Archive for the ‘college football’ Category

Good thing I took that vow of objectivity a quarter century ago and don’t have to root for teams.

Because it would be really hard to choose a team to cheer for in Monday’s College Football Playoff title game.

Pretty sure most people who don’t live in the South are tired of having how great the SEC teams are. Unfortunately, the conference will be able to claim a national championship no matter who wins Monday when Alabama and Georgia meet in Atlanta.

It will be the SEC’s ninth national championship in the past 12 seasons.

The Crimson Tide are striving to win their fifth title during Nick Saban’s 11 seasons as coach.

Hey, not impressed? How about this: They beat Mercer by eight touchdowns.

Of course, most major-college programs wouldn’t play Mercer. (Wait, we LOVE Mercer, the basketball program that sent Duke home in 2014!)

And what about Georgia? The Bulldogs beat Samford by four touchdowns this season. OK, so nobody knows if Samford (and Son?) has ever accomplished anything big on the athletic stage.

But yeah, they still pay me to make a prediction so I do have a winner for you. Right here inside the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/alabama-vs-georgia-preview-and-predictions/232916/

Both Georgia and Alabama lost one game this season and it was to the same team — Auburn.

That makes things a little dicey because Auburn lost to FOUR other teams.

Of course, Georgia got revenge by defeating Auburn in the SEC championship game but the Tigers lost their Peach Bowl matchup with Central Florida.

Unbeaten Central Florida … a school that has declared itself national champions and will hold a parade on Monday afternoon.

Might as well name yourself the national champion when you consider the fact that the chairman of the CFP committee is the athletic director at Texas Tech.

Um, yeah, nobody who is serious about identifying who the best college football teams are would ever choose the Texas Tech AD to play the leading role. Doesn’t look like Kirby Hocutt knows football that well when his own program has experienced three losing campaigns in the past four seasons.

Just think, Kirby’s committee lists Central Florida at No. 12. Yes, No. 12!

So the school that named itself national champs wouldn’t even have been part of an eight-team playoff. Now that is ridiculous.

But on Monday night, we put all this nonsense aside.

And we wait to see if playing Mercer helped prepare Alabama to win another crown. Or if that tussle with Samford was that piece of the puzzle Georgia desperately needed.

Hard to root for either team when you break it down like that.

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There is no debate that Marshall Faulk is the best running back in San Diego State history. He still will be 100 years from now — well, if football still exists.

But it also should be pretty clear who ranks No. 2 on the top Aztecs’ back list.  

That would be the current star — Walter Camp Player of the Year finalist Rashaad Penny.

Penny leads the nation with 2,027 rushing yards and has a stellar 7.4 average to go with 19 rushing scores. He has topped 200 yards on five occasions this season and had just one poor contest when he gained just 53 yards on 21 carries during a loss to Boise State.

He also matched the all-time record for career kickoff return touchdowns with seven.

When this month began, Deacon Turner was still the second-best running back in San Diego State history. You can still call him BBF – Best Before Faulk.

But it is now clear that Penny is No. 2, which is plenty amazing when you consider he was the backup to NCAA all-time rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey last season. I wondered a few times if Penny was the best back on the San Diego State roster while he was rushing for 1,005 yards.

We got the answer. He was the best this season. He was the best last season. He would be the best in any season in Aztecs’ history other than the Faulk Years (1991-93).

So we need to have a definitive Top 10 list of San Diego State running backs. I saw most everyone on the list play — ummm, not Norm Nygaard (1952-54) of course — so I am the right person to compile it.

Surely don’t want anyone at the school messing up the list. When I was on the beat and Lynell Hamilton was having a big freshman season in 2003, the game notes didn’t have Darrin Wagner listed among the school’s top-ever freshman rushing leaders.

I told the guy of the omission and he just stared at me. He finally said, “Who?”

That’s what happens when universities hire people who don’t know the school history.

Anyway, the next year I turned to the page in the media guide and guess whose rushing yardage from 1989 had been added to the freshman leaders?

Yep, Darrin Wagner.

