Even a broken clock is right sometimes: Michigan State to #2 in the AP Poll

I have to agree, because the man said what I’ve been saying for a week now: Michigan State looks like the best team in the country at this moment. Both teams in the Oregon-MSU game looked better than anything the SEC had to offer through the first two weeks of the season.

Week three saw the Spartans struggle against Air Force’s triple-option offense, but, one has reason to expect, that data point will have little meaning going forward. Meanwhile, Georgia dominated South Carolina in what easily was the Dawgs’ best game of the year, and Ole Miss made it two straight over Alabama.

The Black Bears’Rebels’ win certainly was exciting, and it’s led some to argue that they deserve the top AP spot. Their sixty-four points per game and undefeated record that includes a win in Tuscaloosa merit a top-tier ranking, but home wins over UT-Martin and Fresno State aren’t terribly revealing.

Terribly revealing? Missouri’s ugly win over UCONN is a strong indication that the two-time SEC East champions are unlikely to defend their consecutive division titles in Atlanta this December. Ohio State had a similarly weak victory over Northern Illinois, but those Huskies are better than the ones from New England, and the Buckeyes’ recent track record suggests they’ll be fine going forward.

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Divided They Stand (via ESPN The Magazine)

Ferguson, however, is not Gaza. For millions of African-Americans, it is not theoretical but personal. Professional athletes know the Ferguson dynamic too well, very likely better than most. The sports world is populated by hundreds of players who come from places similar to Ferguson, with similar tensions and hostilities, where the police have never been allies but an entity to fear. If ever there was time to hear from the players, for them to peek out from behind the tinted glass of their Escalades and for their teams and handlers to have the courage to encourage them to actually speak about their experiences, it is now.

The most immediate consequence for voicing such sentiments is to be greeted with the chilling chorus of “stick to sports.” But that chorus is not just patronizing; it ignores the reality that sports hasn’t been sticking to sports for nearly a generation. More than a decade ago, after Sept. 11, sports relinquished its traditional ground as a generally apolitical entity. It joined the war movement, codified politics into the quiet pastime of going to see a ballgame. In so doing, the games contributed to the growing culture of militarism that is now everywhere in America, a movement that has manifested itself in the mine-resistant armored vehicles that were employed by Ferguson’s 53-member police force. … Read More

(via ESPN The Magazine)

Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max

maxscherzersportsillustratedcover

Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:

When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.

I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.

The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.

The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.

The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.

Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.     Continue reading

2013 college football bowl schedule

Before getting to the 2013-14 college football bowl schedule and associated predictions and operations, a note on sponsored discourse. In this post-Musburger-for-all-the-Tostitos world, it is an unremarkable fact that the bowl games are not merely sponsored football contests but business entities in and of themselves, the sponsorship-style nomenclature– e.g., “the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl”– a mere reflection of the game’s less overtly monied past. Even the ostensible bastion of postseason intercollegiate purity now is known as “the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.”

When a bowl game is a business, and not merely a happening, there is an associated shift in the commercial advertising language referential to that business. The NFL’s decision to prohibit the use of “Super Bowl” by non-league advertisers, who now must offer you late-January deals on new televisions for watching “the big game,” provides a rough analogy.

I understand and accept the logic behind a business’ desire to control its portrayal in other business’ advertisements and insist on inclusion of a game’s full, sponsored title in that portrayal. What I do not understand is why the news media plays along. This week, I heard a local sports talk show talk about talking about Georgia’s appearance in “the Taxslayer dot com Gator Bowl,” and that’s far from the only example. I understand that some of the sponsors have integrated their names into the bowl games’ names in such a way that it’s difficult– or, where the sponsor’s name and the bowl’s name are one and the same, impossible– to say the bowl’s name without saying the sponsor’s name as well (e.g., the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the Capital One Bowl, respectively). “Taxslayer dot com” is a mouthful, though, and everybody already knows the Gator Bowl. “The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio” is ridiculous to say, and things like “the Allstate Sugar Bowl,” “FedEx Orange Bowl,” and “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl” simply are superfluous. Why the sports news media feels obligated to append these sponsor names when discussing the bowls is beyond me, and you won’t find us doing it here, unless it’s something humorous like the Beef O’Brady Bowl or the RealOakFurniture.com Bowl.

Onto the bowl schedule, which begins this Saturday.   Continue reading

College Football Fan Guide: Championship Week Edition

Last week was one of the best football weeks in recent memory, and although our Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker weekly feature has fallen by the wayside due to worldly obligations, this week and the week ahead deserve note.

The Lions started things off on Thanksgiving with a wonderful win over Green Bay. It was Detroit’s first win on Turkey Day in nine years, and it was the first time Matt Stafford beat the Pack. The Lions also avenged the career game Matt Flynn had the only previous time he quarterbacked Green Bay against Detroit.

