Where does one even begin when recapping what went down on the basketball court on Friday? How can the second day of the 2011-2012 NCAA Championship Tournament possibly be explained? It was a day chalk full of “you had to see it to believe it” moments.
After a less-than-thrilling opening day, the hoops gods made up for a quiet Thursday by dropping some major basketball bombs on Friday, consisting of down-to-the-wire finishes and upsets of the rarest breed.
While we still have yet to see the ultimate upset, a 16-seed beating a 1-seed, we got the second best thing on Friday… TWICE!
The last time a #15 toppled a #2 was in 2001 when Hampton got the best of Iowa State in an absolute shocker, beating one of the tourney favorites 58-57. That was one of my favorite tournament games of all time, with perhaps the best celebration I’ve ever seen as one of the huge players picked up his tiny coach who pumped his fists and flailed his legs while being hoisted in the air.
Friday was somewhat of a throwback to that 2001 game as #15 Norfolk St. (representing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in which Hampton is also a member) gave #2 Missouri a serious run for their money, sending the Tigers home packing, super-duper early. The game was hard-fought by dueling point guards, Pendarvis Williams for Norfolk St. and Phil Pressey (and his amazing haircut) for Mizzou.
But the “darling” of the game, and perhaps the Tourney in general (should his team wear the glass slipper for a while longer and make it to the Sweet 16) was senior Kyle O’Quinn who stole the show with his play and personality alike. The big man was spectacular in the Spartans’ first-ever trip to the Tourney, logging 26 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal while wearing his heart on his sleeve and a huge smile on his face.
Sure, he almost blew it with some missed free throws at the end of the game, but it was all good for Norfolk St. who kept their composure and did the little things to win the game. The statistics were evenly matched for the most part, with the Spartans edging out the Tigers in 3-point shooting, hitting an impressive 52 percent of shots from beyond the arc (Mizzou shot 44.8 percent from 3-point range) and also out-rebounding Mizzou 35-23.
Fun fact alert: A 15-seed has only beaten a 2-seed six times in NCAA Tourney history (since the tourney expanded to a field of 64). Three of those six teams were from historically black colleges and universities. I think that’s interesting, but I digress…
On one hand, I was shocked by the outcome of the game. After all, we hadn’t seen a #2 suffer an opening-round loss to a #1 in 11 years. But if it was going to happen, Missouri would be that team. Mizzou is a school I never trust in the tourney. Sure, I had them getting out of the first round in my bracket, but I had them out in the Sweet 16. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen to Missouri.
I sure as HELL didn’t expect it would ALSO happen to the DOOKIES. Seriously Duke??? I mean, wow. The Norfolk St. victory lessened the shock value of #15 Lehigh’s win over #2 Duke, but not by much. Last season, I was in the stands with my Dad watching my Arizona Wildcats beat Duke in the Sweet 16. Back in 2001, I watched Coach K, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jason Williams and Co. dismantle Arizona en route to an NCAA championship, and I never imagined we could beat them in a meaningful game, especially in the tournament. Watching Derrick Williams and Zona WHOOP Duke’s behind in person last year, my eyes got a bit watery because for me, it felt like David beating Goliath. Duke is a team who I find hard to imagine losing.
A la the Honey Badger, Lehigh didn’t care or “give a s^&%” about the Duke mystique as the Mountain Hawks beat the Blue Devils IN NORTH CAROLINA, less than 60 miles from Duke’s campus. Like the Norfolk St. game just a couple of hours earlier, the favorite nearly crushed Cinderella’s dreams on multiple occasions, but a few plays down the stretch kept the underdogs on top for good.
C.J. McCollum dropped 30 points on the Dukies leading the Blue Devils to a first-round demise for only the second time in 16 seasons. In a strange twist of fate, North Carolina fans who had watched the #1 Tar Heels handily beat #16 Vermont earlier in the day stuck around the arena just long enough to blast their Tobacco Road rivals. The UNC faithful threw their full support behind Lehigh, turning what should’ve felt like a home game for Duke into hostile, enemy territory which may have played a role in the outcome. Either way, UNC fans are cold-blooded for that, and very smart indeed as their second favorite team, Lehigh took Duke down 75-70.
Meanwhile Michigan State, Kansas, Georgetown and Florida beat their lower-seed opponents with relative ease. The same cannot be said for Cincinnati, Creighton and Florida State who squeaked past the first round and onto the weekend games. The #6 Bearcats surrendered a 19-point lead but thanks to guys with two of my favorite names in sports, Yancy & Cashmere, were able to gut out a slim victory over the #11 Texas Longhorns. #3 Florida State was on the verge of losing its ACC membership had the ‘Noles lost to a feisty #14 St. Bonaventure team, but luckily for FSU, they hung on for a 66-63 win. Then we have #8 Creighton who won its first Tourney game in 10 years after overcoming an 11-point deficit and two heinous free-throw misses with under nine seconds to play, which was just enough to send the Crimson Tide rolling back home to Tuscaloosa. It sure was tight though as Creighton escaped with a 58-57 win over #9 Alabama.
Temple, Memphis and San Diego State should all be embarrassed as they didn’t come close to bringing their “A” game on Friday, each losing to a lower seed in ugly fashion. For the record, I had all three of them moving on to the weekend games, so, thanks for nothin guys!
#13 Ohio provided another shocker taking down the #4 Michigan Wolverines who are so desperately longing for hoops glory once again. Unfortunately the fine folks in Ann Arbor will have to wait another year. #10 Purdue managed to fend off #7 Saint Mary’s, hanging on for a 72-69 win and boy, #10 Xavier and #7 Notre Dame played one heck of a nightcap.
Down by 10 in the second half, the Musketeers kicked it up a notch and with the help of a Zebra calling a lane violation on the Fighting Irish in the final seconds of the game, Xavier did just enough to pull off the upset.
Obviously, the two 15-seeds taking care of business against the 2-seeds was dramatic and the talk of the Tourney thus far. But this particular Friday was one of the best we’ve seen in recent years because it not only had history-making games like Norfolk St. and Lehigh, but there were plenty of other upsets, photo finishes and good, old fashioned blow-outs.
Friday was about as well-rounded as one day of competition could be as Day 2 of this year’s Tourney officially brought the Madness we had all hoped to see this March.
The Madness is almost upon us.
We are so close (yet so far) from filling out brackets, huddling in front of the TV with the masses, and praying that our teams win, but more importantly, that our crumpled up piece of paper proves that we were right all along!
In this final weekend of regular season play, college basketball perfectly sets the table for conference tournaments with classic rivalry games across the board. In a week from now, the conference tournaments, while really not entirely necessary, will build the drama and anticipation for Selection Sunday which will in turn, kick-start the true Madness of March in an instant.