OK, here are the Top 10 running backs in San Diego State history:

 

1. Marshall Faulk — San Diego State had never landed a talent like this and benefited that major schools wanted him to play cornerback. Well, their loss as Faulk set the then single-game rushing record of 386 yards before he ever started a game and got the Aztecs unprecedented national publicity. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1992 as ESPN’s Lee Corso repeatedly belittled the fact Faulk played at San Diego State and single-handedly prevented him from winning the award. Faulk rushed for 4,589 and 57 touchdowns in his three seasons before becoming an NFL Hall of Famer.

2. Rashaad Penny — See above for the superlatives but ranking fourth in school history with 3,435 rushing yards (and likely soon to be third) is pretty impressive when you were just a starter for one season.

3. Deacon Turner — He had a first name of David but nobody ever used it when discussing his exploits. He was the star of back-to-back 10-1 teams – there weren’t 322 bowl games back then — and was part of the biggest victory in school history, the 41-16 slaughter of No. 13 Florida State in 1977. He fell on hard times after his NFL career ended and isn’t in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, which is a travesty. Claude Gilbert, who coached Turner, was a defensive coordinator at San Diego State in the mid-1990s and told me then that the committee had once decided to induct the Deacon but backed off because it was worried about what kind of shape he was in or if he would even show. Well, the guy is dead now so that’s not an issue. Turner’s absence needs to be rectified because he was one of the biggest difference-makers in school history.

4. Ronnie Hillman — You could go with any order for Hillman and the following two guys but Hillman (3,243 yards, 36 touchdowns) would have shattered Faulk’s then-record if he hadn’t mistakenly left for the NFL after two seasons. He was better than the Mountain West level and repeatedly put up big numbers.

5. Donnel Pumphrey — He’s the all-time NCAA rushing leader (6,405 yards) as long as they don’t reinstate bowl stats from the old days (then it will be Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne) and rushed for 62 touchdowns. The craziest stat is he racked up 33 100-yard outings during his career — heck, the ESPN folks will make a power-conference player a star with three 100-yard games.

6. George Jones — One of the more muscle-toned running backs ever seen and he was the first to break Faulk’s single-season mark when he compiled 1,842 yards in 1995. He had four career 200-yard games while rolling up 2,810 yards and 34 touchdowns over two seasons.

7. Norm Nygaard — I was told by a longtime school expert that this guy was the top running back prior to Deacon Turner’s arrival and that is good enough for me. He rushed for 2,619 yards from 1952-54 and that was well before running backs got 20 to 25 carries per game so perhaps he could have doubled that total with today’s workloads.

8. Chris Hardy — He had a big junior season (1,150 yards in 1985) and then was one of the top players on one of the more beloved teams in school history — the 1986 Holiday Bowl team. He rushed for 2,341 yards and 22 touchdowns.

9. Larry Ned — He ranks third in school history with 3,562 yards and rushed for 36 touchdowns. He once rushed for 285 yards against Eastern Illinois in 2001 — the quarterback of Eastern Illinois was a guy named Tony Romo.

10. Wayne Pittman — Here’s a guy you don’t hear a lot about and that is because he had the unfortunate timing of being Faulk’s backup for three seasons. But he rushed for 1,136 yards in his lone season as a starter (1994) and that is good enough for me.

 

Missing the cut — Lynell Hamilton (2003-07) was a star as a freshman before a badly broken leg and a 22-month absence changed everything. … Adam Muema (2011-13) had rushing seasons of 1,458 and 1,244 yards before mistakenly turning pro and basically disappearing. … Paul Hewitt (28 scores from 1987-88) was a touchdown machine as a junior-college transfer. … Art Preston (34 touchdowns from 1949-51) has his name plate in the football locker room so that tells me all I need to know. … Jonas Lewis (1996-99) was consistently good while racking up 2,843 yards.

So I haven’t done Weekly Links in a while but the night before Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time.

It is a little bit foggy outside and I sure have no interest in hitting up any retail stores that think “Black Friday” started two, three or four days before FRIDAY.

