Super Regionals are this weekend. More of us should be tuning in than will be and I think that’s because we don’t know what we’re watching. We don’t know what to be looking for. Essentially, we don’t know how to enjoy college baseball.
Taking a look at our relationship with college basketball helps to illustrate my point. Many people’s biggest beef with March Madness is that no one really knows who most of the teams are because we don’t watch the regular season. Well, baseball has many more games and much less, almost no coverage on ESPN for you to stumble upon.
Generally speaking, we have zero idea what’s going on in the college baseball world until mid-June. Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to care deeply about the eight teams that have made it to the College World Series?
Which is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, by the way. Not that it’s not a nice place. I’ve never been there myself actually, but I have heard nice things. It’s just not what you’d exactly call a vacation destination. That fact, however driven by perception it may be, exists all the same and does the CWS no favors with potential casual fans.
How It Works
So what exactly are we watching? How does this tournament work? Here’s a look:
Regionals are the first round, which happened last week. 64 teams are broken into 16 groups of four. Those groups play a double elimination tournament until one team is left standing in each region.
That brings us to where we are now, the super regionals. 16 teams remain. They’re broken up into eight pairs and now it’s a best of three series, starting this Friday. Win twice and you’ve made it to Omaha and the College World Series.
Once there, the eight teams play another double elimination tournament until two are left. Those two then play a best of three championship series.
Who We’re Watching
Oregon State is the prohibitive favorite, carrying with it an astounding 52-4 record this season. Vanderbilt is the unlucky team that will face the Beavers. The Commodores beat #21 Clemson twice at its own field to win the regional last week. OSU’s lefty Luke Heimlich has a chance at being selected in the first round of this summer’s MLB draft.
The only team hosting a super regional that did not host a regional is Texas A&M. To earn that distinction, the Aggies triumphed over that Baptist School in Waco, Texas, Iowa, and the host, Houston. College Station will host because Davidson took down the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, twice last week to get here. If you’re looking for a Cinderella, you’ve find her. It’s Davidson.
#9 Long Beach State and #20 Cal State Fullerton square off to determine which school will represent the state of California in Omaha. Fullerton beat their host #8 Stanford twice to advance from regionals. The team affectionately known as the Dirtbags holds a 5-1 record in two series against Fullerton this season.
Louisville hosts Kentucky in an even bigger rivalry matchup. With #7 and #11 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25, this is the most intriguing series, on paper, heading into the weekend. The Cards and the Cats split a pair of separate meetings during the regular season. Louisville lefty Brendan McKay is the consensus #2 draft prospect.
Sam Houston State took the long route to the super regionals, having played five games in the previous round. With their backs against the wall, the Bearkats won three straight games in two days, including two over host Texas Tech, to earn this spot. Their reward is a shot at #16 Florida State, which rebounded from losing the first game in its regional last week.
#6 TCU really had no trouble sweeping through its regional. The Horned Frogs will play host to the #22 Bears of Missouri State, who snuck by Arkansas, winning two of three one-run games between the two sides last weekend. Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger has scouts excited about his future.
It’s an SEC affair with #17 Mississippi State traveling to #3 LSU. The Tigers won their three games by a combined 18 runs, while the Bulldogs beat their in-state rival, #10 Southern Miss, twice on Monday to advance. LSU’s Alex Lange is another top prospect to look out for.
If you pay attention to such things, you’ll notice that six of the 16 teams left are members of the SEC. It must mean more down there or something. That sixth SEC representative is Florida. The #4 Gators welcome in #14 Wake Forest. Florida’s 6’5” pitcher Alex Faedo has been getting a lot of mention as a potential top ten pick.
So, there’s a bit of info that will hopefully spark your interest and get you to check some of these games out. The best part is there are games on all weekend long. With start times of noon, three, six, and nine, you’ll have at least one game to watch basically all day long for three days straight. Saturday is even better, with two games in each of those four time slots. And if any of these series are tied after two games, we get even more games on Sunday and Monday.
Join me in flipping on the ESPNs this weekend as we get ready for the College World Series. Doing so will help us all with our apparent fear of college baseball.
By now, Notre Dame fans know which games are most critical to the Irish’s hopes of running the regular season table this fall. Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, and Southern California are the marquee matchups featured on the 2016 docket for the Irish. If the Irish take care of business in these games, there will not be much debate about their place in the College Football Playoff picture.
