January 14, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Conference Championships set: The NFL’s conference championship games are set. The San Francisco 49ers will face the Atlanta Falcons while the New England Patriots square off against the Baltimore Ravens. You could make plenty of good cases for each to win the Super Bowl at this point, but in picks sure to go wrong, my guess is that we’ll see the Niners take on the Patriots in the big game. San Francisco may have unlocked a hidden gem with the scrambling of Colin Kaepernick who set an NFL postseason record for a quarterback, rushing for more than 181 yards. You can bet that the Falcons will play more zone coverage in the hopes of limiting his scrambling, but Kaepernick has also proven to be a serviceable passer and should be able to make enough plays to lead the way. In the AFC, I give you two words: Tom Brady.

It is hard to go against Tom Brady in the NFL Playoffs.

No. 1 Duke ‘upset’ by North Carolina State: Duke suffered their first loss of the season when they fell to North Carolina State over the weekend. Whenever the top team in the nation loses, it’s a big deal. But while it may technically be an upset, losing to a top 20 team on the road is hardly a once-in-a-lifetime thing. With so much parity in college sports these days, any side can come out on top on any given night – particularly when both teams are good. The bigger story in all of this isn’t that Duke lost – rather, it’s the emergence of the Wolfpack. North Carolina State had two losses entering the game to Michigan and Oklahoma State. The Wolverines are a top five squad and the Cowboys are a quality team as well. After the win against Duke, more people should be paying attention to NC State.

No players inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame: For only the second time in 40 years, no player was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa were tainted by the steroid issue and based on past voting trends, it wasn’t a surprise they didn’t receive the necessary 75%. But for guys not generally linked to the steroid controversy such as Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, the news had to be a bit disappointing. Biggio had more than 3,000 career hits and Piazza was perhaps the best offensive catcher of all time, slugging 427 home runs and batting over .300. I understand the statement that some voters want to make against alleged steroid users, but to punish other players in the same era isn’t right. But in the end, Biggio and Piazza should eventually get in, so there’s still time to right the wrong.

Brian Kelly returns to Notre Dame: After being manhandled by the Alabama Crimson Tide earlier last week in the BCS National Championship game, the Fighting Irish got some good news when head coach Brian Kelly spurned the NFL and decided to remain at Notre Dame. Kelly reportedly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but chose to stay in the college ranks. Things couldn’t have worked out better for Notre Dame. They were soundly defeated by Alabama in the title game, but Kelly has the Irish on the right track. Notre Dame won eight games in 2010 and 2011 and this past year, had an undefeated regular season. There’s no reason to think the program will be slowing down anytime soon under Kelly.

Greg Oden hoping to come back to NBA: Sidelined by injuries, Greg Oden hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2010-11 season. He’s only played in 82 career games since he was drafted as the top overall pick in 2007. Heck, Oden hasn’t merely been bitten by the injury bug, he’s been eaten alive by it. But word is that he wants back in the league and teams are already lining up to give him a look. That may sound comical, but in reality, they should be. Signing the once-promising big man to a deal around the NBA minimum wouldn’t be the biggest risk in the world and it could even pay off handsomely. Why not take a flyer on a 24-year old seven footer with potential through the roof? And just as important is that while Oden hasn’t been a great player, he’s been serviceable when healthy, averaging nearly a double double with 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. If he stays on the court, there’s no reason to think he can’t significantly contribute.

January 3, 2013

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The Call That Changed Everything

By: Joe Williams

While most of the nation is looking ahead to next week’s BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame, I’m looking back. Back to October 13. Back to one play; one call; one moment that could define the 2012 college football season.

The Fighting Irish survived close call after close call during the regular season but perhaps the closest call of them all was in overtime against Stanford. It was surely the most controversial.

Notre Dame won some close games, maybe none closer than their overtime game against Stanford.

Trailing 20-13 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the one, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line on his initial effort. He then twisted his body over the top of several other players and stretched the ball forward, appearing to reach the end zone.

But the call on the field was that he came up short. After a lengthy review, the ruling stood because there was no indisputable evidence to overturn the call. Notre Dame stormed the field in celebration and carried that momentum all the way to an undefeated season.

But what if Stanford had scored on that play and then went on to beat Notre Dame?

Only Ohio State would have finished the season without a loss, increasing the chances of the AP voting the Buckeyes No. 1 and giving us a split national championship. (But it would probably take everyone finishing with at least two losses for that to happen.)

Assuming the rest of the season played out the same – Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Kansas State, Stanford and Northern Illinois – would all have just one loss. There’s some chaos for you.

Out of those seven teams, Stanford would have the best case to make about playing for the BCS Championship. They would have beaten a team ranked No. 17 or better four weeks in a row and have wins over both Oregon and Notre Dame…in overtime. Nobody else would have a resume even close to that.

Oregon and Notre Dame could both say they have the best loss but would the voters want to see a rematch against Stanford? And if so, is it Oregon or Notre Dame?

Florida and Alabama also have quality losses coming against Georgia and Texas A&M but the Crimson Tide are the SEC champs so we can then assume that Stanford would be facing off against Alabama for all the marbles. Of course, if the 4-team playoff was already in place, most of these questions would be answered on the field.

I think the country would be pretty pumped about a Stanford, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oregon playoff. Well, everyone except Florida and Kansas State fans.

One more honor that changed hands during that final play in South Bend is the coach of the year. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly has been named as the winner but Stanford head coach David Shaw would have been the coach of the year and maybe still should be. A year after winning 11 games and narrowly missing out on a chance to play for the BCS Championship, he’s got another 11-win team. And he’s done it without the great Andrew Luck.