Plus, it is also a good time to talk about turkeys.

Oh, I think I spelled Chargers wrong … um, yeah, turkeys equal Chargers.

You can upgrade that to buffoon if we bring Dean Spanos into the conversation.

But bad news for all San Diegans, I see the Turkeys defeating the Dallas Cowboys in their first Thanksgiving game since 1969.

People knew Dallas would miss Ezekiel Elliott during his girl-punching (allegedly) suspension but it appears that the team’s true MVP is left tackle Tyron Smith. The Cowboys have allowed 12 sacks during his two-game injury absence and Smith might sit out Thursday too.

Since you can’t double-team both Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, common sense dictates that Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott will be running for his life a few times.

Don’t tell anyone I picked the Chargers … of course, the proof is in the stellar preview: https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/-chargers-vs-cowboys-preview-and-predictions/220578/

 

I had one goal when I got the national preview assignment for the Apple Cup showdown and that was this: To get into print that Washington State and Washington played to a 5-5 tie in 1900.

No typos there … a 5-5 football game. Now that is crazy.

Of course, I’m the same guy who covered the first 11-10 score in NFL history in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked a late field to defeat the Chargers.

But who has ever seen a 5-5 football score?

Funny thing about this game is that it is Washington State playing for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. Washington can only be spoilers. If the Huskies win, Stanford gets the berth.

That means Washington is currently only the third-best team in its division and fourth best overall in the Pac-12. And coach Chris Peterson is getting a bit touchy that some people aren’t thrilled that the very well-paid coach isn’t going to have his team in the conference title game.

But there was a moment in a press conference this week that defies all logic and it pertained to the Huskies scoring 10 points in the final minute to defeat Utah.

Q: Was that finish Saturday as exciting a finish as you’ve been a part of?

ME: Apparently, the media person never heard of the Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Oklahoma.

Wow … here is the stellar preview:    http://www.espn.com/ncf/preview/_/id/400935330

 

The Iron Bowl is Saturday and Auburn needs a victory over Alabama to keep alive its College Football Playoff hopes.

Seems odd that a two-loss team can still have an opportunity to be one of the last four teams standing but there are different rules for SEC teams than the other leagues.

Kind of like nobody wants to make SEC commissioner Craig Sankey mad in case they want to take an athletic director’s job at an SEC school sometime. Or risk receiving a phone call from an irate Nick Saban.

The Tigers are currently No. 6 and if they beat Saban’s Crimson Tide, they would face No. 7 Georgia (one loss) in the SEC title game. You can kind of see what is on the horizon.

An Auburn win in the SEC title game gets the Tigers in as the No. 4 seed in the CFP. And a Georgia win just may get the Bulldogs in at No. 4 because then they split two games with Auburn.

That means the loser of the ACC title game between Clemson and Miami is in line to get shafted. So is Wisconsin unless it is 13-0. Being 12-1 with the loss to Ohio State isn’t going to do it for the Badgers.

Anyway, Alabama and Auburn should be a good game and here is the stellar preview: https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/-alabama-vs-auburn-preview-and-predictions/220799/

 

Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox squared off for the first time as NBA players on Wednesday night and their matchup was a draw.

Fox got to walk off the floor with a smile as the Sacramento Kings posted a 113-102 victory over Ball’s Los Angeles Lakers. But the statistical matchup favored Ball.

Ball had 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and four turnovers, while Fox had 13 points, three assists and five turnovers.

Their first matchup received a lot of attention because of the way Fox terrorized Ball in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last March when he scored a career-best 39 points. That performance paved the way for Fox to rise all the way up to the fifth overall pick. Ball, of course, was selected second.

I have a sneaky suspicion that Fox will be the better NBA player. Check back with me in 2023.

Anyway, this was the stellar preview that was published before the game was played: https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/basketball/NBA/-lakers-vs-kings-preview-and-predictions/220583/

 

Can’t do a weekly links without this quick mention. Kansas is playing Oakland on Friday — that’s the Golden Grizzlies, not the Raiders — and a player named Jalen Hayes will be making his season debut for Oakland.

