From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while pointing out that morning and afternoon World Cup games, that’s soccer y’all, is drawing better TV ratings than baseball’s College World Series:

Bad boy, bad boy

Jameis Winston was often the best player on the field when he played at Florida State, which is why he won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and finished sixth in voting in 2014.

But he also had to navigate the kind of public relations crisis no Heisman winner should ever face. And now he’s dealing with the kind of allegations you would hope a starting quarterback in the NFL would never experience.

While that may sound Pollyannaish, the truth is Winston can’t stay out of trouble. He’s his own worst enemy.

The latest incident, which is expected to earn him a three-game suspension from the NFL, is the alleged groping of a woman Uber driver in Arizona last November. Winston denies he’s guilty. But the NFL, after conducting its own investigation, believes otherwise.

With a history of misdeeds, not all of which are misdemeanors, Winston has left a trail of warning signs.  Whether it’s stealing cups of soda from a fast food restaurant, shoplifting crab’s legs from a grocery store, causing thousands of dollars of damage with a pellet gun at a residence hall, or shouting an obscene meme in a student union, Winston is no stranger to trouble.

Boys will be boys, ya know?

But by mid-November of 2013, Winston was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault a year earlier. The fact he was never charged speaks to the impact of football at FSU, although he did settle a civil lawsuit out of court and FSU had to fork over a small fortune in a Title IX lawsuit.

Now we know that in March 2016, less than a year after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him No. 1 overall, Winston was apparently behaving like a Donald Trump understudy.

You know, grabbing women by the p—ssy.

I’ve never been prouder that Winston didn’t get a Heisman vote from me in 2013 or 2014.

The Bucs still consider him the face of the franchise, but they’d be smart to start trying to squeeze some trade value out of Winston before its too late.

Mixed signals

There’s no crying in soccer.

Tom Hanks didn’t say it, but Brazil’s largest newspaper, O Globo, did when star Neymar Jr. was seen sitting on the field covering his face with his hands as he shed tears following a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday.

The camera lingered on him uncomfortably long, capturing the emotion the win generated.

Both goals for Brazil came in stoppage time, including a forceful tap-in by Neymar, so it was a hard-fought victory against a well-organized Costa Rica team.

But for Brazilians, who like to dance in the stands to their soccer, the sight of Neymar breaking down is a cause of concern. Especially when the team has only played two games.

“A team needs to demonstrate mental strength, not fragility. Genuine or not, Neymar’s crying is worrying,” wrote 0 Globo.

Brazil is tied with Switzerland atop Group E with four points each, but it hasn’t cleared a path to the knockout stages going into Wednesday’s match with Serbia.

They said it

Omaha comedy writer Brad Dickson on Twitter: “I had a dream last night that Phil Mickelson shows up at the College World Series, races onto the field during a slow roller back to the mound, and bats the ball twice.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien after President Trump said the North Korean dictator was invited to the White House: “Unless, of course, Kim Jong Un wins the Super Bowl or the NBA championship.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was given an honourary doctrate from the Medical College of Wisconsin. And like many a doctor in private medicine, he can really hurt you in the pocket.”

Omaha comedy writer Brad Dickson on Twitter, again: “CWS visitors are learning that “Omaha” is an old Indian word meaning “rain delay.”

NBC comedian Seth Myers on the Golden State Warriors championship parade: “And to add insult to injury, they held it in Cleveland.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Wake Forest, citing an undisclosed violation of team rules, has suspended starting quarterback Kendall Hinton for the first three games of the 2018 season. Or as Demon Deacons apologists tried to spin it, three-and-in.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe: “Argentina and Messi would like to thank Melania Trump and her jacket for making sure they weren’t the most embarrassing story of the day. #WorldCup”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com, again: “Happy Father’s Day. My dad died when I was young, but taught me to swim “army-style” by tossing me into a lake. I got to shore, but had a tough time getting out of the duffel bag.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com, again: “Red-hot Nationals rookie Juan Soto debuted on May 20. Today in continuation of a May 15 interleague game against NY, he hit a 2 run game winning homer. So the hit and RBI count before his actual first game..AND against the Yankees?!   Amazed MLB didn’t somehow disallow it.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, again: “If Avis is looking for a modern-day spokesman for a tried and true ad campaign, Gronkowski was No. 2 in Belmont Stakes as well as No. 2 in the Super Bowl.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “The U.S. will host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico. Players can either travel from the U.S. to Mexico by plane or just walk past the wall that still won’t be built.”

Comedy writer Jim Barach: “San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door after a blown save. Since he forgot to open the door first, he officially loses his status as a closer.”

Brady bunch

Tom Brady has negotiated playing at least two more years. It’s in his contract with the New England Patriots, and sealed with a kiss with wife Gisele Bundchen.

But while Brady, 41, playfully suggested during an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday that he’d like to stick it out in the NFL until he’s 45, there are other voices who may get a vote. His three children.

“I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there driving my kids to their games,” Brady said. “I think my kids have brought a great perspective in my life, because kids just want the attention.

“You better be there and be available to them, or else they’re going to look back on their life and go, ‘Dad didn’t really care that much.'”

Fire sale

Dick’s Sporting Goods stores in the Cleveland area are selling LeBron James jerseys at half price, gambling that the time to unload King James merchandise has arrived.

Thus, a No. 23 jersey that normally retails at $110 can now be had for $55.

We won’t know if Dick’s is correct in believing that the four-time league MVP is prepared to bail on his hometown Cavaliers for the second time in eight years until after July 1.

The last time he left – taking his “talents to South Beach” – Cleveland fans burned his jerseys. So by buying the discounted merchandise it may make it easier to torch a few more jerseys.

World Class Tweets

Rehastagging my top Tweets from a week of watching World Cup soccer @Randy_Beard11:

  • Iceland, you don’t need more fans to do the wave. You need more skilled, quick defenders who don’t just wave at attacking players going to goal.
  • Nigeria’s Musa > Argentina’s Messi. At least in this World Cup but they can settle it on field when they play each other Tuesday.
  • World Cup update: Ronaldo 3, Messi 0.
  • Croatia: “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”
  • Diego Maradona looks worried. Argentina needs “Diego” Messi to arrive because Lionel Messi isn’t getting it done at moment because Iceland’s defensive focus

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Overly enthusiastic Cristiana Ronaldo accidentally rips off upper-body skin after scoring goal.”

Fark.com: “Tom Brady has given a hint on his retirement age. Let’s just say it’s an age most of us want to retire at.”

TheOnion.com: “Ovechkin hopes to inspire other athletes to power through month-long bender.”

Fark.com: “A new contestant for sports injury of the year: Brandon Morrow goes on the DL for throwing out his back taking off his pants.”

TheOnion.com: “Lionel Messi pissed after forgetting to wear Fitbit during last game.”

Fark.com: “Mikal Bridges was drafted by the Philadphia 76ers, the team his mother works for. Then he was traded.”

TheOnion.com: “Has the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team earned the right to watch the World Cup?”

Real whopper!

Hey, it could be argued that Russia’s Burger King division was only trying to do its part in helping to build a stronger national soccer team.

With the country hosting the World Cup, the burger joint had ads on social media offering 3 million rubles and a lifetime supply of Whoppers to women who were impregnated by members of one of the World Cup teams.

To quote the ad: “For these girls, it will be possible to get the best football genes, and will lay down the success of the Russian national team on several generations ahead. Forward! We believe in you!”

Burger King’s Russian division is no longer running the ad on social media and has apologized.

Family affair

Meanwhile, rather than focusing on the act of impregnating, Denmark’s players turned their attention to the finished product. When defender Jonas Knudsen’s wife, Trine, delivered their daughter ahead of schedule, his teammates took up a collection to pay for him to fly home.

“We wanted to look at the human side,” said goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. “There are lots of fathers in the squad. You have to remember we are human beings as well as footballers.”

So, after Denmark beat Peru 1-0 last Saturday, Knudsen made a quick trip home courtesy of a private jet. He was back in Russia on Monday.

Ratings game

The web site, newarena.com, likes to rate the greatest players in various sports and skills, like their recent rankings of the 25 greatest hitter in baseball: 1. Ted Williams, 2. Babe Ruth; 3. Stan Musial; 4. Ty Cobb; 5. Rogers Hornsby; 6. Lou Gehrig; 7. Roberto Clemente; 8. Mickey Mantle; 9. Willie Mays; 10. Tony Gwynn. 11. Hank Aaron; 12. Barry Bonds; 13. Pete Rose; 14. Honus Wagner; 15. Ichiro Suzuki; 16. Rod Carew; 17. Joe DiMaggio; 18. Frank Robinson; 19. Jimmie Foxx; 20. Ken Griffey, Jr.; 22. Alex Pujols; 23. Shoeless Joe Jackson; 24. Alex Rodriquez; 25. Mike Trout.

