Well, college football’s regular season, save for the annual Army-Navy game, came to an end on Saturday.  Five teams in Division I finished the year undefeated, and two of them — Alabama and Texas — will play in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship game on January 7 in Pasadena, Calif.  The other three — Cincinnati, Texas Christian, and Boise State — all received nice parting gifts (Cincinnati was invited to play Florida in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, while TCU and Boise State will play each other in the Fiesta Bowl), but will not be a part of the national title picture.

We really don’t have a problem with those three teams being excluded.  After all, only two teams can play in the national championship game, and Alabama and Texas are probably the two most deserving.  But pardon us if we cannot get too excited about the game itself.  First off, the game is a month away, which is one of the true travesties of the bowl system.  After weeks of seeing teams play every weekend, they now have to wait 30 days before playing the biggest game of the year.  Secondly, Texas has no been playing all that well for the last several weeks.  Saturday night’s win over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game had an exciting finish that was preceded by 59 minutes and 59 seconds of truly awful offensive football (Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence kicked the game-winning field goal with one second remaining on the clock to give the Longhorns a 13-12 win). Third, Alabama is probably the least sexy top-ranked team we have seen in a long time.  Their defense is fantastic, but their offense is not exactly powerful.  In fact, outside of tailback Mark Ingram (pictured above and our favorite to win the Heisman Trophy), there is very little to write home about on the offensive side of the ball.

But the main reason that we can’t get too terribly excited about this match-up is because it seems so pre-ordained.   (more…)

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In 1992, the Southeastern Conference added the University of Arkansas, giving the league 12 teams.  The SEC then divided itself into two divisions, and created a need for a an SEC championship game.  And for the majority of those 17 seasons, at least one team has entered that game with a legitimate shot at playing in the national championship game.  This year, for the second straight season, both teams enter the game with the knowledge that if they win they will play for the national championship in January.  And once again, those two teams are Alabama and Florida.  But there are other games on the docket this weekend as well, including a full slate of NFL games.  Here is what’s on tap for this weekend.

1. The SEC Championship Game is at 4 p.m. on Saturday and will be must see viewing for any college football fan.  Tim Tebow (top left) and the Florida Gators will be taking on Mark Ingram (top right) and the Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC title as well as a spot in the national championship game.  These two teams met in the SEC title game last year, with Florida pulling out the victory and securing a place in the national title game (a game they eventually won against Oklahoma). Alabama has been waiting for a full year to avenge that loss, and we think they’ll do just that.  But it should be a good game down in Atlanta on Saturday.

2. The SEC championship is not the only game on the schedule this weekend, as the Big 12, ACC, and Big East will all have their champions crowned on Saturday as well.  In the Big East, Cincinnati will take on Pittsburgh with the winner likely going to the Rose Bowl, although the Bearcats still have an outside chance at playing for the national championship.  Texas will take on Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.  A win by the Longhorns would put them into the national championship game against the winner of the Alabama-Florida tilt.  And finally Georgia Tech will take on Clemson in the ACC championship game. (more…)

When the line-up for the Maui Invitational was announced this summer, all the attention was focused on Wisconsin, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Maryland.  Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats were thought of more as an also-ran who would be lucky to get out of the draw with a win against a team not named Chaminade.

But we have been high on Cincinnati since the preseason, and the Bearcats now have two very impressive wins (Vanderbilt and Maryland) under their belt as they head into tonight’s championship game against Gonzaga.  Big man Yancy Gates (pictured) has been the breakout star of the event thus far, but the Bearcats have all the pieces to be a lethal team in the Big East.  They have Gates, who is a rebounding machine with great touch from outside.  They have Devonta Vaughn, a preseason All-Big East selection that has led the Bearcats in scoring each of the last two seasons.  And they also added Lance Stephenson, a player that has the most pure talent of any freshman in the conference if he keeps his head in the game.  Stephenson has a reputation for being a hothead and something of a prima donna, and it will be interesting to see how he handles playing second fiddle to Gates in the media.  If Cronin can keep Stephenson from blowing up, the Bearcats could be playing well into March.

Other Thanksgiving Tournament Thoughts

The preseason NIT semifinals are tonight at Madison Square Garden, and the organizers of the event are all but praying that Duke and Connecticut are able to dispatch Arizona State and LSU, respectively, to set up the championship game they have been gunning for since announcing the brackets.  Last year, the goal was to get UCLA and Duke into the final, but Michigan crashed the party by upsetting the Bruins on Thanksgiving Eve and then topping the Blue Devils in the championship.  The best chance for an upset is the LSU-UConn tilt.  The Huskies were less-than-impressive in beating Hofstra to get to the Garden.

Other potentially intriguing games include: Washington State and Oklahoma at the Great Alaska Shootout, assuming both teams reach the finals as expected, Kentucky vs. Stanford at the Cancun Classic title game, and Michigan State vs. Florida at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City.

 

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This much is clear.  If Florida and Alabama win out until the Southeastern Conference championship game, and Texas wins the rest of their games as well, the Longhorns will face the SEC champion in the national championship game.

But a loss by any of those teams, particularly Texas, would open up opportunities for several other teams currently on the outside of the national championship race.  In addition to Texas, Florida, and Alabama, Iowa, Cincinnati, Texas Christian, and Boise State are also undefeated.  After their shocking thumping of USC on Saturday night, Oregon is currently the highest-ranked team with a loss. And the team that Oregon lost to this season was quarterback Kellen Moore (pictured) and Boise State.