You see, Hayes received a four-game academic suspension from the NCAA for not making “satisfactory progress toward a degree” after he received a 2.5 in a class in his major last spring when Oakland requires a 2.8.

Oh, but Hayes is slated to graduate in December. Sounds like he is making a lot of progress toward his degree, doesn’t it?

But the same group of people who closed their eyes to academic fraud at North Carolina — a money-making school — penalized the star player from a lower-echelon university. Quite the joke — and count Kansas coach Bill Self among the folks who think the situation was poorly handled.

“They get him back,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said of Hayes. “He was ineligible the first four games for a screwy academic rule.”

Screwy academic rule says it all. Thanks, Coach.

Here is the stellar preview:    https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/basketball/ncaab/oakland-vs-kansas-preview-and-predictions/220737/

Well, hey, Weekly Links is making a surprise appearance. So busy with the paid work this time of year that it is hard to fit in free ventures (sure hope you don’t think I am making millions on my cozy website!)

So here goes … a little baseball, a little more NFL and a little college football. Sorry, not posting NBA as the preview shelf life is limited and who knows where you might end up after you click.

 

The World Series starts on Tuesday and the main storyline will revolve around perhaps the greatest pitcher of this era.

But as we all know, Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw hasn’t stood up well under the playoff pressure during his career.

So will be it regular season Kershaw or “Postseason Kershaw” when the Dodgers play in the World Series for the first time since 1988?

Kershaw was seven months old and sleeping in a crib the last time the Dodgers were part of the Fall Classic.

How long has it been since the Dodgers played in the World Series? Well, consider the San Diego Padres’ drought was 10 years shorter.

That’s pretty sad when you consider all the money the Dodgers spend.

But this is their time with a team that won 104 regular-season games … and they definitely need “Regular Season Kershaw” taking the mound … see stellar story here — http://hosted.stats.com/mlb/story.asp?i=20171020172054085065710&ref=rec&tm=&src=MLB

 

Tom Brady might get the most praise but I feel Aaron Rodgers is the most “valuable” quarterback in the NFL.

We start to see if that is assessment is correct when the Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Rodgers is out for at least eight weeks due to a broken collarbone and former UCLA star Brett Hundley will start in his place. Hundley has excelled in each of the past three preseasons but he wasn’t so hot when replacing Rodgers last Sunday as he threw three interceptions in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Hundley is a stellar athlete so it will be interesting to see how he fares. But no matter how he performs, we know this: He’s no Aaron Rodgers.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/saints-vs-packers-preview-and-predictions/212295/

 

It was pretty fun to have the Week 1 assignment when the Chargers and Broncos played in Denver.

It was even more entertaining to watch the Chargers have their game-tying field-goal attempt blocked in the final seconds.

The Chargers lost their first four games after relocating from San Diego and their running defense is so poor that I’m thinking Terrell Davis could suit up this Sunday and threaten the 100-yard mark.

The Broncos haven’t played well lately — what a gag job that was against the woeful New York Giants last Sunday night — so that unfortunately means the Chargers have a chance to win a third straight game.

Sure don’t want that … seeing the Chargers fall to 2-5 and on the way to their consecutive double-digit loss season would be much more fun.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/nfl/broncos-vs-chargers-preview-and-predictions/212300/

 

I’ve been kind of wondering why we have to continue playing the college football season and having all this debate about which four teams should be part of the College Football Playoff.

Can you find three teams in the nation that can beat Alabama? How about two? OK, one?

Penn State, Georgia and TCU are the teams ranked 2, 3 and 4. How about we take the best players off those three teams and see if they can give Alabama a game?

None of those three teams will win the national championship. The list of teams that can ends at one: Alabama.

The Crimson Tide get to pound Tennessee this Saturday. Apparently, people around Tennessee have finally figured out Butch Jones isn’t an SEC-caliber coach. Things could really get ugly against the Crimson Tide.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/-tennessee-vs-alabama-preview-and-predictions/212112/

Perhaps you remember the Exxon commercial that played over and over again for a month in the middle of the NBA playoffs.

