Archive for the ‘football’ Category

The NFL draft begins Thursday and I am noticing I’m not really looking forward to it.

That’s an odd feeling in that I covered the draft as a professional more than a dozen times at either the professional or college level. And always made sure my Saturdays were clear to watch it prior to that well before this decade’s dumb three-day format.

Analyzing things, I can see why I’m not all that interested in the 2017 NFL draft.

That’s because this is the first draft in my lifetime in which my hometown doesn’t have an NFL team.

Not the least bit interested in who the Los Angeles Chargers pick. Geez, it is hard writing that city’s name before Chargers.

The Chargers belong to San Diego, not the smog clowns and silicone fakes of Los Angeles. The draft is really the first time a big NFL event happens in which the Chargers aren’t referred to as “San Diego Chargers.”

When Roger Goodell reads that phrase off the cue card as the Chargers make their first-round pick, it is a loud reminder to the football world that San Diego is no longer an NFL town.

Dean Spanos had ample opportunities to make it work in San Diego and didn’t have the big-boy leadership abilities to make it happen. Good riddance to him and his poorly run organization.

That is where we will miss the draft — mocking the Chargers for their sad first-round picks.

The lousy picks roll off the tongue easily — receiver Walker Gillette in 1970, running back Leon Burns in 1971, fullback Bo Matthews in 1974, cornerback Mossy Cade in 1984 (Google him to see what a total reject he is) and the biggest draft bust of all-time in quarterback Ryan Leaf in 1998.

There are many other busts — one of my favorites being receiver Craig “Buster” Davis in 2007. I called up Davis’ receivers coach at LSU while writing a profile story and got greeted with all kinds of criticisms of Davis’ desire, toughness and inability to stay healthy.

Guess what Davis was known for during his 26 total games over four seasons with the Chargers? Yep, low desire, no toughness, always injured.

During Davis’ second season, I already wrote song lyrics about him called “Wasted Draft Pick,” to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation.”

Great pick, A.J. Smith! Might want to talk a player’s position coach before you select him.

Of course, there were superb first-round picks over the years too — defensive tackle Gary “Big Hands” Johnson in 1975, tight end Kellen Winslow in 1979, defensive end Leslie O’Neal in 1986, linebacker Junior Seau in 1990, running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001 and the great quarterback maneuver of 2004 when Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers but Smith drafted him anyway before working out a trade with the New York Giants for Philip Rivers.

General manager Tom Telesco has fared well in the first round of the last three drafts with cornerback Jason Verrett, running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Joey Bosa.

The Chargers select seventh this time around so they are positioned well to land another good talent.

But there will be a different feeling when Telesco makes his pick.

You see, these aren’t the San Diego Chargers anymore. So it no longer is a big deal if the team scores with its pick or lands another bust.

Perhaps that is why the draft’s appeal isn’t there for me this year. My hometown doesn’t have a team and the fun is gone.

You see, I could care less if a team from Los Angeles messes up its draft.

That was certainly one amazing Super Bowl, wasn’t it?

Call it a comeback for the ages and the collapse of the century. Fans of the New England Patriots went from sheer frustration to unbelievable jubilation. Fans of the Atlanta Falcons went from the brink of the team’s first championship to utter despair.

You don’t see Super Bowls like this. At least none of the first 50 went this way. None had gone into overtime either.

The largest comeback in a Super Bowl was 10 points before the Patriots recovered from a 25-point deficit to post a 34-28 overtime victory over the Falcons in Houston on Sunday.

Tom Brady won his fourth MVP award with a record 466-yard passing performance and coach Bill Belichick picked up a record fifth win by a head coach.

It was definitely an improbable victory for New England as Atlanta seemingly was in full control with a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter.

But the Falcons instead joined the former Houston Oilers — who blew a 32-point third-quarter lead in a loss to the Buffalo Bills in the 1992 postseason — in the embarrassing playoff pratfall department.

Once the Patriots moved within 28-12, I yelled out “overtime” at the house I was watching the game as you could see Atlanta wasn’t doing a good job of playing with a large lead. The kiss of death was seeing Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his wife already on the field ready to celebrate.

A short time later, up by eight with a short field, the Falcons moved out of field-goal range and failed to make the contest a two-score game.

The door was left open for New England and Brady was ready to enter and help himself to anything he wanted.

When Julian Edelman made one of the greatest catches in NFL history — barely corralling the ball before it could hit ground with help of Falcons cornerback Robert Alford — you knew overtime was going to become a reality.

