It was an abbreviated work week for me since Tooth No. 19 was called up to Tooth Heaven.

That added up to a lack of fun in my life and a diet consisting of yogurt, applesauce, pudding, mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup.

Dang, I can’t wait to eat pizza again.

So it will be an abbreviated Weekly Links as well since I only had half a week to choose from this time.

It does make it easier that way with fewer articles to sort through. So we’re going with two conference championship games on the college football side and one also-ran NFL game from the professional ledger.

 

I’m still not sure why we must go through a College Football Playoff this year to determine the top college team in the nation.

The same team that was the best in September is the best at the beginning of December. And will be again when the season is over.

Alabama is the only truly good college football team this season. Actually, the Crimson Tide are great. And they didn’t miss a beat when they lost star safety Eddie Jackson with a broken leg.

The Crimson Tide meet Florida in Saturday’s SEC title game and there isn’t much of a chance that an upset will happen.

The Gators are without six defensive starters and using a backup quarterback. Heck, perhaps Alabama should play all their third-stringers to even things up.

Crimson Tide defensive end Jonathan Allen (seven sacks, two fumble return touchdowns) is the top defensive player in the nation and he and his teammates don’t look capable of losing at all this season.

But first, they look to win the SEC title.

Here is the stellar Alabama-Florida preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/67487/preview/top25/

 

I keep hearing it said that Ohio State and Michigan are the top two teams in the Big Ten.

But when asked to write the national preview for the Big Ten championship game, I didn’t need to visit either team’s websites.

So maybe Ohio State and Michigan are the third and fourth best teams, huh?

Kind of complicates things that Wisconsin and Penn State are playing for the Big Ten title when it comes to the CFP selection committee. We are looking at the possibility of a Big Ten team that didn’t play in the conference title game making the national playoffs?

Nothing makes it more clear how worthless your conference championship game is than that fact.

Penn State won the division that Ohio State is in and if it wins the conference title game, perhaps the Nittany Lions are the Big Ten team that should be part of the CFP.

The problem, though, is that Ohio State is currently the No. 2 seed. So for Penn State to get in, either Clemson or Washington gets bumped out. Sorry, that isn’t how this whole deal is supposed to work.

But know this: If two Big Ten teams make it this season, we will quickly move closer to the eight-team playoff.

Anyway, here is the stellar Wisconsin-Penn State preview (note: that isn’t my prediction at the bottom but going with this entity’s copy because they didn’t strip off my byline) — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/12/02/Penn-State-vs-Wisconsin-prediction-preview-2016-Big-Ten-football-championship/3371480706731/

 

I didn’t write about any NFL teams headed toward a championship game this week.

The Philadelphia Eagles still have a chance to make the playoffs but does anybody really think that is happening with six losses in eight games after a strong 3-0 start?

And the Cincinnati Bengals? Not mathematically eliminated but even quarterback Andy Dalton is already trying to figure out what went wrong with five games still to go.

The Bengals made the playoffs in each of the past five seasons before this year’s miserable campaign.

The Eagles are revamping under first-year coach Doug Pederson and his tune has changed from talking about the playoffs to talking about the process.

Coaches who talk about the process typically aren’t doing much winning in the present.

That’s a fact.

Here is the stellar Eagles-Bengals preview (in the New York Times again!) — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161204004&home=4&vis=21&action=click&contentCollection=football&region=supplemental&module=sports-stats-module-nfl&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront

Weekly links didn’t happen on Thursday and that is OK.

Hanging out with two of the cool nieces on Thanksgiving night always rates as more fun than nearly anything else on the planet.

So all the previews associated with college football games are now moot since the week’s games have been played.

But wait, there is the matter of this one NFL preview.

Just think about how the San Francisco 49ers went from making it to the NFC Championship Game in three straight years to being flat-out awful.

The 49ers have matched the franchise record of nine consecutive setbacks held by their horrendous 1978 squad. They go for the dubious record on Sunday when they visit the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins have won five straight games and have a red-hot running back in Jay Ajayi.

And San Francisco ranks last in the NFL in stopping the run.

So you can see where this is going … Chip Kelly is about to become known as coach of the team that lost the most consecutive games in 49ers’ history.

Another reason worth posting this preview — I’m still amazed to learn that my work has been running in the New York Times.

Here is the stellar 49ers-Dolphins preview — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161127015&home=15&vis=25

This week marked the second time this season that I handled the national preview for a ranked San Diego State football team.

Repeat — the Aztecs are ranked. Again.

