"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

NFL Rankings

Big Shakeup This Week: A couple of upsets changed the face of the rankings this week, as San Francisco and Houston failed to play up to their positions in the poll. I moved Baltimore back into the list as Dallas lost in overtime to the Saints. It was a close call, as I like the way Cincinnati is playing, but the Ravens took the division and are still a dangerous team when they're healthy.

10. Baltimore Ravens 10-5 (Last Week: NR):  The Ravens got back on the winning track by defeating the hapless Giants. Baltimore has clinched the division due to a better record against common teams than the Bengals, but they still have hopes of getting the number 3 seed with a win ove the Bengals and a Patriots' loss to the Dolphins. Either way, they'll host either Indianapolis or Cincinnati next week.

9. Washington Redskins 9-6 (9): It was difficult to move the 'Skins up this week, since the only teams to lose were ranked well above them. With six wins in a row, Washington has put intself in position to take the NFC East title with a win tonight at home against Dallas. They can still back in with a loss if the Vikings and Bears both lose. The Vikings face the Packers, so that one could go Washington's way. The other game has the Bears traveling to Detroit, where the Lions will be ending a very disappointing season. I don't see Detroit pulling the upset, so the 'Skins will most likely need to beat the Cowboys in what used to be the biggest rivalry in the league.

8. Indianapolis Colts 10-5 (8): The surprising Colts are locked into the number 5 seed in the AFC, but can still knock the Texans out of the number one spot with a win against Houston at home today. The Texans dominated the Colts two weeks ago, so Indy definitely has something to prove today. This is a big game for the Colts to establish momentum going into the playoffs.

7. San Francisco Forty-Niners 10-4-1 (3): The Niners dropped from number three last week with a smackdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. I know one game doesn't always matter, but a 42 - 13 loss this close to the playoffs has to be disturbing to coach Jim Harbaugh. They need to regroup and get back on track this week. Fortunately for them, they get to play one of the worst teams in the league, the Arizona Cardinals. A win and they clinch the NFC West and can still get a first round bye if the Packers lose as well. I really wouldn't want to be the Cardinals today. This one could get very ugly.

6. Houston Texans 12-3 (2): The Texans looked uninspired and just plain lousy in a home loss to the Vikings in a game that meant a lot. Even though they can still clinch home-field advantage with a win or losses by the Patriots and the Broncos, they had their chance to wrap things up last week and instead fell flat on their collective faces. In fact, the Texans could fall to as far as the number three seed with a loss and wins by the Patriots and Broncos.

5. Green Bay Packers 11-4 (6): The Packers have won four straight games and are rounding into playoff form. They need a win to secure the number two seed, a first round bye and a home game at Lambeau Field in two weeks. Green Bay in January is no picnic for visiting teams, so today's game against Minnesota is huge for both teams. The Vikings pretty much have to win, or hope for losses by the Bears, Cowboys and Giants. This should be a terrific game with a playoff atmosphere.

4. Atlanta Falcons 13-2 (5): The Falcons took care of business last week and are the only playoff contender in the NFC who has clinched their spot and can't improve their position with a win. They have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but would still like to gain momentum going into the bye week. I still think the Falcons are a little soft and aren't built for the playoffs, but you can't argue with the best record in the NFL at this point.

3. New England Patriots 11-4 (4): The Patriots aren't as hot as they were a few weeks ago, but they are still a very dngerous playoff team with something to play for today. They are still alive for the number one seed, at least for now. The Texans - Colts  and Ravens - Bangals game will probably be completed by the time New England's game against the Dolphins begins, which will help crystallize what they have at stake in the game. The tough part is that they really need a Broncos loss, a very unlikely scenario given that Denver hosts the Chiefs today. However, this is the NFL and stranger things have happened.

2. Seattle Seahawks 10-5 (7): It was impossible to ignore the Seahawks after they dismantled the 49ers last week. Pete Carroll has his team playing at a very high level during their four game winning streak. They still have an outside chance for the NFC West crown, but they'll need the 'Niners to lay and egg at home against the Cardinals. Right now, the Seahawks have at least clinched the number five seed and appear headed on the road for the playoffs. Trust me, no one wants to have to go to Seattle to play this team.

1. Denver Broncos 12-3 (1): Denver's the hottest team in the league, sporting a ten game winning streak. They'll know by kickoff if they have a chance for the number one seed. A win is still needed to stay ahead of the Patriots to clinch the number two seed and get a bye and a home game. I don't see Peyton Manning letting the Broncos stub their toe against a pretty weak Kansas City Chiefs team, especially at home. If the Texans lose, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Denver, a very tough place to play.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Weekend Bowl Forecast

Bowl Season Cranks Up: With four more bowls between now and Saturday night, college football junkies will have plenty to watch. Even though only one ranked team is in action, the match-ups are compelling and fairly difficult to predict.

Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 20:

BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego St. (9-3): BYU lost four of its five games by a total of 13 points to tough teams. San Diego State has won seven games in a row, including a win over Boise St. I had originally gone with BYU in this one, but after looking at it more closely I have decided to go with the Aztecs, who will be playing at home. This could be a very close game and should be entertaining as well. SDSU 27 BYU 21.

Beef O'Brady's Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla., Dec. 21:

Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4): Ball St. has won six games in a row. UCF's only losses in the last nine games have come to Tulsa, the last one in overtime in the Conference USA championship game. Ball St. played in a very underrated conference and because of that I am going to go with them in this game. UCF cruised thorough a weak schedule, while Ball St. slugged its way to nine wins. Ball St. 31 UCF 27.

New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans, Dec. 22:

East Carolina (8-4) vs. University of Lousiana-Lafayette (8-4):  This is another difficult pick, but Conference USA was so weak this season it's tough to figure out what an 8-4 record means in that league.  Both teams scored a lot of points against inferior opponents. Neither one pulled an upset over BCS opponents. Regardless of the outcome, this could be a very good game. ULL will be playing close to home and that's why I give them the edge. ULL 34 ECU 31.

MAACO Bowl, Las Vegas, Dec. 22:

Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2): Boise St. is the only ranked team playing over the weekend. They should be the clear favorite, and they are. However, Washington is a program on the rise and has motivation coming off an overtime loss to their chief rival, Washington St. Boise St. has one of the best bowl records in recent memory, especially against BCS conference opponents. That points to coaching, so I will give them the edge here in what could be another close one. Boise St. 27 Washington 24.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NFL Rankings

A Little Shakeup as The Playoff Picture Gets Clearer: San Francisco's victory on the road at New England,, only the Pats' second December home loss in the last decade, moved them ahead of the Patriots and giving the red hot Denver Broncos the top spot in this week's rankings. The Redskins and Cowboys are on a collision course for a winner take all season ending match-up following the Giants' blowout loss to the Falcons. Home field advantage is still up for grabs in both conferences, so a lot of meaningful games left are left on the schedule. Fourteen of the sixteen games this weekend have playoff implications.

10. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) (Last Week: NR): It pains me to include the 'Boys in the rankings, but it's hard to ignore three wins in a row at this time in the season.  They held on to defeat the Steelers and host a very inconsistent New Orleans team, where a win could set up a winner take all showdown with the Redskins on the last day of the season. I like the way the Cowboys are playing defense and will probably give the Saints a lot of problems on Sunday.

9. Washington Redskins (8-6) (10): Even without RGIII, the 'Skins were able to take care of business in Cleveland, dominating the second half behind a strong defense and rookie QB Kirk Cousins to win their fifth game in a row. Paired with the the Giants' embarrassing loss at Atlanta, Washington now controls their own destiny in the NFC East as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The only motivation Philadelphia has is to spoil a rival's opportunity to stay in playoff contention. It's apparent that Andy Reid will not be with the Eagles next season and Michael Vick is probably headed elsewhere, so it is a franchise in transition and will need quite an effort to defeat the Redskins.

8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5) (6): Despite their loss at Houston on Sunday, the Colts are still just one win away from clinching a playoff bid, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck. They head to Kansas City this week to play one of the most ineffective teams in the league. The fact that the Colts decided to overhaul their team by not signing Peyton Manning, making changes in the coaching staff and the front office and drafting Andrew Luck makes Indy's season pretty remarkable. The Chiefs have had a difficult season, both on and off the field, and we'll see what kind of fight they have left.

7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5) (9): I could probably make a case for the Seahawks to be ranked much higher than seventh this week. They've won their last three games, the last two by a combined 108 - 17. True, the Cardinals and Bills are not among the league's elite, but those are college type blowouts, not what we generally see in the NFL. The Seahawks control their own destiny for the top wildcard spot and are still in contention for the NFC West title. The weekend's last game has the Forty Niners traveling to Seattle, where the Seahawks are undefeated this season. Even with a victory this week, it's unlikely the Seahawks will win the division, given that San Francisco ends the season at home against the hapless Cardinals.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4) (5): The Packers' drop from five to six was really more about elevating the Falcons from seventh to fifth. Green Bay won a tough game against the Bears to clinch the NFC North and are still mathematically in the race for home field advantage. For the Packers, that can be quite an advantage, but it will take two wins for Green Bay and a lot of help from the Falcons and the Niners. Stranger things have happened. The Pack hosts the Titans who are coming off a very ugly win over the Jets. Aaron Rodgers should lead them to another late season win at Lambeau Field.

5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) (7): The Falcons showed me a lot in their dismantling of the Giants last week. That game had a playoff feel and Atlanta showed up in a big way. The Falcons are one win away from clinching home field, which for the first time they may be ready to exploit. Atlanta travels to Detroit to play an underachieving Lions squad in a Saturday night game. Detroit is 4-10, but with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson they can still be dangerous. However, I expect the Falcons to win the game.

4. New England Patriots (10-4) (1): The Pats spotted the Niners twenty-eight points and still almost pulled out a victory. However, the one aspect New England's game that has been suspect, it's secondary, was exposed early in the game. With Denver and Houston in front of them at the moment, it appears that the Patriots will probably have to go on the road for a couple of games to reach the Super Bowl. This week they head to Jacksonville and I just don't see any way the Jaguars can compete in this one.