Unlike college football, collegiate basketball gets it right.
The Olympics and World Cup may be the most-watched international contests, but to me, the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting sporting event in the world.
As previously mentioned, NCAA basketball has a schedule that is precisely designed to build up to the Tournament. Every single game from the Midnight Madness scrimmage on, has its place and serves a purpose of getting teams from practice and conditioning mode all the way to full on ratings-bonanza, butt-kicking Tourney play.
In the next week, we’ll get a taste of what many of these teams are made of. Not so much the Top 25 teams who we know will make it to the Big Dance regardless of what happens in conference tournaments, but the “bubble” teams, mid-majors and dark horses that nobody has watched play all season (because they are rarely nationally televised, if ever), who finally get a chance to shine and show us A) if they can even make it to the Tourney and B) what we can expect to see from them on basketball’s biggest stage.
The Tourney is a time where loyalties fly out the window and rooting against the favorite is the popular thing to do. It’s the one time when the big boys get bullied and the little guys play the hero.
So turn on your TV this weekend and start picking your favorites, both the powerhouses and unknowns and by next weekend, you’ll be ready to select the bracket busters and wrongly choose the next National Champion right along with the rest of us.
Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
If you haven’t gotten into college hoops yet this season, this weekend is the time to jump in, head first! Several ranked teams are playing each other including two mid-major teams that could end up in Cinderella’s shoes come March, making this weekend all the more exciting. Why fly blind into your office pool a few weeks from now when you can watch a great preview and go into March Madness actually knowing a thing or two about several of the teams in your bracket?
To a casual fan, the match-up of Saint Mary’s and Murray State. would exactly scream “excitement” but for those of us who know better, this is in fact the marquee match-up of the weekend!
Who would’ve guessed that No. 16 Saint Mary’s (23-4, 12-2 WCC) and No. 14 Murray St. (25-1, 13-1 OVC) would be top teams this late in the season? Sure, some may think this pairing has lost some luster as both teams suffered surprising losses recently, but that disappointment makes this game all the more important moving forward.
Aside from the nostalgia of true March Madness that comes to mind when thinking of these two teams, the Gaels and Racers each have exciting playmakers on their rosters this year. Saint Mary’s junior point guard Matt Dellavedova leads the Gaels, averaging 15.7 points per game and 6.4 assists. Dellavedova is hampered by an ankle injury with head coach Randy Bennett calling him a game-time decision. Hopefully he’ll play so we can watch him go up against the Racers’ junior point guard Isaiah Canann, averaging 19.2 ppg, 3.8 apg and shooting a whopping 47.3 percent from 3-point range.
As if Dellavedova’s injury wasn’t bad enough, the Gaels will definitely be without sophomore guard and top defender Stephen Holt who partially tore his MCL in St. Mary’s home loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday. This one hurts the Gaels, both literally and figuratively.
Both teams are expected to receive an at-large bid to the Tournament, but if either team drops a few games, they could find themselves forced to win their conference tournament in order to make it to the Big Dance. Obviously, nobody wants to play under that kind of pressure when you can secure a Tourney spot with strong regular season play. In other words, both Murray St. and Saint Mary’s will play their hearts out in front of a national audience at 6pm EST on ESPN. Expect a close and exciting game, especially if Dellavedova is healthy enough to suit up. I’m taking Murray St. in this one as the Racers are still likely pissed after losing their only game of the season to Tennessee St. last week and should use that as fuel. Plus, the Gaels should experience a bit of a learning curve in adjusting to playing without the injured Holt.
There’s another point guard match-up worth watching, and it comes in the big boy conference, the Big Ten; It’s a classic duel between rivals Ohio State. and Michigan. Sure, it doesn’t sound as compelling as a football game in the Big House, but these two institutions have proven themselves to be formidable opponents on the hardwood as well.
Yes, the No. 6 Buckeyes (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) SMASHED the 19. Wolverines (19-7, 9-4 Big Ten) when they played in Columbus last month, and OSU has won its last six straight games against Michigan. But here’s the thing, Michigan is 14-0 in Ann Arbor this season, which is where Saturday’s game is being played. The Buckeyes need the win to stay atop the conference alongside Michigan State. Although OSU beat Michigan by 15 points in that last meeting, the Wolverines defense showed promise playing Jared Sullinger tough and I would imagine, the D will kick it up a notch given the importance of the game and playing it in front of their home crowd.
If Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke play well, I can’t see Michigan losing in Ann Arbor. Watching point guards Burke for the Wolverines and Aaron Craft for the Buckeyes go at it should be a lot of fun. The fact that Michigan is finally a contender again after all of these years just adds to the excitement of college hoops this season. Even though the Wolverines stunk in their last meeting with OSU, I’m picking Michigan at home the second time around. You can catch this one following St. Mary’s vs. Murray St. on ESPN (scheduled at 9pm EST).
An at-large match-up worth watching is Long Beach State at Creighton. Both teams are intriguing for different reasons, plus both squads might be dancing come March. Creighton (22-5, 12-4 MVC) will play host to Long Beach St. (19-6, 12-0 Big West) in hopes of building upon their last game (a victory which snapped a three-game skid) while attempting to spoil the 49ers 12-game winning streak.
The Bluejays and 49ers both put a lot of points on the board (averaging 79.9 and 74.1 ppg respectively) so we can expect to see plenty of offense and for Creighton, the man leading the way is Doug McDermott averaging 22.7 ppg. The Bluejays entire starting lineup is well-balanced, comprised of unselfish players who enjoy logging assists, rebounding and letting Ethan Wragge (off the bench) shoot 3-pointers at a solid rate of 45 percent.
In the visiting 49ers, we’ll see a team that has played the most difficult non-conference schedule this season with most of those games coming on the road. Long Beach St. beat then-ranked Pittsburgh away from home and Xavier at a neutral site but lost to San Diego State, Louisville, North Carolina and Kansas on the road. To me, this team screams “Cinderella” having experience against some top programs heading into the Tourney.
Then again, the 49ers have to make it to the Tourney before they can wear the glass slipper, something they haven’t done recently, losing the Big West title game the last two seasons. A win over over Creighton would get the 49ers one step closer to an at-large bid which would remove the pressure of having to win the Big West tournament to get in to the NCAA’s.
The 49ers have three players averaging double figures in scoring (senior guard Casper Ware leads the way with 17 ppg) and has two others following close behind averaging nearly 10 ppg. Senior forward T.J. Robinson averages over ten boards per game as well.