Maybe baseball really is America’s PASTTIME.

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering if Purdue and Ohio State will still be unbeaten in Big Ten basketball when they meet  Feb. 7, just five games before the league tournament:

More drama

Alas, the Jacksonville Jaguars really won’t be facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with one hand tied behind his back Sunday when they travel to Foxborough, Mass., to challenge New England for the AFC Championship. That’s the bad news.

I’m pulling for the Jaguars anyway, hoping they can find a path to victory that doesn’t depend on Brady being a wounded warrior.

A severely wounded warrior is what Brady was at midweek when he banged his right hand on the helmet buckle of a teammate at practice. He reportedly needed four stitches for a cut around the knuckle of the thumb on his throwing hand, which he also jammed.

He wore gloves on both hands on Thursday, but didn’t participate in practice. However, on Friday he did have a short practice session in which he threw fairly well, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Pats receiver Danny Amendola caught several of those passes and said the ball had plenty of zip.

While Brady didn’t do interviews Wednesday or Thursday, he did speak Friday. He came to the interview session wearing red gloves to keep his injury hidden.

He was coy about whether he would play in Sunday’s 2 p.m. CT game.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I have played in a lot of games in pain.”

Amendola expects Brady to find a way to do all the dicing on Sunday against the Jags’ secondary.

“He’s a warrior, he’s a competitor, and there’s really only one reason he’s here,” said Amendola. “And that’s to play football.”

Tarnished gold

UPDATED: USA gymnastic doctor Larry Nassar sentenced by Michigan judge Rosemarie Aquilini to 175 years for sexual abuse and pornography and pay a yet to be determined amount of restitution. She told him “she was signing his death warrant” because he’d never get out of prison. He’ll serve 60 years on pornography charges before the other charges. Nearly 160 gymnasts from USA Gymnastics testified against him. There are also victims from Michigan State.

USA Gymnastics may never recover from the failure of leadership which turned a blind eye to team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of young women in the program.

Among the 140 alleged victims are four of the five members of the gold medal-winning 2012 “Fierce Five” and three of the five gold-medal winning 2016 “Final Five” Olympians. The victims include Ally Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber.

Raisman and Douglas were on both U.S. Olympic teams.

Nassar is facing 25 years to life in prison for the sexual abuse charges and already has been sentenced to a 60-year sentence for child pornography. Much of the abuse occurred at the Karolyli Ranch in Texas where national team members trained once a month.

He also worked at Michigan State, where more alleged abuse occurred, which is why the trial is being held in Lansing, Michigan.

Nassar had access to the dorm rooms of the U.S. gymnasts at the ranch, where he could be alone with them for the purpose of treating injuries and giving therapeutic massages.

Parents weren’t allowed to stay at the ranch, which was owned by Bela and Martha Karoyli. Both legendary coaches, the Karoylis aren’t facing charges but USA Gymnastics has decided it will no longer use the ranch as a training center.

In her testimony, Raisman was heavily critical of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for being slow to address complaints from athletes who first raised concerns about  Nassar. She said both organizations are “rotting from the inside.”

Added Raisman: “To believe in the future of gymnastics is to believe in change. But how are we to believe in change when these organizations aren’t even willing to acknowledge the problem? … False assurances from organizations are dangerous, especially when people so badly want to believe them. They make it easier to look away from the problem and enable bad things to continue to happen.”

Amazingly, Nassar has submitted a letter to the Michigan court stating it had become “mentally” tough for him to listen to the testimony against him.

“You think this is hard for you?” said Raisman. “Imagine how any of us feels.”

They said it

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Drew Brees, 39, will be a free agent this year, But Brees says he wants to be in New Orleans “as long as they’ll have him,” isn’t talking to other teams and thinks a deal will be done by March.  No wonder the guy’s underrated, he’s not enough of a diva.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “David Beckham has released a line of 21 men’s grooming products. I plan to use them – as soon as they come out with Bald It Like Beckham.”

NBC’s Seth Meyers, on O.J. Simpson denying long-running rumors that he is Khloe Kardashian’s biological father: “But then he announced his new book about his relationship with Kris Jenner called ‘If We Did It.’ ”

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “A man in Cocoa, Fla., was arrested for allegedly punching an ATM because it gave him too much money. Taking no chances, the ATM is now in the concussion protocol after complaining of withdrawal symptoms.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on NBC’s plans for 2,400 hours of Winter Olympic coverage: “If you don’t despise mixed-doubles curling at the beginning, you will by the end.”

NBC comedian Seth Myers: “According to a report, due to global warming, many former winter Olympics sites may not be reliably cold enough to host the games again after 2050. Officials first became suspicious when a figure skater drowned.”

Salute to legend

Brazilian soccer legend Pele, 77,  has suffered numerous health issues in recent years and may not be able to travel to Russia this summer for the 2018 World Cup.

It’d be a shame if that’s the case. Pele made his World Cup debut in 1958 in Sweden at the age of 17 against the USSR. He had an assist in the 2-0 win.

In that World Cup 60 years ago, he went on to score a hat trick in a 5-2 semifinal win over France and then had two goals against host Sweden in the final. He finished with six goals in four games.

He not only became the youngest player to play in a World Cup but also the youngest to score a hat trick.

His first goal against Sweden in the final, where he flicked the ball over a defender and scored off a full volley, was elected as one of the best goals in Cup history.

He is the only player to win the World Cup three times.

Pele was supposed to attend a Football Writers Association dinner in his honor in London on Sunday but he won’t attend because of “exhaustion.” He’s reportedly resting at home near Santos, Brazil.

He has had kidney, prostate and hip surgery.

Headlines

TheKicker.com: “Bengals fans so happy about Steelers loss they give Andy Dalton to charity.”

Fark.com: “Why is fighting in the NHL down to historic lows, and what can be done to fix this terrible problem?”

SportsPickle.com: “Tony Romo to predict when and how you will die in next broadcast.”

TheOnion.com: “USA Gymnastics confident they have plan in place for next time doctor sexually assaults 150 children.”

TheKicker.com: “Eagles to spend entire week practicing defense against last second miracle plays.”

SportsPickle.com: “Tom Brady begging his broken hand to drink more water.

Fark.com: Bestest ballers LiAngelo and LaMelo impress Lithuania with mad bricklaying skills.”

Sign spotted at the Cleveland parade “honoring” the 0-16 Browns: “Hey, LeBron, can you play quarterback?”

Draft blather

Thanks to ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr. has built a cottage industry around the NFL Draft. And for that, you can’t blame ol’ helmet head of hair for such self-promotion while working in cahoots with the cable sports network.”

In partnership with the NFL, they have created a showcase event each year with the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The 2018 Combine is March 2-5.

Once again NFL and college football fans will be tuned in to see who can run faster, jump higher or throw further. But for those who can’t wait for the raw numbers to come in, there’s Kiper and his assessments of players based on insider interviews with NFL general managers and scouts.

His 2018 mock draft was released this week. Kiper projects Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen will be drafted No. 1 by the Cleveland Browns.

Allen only ranked 82nd in the nation for passing yardage, finishing with 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns with six interceptions.  In the Mountain West, he was eighth in completion percentage and sixth in passing yardage per game.

UCLA’s Josh Rosen has been atop most NFL draft boards. In comparsion, Rosen was 14th nationally in passing yardage with 3,756 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Kiper, of course, has been wrong before.

In 1998, for instance, he thought Ryan Leaf was a better pro prospect that Peyton Manning.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

–        Huge win for Gamecocks, rally from 14 down in second half to beat #18 Kentucky, 76-68. Chris Silva had career-high, 27 points.

–        Well, that was predictable. Clemson lost to North Carolina 87-79. That stretches record to 0-59 in Chapel Hill. Zero wins. In Basketball. Round ball, flat floor doesn’t help odds for Tigers team that seem to be playing uphill on both ends of court when stepping in UNC’s gym.

–        Skol, Vikings!

–        No Steel Curtain for Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville. More like Sheer Curtain. Jaguars crunched Pittsburgh for second time this season, winning playoff 45-42.

–        Brian Bowen (La Porte, Ind./La Lumiere School) will attend South Carolina and play for Frank Martin, bringing an end to a tumultuous few months that saw the 5-star recruit enroll at Louisville only to leave after the school decided he would not play there after a NCAA probe.

Cashing in

It pays to be on Nick Saban’s football coaching staff at Alabama.

Not only do the odds favor his assistant coaches winning multiple national championships and setting themselves up for coordinator or head coaching positions at other schools, they are pretty much guaranteed a hefty bonus each season.

This year was particularly rewarding with the Crimson Tide making the CFP playoffs even if they didn’t play for the SEC title.

For winning another national championship, the $7-million man Saban earned a $100,000 bonus.