3. San Francisco Forty-Niners (10-3-1) (3): Even though the Falcons have a better record, I still believe the Niners, especially after going into Foxboro and beating the Pats, are a better team. They're built for the playoffs with a strong defense and tough running game. However, they face a very difficult challenge this week in Seattle. This game will tell us a lot about both teams. No one wants to go into Seattle with the division on the line. I can't wait for this one.

2. Houston Texans (12-2) (4): The Texans did what they had to in putting the Colts in their place. The AFC playoffs will be brutal, regardless of how thing transpire in the next two weeks. Houston can clinch home field with a win at home against Minnesota this week. They own a win over Denver that gives the Texans the tiebreaker over the Broncos. The Vikings are still in the playoff hunt and Adrian Peterson is on fire, so Houston faces a tough task. If the Texans fail to win this week, they'll have to win at Indianapolis in a quick rematch with the Colts.

1. Denver Broncos (11-3) (2): Peyton Manning is putting together a great comeback season and had led the Broncos to nine consecutive victories. Their last two games are at home against Cleveland and Kansas City, two teams that already have the golf clubs packed and are likely to see significant changes in the offseason. Even though the division has been clinched, they can still get home-field advantage if the Texans fail to win one of their last two. Denver needs to keep winning to get a home playoff game, as they also lost to New England, so the Pats have the tiebreaker on them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Musings: NFL, College Bowl Games, Tiger, The NBA

The Jets, Really? Coming off two meaningful and good performances by the Redskins two weeks ago and the Patriots last week, ESPN ended up with a dog of a game last night. Mike Tirico actually sounded relieved the atrocity was over when Mark Sanchez fumbled the snap away to essentially end the game. That was following a 19 yard punt by the Titans that apparently put the Jets back into the game with fifty-three seconds left. Of course, that was following a Sanchez interception that apparently put the Titans in the driver's seat. Okay, you get the picture. Ugly game, ugly ending. Ugly score, with only twenty-four total points in a league designed to allow me to have a chance to complete passes. At least the Jets are out of playoff contention and they can now slink quietly into the offseason.

Australian Resort Owner Displays His Ignorance: I just love it when people take shots at Tiger Woods, such as the one this week when Clive Palmer, whose resort hosted the Australian PGA Championship this past week. Apparently, he doesn't think Tiger Woods represents the future of golf and would prefer that the second-best player of all-time, at least statistically, not play in his event. He cited Rory McElroy as the future, not Tiger. But Palmer doesn't leave it there, where I guess you could say he had a point. Instead, he cites Australian Peter Senior as a better example of the player he wants in the field. Senior is 53 years old and has won exactly four European Tour events in his long career. Tiger wins that many in a month. So let's see: A 36 year-old with 14 career major victories and three PGA tour victories just this year is not the future, but a 53 year-old journeyman is. Also, whether you personally like Tiger or not, ratings and attendance at tournaments in which he plays are 60% higher than when he doesn't. As Colin Cowherd of ESPN points out, that makes Tiger Woods more popular than the sport in which competes. Nice move, Clive! Too bad his last name is Palmer...

Bowl Update: I'm 2-0 so far in my bowl picks, thanks primarily to Nevada's collapse that allowed Arizona to score two touchdowns in the last forty-two seconds in the New Mexico Bowl. It was a stunning comeback by the Wildcats or a monumental egg laid by Nevada, depending on your perspective. That just goes to show the unprectability of bowl games. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl lacked the same thrilling ending, as Utah State capped a very good season with a 41-15 win over Toledo, a team that struggled down the stretch this season after upsetting unbeaten Cincinnati. I'm still trying to decide who to pick in tomorrow's Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, where the 9-3 Aztecs of San Diego State essentially host 7-5 BYU. I originally picked BYU, but with the Aztecs at home and winners of seven straight, I may reconsider. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog for my final pick.

NFL Playoff Picture: The last two weeks should be fun in the NFL. There are still a lot of teams alive, at least for wild card spots. Seven teams are in, but no one has clinched home field yet, so the games still matter, at least for one more week. Dallas and Washington both control their own destiny for the NFC East title, the only division without a team that's clinched a playoff berth. It's likely the winner of the match-up between those two the last game of the season will take the division crown, leaving the New York Giants high and dry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Today's Bowl Predictions and more...

Okay, they're not the Rose Bowl: I admit it, only true college football junkies will realize that today kicks off the bowl season. I'm going to try to make these two games sound like each one is for the national championship, so please forgive the hyperbole.

New Mexico Bowl, Albequerque, New Mexico: Arizona, Pac-12 (7-5) vs. Nevada, Mountain West (7-5)
Both of these teams can score a lot of points, so look for an exciting, high scoring game. Arizona, under first year coach Rich Rodriguez, is trying to lay the groundwork for an improved season next year. Nevada will be trying to pull the upset over a BCS conference team. Neither team plays much defense. It should be a good watch, but I have to go with Arizona on this one. Arizona 41 Nevada 35

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (seriously, I'm not making this up), Boise, Idaho: Utah St., Western Athletic Conference, (10-2) (BCS rank 22) vs. Toledo, Mid-American Conference, (9-3)
This game will be played on the blue turf at Boise St. University. I could go crazy with the puns on this one, but I'll spare you. Utah State had a terrific season while Toledo comes from what is probably the most under-rated conference in the country. Utah State's two losses came when their offense sputtered against Wisconsin and BYU. They held the Badgers to sixteen points in a two point loss and could only manage a field goal in a 6-3 loss to BYU. Toledo opened the season at Arizona with a 24 - 17 setback and then reeled off eight wins in a row, including a big win against previously unbeaten Cincinnati. But Utah State got their offense going late in the year, while Toledo stumbled a bit. I'm taking Utah State in this one. Utah State 38 Toledo 34.

College Football Merry-Go-Round: Every year at this time there is a lot of conversation about the impact of college coaches taking other jobs before their contracts have expired. This year it was even reported that Tommy Tubberville at Texas Tech actually left a restaurant full of recruits on his way to taking the job at Cincinnati. I'm not sure what really transpired, but it certainly made for a good story. However, the bigger college football becomes, the more money is at stake, especially in the coaching ranks. I'm not sure what can be done. The only ones that seem to be left out of the money grab are the very ones performing on the field. Should the NCAA step in make it imperative that coaches have to fulfill their contracts? I'm not sure that will work either, since the schools can just do one year deals and have another arrangement that isn't necessarily made public or divulged to the NCAA. Even the big buyouts don't seem to act as a deterrent, given the appetite for boosters to pony up the money for top coaches. It's just incumbent on the kids and their parents to do the due diligence necessary and to make commitments to schools and programs as opposed to coaches. Even though I'm in favor of more restrictions on the movement of coaches, I just don't know how you make it work.

Hockey? Did someone say Hockey? Golly gee, I sure miss it...NOT!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sports Takes a Back Seat Today

Too Much to Comprehend: You send your kids or husbands or wives off to school or work and expect them to get in or out of the car or off the bus when the day is over. For twenty-seven families in Connecticut, that expectation was not met, due to a crazed killer. This isn't the time or place to spew useless rhetoric about guns and violence and the right and the left. All we can do is pray for some semblance of peace to eventually come into the lives of those affected by today's events. Out of deference to those families, I will not even begin to try to make sense out of the NFL playoff picture or why college coaches see the need to move from school to school. No, not this day. On this day, our prayers go out to a God to whom we are tempted to simply ask "Why?" Instead, we will ask for peace for the parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and other loved ones of those who did not come home from Stony Hook Elementary School today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NFL Week 15 preview

Unprecedented Number of Meaningful Games This Week: Here we are in week 15 and there are only a handful of golf vacations disguised as NFL road trips. Although the 5-8 teams may technically be alive in the playoff hunt, for all practical purposes your team needs to be at least 6-7 to have a shot at the postseason. Of the sixteen games on the schedule, six are between teams with winning records and another involves a team with a winning record against one at .500, a record for this late in the season. I've broken the games into three groups:

Tier 1:

Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2): The Colts have won their last three and the Texans are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday night. On Colin Cowherd's "The Herd" on ESPN Radio, Teddy Bruschi indicated that Houston will be out to show the Colts' rookie QB Andrew Luck what he can expect in this division match-up for the next several years. Good teams can play bad games and I look for Houston to rebound from the New England game. These two teams will play again in Indianapolis to end the season. A Colts' win Sunday and the division is still in play. A Texan win and they clinch.

Denver Broncos (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4): Peyton Manning has led the Broncos to the longest current winning streak in the league at eight games. The Ravens are coming off two disappointing losses, the latest in overtime against Washington, after which they fired their offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. Sounds like problems for Baltimore and I tend to agree. Denver's rolling and it will take quite an effort from a banged up Raven defense to slow down the train.

New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (11-2): The inconsistent Giants will be trying to hold off Dallas and Washington in the NFC East, while the Falcons have an opportunity to wrap up home field in the NFC. Atlanta is coming off a woeful effort against the Panthers, while the Giants dusted the Saints. Most experts, and I tend to agree with them, maintain that teams gaining momentum at this time of year are better prepared to advance deep into the playoffs. We'll see what these two teams have for the stretch run.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5): It's all about Cutler. If the Bears' QB can play at close to 100%, I think the Bears can give the Pack a game and help their playoff chances. If not, forget about it. The Bears' defense is beaten up and not playing nearly to the level of recent years. A Bears' loss would likely drop them into a tie with as many as three other teams for the second wild card spot. A win and they tie the Packers atop the NFC North. Of course, even with Cutler, who doesn't play defense, they still need to contend with Aaron Rodgers. It's nice to see the oldest rivalry in the NFL mean something this late in the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6): This is essentially an elimination game for these teams. Whoever loses this one can probably begin preparing for next year, although that may be more the case for Dallas than for the Steelers. depending on the outcome of other games. The Steelers looked terrible last week at home against the Chargers, while the Cowboys stole a game they should have lost at the Bengals. I expect Dallas to have a tough time with what should be a fired up Steelers squad.