However, should the Irish stumble along the way, style points will be at a premium. A few games not featuring a team in all-gold helmets will play a large part in the Irish’s ability to gain style points.
September 3rd – USC Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
The first week of the season features perhaps the most important game of the year in terms of Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. This matchup between the Trojans and Crimson Tide will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. USC is projected to finish at or near the top of the Pac-12, along with fellow Notre Dame opponent, Stanford. A win for the Trojans would validate the Pac-12 and deliver a blow to the SEC. This would be huge for the Irish, who have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves against Pac-12 opponents, but lack a matchup against the SEC. At season’s end, a debate between Notre Dame and Alabama for playoff positioning could be settled by how each performs against a common opponent.
October 29th – Michigan at Michigan State
On the day Notre Dame hosts the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium, there is another major midwest college football game that has plenty of bearing on Notre Dame’s path to the playoff. With Ohio State reloading after losing numerous starters, the Wolverines and Spartans figure to be the two teams contending for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Outside of Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame have no common opponents. In fact, Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State is the only time the Irish will face a Big Ten opponent this season. For this reason, Michigan State dominating the Big Ten would once again be beneficial for the Irish.
November 25th – TCU at Texas
Despite losing Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin to the NFL, the TCU Horned Frogs still figure to be a contender for the always wide-open Big 12. This game, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, is a potential trap game for the Horned Frogs. If Notre Dame takes care of Texas in the first game of the season and the Longhorns can steal a late-season game against the Horned Frogs, the Irish will certainly have a decided tiebreaker against teams from the Big 12. Much like the situation with Michigan State, Notre Dame’s only game against a Big 12 opponent comes against Texas. If Charlie Strong’s team can surprise college football experts, Notre Dame benefits.
Other games that should gain considerable notice from Irish fans include Florida State at Miami (October 8th) and Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19th). With a pseudo-Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, Notre Dame should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its worth against ACC opponents. If Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team can pick up where it left off last season, however, the matchup with the Spartans in East Lansing is arguably more important than the aforementioned Michigan – Michigan State matchup.
Whatever the case, Notre Dame has plenty of opportunities to add wins against opponents from many of the Power 5 conferences to their resume. If the Irish take care of business at home (with the exception of the game against USC, all of their marquee matchups take place in South Bend), Notre Dame just may find its way into the College Football Playoff for the first time since its inception.
That’s what Texas Longhorns fans were saying for about 24 hours starting on the Tuesday before National Signing Day. Texas was sitting at 15 total commitments and ranked no higher than #30 in any of the recruiting rankings when the day started on Tuesday.
Then the first domino fell.
Running back Kyle Porter made the call to Coach Strong Tuesday afternoon, in what was a bit of a surprise. Then D’Andre Christmas-Giles decided to announce his verbal commitment to Texas on a New Orleans TV station (where he is from) that night. It was those two moments that we could feel a little momentum building.
It was one-after-another-after-another when it comes to verbal commitments, and eventual Letters of Intent being signed on National Signing Day itself. Strong pulled in an astonishing eight 4-star prospects in a 24-hour span. It was enough to make him start trending on Twitter by mid-morning.
Texas jumped 22 spots in ESPN’s class rankings to finish #10 with 24 total signees. No other recruiting service had them ranked any lower than #10. And this is a team that went 5-7 last year and 6-7 the year before.
Charlie Strong’s recruiting strategy was extremely gutsy. He went all-in with confidence that he was going to get the players that he wanted. There were a few that he didn’t get on signing day, but signing eight of his twelve targets in a 24-hour period wasn’t a bad showing.
Most coaches want players to commit to their school early. Not Strong. He told recruits to commit to him, but don’t announce it. Why? Because that makes them an easy target for negative recruiting by other schools. If other schools don’t know that they are committed to Texas, then they can’t talk as bad about them to persuade them to back out of their commitment.
That was the secret to Strong and the Longhorns winning signing day.
It wasn’t a surprise to him, even though it may have shocked the country. He knew what was going to happen. But even he admitted he had a couple of surprises that fell in his favor.
One of those pleasant surprises was landing one of the best safeties in the country in Brandon Jones. Jones picked Texas over Texas A&M and Baylor. If you’ve watched any college football over the past few years, you know that both of those programs have had better results on the field than Texas.
Chris Daniels is a defensive lineman that was once committed to Oklahoma.
Christmas-Giles was considering TCU and LSU.
Jeffery McCullouch was considering A&M, Notre Dame and Stanford.