The only thing that would be more surreal would be seeing a guy with no political experience become president.

Oh yeah … that Trump guy was considered to have more integrity than the slimy Hillary woman, huh?

Anyway, I was looking forward to writing the preview of the San Diego State-Wyoming game so I could write about Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey.

He now ranks fourth in NCAA history in career rushing yardage and he will soon become the all-time record-holder unless he suffers a major injury.

But I had to go in another direction because San Diego State still ranks poorly in understanding the media and how sportswriters do their jobs.

You would think it would be a no-brainer to have the running back who just went over 6,000 career rushing yards attend your weekly press conference. Especially since the school still carries this notion that he is a bona fide Heisman Trophy winner and there are only a few weeks left before that prestigious ceremony.

There are also quotes from last Saturday’s victory at Nevada on the school website. None from Pumphrey on the night that he became just the fifth player to go over the 6,000-yard mark. Beyond dumb if you want some national pub for your guy’s remarkable achievement.

With the Aztecs back in the national rankings, a savvy intelligent media relations department would make sure their main guy was in circulation. Just imagine the national preview angle pumping up Pumphrey on all the major sports websites in this country.

Repeat, Pumphrey featured on ALL the major sports websites.

Instead, San Diego State dropped the ball … so the replacement angle of the preview tells another fact:

The Aztecs got walloped the first time they were ranked this season.

Here is the stellar San Diego-Wyoming preview — http://www.foxsports.com/san-diego/story/wyoming-faces-tough-matchup-with-no-24-san-diego-state-111616

 

Alabama is on its way to winning another national championship. I personally don’t even think we need a playoff to determine this year’s winner.

Even with star safety Eddie Jackson gone for the season, this team is loaded. Heck, Nick Saban could direct his kicker to play quarterback instead of true freshman star Jalen Hurts and probably would still win the title.

But here we are in Game No. 11 and Alabama is once again playing a lower-level opponent that it could crush 150-0 if it so wanted.

No offense to Chattanooga, but perhaps the Mocs can see if Alabama will just send them the check and not insist on them showing up.

Now that we are in the College Football Playoff era, perhaps the SEC can add another conference game and stop this type of silliness.

There is no reason for this game to be played … well, except to add dollars to my paycheck.

Here is the stellar Chattanooga-Alabama preview — https://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/52858/preview/top25/

 

Carson Wentz has been an immediate hit as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and his strong play has prompted comparisons to a guy who care out of nowhere as a rookie in 2012.

A guy named Russell Wilson.

Wilson has guided the Seattle Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances since bursting on the scene and he will be on the same field as Wentz this Sunday.

Wilson is impressed with Wentz … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is impressed with Wentz … heck, nearly everybody is impressed with the guy who went No. 2 overall despite playing at FCS power North Dakota State (you know, the program that beats major-college programs every season).

It is one of the few times I will be glad to turn on the television and see the Seahawks play.

And here is something I learned while searching for this preview: My work runs on the NBC Sports website.

And something else I learned: NBC Sports has a website.

Here is the stellar Eagles-Seahawks preview — http://scores.nbcsports.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161120026&home=26&vis=21

 

Here is something truly remarkable — the Los Angeles Lakers have won seven games entering their Nov. 18 contest against the San Antonio Spurs.

Last season, the Lakers didn’t notch win No. 7 until their 34th game. That win came on Jan. 1.

But Los Angeles is a solid 7-5 under first-year coach Luke Walton and the players are thriving in Walton’s fast-paced system.

Young point guard D’Angelo Russell and young power forward Julius Randle are emerging stars after stagnating under former coach Byron Scott, who never connected with the younger players on the squad.

The Lakers have a couple pillars for their foundation and Walton looks to be a natural as coach. It is still hard to see Los Angeles contending for a playoff spot this season but the future is brighter and the franchise is no longer going to be a laughingstock.

Compiling the worst record in franchise history at 17-65 last season was embarrassing. Walton might double that win total in his first season.

Here is the stellar Spurs-Lakers preview — http://www.kion546.com/sports/preview-spurs-at-lakers/166837913

Melvin Gordon wasn’t very impressive as a rookie so naturally a lot of people wondered whether he was on his way to being a bust.

Pretty sure that topic has been squashed by the performance of the San Diego Chargers running back this season.

Gordon has already passed last season’s total for rushing yards (646) and ranks third in the NFL with 768 yards entering Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Even more eye-opening is that he leads the NFL in touchdowns with 11 (nine rushing, two receiving).