Sure enough, New England tied the game and received the ball first in overtime. Brady carved up a tired Falcons’ defense that was on the field way too much over the final 2 1/2 quarters of regulation and running back James White scored the decisive touchdown on a 2-yard run.

Of course, New England’s comeback did give us all that great moment of seeing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — think Deflategate — having to congratulate Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the podium. Goodell was jeered so loud you could probably hear it on the streets of Boston.

And you probably could have heard a pin drop in Atlanta.

The Falcons were a pretty darn good team this year. Quarterback Matt Ryan deservedly won MVP honors and I think Julio Jones is now the top receiver in the league (apologies to Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown if he spends his time cruising my website).

But losing in such a manner is going to be tough to overcome. It is going to be one depressing offseason for the players, especially when they keep being reminded that they blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl.

Repeat — a 25-point lead in the SUPER BOWL.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn did an outstanding coaching job this season. He will have to do an even better one next season.

As for the Patriots, they were already going down in history as one of the top football dynasties of all-time. The Brady-Belichick era will be hard to top in the future by any franchise.

Such a high standard and an unbelievable level of success.

And now they have an unprecedented Super Bowl comeback to add to the rest of the accomplishments.

No matter who you were rooting for Sunday, you witnessed one of the most unbelievable Super Bowls of all-time.

Beats a blowout anytime, huh?

Well, unless you are from Atlanta.

I don’t get too disappointed these days over anything in the Sports World but Don Coryell getting passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year made no sense.

This was the year with the opening, the year he was a finalist for the fourth time, the year where there are no longer any NFL coaches who could be argued to have better credentials.

This was the year in which Don Coryell, the former San Diego Chargers coach and one of the greatest innovators of all-time, should have been given the thumbs-up.

Next year will be rough for Coryell to get inducted.  You got Ray Lewis and Randy Moss eligible for first time … and Brian Urlacher and Ronde Barber … Then in 2019 Ed Reed and Champ Bailey become eligible. … Troy Polamalu in 2020 … and then 2021 you got Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Charles Woodson and Jared Allen.

So considering the other recent finalists who have bypassed, there is going to be tough sledding over the next four years.

If you ever meet anyone who doubts Don Coryell belongs in the Hall of Fame, just point them to Dan Fouts.

Fouts was a stiff over his first six seasons with the Chargers. Then Coryell arrives and the guy goes from being Brock Osweiler to the most dazzling passer ever seen up to that time. The statistical stuff was out of the world because the offense invented by Coryell was ahead of its time.

Now there seems to be some Hall of Fame votes who are behind the times.

Anyway, 2017 was the opening for Coryell and it closed without his induction. I find that to be really lame.

Weekly links is back and what a weird week for San Diego football fans.

Dean Spanos is finally taking the Chargers to Los Angeles and he has become a national laughingstock. It felt like only San Diegans were aware of what a dork the guy is but the announcement of the move displayed that all football fans are fully aware.

Even other pro sports team were mocking the Chargers … ouch. And you could almost hear that spineless public relations director yelling “Take a chill pill” if you recall that silly incident from the 2012 season.

My favorite thing I ran across was some Los Angeles writer giving a rundown of the organization and wondering if the move to Los Angeles could affect the Chargers’ on-field play in 2017.

Ummmmmm, they are 9-23 over the past two seasons, dude. And they were the only team in the NFL to lose to the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

If moving to Los Angeles is going to affect the record, the Chargers will BE the Cleveland Browns.

Happiest team about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles is the soccer team that will share the StubHub Center with the Chargers.

That’s because the LA Galaxy are guaranteed to still be the highest-scoring team playing in that venue.

 

OK, on to the links.

It will be interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys fare against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-best 1,631 rushing yards) haven’t looked like novices during a 13-3 season. But how will they handle the playoff pressure?

Prescott has handled everything well while going from projected third-stringer to making Tony Romo forever irrelevant. But the playoffs are a completely different animal and things can go wrong quickly.

You might recall Dan Fouts’ first career playoff game as the leader of the Don Coryell Chargers. He threw five interceptions and the heavily favored Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers.

If a Hall of Famer like Fouts could fall flat on his face, so can a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State.

Not to forget that Aaron Rodgers is hotter than lava (you bet lava made it into my lead) and is an experienced veteran of the playoff wars. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes without being intercepted over the past seven games.

