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.

December 4, 2012

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Bowl Season Observations

By: Joe Williams

College football’s regular season games have been played, the bowl selections have been made and now all there is to do is wait…for 2014. In two years we will finally get the college football playoff we’ve been waiting for. Until then, we are stuck with the BCS system that, every year, is filled with controversy.

Should Oklahoma have made a BCS bowl?

This year, the BCS has delivered the most disappointing and uninteresting lineup of games since the BCS system began. The Rose Bowl has a team that has already lost five times this year in Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl has a team that was never in the BCS discussion until there was one day left in the season and has the experts complaining that they don’t deserve to be in the game in Northern Illinios. In the Sugar Bowl we have a team that benefited by not having to play in its conference championship game in Florida taking on a team that has lost two of three and has not faced a ranked opponent all season in Louisville. And of course the BCS Championship Game will feature possibly the two most hated teams in college football (Notre Dame and Alabama) so many fans won’t even know who to root for. The only bright spot is the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon against Kansas State should be a good one.

Why is everyone getting so bent out of shape about Northern Illinois reaching the BCS anyway? So Oklahoma doesn’t get in this year. So what? The Sooners have played in the BCS eight times. I’d rather see some new blood get a chance. It’s not like the Sooners are left out of a national championship shot. Has everyone forgotten what happened when Boise State (2007 and 2010) and Utah (2005 and 2009) were in the BCS and people thought they shouldn’t be? I’m not saying Northern Illinois will beat Florida State. But they qualified for the game. If Oklahoma was so worried about playing in a BCS game it should have performed better against Notre Dame or Kansas State.

What happens if Alabama beats Notre Dame, leaving Ohio State as the only undefeated team? I don’t think it will happen and I don’t think it should happen (because the Buckeyes are not bowl eligible), but what are the chances that Ohio State could end up No. 1 in the AP and we have a split national championship? Talk about college football controversy.

If we have learned anything about college football and the people who run it over the years, it is that the most important thing is money. That is why I am surprised that we are still able to find out who will be playing in what bowl game before the actual BCS selection show is on TV. Why haven’t they come up with a selection show similar to the NFL draft where we have representatives from each bowl game coming up to the podium and announcing the team they have selected to play in each game. We would have teams all around the country gathered around the phone waiting for a call. I would have loved to see a split screen of the reactions from Oklahoma and Northern Illinois when the match-ups were made official. That would get higher ratings then having somebody from ESPN telling us what we have already known for days.

There are 35 games still to play. I’ve got no interest in most of them (East Carolina vs Louisana-Lafayette and Duke vs Cincinnati for example), and only one game means anything. Fortunately, we will go through this just one more time.

November 12, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Down goes Alabama …: The Alabama Crimson Tide looked unbeatable up until this weekend when they were surprised by Texas A&M losing 29-24. Alabama will still have a chance to play in the national championship, though – particularly if a couple of the undefeated teams in front of them falter along the way. And since they’re generally viewed as the best one-loss team out there, a title appearance may still not be all that unlikely.

Texas A&M's defeat of #1 Alabama shook up the BCS picture this weekend.

… and the same for Louisville: Louisville had a long road ahead to try to get in the title picture, even as an undefeated team. But their loss to Syracuse this weekend barely got a mention and proved yet again just how weak the Big East is viewed to be. A few weeks ago, the conference had three undefeated programs – Louisville, Rutgers, and Cincinnati. But now that all three have suffered defeats, there’s little doubt that the conference has some good, but not great teams.

Mike Brown fired: After a 1-4 start, the Los Angeles Lakers made a big splash by unexpectedly firing head coach Mike Brown. Brown always seemed like an odd fit for me and I was surprised that one of the most storied franchises in all of sports would settle on him after having the likes of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Speaking of Jackson, he appeared to be in the mix. But the sides couldn’t reach an agreement and offensive guru Mike D’Antoni has been hired instead. The Lakers have been vilified for making this move so early in the season, but with such a big payroll, it’s clear that the goal is to win a championship – this year. If they aren’t convinced Brown is the guy, waiting any longer on him would have been a mistake.

Lolo Jones bobsleds … no, seriously: In case you missed it, American track and field star Lolo Jones is now bobsledding. Jones actually even won a silver medal at an event last week. She isn’t stopping there as she was named to Team USA and could find herself in the 2014 Winter Olympics. I’m still not sure if this means the sport is simply that easy to break into or if Jones is such an incredible athlete that she can pick up new sports at the drop of a hat. Either way, if you thought Lolo got a ton of coverage this summer, just wait until 2014. And somewhere, McKayla Maroney is still not impressed.

College basketball season kicks off: NCAA basketball got off the ground and running and the “lulz” moment of the week goes to No. 25 Florida State for their upset loss to Sun Belt team South Alabama at home. It’s early and it beats losing to a Division II program (looking at you again, Miami), but if you’re a Seminoles fan thinking of hitting the ominous panic button, I might not blame you.

Atlanta Falcons lose first game: The final undefeated team in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons, lost their first game this weekend to the New Orleans Saints. Even at 8-1, the Falcons aren’t the runaway pick to reach the Super Bowl. They’ve had several close calls this year (more than half of their games have been decided by a touchdown or less) and there are still plenty of questions surrounding them. I, for one, expect them to suffer at least a few more losses.