Do you remember all those touchdowns Gordon scored last season? Can you recall even one?

You certainly can’t because Gordon didn’t score a single one. It was like Donald Trump built a wall and nobody with the last name of Gordon was able to gain access to the end zone.

And he kept fumbling the ball to make matters worse.

But coach Mike McCoy has gone from being a doubter to a full-fledged supporter of Gordon, who announced his budding star status with 196 rushing yards against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

That output ranks ninth in Chargers’ history. The great LaDainian Tomlinson holds the single-game record of 243.

Speaking of 200-yard rushing performances, Miami has an emerging star as well in Jay Ajayi, also in his second season. Ajayi has a college-like 529 rushing yards over the past three games, including becoming just the fourth player in the NFL history to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back games.

Sure made an easy preview angle for me, I can say that. Here is the stellar Dolphins-Chargers preview (and let’s say that I had no idea my work was running in the New York Times. Wow.) — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161113024

 

 Feels weird to type this but the Los Angeles Clippers have been the most impressive team in the NBA over the first two-plus weeks of the season.

The Clippers (7-1) were hard-pressed to win seven games in two-plus months during most of their San Diego tenure.

But coach Doc Rivers has them playing superb defense and that is translating to victories heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers are allowing just 88.3 points per game and everybody is buying in. Chris Paul is healthy and playing solid defense. Blake Griffin is healthy and enjoying playing defense. And DeAndre Jordan, of course, is playing superb defense.

Way too early to predict whether or not the Clippers are finally going to hurdle their playoff hiccups but know this: They routed the San Antonio Spurs by 24 points in San Antonio last Saturday. You might recall the Spurs went 40-1 at home this season.

The Clippers try to avenge their lone loss of the season when they visit Oklahoma City. Here is the stellar Clippers-Thunder preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/nba/event/2016/944815/preview/

 

Michigan has a promising quarterback in sophomore Wilton Speight and it is time to share an interesting story that I have heard a few times this season.

In the spring of 2015, shortly after Jim Harbaugh took over as coach, HBO was filming a special and Harbaugh brutally ripped one of the quarterbacks.

Oh, they blocked out the kid’s face and number but that didn’t help too much in this case. You see, Speight is 6-foot-6.

Michigan only had one tall quarterback like that.

The worst line from Harbaugh was this: “If you want to look at me with that look, go (expletive) somewhere else.”

Speight thought really hard about doing that all summer long. He eventually decided against transferring.

Now fast forward to 2016 and Speight is playing tremendous football for a 9-0 squad ranked third in the nation.

Sometimes the best move a kid can make is to, well, not make a move. He stayed put and it worked out well.

You can find more detail in the stellar Michigan-Iowa preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/11/09/Michigan-vs-Iowa-College-football-game-preview/2041478697219/

  

Somehow it is already college basketball season and the campaign commences on Friday night.

One of the numerous tip-offs involves No. 13 Gonzaga, a program that lost stars Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis from a 28-8 team.

But no worries, the transfer wagon paid Spokane, Wash., a visit and dropped off three pretty good players. So instead of a transition season in which the Bulldogs would roll through their weak conference but stumble against more powerful foes, Gonzaga is in terrific shape.

Former Washington standout Nigel Williams-Goss is the new point guard, former California 3-pointer bomber Jordan Mathews will be the new shooting guard and former Missouri power forward Johnathan Williams will be a fierce inside threat.

I remember being surprised Williams-Goss was leaving Washington. He was one of the top players in Pac-12 as a sophomore. Point guards on overmatched opponents such as Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Portland are probably already worried about guarding him.

Then the Zags have 7-foot-2 center Przemek Karnowski back. His career was supposed to be over last season but a back injury that required surgery limited him to just five games and he received a medical redshirt season.

Those four players combine with sophomore guard Josh Perkins to give Gonzaga a pretty solid lineup. The Zags won’t be taking a step back this season. Mark Few will once again have a good team.

Here is the stellar Utah Valley-Gonzaga preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaab/event/2016/946360/preview/top25/

It is not very often that I would watch an NBA regular season game without being paid. Thursday night is that rare exception.

Kevin Durant is going up against his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates for the first time as a member of the Golden State Warriors and tension is everywhere.

These two teams met in the Western Conference finals last season and the Thunder held a 3-1 series lead before the Warriors roared back to win the series

Then Durant left Oklahoma City on July 4 … for the Warriors.

Westbrook has made it very clear that he was unhappy with Durant’s decision to leave as a free agent and his ultracompetitive juices will certainly be churning overtime.

