Archive for the ‘weekly links’ Category

Weekly links …

Going to be hard-pressed to write a sadder story all year long.

The murder of Celia Barquin Arozamena while she was playing a round of golf in Ames, Iowa is one of the most irritating things that can occur. The 22-year-old loved being on the golf course more than anywhere else and a homeless clown decided to stab her to death and dump her in the pond near the ninth hole.

I should have been writing her name at some point during my career. But it should have been for her golf exploits, and not because she was victim of a heinous crime.

Barquin Arozamena played in the most recent U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, missing the cut by three strokes. She was the Big 12 champion and Iowa State’s female athlete of the year.

The native of Spain appeared to have a real promising future. But one moron has left that chapter unwritten.

Here is the stellar article (accurate through Tuesday) — https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sports-barquin-arozamena-death/man-charged-in-death-of-former-iowa-state-womens-golfer-idUSKCN1LY2X4

 

NFL

Steelers at Buccaneers — FitzMagic is everywhere and a lot of people near Tampa hope Ryan Fitzpatrick’s roll will continue. That would mean Uber crotch grabber Jameis Winston would be on the sidelines watching. And what is with Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown? Can someone get him a pacifier? Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=18624

Cowboys at Seahawks — How great would it be to see Seattle start 0-3 for the first time since 2002? Around where I live, those bandwagoners who were suddenly Seattle fans when the team made the Super Bowl will be shedding their gear soon. Then again, who wants to see Dallas win? Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/cowboys-vs-seahawks-preview-and-predictions/308991/

Bills at Vikings — Cornerback Vontae Davis quit football at halftime of the Bills’ last game and I think that means he suddenly realized he had signed with Buffalo. Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo got fined $53,482 for a hit in last week’s game against Green Bay. I hear there are people who don’t make that much money in a year. Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/bills-vs-vikings-preview-and-predictions/308981/

 

College football

Texas A&M at Alabama — Nick Saban is 12-0 against former assistants and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher is going to try to end this streak. He wasn’t able to do it last year when he was at Florida State and I surely don’t give him much chance this season against an Alabama team that looks like it can go undefeated. Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/texas-am-aggies-vs-alabama-crimson-tide-preview-and-predictions/308384/

Arizona State at Washington — How silly is it that the Sun Devils have won 11 of their past 12 meetings with the Huskies? Perhaps Washington coach Chris Petersen should spend less time engaging in his silly feud with the ESPN (silly on ESPN’s part too) and prepare his team a little better. Washington was supposed to trample Arizona State last season and scored seven measly points. Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/arizona-state-sun-devils-vs-washington-huskies-preview-and-predictions/308380/

Tulane at Ohio State — Urban Meyer is back coaching and that means it is time for a lightweight opponent. The Buckeyes sure didn’t miss the Urban Liar while routing their first three game opponents. And now that we know he has a faulty memory, it is 50-50 that he knows how to find the stadium. Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/tulane-green-wave-vs-ohio-state-buckeyes-preview-and-predictions/308388/

Penn State at Illinois — The Nittany Lions have a showdown with Ohio State next week so maybe they come out sluggish against Illinois. Actually, the Fighting Illini will fold at some point regardless of Penn State’s effort. How about giving up 18 straight fourth-quarter points to lose to South Florida? Bad stuff. Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=18495

Boston College at Purdue — Boston College is ranked for the first time in 10 years. Almost makes you think college football on the whole is in decline mode for that to happen. Purdue quarterback David Blough passed for 572 yards last week. Not even school legend Drew Brees did that. Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=18507

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Weekly links is here …

Jalen Ramsey is part of a defense that allowed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes in last season’s AFC Championship Game to watch a Super Bowl berth evaporate.

He apparently isn’t the least bit embarrassed that his Jacksonville Jaguars sank like the Titanic with such a huge accomplishment on the line.

The Jaguars and New England Patriots meet Sunday in the rematch and there figures to be plenty of tension in the stadium. A lot of it stemming from Ramsey, whose most recent verbal shots at the Patriots included his declaration that all-everything tight end Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots isn’t all that good.

Yeah, OK Jalen.

Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash doesn’t agree with the assessment and said anyone that thinks Gronkowski is overrated is crazy.

Ramsey is a fantastic cornerback but the evidence is starting to grow — he’s truly crazy.

Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=18049

Texans at Titans — Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson helped Houston roll up 57 points in his lone outing against Tennessee last season. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is bothered by a sore throwing elbow, which means Blaine Gabbert might need to play. You never want to see Gabbert in the game if you are trying to win.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.gwinnettprepsports.com/sportsxchange/watson-hopeful-for-better-results-as-texans-visit-titans/article_b744a8e6-2fd4-578e-ad56-377655963c2b.html

Vikings at Packers — Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers delivered a superb opening performance when he injured his left knee in the first half and returned at the start of the second half to rally Green Bay past the Chicago Bears. The Vikings are expecting Rodgers to play no matter how often the Packers say that he might not. And hey, isn’t Minnesota’s Harrison Smith a great safety?

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/vikings-vs-packers-preview-and-predictions/305106/

Lions at 49ers — The Detroit coaching debut of Matt Patricia was an outright disaster. Look, he got the gig because of the New England stint (Lions general manager Bob Quinn is a former Patriots executive). If he had been a Buffalo Bills assistant, he wouldn’t be a head coach.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/lions-vs-49ers-preview-and-predictions/305113/

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Boise State at Oklahoma State — Playing a Big 12 team rates as a big deal for the Broncos — sure beats playing Miami (Ohio) or Idaho State — and a victory in Stillwater would make Boise State the favorite to earn a New Year’s Six bowl. Nobody truly knows if Oklahoma State is any good or will end up being a four-loss team.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/boise-state-broncos-vs-oklahoma-state-cowboys-preview-and-predictions/304118/

Ohio State vs. TCU — Thought it was a typo — Ohio State is actually playing a tough team outside Columbus, Ohio. Yes, they really are playing the Horned Frogs. Guessing Urban Meyer’s faulty memory is at play — he probably said “schedule VCU” and didn’t realize that school doesn’t field a program, just a club team.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/ohio-state-buckeyes-vs-texas-christian-horned-frogs-preview-and-predictions/304121/

Alabama at Ole Miss — Nick Saban says the real season starts when his powerful Alabama squad opens SEC play against Ole Miss. Makes me wonder why the SEC doesn’t play nine conference games if the nonconference games aren’t “real.” And yeah, makes me laugh even more that The Citadel is on the schedule in November.

https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/alabama-crimson-tide-vs-mississippi-rebels-preview-and-predictions/304408/

Washington at Utah — The Huskies scored 10 points in the final 58 seconds to steal last season’s game against the Utes. That was the game when Kyle Whittingham displayed that your local pharmacist might be better at clock management than him. Utah is just 1-10 all-time against Washington.

http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17974

Kent State at Penn State — The coach at Kent State is 32 years old. Youngest in FBS. That is the only thing remotely interesting about this matchup. The 40-point win will create more happiness in Happy Valley.

http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17958

Weekly Links sees someone familiar heading to the field. Could it be … yeah, it might be … it is.

Hey Andrew Luck, where you been?

One of the bigger NFL storylines for Week 1 is the return of Luck after he missed all of the 2017 season after shoulder surgery.

The Indianapolis Colts bottomed out without their star quarterback and are looking to turn things around under new coach Frank Reich.

As for Luck, it has been 20 months since he last played in an NFL game. He’s back Sunday when the Colts play the Cincinnati Bengals.

Here is the stellar preview: http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17529

 

Here are the college links: 

Washington-North Dakota … Kind of odd to hear the Huskies’ championship hopes are over because they lost their opener to Auburn. Something tells me they plan to ring up a lot of points on FCS program North Dakota.

http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17441

Arkansas State-Alabama … Now that we know Tua Tagoviloa is really, really good and the Crimson Tide have made him their starter, you have to wonder if anyone can beat Alabama this year. Not much wondering this week. Arkansas State can’t.

https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/arkansas-state-red-wolves-vs-alabama-crimson-tide-preview-and-predictions/300535/

Rutgers-Ohio State … Urban Meyer gets to prepare the Buckeyes all week but he still can’t coach. Heck, you could have a Columbus welder prepare the team this week and still beat Rutgers by 50 or more points.

https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/rutgers-scarlet-knights-vs-ohio-state-buckeyes-preview-and-predictions/300564/ 

Connecticut-Boise State … Brett Rypien is just one of two quarterback to top 10,000 career yards in Boise State history. Having your name linked with Kellen Moore at that school is never a bad thing.

http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17443

TCU-SMU … Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson says he likes to play SMU because of the close proximity (40 miles). That may be true but he really loves to play them because it is an easy victory.

http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17442

Week 1 of the college football season means it is time for the return of Weekly Links.

Our opening-week assignments included Alabama, Ohio State, Washington-Auburn, San Diego State-Stanford and Boise State.