His assistants, including three who earned bigger bonuses than Saban, were paid a combined $1.07 million.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who has moved on to coach Tennessee, received a bonus of $234,000. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who is now the OC for the Buffalo Bills, earned an extra $216,000.

Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi was given $171,000 and Mike Locksley, who has been promoted to offensive coordinator from assistant OC, earned $108,000.

The four other staff members received bonuses ranging from $72,000 to $96,000.

Bowl recap

I’ll take consolation that I correctly picked the winners of the College Football Playoff semifinal games, confident that the national championship would be settled by two Southeastern Conference teams.

Alas, I didn’t expect Alabama to prevail in overtime with a stunning 41-yard overtime touchdown pass from freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to beat Georgia 26-23.

My postseason picks had blown up long before that. I finished 21-17 overall, which is a 55.2 percent winning percentage. Again, I’ll take consolation in the fact that I fared better in bowl games involving ACC, Big Ten and SEC teams, posting a record of 14-7 (67 percent).

As a reminder, during the regular season I was 86-20 (81.1 percent) in picking Big Ten games this season, 82-20 (80.5 percent) in the SEC and 79-27 (74.5 percent) in the ACC.

Combined, regular and postseason, I had a winning percentage of 78.3 percent with my picks, 271-84.

Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while noting that it snowed in Evansville just in  time for me to get excited about the Winter Olympics – Not.

Best ever

I hereby concede  Nick Saban is the best college football coach of all-time.

There is no reason to debate it. Saban is in a Hall of Fame class of his own.

As log as Saban is coaching the Southeastern Conference should use its considerable clout to negotiate an automatic bye for the Crimson Tide into the College Football Playoffs.

Furthermore, he’s so good at the coaching biz, Alabama should start every league game with a two-touchdown deficit just to restore more competitive balance to the SEC.

That would not only help the SEC improve its chances of getting a second team into the postseason each year, but it would give more programs a shot at winning the SEC title.

It’ll also get Saban and his players more focused on the only postseason games that matter. After all, the SEC title really doesn’t mean that much to Saban and Alabama fans. It’s merely been  the prerequisite in Alabama’s push for another national title.

But that wasn’t the case this year. Because of  pride, Alabama’s players may have been ticked off that they had to watched Georgia beat Auburn for the league title. But in the end, it all worked out. After the Tide crushed 2016 national champion Clemson in the semifinals, Saban’s boys stunned Georgia, 26-23, in overtime to win the 2017 title.

It was an instant classic, surpassing last season’s upset by Clemson in the final seconds.  This time it was the Tide that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa coming off the bench to start the second half to lead Alabama’s comeback from a 13-0 deficit. One play after being sacked for a 16-yard loss in overtime, he threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith.

Saban’s decision to start Tagovailoa in the second half was the closing argument for me in declaring  him the best coach of all-time.

There’s zero chance he won’t win at least one more title, maybe two, before Tagovailoa likely moves on to the NFL.

Tracking titles

Saban has now won six national titles, tying him with Alabama’s other legend, Bear Bryant.

Saban already had more titles than all the other active coaches combined with Ohio State’s Urban Meyer winning three (two at Florida) and one each being claimed by Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who is now at Texas A&M.

Saban won one of his championships while coaching LSU in 2003 but he’s won five in nine years at Alabama  (2009,  2011, 2012, 2015. 2017).

His record as a college coach is now 218-62-1 with seven SEC titles, including a 127-20 mark in 11 seasons at Alabama.

Star is born

In the CFP championship game, Tua Tagovailoa completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in beating Georgia.

Not bad for one half of work by a freshman who had thrown just 29 passes all season in mop up duty. He completed 21 of those throws for 304 yards and five more touchdowns.

But the best thing Tagovailoa did came days after the title game when he took to Twitter to defend starter Jalen Hurts, who had competed only 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards in the first half of the CFP title game.

Despite being 24-2 as a starter, Hurts was heavily criticized by Twitter idiots. Tgovailoa didn’t hesitate to strike back:

“Tired of people not appreciating the fact that this man led us to the National Championship. And for all the fans that are against Jalen, you are against me too. You either WITH US or AGAINST US. Love you 2. #BigBroLittleBro @JalenHurts.

By the way, one of Tagovailoa’s newest fans is Mr. T, “Professional pitier of fools,” who tweeted: “As a Christian, I was so Proud of Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Giving the Glory to God!”

They said it

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com:  “Word is Maria Sharapova has unleashed a record-level shriek of 119 decibels. It happened when Australian Open officials announced the withdrawal of Serena Williams.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: ‘Guess I was wrong, I thought respecting the National Anthem meant learning all the words. @realDonaldTrump”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald: ‘How slick were some Omaha streets early Thursday? The Olympic qualifying luge trials were held in my driveway.”

R.J. Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Did you see Lightning forward Tyler Johnson scoring against the Canes with both skates off the ground? I guess switching to right wing really did elevate his game.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Indians hurler Trevor Bauer — using a five-step running start and a three-ounce ball — uncorked a pitch clocked at 116.9 mph. So who needs to hear the crack of the bat when you can have a sonic boom?”

Jim Barach of WCHS-TV in Charleston, W.Va.: “A report says Papa John’s Pizza may not buy ad time for the Super Bowl. Apparently the company just doesn’t have enough dough.”

Comedy writer TC Chong: “The Las Vegas Knights are the most successful first year team in the history of all major sports. Their home record is an astonishing 18-2-1. Are they really that good, or does the policy of having the visiting team partake in the “two drink minimum” have anything to do with this?”

Soccer’s future

For what it’s worth, Christian Pulisic is the future of U.S. Soccer. Big surprise, right?

Only 19, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was named the United States Soccer Player of the Year Thursday by Futbol de Primera after balloting by 104 writers and broadcasters. It comes on the heels of him being named the U.S. Soccer Federation Male Player of the Year last month, giving him a sweep of the player of the year awards.

For the latest honor, he received 81 first-place and 254 points, topping Jozy Altidore (95) and Michael Bradley (75).

Landon Donovan, at 20, had been the youngest winner of the award.

A native of Hershey, Pa., Pulisic had six goals and four assists in nine games for the national team and was involved in 13 of the 17 American goals in games he played.

The U.S. did not qualify for the World Cup this summer in Russia.

Headlines

SportsPickle.com: “Report: Nick Saban pondering retirement to spend more time criticizing his family.”

Fark.com:  “Marcus Mariota throws a touchdown pass to Marcus Mariota.”

TheKicker.com: “Gruden already putting Raiders assistant coaches through two-a-days.”

Fark.com: “SEC loses in championship game for second straight year.”

SportsPickle.com: “Browns confirm they will skip NFL Draft to avoid drafting any future Browns.”

TheKicker.com: “To play if safe, Vikings will start all 3 quarterbacks at once.”

Earning respect

Central Florida’s declaration that it won the national championship never gained much traction outside of Orlando.

Sure, the Knights were the only team in college football to finish without a loss this year and among their 13 victories was a Peach Bowl triumph over Auburn. And yes, Auburn was the only team to defeat Alabama.

But that’s not how it works.

In the final Associated Press poll, UCF was ranked No. 6 and the USA Today poll had the Knights at No. 7.

But at least CBS Sports’ final rankings of all 130 teams gave UCF some love. That poll had Alabama No. 1, Georgia No. 2, Oklahoma No. 3 and UCF No. 4. Clemson, which was the defending national champion and the No. 1 seed in the CFP playoff this season, was ranked fifth.

All UCF really wanted was to get one of the four seeds in the CFP playoffs. Better late, than never.

Dr. Serena

One day after having an emergency C-section to deliver her daughter Alexis, Serena Williams wasn’t feeling well and suspected she had developed blood clots.

It’s a medical crisis she’s dealt with before, so she was confident she had made the proper diagnosis.

One, she was having trouble breathing. Two, she wasn’t taking her anticoagulant medicine due to the C-section, which she knew increased her chances for developing a pulmonary embolism.

When no one seemed to take her seriously, she got out of bed and walked to the nurse’s station, demanding a CT scan with contrast dye as well as asking to be put on a IV drip for a blood thinner.

The nurses thought she was just being paranoid and was possibly confused by the pain medication, so they scheduled her for an ultrasound exam. When that didn’t reveal any problems, Williams again insisted she need to be put on a blood thinner and be taken for a CT-scan.

The hospital finally consented – probably knowing that Williams could afford the tests herself if it was contested by insurance.

When the CT-scan revealed several small blood clots had settled in her lung, Williams got the blood thinner she had been requesting.

“I was like, listen to Dr. Williams,” she said.

Williams lives in constant fear of blood clots, so she knew enough about the possible complications that can come with having a C-section birth.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

FINAL: Alabama 26, Georgia 23, OT. Nick Saban still hasn’t lost to former assistant and he now has 6 national championships.