Heck, he showed up to the arena wearing a photographer’s bib. One of Durant’s passionate hobbies is photography.

Yeah, it’s on. At least in Russell Westbrook’s eyes.

Here is the stellar preview of the Thunder-Warriors game — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/nba/event/2016/944758/preview/

 

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman let NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have it again on Thursday, saying the commissioner is at fault for the huge drop in television ratings this season.

Sherman said the commish has stripped the fun out of the NFL and doesn’t allow the players to be entertainers like other leagues.

“Because the league isn’t fun anymore,” Sherman told reporters. “Every other league, you see the players have a good time. It’s a game. This isn’t politics. This isn’t justice. This is entertainment. And they’re no longer allowing the players to entertain.

“They’re no longer allowing the players to show any kind of personality, any kind of uniqueness, any individuality. Because they want to control the product. They want to control the messaging, etc., etc.”

Entering Week 9, Monday Night Football ratings are down 20 percent from last season, according to Nielsen data. The Sunday Night Football package is down 18.5 percent and Thursday games are down 21.8 percent.

Another thing that is down is the performance of the Seattle offense. The Seahawks have scored one offensive touchdown in their last nine quarters and quarterback Russell Wilson hasn’t accounted for a single touchdown over the past three games.

Maybe Sherman needs to remind his offensive teammates that the game is supposed to be fun.

Here is the stellar preview of Monday’s Buffalo Bills-Seattle Seahawks game — http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/seahawks-look-to-get-offense-on-track-against-bills-110316

 

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has a chance to make history this Sunday when his team plays the New York Jets.

Ajayi is one of only four players – O.J. Simpson (twice), Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams are the others – to rush for 200 or more yards in back-to-back games.

And nobody has ever done it in three straight games.

Ajayi is certainly an unlikely candidate to be the first. He was a healthy inactive for Miami’s opening game of the season. Now the second-year pro from Boise State is making it clear he plans to be carrying the load for the Dolphins for a while.

Another thing that will make Ajayi’s bid at history tougher is the fact the Jets lead the NFL in rushing defense (74.0 yards per game).

Here is the stellar preview of the Jets-Dolphins game — http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/jets-defense-out-to-slow-dolphins-ajayi-110216

 

Sometimes it seems that every college football coach has spent the time on the staff with early every other college football in the land. It is a profession where long hours are spent together, making it easy to form deep bonds (or sheer hatred).

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will see one of his close pals this Saturday when the Wolverines host Maryland.

DJ Durkin is the first-year coach of the Terrapins and he is making the team better than forecasters predicted. That’s not a big surprise if you listen to people talk about his pedigree and coaching potential.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s part of the Harbaugh coaching tree.

Durkin spent three years on Harbaugh’s Stanford staff from 2007-09 and then he was Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season.

The intense Harbaugh doesn’t usually play nice on game day but the postgame embrace will be one that he enjoys.

Here is the Maryland-Michigan preview —http://www.detroitnews.net/index.php/sid/249048671

I was asked something today by a woman from the online world that has prompted me to think.

She asked if I have ever been to an NFL game. Seriously.

Then I thought about it and realized I have no idea how many NFL games I’ve attended or covered as a professional. At least 150 and maybe close to 200 — and no, I don’t want to count preseason games.

Worst thing in the world to cover is an NFL preseason night game. And now that I think of it, I never recall covering a preseason game in the afternoon. So every NFL preseason game assignment ties for the worst event I had to cover.

I do know how many Super Bowls I covered — three.

Also know the Cleveland Browns won’t be participating in the Super Bowl again this season. No surprise, of course.

And this brings up to the ever-popular Weekly Links thing because I had to write about the Browns two weeks in a row. Yes, two straight weeks.

Must have really upset the boss.

The Browns are 0-7 and look like they will be fortunate to win two games this season. You know, they do have the Chargers on the slate.

Here is the link to the stellar preview of the Browns’ home game against the New York Jets — http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/fitzpatrick-returns-to-lineup-as-jets-face-winless-browns-102616

 

Game 2 of the World Series has already been played but I think this is a good preview to have part of the Weekly Links package because it will answer one of life’s greatest questions:

Is Mr. Sports ever wrong?

Well, um, it has happened. Um, yeah, right here at the bottom of the Game 2 preview. Look which team I predicted to win the game? The team I picked scored one whole run. Oops.

And these things run on a bunch of gambling websites too. Good thing no Mafia members live nearby to break my leg.