So say Texas loses to Texas A&M or Kansas or any of the teams left on their schedule.  Florida and Alabama have to play each other, so one of them will lose.  Next in line would be either Iowa or Cincinnati.  Iowa has made a habit of winning close games, and they are only three games away from completing a perfect season.  But one of those games is at Ohio State, and although this has not been a banner year for the Buckeyes, we think they have a damn good shot at beating the Hawkeyes in Columbus.  Cincinnati has had a great year, and we have wondered about their national championship aspirations before, but their two biggest challenges of the season (home to West Virginia on the Nov. 13 and at Pittsburgh on Dec. 5.) still loom on the schedule.

So say Iowa and Cincinnati both lose.  Then things get interesting. (more…)

Syracuse Cincinnati Football

So what did we learn this week in college football?

Well, for starters, we found out that Florida and Texas may not be as good as many thought they would be entering the season.  Florida needed a last second field goal by Caleb Sturgis to beat an unimpressive Arkansas team 23-20 at home, while third-ranked Texas got all they could handle from an Oklahoma team that has been decimated by injuries (reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford injured his right shoulder for the second time this season in the Longhorns 16-13 victory over the Sooners.) Alabama, ranked 2nd behind Florida, took care of South Carolina at home, and is beginning to look like the best team in the country, while fourth-ranked Virginia Tech lost to Georgia Tech in a game that definitely cost the Hokies a chance at the national championship and may have cost them their shot at the ACC championship.

So where does that leave us in the race for the national championship?  Alabama and Florida, if all goes as scheduled, will play each other for the SEC championship in December, where one will win and play for the national title, while the other will lose and most likely be eliminated from national championship contention.  Texas looked so bad against Oklahoma that the Longhorns can no longer be counted on to go unbeaten the rest of the way (Texas plays at Missouri and at Oklahoma State in the next two weeks, but we believe that the game the Longhorns will lose will be on Nov. 21 against Kansas.)  So who faces the SEC champion in the national championship game?

Let’s round up the unusual suspects. (more…)

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One had to feel bad for the average college football fan on Saturday night.  Throughout the country, sports junkies bartered with their signifigant others in order to stay home Saturday night to watch LSU take on Florida in Baton Rouge.  You could hardly blame them.  LSU and Florida were both undefeated, Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was declared medically cleared to play just hours before the contest after suffering a concussion two weeks ago, and the 8 p.m. kickoff time promised a Mardi Gras-type atmosphere at vernerable Tiger Stadium.  This game had all the makings of a classic, so you traded a trip to visit your in-laws, or agreed to go to a couple’s baby shower next weekend, or worse yet, surrendered an NFL Sunday in order to make sure you could watch the game Saturday night.

And what happened?  Florida and LSU played one of the sloppiest, most banal, and utterly interminable big college football games in recent memory.  Florida beat LSU 13-3 in a game as drab and unsatisfying as this season of Mad Men.  Florida seemed content to run the ball up the middle all game long, while LSU could not muster any offense at all.  The reputations of both teams took a hit as televisions across the country flipped over to a rerun of Law & Order: SVU before the fourth quarter even began.

Florida’s victory means that they remain No. 1 in the country, while LSU’s loss all but eliminated the Bayou Bengals from the national championship discussion. And that’s a good thing, because we don’t know if we could handle ever seeing the disaster that LSU calls an offense on the national stage again. (more…)

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Unlike the past few weeks, this weekend is filled with all sorts of must-see events that will keep the average sports fan glued to the television from Friday at 6 p.m. until Sunday at 7:30.  In all honesty, there is no viable away to work around the sports schedule this weekend, but we suggest that if you need to make plans, that you schedule them for Saturday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m., or Sunday night after the NFL action concludes.  Otherwise, we strongly suggest you make alternate plans that do not require your sports fan’s presence.  Anyway, we’re here to let you know what exactly the sports fan in your life will be doing while you’re out and about.

1. College football’s first big game of the year is set for Saturday night when Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators travel to Baton Rouge to face the L.S.U. Tigers at 8 p.m.  Both teams are undefeated, but an argument could be made that L.S.U. could have lost two weeks ago to Mississippi State, and should have lost last week to Georgia (an excessive celebration penalty against the Bulldogs in the final minutes gave the L.S.U. great field position and allowed the Tigers to come back.)  Tebow may or may not play due to a concussion he suffered two weeks ago against Kentucky (pictured above).  We here are betting that he does play, and we’re putting L.S.U. on ass-kicking alert.  The Tigers have a puncher’s chance because they will be playing at home, but Florida is a much better team, and the jury’s still out as to whether or not L.S.U. is even good.  In other games this week, Alabama takes on Ole Miss in a game that will have national championship implications.

2. The Major League Baseball playoffs continue this weekend.  The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins play Game 2 of their series tonight at 6, while the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels will face each other at 9:30 in the American League playoffs.  Saturday is all about the National League as the Los Angeles Dodgers will look to close out their best-of-five series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of their divisional series at 6 p.m, while the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies will square off later that evening.  Their best-of-five series is currently tied at 1.  If St. Louis wins tomorrow night, all eight teams will be in action on Sunday, with a quadruple-header scheduled on TBS.

3. Finally, this is not a stellar week for NFL Football, but the weekend will be highlighted by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots going up against the undefeated Denver Broncos at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon.  But despite the dearth of top-notch games, the NFL owns Sunday afternoons.  And with the addition of a potential MLB doubleheader, we suggest that non-sports fans write this weekend off.

That’s it for this week.  See ya Monday.

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