UCF = Unfair College Football

UCF = Unfulfilled Championship Fantasy

Indiana head football coach Tom Allen announced today that Kane Wommack has joined His staff as 10th assistant coach now allowed by NCAA.

Brian Bowen (La Porte, Ind./La Lumiere School) will attend South Carolina and play for Frank Martin, bringing an end to a tumultuous few months that saw the 5-star recruit enroll at Louisville only to leave after the school decided he would not play there after FBI/NCAA probe.

Congrats to Mike Brey for becoming Notre Dame’s wins leader with 394th to pass Digger Phelps by routing N.C. State. Brey also now just 7 wins from 500th victory.

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while bemoaning how quickly fall weather arrived and disappeared, especially in the Midwest:

Heisman dreams

By the time the college football season had reached November, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was the clear front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy.

It was his to lose after the Sooners racked up road wins over  No. 2-ranked Ohio State on Sept. 9 and No. 11 Oklahoma State on Nov. 4 while proving a high-scoring loss against Iowa State on Oct. 7 wouldn’t be enough to derail them from their championship goals.

The final voting tally underscored just how dominant Mayfield was this season in becoming the Sooners’ sixth Heisman winner. He finished with 2,398 points, easily outdistancing Stanford running back Bryce Love (1,300) and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (793), the 2016 winner.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes, while Love had 75 first-place votes and Jackson only 47.

Each first-place vote is worth three points, with two points for second and one for third. Mayfield finished with 86 percent of all possible points, which is the third highest percentage since 1950 – topped only by Troy Smith’s 91.6 percent of the votes in 2006 and Marcus Mariotta’s 90.9 percent in 2014.

Not bad for a guy from Austin, Texas who twice had to go from walk-on to starter, first at Texas Tech and then at Oklahoma. Although he grew up an Oklahoma fan, he wasn’t recruited by the Sooners or his hometown University of Texas.

He walked on at Texas Tech and won the starting job as a freshman. But despite passing for more than 2,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Red Raiders coaching staff failed to save a scholarship for his sophomore season. So he followed his heart to Norman, Oklahoma.

Now he has the Sooners back in contention for a national championship with a Rose Bowl semifinal date on Jan. 1 against Georgia.

Mayfield referenced his extraordinary path to winning the Heisman by thanking former head coach Bob Stoops and current coach Lincoln Riley, who was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach this season when Stoops retired.

“Coach Stoops you welcomed a chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms. I wouldn’t say that many would do that,” said Mayfield. “(But) the thing I’m most thankful for is the hiring of Coach Riley. The day you did that changed my life. I appreciate that.

“Coach Riley you’ve been a great mentor to me. We’ve been through a lot together, so I appreciate you.”

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year.

He enters the College Football Playoffs with 12,910 career passing yards and 114 touchdown passes with just 29 interceptions in four seasons. He could leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings.

He rattled off the names of his offensive lineman during his acceptance speech, saying this “wouldn’t have happened without you. Keep up the physicality. We’ve got two more (games).”

That’s as good as guaranteeing a win over Georgia, isn’t it?

But then, Mayfield leaves with a bit of a reputation as a player who’s not afraid to stir up controversy, including planting an OU flag at Ohio State after the Sooners upset the Buckeyes or getting into verbal exchanges with Texas Tech and Kansas fans.

My ballot: I’ve been a Heisman voter for 29 years and I’ve picked the winner all but six or seven of those years. This year I correctly picked Mayfield, but had Jackson at No. 2 and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny as No. 3. The official tally had Penny as the fifth choice behind Penn State’s  Saquon Barkley.

Other honors

The other top award in which I’m still an active voter is the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver, which is given by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club. I was the sports editor in Tallahassee for eight years and always enjoyed attending the banquet and writing a column on the winner.

This year’s winner was James Washington of Oklahoma State, who led the nation with 1,423 yards on 69 catches with 12 touchdowns.

Finishing second was Colorado State’s Michael Gallop and third was West Virginia’s Donald Sills. Gallop was fifth in receiving yards with 1,345 but third best with 94 catches. Sills was 28th in yards (980) but led country with 18 touchdown receptions.

My ballot had Washington first with Sills second and Gallop third.

More awards::

Maxwell Award (player of year): Winner – Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; 2. Bryce Love, Stanford; 3. Saquon Barkley, Penn State.

Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player): Winner – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama; 2. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State; 3. Roquan Smith, Georgia.

Bronko Nagurski Award (top defensive player): Winner – Bradley Chubb, N.C. State; 2. Minkah Fitzgerald, Alabama; 3. Josey Jewell, Iowa.

Butkus Award (linebacker): Winner – Roquon Smith, Georgia; 2. Devin Bush, Michigan; 3. Tremaine Edwards, Virginia Tech.

Davey O’Brien Award (quarterback): Winner – Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; 2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State; 3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State.

Doak Walker Award (running back): Winner – Bryce Love, Stanford; 2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State; 3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin.

Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Winner – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama; 2. Deshaun Elliott, Texas; 2. Josh Jackson, Iowa.

Lou Groza Award (kicker): Winner – Matt Gay, Utah; 2. Dominik Eberle, Utah State; 3. Daniel Carlson, Auburn.

Ray Guy Award (punter): Winner – Michael Dickson, Texas; 2. JK Scott, Alabama; 3. Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah.

Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Winner – Ed Oliver, Houston; 2. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame. 3. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma.

Rimington Trophy (center): Winner – Billy Price, Ohio State; 2. Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia; 3. Ethan Pocic, LSU.

Saving grace

S.C. State point guard Ty Solomon didn’t score, didn’t have an assist and only played four minutes in what may be the last basketball game he’ll ever play.

But at least he’s alive.

Solomon collapsed seven minutes into last Saturday’s game in Raleigh, N.C. at PNC Arena against N.C. State. His heart had stopped but he was brought back to life because S.C. State trainer Tyler Long quickly administered CPR and N.C. State trainer Austin Frank came to the rescue with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

As the crowd of 13,000 prayed for his recovery, N.C. State team physician Dr. William Jacobs took over until the EMTs arrived on the scene to transport him to the N.C. Heart and Vascular Hospital.

Solomon, a redshirt senior, was hospitalized for five days before returning home to Johns Island, S.C.

Solomon’s family released a statement earlier this week that praised the medical care he received and asking for continued prayers.

“Ty recognizes that he was in the right place at the right time to have a serious medical emergency that could have had a tragic outcome. Instead, he’s looking forward to resuming a normal life, eventually returning to school and making every second count.”

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times:  “Football coach Jimbo Fisher reportedly tossed his Christmas tree to the curb after news got out he was bolting Florida State for Texas A&M. Hey, it was either that or have Chief Osceola light it on fire and stick it in the ground at the 50-yard line.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com:  “Oddsmakers put Tiger Woods’ chances at 20-1 of winning one of the next four majors. Elvis is at 19-1.”

Brockton (Mont.) High School girls basketball coach Terrence Johnson to the Great Falls Tribune on his players’ reaction after losing 102-0: “They did nothing wrong. At the end of the day, they all went home and asked, ‘What’s for dinner, mom?’ ”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “LaVar Ball pulling LiAngelo out of UCLA means the kid will miss out on potentially a great three months of college.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “After going 2-10 this season, the Giants have fired coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. Well, if you are wondering what happened to Ben and Jerry they are probably sitting on the couch eating some Ben & Jerry’s.”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter: “It’s a shitty day and I’m in a lot of pain. But the Giants just fired Ben McAdoo, so it’s not all bad.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on rumblings that QB Sam Darnold might stay at USC to avoid being drafted by Cleveland: “The Browns are now bragging about ‘doing our part to keep young people in school.’”

Cashing in

Roger Goodell should take two knees and bow down to the owners, coaches and players of the National Football League.

Being the commissioner of the NFL has made Goodell a very rich man who just got richer by agreeing to a new 5-year contract extension that will pay him $40 million per year.

Most of the money will come from bonuses, which are subject to approval by vote of the 32 team owners. His previous deal, which expires in 2019, will pay him a total of $31.7 million before the contact extension kicks in through 2024.

The new Republican tax plan should stretch his dollars even further.

Going bowling

Yes, there are too many bowl games, beginning with a full slate of five matchups kicking things off next Saturday.

But seriously, if you’re like me, you’ll still be looking for stocking stuffers next weekend so you can wait a little longer before you tune into college football’s postseason since none of the early games really matter.

At least to most of us.

But since I really can’t get away with making that big of a beach blanket statement, I promise I’ll make my full slate of bowl predictions by midweek. Until then, here are the 20 games that will involve teams from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.

Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26, 3:15 p.m. CT: Duke vs. Northern Illinois.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 27, 11:30 a.m. CT: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27,  3:15 p.m. CT: Iowa vs. Boston College.