Anyway, I will try to do better with my pick when I write the Game 4 preview between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.

Here is the stellar Game 2 preview with the wrong predicted winner — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/event/2016/410464/preview/

 

Think of all the games you watch where you couldn’t describe what happened 12 months later.

Then thing of the ones you can’t forget.

The first 59 minutes, 50 seconds of last season’s contest between Michigan and Michigan State weren’t so memorable. But the last 10 seconds will never be forgotten.

That is the contest when Michigan lined up with 10 seconds to play and all its punter had to do was boot the ball downfield.

But punter Blake O’Neill bobbled the snap and then, in one of the weirdest things ever seen on a football field, he fumbled the ball into the arms of Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, who returned the ball 38 yards for the winning touchdown as time expired.

Instead of losing to its biggest rival, Michigan State proudly boarded the bus back to East Lansing with a 27-23 victory.

And “insane 27-23 victory” is how I coined it in the preview.

Can’t say I ever pondered the possibility that my work may find its way on to the Big Ten Network website. But then again, they believe someone from the Associated Press wrote the preview. Um, wrong.

Here is the link to the stellar Michigan-Michigan State preview — http://btn.com/2016/10/26/no-2-michigan-tries-to-exact-revenge-from-michigan-state/

 

Some of you might prefer being linked to the Washington-Utah showdown or the Boise State-Wyoming game (OK, nobody outside of Wyoming cares about Wyoming … ever) but Patrick Mahomes II wins the deal all by himself.

The Texas Tech quarterback matched the all-time FBS single-game record with 734 passing yards last Saturday in a loss to Oklahoma. Repeat — 734 yards, to tie the record set by Washington State’s Connor Halliday in 2014.

What Mahomes accomplished was pretty stellar but it reminds us of the old Texas Tech question — is Mahomes actually any good or is he a system quarterback?

Hard to tell because Mahomes threw four touchdown passes in 2 1/2 quarters against Kansas earlier this season and departed with shoulder injury. No problem, the Red Raiders throw somebody named Nic Shimonek on the field and he threw four touchdowns in 1 1/2 quarters.

So I’m going to keep my mind open that Mahomes might prove to be NFL material. But the pattern has proven otherwise as guys like Graham Harrell, B.J. Symons and Sonny Cumbie threw for bushels of yards — as did current coach Kliff Kingsbury when he played at the school.

Speaking of Cumbie, I believe he passed for over 2,000 yards against Cal in a Holiday Bowl game I covered. OK, looked it up, he passed for a career-high 520 yards.

Is Mahomes for real? That’s your call. But here’s the link to the stellar Texas Tech-TCU preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/52672/preview/top25/

Hey, the links thing is back!

I know, I know, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Been hearing that refrain for the past quarter century and trust me, I do understand it’s true.

But the people who make those remarks never see the bad side of things.

You know, like having to write about the Cleveland Browns.

I’d say I’d rather have a root canal than write about the Browns, but, um, yeah, I just might have to undergo that procedure next month so it doesn’t sound fun to joke about it.

I’d say I’d rather have a pallet jack roll up on my foot … “Oh no, not again!” to quote Rod Stewart. No, that wasn’t the least bit fun when it occurred the first time.

I think you get the point — writing about the Cleveland Browns isn’t one of the highlights of a sportswriter’s day. They are the lone winless team in the NFL and it isn’t the least bit surprising.

Cleveland (0-6) has dropped 16 of its last 17 games, is on its third quarterback (rookie Cody Kessler) of the season and lost one of its best players in safety Jordan Poyer to a lacerated kidney.

Ouch. Always hurts every time I see “lacerated kidney.”

Hurts to write it as well.

The Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) this Sunday and Cincinnati has been an underachieving group this season.

Anyway, here is the stellar preview — http://sports.yahoo.com/news/bengals-hope-break-vs-lowly-browns-234337193–nfl.html

The Chicago Cubs rose from the dead in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and now the pressure is on the Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to Thursday’s Game 5.

The Dodgers don’t want to head to Chicago with a 3-2 deficit even if Clayton Kershaw is pitching in Game 6. Los Angeles needs to win Game 5 and a victory would really make things tough for Chicago.

The Cubs’ players would spend Friday’s off-day hearing all about the 108-year title drought and knowing they would have to win two games to avoid being viewed as enormous disappointments. Sometimes it gets tough to play baseball under such circumstances.