LBSU is holding teams to 65 ppg while Creighton allows 68.6 ppg. The 49ers will need to bring their “A” game defensively as Creighton’s 79.9 ppg ranks 10th in the nation. The Bluejays are a solid 12-2 at home while the 49ers are 8-5 on the road, but as we mentioned earlier, they have played one hell of a road schedule.
Creighton leads the nation in field goal percentage (shooting 51 percent) and ranks third with 18.4 assists per game. Stats say Creighton should win this game but I’m going with Long Beach St. The 49ers are due to win this one on the road, plus, they start four seniors and a junior. That is a lot of experience to counter the Bluejays who have only one senior and and two juniors in their starting five.
In the ACC, I’m taking No. 21 Florida State (18-7, 9-2 ACC) over North Carolina State (18-8, 7-4) in Raleigh. Both teams played Thursday, with FSU ending up on the right side of a comeback and the opposite being the case for N.C. State. I think the Wolfpack are worse for the wear, probably still exhausted from being mentally wounded by Duke’s come-from-behind victory.
Also in the ACC, No. 22 Virginia hosts Maryland. This game doesn’t do much for me considering neither team can manage to beat Duke, UNC or Florida St. I give UVA the edge here as they are 12-1 at home while the Terps are a dismal 1-5 on the road.
Yes, New Mexico has won six straight games heading into Saturday’s showdown against Mountain West rival UNLV. Yes, UNLV stinks on the road, the Rebels are just 5-6 away from home. Yes, the Lobos now sit atop the conference coming off a win at No. 15 San Diego St., and their last loss came a lonnnng time ago, at UNLV on Jan 21.
Having said all of that, I’m taking No. 11 UNLV. I feel like this is the week the Rebels get back on track on the road. Could this prediction go up in flames? Sure. But my gut tells me Vegas comes up a winner on Saturday.
And finally, in the Big 12, we’ve got Kansas State visiting No. 10 Baylor. If anyone in the Big 12 aside from Kansas or Missouri can beat the Bears (22-4, 9-4 Big 12), it’s probably the Wildcats (17-8, 6-7 Big 12), but I don’t see it happening Saturday. Baylor is too good at home (12-2) and this team is on a mission. From Brittney Griner and the women’s hoops team to RG III and the football team to men’s basketball, I’m convinced 2011-2012 belongs to Baylor athletics. The men’s basketball program has overcome such heinous corruption and heartbreak in a relatively short amount of time with this last year being truly special . Despite losses to the cream of the crop Kansas and Missouri, I see Baylor getting a running start heading into the Tourney. I think Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson and Quincy Acy will be too much for the Wildcats to overcome in Waco.
The majority of Americans are likely uncertain as to how to feel about the death former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 85, the last few months were painful and ugly for Paterno and his family for so many reasons. If one didn’t know him personally or have a connection to Penn State University, surely the demise of the legendary coach-turned-infamous bystander lends itself to a mixed bag of emotions.
On one hand, we know Paterno positively impacted thousands of lives on top of what he did for Penn State, serving as an ambassador, fundraiser, donor and face of the university. One would think Paterno certainly did more good than bad in his 61-year tenure at Penn State, but I would bet that any victim of sexual abuse would disagree.
Mike Bertha, whose Twitter profile reads, “I’m a Penn State grad from the ‘burbs and an assistant editor at Philadelphia magazine,” went to the Paterno statue on campus as news of Paterno’s quickly deteriorating health broke Saturday evening. Bertha tweeted the following from the Paterno statue:
@MikeBertha: Student- he’s not just a football coach, he’s a grandfather figure. And if you’re not a part of the penn state family, you might not get that
I’m no Paterno apologist, but I can understand that statement at face value. Many people worship celebrities, athletes, politicians, etc. while being unaware of the personal life and probable flaws beneath the facade of fame. If we knew everything about our favorite celebrities and public figures, chances are we wouldn’t have favorite strangers anymore. Ignorance is bliss.
While devastating for his family, friends and supporters, Paterno’s passing welcomes the end of an ugly chapter in the history of Penn State University and its football program. Obviously, Paterno’s death won’t halt the pain forever felt by the victims who suffered at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. The eventual prosecution of the perpetrator will help bring closure to the victims, but the university, alumni and State College community will require more than Sandusky behind bars to wipe the slate clean. The loss of the man who possessed the power to stop the cycle and end the silence but didn’t, is certainly symbolic in a near-palpable way.
Many were upset with the hiring of Bill O’Brien as the Nittany Lions head coach, saying “he’s not a Penn State guy,” and “how come nobody on the current staff even gets a chance to stay on board?” After an unprecedented scandal of enormous proportion and even bigger perversions and heartache, cleaning house was the right thing to do for the university and its athletic program. But with the beloved and embattled JoePa still residing right off campus in State College came the cameras, always ready to shine on him, the journalists on the front lawn with pens in hand, and attention consistently given to disgrace and downfall. There would be no moving on with Paterno still in our sights and thoughts.
Surely, the first day Joe Paterno set foot on the Penn State campus was one of the best days in the history of the school. Who would have thought we could say the same about the day Paterno died.
*Drawing above courtesy of Onward State, a Penn State online news organization
*Photo of candles and memorabilia at the base of the Joe Paterno statue on campus courtesy of Onward State twitter feed
Video Touchdown: When David Bowie Met Tim Tebow
With the horror of musician John Parr’s reworked version of the 1980’s movie theme song, “St. Elmo’s Fire” into a Tim Tebow-inspired anthem aptly titled, “Tim Tebow’s Fire,” I was delighted when I saw the video above by Jimmy Fallon.
The comedian-turned-late night talk show host is fantastic at impersonations as he proved during his career on Saturday Night Live, so what better way to make fun of the terrible “St. Elmo’s Fire” reboot with a throwback Tebow jam of his own.
Well, technically speaking, it’s Jimmy Fallon doing David Bowie doing Ziggy Stardust. Fallon created perhaps the greatest character of all time as “Tebowie” is the love child of Bowie’s iconic 70’s persona Stardust and the angel on earth that is Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Fallon put new lyrics to the Bowie classic “Space Oddity” and performed it with the hair, make-up and platform go-go boots of Stardust while wearing Tebow’s uniform. His Bowie impersonation is spot on as the lyrics take the audience through a hilarious conversation between Jesus and Tebow.
Why I am writing this blog in a formal news style? That makes no sense. Sorry!
Okay, I digress. My favorite line from Fallon as Ziggy as Jesus goes like this:
“I hear that you play New England next week. Dude, you’re on your own.”
How great is that? A few minutes after the Broncos beat the Steelers in their wildcard game, I tweeted something to the effect of should he Broncos beat the Patriots in New England, I will have to reassess my life.