San Francisco Forty-Niners (9-3-1) at New England Patriots (10-3): The Niners will be trying to do what the Houston Texans failed to do last week. It is virtually impossible to go into Foxboro in December and win a game. The Pats are 23-1 in the last decade when playing at home in December. And some of those teams weren't playing nearly as well as this one is. New England seems to have tightened up their secondary and even without Rob Gronkowski, Brady is just on fire. I don't see the Niners having enough on offense to outscore the Patriots in this one.

Tier 2:

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-9): The Bengals are playing for a playoff spot and the Eagles are playing for...well, they're just playing. Andy Reid appears to be toast, Michael Vick appears to be history...well, you get the picture. Yet, this is the NFL and these guys can still play football, as evidenced by the Eagles'comeback win last week against the Bucs, a team that was still in the playoff hunt. These guys are playing for next year and their futures, so don't count the Eagles out, especially playing at home.

Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-8): It's a miracle RGIII even has a career left after the knee injury he sustained Sunday. He's practicing and is expected to play, but 'Skins fans, me included, had to be encouraged by the clutch play of another rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, who completed the comeback for Washington against Baltimore. The Redskins don't control their own destiny yet, but they hold a number of tiebreakers over the rest of the playoff contenders if Seattle or Chicago stumble, which is not outside the realm of possibility. The Browns are in spoiler role, with the organization in transition and most likely looking at a new coaching staff next season.

Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): This is probably another elimination game. The loser of this one has very little chance of advancing to the playoffs, especially given their tiebreaker positions. Even with a win, they will both need considerable assistance to get there.

Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-8): The Seahawks control their own destiny in the race for the lat wild card spot and are, believe it or not, still in the hunt for the NFC West title. Can they overcome the cross country trip and beat a team that they should have little trouble with? If not, a Redskins win puts them in control of their own destiny, due to tiebreakers.

New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee Titans (4-9): It's unfortunate that our Monday Night Football match-up presents two sub-.500 teams this late in the season. But with all of the drama surrounding the Jets and the fact that they're still in the playoff hunt adds a little more intrigue to the game.

Tier 3:

I might as well waste time writing about the non-existent NHL season instead of spending the effort to comment on the remaining five games. Interestingly, they are all in warm weather cities, if you include Oakland in that category. Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, Arizona and Oakland all are hosts. The visitors might as well bring their golf clubs and make a weekend of it, because win or lose, playoff berths won't be decided by the outcome of any of the games.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NFL Rankings

Steelers Are A One-Week Wonder: Well, after climbing to number six in my rankings, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell out of the top ten after a dismal performance against a previously under-performing San Diego team. With Big Ben back in action at home, it was generally expected that the Steelers would extend the momentum gained by a big win over Baltimore the previous week. Oops! Another team to exit the list, the Chicago Bears, laid an egg in Minnesota as Jay Cutler went down with a shoulder injury. No Cutler, no wins and possibly no playoffs. Cutler insists he'll be back in the lineup this week. We'll see about that. And finally, the Baltimore Ravens fell out as well after losing to the Redskins and firing their offensive coordinator. Despite a strong 9-4 record, I just don't see them playing very good defense right now.

10. Washington Redskins 7-6 (Last Week: NR) : Despite being only one game over .500, the 'Skins are hard to ignore as they rang up their fourth consecutive victory over with a stirring comeback win in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens. The most impressive part was that backup rookie QB Kirk Cousins, not phenom RGIII, led the last drive in regulation that resulted in a TD and successful two-point conversion. The 'Skins don't control their own destiny to grab a playoff spot, but they have a favorable schedule as they try to end the season at 10 - 6.

9. Seattle Seahawks 8-5 (NR): The Seahawks destroyed a terrible Arizona Cardinals team 58-0 as they continue to push for a playoff berth. Led by another rookie, Russell Wilson, Seattle looks strong on both sides of the ball. A cross country trip to Buffalo and a return home to face the San Francisco 49ers await them the next two weeks before taking on the Rams in Seattle to complete the season. Win out and they're in the playoffs. One stumble and it gets more complicated.

8. New York Giants 8-5 (NR): The Giants redeemed themselves by soundly defeating the New Orleans Saints. That sets up a match up of division leaders as they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons who are smarting from a butt kicking they received in Charlotte by the then 3-9 Panthers. And they have to follow that up with a trip to Baltimore to face what may be an inspired if not desperate Ravens squad. With the 'Skins and the 'Boys breathing down their neck, the Giants can't afford a letdown.

7. Atlanta Falcons 11-2 (5): The Falcons stubbed their toe at Carolina, which illustrates why, despite their lofty record, I only had them ranked at number five last week. The Giants come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday and the Falcons had bettter strap on their chin straps as they take on the defending Super Bowl champs. Atlanta has the division locked up, but they haven't yet secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Perhaps the loss to the Panthers will get these guys motivated.

6. Indianapolis Colts 9-4 (9): I just can't continue to overlook this team. Andrew Luck continues to lead the Colts toward what would be an improbable playoff berth. A win over the Texans in Houston, who face a short week to recover last night's disappointing loss at New England, and the Colts will remain in contention for the AFC South division crown.

5. Green Bay Packers 9-4 (8): Aaron Rodgers seems to rounding this team into form for a playoff run. The Falcons don't have home field locked up and the Packers can still finish 12-4. They'll get a test against the Bears in Chicago's Soldier Field this week. Will Cutler play? If not, the Bears will be hard-pressed to slow down the Packers' late-season momentum and stay alive in the division.

4. Houston Texans 11-2 (2): Despite their smack down in Foxboro, I still see this as a very good football team. New England is now 23 - 1 at home in December since 2002 for a reason. Now Houston has to forget about the loss and get ready to stop Andrew Luck and the hot Indianapolis Colts, who I'm sure are already devouring game tape from last night to see if they can replicate what the Patriots did to put up 42 points on what is considered a premier defense.

3. San Francisco 49ers 9-3-1 (4): Colin Kaepernick appears to be the starter for the rest of the season. He better be prepared Sunday night as the Niners travel to Foxboro to see if they can do what the Texans failed to do last night. This is a huge game, considering the way the Seahawks are playing. What seemed a certainty three weeks ago, namely a division crown, is anything but with three weeks left in the season.

2. Denver Broncos 10-3 (3): As they head to Baltimore, the Broncos have wrapped up the division but need to keep winning to get a first round bye and maybe even home field throughout the playoffs if Houston and New England stumble. Peyton Manning has his team on an eight-game winning streak and will be facing banged up Raven defense and an offense going through a change at the coordinator level.  This is one of those classic trap games in the NFL. Manning's been around long enough to know to warn his teammates about getting too complacent.

1. New England Patriots 10-3 (1): Not much to say here. Ranked number one, played like number one, expect them to continue playing like number one, particularly at home again this week. Last time I checked, it's still December and the game is in Foxboro. Despite San Francisco's toughness, it will be surprising if the Pats' don't make it eight games in a row.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Night Thoughts

Change Rules, Reduce Head Injuries: There is a lot of energy and conversation these days about the high impact collisions in the NFL that are causing head injuries, resulting in significant health issues for current and former players. The primary parties at risk are wide receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks. So follow me here. Currently, the rules prohibit any contact on a receiver beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. This results in two situations: 1) Big, strong wide receivers running full speed untouched through the secondary and 2) Quarterbacks having wide open targets. The result of these situations give the defense only two options: 1) Once the receiver catches the ball, the defensive backs have  no choice but to hit the receiver   as hard as possible to make the tackle and 2) Rush the quarterback and try to disrupt his rhythm in order to decrease his time to throw the ball. These options, because of the rules, result in increased risk of violent collisions in the offensive and defensive backfields. My solution? Change the rules back to allow the defenders to make contact with the receivers until the ball is thrown. This would slow down the receivers and would also make it more beneficial for the defense to blitz less and drop more players into coverage, resulting in less high impact hits. I know the NFL has been trying for the last two decades to open up the game to produce more scoring. But the impact of those rules changes has been to jeopardize the very existence of football as we know it, primarily due to the legal ramifications of the injuries caused by the increased speed of the game. Call me crazy, but I would rather see a slowed down tackle football version than a sped up flag football version.

RGIII Still Walking: If you have seen the video clip of the play on which RGIII sustained a knee injury, you have to wonder how he is still walking. It is reminiscent of the play where Marcus Lattimore of the University of South Carolina received significant damage to his knee. The Washington Redskin rookie is listed as day to day as the football faithful in the nation's capital heaved a collective sigh of relief. As a 'Skin fan, I hope coach Shanahan rests Griffin against the Browns, considering the way backup Kirk Cousins engineered a couple of drives to bring Washington back from a 28 - 20 deficit. The Browns are playing well, but so are the 'Skins. I think the risk of further injury to RGIII outweigh the need to play him on Sunday.

Petrino Lands at Western Kentucky: Former University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino accepted the same position at Western Kentucky University of the Sun Belt Conference. For someone seeking redemption following their fall from grace in Fayetteville, it's not a bad gig. Petrino will receive $800,000 a year, far short of his compensation leading the Razorbacks. In addition, there is a $1.2 million buyout associated with his contract should he leave prior to its four year duration. He inherits a team bound for the Little Caesars Bowl and whose former coach, Willie Taggert, is headed to the University of South Florida to replace fired coach Skip Holtz. I believe Petrino deserves another chance to continue his career, and Western Kentucky presents a great opportunity for him to do that. Taggart has provided a foundation for what can be a premier program in the Sun Belt conference. At the end of the day, the Hilltoppers will probably get Petrino's two years of service at almost no cost, considering the buyout that will be no problem for a North Carolina, Miami or any other major college program to absorb. You don't have to look any farther than Guz Malzahn's one year tenure at Arkansas State for a frame of reference about how long high profile coaches stay in the Sun Belt.