But Thursday’s 10-2 trouncing of the Dodgers certainly provided confidence for the Cubs. Their chances of winning Game 5 can’t be too bad with Jon Lester on the mound and Kershaw resting in the dugout.

But who did I pick to win Game 5? Guess I gave it away in the headline. My predicted score is inside the stellar preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/event/2016/410460/preview/

Top-ranked Alabama is an amazing football team. The Crimson Tide are on their way to another appearance in the College Football Playoff and it won’t surprise me if they don’t lose a game.

But what impresses me most is this tidbit — Alabama has scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns (eight on defense, three on punt returns) over its first seven games.

Think of that — 11 non-offensive touchdowns. Heck, it might take Rutgers three years to score 11 touchdowns of any kind.

When a team can repeatedly be that opportunistic, it makes it much harder for the opposition to post an upset. And I certainly don’t see sixth-ranked Texas A&M having a chance this Saturday.

Heck, neither do the oddsmakers who are smarter than all of us. They list the Crimson Tide as 18.5-point favorites.

It definitely seems kind of unfair for a program with one of the top rosters in the nation to keep scoring when they weren’t even in possession of the ball.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/52601/preview/top25/

Do you remember those days when Brigham Young was a national caliber football program?

Oh, you don’t?

Makes sense but there was a time when BYU was a marquee program and even won a national championship in 1984. The school produced several NFL quarterbacks (including Steve Young and Jim McMahon) and loved to beat up on lesser conference foes.

But now the Cougars are an independent and nobody outside of Utah thinks all that highly of them. Heck, the Big 12 passed on adding them to their conference so that’s got to hurt when you aren’t considered to be on par with lame programs like Iowa State and Kansas.

BYU visits Boise State on Thursday and the Broncos badly need the victory. Boise State plays that light Mountain West schedule and adding a win over BYU to Pac-12 victories over Washington State and Oregon State helps the school’s chances of landing a Cotton Bowl bid.

The Broncos probably haven’t forgotten being one defensive stop away from beating BYU last season until Tanner Mangum (from the Boise suburb of Eagle, Idaho) tossed a game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/52584/preview/top25/

Hey, we’re doing the my weekly links thing again … it is fully a tradition now.

Boise State has a pretty solid quarterback in sophomore Brett Rypien but nobody discusses him nationally.

Oh, they will say a few nice things about him on ESPN2 immediately after he passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns against New Mexico on the channel but then all chatter disappears and he returns to oblivion.

That’s what happens in the power-conference era. If Rypien played for a Pac-12 team — like he could have — he would get all kinds of love for those kinds of accomplishments. But playing in a minor conference like the Mountain West is a killer.

Regardless, Rypien is giving Boise State its best quarterbacking since a guy named Kellen Moore was setting all kinds of records at the school. Trust me, Rypien can play a little.

Here is a link to the stellar Colorado State-Boise State preview — http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/gametracker/preview/NCAAF_20161015_COLOST@BOISE/no-15-boise-state-rypien-look-to-stay-hot

The Houston Cougars always seemed like a team destined to lose. The question was when.

That was answered last Saturday when the Cougars lost to Navy. That defeat removed Houston from any chance of crashing the College Football Playoff.

That saddens people because they always want to have the so-called Little Guy hanging around the playoff mix. But the reality is that conferences like the American Athletic and Conference USA and Mountain West have already been forever relegated to second-tier status.

The Cougars notched an impressive victory over Oklahoma earlier this season that propelled the playoff talk possibility and they were ranked sixth prior to the loss to Navy.

But the playoff dream was going to be snapped at some point. And since coach Tom Herman says the goal wasn’t to go undefeated — the only way Houston could be part of the CFP — then I guess he isn’t all that heartbroken.

Here is a link to the stellar Tulsa-Houston preview — http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/no-13-cougars-seek-bounce-back-effort-101116

Tony Romo is getting closer to being healthy enough to play and that means the Dallas Cowboys may soon have a quarterback dilemma.

Romo is recovering from a broken vertebra in his back and is brittle as he nears the end of his career. Youngster Dak Prescott has seized the opportunity and guided the Cowboys to a 4-1 start while setting a rookie record by starting the season with 155 attempts without an interception.

Naturally, owner Jerry Jones decides to pop off and proclaim that Romo is still the No. 1 quarterback. Sure Jerry, go back to Romo. Perhaps that will help end your team’s nice start and allow the franchise to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The Cowboys missing the playoffs is always fine with me.