The one thing in common that all those other programs have is that they’ve been better than Texas on the field recently. So how can a Texas team get these players when they’re coming off of a 5-7 season and a 6-7 season the year before?
The answer is trust.
It’s evident that these players trust that Strong will turn around Texas. They want to be a part of something special. Many of the players that Strong signed yesterday could have gone to a dozen or more schools, but they chose Texas.
So what does that all mean for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns?
Nothing if they don’t develop those players and start winning games.
Mack Brown was known as Mr. February during the later part of his career at Texas, since he was able to consistently bring in top-5 recruiting classes. But once the results started becoming non-existent on the field, he found his way out of the program.
This year’s big recruiting class or last year’s won’t matter either if they can’t find a competent quarterback to lead the team. Shane Buechele could be that guy, or someone else could step up.
On paper, this class could be more important than last year’s because it gives the Longhorns depth at just about every position. It will be shocking if more than 4-5 upperclassmen are starting for Texas next year. Because of the 50 or so players that Strong has brought in over the last two seasons, the excuses for losing are becoming few and far between. These are his players now and this is his team.
If Strong doesn’t start winning soon, then he could just be stockpiling the cupboard with talent for another coach to come in and win with his players. We’ve seen it happen with other programs. One thing for certain is that the players will play hard for Strong and will go to war with him any day of the week.
Texas may not be back at the top in 2016, but when Strong’s first two classes at Texas become sophomores and juniors, look out.
The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs’ flawless season has come to a screeching halt and met its’ biggest challenges: replacing a Heisman caliber quarterback and the teams’ star receiver.
Quarterback Treyvone Boykin missed much of the season last year when he was plagued with injury after finally earning space in the Heisman conversation, and it’s safe to say we’re all feeling a little Deja Vu. Two weeks ago, in week ten of the college football season, TCU lost their first game of 2015 to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who has blindsided football fans for being the biggest spectacle in the Big 12, and possibly their only prayer for a chance in the playoffs.
Boykin had a memorable exit, and not in the way that Horned Frog fans are used to. The polished quarterback threw four interceptions, and got closed out by the Cowboys 42-29. Before being benched with the injury, Boykin was on track to finish the season with the 3rd-biggest total offense in FBS history.
Also sitting on the sidelines when TCU’s offense takes the field is Treyvone Boykin’s favorite target, Josh Doctson. Last year, the wide receiver had 65 receptions for a school record 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. Doctson is confirmed to be out for the rest of the season as a result of injuring his wrist against the Kansas Jayhawks last week, after only making one catch for twelve yards.
Treyvon Boykin and Josh Doctson are redshirt seniors, who have proven their draft stock time and again. The wide receiver class at TCU has also proven pretty effective with admirable performances by athletes like Kolby Listenbee, who is averaging 20.6 yards per catch this season and ranks 4th for the Big 12 in that category.
With Boykin likely on his way to the draft for 2016, it is paradoxical that TCU fans can now catch a glimpse into the heir to starting quarterback job for next season.
Red shirt freshman Foster Sawyer is a 6’5, 220lb, pro-style quarterback from Fort Worth, Texas. His run skills do not match the dual-threat stylings of Boykin, but his exhibited decisiveness in the pocket make the Horned Frogs passing game as relevant as ever, whether he must carry out the starting jobs’ responsibilities for the rest of the season, or continue to take reps behind Boykin until the Spring.
Sawyer received offers from schools like
Coach Meachem was recruiting me pretty hard at Oklahoma State before he left.
Sawyer received offers from the Ole Miss Rebels, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Alabama Crimson Tide, and UCLA Bruins. Committing to TCU was an easy decision, however, when he learned that Doug Meachem, who had been recruiting Sawyer diligently during his time as a Tight End/Wide Receiver coach at Oklahoma State, would be signing on as the co-offensive coordinator at TCU.
Sawyer has always expressed excitement in the fun-for-the-quarterback, hurry-up, spread system that was newly being integrated into the Horned Frogs offense when he started his eligibility clock. He’s hung up on delivering the wins for his team, and is still wide-eyed enough to not get comfortable. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t scrap for second chances and pass completion, and amaze fans from week to week with his Andy Dalton style perseverance.
Although Sawyer only completed one of seven passes, the single completion was the game winning, 42-yard touchdown. Bram Kohlhausen, who had originally been ahead of Sawyer on the depth chart, did not get any points on the board and was benched after throwing an interception in the fourth quarter.