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m.: Arizona vs. Purdue.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. CT: Texas vs. Missouri.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 11:30 a.m. CT: Virginia vs. Navy.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. CT: Washington State vs. Michigan State.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 29, 11 a.m. CT: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.: N.C. State vs. Arizona State.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Northwestern.

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 6:30 p.m.: Southern California vs. Ohio State.

Taxslayer Bowl, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. CT: Louisville vs. Mississippi State.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT: Washington vs. Penn State.

Orange Bowl, Dec. 30, 6 p.m. CT: Wisconsin vs. Miami.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. CT: Michigan vs. South Carolina.

Peach Bowl, Jan. 1, 10:30 a.m. CT: Central Florida vs. Auburn.

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT: Notre Dame vs. LSU.

College Football Playoff Semifinals

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 3 p.m. CT: Georgia vs. Oklahoma.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 6:45 p.m. CT: Alabama vs. Clemson

Note: CFP Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. CT, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta. It will be televised by ESPN.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Lakers add Buffalo Chicken Wing stains to Shaquille O’Neal’s retired jersey.”

TheKicker.com:  “LiAngelo scores 47 in his first game at LaVar Ball University.:

Fark.com: “Lavar takes his Ball and goes home.”

SportsPickle.com: “Browns confirm they will skip NFL Draft to avoid drafting any future Browns.”

TheOnion.com: “New NFL safety rule requires players to be careful.”

Fark.com: “Unlike the Lions, Pontiac Silverdome fails to implode.”

SportsPickle.com: “Roy Moore reminds voters that many of Alabama’s top recruits have also tried to have sex with teenage girls.”

TheOnion.com: “New ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial features Otto the Syracuse Orange laying off staffers.”

Fark.com: “Nike fires 7-year-old foreman of its NBA jersey factory.”

 Winning Tweet

Twitter really can be useful. Just ask John Goehrke, who turned the social media site into a dating app during the Super Bowl.

With the Atlanta Falcons up 25 points over the New England Patriots, Canadian tennis player Genie Bouchard made the mistake of proclaiming in a tweet that the Super Bowl was over.

We know what happened from there, and no one was more thankful about that than Goehrke, a Missouri college student. That’s because he had answered Bouchard’s tweet by asking if she’d go out with him if Tom Brady rallied New England to victory.

She agreed to his bet, and now it appears they have become friends who have hung out more than once, including going to a Brooklyn Nets game.

Team Tweeting

The best and worst of college Twitter accounts, according to Athlon’s Sports:

Ten Best College Twitter Accounts: 1. South Carolina; 2. Clemson; 3. Miami; 4. Oregon; 5. Georgia; 6. Oklahoma; 7. Ohio State; 8. Auburn; 9. Virginia Tech; 10. Utah.

Five Worst College Twitter Accounts: 1. Michigan; 2. Oregon State; 3. Notre Dame; 4. Alabama; 5. Penn State.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

At least Jozy Altidore can say he scored one meaningful goal in 2017 with game-winner for Toronto in MLS Cup.

Where’s the Air Force when you need the aerial support? Army beats Navy 14-13 in the snow, but the big story is the two teams combined for 22 yards passing.

@IUMenssocer will play for its 9th NCAA men’s soccer title Sunday. Hoosiers beat North Carolina 1-0 and 2-time defending champion Stanford beat Akron 2-0. It was Hoosiers 18th shutout of season.

@_king_lil (Lilly King) deserves credit for getting this started with her antidoping stance in Rio in 2016

Sorry Urban, but two losses matter, but Buckeyes were No. 5 and Wisconsin No. 6.

Two teams from SEC make playoff, which underscores the need to expand the playoff beyond four teams.

On the move

Since we’re catching up with the usual postseason business, let’s acknowledge the coaching moves that have already taken place in my three favorite conferences.

ACC

Florida State: Willie Taggart (from Oregon)

Big Ten

Nebraska: Scott Frost (from UCF)

SEC

Arkansas: Chad Morris (from SMU)

Florida: Dan Mullen (from Mississippi State)

Mississippi: Matt Luke (promoted from interim coach)

Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt (from Alabama, defensive coordinator)

Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher (from Florida State)

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while convinced more than ever that what major college football really needs is a 16-team playoff rather than this four-team poll nonsense:

Up and downs

With the top two teams from last week’s College Football Playoff poll losing, Clemson is riding the up elevator again.

The defending champion Tigers, who slipped from No. 2 to No. 3 last week should be ranked No. 1 when the next poll is released Tuesday. That’d be the only reasonable result after Alabama lost the Iron Bowl to Auburn, 26-14, and Clemson bullied rival South Carolina, 34-10.

But yeah, the real game-changing result of the weekend was Miami’s 24-14 loss to unranked Pittsburgh. That critical misstep should allow unbeaten Wisconsin to move into the top four this week, giving the Big Ten a seat at the table.

That said, I still believe the Badgers  have to finish the drill and win the Big Ten championship on Saturday in Indianapolis. Otherwise the door will be left  cracked open for either the SEC or ACC to claim a second playoff team.

My top 10 heading into Championship Week:

  1. Clemson (11-1)
  2. Oklahoma (11-1)
  3. Auburn (10-2)
  4. Wisconsin (12-0)
  5. Miami (10-1)
  6. Alabama (11-1)
  7. Georgia (11-1)
  8. Ohio State (10-2)
  9. Central Florida (11-0)
  10. Washington (10-2)

Paying the price

Auburn’s win over rival Alabama was a costly one after fans stormed the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, resulting in a fine of $250,000.

It was the school’s third violation of the SEC policy intended to keep fans from invading football fields or basketball courts. Auburn fans previously rushed the court after a 2016 basketball game against Kentucky and also came on the field at Jordan-Hare after the 2013 win over Alabama.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Nick Saban undergoes cosmetic procedure to unfold arms.”

TheOnion.com: “Should NASCAR ban Uber drivers?”

SportsPickle.com: “Kansas apologizes to Baker Mayfield for being so easy to make fun of: We had it coming.’”

TheKicker.com:  “Kevin Durant returns to OKC, visits the birthplaces of six of his Twitter personas.”

TheOnion.com: “Giants players excited about seeing real end zone up close.”

The Kicker.com: “Loser of Browns vs. Broncos will be relegated to MLS.”

SportsPickle.com: “Red hot Vikings now a lock to let their fans down in the playoffs.”

Three on five

Shifting to basketball, No. 25 Alabama finished Saturday’s game with No. 14 Minnesota with just three players but only lost the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic by five points, 89-84.

Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson saw all his reserves ejected  when they came on the court during a confrontation between Dazon Ingram and Minnesota’s Dupree McBrayer early in the second half. Ingram, who received a technical, fouled out. Then John Petty sprained an ankle.

That left freshman guard Collin Sexton, who finished with 40 points, and 6-6 senior Riley Norris and 6-9 freshman Galin Smith. Sexton made 12 of 22 shots, including 4 of 7 treys, in 36 minutes.

If nothing else, it was more entertaining than forcing Alabama to forfeit for not having enough players. And maybe the NCAA should take a hint from hockey and play 3-on3 overtime periods.

Other shoe

Minutes after Missouri kicker Tucker McCann kicked a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the game to beat Arkansas, 48-45, Bret Bielema was booted from his job.

While it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Bielema said he was told he was fired before he could even leave the field by interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples.

The loss to Mizzou means Bielema finishes his five seasons as Razorbacks’ head coach with 29-34 overall record and only  11-29 against SEC competition.

That can’t be what he imagined life would be like after he bolted from Wisconsin because he was tired of answering to AD Barry Alvarez, the Badgers former coach.

They said it

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife are expecting their first child: “There’s no excuse for not getting Mom to the hospital on time.”

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “Would anyone be surprised if Bol Bol — Oregon’s 7-foot-2 basketball recruit — develops into a repeat All-American?”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Word out of UCLA is the three Bruins who shoplifted in China will face severe discipline. Case in point: last night they were only allowed to watch two hours of television.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “NASCAR ratings on Fox Sports are down 17% this year. I’m sure it’s all those black drivers kneeling for the National Anthem.”

Greg Cote of The Miami Herald on the nasty Jerry Jones-Roger Goodell feud: “On the bright side, it’s a diversion from counting players who took a knee during the anthem.”

CBS comedian Stephen Colbert: “You might remember that while he was in China, Trump asked China’s President Xi Jinping to release three UCLA players who had been arrested for shoplifting from a Chinese mall — easily the most scandalous thing to happen in a mall that didn’t involve Roy Moore

Rewarding rivalry

After losing to Indiana the last four years, Purdue reclaimed the Old Oaken Bucket Saturday, defeating the Hoosiers, 31-24.

The win was the sixth  of the season for Purdue, making the Boilermakers bowl eligible and again proving first-year head coach Jeff Brohm knows how to lead a football revival.

Now Purdue needs to keep rewarding Brohm with the support and resources he needs to continue building the program.