Another interesting thing to watch Sunday is how Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-leading 546 rushing yards) performs against the Green Bay Packers’ sturdy rushing defense. The Packers lead the NFL by allowing just 42.8 rushing yards per game and 1.99 yards per carry.

Here is a link to the stellar Cowboys-Packers preview — http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2016/10/12/cowboys-just-fine-with-prescott-at-qb-until-romo-returns0.html

The baseball postseason is kicking into high gear with just four teams remaining.

The interesting thing is all four teams have long droughts since last winning a World Series.

The Toronto Blue Jays (1993) have the shortest span of not winning a World Series (think Joe Carter’s game-winning walkoff homer off Philadelphia’s Mitch Williams). Toronto faces the Cleveland Indians, who last won the World Series in 1948 (you might have heard about that when the Cavaliers won the NBA title in June).

In the National League, the Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908 when Theodore Roosevelt was president. Teddy was the 26th president of this country and we are now about to decide on the 45th prez. The Cubs face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven’t won the World Series since 1988 (the series of Kirk Gibson’s famous walk-off blast against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley).

I will handle the preview assignments for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the National League Championship Series. And Games 1, 2 and 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Here is a link to the stellar Blue Jays-Indians Game 1 preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/event/2016/410439/preview/

The links tradition is on a roll now … unlike the San Diego Chargers.

Three fourth-quarter collapses have saddled the Chargers with a 1-3 record and coach Mike McCoy is two losses away from being fired.

McCoy won’t be dismissed if the Chargers lose to the Oakland Raiders this Sunday unless he punches Dean Spanos after the game.

But when the Chargers get smacked around by the Denver Broncos four days later on Thursday Night Football, you can expect McCoy to be informed the following morning that his services are no longer needed.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt would certainly be named interim coach and the extra 72 hours would come in handy to help the staff in preparations for the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 24.

Sure hope there aren’t some Chargers’ fans bemoaning that the team isn’t 4-0. Good teams don’t blow three games in the final five minutes in three of the first four weeks.

The Chargers aren’t a good team so the meltdowns aren’t a total surprise — and gosh, how excited was Drew Brees to get to rally the New Orleans Saints from 13 points down for a 35-34 victory over the franchise that discarded him?

The Raiders are 3-1 and quarterback Derek Carr is on the verge of stardom.

OK, on to the link, the stellar preview of the Chargers-Raiders game is here — http://www.foxsports.com/san-diego/story/chargers-hope-to-solve-fourth-quarter-woes-vs-raiders-100616

 

“Mike lives in Boise, might want to handle” came the directive as if it rates as a special occasion to write about two Mountain West programs.

But audiblizing into the plan is an easy thing when you have a great boss. Plus, I knew there was an easy angle to this Boise State at New Mexico preview.

New Mexico was 30.5-point underdogs last season and beat Boise State on the famed blue turf in Boise. Let that sink in, 30.5-point underdogs. A team that heavily favored really has to suffer an extreme drop in its quality of play and its entire coaching staff has to be totally outworked and outsmarted by the opposing staff.

And that is what happened as New Mexico posted a 31-24 victory. Then the Lobos rubbed it in by posing for team pictures on the field with a New Mexico state flag.

Seriously, the Lobos pack a New Mexico state flag when they go on the road?

That is really kind of weird, isn’t it?

So don’t believe Boise State coach Bryan Harsin when he acts like his team isn’t out for revenge. What coaches say for public consumption is seldom the same as they say behind closed doors.

Here is the stellar preview — http://charlotteobserver.stats.com/cfb/preview.asp?g=201610070092

 

Jim Harbaugh sure comes off as a prima donna and/or an egomaniac these days, doesn’t he?

The funny thing is he was outstanding to deal with when he was an NFL player.

I dealt with him when he was on the San Diego Chargers and he was terrific to deal with at all times. One time, the team was doing offseason public caravans and he asked the staffers to bring him by my newspaper. Harbaugh was quite a hit with the circulation ladies, let’s just say that.

The bigger barometer on how good he was to deal with is this: The Chargers cut him (yep, Ryan Leaf era) and he fielded my call on his home phone in Coronado. Spent 15-plus minutes filling up my notebook.

Most NFL players go into hiding in such a situation.

I also can’t help but laugh about the time Harbaugh told me he was interested in the San Diego State football coaching job, a story that I broke. But you see, the Aztecs weren’t all that interested in him.

A couple members of the athletic department were still upset that Harbaugh had publicly intimated his University of San Diego team could beat San Diego State.

One of the assistant athletic directors even chided me for my article and insisted they wouldn’t hire him.