I was half joking, but also half serious. The Broncos are not supposed to beat the Patriots. They just aren’t. Vegas has the Pats favored by 13.5 points over the Broncos, presumably because New England has one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady along with the top wide receiver over the last few seasons (Wes Welker) and two of the five most productive tight ends in the league (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez).
Then again, the Patriots have been bounced from the playoffs in their first-round playoff games in the last two seasons in which both games were played at home in Gillette Stadium. The Broncos weren’t supposed to win with Tebow, a quarterback who opponents like Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher referred to as a running back.
Tim Tebow, one of the most successful college quarterbacks in history wasn’t supposed to succeed at the next level because he didn’t have the arm, or the throwing motion, or the ability of the prototypical NFL player. But the impossible has already happened with the success of Tebow and the Broncos (plenty of credit goes to their defense, I know) and I must admit, it’s freaking me out a bit, but in a fun and exciting way.
Just as Ziggy Stardust had inexplicably glamorous and super-human qualities, Tebow seems to be following that same path, but using eye black instead of eye liner. Saturday will be a battle of the golden boys and tonight before bed, I’ll pray to my lucky stars that game is indeed divine.
If you’re looking for long runs, sweet spirals traveling 40 yards before dropping into the arms of a wide receiver, or big numbers in the scoring column, the BCS Championship Game between LSU and Alabama might not be the game for you.
If you recall, the last time these two got together last November, the Tigers needed overtime to beat the Crimson Tide 9-6 in an overtime game that featured zero touchdowns.
Top ranked LSU (13-0) and No. 2 Alabama (12-1) are evenly matched, both with stellar defenses, making this a hard game to pick. But like a croupier (the roulette host) in Vegas once told me, “stay with whatever color is hot. If black has won five straight times, don’t bet against it until you land on red.” I don’t bet on sports, but I am a firm believer in patterns. I haven’t seen LSU lose, therefor I’m not going against them. No chance.
In college hoops, sometimes we see conference rivals meet up for a third time in either their conference tournament or the NCAA tournament after one team swept the other in regular season play. The pundits always say, “it’s really hard to win that third straight game.” Does that same principle apply to college football but in regards to the second game? I guess we’ll find out on Monday.
A more tangible reason for taking the Tigers Monday night is the fact that they beat both Oregon and West Virginia in the regular season. Both of those Top 25 teams have high-powered offenses which were on full display in the Rose and Orange bowls, respectively. In fact, LSU beat eight Top 25 teams this season, and only three of those wins came at home in Baton Rouge.
That leads me to yet another reason to pick LSU. The title game is being played at the Superdome in New Orleans, just a stone’s throw from LSU’s campus. While an equal number of tickets were sold to both schools (allegedly) and Tuscaloosa is only about 300 miles away, one could assume this will be more of a Tigers home game than a neutral site.
Okay, now to the nitty gritty; LSU ranks 12th in scoring offense with Alabama not far behind, ranked 17th in the nation. It was worth mentioning, but we all know that defense is the name of the game for these two teams. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in every defensive category, allowing only 8.83 points and 191.25 yards per game. That is ridiculous and hard for me to comprehend, especially playing against offensive linemen upward of 300 pounds in the SEC week in and week out.
But there’s a catch, of course. The LSU defense is no slouch either, surrendering just 10.54 points and 252 yards per game. The Tigers counter Alabama’s two big linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw with their top-notch corners, Morris Claiborne and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu, better known as the Honey Badger. And I’ll tell ya something about Mathieu, he certainly isn’t intimidated by Alabama’s star running back and fellow Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, nor does he give a s%^! about the Crimson Tide’s cool-as-a-cucumber quarterback AJ McCarron, who in his first year as starter, has done a damn good job.
Like McCarron, Mathieu is a sophomore who has managed to make his presence felt in a big way. Only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Mathieu leads the LSU defense with 71 tackles, 11 forced fumbles and two interceptions. With two punts returned for touchdowns, I fully expect Alabama’s special teams to try its best to stop Mathieu, but as we’ve seen with Devin Hester in the NFL, sometimes teams fall victim to the Bears return man despite their attempts to not kick to him. In a game where little offense is anticipated, I think a special teams play could be the deciding factor.
The kicking game is what decided the first meeting between LSU and Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and it just might be the difference maker again in New Orleans. Alabama missed FOUR field goal attempts which clearly cost them the game back in November. No football team ever wants a game to come down to a field goal (just ask Andrew Luck and Stanford… yikes), but those guys are on the team for a reason. Sometimes that’s the way it is and hopefully, your guy has the leg (and the stones) to get it done.
As far as coaching is concerned, both Nick Saban and Les Miles are top-notch, championship-winning coaches, despite having two completely different styles and personalities. Both teams are in great hands when it comes to their respective head coaches.
While the LSU and Alabama players and coaches have said that they enjoyed the first meeting and thought it was great football because of the strong defense played by both teams, I would urge somebody, ANYBODY to score a touchdown in the rematch. I love defense as much as the next guy, but it wouldn’t hurt either team to find the endzone once or twice. The Superdome should be full of electricity, regardless of offensive production and with all of the marbles at stake, I can’t wait to watch LSU and Alabama go at it for the championship.
That said, can we please get a playoff in college football? Thanks!
The last team to come close to finishing a regular season undefeated was St. Joe’s back in 2004. In fact, they did technically go unbeaten in the regular season (27-0), before losing the quarter-final round game of the A-10 conference tournament heading into March Madness.
As talented as Syracuse, Baylor, Missouri and Murray State may be, all four of the nation’s currently undefeated teams have just started conference play and have a ways to go in terms of proving themselves.
16 teams have finished the regular season undefeated but lost in the NCAA Tournament (or a different post season playoff) and only seven have gone unbeaten throughout the season and playoffs to win the national championship. Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to accomplish that feat back in 1976.
I’m giving you the history lesson because I don’t know if we will EVER see an undefeated college team in men’s basketball again. Could it happen? Sure, of course it could, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
For discussion’s sake, lets take a look at the four (of 345) remaining Division I unbeaten men’s basketball teams. We’ll go in order from lowest to highest AP poll ranking.
No 19. Murray State 15-0, Ohio Valley
Should Murray State go undefeated, nobody will give them any credit for it anyway because they are in a mid-major conference. The truth is that undefeated is undefeated, whether its in the NFL, college hoops, synchronized swimming or little league baseball, it should always be regarded as a major accomplishment. If anyone can do it at this point, it’s probably the Racers given their schedule. But even in the Ohio Valley conference, going unbeaten won’t come easy for Murray State.
The Racers beat Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday in their first game without the team’s leading rebounder, forward Ivan Aska. The senior is out indefinitely with a broken right hand. The Racers will have to account for his 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. In fact, Aska is one of only three Racers who averages double figures in scoring.