Davey Johnson coming back to Washington Nationals: It should come as little surprise, but the Washington Nationals are bringing back manager Davey Johnson for another season. The Nats were the big surprise in all of baseball this season and it’s difficult to not notice the job he did. Frankly, I’ve always been surprised Johnson wasn’t pursued a bit more. He’s won at least 85 games with every franchise he’s managed and won 90 games seven times. Johnson also indicated that 2013 would be his final season and with a strong pitching staff next season, he could just go out with a bang.

Ndamukong Suh doesn’t believe empty box score: Last weekend, Ndamukong Suh failed to record a tackle for the first time in his career. Suh, though, isn’t so sure according to these cryptic quotes. Seriously, in this day and age with replays galore, how can we not figure out who’s right? Suh was also voted the league’s dirtiest player last week. Not a great combination for the young star.

NHL Lockout continues: It’s time for this week’s look at the NHL lockout. Despite indications that progress was being made during talks between the owners and players, the work stoppage is still continuing. This concludes our look at the NHL lockout.

September 24, 2012

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2012 Ryder Cup: Why the U.S. can bring the Cup back

By: Tyler Vespa

This weekend is the phenomenon in golf known as the Ryder Cup. The 39th matches will be held at Medinah Country Club just outside of Chicago beginning on Friday, with the conclusion as always on Sunday with the 12 singles matches.

The Americans will be seeking to retain the Cup from the European team, who took back the Cup in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales. Since 1985, the Europeans are 9-4 against the Americans. The Americans have won the matches only one other time since the 1999 “Miracle at Brookline”, that was at Valhalla in 2008.

Steve Stricker brings experience to the USA Ryder Cup team.

As we enter this pressure-packed week, the United States team has only one player on its squad raked outside the top 20 in the world, that player being Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk, who is ranked, 27th.

The Europeans have 3 of the top 4 players in the world with world number 1 Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald who is 3rd, and Lee Westwood who is 4th. After that their team has only one other player ranked in the top 10, that being Englishman Justin Rose who is raked 8th fresh off of a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Six of the final 8 members on the European team are currently ranked outside the top 20.

However, 9 of the 12 members on the European team have a winning record in Ryder Cup play. The European team has only one player making his Ryder Cup debut, that being Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts who won the Volvo World Match Play in Spain earlier this year. So, he does know match play, and has distance off the tee that could key the European side to victory.

The only weakness I see in this gritty American side is the fact that they have 4 Ryder Cup rookies. Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker have never experienced the cauldron that is the Ryder Cup. That being said, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are now both major champions, and Brandt Snedeker is fresh off his win at the Tour Championship, which also earned him the FedEx Cup.  Jason Dufner, who had two wins in 2012, finished the season 4th in total driving, which is a combination of distance and accuracy and was also 4th in greens in regulation.

The experience of the American team with those 4 rookies in combination with the European team having 9 of their 12 players with a winning record in Ryder Cup play means the 39th edition of these matches should author one of the best finishes in the event’s history.

I’m taking the Americans on their home turf. The crowd at Medinah will help those rookies make a few more putts, and shake up the Europeans into one too many mistakes. The final tally: United States- 15   Europe- 13

July 17, 2012

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Players To Watch At The British Open

By: Joe Williams

Once again, it’s PGA major championship time. This week is the British Open which means die-hard golf fans will have to get up in the middle of the night if they want to watch the action live. I’m already tired just thinking about it. In case I forget to set my alarm or just keep hitting the snooze button, here are the guys I am interested in this week. Somebody keep me posted.

Could Ian Poulter win his first Major at the British Open?

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Ernie Els

Getting back to the winners circle has been a struggle for “The Big Easy.” Els hasn’t won since the 2010 South African Open. But he has been putting himself in contention lately and he finished in a tie for third the last time the Open Championship was held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. The conditions are expected to be similar to 2002 when Els won at Muirfield and this is a course that bodes well for the biggest stars with seven of the nine winners being, like Els, a member of the hall of fame.

Tiger Woods

Tiger is always the guy to watch. He’s the betting favorite, but we don’t know which Tiger will show up. He leads the tour in wins this year with three and is at the top of the money list and FedEx Cup points list, but he hasn’t been “Tiger” in the majors and he missed the cut in his last start at the Greenbriar Classic.

Phil Mickelson

Speaking of guys who missed the cut at the Greenbriar…Lefty hasn’t played well since the beginning of the year. But he did throw down a 64 and 65 last week at the Scottish Open so maybe he’s rounding back into form. Phil doesn’t have many good finishes at the British Open, but he did tie for second last year at Royal St. George’s.  Maybe he has this style of play figured out.

Darren Clarke

He’s the defending champion. He tied for third here in 2001. But he hasn’t played well this year in just five starts. His best finish is a tie for 33rd.

Rory McIlroy

He was the No. 1 ranked player in the world earlier this year but has struggled since; missing the cut four times in his last six starts. But he’s still the new star in golf and has the game to win anytime he tees it up. He does have a major championship on his resume which isn’t a good sign if you go by the results of recent majors with the last 15 all being won by different players.

Zach Johnson

He won the John Deere Classic last week so he will have momentum on his side. But it will be an awfully quick turnaround to go across the Atlantic and adjust to the time change, weather and style of play on the other side of the pond. A win would put him at the top of the money list, FedEx Cup points list and give him a shot at player of the year.