NFL Teaser: I'll spend far more space on the NFL tomorrow, but a couple of games stand out from yesterday's action. First, I don't know whether to be more impressed by San Diego or more depressed by Pittsburgh in the Chargers' 34 - 24 defeat of the Steelers in the Steel City. Really? Norv Turner's squad had been totally written off, the popular assumption being that Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were walking dead. I doubt this game did much to change that scenario. In fact, it was probably another nail in the coffins. I mean come on. If you can go into Pittsburgh and dismantle the Steelers with a healthy Big Ben, then why are you 5 - 8? Good question, don't you think? And is it possible the Jets are still alive in the playoff hunt after a 17 - 10 win at hapless Jacksonville? Unfortunately sports fans, the answer is yes. Could this bumbling organization actually make it to the postseason? Unfortunately sports fans, the answer once again is yes. Go figure!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Musings

What To Do With Saturday Afternoons? My wife is quite happy to see the end of the college football regular season. For her, with the exception of our mutual love of Arkansas football, late August ushers in almost four months of six day weeks. I don't understand why watching Game Day at 9 (or 8 if you catch the early hour on ESPNU), the first games at 11 and watching until the last Pac-12 gun sounds at midnight is considered by some to be a little bit on the obsessive side. Okay, I admit watching the Saturday games I missed before church on Sunday may be a bit over the top. All I can say is its only 38 weeks and one day until next season, but who's counting?

Costas' Rant: There has been a lot of conversation this week about Bob Costas' speculation on Sunday night that stricter gun laws would have prevented the deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher. My feeling is that while Costas had every right to voice his opinion, as a sports fan, I would have preferred he use a different venue. Sports commentary is one thing, but he veered into social and political commentary Sunday night, and as a fan, I was at minimum turned off and at maximum offended.

Lakers Turmoil: You would think, from all of the publicity surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers, that the sky had fallen, the world had ended or Joe Montana had left San Francisco. At the end of the day, we're less than 20 games into an 82 game season. The Lakers are trying to incorporate two new stars, one of which is injured, a new coach and a radically different offensive system. Dwight Howard can't hit free throws (see below)...like that comes as a shock. As bad as it has been made to appear, the Lakers are still only three and a half games out of the fourth playoff spot. Two years ago, the new-look Miami Heat were 9-9 and they ended up in the finals against the Mavericks. Don't look now, but the Lakers are 9-10, with Nash still a few games away from returning to the lineup. Calm down!

David Stern Tired of Missed Free Throws: Let's see, you allow players to be drafted after only one year of college, so why is it so surprising that some of these players lack significant basketball fundamentals? So now Stern wants to change the rules to effectively make it irrelevant if a player makes free throws or not if players are fouled off the ball. He would like to extend the rule that currently exists for the last two minutes of the game which gives the offensive team possession of the ball after the two free throw attempts. I am by no means a purist, but that's like trying to eliminate kickoffs in the NFL because you don't want guys hitting each other...Oops, maybe not the best analogy (in case you haven't heard, the NFL wants to eliminate kickoffs and are exploring some rather inane possibilities as a replacement). Anyway, free throws are an integral part of the game. I'm 5'9, 160 pounds and have never been a threat to make an NBA roster. But when I practice, I can sure as heck make around seventy percent of my free throws. I mean, come on, what else do these guys have to do to earn their $15 million a year? Practice makes perfect, and for your information, I just made that up.

Arkansas' Coup de Grace: Congrats to the University of Arkansas' Athletic Director, Jeff Long, for pulling the head coaching stunner of the year. Literally stealing Bret Bielema from Wisconsin and the Big Ten gives him a rather substantial stable of major sport coaches in Fayetteville. Bielema joins basketball coach Mike Anderson, who is probably a year away from returning the Hogs to the glory days celeberated under his mentor Nolan Richardson. He will also be in the presence of one of, if not, the best baseball coach in the country, Dave Van Horn. Van Horn annually has the Razorbacks in contention for a trip to Omaha. And let's not forget women's basketball coach Tom Cullen, whose Lady Backs improved to 8-1 with an upset win over no. 17 Kansas last night. Obviously, we'll need to see if Bielema's success can translate into BCS game appearances for the Hogs. But if his past history is any indication, Razorback fans can look forward to some great games with the heavyweights of the SEC, namely Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Tennessee Has Its Man: Butch Jones, formerly of Cincinnati, has been hired as head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Jones has done good things with Bearcats, following in the footsteps of Brian Kelly (now with Notre Dame). But the Vols were turned down by Charlie Strong of Louisville and had even considered bringing back Phil Fulmer, whose firing started the precipitous decline in the program to begin with. Jones is one of the sharp young coaches in college football. But who would have thought a former national champion with a stadium seating over 100,000 and a fanatical fan base would be given the cold shoulder by Strong, who has SEC roots as an assistant at Florida? Obviously, the Cardinals move to the ACC may have something to do with it. As a sports and SEC fan, I hope Jones fares better than his predecessors, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. Good luck with that!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

NFL Rankings

All Shook Up: With some unexpected losses last week, my rankings were shaken up somewhat. One new team moved in, with a couple of others knocking on the door.

10. Chicago Bears (8-4) (Last week: 8) The Bears were beaten by Seattle and their vaunted defense was exposed a bit by rookie QB Russell Wilson. I'm still hanging on Chicago as a top ten team, but with Cincinnati and Seattle playing well, not to mention the Redskins, a loss to Minnesota this week will definitely knock them from the rankings.

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)  (9) I'm still not a buyer in the Colts making it to the playoffs, but they keep winning behind Andrew Luck, so until they lose, I'll keep them on the list. Even if they falter down the stretch, it's been a remarkable run.

8. Green Bay (8-4) (10) Aaron Rodgers can propel this team to great heights, but they still have issues defensively and their division is no cake-walk, although they now lead the NFC North. They host the under-performing Lions Sunday night and we should get an idea of how well they can defend the pass against a quality offense.

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-3) (5) I bumped the Ravens down on the list due to their loss against the Steelers and questions about the health of their defense. Ray Lewis won't be active for this week's game against the Redskins and Lee Suggs is nursing a sore tendon injured in last Sunday's game. A Charlie Batch-led Steeler team shouldn't have been able to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) (NR) With their victory over the aforementioned Ravens and Big Ben probably returning to host San Diego at Heinz Field, I can confidently put the Steelers in the rankings. Despite their record, they have gotten healthier for the stretch run. They will be a dangerous wild card team if they can make the playoffs.

5. Atlanta Falcons (11-1) (7) They intercepted Drew Brees five, yes five times and still could only win the game at home against the Saints by 10 points. They keep winning, so I moved them up a little bit this week. I still don't think they have the toughness to advance too far in the playoffs, but they could be just a game away from clinching home field throughout the NFC playoffs, so maybe it won't matter too much. I need to see an impressive road win at Carolina this week to be convinced.

4. San Francisco Forty Niners (8-3-1) (4) I still like the Niners in this spot, despite their sloppy loss to the Rams in overtime. Jeff Fisher came up with a way to neutralize an inexperienced Colin Kaepernick in St. Louis. Let's see how the kid performs at home against Miami.

3. Denver Broncos (9-3) (3) Peyton Manning has the Broncos humming along. Oakland, their opponent this week, can be a tough place for east coast teams, but I think Peyton will take care of business there. However, this is an intense rivalry, one that Manning didn't have to face in Indianapolis.

2. Houston Texans (11-1) (2) We'll see soon enough if the Texans can make the leap to number one, as they  face the Patriots in Foxboro on Monday Night Football. Matt Schaub should have plenty of opportunities to exploit a loose New England secondary as the Texans attempt to take one more step to home field advantage for the AFC.

1. New England Patriots (9-3) (1) The Patriots were workman-like on the road against the Dolphins last week. They'll need to be more impressive Monday night. The Patriots will be tested on both sides of the ball and without some key weapons on offense.Great game for this time of the season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weekend College Football Recap

SEC Championship Highlight Game of the Season: Rarely does a big game live up to the hype, but Saturday afternoon's SEC title game certainly did. Not only was the game close throughout, it went down to the last snap. Unfortunately, someone had to lose. I feel for Georgia's Mark Richt. His team played well enough to win, denied by an outstanding squad from Alabama. As I stated immediately following the game, Notre Dame doesn't stand a chance against the Crimson Tide. I know the Irish have found a way to get it done all season, but they better find some more playmakers on offense between now and January 7 if they are to have any hope of unseating Alabama.

Did Nebraska Miss the Bus? What happened to the Cornhuskers between Lincoln and Indianapolis? Wisconsin, third place in the Probation Division of the Big Ten, put up 70 points on a team ranked twelfth in the nation. Can we really take this conference seriously? I mean really now. Penn State ends up going 8-4 despite sanctions and player defections. Ohio State runs the table, but how strong is that schedule at the end of the day. Sorry, but just because you play in the Big House, the Horseshoe and Camp Randall doesn't mean it's quality football. And now we find out that Bret Bielema is moving on from Wisconsin to Arkansas of the SEC.

Speaking of Quality: The SEC ended up with six of the top ten teams in the final regular season BCS standings. Let me make sure you understand the significance of this. Fully half of one conference comprised 60% of the top ten teams in the nation. What makes it more intriguing is that they play each other,  so all of their losses are within the league. Number 9 Texas A&M beat number 2 Alabama, who beat number 7 Georgia, who beat number 3 Florida, who beat number 8 LSU...well, you get the picture.  With six consecutive national championships and counting, the SEC just continues to dominate the college football landscape. Another reason Bielema made the jump from  Big Ten to the SEC.

Bowl Game Feasts: There is no question that the national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama is an intriguing match up. However, there are a few others that should be interesting. Going chronologically, let's start with

UCLA and Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The Bruins had a big turn around under coach of the year candidate Jim Mora and Baylor came up with two big upsets against Kansas State and Oklahoma State late in the season. One year after losing RGIII to the Redskins, the Bears rebounded nicely. This game could be a barn burner.

