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.)


Sunday, October 05, 2014

10/05 CFB Hangover Quickie

Submitted while trying not to think about last night's 18-inning Nats loss...

From Oregon's late-night loss to Arizona on Thursday to UCLA's late-night loss to Utah early this morning -- with losses by Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M -- this was as voluminously wild of a week of Top 10 upsets as we've seen in years, if not ever.

(That doesn't even count Wisconsin or USC - who were already out of the playoff discussion but experienced shocking losses, relatively for the Badgers and absolutely for the Trojans - or LSU and Stanford, who lost to still-in-the-playoff-mix teams.)

There is a single clear controls-their-own-destiny playoff scenario left - if ridiculously tenuous:

(1) SEC champ.
(2) Unbeaten FSU-ND winner.
(3) Unbeaten Baylor-TCU winner.
(4) Unbeaten Arizona.

That's it -- and the chances that next week's Baylor-TCU winner runs the table is meh (Baylor still has to play Oklahoma, TCU still has Oklahoma State and Kansas State), and Arizona going 13-0? Please.

And so we are left with the idea that as long as everyone is losing, then many of the losers still at least have a shot. That's not entirely true. It's a small pool of eligible candidates:

Presuming Arizona will still choke away at least one regular season game (if not more), Oregon is not finished.

And it seems totally absurd that a 1-loss SEC (West) runner-up would be ineligible, simply because the Playoff Committee wants the false equivalency of regional balance in its first playoff field.

Let's digress about the SEC for a sec: Mississippi State throttling Texas A&M (my pick as the No. 1 team going into yesterday) followed by Ole Miss's stunning win over Alabama was as exciting as it gets for back-to-back games on a Saturday afternoon.

If the season ended today, based on resume, I'd have both Mississippi teams in my playoff:

(1) Mississippi State
(2) Ole Miss
(3) Auburn
(4) TCU

Of course, that's not how it works.

The SEC West now becomes a round-robin thresher: Mississippi State playing Auburn, Ole Miss playing Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss playing each other, with Alabama cranky and still good enough to spoil Mississippi State or Auburn's season and with Texas A&M cranky and still good enough to spoil Ole Miss or Auburn's season.

Consider next week's SEC schedule: Auburn at Mississippi State and Ole Miss at Texas A&M. Setting aside the fact that those games are harder than any single game any of the non-SEC playoff "contenders" will play this season -- let alone next week -- yet are part of a standard gauntlet for contenders in the SEC West, that's like a de facto playoff. (Although let's just stipulate that even if the SEC champ - presumably from the West - finishes with one loss, it is guaranteed a playof spot.)

Layer in that TCU plays at Baylor in a de facto playoff playoff -- the winner retains "control-their-own-playoff-destiny" status -- and that Arizona could easily lose to a ticked-off USC that can feel entitled to hate anything related to the State of Arizona (yuk yuk) -- and next week could see at least four Top 10 teams (and four off the quickly dwindling list of playoff contenders) lose.

It's glorious.

Look: We could still end up with a reasonably projectable playoff field of the SEC West champ (with however-many losses), unbeaten FSU, unbeaten TCU and WHYTHEMNOTUS (say, Oregon).

But we'll always have yesterday, when the long-held physics of college football -- particularly down in Mississippi -- were upended.

-- D.S.

Friday, October 03, 2014

10/3 Oregon Whoa Quickie

Just like that, the college football playoff landscape is a mess.

Yesterday, it was all so clean: The four playoff teams would be the SEC champ (presumably unbeaten), unbeaten Florida State, unbeaten Oklahoma and unbeaten Oregon.

Now, Oregon has a playoff-killing loss on its resume -- at home, against an Arizona team that is undefeated but hasn't been all that impressive this season (but clearly has Oregon's number). Even if it runs the table and wins the Pac-12 title, its argument (and resume) is less strong than, say, a 1-loss SEC runner-up (if still stronger than Michigan State).

Look ahead: The SEC champ is in. Unbeaten FSU is in. A presumably unbeaten Oklahoma is in.

The fourth spot is now up-for-grabs among several would-be 1-loss teams: Pac-12 champ Oregon? Big Ten champ Michigan State (which lost to Oregon)? A 1-loss SEC runner-up in a year when the playoff committee will be focusing as much on regional diversity as picking the four "best" teams?