Here is the stellar Packers-Cowboys preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/NFL/2017/01/12/Green-Bay-Packers-vs-Dallas-Cowboys-Aaron-Rodgers-Dak-Prescott-under-the-microscope/9991484249346/

 

Now that it is mid-January, it is time to start figuring out which college basketball conferences are good and which ones are pretenders.

I haven’t yet figured out where the SEC stands but I know what direction I’m leaning.

Kentucky is pretty talented but we saw South Carolina collapse late last season to be relegated to the NIT so it is hard to take the Gamecocks seriously.

Which brings me to Florida.

I’ve had to watch the Gators play a few times lately and write about them because I’m paid to do so and their record (13-3, 4-0 SEC) appears to be better than the sum of its parts.

In Tuesday’s 80-67 victory over Alabama (now that school is a pretender), it was Florida’s ninth-leading scorer playing the hero. Some guy named Keith Stone and his 14-point effort improved his scoring average to 4.6.

You can say it is a good quality when a team can have its ninth-best player lead them in scoring. But the other fact is that teams like this typically start displaying their true colors in mid-February.

They don’t tend to get better — and often will decline.

Florida has one good scorer in sophomore KeVaughn Allen. Senior Canyon Barry (son of Rick) provides scoring punch off the bench but it isn’t a team that scares anyone.

The Gators play Georgia (I’m leaning toward pretender for the Bulldogs) on Saturday and I will be watching closely.

Here is the stellar Georgia-Florida preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/no-23-florida-goes-for-7th-straight-vs-georgia/

 

The Los Angeles Rams hired a coach who turns 31 years old on Jan. 24.

That’s correct — 31 years old. Not 41. Not 51. Not 61. Heck, not 71.

Sean McVay was hired by the Rams to turn around their fortunes and perhaps he’s too young to know that’s nearly impossible. And since Kroenke the Donkey owns the team, is there anybody anywhere that wants to see the Rams win?

McVay is the youngest coach in NFL history as I’m sure you figured out. He was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

The fun part about stories like this is you see a report and you start writing and reporting like a madman. It took just 15 minutes to write this breaking news and that includes doing all the research on McVay’s background and searching for statements from McVay and the Rams.

This story was out on the national wire 20 minutes before the Rams even released the news themselves.

That is part of the fun as you never know what you might have to write on a moment’s notice.

So now I’m well-versed on Sean McVay.

Oh, there is a player on the Rams who is older than McVay. Now that’s funny.

Here is the stellar breaking news story — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=60&story_id=156335

   Been asked several times since last night about how I feel about the Chargers’ move from San Diego to Los Angeles.

   My answer has been pretty consistent — the actions of the team having been pointing toward this development for 18 months and it is like the day has finally arrived.

   Anger? Nope, not from me. I put on the journalistic objectivity cap a long time ago. I also covered that team so I am also quite aware from the inside perspective of what a poorly run organization it is.

   Sadness? For others. For all the fans that loyally supported the franchise since 1961. For all the younger folks who may not have a team to watch and support for future decades.

   Good riddance? Sure. Dean Spanos is a horrible leader and he will be an even bigger failure in Los Angeles, where the stakes are higher. San Diegans want to keep their team but they despise the ownership. So yep, get your sad-sack meek self out of town, Dean.

   And stay out!

   Dean Spanos is the son of a very wealthy man named Alex Spanos. Dean didn’t EARN his way to being a pro sports owner. He got there by being born into the right family. He has always been in way over his head when it comes to running a football team.

   Heck, his leadership skills were horrible when the Chargers posted a franchise-best 14-2 record in 2006. General manager A.J. Smith wouldn’t acknowledge coach Marty Schottenheimer and little Deano was too afraid to make the two grown-ups sit in a room and work out their differences.

   And remember, the same situation occurred in 1996 when Bobby Ross had to exit as coach because he and general manager Bobby Beathard could no longer co-exist.

   So it happens again a decade later and Spineless Spanos still can’t figure out how to handle it.

   Schottenheimer was fired and a few days later, a few of us reporters got an audience with Dean on the second floor of the facility.

   There was nothing more surreal than seeing his flustered face as he began telling us that the organization was dysfunctional.

   This after a 14-2 season!

   Imagine how dysfunctional things were when they went 1-15 in 2000.

   Things were dysfunctional because Dean Spanos doesn’t function properly.

   He made it clear he was done with San Diego in the fall of 2015 as he worked overtime on getting the Carson project approved. What a hit to the ego it had to be that other NFL owners trusted Stan Kroenke the Donkey with the Los Angles market more than Dumbbell Dean.