Murray state is among the country’s best in terms long-distance shooting, hitting 43.7 percent from 3-point range. But you know what they say; Live by the 3, die by the 3.
While losing Aska indefinitely worries me a lot, the good news for the Racers is that not only are the other teams in the Ohio Valley conference not “big name” programs, but many of their OVC opponents look horrendous this season. Only 7 of the 11 teams are .500 or better, but most are on the lower end of that spectrum.
No. 7 Missouri 14-0, Big 12
I feel like Missouri will always let you down when it counts so several years ago I decided never to count on them. But damn, they look good this season! Whoa. They rank first in D-1 in field goal percentage (shooting 52%) and second overall in scoring, averaging 86.2 points per game. The Tigers also dish the ball out around 17 times per game, good for 16th in the nation in assists. This Mizzou offense is FOR REAL.
The Tigers dropped 92 points on then-ranked No. 18 Cal, and held the Golden Bears to only 53 pathetic points. To humiliate another ranked team 92-53 is mighty impressive (even if it was Berkeley, coming from a weak Pac-12 conference).
I like the Tigers because they have been somewhat tested in playing two ranked teams thus far (Mizzou squeezed out a four-point win over then-No. 24 Illinois), which cannot be said for Murray State, Baylor or Syracuse. Then again, neither Cal nor Illinois are currently ranked.
It’s hard to know just how good their defense is because to use the phrase, “they held Niagra to 52 points” would be an oxymoron; I could probably hold Nigara to 60 by myself. I can’t gauge their defense just yet, but once the Tigers have more than one conference game under their belt, we’ll get a much better picture of the D.
I would say that Saturday’s game against No. 23 Kansas State should be a great measuring stick for the Tigers since the Wildcats has showed such strong defense all season. Unfortunately, KState got hammered by Kansas on Wednesday, allowing the Jayhawks the freedom to do whatever they desired in a 67-49 win over the Wildcats. Should Missouri beat Kansas State this weekend, it might not mean as much as we thought it would have before the Kansas game.
The Tigers’ problem will be the same as Baylor and Syracuse; they play in a strong conference that will make an undefeated regular season incredibly hard to pull off. Mizzou reminds me a little bit of the Patriots in that you really aren’t sure what you’ll get on the defensive end, but you can’t really root against them because of the strength of the Tigers offense.
No. 4 Baylor 14-0, Big 12
What a year for Baylor University. First, Robert Griffin III goes berserk, leading Baylor to only its second 10-win season in school history en route to a bowl game victory AND the school’s first ever Heisman Trophy. Who thought there would be room for another top team within the same school? Apparently, there’s plenty of room at the top as Baylor is the only D-1 school currently ranked in the coaches polls in football, men’s and women’s basketball.
If the Baylor men’s basketball team goes deep into the tournament, much less finishes the regular season undefeated, the Bears would easily be the best story of a young 2012 year.
It feels like just yesterday when I first heard the news that Baylor forward Patrick Dennehey went missing and was subsequently found murdered at the hands of his friend and Bears teammate Carlton Dotson, who is now serving a 35-year prison sentence. Investigations into the 2003 incident uncovered drug use among the men’s program, cover-ups by then-head coach Dave Bliss, illegal payments from coaches to players and other violations resulting in several sanctions (probation, loss of non-conference games, reduced scholarships and recruiting visits, etc.) levied by both the university itself and the NCAA.
Had this scandal occurred at a school with a more storied basketball program in this age of the internet and social media, it would’ve taken on a magnitude of Penn State/Sandusky proportion.
Thankfully for Baylor, the only small, private school in the Big 12, the worst is behind them and the men’s basketball program has recovered in a truly incredible fashion.
From RGIII on the football field to Perry Jones III on the hardwood, Baylor basketball is now off to its best start in school history to match it’s highest poll ranking ever at No.4 AP.
For whatever its worth, Jones, a 6’11 sophomore, was voted the Big 12 preseason player of the year and hasn’t disappointed as he leads the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game in nine games (he served a six-game suspension for taking improper benefits before arriving at Baylor) and ranks second in rebounding with 7.3 per contest.
The great thing about Baylor is that they aren’t a one-trick pony as FIVE guys on the team are averaging double figures in scoring and no player is averaging more than 14 minutes per game. The team is pretty well-balanced in most areas.
The problem here is that the Big 12 is quite competitive this season with three other teams ranked in the top 25 (including unbeaten No. 7 Missouri, as mentioned above), none of which Baylor has faced yet. Even the unranked teams are decent, if not pretty good, which has my instincts telling me the Bears could easily suffer an upset by Texas or Oklahoma.
If any team were to finish the season undefeated, or come close to doing so, Baylor would be at the top of my wish list.
No. 1 Syracuse 16-0, Big East
For starters, the ‘Cuse is second to none in the name game as the Orangemen have the nation’s best-named team with a roster full of gems like Christmas, Fab, Scoop and Mookie
The team is deep in great names and solid ability, with ten players averaging between 15 and 16 minutes of playing time per game. No player averages more than 16. That’s pretty impressive and tells you that with every point scored and every rebound grabbed, “there’s more where that came from.” The Orangemen might not have the most talented roster pound-for-pound, but they are deep as hell with a second unit just as strong as their starters which is a rare luxury to have.
If you’re a stats junkie, this team sure look good as it’s ranked in the top 15 nationwide in points, assists and field goal percentage per game. The Orangemen have hot hands, shooting nearly 50% from the field.
Unlike Murray State, Syracuse plays in the Big East, a perennial power house year in and year out. Thing is, they’ve only played 3 conference games thus far and only played one ranked school, Florida.
Sure, against crappy programs (sorry if that sounds harsh, but you guys know what I mean), the Orangemen have won by a fairly large margin, but the same cannot be said in games against more reputable teams. At the end of the day, a win is a win, but yes, margin of victory does help me gauge where a team is in it’s development and how it’s evolving throughout a season.
Is the margin of victory smaller to begin the season, and larger toward the end, proving that a team is gelling and running like a well-oiled machine? Or are the wins harder to get, perhaps indicating stamina issues, health problems, etc.?
Assuming the Orangemen are still undefeated by February, perhaps their real test will come with a three-game stretch at the start of the month playing No. 9 Georgetown and No. 8 Connecticut at home followed by No. 10. Louisville on the road. If Syracuse can make it through that, they would be at 26-0 with only four games to play, including rematches with UConn and Louisville. With an experienced coach like Jim Boeheim, if the Orangemen do make it to 26-0, I would give them a pretty damn good shot in finishing the regular season unbeaten.