The kinda-nerdy, kinda-cool woman introduces herself as … Kelsey McNeely, energy farmer.

So let’s borrow from that tone to help a Northern Illinois linebacker introduce himself to the sports world.

Antonio Jones-Davis, eye gouger.

Few people had heard of him before Saturday night but nothing like video proof that you are an eye gouger to get your name to go viral.

I was in the middle of my Saturday night work shift and had only looked at the television a couple times. But I happened to look up and a play had just ended in the Northern Illinois versus San Diego State game and all of a sudden I see a white-gloved hand go somewhere it doesn’t belong (yeah, save your Michael Jackson jokes).

I was stunned that Jones-Davis put his right hand inside the facemask of San Diego State star running back Rashaad Penny.

They showed the replay and that made it clear it was an intentional act.

Just like that — Antonio Jones-Davis, eye gouger was the proper label.

See this stellar story for more detail and information — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=20&story_id=177913.

Jones-Davis, eye gouger was suspended for one game by Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey. The coach said Jones-Davis plans to call Penny and Aztecs coach Rocky Long to apologize.

Carey asserted that the conduct of Jones-Davis was “completely unacceptable” and I think that is something we can all agree on.

Bad mistake and caught on tape. Not the way a college football player wants to become known.

But for now, there is only one way to address the young man … “Hey, aren’t you Antonio Jones-Davis, eye gouger?”

The world is a better place tonight because Alabama didn’t win the College Football Playoff’s national championship.

Yeah, imagine that. Alabama didn’t win.

That means Nick Saban lost.

Even better.

Clemson scored the winning touchdown with one second left when quarterback Deshaun Watson tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to give the Tigers a 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide.

Instead of “Roll Tide,” it is “Roll Tears” for Alabama.

The Crimson Tide never trailed in the contest until one second remained. At times, it felt like Clemson was destined to come up short.

Even the winning drive was a little shaky as the Tigers squandered time and almost had to settle for a tying field goal.

But Watson capped off a 420-yard, three-touchdown passing performance with his game-winning throw to give Clemson its first national title in 35 seasons.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney couldn’t stop crying in the postgame interview and Watson kept thanking God and it just kept feeling surreal that someone other than the powerful Crimson Tide won the national title.

Alabama is loaded with talent but there was Saban’s defense crumbling in the final quarter. Clemson rolled up 21 fourth-quarter points as four different receivers finished with more than 90 yards receiving.

The Tigers ended up with 511 offensive yards against a defense that allowed an average of 244 through its first 14 games. The Crimson Tide totaled 376 yards and we learned that receiver ArDarius Stewart has a much better throwing arm than quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Hurts sure has the potential to be an NFL running back once his body matures and he spends more time in the weight room but he didn’t look much like a solid passer for the second consecutive playoff game.

Clemson avenged last season’s loss to Alabama in the title game and this contest will long be remembered.

Primarily because of Clemson’s impressive fourth-quarter dash.

And partly because of this — Nick Saban was on the losing end.

This was the first time one of Saban’s teams lost a national championship game in six attempts.

Roll Tears, indeed.

Time for Weekly Links and hopefully these hot stories heat things up.

You see, it is minus-7 degrees on this Friday night and feels even colder. When my phone said feels like minus-17 last night, I really wanted to throw it out in the cold so it could find out for itself.

Oh yeah, went out to start my car tonight so the engine wouldn’t die. Too late, it was already dead. #PolarBearWeather and I don’t really get along too well.

 

So off to the links and I drew the preview assignment for the College Football Playoff title game between Alabama and Clemson.

I’ve been saying Alabama would go undefeated since early October so no reason to change now. Clemson has a ton of solid players and should make it a game — just as the Tigers did last season before losing 45-40 in the title game.

The Crimson Tide has NFL players everywhere. Lucky for Nick Saban, he doesn’t have to fit them under a salary game.

And Saban sent offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin packing after the semifinal win over Washington. Maybe we can change his name to Lame Kiffin.