LSU and Clemson in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. Is the ACC in for another butt kicking at the hands of the SEC? This is a compelling matchup, both of whom play in Death Valley. I'm picking the Tigers.

Georgia and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Both of these teams had hoped for a better bowl game than this one. Can Nebraska rebound from the Wisconsin drubbing? Can Georgia play with a chip on its shoulder after getting nudged out of the Suger Bowl by a team it beat in the regular season?

Northern Illinois and Florida State in the Orange Bowl. This is a first for the MAC, a BCS bowl appearance. That's the good news. The bad news is that Northern Illinois' coach is leaving for greener pastures. We'll see if NIU can legitimize its appearance with a win over the most underrated team in the BCS.

Oregon and Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Let's see, was it just a couple of weeks ago where we had this one as the possible national championship matchup? Yes, it was.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

SEC Championship Game Comments

Wow! That's the only word I can use to describe the SEC Championship game this afternoon in Atlanta. I mean, come on. Really? When was the last time a big game lived up to the hype and expectation? Watching that game between Alabama and Georgia, all I could think was "This is why I'm a college football fan." Defense? You got it. Tough line play? Check. Big plays? Plenty of them. Special teams? Absolutely. Down to the wire excitement? Yeah, baby!! I know I may be a bit biased, being an SEC team season ticket holder and all that comes with that, but I have a hard time believing Notre Dame will be able to stay with Alabama for sixty minutes.

I have a lot of respect for what the Irish have accomplished this season, but the match up just doesn't favor the Golden Domers. Alabama's offensive line is probably the only one in college football that can move Notre Dame's front seven off the ball. And the weakness of the Crimson Tide, its secondary, will probably not be threatened by an Irish offense that is not particularly explosive. In addition, you're giving Nick Saban five weeks to prepare for the national championship game. Notre Dame has been good at times, great at others and just plain lucky in a couple of more instances this season. They'll need all of that and more to come away from Miami with a victory.

Take this one to the bank...Alabama 27 Notre Dame 16.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekend Comments

BCS Championship Drama Diminished: With number one Notre Dame's win over USC and the two participants in the SEC championship game ranked second and third, a lot of the drama that has traditionally unfolded on this weekend in college football will be avoided. Sure, there are BCS bowl game participants to be determined, but with the exception of a mild surprise if Georgia beats Alabama, nothing that happens this weekend will materially change the national championship picture. The bigger surprises are the teams that aren't playing for their conference championships, including Oregon and Florida, both ranked in the top six in the country. Kansas State now needs to defeat Texas, not as easy a task as it would have been earlier in the season. If they don't, all of a sudden you have Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl if they take care of business against TCU. Who would have predicted that scenario three weeks ago? I didn't think the Wildcats would run the table, but I did feel they would hold onto the Big 12 title. Now I'm not so sure.

MAC Champ Ready to Crash the Party: Earlier this season, I pointed out how well teams from the Mid-American Conference were playing. Now, the winner of tonight's championship game between Kent State and Northern Illinois stand a good chance of getting a bid to a BCS bowl game. If the winner can get into the top 16 in the season-ending BCS rankings and finish ahead of Big East winner Louisville, then they will end up playing one of the big boys, probably Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Kent State is sitting at number 17 and they have the better chance of making it into the top 16 if they win. Northern Illinois has a little more difficult task, as they are down at 21. The most likely scenario would have Kent St. winning and number 16 UCLA losing to Stanford, making an upward move for Kent St. almost a certainty. Behind the Alabama - Georgia game, this may be the most drama of the weekend.

Golf Making News In November? The USGA and R&A made a major rules announcement, creating the most golfing buzz in November since Tiger Woods lost his battle with a fire hydrant three years ago. Apparently in order to keep anchoring a club during a swing from becoming all the rage with clubs ranging from putters to hybrids, the rule-making entities decided to propose a rule that restricts the way clubs can be anchored against the body during a stroke. Within the golf community there has been a lot of conversation about the proposal, both pro and con. The interesting thing about the proposal is that they sidestepped difficulty with equipment manufacturers by not banning the medium and long putters, but instead just stipulating the way the club can be used. I like the rule change. As a lifelong golfer, I have never felt that anchoring a club against the body is within the spirit of the game. So I'll go on record as supporting the new proposal.

Saints Go Marching Out? The five interceptions from Drew Brees may have ended the Saints' playoff hopes. Last night's ugly loss to the Falcons could put New Orleans two games behind for the second wild card spot with four tough games to play. In addition, they've already lost to one of the teams ahead of them, the Washington Redskins. I have to give the Saints credit for bouncing back from losses in their first four games following the off-season turmoil caused by bounty-gate, but there will be no post season for this club.

Spurs Rest Starters, Aggravate Stern: In case you didn't notice (and since it's the NBA in November, there's a good chance you didn't), the San Antonio Spurs rested four of their top five players last night for a game at Miami. Coach Greg Popovich said he wanted to rest the players at the end of a brutal road trip so they could be ready to play a home game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. Commissioner David Stern has indicated that there will be penalties coming the Spurs' way. Really? Since when did the NBA get the right to make lineup decisions? They're mad at San Antonio, one of the most successful franchises of the last fifteen years, but they let other teams such as Washington and Charlotte remain largely noncompetitive for seasons on end. Stern can spin it any way he wants, but there would have been no controversy if the game had been against the Nuggets, the Wizards, the Bobcats, etc. etc. etc. But instead, it was what should have been an early season showcase for the league. The interesting thing is that the Spurs actually led by three points going into the final quarter. Has Stern considered how bad it could have been with a very tired Duncan, Ginobili and Parker on the floor? What if the Spurs had been waxed with that lineup? At least a rested squad made it a game into the final stanza. I think Stern should shut his pie hole and focus on other aspects of the game, particularly the scheduling that precipitated the Spurs' decision and the balance of talent in the league.

Hockey Anyone? Last week, a national mediator was brought in to help resolve the NHL lockout situation. Unfortunately, they were delayed for a day, which was about the time it took to convince the mediator that anyone really cared...Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

College Football Future Conference Alignment

Where Will It All End?: Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, Louisville to the ACC, East Carolina to the Big East (sort of), Notre Dame to the ACC (pretty much), Tulane to the Big East...... So what does all of this mean? Where does it all end? Well, let's start with where it is now. For the 2012 football season (and that's really what is driving the train) there were 69 teams in BCS automatic qualifier conferences, including Notre Dame, which is essentially a one team conference. There were an additional 62 teams in other conferences, plus three independents. For the sake of argument, let's assume the Big East goes away as a viable football entity by 2014. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville are already slated to join the ACC that year with Rutgers heading to the Big Ten. In addition, Notre Dame will play five ACC games beginning that same season. That will leave the four remaining football teams in the Big East without a home, at least in the short term. Those teams are Cincinnati, Temple, Connecticut and South Florida. So where does that put us in 2014 given the moves announced as of today?

Pac 12  12 teams
ACC     14
Big 10   14
SEC      14
Big 12   10
ND         1

So that gives us 65 teams in essentially 5 conferences. Well guess what? In 2015 we start a 4 team playoff system. Hmmm... So if you're a conspiracy theorist, you could speculate that we're headed to a four super-conference structure. We're not that far away, assuming the four Big East teams currently without a long-term football conference get left out in the cold. And that's pretty likely, considering that with the exception of Cincinnati, none of them have a particularly stellar football past.

The primary stumbling clock to this scenario ultimately playing out is simple geography. Within that 65 team structure, how does each conference get to 16 teams, and which one simply goes away, at least from a football perspective? It's easy to see the SEC raiding the ACC for two teams, presumably Florida State and Virginia Tech, although you could see Clemson in that mix. So that gives the SEC 16 teams. But where does the ACC go to fill the void? Adding Cincinnati and Connecticut would bring the total to 67, screwing up the math. And where does the Big Ten go for more teams?

So let's go in a different direction. Let's say the SEC goes west and raids the Big 12 for two more teams, presumably Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. And perhaps the Big 10 takes Kansas State and Iowa State. That would leave the remaining six Big 12 teams headed to the Pac 12, forming a new 18 team conference.And maybe the ACC does add Cincinnati and Connecticut. So we end up with 67 teams in four conferences with Notre Dame still in a sort of independent limbo. If you also assume the playoff will grow to eight teams, as many do, you have plenty of room to accommodate a couple of at-large teams from the super conferences as well as a team or two from the current non-BCS automatic qualifier conferences.

But as Lee Corso says, "Not so fast". My feeling is that, as clean as it would make things, getting to four conferences is very difficult. I can't see Texas being part of a large conference, as they don't want to share the substantial revenue they generate. And the recently implemented $50 million exit fee for ACC schools could hold those teams in place.We'll ultimately end up with 70 - 75 teams comprising five conferences with the champions automatically advancing to an eight team playoff.  The remaining three at-large teams will be chosen by a selection committee based on some set of criteria determined by whoever is in charge of the playoff at that time. I also have a hard time believing that the NCAA won't step in once we get beyond a four-team format.

So in 2018, when you're getting ready for national quarterfinal games in the Fiesta, Cotton, Chik-Fil-A and Sugar Bowls, semifinals in the Orange and Rose Bowls and a huge national championship game at a different site, you can say you heard it here first...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NFL Rankings

NFL Rankings: There are a lot of very good teams sitting at the top of their divisions right now. Until Sunday night, I would have put one second place team, the Green Bay Packers in that group. I've tried to take the records out of the equation and try to evaluate the teams based on how they are playing right now. So here are my top ten NFL teams.

10. Green Bay Packers (7 - 4): I can't ignore Sunday night's game, but I am trying to put it into perspective. The Giants were coming off a bye following two tough weeks dealing with hurricane Sandy and its after effects. They came out strong and just overwhelmed the Packers. Aaron Rodgers is terrific, but his supporting cast is suspect. They should make the playoffs, but they need to play better than they did this past week.