I decided to end my Hanukkah vacation a few days early to bring you the always fun, yet cliched obligatory “athlete saves somebody’s life” story. I love this kind of stuff; it’s so cheesy and heartwarming! Without further ado, here’s the story.
It all went down at Lawry’s, a prestigious Beverly Hills restaurant where the two teams playing in the Rose Bowl game (this year, it’s Oregon and Wisconsin) take part in the annual Beef Bowl dinner a few days before taking the field in Pasadena. Yes, the Beef Bowl is one of those events that probably makes foreigners dislike America as it challenges two college teams to a duel of eating; whichever team can consume the most prime rib is the “winner.”
Paul Diamond, the father of a University of Oregon student was dining at Lawry’s during the Beef Bowl Wednesday evening when he started choking on a piece of meat and gestured for help. A restaurant chef gave the good old Heimlich maneuver a try, but to no avail. That’s when Ducks offensive lineman and our story’s hero, Mark Asper sprung into action.
The senior told the L.A. Times, “I stood up and patted [the chef] on the back and said, ‘If you don’t know what you’re doing, I do, because I’m an Eagle Scout,’ ” Asper said. “So I whipped in there.”
An Eagle Scout? I can’t stop laughing! This guy is awesome. Oh ya, he’s 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds, so naturally, he was concerned that his strength might do more harm than good. “The first heave was a test heave, because the guy seemed a little old, and I didn’t want to break his ribs or anything. So, test heave, then it seemed like he could handle the full force, so I popped it out.”
Despite being called “old,” Diamond was certainly grateful for the big man’s help, but Asper’s performance wasn’t quite perfect. “He came up to me afterward and said ‘Hey, man, thanks a lot, but you broke my sunglasses.’”
While I don’t condone needless consumption of food while millions worldwide are starving (plus the whole thing totally grosses me out), this story is awesome in part because Asper potentially saved a man’s life and also because of Asper’s personality and reaction to what went down.
After all the hoopla, it was back to dinner as usual, prime ribs and all. “Last I saw, he was taking smaller bites, but still at the plate,” Asper said with a chuckle. Raised in Idaho Falls, ID, Asper is a 26-year-old married father of two daughters. He is on the older side as Asper completed a two-year Mormon mission after graduating from Bonneville High School. In fact, my first night as a sports reporter was spent shooting a Bonneville Bees football game as my first on-air job was with KIDK-TV in Idaho Falls, although I just missed Asper by one year. Too bad though because he seems like a fun guy to cover as a reporter.
On a serious note, choking is so dangerous because it is silent. When a person is truly choking, their airway is completely blocked, thus preventing the person from making any oral sounds. When I was a counselor at a summer camp several years ago, a camper sitting next to me at the lunch table choking, but because my head was turned to the kid on the other side of me, I had no idea. Thankfully, the camper sitting directly across from us saw him motion that he was choking so he got up, ran around to our side of the table, and successfully performed the Heimlich on his buddy.
Good thing Asper was an Eagle Scout otherwise he might never have learned the life-saving technique. I think every athlete from high school on up should be first aid and CPR certified. It takes one day of training that could easily be done during training camp. The athletes would learn telltale signs of dehydration, heat stroke, sun stroke and other common ailments that come along with playing sports.
Thursday night, Wisconsin will take the Beef Bowl stage at Lawry’s. No word yet on how many pounds of prime rib the Badgers need to throw down to beat the Ducks, but we’ll find out that pertinent information soon enough. Either way, it looks like the Ducks will win the Beef Bowl, at least in the eyes of the public thanks to Asper lending a very large helping hand.
2011 can’t end fast enough for Charlie Bell. Apparently being locked out by his employers was the least of Bell’s problems. The Golden State Warriors reserve guard was busted for driving drunk in February, allegedly stabbed by his wife with a box cutter in May, followed by another DUI arrest in Flint, MI in October, which leads us to our story today.
Bell, 32, had a hearing Thursday in connection with the October DUI , which included a previously scheduled breathalyzer test… I think you know where this is headed… Mr. Bell blew a .09 during Thursday’s alcohol assessment. Yes, Bell showed up to a DUI hearing legally drunk. Yikes.
According to SFGate.com, Bell’s case was going to be resolved on Thursday, that is until he arrived in court with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. “Bell was held, in a district court holding cell, on a bond violation until he sobered up,” wrote Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com. “He’s expected back in court Friday, which marks the start of Warriors training camp for the rest of his teammates.”
Bell seems to be only a shadow of the young man who helped lead the Michigan State Spartans to an NCAA Championship back in 2000, as he has jumped around between the NBA and overseas basketball over the last decade. Bell played in only 19 games for the Warriors last season, and according to Eric Freeman of Yahoo Sports, Golden State is considering using the amnesty clause to dump his contract. The Warriors can waive Bell along with the $4 million owed to him without it counting against the salary cap.
Clearly, this young man has serious problems and hopefully he has somebody around him to lead him in the right direction and convince him to seek professional help. In the internet age of youtube, public humiliation and bullying, Bell’s misfortunes make him an easy target for ridicule. But Bell is beyond that point as perhaps he has hit rock bottom.
Should the Warriors waive him, it would be nice to see the organization do the right thing by offering him whatever medical or psychological help he might require, as Bell needs the support of a team now more than ever.
It didn’t take long for UCLA to find a rebound after breaking up with Rick Neuheisel a few weeks ago as the school has reportedly hired Jim L. Mora (aka Jim Mora Jr.) to be its next head football coach.
Perhaps L.A. will find itself in another Pete Carroll-esque football fairytale: A failed NFL coach has a tough pill to swallow, taking a perceived demotion to keep his career alive and turns out to be a college football genius, creating one of the most dominating programs in the nation. Carroll was 49 years old when he landed the USC job, Mora is 50. USC football was down in the dumps at the time, just like UCLA is now, not having made the Rose Bowl in a school-record 13 seasons.
After finishing 6-7, UCLA will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with offensive coordinator Mike Johnson at the helm as interim coach. Johnson served as the Falcons quarterbacks coach under Mora in Atlanta, a connection that bodes well for Johnson who may very well get to keep his job as a result. UCLA is expected to officially announce the Mora hire Saturday.
This hire is interesting to me in that UCLA’s first choice was Boise State’s Chris Petersen, who is one of the “it” coaches in college football. Everything about Petersen screams “college.” After Petersen turned down the gig, UCLA appraoched Miami’s Al Golden (who wasn’t interested) and subsequently met wth Houston’s Kevin Sumlin who was not offered the job, according to the LA Times.
It appears as though after most of the big names in college ball either already took jobs elsewhere (like Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez, etc.) or declined UCLA’s offer, the Bruins went to the next big name they could find, even though he lacks experience at the collegiate level.
