Are We Looking at Three Big Ten Teams? Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington currently sit atop the college football playoff rankings, and deservedly so. Should the three teams in action this weekend win their conference championship games, it would make sense that there will be little change in the final ranking. No problem when it comes to Alabama, Clemson and Washington, which will all be conference titlists in that scenario. But Ohio State, losers to Penn State, didn't even win the Big Ten East. The committee has placed an emphasis on a conference championship as a selection criteria, but clearly indicate the intention to include the Buckeyes anyway. Don't get me wrong, I agree with their inclusion, especially with wins over Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan. Their only blemish was a fourth quarter letdown against Penn State, which is the source of whatever controversy exists. If Penn State soundly defeats Wisconsin in the same fashion Ohio State did two years ago, can the Nittany Lions make a case to be the Big Ten representative in the playoffs, especially with their head to head win over the Buckeyes? Apparently not in the eyes of the committee, who have Penn State down in the seventh position, behind Wisconsin at six and Michigan at five, potentially creating a situation where the two teams that finished behind Penn State in the Big Ten East both advance to the playoff. I happen to believe that Wisconsin and Penn State were placed behind the Wolverines because the committee was well aware that only one of those teams can win this weekend and intend to move the winner ahead of Michigan, despite head to head losses for both of them. Or the committee has already determined that the winner, because of that loss to Michigan, and in Penn State's case, in a blowout, trumps the championship criteria in this very special case. But unless Washington or Clemson lose, it really doesn't matter. Now let's look at the chances of a loss by one of the top four. Washington, with the exception of their loss to USC, was dominant for much of the season. However, a Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State non-conference slate puts the Huskies in a precarious situation. A close win against Colorado coupled with an impressive win by the Big Ten champ could move them out of the top four. Of course a loss and Washington is out. Given the Buffaloes stingy defense, it's a very real possibility. Moving on to Clemson, it's hard to see them surviving a loss to 23rd ranked Virginia Tech. Despite a good schedule that includes two wins over SEC teams, plus close victories over division challengers Louisville and Florida State, the Tigers have looked a bit uneven at times and a second loss would solidify that impression with the committee. Can it happen? The Hokies have outscored their opposition 72 - 17 since trailing Notre Dame by ten at the half in their next to last game. New coach Justin Fuente was named his conference's top coach this week and Tech really has nothing to lose in this game. So of course it can happen. But for the Hokies to pull the upset (they're currently ten point underdogs), they'll need to protect the football and keep Clemson from making some big early plays. Tech can't afford to get down by 17 to the Tigers the way they did to Notre Dame. Pittsburgh showed that Clemson is vulnerable late, so if the Hokies can keep it close into the fourth quarter, the committee might be looking at a chaotic situation. Finally, in a game no one seems to be talking about, Alabama will try to stay undefeated against a Florida team that really only played three potent offenses all season, and lost all three games by giving up more than thirty points to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State. I see Alabama as just a grown up version of the Gators, and even with a loss, the Tide is probably a lock for the playoffs. As far as I'm concerned, we need to get to a six or eight team field, which would probably allow for a team like USC to squeak in, but that's the subject for another day. For now, the committee has to chose the top four, and if the past is any indication, it won't be all that easy.
No Baseball Strike: It's pretty obvious that when Rob Manfred took over the Major League Baseball Commissioner reigns from Bud Selig a couple of years ago, that labor peace was at the top of his agenda. In one of the quietest transitions from one labor agreement to another, there were very few substantive changes to the agreement that was set to expire Wednesday at midnight. From the fans' perspective, the biggest change will be that the team with the better record will have home field advantage in the World Series, replacing the over decade-old practice of rewarding that to the league that wins the All Star Game. I applaud the move, particularly with the advent of interleague play, which makes the schedules more comparable. In addition, the season will include four additional off-days, which hopefully will increase the quality of play down the stretch. I would like to have seen a cut in the number of games, but that's a hard sell to owners who don't want to give up that revenue. It's now been 21 years since baseball experienced a work stoppage, and after what was arguably the most captivation World Series in generation, baseball really couldn't have afforded the step back a strike would have risked. I applaud Manfred, the owners and the players' association in recognizing that they have a good thing going and that there is plenty of money to go around.
Sports Illustrated Names Lebron James Sportsperson of the Year: Anyone that reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I have a lot of respect for Cleveland Cavaliers forward and superstar Lebron James. I've never understood the petty hatred for a guy that has pretty much done nothing but put teams on his back since he entered the league at the age of eighteen. Seven NBA Finals appearances and three titles speak for themselves. Now the premier weekly sports magazine has recognized his accomplishments, and he's completely deserving of the honor. The story that accompanied the announcement at http://www.si.com/sportsperson/2016/12/01/lebron-james-sportsperson-of-the-year-sports-illustrated/?xid=nl_siextra is poignant in the way it gives us a glimpse into what drives Lebron James and portrays him in a balanced, yet favorable light. All I can say is for all of the Lebron haters, after reading the article, and you should definitely take the time to do so, it will be a bit harder to keep that hatred alive.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.