9. Indianapolis Colts (7 - 4): This team has done an extraordinary job this season. Andrew Luck has already tied Sam Bradford for wins as a number one pick and is almost certain to surpass the record. We'll see if they can keep it up. My prediction is that they hit a wall at some point, but for now they appear to be playoff-bound.

8. Chicago Bears (8 - 3): When Cutler plays, this is probably the second best team in the NFC. The problem is, when he doesn't, they're awful. Right now, he's playing, so perhaps they should be higher on my list, but it baffles me why the effort is so different. Cutler gets criticized for his demeanor, but he must be a pretty good leader considering the fall off in play when he's out.

7. Atlanta Falcons (10 - 1):  I know what you're saying. How can you put a 10 -1 team at number 7? It's easy. This team is probably 10 or 12 points away from being 7 - 4, that's why. They've outscored their opponents by only 7 points a game, and at some point that will come back to haunt them. Eventually a couple of those close games will go the other way.

6. New York Giants (7 - 4): They looked good Sunday night and need another good performance this Monday against the Redskins to get that late season momentum they need to make another deep playoff run. I would probably have them higher, but there are a number of teams on a roll right now. An impressive win Monday and I could see moving them farther up the list.

5. Baltimore Ravens (9 - 2): You can probably throw a blanket over the top five. I have the Ravens here because their defense is aging and injured. As far as the playoffs go, they have a great chance to finally get a game or two at home, so they should have plenty of incentive to keep their intensity at a high level.

4. San Francisco 49ers (8 - 2 - 1): Given Kaepernick's play the last two games, it appears Jim Harbaugh has perhaps the best QB situation of any coach in the league. While some teams are struggling to find one quality starter, the Niners have two. Not that Alex Smith is great, he did lead them to a 13 - 3 record and a berth in last season's NFC championship game.  I have SF this high because of their defense. They're only giving up 14 points a game, and that is a great style of play to win on the road in the NFL.

3. Denver Broncos (8 - 3): The Broncos have won 6 in a row and continue to improve under Peyton Manning. With my top three teams and four of the top five from the AFC, the playoffs should be a dogfight and home field will play a huge part in who gets to the Super Bowl. Look for the Broncos to be there until the end.

2. Houston Texans (10 - 1): These guys could definitely be number one. The Texans are tough on both sides of the ball, they run a balanced offense and they have the best record in the AFC. So why aren't they on top of my rankings? That' because the...

1. New England Patriots (8 - 3): ...have caught fire. They're outscoring their opponents by over two touchdowns a game and they have the top QB and the most successful coach of the past decade. Until they lose, I'll keep them at the top of the heap.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving Ponderings

Notre Dame Gets It Done: To win or at least play for a national championship, it takes a bit of luck in at least one game. Fortunately for the Irish, they've had more than their share of it this season. However, that shouldn't diminish the Irish's accomplishments in the least. They played a good schedule and beat the team that beat Oregon, so no argument here about them making it to the championship game. Notre Dame clearly earned it. That defensive front is fierce and can play with anybody. As I look forward to the match-up with either Alabama or Georgia, the SEC representative will have to work hard for scores. It should be a compelling, but low scoring affair.

Oregon Doesn't: The team that many say is the most talented of them all won't even get a chance to play for their conference title. Even though I picked the Ducks to lose to Stanford, I think a BCS title game with Oregon's offense going up against Notre Dame's or Alabama's defense would have made for terrific buildup and drama. Although, I guess we got a bit of a preview by what the Cardinal were able to do to stop the explosive Duck attack. The whole scenario demonstrates why college football, year in and year out, never fails to deliver unpredictable results and exciting week to week action.

SEC Dominance Over ACC: I know the ACC is down this year, but the SEC clearly showed why it is the top football conference. They took on the top three ACC teams, two of them on the road, and came away with convincing victories. Georgia totally dominated Ga. Tech between the hedges, Florida came back to defeat a terrific Florida State team in Tallahassee and South Carolina continued their dominance over Clemson in Death Valley. Farther down in the pack, Vanderbilt tattooed Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Pretty impressive. No wonder six of the top ten teams in the BCS hail from the SEC.

Georgia or Alabama? Can the case be made at this point that Georgia is actually a better team than Alabama? I think it can, but it's pretty close either way. Both teams have had a close conference win amid their dominating victories. I can't explain the Bulldogs getting blown out by South Carolina, but since then Mark Richt has had his team on a roll. As usual, Saban has kept his troops focused, despite a disappointing loss to Johnny Football and the Texas A&M Aggies. The nice part is we don't need to speculate. It will all be decided on the field in Atlanta on Saturday!

How Quickly They Fall: Minus QB Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Gene Chizic couldn't maintain any momentum from Auburn's national championship season and now is out of a job. He wasn't a particularly popular choice from the beginning, having brought a dismal 5 - 19  record with him from  Iowa State. It's just another example of how important key assistant coaches are to a major college football program. With Arkansas and Tennessee having vacancies as well, the question will be who gets their first choice, and where does the aforementioned Gus Malzahn fit into the mix as his Arkansas State team hosts Middle Tennessee State for the Sunbelt conference title Saturday ?

Giants Hot After Bye: Whatever the New York Giants had for Thanksgiving dinner did the trick. They looked unbeatable on both sides of the ball Sunday night against what had been a surging Green Bay Packer squad. Ahmad Bradshaw looked at least a half step quicker and the defense smothered the Packers' attack. After the Redskins victory over the Cowboys on Thursday, I had hopes that my 'Skins could contend in the NFC Least. But after watching the Giants last night, I think it will take quite an effort for Washington to pull the upset at FedEx Field next Monday night. Maybe the extra three days of rest and preparation can help the 'Skins give the Giants a challenge like they did in New Jersey in October.

'Niners Go With Kaepernick: One of the hardest things to find in the NFL these days is a quality backup quarterback. I believe in the saying that you are only as good as your backup quarterback. Just ask Chicago, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. However, after Alex Smith went down with a concussion, San Francisco didn't miss a beat when Colin Kaepernick was called on to carry the load. It's very hard to keep a good backup on the roster, as they tend to get nabbed by other teams for starting roles. Aaron Rodgers is more the exception than the rule, as he stuck around in Green Bay, rewarding both himself and the team with a Super Bowl crown. How long do you think New England will be able to hold onto Ryan Mallett as he sits behind one of the all time greats in Tom Brady?

Friday, November 16, 2012

College Football Predictions

Last Week: 19 - 2

Okay, so most of the favorites won last week, making the top 25 prognostication a bit easier. But I still got the big upset right, correctly predicting Texas A&M's win over then-number one Alabama. Since five SEC schools chose to play high school teams this week and with only two games pitting two top 20 teams against each other, I don't see much upset picking going on. Okay, with the exception of one. A big one.

Iowa 17 at (21) Michigan 27: I've been picking against the Wolverines most of the year, but I guess I need to finally admit that they can win football games. My prediction of a Northwestern win at the Big House was one of my two misses last Saturday, so I'm smarting a bit. In addition, Michigan is still in the hunt for the Leader's Division title in the Big Ten.

(11) Florida State 42 Maryland 14: The Terrapins are way over matched in this one. Florida State is a little ticked off by the snubbing they are receiving from the BCS computers. Look for the 'Noles to roll in College Park.

(22) Rutgers 27at Cincinnati 28: This one was shaping up as a real battle for the Big East title and national attention until the MAC stuck its non-BCS qualifier nose in. Both these teams lost to what would ordinarily be considered lesser opponents. Even though the Bearcats dropped their game to Louisville, I still like them to beat Rutgers at home. Cincinnati by a nose.

Western Carolina 0 (4) Alabama 45: I would have felt sorry for Western Carolina, even before the Tide lost to Texas A&M. My guess is Nick Saban will call off the dogs early or this one could be very ugly. Unfortunately for the SEC, their top three teams all play FCS competition this week, making it difficult for them to continue momentum in the BCS race.

Wofford 10 (9) South Carolina 38: I doubt Spurrier will want to run it up, but it could happen anyway. Wofford is 8-2 and ranked ninth in the FCS, but most of their most impressive work was done earlier in the season. This game may be close early, but there's no way Wofford pulls the stunner.

Jacksonville St. 6 (6) Florida 41: This game came at a very opportune time for the Gators. Their starting QB went down last week and this gives him a game to heal before taking on Florida State in a game that could have serious national implications. Jacksonville State gets to play patsy again for the big bucks.

Georgia Southern 13 (5) Georgia 35: Ga. Southern is ranked sixth and is a traditional FCS power. They may be able keep it tight early between the hedges, but Georgia is still focused on the big prize.

(25) Washington State 31 Colorado 17: Don't ask me how the Cougars have edged into the national rankings, but they probably won't drop out after this week. The Buffaloes are really bad.

(18) USC 34 at (17) UCLA 31: The Bruins are the fashionable pick in this cross town, or more appropriately, cross megalopolis rivalry. The stadiums are like 800 yards and two hours away by freeway, or something like that. Anyway, back to the game. USC played much better defense last week against Arizona St., so I look for Monte Kiffin to come up with something to slow down Jim Mora's offfense. UCLA's secondary isn't very good, so it's not a particularly good matchup for the Bruins.

Sam Houston State 17 at (8) Texas A&M 48: The Bearkats' basketball team gave Arkansas a good game last week in Fayetteville, but this is a little different sport. Sam Houston's third-ranked FCS squad puts up a ton of points, but A&M is a little tougher than what they're familiar with. The Bearkats put up 23 on Baylor, so that should be some point of comparison. The Aggies will be able to put up as many as they want, but I think they's shut it down early.

Minnesota 13 at (14) Nebraska 24: The Cornhuskers have won four in a row since their drubbing at Ohio State. They need to keep it going to keep pace with Michigan and I think they will.

NC State 20 (11) Clemson 31: Can the Wolfpack take down another top ACC team? I think not. Clemson is the real deal and they'll show it this week.

Wake Forest 13 (3) Notre Dame 27: Notre Dame starts playing a limited ACC schedule in a couple of years, so we may see this one more frequently. Unfortunately for the league, this isn't the team to challenge the Irish's undefeated record this season. Even if Notre Dame is looking ahead to USC, they should prevail here.