That’s where Jim Mora comes in. Sure, we know his name, his famous father and “PLAYOFFS!?!” Sure, he has been a head coach before, but in the NFL, with the Atlanta Falcons, and most recently, Seattle Seahawks before being fired and replaced by Pete Carroll in the offseason of 2010. In fact, Mora’s only coaching at the collegiate level came in 1984 as a graduate assistant at the University of Washington, his alma mater, according to the LA Times. Mora has spent the last two seasons as a television analyst for NFL Network and co-hosts a podcast as well.
According to the LA Times, Mora was interested in the UCLA job from the get-go, meeting with university officials twice. Mora’s interest in the Bruins gig wasn’t completely out of left field as he was born in Los Angeles and his father served as an assistant coach at UCLA in 1974.
With Carroll out, Kiffin in, and still no NFL team, this would be a golden opportunity for UCLA to get its Mojo back. Mora’s name alone will help sell tickets but UCLA alumni and Los Angeles football fans will demand success on the field in order to sustain their interest in the Bruins. Mora certainly has his work cut out for him.
To read the LA Times article about UCLA’s hiring of Jim L. Mora, click here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-spw-ucla-jim-mora-20111210,0,3170928.story
News of Puerto Rican officials seizing nearly 500 pounds of Cocaine worth more than $4 million from a home owned by professional boxer Ivan Calderon reminded me of something.
First thing that came to mind was a scandal in Tuscon, a 2-for-1 scandal of sorts, involving the Arizona Wildcats football team.
For starters, the Puerto Rican boxer has denied any knowledge of the cocaine found in his home, which he cited as one of many investment properties.
Now back to Tuscon… I was a sophomore, the year was 2002, circa mid-November when some of my buddies from the football team stopped by my dorm room for a little chat one evening.
The players told me that then-head coach John Mackovic had dished out verbal lashings to some players after an ugly 37-7 loss to UCLA all hell had broken loose since.
Athletes are used to being yelled at by coaches, right? Well apparently everyone has a breaking point, even big, tough football players. According to the players, verbal abuse was Mackovic’s every-day-way, and after the UCLA loss, the coach crossed the line when he hurled expletives at junior tight end Justin Levasseur and told him he was an embarrassment to the team and a disgrace to his family.
Didn’t anyone ever tell Coach Mack you DO NOT bring up mamas and families when trash talking? It’s a rule.
Anyway, the incident prompted more than 40 players, led by then-senior linebacker Lance Briggs, to head over to university President Pete Likins’ office for a chat where the players voiced their concerns and complaints about the 59-year-old coach, in his second year at Arizona at the time.
The meeting with President Likins led to Mackovic apologizing publicly and privately for his actions, but the team remained divided. The Wildcats went on to win only one more game and finished the season 4-8 overall with only one Pac10 victory.
In a strange twist of fate, only a few weeks later Levasseur was arrested on drug trafficking charges after he was stopped while driving through Illinois with 87 pounds of marijuana in his truck.
Perhaps Coach Mack was on to something… but both men would be punished in the end.
Mackovic was unable to regain the trust or respect of his players and was fired 5 games into the 2003 football season. He has not coached at the collegiate level since.
As for Levasseur, he pleaded guilty to a Class 1 felony charge (while two others were dropped), saying that he got mixed up with the wrong crowd in college, and low on cash, made a terrible decision. Levasseur’s father publicly claimed that his son’s actions were spurred by greed. While Levasseur’s football career was over at age 22, he was lucky to avoid serving jail time as he was sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay more than $275,000 in fines.
It looks like Levasseur is doing just fine these days, as he is “in a relationship” and living in Phoenix, according to his Facebook page
The last major character in this story is Lance Briggs. In reading his quotes from the Arizona Daily Wildcat back in 2002 ( http://wc.arizona.edu/papers/96/57/02_1.html ), one can see that Briggs was well on his way to bigger and better things on the football field and as a leader.
This was a time when young men were not afraid to stand up for themselves and speak out against something they felt was wrong. They displayed a type of bravery that has been lacking in today’s NCAA. Perhaps current students and faculty alike should borrow this page from Briggs’ old playbook.
While the Arizona football program has suffered several miserable seasons (until recently), the Chicago Bear and six time Pro Bowl selection is one of the few guys us Wildcats can brag about. So for that, I say thanks Lance, and Beardown!
Don’t Poke The Sleeping Bear: Baylor Coach Gets Feisty With Reporter, Pulls QB From Interview After Loss
Um, what’s this guy’s problem? I suppose getting a 55-28 beat down care of Texas A&M is the most likely cause of Baylor head football coach Art Briles’ piss poor attitude, but it doesn’t give him the right to take out his anger on a reporter trying to do his job.
Lets set the scene… Although Baylor got whooped in Saturday’s contest, the Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III balled out, throwing for a school record 430 yards and three touchdowns. So what did Aggies coach Mike Sherman do once the game ended? The classy thing of course, which was to find Griffin and congratulate the young man on such an impressive performance (despite the loss).
Somewhere in the depths of Kyle Field (looks like near the locker room), the media gathered around Griffin to ask some post game questions. As you’ll see in the video, a reporter asks Griffin what the opposing coach said to him after the game. That’s when the peanut gallery chimes in. And by peanut gallery, I mean Coach Briles.
The Baylor coach steps in, saying to the reporter, “where are you from? Are you from A&M?” The reporter replies, “Coach, I work for the Bryan-College Station Eagle,” and that was all it took for Briles to shut it down on the spot. Briles says that Griffin doesn’t “need to answer that” and sends the QB on his merry way into the locker room. Granted, you can hear the Baylor media relations person in the video say “last question” before the “evil A&M” reporter snuck in his sinister question, but it’s not the coach’s place to pull a player from an interview like that.
Unless there is a significant piece of information we don’t know about, Mr. Briles owes that reporter a personal apology for being unnecessarily rude. As a reporter, I can tell you that when a coach speaks to you in that tone, in front of your peers, it is a humiliating experience. I’ll be waiting to see how Briles attempts to justify his behavior, but I won’t hold my breath for an apology.
Sitting in the stands watching USC take on Arizona at the LA Coliseum last Saturday got me thinking… The stands were maybe 70 percent full, the crowd wasn’t that loud, and the plays USC ran were boring and predictable. No spice, no sizzle. It was a stark contrast from the way I remembered the Trojans…
It was my first time inside the Coliseum since November 25, 2006, when I worked as a production runner (aka - gopher to the TV crew) for ESPN/ABC’s broadcast of USC vs. Notre Dame. Albeit coming off the most incredible game I’ve ever seen in person, USC’s loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl BCS Championship game, it was still the hay day of the Pete Carroll era. The tandem of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, along with several other offensive weapons and an enforcing defense had given the Trojans a supreme confidence, showcased in many ways, including frequent use of trick plays.