Americanizing futbol

If FIFA adopted the College Football Playoff model, at least we’d get right to the World Cup matchups everyone wants to see with semifinals featuring Germany vs. Argentina and Brazil vs. Portugal.

Meanwhile, host Russia, which gets an automatic spot in the field of 32 next summer, is only ranked No. 65. That wouldn’t even make the Russians the Boise State of the sport.

Sweet Tweets

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Don’t fret South Carolina fans. The women’s soccer team is headed to the College Cup, so at least one Gamecocks football team is in a  final four.

Auburn beats Alabama 26-14, which gives Georgia a rematch with Tigers in SEC Championship game. In the SEC, when it comes to rematches, “It just means more.”

With Pitt about to whip Miami’s butt, it raises the question. Do teams need more than 24 hours to get turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie out of their system? Final: Pitt 24-14. Hurricanes must have been suffering tryptophan lethargy to spoil unbeaten season. #everygamematters

After giving highlights of Jacksonville’s 19-7 win over Cleveland, Terry Bradshaw said “Cleveland remains undefeated.” Uhh, Terry, Browns are 0-10, not 10-0.

Bol I

Manute Bol died in 2010, reportedly at the age of 47, but former Cleveland State basketball coach Kevin Mackey has reason to believe the 7-foot-7 Sudanese player was much older.

Why? Because Bol didn’t know his birthdate when he arrived in the U.S. in 1983, so Mackey made up one for him to complete college applications. Bol was probably already in his 40s by then, “but there’s no way of ever really knowing,” Mackey told ZAGSBLOG, “I gave him his birthday because they didn’t know how old he was.”

That means Bol would have been in his 50s for much of his decade in the NBA, where he played for four teams until 1995.

It also means Mackey was about the same age as Bol when he was attempting to recruit him to Cleveland State. So, where was the FBI’s crackerjack college basketball investigation staff when we really needed them?

Bol II

Manute Bol’s son, Bol Bol, has committed to Oregon over  Kentucky. He’s 7-2,  weighs 220 and has a 7-8 wingspan.

His birthdate? Nov. 16, 1999,  which means he’s a legit 18.

Here’s some nifty bio info about Bol Bol that other college recruits can’t claim. Besides having a father who was 7-foot-7, Bol Bol is the great grandson of a Dinka chief, Bol Chol Bol, who was 7-foot-10.

Also, Bol paid a dowry of 150 cows when he married his third wife, who is Bol Bol’s mother.

Weekend results

I was perfect on my picks in the Big Ten and far from flawless when it came to ACC games this weekend.

A 7-0 effort in the Big Ten improved my season picks success to 86-20, putting me back over 80 percent at 81.1.

I only got six of nine games right in the SEC, but my season total is 83-20, which also is where it needs to be at 80.5 percent.

Alas, in the ACC, Miami, Florida State (actually UF), Wake Forest and Virginia each let me down, resulting in a 5-4 week. I’m 79-27 for 74.5 percent. I consider that unacceptable and will have to make up for it with my bowl picks.

 

A different view on sports

 

 

Clearing my mind and notebook while hoping someone will  send me a photo for my office wall of Miami coach Mark Richt wearing America’s best bling, the Turnover Chain:

Poll badgering

Fox Sports color commentator Joel Klatt took aim at the designated cupcakes being consumed in the south on Saturday, noting Alabama and Clemson were enjoying “November byes.”

Granted, what Klatt said in an attempt to make a case for Wisconsin’s playoff worthiness contained a smidgen of truth. Dabo Swinney’s defending champion Tigers did spend Saturday afternoon overpowering The Citadel, 61-3. And yes, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide pounded Mercer, 56-0, while going through the motions of being the nation’s No. 1 team.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin had to survive a stern Big Ten clash with Michigan, 24-10.

Is that fair? Probably not. But let’s not forget that the main reason Paul Chryst’s team is  unbeaten after 10 games is a schedule that is only rated as the nation’s  50th toughest.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma (No. 1), Clemson (No. 4), Miami (No. 21) and Alabama (No. 23) have all played much tougher slates.

Klatt also should be reminded that Alabama plays Auburn this week and Clemson faces South Carolina. Those rivalry games will be road trips for the Crimson Tide and Tigers against teams that have winning records.

The Badgers? They face a 5-6 Minnesota team.

I do agree with the main point Klatt was trying to make when he slipped into snarky mode. College football’s guaranteed victories against step-down opponents should be played in September not November.

The final month of the regular season should be reserved for conference clashes and traditional rivals.

That’s the only way anyone can continue to argue that every game counts.

My power five

I’m not sold on Clemson being one of the four teams once the CFP dust settles because I don’t believe the Tigers will beat Miami on Dec. 2 in the ACC Championship game.

Breaking out my crystal football, the four teams I believe will be playing for the national championship are Miami, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State.

Headlines

SportsPickle.com: “Lonzo Ball arrested for shoplifting ‘How to Shoot a Basketball’ DVD.”

Fark.com: “Danica Patrick to retire from full-time racing in attempt to preserve her unblemished record of no wins.”

TheOnion.com: “NFL announces plans to stream ‘Thursday Night Football’ exclusively on Delta flights.”

TheKicker.com: “Report: Seahawks playbook just squiggly lines indicating Wilson’s scrambles.”

SportsPickle.com: “Christian Pulisic writes heartfelt essay on Players Tribune revealing it turns out he’s actually German.”

TheOnion.com: “Jim Harbaugh conducts entire ESPN interview with whistle clenched in teeth.”

Alternate Cup

Within minutes of Italy being eliminated from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, I tweeted that the United States should “stage its own 8-team mini-World Cup” next summer with the likes of Italy, Netherlands, Chile, Ghana, Ivory Coast, South Africa and China.

Apparently, mine was a shared genius since ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and others had similar thoughts.

But the real catalyst for such a tournament was the United States Soccer Federation. It was already kicking around a few ideas to make up for the failure of the U.S. men’s team in CONCACAF qualifying. With FIFA agreeable and ESPN apparently willing to bankroll it, momentum has quickly built.

It probably didn’t hurt that FIFA already has announced that the World Cup field in 2026 will be expanded to 48 teams, so there’s no chance this will become a regular pity party.

Connecting dots

From Dwight Perry’s “Sideline Chatter” in the Seattle Times:

“Introducing your new No. 1 team in this week’s NFL Who Beat Who Power Rankings — the San Francisco 49ers! After all, the 49ers (1-9) beat the Giants (1-8), who beat the Broncos (3-6), who beat the Cowboys (5-4), who beat Washington (4-5), which beat the Seahawks (6-3), who beat the Rams (7-2), who beat the Jaguars (6-3), who beat the Steelers (8-2), who beat the Vikings (7-2), who beat the Saints (7-2), who beat the Panthers (7-3), who beat the Patriots (7-2), who beat the Falcons (5-4), who beat the Bears (3-6), who beat the Ravens (4-5), who beat the Raiders (4-5), who beat the Chiefs (6-3), who beat the Eagles (8-1).”

They said it

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien,after the IOC said it might include pole-dancing, poker and foosball in the next Games: “They also said it’s the first Olympics that will be held in a frathouse basement.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Four more Russian cross-country skiers were stripped of their Sochi Olympic medals for doping. Officials became suspicious when they had faster times than the bobsledders.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com “ No way was China putting American basketball players in jail for 10 years. If NBA pulled their shoe factories it would put tens of thousands of Chinese children out of work.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Just to add some extra incentive to the upcoming UCF-USF game, I think the winner — whether it’s UCF’s Scott Frost or USF’s Charlie Strong — should get the Gators job. On second thought, maybe the loser should get the Gators job.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Browns fan Chris McNeil has secured a Cleveland parade permit for Jan. 6 just in case the team completes a “perfect” 0-16 season. Now comes the tough part: Convincing Roger Goodell to show up and hand out the participation trophies.”

Jim Barach of WCHS-TV in Charleston, W.Va., after golfer Tiger Woods said his knee is “trashed”: “Just like his marriage, reputation and driving record.”

Comedy writer Jerry Perisho, anticipating a debate question during the next presidential campaign: “Are you ready to take a 3 a.m. phone call from the UCLA basketball coach?”

No more miracles

Maple Grove High School ran out of miracles in the 6A Minnesota High School state football playoffs.

The Crimson, who scored three touchdowns in the final minute to beat St. Michael Albertville 29-27 last week, had no answers in a 26-0 loss to No. 1 Eden Prairie in the semifinals on Thursday.

Maple Grove’s best scoring chance again came late in the game but ended with an interception.

Eden Prairie improved to 12-0 and will face Minnetonka for the state title this Friday. Minnetonka defeated Cretin-Derham Hall 17-14.

Eden Prairie won 39-21 when it played Minnetonka (11-1) earlier this season.