You can watch Foster Sawyer take on the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday at 8pm EST on ESPN.
Texas and Texas A&M used to have one of the best rivalries in college football. Since they have been in separate conferences for the past four years, it has turned into more of a “hashtag rivalry.” Since there’s no game being played between the two, both sides are forced to trade jabs on social media to keep the fire burning.
Can we just get these teams playing against each other again?
That’s a whole separate discussion; because the reality is that we won’t see them play each other on the field in the foreseeable future.
Both programs have their issues right now, but which head coach is the better fit at their respective school? Let’s start with Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin is an offensive guru that has worked his way up the ranks and has turned average programs into good ones. A&M is no exception. The Aggies were an average team in the Big XII, but since leaving for the SEC in 2011, they have hit resurgence.
Sumlin’s offense has redefined SEC football in some ways. They caught the entire conference off guard with their high-flying offense in year one 1Having a certain Johnny Football at quarterback didn’t hurt either.
He forced teams to adapt defensively to his style, and the good teams did exactly that. It seems like Sumlin has realized that he won’t be able to win the SEC with offense alone. Defense wins championships in the SEC.
A&M is not far away from contending for a national championship. John Chavis was an outstanding hire for Defensive Coordinator this offseason, and Sumlin had to hit a homerun with that one. With the recruiting talent that Sumlin is bringing in, don’t be surprised if A&M flirts with the College Football Playoff in the next couple seasons.
Switching gears now to Charlie Strong. Strong is a defensive-minded head coach in a conference that is loaded with offense. Like Sumlin’s offense, Strong surprised some teams with how well his defense played in year one with the Longhorns. The only difference is that it didn’t translate to wins.
Through almost two seasons with Texas, their offense still hasn’t been able to give the defense any support. Hence, Texas has been losing, and losing bad at times.
Questions are circulating about whether Strong is the right fit for Texas. His track record indicates that he is a solid head coach, but that doesn’t mean that he is the perfect fit for any particular program.
Strong is doing some great things at Texas by building a foundation to succeed. However, his tenure at Texas may be short-lived if he doesn’t change his coaching philosophy to adapt to the conference that he chose to be in.
He is in a similar situation as Gary Patterson at TCU was when that program entered the Big XII. Patterson hired two outstanding offensive coordinators that made TCU successful virtually overnight. He had to swallow his pride and realize that his philosophy had to change in order to succeed, and Strong may have to do the same before it’s too late.
Texas and Texas A&M are proud programs that will succeed on a national level eventually. However, it seems like the head coaches will only be recognized as legends if they have the right coordinators with them. Sumlin has his offense and Strong has his defense. Sumlin is a little bit ahead of Strong right now, but it took him a few years to find what seems to be a great fit in College Station at Defensive Coordinator.
At this point in time, A&M is clearly in a better position than Texas because they have had the momentum in recruiting and have the talent to be coached up. Texas is getting to that point, but it is clear that they are still a couple of years away from being relevant again.
If Strong and Sumlin are both able to turn their respective programs around and get some national respect, then we could see a big shift in getting the two teams back on the field against each other. Right now, though, we will have to suffer through the bickering back-and-forth between the fan bases over social media that never really has any substance2Unless, of course, we can get these two teams together for a bowl game, which it seems at least one conference is trying to avoid.
Strong and Sumlin are good coaches, but they will only go as far as their coordinators take them. Sumlin looks like he took that step forward. Now Strong must do the same.
It may be the only chance we have to see the two programs square off against each other on the field in the near future3In the College Football Playoff. We assume it doesn’t happen any other way.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time of year again.
Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Committee released their second Top 25 poll of the season. Now before you read any further, let me remind you that all of this is extremely fluid and is subject to change from week to week. For instance, Ohio State, last year’s eventual national champion was slotted at 16th in the opening poll of the season. Much can change between now and December 31st when the semi-final games are slated to be played.
With all of that said, Irish fans have to be extremely happy with the results that were revealed on November 10.
Notre Dame came in at fourth, the final spot of the playoff.
The high ranking does hold some weight however. Common thought would be that if Notre Dame is able to win their remaining four games they will not be held out of the Final Four. This is due to the fact that Notre Dame has a resume building win remaining on the schedule at Stanford, and some of the other teams may take care of themselves.
Left in the season are a few elimination games, or at least games that have the potential to strongly affect the Final Four.
Among these are many of the remaining Big 12 games, a possible matchup between an undefeated #3 Ohio State and an undefeated #5 Iowa in the B1G Championship Game, and Notre Dame’s late season trip to Palo Alto.