   So he came back to San Diego with his tail between his legs and began talking this big game about how he was going to get the stadium thing solved. I just chuckled at that stuff.

   Dean Spanos was unable to get it done the previous dozen years. Why would he suddenly become this stadium magician?

   The ballot measure in November never had a chance and the fact that even 43 percent voted yes tells me there were a lot people who voted for it that felt desperate to keep their football team.

   That’s exactly what it was — San Diegans wanting to keep their team. Nobody was voting to keep Dean Spanos or his two sons, who now have major roles (Again, two kids born into the right family, no EARNING things when you are filthy rich).

   The best thing is the Chargers have taken the plunge to Los Angeles and nobody in that smoggy city cares that they are coming.

   USC football will always be 20 times more popular than the Chargers … heck, the football pecking order goes like this:

   USC, Rams, UCLA, Chargers … Spanos should be happy Long Beach State no longer has a program.

   Oh, so reflective? Certainly.

   I attended dozens of Chargers’ games as a kid. The cost was $1.50 the first time I went. There probably isn’t anything in the stadium that you can get for $1.50 now.

   I waited overnight to get playoff tickets — in the Don Coryell era, playoffs were a yearly thing — and I later covered the team for seven seasons as a professional. Spent a lot of time in that complex in Murphy Canyon, both during the era the Chargers let reporters in the building and again in a later era when they threw the reporters in a stinky trailer that probably couldn’t pass code.

   That also means I spent a lot of time at Qualcomm Stadium. It was a good place when I first started covering games there — including two Super Bowls — but it certainly had declined over time.

   One time they were doing the Sky Show fireworks after a San Diego State football game and I went into a back room in the press box to write. And with every loud boom, I was surprised the stadium didn’t collapse to the ground.

   During my last season covering games, I was on board with everybody that said it needed to be replaced. It was officially a dump.

   But Dean Spanos never got his stadium. The San Diego voters said no to the infinitely rich guy who could have built his own stadium a decade earlier. Part of why they voted no is that San Diegans don’t respect Dean Spanos or his cronies.

   San Diego loves its football team. It just despises the guy who moved it.

 

   It sure has been a fun time on Twitter since news of the move broke Wednesday night. Here are some of my contributions:

Good-bye #Chargers … don’t forget to pack all your #SuperBowl trophies … oh, none of those? … Hmmm, pack all your losing seasons.

Marlon McCree is telling people tonight he’d still run with that interception he fumbled to set up #Patriots rally. #SpanosEraChargersFail

A.J. Smith still bragging to people that getting third-round compensation pick for Drew Brees was an outstanding move #SpanosEraChargersFail

That time #Chargers took bust Craig “Buster” Davis in first round & his college WR coach slammed him in my feature. #SpanosEraChargersFail

If the eggs were off the mark or fell incomplete, they were thrown by Craig Whelihan. #ChargersSpanosEraFail

Can we slide in the Galaxy at No. 11 and drop the #Chargers to 12? Heck, slide in the WNBA team too. No. 13 it is.

Two words: Ryan Leaf. #ChargersSpanosEraFail

This might be as fun as day the fan at training camp serenaded Ryan Leaf with “Lonesome Loser” and Leaf tried to fight him. #SpanosEraFail

1-15 in 2000 with 11 straight loses to start season & coach Mike Riley led team in “Hip, Hip Hooray” after lone win. #ChargersSpanosEraFail

350-pound Chris Mims drunk at downtown Del Taco, urinates outside, beats 150-pounder with belt, steals his four tacos #ChargersSpanosEraFail

Not sure what this 4 thing is … perhaps #Chargers will play in Los Angeles high school section 4A level during time at tiny StubHub.

That #Chargers logo with the 4 … got to be the Spanos way of celebrating all those fourth-place finishes in the AFC West. #SpanosEraFail

The time Dean Spanos looked at me & said the #Chargers were a dysfunctional organization. After going 14-2. Look at them now. #SpanosEraFail

The night in Boston when Dean Spanos looked me in eye & said Philip Rivers didn’t have torn ACL. Two days later: Rivers torn ACL #SpanosFail

LA Galaxy still assured of being highest-scoring team playing in #StubHubCenter with arrival of #Chargers this fall. #ChargersSpanosEraFail

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

A lot of people in the sports world predict which team will win a game.

Not too many try to predict the final score.

It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in a sport like basketball.