Fact of day

A bat reportedly used by Lou Gehrig when he hit his final two home runs in 1939 is on the Heritage Auctions block just six years after it was bought for $403,664.

Sweet tweets

Rehastagging this weeks’ top Twitter shots from @Randy_Beard11:

“Baker Mayfield’s Heisman stats this week: 257 yards passing, 3 TDs, at least one FU and one crotch grab as Oklahoma cruises past Kansas. No, that’s not going to help him.”

 

 “It really will be the Not For Long league if NFL meets Goodell’s reported demands for $49.5 million salary, lifetime health insurance and use of private jet for life.”

“Jay Bilas needs to stay in his lane and stick with basketball. His top 4 in college football would be Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Badgers should make it only if they are still unbeaten and win Big Ten title.”

“It’s Duke. Of course it’s a dirty play by Wendell Carter Jr.”

 “Well, at least the United States has another partner to share in the misery of not qualifying for the World Cup: Italy. Got ousted by Sweden.”

 Back in trouble?

The NFL is investigating allegations that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston grabbed the crotch of a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Ariz., in March 2016.

The driver said she is not pursuing criminal charges or looking for a civil judgment against Winston, but felt the assault should be revealed in light of all the other women who have come forward to report being assaulted and harassed.

Winston denied the allegations on Friday, but not in the most convincing terms.

“While I am certain that I did not make any inappropriate contact, I don’t want to engage in a battle with the driver and I regret if my demeanor or presence made her uncomfortable in any way,” Winston said in a statement.

When he was playing football at Florida State, of course, Winston was accused of a sexual assault in 2012. He was never charged criminally in that case but he did settle a civil lawsuit with his accuser late last year.

If there’s fire to go with this smoke, it wouldn’t be good for Winston’s long-term future with the Bucs.

Weekend success

With all the non-conference games against second tier team, I should have had a good weekend of picks. And I guess I did, even if I did foolishly believe Western Carolina had a real shot at North Carolina.

Bottom line, I missed just one game each in the Big Ten and SEC and two in the ACC.

The 7-2 effort in the ACC improved my season total to 69-21 (76.6 percent) in the conference. In the Big Ten, I’m now 72-20 (78.2 percent). And in the SEC, I’m still above 80 percent after going 8-1 for a season total of 77-17 (81.9 percent).

At least my goal of an 80 percent winning percentage for the season is alive in one of the three conferences.

 

 

One missed pick from perfection in both Big Ten and SEC — 21-4 overall — in Saturday’s college football predictionsACC Landscape: Week Twelve

Big Ten Landscape: Week Twelve

SEC Landscape: Week Twelve

ACC Landscape: Week Twelve

From Sidelines to punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while admitting my interest in this World Series has waned considerably since the high drama of Game 2:

Poll posturing

Considering I picked sixth-ranked Ohio State to upset second-ranked Penn State Saturday night, I’m hardly surprised by the logjam of teams still vying for one of four playoff spots.
The first of six College Football Playoff rankings between now and the end of the regular season will be released Tuesday, which means we’re still a long way from settling the debates.
But there are a few things we know.
Miami (7-0. 5-0) and defending champion Clemson (7-1, 5-1) are the clear favorites to square off in the ACC’s title game with the winner advancing to the four-team national championship playoff.
In the SEC, it’s going to come down to either Alabama (8-0, 5-0) or Georgia (8-0, 5-0).
And in the Big Ten, Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) and Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0) are now the top contenders with Penn State needing some help to get back into contention. And yeah, that can happen.
Meanwhile, outside of those three power conferences, the most likely contenders to slip into the final four are independent Notre Dame (7-1) and Oklahoma (7-1) from the Big 12.
Despite the SEC and Big Ten expected to hog the top four spots in the polls this week, I don’t believe any conferences will merit having two teams in the playoff. I also don’t think a third straight matchup between Alabama and Clemson is in the cards this January.

My projected Top 10:
1. Alabama
2. Notre Dame
3. Miami
4. Ohio State
5. Georgia
6. Clemson
7. Penn State
8. Oklahoma
9. Wisconsin
10. TCU

They said it

Mike Bianchi of Orlando Sentinel: “Coach Adam Gase was hired two years ago to fix Miami’s offense and to make the Fish explosive and fun to watch, but last I checked the Dolphins offense was ranked last in the NFL. Who does Gase think he is — Jim McElwain?”
ABC comedian Jimmy Kimmel when four dogs failed drug tests at this year’s Iditarod: “These are the same drugs Santa uses to make his reindeer fly.”
Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh went to a Wolverines diving-team practice and — fully clothed — leapt off a high board. Witnesses say he was plummeting even faster than his team in the polls.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Apparently George Foreman’s no-holds-barred challenge fight with Steven Seagal isn’t going to happen. They both tested positive for Geritol.
Comedian Steve Hofstetter via Twitter: “The NFL needs to install safety netting around the stands. When Joe Flacco’s head came off, it almost hit some poor kid in the 5th row.”
Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Joe Torre and MLB admit now that blown call in NLDS game five led to the Cubs scoring 2 runs that should never have scored. And Washington lost 9-8. Does this mean the Nats should rehire Dusty Baker?”
TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: ““The Los Angeles Dodgers won the first game of the World Series. The game was the fastest World Series game in decades. Fans in L.A. were at the game for 2½ hours, and in traffic for 5½.”
Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, after Kansas totaled just 21 yards of offense in its 43-0 loss to No. 4 TCU: “A running back who gained minus-18 got the game ball.”

Basket case

Rick Pitino’s persecution complex is spinning out of control.
The former Louisville basketball coach insists he knew nothing about a recruiting scam allegedly funded by Adidas that has implicated at least one of his assistants and an incoming freshman. Furthermore, he believes interim president Greg Postel and the board of trustees fired AD Tom Jurich without cause by alleging there was a lack of oversight of the basketball program.
Lack of oversight? Hey, what do you call Jurich’s agreement that Pitino should receive 98 percent of the millions Adidas was shoveling to the school for an apparel contract?
Anyone still wondering who was in charge – Pitino or Jurich?
It doesn’t matter now. It’s all in the hands of the lawyers as Pitino seeks to salvage the $7 million salary he was counting on receiving through 2026.
“I had no part – active, passive, or through willful ignorance – in the conspiracy described in the complaint. I had no reason to know about the conspiracy described in the complaint, and no reason to know about the complicity of any UL assistant coach or staff member in any bribery conspiracy,” Pitino stated in a written response after he was fired.
He has suggested this is nothing more than a vendetta against his program by Postel and several members of the board of trustees.
“(They are) hurting everything about the University of Louisville, and quite frankly, the people behind this aren’t Louisville fans,” Pitino recently told WHAS radio host Terry Meiners.
Seriously? Ricky P might want to read his Wikipedia page to be reminded that this isn’t the first time Louisville’s program has had its reputation tarnished during his 16 years at the school.

Stat of week

As pointed out by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, the Arizona Cardinals were shutout 33-0 by the Los Angeles Rams in London the same day the Denver Broncos were blanked 21-0 in Los Angeles by the Chargers. The games were played 5,447 miles apart.

Child abuse

Too competitive for his own good, Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West rolled to a 148-0 victory when a 7-year-old boy challenged him to a game of Madden NFL 18.
The 26-year-old West even bragged about it on Twitter, posting video of his vanquished challenger pouting. “So what I’m suppose(d) to do … he said he knew how to play and could beat me,” tweeted West.
What should he do? For starters, until West grows up, he should promise not to have any kids of his own.

Iditarod idiocy

Four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavy has come under scrutiny after four of his sled dogs tested positive in March for the banned substance tramadol after his second-place finish this year.
It’s the first time since the 1,000-mile grueling race instituted drug-testing in 1994 that there has been a flagged result. But even a race veterinarian questioned why the opioid painkiller was on the banned substance list since it is more likely to cause drowsiness and has no known performance-enhancing benefits.
Officials have announced Seavy won’t be suspended because of lax security at feeding sites, which means one of his competitors could have done the doping.
Meanwhile, the grueling nature of the race has again come under fire because of the deaths of five more dogs, bringing the total to 150 in the race’s 44-year history.

Headlines

Fark.com: “At Detroit’s new arena, they are dressing people up as seats for Halloween.”
TheOnion.com: “Rams simulate playing Giants by pumping crowd groans into speakers.”
SportsPickle.com: “Venezuelan health records reveal Jose Altuve is actually 6-foot-4.”
TheKicker.com: “Trump calls Ravens to remind them ‘Flacco knew what he signed up for.’”
Fark.com: “Tiger Woods set to take a mulligan for his DUI arrest.”
TheKicker.com: “Dolphins offense honors Cutler by taking collective nap on field.”
SportsPickle.com: “Study: Youth participation in football dropping as more parents fear their sons could develop into Browns QBs.”
TheOnion.com: “Eagles ask fans to throw bottles responsibly.”