Last weekend, LSU was stomped in Tuscaloosa by the Crimson Tide. This caused LSU to fall out of the playoff picture for the time being, and Alabama sliding into the #2 spot that the Tigers briefly held. This, along with another Ole Miss loss, allows Alabama to control their own destiny on the way to an SEC Title Game.
Irish fans should root for:
With Alabama controlling their own destiny, and appearing to have a firm grip on a spot in the playoff, the best chance for a Crimson Tide loss would be this weekend in Starkville against Mississippi State, or in an eventual SEC Championship Game against the Florida Gators. Irish fans should be pulling for the Bulldogs and possibly the Gators as well. Although if Florida runs the table and wins the SEC, I would expect to see them garner a spot in the Final Four. As I said earlier I would be surprised if a two loss team would make the Final Four, but if it does happen, my money would be on it being Alabama.
The Big 12 is currently on the outside looking in as well. Baylor and Oklahoma State are both currently unbeaten, but find themselves sitting at six and eight, respectively. These two programs have played relatively weak schedules thus far, and also don’t play defense really well, if at all. The Cowboys do play much better defense than Baylor, but it is still nothing to write home about. That is just the way of life in the Big 12, and I think that the committee takes offense to that in their rankings. These two teams will square off on November 21st. It is very possible that Baylor could fall this week against the Oklahoma Sooners, a team that already has a loss. The Sooners lone hiccup is to Texas in the Red River Rivalry.
Irish fans should root for:
Oklahoma to win out. This would leave Oklahoma as the one loss Big 12 champion. It just so happens that the Sooners loss would come to a team that Notre Dame beat by 35 points. If there would be an undefeated team left out, my money would be on it coming out of the Big 12.
The Big Ten, or B1G as the cool kids call it these days, has two teams in the top ten in Ohio State (3) and Iowa (5). Yes, neither of them have been beaten thus far, but both have failed to notch an impressive win thus far. The Buckeyes have looked extremely average in a few of their games, but they have looked like a top team in a few others. Iowa has played well, however their best win is due to a last second, 57-yard field goal over currently unranked Pitt. A good win, but not a marquee one per se.
Irish fans should root for:
This scenario became a little clearer this past weekend with the loss of Michigan State to Nebraska. The hope is still for Michigan to win the conference, but now that is a little more likely to happen. If Ohio State can manage to defeat Illinois and Michigan State, and Michigan beats Indiana and Penn State, then that would set up a de facto B1G East Title Game on November 28 at the Big House between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Irish fans would be pulling for Michigan to upset the Buckeyes and later defeat Iowa to win the B1G. I would be very surprised to see a two loss B1G team sneak into the Final Four.
Out west, teams in the Pac 12 have not done themselves many favors this season. Stanford is the highest ranked team in the conference at seven, up four spots from last week. They are followed by Utah at ten. Every team in the conference has at least one loss at this point in the season. The best chance for a Pac 12 representative in the Final Four would be Stanford winning out.
Irish fans should root for:
Stanford to win the Pac 12 title, with a loss to Notre Dame along the way. Sounds simple enough, right? It also would not hurt if USC won out, coupled with a Utah loss to set up a Pac-12 title game between two teams that Notre Dame would have defeated, assuring a win over a Power 5 Champion.
In the ACC things are far less complicated for Notre Dame fans. Obviously, the lone Irish loss of the season came in Death Valley to the Clemson Tigers. The hope would be that Clemson is able to finish an undefeated regular season and win the ACC crown. This would ensure that the Tigers reach the Final Four, and likely give Notre Dame the best loss that anyone in the country has. I hate the term best loss, but it would be true in this case. Clemson has a key game against Florida State this weekend. It also wouldn’t hurt Notre Dame if Pitt wins the remainder of their games after their clash with Notre Dame.
Irish fans should root for:
Clemson to win every game, and look good doing it, until a rematch in the semi-finals against the Irish.
Elsewhere, Notre Dame fans should also be rooting strongly for Navy and Temple to continue their winning ways and meet up in the AAC Title Game. Navy has SMU, Tulsa, and Houston left in AAC play, and then the traditional Army-Navy game would be played after a potential AAC Title Game. The Temple Owls have USF, Memphis, and UCONN left on their schedule. Each team should be ranked in each of their remaining games.