Mississippi 17 (7) LSU 27: The Tigers are still smarting from the loss to Alabama and they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Last week's win over Miss. State was impressive and I don't see a much different outcome in Death Valley Saturday night. People say the SEC is down a little this year, but that's primarily at the bottom. LSU has two losses in its last five games and still garners a number seven ranking. And by the way, they're only the fourth highest ranked SEC team.

(23) Texas Tech 28 (24) Oklahoma St. 34:  The Cowboys only losses are to Texas and Kansas St. Texas Tech's three losses are to Texas, Kansas St. and Oklahoma (who OSU plays next week). Pretty close call here, but I'll go with the home team.

Utah St. 27 at (20) La. Tech 38: Believe it or not, this game has the potential to be terrific. Utah State's only losses have come at Wisconsin and BYU by a total of five points. La. Tech's only loss was by two to Texas A&M. Yes, the same Texas A&M that defeated Alabama last week. Unfortunately for the Aggies (yes, Utah St. has that nickname, too), the Bulldogs have a potent offense that should be the difference on Saturday.

(12) Oklahoma 41 at West Virginia 28: The Sooners are on a roll, the Mountaineers aren't. Enough said.

(1) Kansas St. 28 at Baylor 14: Is that really a one next to Kansas State? Well, good for Bill Snyder and his team. They should hold that spot for at least one more week unless RGIII shows up for the Bears.

(13) Stanford 31 at (2) Oregon 28: Eventually, the Duck offense will waddle instead of fly. This is probably that game.  Most people don't think Oregon is beatable at home. I beg to differ. This is the big upset pick of the week and maybe the season.

California 17 at (16) Oregon St. 31: Cal gave all they had last week against Oregon, Jeff Tedford is probably on his way out in Berkeley and the Beavers are looking to gain momentum heading into their big match-up with Oregon next week.

Arkansas 30 at Miss. St. 27: Look for a reversal for the Hogs of the score in their loss to Mississippi. The Bulldogs were never as good as their record earlier in the season, and Arkansas probably isn't as bad as theirs would indicate. Woo Pig Sooie!

Virginia Tech 27 at Boston College 17: The Hokies finally played up to their potential in their last game against Florida State. They still have a shot at bowl eligibility and BC had their bowl game against Notre Dame last week. Hokie Hokie Hokie High!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Ponderings

NFL Surprises, In No Particular Order:

Minnesota took advantage of the Lions' lack of consistency to get back on the winning track and re-enter the NFC North race. Chicago is the class of the division, but if Cutler is out for any period of time, it gives the Packers and Vikes a chance to contend. The Bears, as was evidenced last year, are nowhere near the same team without their starting QB, especially now that he has reunited with Brandon Marshall.

The NFC Least is a real mess, especially with the Giants' sloppy performance against the Bengals. A 3 - 5 Cincinnati team has no business dominating New York, but it just goes to show how balanced the NFL really is. Unfortunately for the Giants, they lost a great chance to get some distance over the rest of the division. They're still the clear favorite, but Washington could continue to show improvement under rookie RGIII and the Cowboys could finally play up to the potential of their players. The Eagles, with Vick sidelined at least a week with a concussion, need to pull it together. I don't see it happening anytime soon. Bye Bye Andy!

A tie? Really? The Niners and Rams couldn't even produce a field goal in overtime? Does this mean the Rams are showing improvement under Jeff Fisher? Probably. Of course, they did it against an inexperienced backup QB, so we'll have to wait and see. That tie could likely come back to haunt San Francisco in the competition for home field advantage in the playoffs.

Atlanta biting the dust in New Orleans isn't a huge surprise, but it could signal the Saints are poised to make a run in the second half of the season Their secondary still got burned for over 400 yards from Matt Ryan, but they still got the win. At least they're well equipped to outscore their opponents if necessary.

Baltimore put up 55 points on the hapless Raiders, with all but one touchdown coming on offense. The other one was a kickoff return. Who would have thought the Ravens would score that many points without a defensive touchdown? If Big Ben is out any length of time for the Steelers, he could miss both games against Baltimore, giving the Ravens a big edge in that division.

Tampa Bay under first year coach Greg Shiano seems to be playing the same caliber football they played a couple of seasons ago. A lot of folks were skeptical that the college style rah rah and intensity could translate to the NFL, but it's working so far. There are very few real quality teams in the league right now, making it possible for teams like the Bucs, Bengals, Vikings, Seahawks and Colts to aspire to finishes beyond their talent level.

Lakers Hire D'Antoni: With L.A. foregoing the opportunity to bring back Phil Jackson, it definitely signals that they want to emphasize the offensive end of the floor, reuniting the coach with Steve Nash. Does this make Kobe Bryant the assistant coach in charge of defense? The Lakers better hope so.

Baseball You Say? In November? I've always wondered why MLB doesn't hold a big ceremony on ESPN to hand out all of their postseason awards. The NFL is heating up, the BCS is in a terrific battle of unbeatens, yet baseball chooses to give us the water dripping torture of accolade announcements. Do they really think they can break through the football laden coverage with one or two awards a day? Two of the most celebrated and exciting rookies in decades were named Rookies of the Year, yet it goes largely unnoticed. Come on, Bud Selig, get with the program. ESPN would promote the show like crazy, with fan votes, tweets, commercials and hype lasting for at least a week or two. For a sport whose championship was almost an afterthought this past season, you would think they would be searching for a way to increase the attention given to their sport.

Jeff Gordon, Tough Guy? Really? Jeff Gordon? Are we talking about the pretty boy that drives the 24 car? It's only a rumor that Gordon was pulled out of the post-race fracas in the garage area by the 9 year-old son of a crew member...

Has Anyone Noticed That the NHL is Still In Lockout? That's what I thought...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

And Then There Were Three...

Two More Unbeatens Go Down: As predicted in this blog, top-ranked Alabama had trouble handling the fast-paced offense of Texas A&M. Louisville succumbed to the tough atmosphere of the Carrier Dome to fall from the ranks of the undefeated in college football. Unfortunately, I missed the Syracuse upset. I also picked Northwestern to beat Michigan, but they fell five points short. Otherwise, my other 18 picks were on target as I went 19-2 for the weekend. Not bad, not bad at all if I say so myself.

Who Survives the Last Three Weeks? Oregon looked suspect for a little while last night against a very short-handed Cal team, especially when their starting QB, Marcus Mariota went down for a few plays with a shoulder injury. I didn't originate the saying, but I wholeheartedly agree that you're only as good as your backup quarterback. If Mariota goes down again, the Ducks are in trouble, especially against Stanford, Oregon State and either UCLA or USC in the Pac-12 championship game, if they get that far. But if Mariota stays healthy, I like them to make it to the BCS Championship game. Next, we have Kansas State. That defense looked very good on Saturday, which should pose plenty of problems for Texas in a couple of weeks. The Baylor game next week could be a bit of trap game on the road, but I like Bill Snyder to keep the Wildcats focused. With no Big 12 championship game to worry about, I have to put Kansas State as the best pick to make it to Miami. Finally, we have Notre Dame. They could only manage 21 points against a bad Boston College team. I just don't see them going into the Los Angeles Coliseum and outscoring a hot USC offense. Does it sound like I'm picking Oregon against Kansas State in the title game? Hmm...

What Happens if They Don't? If only one team emerges unscathed, that means it would come down to which one-loss team rises to the top of what could be a very crowded field. Right now those teams are Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Rutgers. Add to that, for the sake of argument, Oregon and Notre Dame. That number will be reduced dramatically however: Alabama will probably defeat Auburn to advance to play Georgia for the SEC championship; Florida State meets Florida to end the regular season; Louisville and Rutgers will also play each in their final game. So out of the nine potential one-loss teams mentioned above, we will end up with six at most. We can eliminate the Big East champion because the BCS computers just don't rate them highly enough. Clemson is probably too far down the list, especially since Florida or Florida State would get the computer benefit of the victory in their match-up. The same is true of the SEC Championship game, with the winner getting a huge bump by the computers. Some of this will also be determined by when Oregon loses, if they do. If they fall next week against Stanford, they may have time to recover in the human polls enough with a victory over Oregon State to get back in the hunt, but a loss to the Cardinal could also eliminate them from the Pac 12 championship game. Okay, let's cut to the chase. If it comes down to an undefeated team and a one-loss team, I have to lean heavily toward the SEC champion, either Georgia or Alabama, advancing to the BCS championship game. Of course, it will all be decided on the field, by the voters and the computers. I can't wait to watch it all play out!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Ponderings

How Important Are Sports? Last Tuesday, this nation re-elected a president despite being very divided  philosophically. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the most populous region of the United States. Unemployment is still plaguing the country's ability to recover economically. It made me think about the role of professional and college sports in not just our country, but the world. The NHL is in the midst of a lockout for the third time in recent memory and is not playing any games for the foreseeable future. The NBA played a shortened season last year. Individually, I don't believe any sport is irreplaceable.  Internationally, soccer is huge and I believe would sorely be missed. But aside from the people that earn their living in sports, life would go on. I am a huge sports fan, but that passion could easily be put into feeding the hungry, counseling the lonely, leading the lost and working with the youth of our nation. I hope the NCAA continues with its broad athletic programs, the NFL continues to grow and entertain, FIFA continues to bring sport to third world nations, etc. But the truth is, we can and would live without it. Just ask anyone in the Northeast still struggling without power and essential life supporting goods and services.

Lakers Fire Coach Mike Brown? Really? I guess patience isn't in Jerry Buss' vocabulary. So let's see if I have this right: You sign an aging point guard, trade away a terrific young, but sometimes flawed young player for one that has been nothing but a distraction for his franchise for the last two seasons, aging point guard gets injured, best player gets injured, you start 1 - 4 and then fire the coach. I like it. Talk about your lack of perspective. Top management makes moves it hopes will work, they take a little time to take hold and you find a convenient scapegoat in Mike Brown. Good for them. I guess they call that leadership in some alternate universe.