This is on my mind because one of those situations came up this week that truly impresses me.

Wait, are you allowed to say you were impressed over something that you yourself did? Is that what the modern folks mean by #humblebrag?

As if that word itself isn’t confusing.

So let me be humble and let me go brag — yeah, that makes sense — about my prediction of Tuesday’s NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.

I saw this score “Spurs 105, Timberwolves 91” and I thought ‘That sounds kind of familiar.’

I went online and found my preview … scrolled to the bottom and there was my pick:

PREDICTION: Spurs 105, Timberwolves 92 (here’s proof at the bottom of the stellar previewhttp://www.reuters.com/article/bkn-spurs-timberwolves-preview-idUSMTZECC6RIRQ1U

Soooooo close — if Andrew Wiggins could have gone 2-of-3 from the line instead of a porous 1-of-3, I nail that score right on the head.

Just know that close call is way closer than most of the predictions. Could make a good laugh to keep track of all of them and check the scores because most of the time you will be far away from the actual score.

So when you are close, toot your horn … like I’m about to do over last season’s NCAA championship game.

Remember how that powerful North Carolina team was supposed to roll through the Final Four?

Well, I picked Villanova to win the national championship game … and I just missed nailing the final score.

Yes, I almost predicted the correct score for the most important college basketball game of the season.

PREDICTION: Villanova 77, North Carolina 73

Final score of the game: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74

Again, here is the proof at the bottom of the stellar NCAA title game preview — http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-villanova-northcarolina-preview-idUSMTZEC443VZQAB

OK, done humblebragging (is that a word?). The point has been made. It doesn’t happen often but it feels good to almost hit the score of a basketball game.

I know, I know — now you will be expecting me to tell you the correct score of the 2017 NCAA title game.

Now that you are paying attention, I’ll probably miss by 30.

 

Let’s consider the Spurs-Timberwolves preview as part of the ever-popular Weekly Links.

Here is another one — San Diego State vs. Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.

I see a lot of whining that Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey wasn’t a Heisman Trophy finalist. And then the failure to win the Doak Walker Award is somehow a sign of DISRESPECT.

Really? Pumphrey plays at San Diego State. Just the fact he was getting some Heisman talk was impressive. That he was one of THREE finalists for the Doak Walker Award (top running back) is a true sign of RESPECT.

Texas standout D’Onta Freeman won the Doak Walker Award and I see nothing wrong with that. He played fewer games than Pumphrey and had more yards. And did it against a tougher schedule.

End of conversation.

While we’re talking about Pumphrey, he has 6,290 career rushing yards and is 108 yards away from passing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne as the all-time leading rusher in college football history. But the real truth is that Pumphrey needs to rush for 836 yards against the Cougars if he wants to keep the record.

The NCAA is a silly entity to begin with but one of the more ridiculous things is that bowl game stats count for the current players but not for the all-time greats from last century.

At some point, this nonsense will be fixed — most Big Ten schools already have added the past bowl game stats to their own record books. When it happens, Dayne’s total will grow from 6,397 to 7,125 and the record will once again be his.

Not Pumphrey’s fault but how awkward will it feel for him two or three years from now when the NCAA catches up to modern times and learns that updating statistics from the past isn’t all that hard.

They will be like, “Mr. Pumphrey, your record just disappeared like all those vinyl ones from the past.”

Here is the stellar bowl preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/64201/preview/top25/

 

Here is an NFL preview to finish off this edition of Weekly Links.

The Washington Redskins are 6-5-1 and might need to win each of their last four games to reach the playoffs.

So you think a four-game winning streak to end the season sounds preposterous?

That’s exactly what the Redskins did last season to qualify for the playoffs.

It also let us know for sure that Kirk Cousins was a bona fide NFL starting quarterback as he was on fire down the stretch of the season. Cousins is having a solid campaign this season but now gets the chance to step it up again.

Funny how football works.

The Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and how odd is it that Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson fancies a return to Philadelphia?

He was sent packing by former Eagles coach Chip Kelly three seasons ago. You may have noticed Kelly was booted from Philadelphia and now coaches in San Francisco.

It will be quite a statement if the Eagles take Jackson back … squarely putting the blame on the former control freak coach.

Here is the stellar Redskins-Eagles preview (not using New York Times this week for the link because I’m giving love to one of the entities that leaves my byline on — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/NFL/2016/12/08/Washington-Redskins-look-for-finishing-kick-similar-to-last-year-vs-Philadelphia-Eagles/1091481221332/