Brendan and I were in the Big House for Michigan’s surprise one-point loss to Ohio State, and I made it out of Ann Arbor in time to see Georgia come back to defeat Georgia Tech in overtime, note Vandy’s comeback win over Wake Forest, and watch maybe the greatest one second of college football in Auburn’s regulation toppling of Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Records of note:

  • Auburn: 11-1 (35-21 loss at LSU)
  • Michigan State: 11-1 (17-13 loss at Notre Dame)
  • Ohio State: 12-0
  • Vanderbilt: 8-4 (poised for second consecutive nine-win season)
  • Missouri: 11-1 (27-24 2OT loss against South Carolina)

Bowl outlook:

  • Rose Bowl: Barring a very bad loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night, Michigan State seems set to ring in the new year in Pasadena. Here are the details on that situation.
  • Bowl projections keep waffling Vandy between the Music City and Liberty Bowls. Despite having a national championship in women’s bowling, they can’t seem to roll outside the Volunteer State. The former Independence Bowl in Shreveport might be a good alternative.

The BCS national championship: Right now, Florida State is set to play Ohio State, but that could change after this weekend. Each team needs to beat its conference championship opponent, Duke and Michigan State (more on basketball later!) respectively, of course. Auburn’s also in the mix here. If the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen beat Missouri in the SEC championship game, one-loss/SEC champ Auburn could leap an undefeated Ohio State. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Florida head coach Urban Meyer:

There are a lot of people making a lot of decisions out there, but this is a big one. We’re going to tell a group of young men, who just went 12-1 in a most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents, that they don’t have a chance to play for a national championship? I’m going to need help with that one.

That was back in 2006, though, and in 2013, Meyer finds himself singing a decidedly different tune as the head coach of Ohio State. 2006 Urban Meyer got his way, something 2013 Urban Meyer ought to keep in mind this week.

(HT: @DrunkAubie)

ALDLAND Podcast

After an extended break the ALDLAND podcast is back and better than ever. College basketball is finally on the menu, as is discussion of a big trade in the MLB. And as always, listen for ALDLAND’s college football picks of the week.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

No World Series preview . . . yet, but Marcus and I are happy to share our thoughts on the ALCS and NLCS so far. We also touch on Ndamukong Suh’s latest fine, as well as all of the college football picks you could ever want.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

fairleyALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back, taking a look at all the highs and lows of the latest round of football action.

College Football

Pregame:

  • In anticipation of the LSU-UGA game, a secret-recipe cheesy bean dip was made. So much was made, in fact, that it lasted much longer than the game, although not quite as long as Georgia coach Mark Richt spent kissing his wife following a win over Kentucky.

The games:

  • LSU-Georgia was a thriller. Georgia continues to lose important players to injury, but it doesn’t seem to slow them down. This week, star running back Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the second quarter, but backup Keith Marshall filled in and had a career day. In the end, the Dwags outgunned the Tigers 44-41 and are in the driver’s seat on the road to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
  • I also thought Ole Miss-Alabama would be a good game, but it was not. The Rebels limited Alabama’s scoring early, but they were unable to do any scoring of their own, which is an easy-bake recipe for a loss. Ole Miss 0, Alabama 25.     Continue reading

NCAA Tournament: Day 1 Recap

spartyondrumsFor the most part, everyone did what they were supposed to do yesterday, with a few exceptions. Some of the highlights:

  • Despite some fight from Valparaiso and surrendering turnovers in spades, Michigan State pulled away to a win in the tournament’s opening game.
  • Newly anointed Gonzaga nearly blew their opportunity and almost became the first #1 seed to go down in the first round, escaping with a win over a Southern team that would not go away.
  • Harvard University, which has so little going for it, finally found some success in the realm of sport, securing its first tournament win with an upset of #3 New Mexico.
  • New Mexico State also lost yesterday, making this article really sad.
  • Colorado State’s win over continually hapless Missouri was a yawner…until it wasn’t!
  • When will we stop underseeding the Pacific Twelve? Oregon pulled one of the least surprising 12-5 upsets ever by knocking off Eddie Sutton-less Oklahoma State, while #12 Cal eked one out against #5 UNLV.
  • As usual, I got greedy with underdogs in the early rounds, so the dispatching of UNLV and Belmont wasn’t too kind to my ALDLAND bracket. (If you’re a junkie, you can see the updated standings here. We’ll do a deep analysis after the first two rounds are complete.)

On that last point, keep an eye on Ole Miss and Wisconsin today, outcome to be determined by the severity of Marshall Henderson’s inevitable hangover.

Topsy Monday

As noted, last Saturday’s college football games featured a number of games between top-ranked teams. As discussed in this space before, every game generally is going to end with one team on the winning side and one team on the losing side, games being athletic events between two teams. This means that a bunch of ranked teams lost this week, and boy did they.

Keep reading…