NHL Lockout Continues: Really? I hadn't noticed.

College Football Comments: We still have four big undefeated teams, five if you count Louisville, which most people aren't. History indicates that we'll see that number whittled to one or two by the end of the season. I have 'Bama going down today, Kansas State stubbing their toe at some point, most likely against Texas on Dec. 1, Notre Dame having great difficulty in outscoring USC and Oregon most likely running the table unless they get derailed at Oregon State. If all of them end up losing, it brings in a plethora of one-loss teams to the equation, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Clemson. Wow! I can't wait.

NFL Rankings: I know we don't generally have any rankings for the NFL, but if this was the PCS (Playoff Championship Series), here's how I would have the Top Five teams rated:

  1. Atlanta 8-0: I know the argument is they haven't won a playoff game, their division is weak and they haven't played a strong schedule. However, it's the NFL, we're still in the regular season and they're still undefeated  Enough said.
  2. Chicago 7-1: Not a lot has been said about the Bears, but they are really tough. The addition of Brandon Marshall has given Cutler a premier target and Matt Forte in the running game provides the Bears with a balanced offense to go with an always top-notch defense.
  3. Houston 7-1: Almost a ditto from above. The Texans have it all and probably should have achieved more last season.
  4. Denver 5-3: I know, they're only 5-3 with other teams above them with better records. But Peyton Manning finally has his receivers on the same page with him, they have a solid ground game and an opportunistic defense. They will be tough to beat down the stretch.
  5. (Tie) San Francisco 6-2, Baltimore 6-2: I have the Niners tied with Baltimore for the last spot in the top five. They're tough defensively and can run and pass on offense. The Ravens defense is aging and lose a little without Ray Lewis, but Joe Flacco is maturing and the offense is more dangerous than in the past.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

College Predictions

Last week's recap: 14 - 6.

Notable misses:

San Diego State's upset of Boise State. I also relied once again on the West Virginia Mountaineers, who appear to have been severely over ranked to begin the season. Oklahoma rebounded nicely to defeat Iowa State on the road. Texas appears to have turned their season around by defeating a tough Texas Tech squad in Lubbock. Just barely missed on Arizona, who lost a squeaker 66 - 10 at UCLA. And I started out the weekend by letting my heart get the best of my head in picking the Hokies to defeat Miami on the road.

This Week's Picks:

(10) Florida State 35 at Va. Tech 17: The Hokies have been too inconsistent on offense, despite the apparent talent of Logan Thomas at quarterback. It has taken longer than anticipated for their young offensive line to gel. The Seminoles still have BCS aspirations, especially with Florida still looming on their schedule. Florida State has too much for the Hokies on both sides of the ball.

(24) Northwestern 24 at Michigan 20: This is a tough one. Michigan is pretty good, but haven't really played well against very good teams. Whether Northwestern is "very good" is debatable, but they're good enough to take down the Wolverines in the Big House.

Iowa St. 20 at (17) Texas 31: Iowa St. isn't nearly as threatening on the road and Texas is playing much better. Longhorn fans can exhale again as they've averted what could have been a disastrous season. Mack Brown has done what good coaches do and righted the ship.

Kansas 14 at (22) Texas Tech 45: It's just about basketball season, which is good news for the Jayhawks, because that means it's also close to the end of football season. Kansas is in that small group of teams at the very bottom of the BCS conference schools. And the Red Raiders will be looking for some level of revenge after last week's disappointing loss to Texas.

(9) Louisville 27 at Syracuse 17: Midway through the season, it appeared that the Orangemen might make a run, but even at the Carrier Dome, they won't have enough to take down the Cardinals. The pressure to remain undefeated may cause Louisville a few problems, but in the end they should prevail.

Arkansas 20 (8) South Carolina 24: The Razorbacks' offense has struggled the last two games as Tyler Wilson has been uncharacteristically wild with his passes. The Gamecocks will pressure the Hogs and stuff the run. A rejuvenated Arkansas defense will keep this one close.

Army 14 at (23) Rutgers 27: Perhaps a Scarlet Knights victory can bring a bit of a positive vibe to a region ravaged by Sandy and Athena. Rutgers has Army overmatched in this one.

UL Lafayette 10 at (6) Florida 34: Florida squeaked by Missouri last week, but the Gators should enjoy the home confines of The Swamp in this one. If Georgia wins Saturday, they take the SEC East and will face Alabama in the championship game in Atlanta. I'm sure Will Muschamp will make sure his team knows it should have been them in that game.

Arizona St. 31 at (19) USC 42:There won't be a lot of defense in this one. After last week's shootout loss to Oregon, I look for the Trojans to keep it rolling against the Sun Devils. They need to keep winning to hold off UCLA for the Pac-12 South title and an eventual rematch against Oregon. Like anyone really wants to play the Ducks twice in a season.

(11) Oregon St. 27 at (14) Stanford 28: This is the second-best top 25 match-up of the weekend. This game is a toss up and I could make a case for either team. Put this game in Corvallis, and I go with the Beavers. However, in Palo Alto, I'll give the nod to Stanford.

Penn St. 24 at (16) Nebraska 27: At this point, this is probably the closest Penn St. will get to a bowl game. The Cornhuskers won't be planning any parties for the Nittany Lions, however. Nebraska has the upper hand in the Legends Division and this is probably the last game in question, with only Minnesota and Iowa left on the schedule.

(13) Clemson 34 at Maryland 17: I don't think the Terrapins can even come close to giving Clemson much of a battle in this one. It always astounds me when programs such as Maryland and Kansas fire coaches that have improved things, but aren't satisfied and want more. Well, they end up getting what they deserve, I guess.

Baylor 20 at (12) Oklahoma 31: The Sooners probably wish they had the K-State game back. Oklahoma needs to keep on winning and hope the Wildcats stub their toe not once, but twice. But it's college football, and wild things happen as the season wears on.

(15) Texas A&M 27 (1) Alabama 24: Okay, maybe I'm crazy. Maybe A&M isn't good enough to beat Alabama consistently. But as we've seen in the past, it only takes one game. I think the Tide is believing everything that is being written and said about them. I'm even guilty of giving Alabama the SEC West and assuming they'll be one of two teams in the BCS title game. But I just have a feeling about this one. 'Bama is going doMajor mismatch

(20) Louisiana Tech 38 at Texas State 20: Not a hard pick here. Major mismatch.

(2) Kansas St. 30 at TCU 24: I want to go with TCU here, but my better judgement has me sticking with the K-State. I think the more likely loss for the Wildcats will be Texas in the last game.

(5) Georgia 27 at Auburn 14: Georgia clinches the SEC East with a victory over the Tigers. Auburn really doesn't have much a chance to upset the Bulldogs. Richt has his players focused and on a roll. Don't count them out against Alabama either.

(21) Mississippi St. 20 at (7) LSU 24: LSU needs to recover from the tough loss to Alabama last week. They get to stay at home and will probably get the job done against Mississippi State. Les Miles will have his team ready to recover.

(4) Notre Dame 27 at Boston College 10: The Irish get a bit of a breather on the road. BC doesn't have anything close to the offense needed to give Notre Dame a challenge. The Pitt game was probably an anomaly. The USC game will be huge.

(3) Oregon 47 at California 17: This one will be just plain ugly. Not much more to say about it.

(18) UCLA 38 at Washington State 14: My guess is we'll see UCLA continue it's improvement against Washington State. If the Bruins can keep it up, that game against the Trojans next week looms large.

This is why I love college football. So many games, so many possibilities!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Perfect Four, Plus One, Prevail...Barely

The Luck of the Irish, the Power of the Tide and More: For a while yesterday it looked as if we would be down to three, or maybe even two title contenders in college football. But alas, the Irish pulled it out in overtime, the Crimson Tide somehow found a way to get a late score, Oregon flat out kept the gas on until the end and Kansas State continued doing what they've done all year. So as we sit here  on Sunday morning, with four weeks left in the season, there are still four undefeated teams atop the standings in college football. There is a fifth that is quietly moving into consideration, as Louisville also stayed undefeated by spotting Temple an early lead and then cruising to victory.  We still have one-loss teams, such as Georgia, Florida, Oregon St., Clemson and Florida State hanging around. There are still too many scenarios to consider on the way to Miami, but let's just look at the most likely stumbling blocks for the top four. For Alabama, it's likely now that only an SEC Championship game match-up against Georgia, which can clinch the SEC East with a victory over Auburn on Saturday, stands in their way. Considering the way LSU stayed with the Tide, I would expect Mark Richt, the Bulldogs coach, to take a very hard look at that game film. Georgia's defense and timely passing game can give Alabama the same fits that LSU did. Kansas State still has TCU and Texas to play. With their victory at Texas Tech yesterday, it appears the Longhorns have fixed some of their early season issues, making the season ending game in Manhattan crucial to the national scene, but only if the Wildcats get by TCU in Fort Worth, which handed West Virginia a 2 OT loss in Morgantown by virtue of a two-point conversion. Notre Dame has what should be two easy games against Wake Forest and Boston College before traveling to Los Angeles for a showdown with USC, a 62 - 51 loser to Oregon on Saturday. The Trojans will put more pressure on a strong Irish defense than they've seen all season. If Barkley hits his targets like he did against the Ducks, Notre Dame could be in for a long game. And now Oregon, which had been expecting a rematch with USC in the Pac-12 title game, may have to contend with UCLA instead, a 66 - 10 winner over Arizona. However, the Bruins end the season against USC and Stanford, making the Pac-12 South still too close to call. And the Ducks themselves end the season against Stanford and Oregon State. One poor game offensively and the Ducks could find themselves on the outside looking in. All in all, it makes for a fascinating finish to the season. I'm still predicting that we end up with no more than two undefeated teams when the dust settles on Dec. 1. The big question is, who will they be? Heck, I have no clue, but it will be a lot of fun watching how it plays out.