Ultimately, none of this matters if Notre Dame is not able to win their next three games. The remaining slate for Notre Dame is Wake Forest at home, Boston College at Fenway Park, and finally a trip to Palo Alto for a showdown with Stanford. If the Irish take care of business, they’ll be playing on New Year’s Eve.
There may have been nine other teams eligible for this 2015 post-season, and some great stories behind those teams’ run to get here, but the Chicago Cubs are the story. With the Yankees out of the picture, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only ones left standing with nowhere near three decades, if not all of eternity, between now and their last World Championship. And look, those Cardinals are the next obstacle in the way of the Cubs’ destiny.
It’s a different attitude on the north side of Chicago, this time around. We’re not blessing dugouts, exorcising goats, or doing whatever’s been done in the past to fuel the hysteria that comes with a fan-base that’s gone their entire lives without seeing their beloved baseball team compete for, let alone win, a World Championship. Okay, I concede there’s less than a what I would consider a chunk of Cubbie fans that are old enough to remember the Cubs falling to Detroit in 7 games in 1945, but no one has actually been waiting 107 years for what might happen next.
Give it up for the Ricketts family, for putting the right people in charge of the baseball side, and then getting the hell out of the way until it’s time to open the checkbook. There are only two ways to be a bad owner in sports; one is to meddle, and the other is to be cheap, and this family has done no such thing. They went out and got Theo Epstein to run the show, who in turn, brought in Jed Hoyer to be the General Manager, and eventually Joe Maddon was enlisted to manage the games. This group has done their diligence in serving the fans, by not giving a damn what they think. The first order of business was slamming the door shut on the dream of making Ryne Sandberg the skipper. Sure, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria never brought the Cubs anywhere near the promised land, but Ryno didn’t tear it up in his first go-around in the bigs, with the Phillies, either.
In addition to Sandberg not possessing the championship pedigree, if you think the fans were pissed he wasn’t considered, imagine the outrage when they had to fire him. The whole “we run the Cubs, not the fans” effect trickles down to the roster too. Cubs fans loved Tony Campana, and while this wasn’t exactly trading away Ernie Banks, Theo and Jed were able to ignore the groans heard when Campana was traded to Arizona for a couple of teenagers. Epstein wasn’t hired to dwell on the 103 years prior to his 2011 hire, but to make the next century of Cubs baseball great. He’s well on his way.
No matter how well you’re able to put the past away, if you have any rooting interest in the Cubs, and mine is tertiary, as I married into it, there’s always a little lack of confidence, if not paranoia, due to precedent. For many, the next hard groundball to first is still going through Leon Durham’s legs and the next 50/50 ball between the left fielder and the spectators represents a prelude to doom. Entering the snakepit that was a blacked-out PNC Park on Wednesday night, Maddon’s Cubs had to strike early and prevent the Pirates from reciprocating. Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber answered the call early and often. They were loose and unintimidated by Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, almost like someone forgot to tell them the Cubs hadn’t won a post-season game since 2003. Jake Arrieta took the ball, and despite not having his best stuff on the mound, he made sure Schwarber’s RBI single in the top of the first inning was enough. However, Schwarber put one in the Allegheny River and Fowler was a little more modest, instead going to the right-center field seats with his shot, to make the probably Cy Young Award winner comfortable with a 4-run lead. He was able to pitch out of several jams, thanks to several defensive gems behind him, but there is a sour note about Wednesday.
Aside from Schwarber and Fowler, not much offensive production from the Cubs. The probably Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant looked so lost at the plate, you might have thought he missed the flight to Western Pennsylvania. You also have to take into account, the perils of playing that Wild Card game of the 1-game sort, you’ve exhausted your Ace and he won’t get two starts in the best-of-five division series. Those are bridges they’ll cross when they encounter them in the Gateway City, as they face that next obstacle in the Cardinals. The time to worry about that is today, but a nice little honeymoom was to be had all day Thursday. To paraphrase (What About) Bob(?) Wiley, Baby Steps towards a World Championship. It started in Pittsburgh, and may not have a happy ending for Bill Murray and the rest of Cubs Nation, but it’s a start.