But San Diego State did interview Harbaugh as part of a poorly executed coaching search. The same assistant AD gave me a hard time after I broke the story that Dennis Erickson was interested, giving me the same “we’re not hiring him” lecture.

Oh yeah, the school did interview Erickson too.

Think of this — current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was one of the two finalists. So a downtrodden San Diego State program could have hired either Fisher or Harbaugh and they still messed things up.

The Aztecs hired Chuck Long, who lasted three seasons and twice suffered home losses to lower-level Cal Poly.

A big miss for San Diego State. Of course, we also know what would have happened. Harbaugh would have won 18 games over his first two seasons and landed a better job.

That’s what guys who know how to win do.

And here’s the stellar Michigan-Rutgers preview — http://www.espn.com/ncf/preview/_/id/400869636

 

Here’s a little baseball for you to round out his edition of the links.

The Chicago Cubs had the best record in the majors this season but we all know their history — 108 years since they last won a World Series.

The San Francisco Giants have a different type of formula — they have won the World Series (2010, 2012, 2014) in every even-numbered season this decade.

Should be an interesting series and the Cubs already caught their biggest break. The Giants had to play in the National League wild-card contest and ace Madison Bumgarner was needed to pitch a four-hit shutout.

The means he will only pitch once in the series against the Cubs. Chicago went up against Bumgarner twice this season and lost both times.

All the pressure is on the Cubs and players like probable NL MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo need to play much, much better than they did in the 2015 postseason.

Anyway, here is the stellar Game 1 preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/event/2016/410446/preview/

Remember all those years when I covered San Diego State football and the program couldn’t even make one of those lousy bowl games few people care about?

Remember how awful some of those teams were? Remember how they lost in the ridiculous Kibbie Dome to Idaho? Remember when they lost at home to Cal Poly? (and lost to the Mustangs again after I was no longer on the beat).

Hard to forget what a pitiful program the Aztecs were but guess what happened this week — something truly, truly remarkable.

I was writing the national preview about San Diego State playing a game as a ranked program for the first time since 1995.

You know, back when Bobby Ross was coach of the Chargers and Ken Caminiti of the Padres was in the process of juicing his way to stardom. Back when the basketball Aztecs were losing games under a former junior-college coach named Fred Trenkle (true, you can look it up).

The football Aztecs didn’t last long as a ranked program way back then as they lost to Wyoming and disappeared from the rankings for 21 long years.

They play South Alabama this Saturday and one word of caution: The Jaguars defeated the Aztecs 34-27 in overtime in San Diego last season.

One other notable thing is that senior running back Donnel Pumphrey is just 129 yards away from becoming the 21st player in college football history to reach 5,000 career yards.

That is kind of impressive, don’t you think?

Anyway, here is the link to the stellar preview — http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/no-19-aztecs-seek-revenge-against-south-alabama-092816

 

OK, on to some other links.

I knew Sports Illustrated had a website but I had no idea my previews land there. The big showdown between Wisconsin and Michigan ended up there. We’ll see if the Wolverines continue putting up points in bushels when they face the Badgers for the first time since 2010. Here is that preview — http://www.si.com/college-football/game/1621711

The college football landscape of today means Oklahoma is finished after starting off the season with a 1-2 record. The funny thing is that the Sooners finally open Big 12 play on Saturday against TCU. Tells you how little conference races matter these days if Oklahoma truly has nothing to play for. Upi.com kept my byline on the preview so we will link to them — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/09/29/TCU-vs-Oklahoma-Prediction-preview-pick-to-win-Big-12-football/9331475169451/

Interesting that at the bottom there is a prediction for that game. I didn’t make that prediction. I did make a prediction for another company with a different preview I wrote of that same game — and I picked Oklahoma to win. You can see that here — https://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/52455/preview/top25/

Here is one for the NFL fans. Russell Wilson vows to play when the Seattle Seahawks visit the New York Jets on Sunday. While the Seahawks worry about the health of their quarterback, the Jets must be wondering about the psyche of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The guy committed eight turnovers (six interceptions, two fumbles) last Sunday. That is really hard to do. Here is the stellar preview — http://www.krdo.com/sports/seahawks-should-have-wilson-for-game-against-jets/99756764

And one final link for the baseball people. The St. Louis Cardinals posted a controversial victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday and here is my preview for their Friday contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The wild-card race between the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants will be decided this weekend. Shelf life is short on baseball previews but here is a stellar one — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/event/2016/399088/preview/