Fits pretty well.

Here is the stellar preview of Monday’s national championship game — http://sun-sentinel.sportsdirectinc.com/football/ncaaf-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAF/matchups/g8_preview_2.html

 

My NFL preview for the week is the AFC wild-card game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in the regular season when running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted twice.

I say quarterback play will be the bigger factor in the rematch. Roethlisberger will be making his 18th postseason start – he has won two Super Bowls – while Miami journeyman Matt Moore will be making his first career playoff start.

Not saying Moore won’t step up but it also won’t surprise me if he puts together a disastrous Brock Osweiler-like performance either (translation: rotten).

The Dolphins were badly hoping Ryan Tannehill would be recovered from his knee injury to play in this game but he appears to be another week or two away.

Here is the stellar Dolphins-Steelers preview — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20170108023&home=23&vis=15&action=click&contentCollection=football&region=supplemental&module=sports-stats-module-nfl&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront

 

I was asked recently what is the best assignment to draw and that answer was easy: College basketball remote writethrus.

They pay 2 1/2 to three times more than the previews. Heck, they pay better than most live assignments I’ve handled since living in Boise.

Not leaving the house to write about college basketball and getting paid better than covering a live college hoops game from courtside is pretty amazing. Who needs to deal with snow and sliding on icy roads? Not me.

So here is how it goes: I file first-half running copy with notes at halftime, I file a first lede about two minutes after the game concludes and I finish up with the write-thru with quotes about an hour later.

And I don’t even have to deal with the egos of any coach. Perfect.

 

So this week, I learned that Hall of Famer Rick Barry has a son who plays for Florida. (Yeah, I did the math too).

Oh sure, he shoots free throws underhanded just like his famous father.

Canyon Barry matched his season best of 20 points on Tuesday as the Gators knocked off Ole Miss to land my story angle.

Here is the stellar Ole Miss-Florida remote writethru — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=60&story_id=155582

 

In my other one, I really didn’t learn anything new. Already knew Gonzaga was really, really good. And the Zags beating up on San Francisco is a twice-yearly tradition.

But wow, Bulldogs junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss keeps getting better and better. He had been sick earlier in the week but he was making the Dons feel awful with his play as he established career highs of 36 points and 11 rebounds on Thursday.

Williams-Goss was a fine point guard at Washington for two seasons before departing. He sat out last season as a transfer and now looks like one of the top players at his position in the country.

His superb performance led to him landing the angle on my story.

Here is the stellar Gonzaga-San Francisco remote writethru — http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-gonzaga-sanfrancisco-writethru-idUSMTZED16CBWTCJ

   I drew the preview assignments for the Orange and Peach bowls this week.

   That is certainly a step up from those Poinsettia, Potato and Cactus bowl previews I wrote earlier this month.

   You might not recognize why the Peach Bowl is important at first glance. Well, the College Football Playoff folks still are using bowl names for the national semifinals even though you typically only hear people talk about Alabama and Washington being a playoff game and seldom hear a mention of the Peach Bowl.

   Alabama coach Nick Saban is of the same mindset as me (that won’t happen often, trust me). He doesn’t see Saturday’s game as a bowl game either because, you know, it is really, really important to win the game.

   Most people can’t tell you who won most of last week’s bowl games. … Because most don’t matter.

   This game does matter so you have your big-game preview writer (hey, that’s me) handling one of the three most important college football games of the season.

   I see Alabama winning the contest and I don’t think I’ll be wrong about that (geez, Saban and I in agreement again).

   Here is the stellar preview of the national championship semifinal game between Alabama and Washington — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/12/29/Peach-Bowl-Preview-Nick-Saban-Alabama-eye-title-not-bowl-vs-Washington-Huskies/9671483039696/

 

   The Orange Bowl features a really good matchup between Michigan and Florida State.

   I realize Wolverines outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers is the best player on a college football field anytime he steps on one but the most fun player to watch Friday night will be Florida State star running back Dalvin Cook.