And, in other news…
Texas Rangers fans would probably prefer it, if I stop listening to their big games on the radio while driving down I-8 towards San Diego. For the second time in four years, the previous time being Game 6 of the World Series, my ears were privy to an epic Rangers collapse while en route to California for a Browns game. The last time, it was David Freese of the Cardinals, down to his final strike, who prevented the Rangers from closing out their first-ever World Championship with a double off the wall. The Boys of Arlington would get a shot at redemption in Game 7, but would have no luck in the deciding game. On Saturday, they took a 10-6 lead into the 9th, as I pulled into a Yuma gas station to re-fuel and call my wife. By the time, I got back in the car, the Angels led 11-10, and the assumption I’d had minutes earlier, that the Rangers were going to clinch the American League West had disintegrated. Unlike in 2011, the Rangers were able to take care of business the next day, and all was well in North Texas.
No one knows anything in College Football, a truth that reveals itself to the masses watching each week. On paper, Ohio State should have been able to exercise The Karate Kid III clause, and just waited for a worthy a opponent to take their title from them, in Glendale on January 11th, but they have to play the games. It hasn’t been pretty; you could argue they’re getting everyone’s best shot, but you could probably make a better argument that they’re a lot more flat than the team that impressed us in January. Imagine if it was TCU, and not the Buckeyes, that got to take that magical ride through the inaugural College Football Playoff. Would Ohio State be able to maintain its #1 spot with their play in 2015? If Utah and Florida can hold serve, this point is rendered moot, but how little do we know about the Pac-12 and SEC, and how confusing can the entire College Football Playoff picture be entering the month of December?
Toledo could finish the season undefeated, and there’s a strong possibility that they won’t get the “Group of 5” bid to the Access Bowls, given Boise State’s history and a committee’s tendency to forgive September losses. Rockets fans have to be hoping the stock on the win at Arkansas rises throughout SEC play.
The Browns found a new way to lose in San Diego on Sunday, and I was on hand for the agony. Having watched Josh Lambo’s first attempt sail wide, when my celebration was interrupted by news of the laundry on the field, I assumed someone in a brown jersey ran into the Chargers kicker, but the call was off-sides. I didn’t see off-sides, but the guy in the striped shirt on the field had a better vantage point. I went on with my day in Southern California, overhearing plenty of same ol’ Browns conversations. It was like Tuesday or Wednesday that I was retroactively angry at the linesman on Bill Vinovich’s crew, who guessed wrong and cost Cleveland a chance to take the game in overtime. The Lions are in the same boat with the bad luck of letting an official decide a game. It’s really no wonder, none at all, why neither of these teams have played in a Super Bowl or won a title since 1967.
As a Browns fan, I’ve had faith in both Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, but now that I’m seeing them play in other jerseys, I almost have to slap myself. Difference being, I liked the potential of Weeden, and soon as he put on the orange helmet, he showed he couldn’t play at a high level. Hoyer, on the other hand, won games for the Browns, giving people like me false hope and dismissing poor play as a slump or fluke. It took seeing that punt-looking interception he threw to former Brown Mike Adams on Thursday night, to convince me of his true colors.
Sunday’s New England-Dallas game will get a lot of the headlines, but I’m going to learn a lot more about the landscape of the NFL from Seahawks-Bengals and Rams-Packers on Sunday. I know the Seahawks and Packers are good, but I still need some convincing on 4-0 Cincinnati and the 2-2 Rams.
I’m offering up a lot of chalk with my Division Series predictions in baseball, but I’m looking forward to a Blue Jays-Royals ALCS, and I’m putting the Cubs and Mets in the NLCS. Regarding those National League teams, once they start winning, they don’t stop.
Basketball and hockey, we’ll get to you next week.
It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.
From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.
Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24
The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.
It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.
Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.
Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.
Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.
It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.
Marshall 41 Purdue 31
It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.
On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.
You've had nine months to come up with a first play.
Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.
Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17
Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.
So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.
Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17
Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.
After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.
This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.
Northwestern 16 Stanford 6
We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.
One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.
The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.
Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3
Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!
Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24
Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.
Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.
Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20
This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.
For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.
TCU 23 Minnesota 17
I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.
He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.
Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.
That Ref Deserves a Hug
Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).
Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.
…and the rest.
These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.
Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
Nicely done, Josh Rosen. What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it. UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5. It was Virginia, but still.
Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
So, Auburn is pretty good. Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday. Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche. We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.
Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.
Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.
First of all, they were lucky. The committee was hoping that one team would separate itself from the other playoff contenders during Saturday night’s games. And holy Moses smell the roses did Ohio State ever come through. Despite being forced to start a third-string QB, the Buckeyes clearly established themselves as the team most worthy of securing the fourth playoff spot after a 59-0 domination of 16th ranked Wisconsin. If Ohio State had won, but done so in a less convincing fashion, the committee would have faced a far more difficult decision. So the committee should probably send gift baskets to Urban Meyer’s staff and players at Ohio State. Or at least a thank you note. But, hey, give the committee credit. When the final rankings were released, the committee had chosen the four most deserving teams, and that’s what matters most.