I got my start in television working as a production runner for college football broadcasts and covered several USC games over three seasons on the job. In nearly every game I worked, it seemed like Carroll popped in a reverse, end-around, would go for it on 4th down, or bust out a fake punt or field goal. Even though I was never a USC fan (my Mom went to UCLA so I grew up a Bruins fan), I found myself shaking my head with a smile on the sidelines as the Trojans unleashed their tricks on opponents. It was just so cool. Carroll took no prisoners, going for it when it mattered (SC and Notre Dame both going on 4th downs in the game, eventually resulting in the Bush Push and a USC win, 34-31 in 2005) and when it didn’t (leading Arizona State 21-0, going for a first down by faking a field goal, which failed, in 2008). Successful trick plays ignited the crowd and delated the opposition.
These days, in 2011, going to a USC game is quite a different experience. Although the Trojans beat my alma mater Saturday, it wasn’t a pretty win. Sitting in the stands with my friends (almost all USC alum, which is quite a painful experience) we talked about how boring trojan football has become. Where was the creativity of the Pete Carroll days? Heck, even half the creativity of that era would be more than sufficient. I told my friends that USC’s offensive blandness surprised me. After all, head coach Lane Kiffin was the receivers coach and Offensive Coordinator working under Carroll during the golden years from 2001-2006. Why wouldn’t he have a little fun and take a few pages from the old playbook? Sure, the talent level isn’t the same these days, but surely these kids are capable of giving it a try. Did the Raiders really take all the fun out of this guy?
LA Times sports writer Mike Bresnahan answered my questions less than 48 hours later in his article appearing on Monday’s front page of the sports section. The headline is “No Foolin’ ” and the story is about how trick playes are pervasive in college football, but rarely used in the pro game because the reward isn’t worth the risk for NFL coaches. If a key player (especially a QB… like the play Andrew Luck successfully executed against UCLA Saturday) got injured on a trick play, or a game was lost on a creative gamble, it could cost a coach his job. Another very logical reason Bresnahan gave is that the trained eye of an NFL defender will see a lot more than that of a college player, making a trick play harder for an offense to execute successfully. (Read Mike’s story here, and check out an awesome written and graphical breakdown of Boise State’s famous Statue of Liberty variation used on the game-winning 2-point conversion in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl… http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-football-trick-plays-20111004,0,3075736,full.story)
But that doesn’t explain Kiffin going no-trick at USC…or does it? In proving his thesis on the lack of trickeration in the NFL, Bresnahan writes, “The Oakland Raiders’ playbook is 700 pages, most of it dedicated to standard sets, page after page of bread-and-butter stuff that has to be perfected. A mere 20 minutes spent on gadget plays would take away from the importance of nailing the basics on offense.”
Is Kiffin still in NFL mode? Is he still scarred by the Raiders? Is this the JaMarcus Russell Effect? When in doubt, I suppose one can always blame Al Davis. Kidding, kidding. Bresnahan cites USC’s defensive coordinator, former NFL assistant coach of 26 years, and Lane’s pops, Monte Kiffin who had an interesting take on trick plays. While the coaching staff shows the USC defense a tape of their next opponents’ trick plays each week, it seems as though the USC offense would rather not bother coming up with tricks of their own.
Bresnahan writes that unlike in the NFL, NCAA rules allow for only 20 hours of football activities per week during the season, which means timing is everything and prioritizing is key. Regarding differences between college and the pros when it comes to preparation, Monte Kiffin said, “They don’t have study halls and they don’t have classes and they don’t have tutors. And coaches have them year-round.” Perhaps a college coach’s time is better spent installing and perfecting the basics.
USC has a bye week heading into their next game at Cal Berkeley on October 13. Maybe the guys can learn a flea flicker or something?? Ok, I won’t hold my breath.
As an Arizona alum, I can’t say that I miss USC’s football dominance. But what I do miss is the guaranteed razzle dazzle every time the Trojans played. Once the postseason ban is lifted, hopefully Lane will find a new found freedom and reinstate fun on the field as well.
The NCAA has a new policy regarding transgender student athletes. The transgender terminology can be a bit confusing if you aren’t familiar with it, so here is the Merriam-Webster definition of transgender.
“…a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.”
Someone referred to as a ‘transgender man’ is a person who was biologically born as a female but identifies as a male. A ‘transgender woman’ is a person who was biologically born a female, but identifies as a female.
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page, here are some key points in the NCAA’s updated guidelines which were approved last week.
A transgender male student athlete who has a medical exception for testosterone hormone therapy may compete on a men’s team but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s team without changing the team status to a mixed team.
A transgender female student athlete who has taken medication to suppress testosterone for a year may compete on a women’s team.
One of the most important issues the NCAA tackled in its revised policy is that of testosterone, which has long been on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. Previously, the only option for a student undergoing hormone therapy was to go through a waiver process for a medical exception. It looks like the primary concern for the NCAA is fairness in competition, thus using hormones to decide which student qualifies for which team.
The issue of transgender student athletes was thrust to the media forefront in 2010 when then-junior Kye Allums, a transgender male was playing on the women’s basketball team at George Washington University.
Because of his female anatomy, Allums could not play on the men’s team at GW. Luckily, the school, coaches and ladies of the women’s team allowed a self-identified man on their roster. See what a confusing, pain in the ass this entire situation was? Imagine being a 19 or 20 year old trying to deal with this stuff.
After an injury-plagued junior season in which Allums only played eight games, he decided to end his college career, forgoing his senior season.
As for the revised policy that was approved last week, the NCAA had plenty of help, working closely with the National Center For Lesbian Rights, and taking into account a report published by the NCLR, “On The Team: Equal Opportunity For Transgender Student Athletes.”
Helping to develop the new policy was NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll, who was thrilled with the outcome.
“I commend the NCAA’s commitment to creating and supporting an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation for student athletes. That core value is strengthened as the NCAA unveils this new policy that will not only allow, but encourage transgender student athletes to participate on athletic teams. This is truly historic, and it will give transgender student athletes equal access and opportunities to play college-level sports without any obstacles.”
While I think “without any obstacles” is a bit of an exaggeration (there is no way a situation like this, even at its best could be easy for any parties involved), I think the NCAA took a step in the right direction. For a governing body of more than 1,200 colleges and universities, the NCAA needed to prove that it can adapt to modern times. Now if only they could do the same with regards to player eligibility and benefits!