: The Wildcats' 1995 win there was the most meaningful sports event of my lifetime. This one was not nearly as unlikely, but still -- extremely unlikely. It's a season-maker for Northwestern and an indictment of ND (and FSU?)

*Melvin Gordon: As someone who loves superlatives, being able to watch (or flip over to) a player setting the single-game rushing record was pretty awesome. What Wisconsin has done at running back over the past 20 years is remarkable.

Enjoy a high-quality NFL Sunday.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

11/09 CFB Hangover Quickie

If the season ended today:

*Mississippi State
*TCU
*Alabama
*Oregon

With FSU at No. 5. (Obviously, that's an "at least for me" projection -- FSU is in the Top 4 "for real" until/unless they lose, which they aren't/won't.)

I suppose that if you wanted to expand it a bit, you'd say that the fairly clear-cut playoff foursome is:

*Mississippi State-Alabama winner next week (but MSU could still lose to Ole Miss and Alabama could still lose to Auburn).

*Florida State, presuming a win over Duke (!) and Florida (!!).

*TCU, which should roll through the rest of the season.

*Oregon, presuming a win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game (although that win at home over Michigan State suddenly isn't as amazing as it was last week).

And, consequently, my preseason scenario plays out:

The Playoff Committee gets the "regional balance" it so desperately wants, more than anything else.

In the process, the committee snubs the SEC by penalizing its runner-up for playing a schedule far more difficult than the one faced by other contenders.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

11/02 CFB Hangover Quickie

That Ole Miss ending...just brutal.

They are as good of a 2-loss team as you will ever find, and if schedule strength really mattered to the playoff selection committee Ole Miss (lost by 7 points combined AT LSU and AT Auburn) would qualify for 5th place, which is entirely ceremonial.

If I had a playoff committee vote this week:

(1) Mississippi State
(2) Auburn
(3) Oregon
(4) Kansas State-TCU winner

Let's be real: There is no way Florida State isn't No. 2 in the next playoff seeding, and they have a clear path to an unbeaten season and a cakewalk into the playoff. Hope they enjoy it.

A quick word about Florida romping Georgia: In 13 seasons as a Florida football fan, I have never been so gobsmacked over a result.

Today's best in the NFL: Broncos-Patriots, obviously. Everything else is fantasy fodder.

-- D.S.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

10/30 Bumgarner Quickie

*Madison Bumgarner: The greatest pitcher in World Series history, full stop.

(Love this from McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee.)

*Russell Westbrook: As scintillating of a solo act as we expected him to be.

*Louisville beating Florida State tonight: Well, theoretically.

*Rachel Sklar's Medium piece: "I'm 41, single, and pregnant."

*Tim Cook.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10/26 CFB Hangover Quickie

Loving the 9:30 NFL Kickoff as a novelty. Wouldn't necessarily want this as a West Coaster every weekend...

*Here's my playoff foursome:

Mississippi State
Ole Miss
Alabama
TCU

Here's why I cannot fathom including Oregon but not Ole Miss -- Ole Miss just lost on the road to a ferocious team (that is particularly ferocious at home); Oregon lost at home to a flimsy Arizona team, giving up points left and right.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Michigan State but not Alabama (or Ole Miss) -- strength of schedule. I give MSU credit for playing Oregon tough on the road (but not as tough as flimsy Arizona, apparently), but Michigan State's conference schedule is a joke.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Florida State but not TCU -- strength of schedule, again. FSU has a single marquee win, over Notre Dame (barely, and that was in Tallahassee). TCU had trouble with two of the nation's best offenses, and otherwise has seen much tougher comp.

If Oregon, Michigan State and Florida State are going to be dropped into the Playoff Foursome just because of their W-L record and gaudy numbers against flimsy opponents, can we skip any pretense that "strength of schedule" matters?

I would love the SEC to go back to my old proposal that they abandon the national college football playoff system, create their own 8-team, 3-round playoff and sell the TV rights for billions.

-- D.S.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday 10/24 End-of-Week Quickie

*Steve Nash: This bums me out tremendously. Nash is one of my favorite NBA players of all time, and it's a shame this is a lost season. Is it too much to hope he can recover over the year and get one last productive year?

*Manning to Sanders, Manning to Sanders, Manning to Sanders: The way Manning distributes TDs is part of his brilliance -- but not so great if Julius Thomas is on your fantasy roster.