While the committee correctly selected the four most deserving teams, they have still certainly drawn criticism, much of it unwarranted, but some is justifiable. The foremost complaint is about the fall of TCU from 3 to 6. “They won by 52 points, so how can they possibly fall that far?” This question comes from a place of ignorance, ignorance that can be blamed on the committee. People were confused by the decision to drop TCU because the committee failed to be transparent enough in its process of selecting the playoff teams. The issue is that many fans and analysts are operating under an improper mindset. Because the committee has not been clear enough, many people do not understand that the weekly rankings are snapshots in time, not projections. TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State last week because the committee thought that they were the most deserving team at the moment. After Baylor and Ohio State earned impressive victories over highly ranked opponents, they became more deserving than TCU. Those victories substantially boosted the resumes of those two teams, while the win over a dismal Iowa State team was essentially insignificant to TCU’s resume. It was not that TCU fell, OSU and Baylor simply climbed.
To better understand the changes in the rankings, think about it this mathematically. All season long the teams are earning points for their wins and losses. Let’s say that last week TCU had 100 points, Baylor had 98 points, and Ohio State had 97. A victory over Iowa State, even a blowout, only earns two points, yielding a new total of 102. Baylor’s win over a very good Kansas State team earns 5 points, giving them a new total of 103. Ohio State absolutely shredded one of the country’s top defenses while shutting out an offense featuring the nation’s best running back, so they earn 7 points to bring their season total to 104. Obviously the numbers that I used are arbitrary, but they still demonstrate my point—OSU and Baylor earned more with their Saturday wins than TCU, and the wins were valuable enough for those teams to climb in the rankings.
While the committee’s decision not to include TCU in the 4-team playoff is defensible, one decision that they made was not. The committee ranked Florida State third. Really, third? We’re talking about a team that is the lone remaining unbeaten in the country, aced a Power 5 conference schedule including a conference championship game, is the reigning national champion, and is riding a 29 game winning streak. I’ll admit that the Seminoles have not won their games handily this season, but they have won. Wins and losses should be valued above all else.
Arguments against FSU center on the ‘Noles relatively ordinary score on the “eye test.” When evaluating teams to determine which will make the playoff, the infamous “eye test” is the most dangerous phrase in the world. It serves as a catch-all term that allows any sports pundits, talking heads, and common fans to pompously assign their own personal rankings based on which team they think looks the best. I am floored by how much traction this “eye test” phrase has gained, given that no sports champion has ever been crowned by such a ridiculous criterion. This isn’t a beauty pageant in which judges’ ratings determine who takes home the title. In college football, titles come down to wins and losses. The champion of this season will be determined by which team wins its two playoff games, not by who looks the best while playing them.
Further, the “eye test” also allows people to overlook provable information, like the fact that Florida State has not lost a game in two years. Sure, their wins may not have been pretty, but they keep getting the job done. And an again undefeated reigning champion deserves a chance to repeat. If FSU had lost even a single game this season, they would not deserve to make the playoff, but they have not lost. After all the close calls, their record remains unscathed. And for that, they deserve to play for the championship. Which is why I would rank FSU no lower than second. Imagine if this were a not the first year using the playoff system, so the BCS was still in use and only the top two teams earn the right to play for the title. How could anyone possibly justify leaving FSU out of that championship game? I could see if leaving out Marshall if they had gone undefeated, but FSU plays in a power 5 conference and returns the coach and Heisman Trophy winner from last year’s championship team. They have already proven their worth. They deserve to be in the top two.
In addition to correctly choosing the four teams to compete in the playoff, the committee scored one other major win—it understood its objective. The committee’s job was to select the four most deserving teams, not necessarily the four best teams. Judging which teams were the four best would have involved far too much subjective evaluation, whereas determining the most deserving teams places the focus on the measurable accomplishments of the teams. The committee members can consider tangible data, such as conferences champions, win/loss records and strength of schedule. Ideally the four most deserving teams will also be the best, but this is not up to the committee to decipher. The committee places the most deserving teams in a bracket and lets them hash it out.
But let’s not forget the real winner in all of this—the fans. We finally have our playoff. So let’s enjoy the action. It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, and it’s exactly what we deserve.
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