   There are three running backs projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft and Cook (who hasn’t announced a decision yet) is the only one of the three that didn’t skip his bowl game.

   LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey both opted to call it a career, apparently because they don’t want to HURT their draft stock. Kind of sad because most highly competitive players would see it as one more time to HELP their draft stock.

   Take it from somebody who covered a college football program for eight seasons, there are all kinds of players and coaches in the LSU and Stanford programs complaining to one another about their selfish teammates.

   Anyway, Cook is playing in the Orange Bowl and he might end up having the best NFL career of the trio. He didn’t win the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation – he was a semifinalist – but if you look at overall skill, production and measurables, he’s got the look of a guy who can make a major impact as an NFL rookie.

   The Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are surely salivating at the thought of potentially having him in their backfields.

   Cook received the honor of being my Orange Bowl preview angle, here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/12/26/Orange-Bowl-Dalvin-Cook-Florida-State-square-off-against-Jabrill-Peppers-Michigan/5021482731996/

 

   All the veteran players on the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles know Sunday’s game is meaningless.

   I covered an NFL team for seven seasons and the final week of the season is a very long one when a team has nothing at stake. The focus isn’t the same and the players just can’t wait to make it through the game and start their offseasons.

   So it is kind of cute to see the young Dallas stars get all worked up that everybody is calling the game meaningless. It is being called that way for a reason — the Cowboys have clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and the Eagles have already been eliminated from contention.

   Let me say this again … Cowboys and Eagles this Sunday is meaningless. MEANINGLESS. … One more time — the game is meaningless.

   But quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott beg to differ. Prescott is 23, Elliott is 21.

   Both these players are going to be solid NFL players for a long time. Sometime down the line … 2019 perhaps or maybe 2021 … the Cowboys will have nothing to play for and these guys will be signing a different tune.

   At that point, they will be saying the game is meaningless. And they will be right.

   Here is the stellar Cowboys-Eagles preview — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20170101021&home=21&vis=6

Next-to-last Weekly Links of the year … dang, where did 2016 go? Will be sad to see it end.

 

Anyway, we will start off with the Cactus Bowl preview. One of those easy angles, thank you Baylor.

The season started in scandal for the Bears, head-in-the-sand coach Art Briles got fired, Baylor won its first six games and then lost its final six regular-season games.

And in this era of mediocrity, 6-6 gets you in a bowl. The Bears play Boise State (10-2) in the Dec. 27 game in Phoenix.

As the lead sentence says … No college football program in America needs a fresh start more than Baylor.

So so true … and I must have done a good job on the preview because one of my co-workers said so.

Here is the stellar Cactus Bowl preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/12/22/2016-Cactus-Bowl-preview-Baylor-Bears-hope-for-positive-end-to-fouled-season-vs-Boise-State-Broncos/2921482434045/

 

The Poinsettia Bowl was Wednesday and Brigham Young defeated Wyoming 24-21 in a matchup of former conference rivals.

My preview angle began with BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, back in the starting role after Taysom Hill suffered an injury.

The thing I keep having trouble grasping is this: Mangum is a 22-year-old sophomore and I met him 5 1/2 years ago when he was a high school senior.

He was a pretty mature person back in the summer of 2011 and I remember saying “This kid is in high school and he is more mature than some of the San Diego State seniors I dealt with.”

If you do the math, Mangum should have been a fifth-year senior this season or already done with his college career. But he did the thing that BYU specializes in — the two-year Mormon church mission and a redshirt season.

Good way to have grown men play against college kids, huh?

Not an indictment against Mangum, just stating a fact.

Even weirder is the situation of Hill. He graduated high school before I even moved to Boise.

But there he was playing for BYU this season at age of 26.

Let this sink in … I’ve now been in this fine city for 7 1/2 years and Hill was already out of high school when I arrived.

Yeah, they do math weird in Provo, huh?

OK, here is the stellar Poinsettia Bowl preview — http://sports.yahoo.com/news/byu-wyoming-preview-050730982–nca

 

They played the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Thursday and the final score was 272-199.