And that's all before Saturday's shake-out: Either Texas A&M or Mississippi State will be knocked out. Either Alabama or Ole Miss will be knocked out. LSU could absolutely beat Auburn. Notre Dame could (should?) lose to Stanford. Nebraska will be knocked from the unbeatens by Michigan State. And Oklahoma -- looking at a clear path to the playoff after last night -- could absolutely lose to TCU, which would make things even messier.

If you thought a playoff would make things less contentious, Arizona's seismic upset at Autzen in the middle of the night is a good reminder that it will be even more so this year than ever.

PS: Hard not to root for the Royals to dispatch the Angels.

-- D.S.


Monday, September 29, 2014

9/29 Fire Hoke Quickie

I'm still digesting the experience from the past few days at the Online News Association conference, which I'll hopefully have more to say about in the next day or two. Until then, a few faves:

*Everyone calling for Michigan to fire Brady Hoke today. A few representative samples: MGoBlog's Brian Cook ("Brady Hoke should have been fired walking off the field"), MaizeNBrew's Drew Hallett ("The Fireable Offense of Brady Hoke") and my USA TODAY Sports colleague George Schroeder ("The situation is beyond salvage.") It's not that he has to go at the end of the season -- he has to go right now. His pathetic explanations -- and the even more pathetic statements from the school -- are making things worse.

*The Nationals' no-hitter: I can't count how many baseball games I have been to in my lifetime, but I can count how many my kids have been to -- seven, including yesterday, when my dad took them to the Nationals' season finale, which everyone assumed would be a pro forma walk-through before the team heads into the playoffs. It ended up being one of the defining games of the Nats' franchise history in DC. (If I couldn't be there, it's nice to know that at least my kids got to see it in person.) Meanwhile, talk about mis-managing expectations: Forget winning the NL pennant -- I'll be bummed if this team doesn't win the World Series.

*Teddy Bridgewater: Instant sensation. (So of course he suffers that ankle injury -- but that's temporary; he's going to be good for a long time. Watch highlights here.)

*Steve Smith Sr.: Doing it for the Olds! (Enjoyed this on Smith from Grantland's Andrew Sharp.)

*JR Moehringer on Derek Jeter: My favorite of the many (many) things written about Jeter this past week. Click here - it'll take you 15-20 minutes. (I'm not much of a Jeter fan -- certainly not a Yankees fan -- and, still, that final at-bat on Thursday night was a bonafide sports Moment.)

*Matt Norlander on this past Saturday's 20th anniversary of the release of Dave Matthews Band's "Under The Table And Dreaming": I was 21 and not only in college, but in a fairly typical fraternity, so obviously I have vivid memories of this particular CD, which was ubiquitous. As Norlander notes, that is hard to reconcile with the polarizing opinions about DMB now, but at the time? Whew.

@SportsREDEF: Jason Hirschhorn's REDEF empire (and you should absolutely be subscribing to the MediaREDEF email newsletter) expands into sports, first with a Twitter handle, very soon with its own daily email.

*Re/Code's Kara Swisher: I tweeted about this on Friday from the ONA conference (and will have more later this week), but having been a longtime follower and fan of hers, this was the first time I had ever seen Swisher in person, and it is an understatement to say she is a dynamo. Airport issues kept her from showing up until all but the final few minutes of her assigned panel (on news start-ups, obviously a subject near and dear to me), and she blew the doors off from the second she bounded up the stage stairs and started talking. What an inspiring force of personality.

OK, quick related aside: On Friday night, we were walking in the same direction on the street (I was maybe 10 feet behind her), and I found myself having an internal debate ("Should I go up and introduce myself? How weird/off-putting, because she doesn't know me. But she would never hesitate to do it, if things were reversed and she wanted to talk to me. But still: I'm me, not her. What am I going to do - ask her to take a selfie with me? Ask her some dumb question? Autograph my conference program?" And so on. I had a lot of internal monologues during my few days in Chicago.) Anyway, she was in a conversation with someone, and I deferred to letting her have her night roll along peacefully, rather than interrupted by a fanboy. Hopefully, there will be another chance some other day.