*CFB Saturday: Mississippi State at Kentucky screams "trap game" (so does Ole Miss at LSU -- not quite as much, but it's still on the table). The rest of the slate is largely inconsequential.

*Tim Hudson making his first-ever World Series start: Nice milestone. Game 3 isn't a deal-breaker for the losing team -- just one more twist in a solid (if not spectacular) series.

*Your best game of NFL Week 8: Eagles at Cardinals. Other interesting storylines: Seahawks reach "must-win" moment? ... Ravens at Bengals ... If the Falcons lose at home to the Lions to drop to 2-6, does Mike Smith lose his job on Monday? ... Zach Mettenberger Mania.

Enjoy your weekend!

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday 10/19 CFB Hangover Quickie

So we're down to two teams that control their own playoff destiny: The SEC champ (presumably from the SEC West) and Florida State.

The other two slots?

Well, if resume matters, one should almost assuredly be the SEC West runner-up -- but don't discount the Playoff Committee's commitment to the false equivalency of "geographic balance."

The two one-loss conference champs with the best shot at running the table are Oregon and Michigan State. A one-loss Big 12 champ would have a gripe (especially K-State), but good luck with that.

Imagine a 1-loss Auburn with wins over Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Kansas State (but a loss to unbeaten Mississippi State) being left out for an Oregon team that lost to Arizona or a Michigan State team that played the flimsiest conference schedule we've seen in years.

The upshot: The SEC West will continue to clobber itself -- seemingly for a single playoff spot -- while FSU cruises on a weak schedule right into a guaranteed playoff slot.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

10/15 Wednesday Quickie

*Can't think of a better sports story this year than the Royals' unbeaten run through the MLB playoffs. Every time you think it can't continue -- probabilistically or otherwise -- it simply does.

*Hiring the Rays' Andrew Friedman is a huge coup for the Dodgers. Given their willingness to spend (and endlessly deep pockets), it's arguably even bigger than when the Cubs hired Theo Epstein.

*The NYT tries to sort through Bill Simmons' future. (And he's back from his suspension today.)

*Spencer Hall's dispatches from the road are always enlightening -- the latest is from Ann Arbor.

*When you have 30 minutes this week/weekend, don't miss Erik Malinowski's profile of Fay Vincent.

*As a fan of email newsletters (cough), Vox's new effort looks very promising.

*If you are a baseball fan, you will love @joe_sheehan's email newsletter. Read this from Joe, then subscribe.


-- D.S.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

10/12 CFB Hangover Quickie

*Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the top 2 teams in college football, and I cannot fathom how a voter would rank FSU ahead of either, given the "who'd ya beat?" and "how'd ya beat 'em?" tests.

*With Arizona's loss late last night and the other results, there are now just three teams that control their own playoff destiny:

- The Ole Miss/Miss St winner.
- The FSU/ND winner (next week).
- Baylor.

Baylor still plays at Oklahoma and versus Kansas State, with a trap game at West Virginia next week. Given that it took a 21-point 4th-quarter comeback yesterday to beat a very good TCU team, I have little confidence they will go unbeaten.

Ole Miss still has to play Auburn (Nov. 1). Mississippi State still has to play Alabama (Nov. 15). And, of course, they still have to play each other in the regular-season finale.

But let's stipulate that the SEC West champ gets into the playoff, with no-matter-how-many-but-assume-one loss.

Let's stipulate the FSU-ND winner goes unbeaten and is in the playoff.

Let's stipulate that of one-loss conference champs, Oregon and the presumptive one-loss Big 12 champ have the inside track at the other two playoff spots.

But let's also stipulate that, this season, a one-loss SEC West runner-up would have a far more impressive resume than any of those three teams.

Let's say the first half of this season holds and that SEC West champ turns out to be the Ole Miss-Miss State winner and the SEC West runner-up turns out to be that game's loser:

I cannot imagine that the playoff committee would be interested in an Egg Bowl rematch as a playoff semifinal, a month after the teams have played a "decisive" game (although they should!)

What is endlessly fascinating is that this college football season hinges on the two national powerhouses from Mississippi -- the top 2 teams in the country.

-- D.S.

(P.S.: As Bradley Beal is my favorite NBA player, yesterday's news of his broken wrist -- putting him out for at least two months -- is depressing, yet so familiar for any hard-luck Wizards fan.)