OK, so it was really Idaho 61, Colorado State 50 but there might as well have been 471 points scored. When both teams score over 40, it really isn’t all that terrific of a time on the gridiron.

Suppose I should be thankful I didn’t have to cover that mess.

Actually, I am thankful. It was lower than 20 degrees out with snow everywhere. Not interested in the 50-minute round trip (or longer based on the roads).

Regardless, it was a big deal for Idaho. The Vandals are dropping down to the FCS level in 2018 and have been a horrendous program for most of the past two decades. So to roll up 61 points on a Mountain West team and win a bowl game is a big accomplishment.

Hmmm, maybe the Mountain West should invite Idaho into the conference before that the FCS thing starts up.

Yeah, here is the stellar Potato Bowl preview — http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/idaho-to-complete-unlikely-season-in-potato-bowl-121816

 

While working on the preview of the Indianapolis Colts-Oakland Raiders game, one thing kept coming to mind:

How the heck are the Colts going to miss the playoffs?

They have the most talent in the AFC South and have Andrew Luck at quarterback and there is a better chance of me starting at quarterback for the Houston Texans on Saturday than the Colts have of making the playoffs.

That is really, really sad.

Oh, not the me starting for the Texans’ part. Thinking back to the pickup ball days on Loukelton Circle, I’m an upgrade over Brock Osweiler.

But the Colts being on the verge of missing the playoffs for the second straight season is lame.

Pretty sure coach Chuck Pagano will be sent packing after the season. Indianapolis might as well show general manager Ryan Grigson the door too.

Fact is, if you have all this talent and somehow trail both the Texans and Tennessee Titans in one of the NFL’s weaker divisions, you need to start over with new folks at the top.

Expect the Colts to be eliminated by the Raiders, who have ended a 14-year playoff drought behind star quarterback Derek Carr.

Here is the stellar Colts-Raiders preview — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161224013&home=13&vis=11

San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey plays in the final game of his standout career on Saturday and he should be recognized as the all-time leading rusher in college football history when it ends.

But alas, that won’t be entirely true.

The NCAA is a weirdo organization and it doesn’t recognize bowl statistics if they are from before 2002. But eventually, the NCAA is going to come to its senses and count those games.

Even that group of people won’t be dumb forever, right?

So come Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl, Pumphrey (6,290) needs 108 rushing yards against a tough Houston Cougars’ defense to surpass Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time record holder. But he really needs to gain 836 yards if he wants to keep the record.

Count Dayne’s bowl games and the Wisconsin star — who played from 1996-99 — rushed for 7,125 yards.

Pumphrey may get the record Saturday to cap off a fantastic career but he will only be renting it.

Here is the stellar Las Vegas Bowl preview — http://www.albanyherald.com/sports/las-vegas-bowl-capsule/article_3e2232c7-43c3-5573-a907-b154c71c1d26.html

 

The San Diego Chargers are playing their next-to-last game in San Diego on Sunday as there won’t be a January reprieve this time around.

The team is off to Los Angeles, which means Dean Spanos gets to play second fiddle to Kroenke the Donkey (Rams owner Stan Kroenke) until the end of time. Or a shorter time span if Donald Trump learns where the bomb buttons are hidden.

Regardless, rubbing salt in the wounds of San Diego sports fans is this nugget: The Oakland Raiders can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.

Now that really hurts.

Oakland is on the verge of ending a 14-year playoff drought and has one of the top quarterbacks in the game in Derek Carr and one of the elite pass rushers in defensive end Khalil Mack. The Raiders can make some noise in the postseason too.

But Chargers’ fans don’t want to see this clinching, that’s for sure. There are already enough bad memories with the Raiders — Stabler to Banaszak to Casper rates as the worst and the 1980 AFC title game is right behind — and Oakland celebrating a playoff berth on the field once home to Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson would be one final act of rubbing it in the faces of San Diegans.

The Chargers may be goners but San Diego’s intense hate of the Raiders will live on.

Here is the stellar Raiders-Chargers preview (back to the New York Times link!) — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161218024