Sorry, no baseball previews for you. Short shelf life. But hey, I can probably dig up an MLS preview.

Anyway, here we go with Weekly Links: 

Nick Saban can’t figure out who should quarterback Alabama between holdover Jalen Hurts (26-2 record) and Tua Tagovailoa (hero of last season’s title game) so both guys are listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart. I say he could start an offensive guard at QB for the fun of it and still beat a Louisville team trying to regroup after the departure of former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.

Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=16886

If you prefer a preview with team formats, here is this stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/louisville-cardinals-vs-alabama-crimson-tide-preview-and-predictions/296322/

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up for the Heisman last season and he will look to get off to a good start against the Aztecs. Love was the nation’s second-leading rusher last season. The leader was former San Diego State star Rashaad Penny. Now the Aztecs will see if Juwan Washington can keep up the school’s recent trend of big yardage campaigns.

Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=16946

Ohio State’s program has been a mess leading up to the season so Urban Meyer won’t be on the field for the opener against Oregon State, the first of his three-game suspension for his less-than-stellar handling of the Zach Smith situation (coach accused of beating his ex-wife). Funny that Meyer can’t always remember important things due to a faulty memory. Hmmmm, wonder if he recalls Iowa putting up 55 points on the Buckeyes last season?

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/oregon-state-beavers-vs-ohio-state-buckeyes-preview-and-predictions/296547/

Washington and Auburn are both ranked in the Top 10 and their matchup is the best of the week. But isn’t it weird that the national experts (term used super loosely) say Washington has to win to have any chance of reaching the College Football Playoff? What happened to that saying that “every week matters?” If the Huskies’ season is over because they started 0-1, then 85 percent of the teams can join Washington on the sidelines. Funny that Auburn’s playoff hopes can continue with a loss.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/washington-huskies-vs-auburn-tigers-preview-and-predictions/296305/

Speaking of the poor system in college football, Boise State hopes to be in a New Year’s Six bowl at the conclusion of the season. Remember the not-too-distant past when a team could at least dream of being in the national title game? The big schools have closed the door on the minor conferences.

Here is the stellar preview — https://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/boise-state-broncos-vs-troy-trojans-preview-and-predictions/296518/

And last but not least. If you can write MLS previews, you can write about ANYTHING. Even WNBA games (oh, yeah, I’ve done that too). So enjoy all you need to know about the Portland Timbers visiting the New England Revolution … where Tom Brady plays in Foxborough!

Here is the stellar preview — http://fieldlevelmedia.com/latest-stories?storyId=17063

The return of Weekly Links is about to arrive with the football season due to commence.

But how about if we get started a few weeks early with one link — my work landing in the New York Times.

Decided to check to see how a story I wrote on women’s golfer Lexi Thompson read and I was surprised at where the Google search took me.

The story was on the New York Times website — https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2018/08/15/sports/15reuters-golf-lpga-thompson-struggles.html

You may remember from last fall that I don’t get excited about my stories landing on ESPN (at least 300 previews in 2016-17) or any of the other leading sports websites. But it is a different feel when you see your work on the New York Times.

Doesn’t matter to me that my name isn’t on the top of the story. In this case, one of the companies that distributes content to hundreds of places is listed in the byline field.

Works for me.

I hadn’t bothered to check for any of my work on the New York Times website since moving to my current company at the start of 2018. Honestly, I was just glad I was ahead of the curve and prevented myself from taking a major pay hit. The fact I have maintained and increased my income level was more important than where the stories land.

But hey, great thing to know as the football season kicks into gear. Would rather link previews from the NY Times than from some newspaper website that about 42 people visit all day.

As for Lexi Thompson, that story — which took all of 25 minutes to research and write as one of 11 stories I wrote that day — was intriguing as most sports fans don’t think of athletes as humans with human problems.

That she was having trouble coping with life at age 23 — her mother battled uterine cancer last year — is no major sin. The fact she sought out therapy to help her figure things out is something most people in her age group wouldn’t do.

As Thompson says, “ I’m not just a robot out there. I need to have a life.”

People don’t realize what a golfer’s life is like. One tournament ends Sunday and they are typically flying to the next one on Monday. Pretty sure Lexi hears about her friends out dancing or going to the movies on Friday and Saturday nights while she is trying to get to bed in a timely manner in some hotel room or guest house for the next morning’s tee time.

Seems like her short hiatus was prompted by the fact that she began to realize that there is more to life than knocking down putts.

So yeah, Weekly Link this time … Weekly Links when football season begins.

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/

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