Up-heel challenge

Have you ever seen video of supermodels stumbling down a runway in stiletto heels, usually wearing outfits that have more feathers than a prancing peacock?

Well, Irene Sewell just shamed them all by setting a Guinness World Record for completing a marathon in high heels. The former ballroom dancer completed the 26.2-mile “7 Bridges Marathon” in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 15 in under seven and a half hours – breaking the record with two minutes to spare.

Sewell, 27, said she did most of her training in running shoes, but over shorter distances she did try out six different pairs of high heels that met the required Guinness height of 2.75 inches.

“My biggest secret weapon was wearing moleskin on the bottom of my feet,” Seawell told People. “That stuff was incredible and I’m definitely going to use it when I go out dancing or to clubs on the weekend.”

British rule

England’s Under-17 soccer team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 5-2 victory over Spain in that age-group World Cup Saturday.

Rhian Brewster, who had a hat trick against the U.S. in the quarterfinals and another against Brazil in the semifinals, finished as the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals. Meanwhile, Phil Foden was named the player of the tournament in India.

The U-17 title adds to the Brits’ age-group medal haul in 2017. England also won the Under-20 World Cup in June by beating Venezuela 1-0.

The success at the youth level should fuel hopes for the senior national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia. England’s only senior Cup title was won in 1966.

Weekend results

Perfection picking college football games in at any of my three favorite conferences eluded me this weekend.

In the ACC, a 5-2 effort left me with a season record of 54-14 (79.4%). I matched that success in the Big Ten, which raised my season mark there to 55-14 (79.7%). Meanwhile, in the SEC, a 4-2 weekend brought my season total to 54-16 (77.1%)

From Sidelines to Punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while impressed by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s sportsmanship after his Tigers were upset by Syracuse:

Crushing loss

Taylor Twellman delivered a shotgun blast tirade against United States soccer this week after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“This is literally now going to be eight years without a World Cup. We’re losing generations of players,” said Twellman.

While Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss in Trinidad led to Bruce Arena’s resignation as national team coach, Twellman believes there are problems at all levels of the United States Soccer Federation’s player development program, starting with the “pay-for-play” age-group club teams.

“Every decision in our sport is based on money. Around the world it is about the sport,” Twellman said on ESPN’s “The Ryen Russillo Show” on Wednesday.

One fix he’d like to see made would require the NCAA and USSF to combine forces to replace the four-month college season with something more substantial. Increasing the number of games and training sessions would be a better way of developing individual skills, but giving soccer a longer competition schedule is something the NCAA has resisted.

“If Borussia Dortmond, Christian Pulisic’s club, is coming here to find players, the players are here,” said Twellman, a former U.S. player who does color commentary on soccer for ESPN and other networks. “A scout told me that in four years there will be over 60 American kids under the age of 16 signed to European teams because the talent is here before the age of 16. They want them at a certain age so they can develop them … The NCAA is doing the sport an injustice.”

Sweet Tweets

Rehashing and tagging this week’s best hits from @Randy_Beard11:

Dino beats Dabo and Clemson loses to a team nicknamed Orange.

According to NCAA, anyone with diploma from UNC in past decade needs to add asterisk. But don’t worry, it just means you are part of team,

NCAA colluded with University of North Carolina to let Crying Roy keep job and titles. UNC = Unlimited Nonsense Courses.

Guessing Dolphins OL coach Chris Foerster experiencing both “stripper regret” and “coke withdrawal” today. Goodbye to rich/famous lifestyle.

 Tom Petty tribute by Florida fans was great, rocking to ‘I Won’t Back Down.’ Alas, against LSU, Gators kind of did ‘back down’ in SEC East.

Balloon buffoons

Nebraska fans celebrate the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown in each home game by releasing thousands of helium-filled red balloons. But for Saturday’s clash with Ohio State, the folks in Lincoln were guilty of a collective false start.

Midway through the second quarter, the Buckeyes were ahead 28-0 while the Cornhuskers were struggling just to move the chains. So when Nebraska earned its second first down, the fans called an audible and filled the sky with red balloons.

With 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Tanner Lee finally got Nebraska into the end zone when he hooked up with JD Spielman on a 77-yard catch and run.

Ohio State was ahead 42-0 by then and went on to claim a 56-14 win.

In the future, Nebraska might want to replace all those balloons with a few beach balls so the fans can keep themselves entertained.

 Price of success

According to Phil Mushnick of the N.Y. Post, making the postseason was just an excuse for the New York Yankees to further fleece their fans by quadrupling the price of a spot in the cheap seats.

Mushnick reports that the cost of a bleacher seat for the wildcard game against Minnesota was $110.30, which included a $6 per ticket “convenience fee” and a $3.30 ticket tax. That same seat during the season would have cost $17 to $22.

The parking fee was $50 compared to $35 during the season.

They said it

Mike Bianchi of Orlando Sentinel: “The U.S. Men’s National Team getting eliminated from the World Cup qualifying by Trinidad and Tobago is the most embarrassing moment for American soccer since Alex Morgan’s last trip to Disney World.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “A coach for the Miami Dolphins had to resign after a video surfaced of him snorting white powder. Afterwards, the team was like, “So THAT’S why the 50-yard line kept disappearing.”

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “Odds-on favorite to win this year’s “Pot, Meet Kettle” Award: Kentucky’s John Calipari — the only coach to lead multiple schools to vacated Final Four appearances — saying the FBI’s probe of college basketball is giving his sport a “black eye.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “WWE and reality TV star  Nikki Bella and ex-NFL receiving great Terrell Owens are on “Dancing With the Stars.” One is a big name in total divas; the other is Nikki Bella.”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter via Twitter: “Mike Pence walked out of the Colts game, a form of peaceful protest. So Mike Pence was immediately upset by Mike Pence’s actions.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Silver lining for being Cleveland football fan?  – at least the Browns don’t get your hopes up.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “Byron Scott, a former coach of the Lakers, had his home broken into and money and valuables stolen. Afterwards, Scott said, ‘It could be worse. I could still be the coach of the Lakers.’

Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg after retired heavyweight champion George Foreman challenged ancient actor Steven Seagal to fight him in Las Vegas: “They’re calling it ‘The Geezers at Caesars.’ ”

No ‘Mr. October ‘

Through eight postseason games, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has struck out 19 times in 31 at-bats with just four hits, only one of which was a homer. It computes to a .129 batting average.

During the season, Judge hit .258 with 51 homers and drove in 114 runs.

Stat of week

Cal ended last week’s game against Washington with a botched snap on a field goal attempt, losing 41 yards on the play. It left the Golden Bears with minus-40 yards rushing on 26 attempts.

Headlines

TheKicker.com: “Fox tries to resell World Cup broadcasting rights on Craigslist.”

SportsPickle.com: “U.S. soccer vows to adopt English model of waiting to suffer crushing disappointment until after making World Cup.”

TheOnion.com: “Should the Patriots back up Tom Brady on a hard drive?”

SportsPickle.com: “Mike Pence leaves NFL game after realizing the Colts and 49ers are playing.”

TheOnion.com: “Fans increasingly unable to recover in time for Thursday night games.”

Vegas games

It wasn’t long ago that professional sports teams didn’t want to associate with Las Vegas. Now they are making themselves quite at home in the gambling capital of the nation.

The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights began their expansion season there earlier this month. The NFL’s Raiders plan to relocate there by 2020. And now the women are getting into the act with the San Antonio Stars of the WNBA announcing plans to move to Vegas in 2018.

Oh yeah, the New York Mets have a Triple-A club based there, while the NBA holds a summer league in Vegas.

What are the odds of Las Vegas being the birthplace of a new U.S. league for professional lacrosse? I even have a name: United LasCrosse Association.

Getting picky

No. 2 Clemson’s 27-24 loss at Syracuse Friday night made it clear that I wasn’t going to have a second consecutive weekend of perfection picking college football games in the ACC.

Another surprise came from Rutgers, which gave Illinois a 35-24 beating to pick up a rare Big Ten win. Meanwhile, I should have known better than to pick Auburn to win in Baton Rouge. The last time Auburn won at LSU was 1999.

But there’s nothing I can do about those picks now. Besides, it still wasn’t a bad weekend to be me.

I was 4-2 in the ACC to improve to 46-9 (83.6%).

In the Big Ten, I went 5-1 to improve to 45-13 (77.5%).

And in the SEC, I’m now 45-12 (78.9%) after a 5-2 week.

It’s time for U.S. soccer to hit reset button

The ‘Road to Russia’ proved to be too bumpy for the United States soccer team Tuesday night.

The doomsday scenario was triggered when Trinidad and Tobago pulled off a 2-1 upset of Bruce Arena’s squad. By the time the dust from that axle-breaking pothole had settled, two more jarring blows were felt after Honduras knocked off Mexico 3-2 and Panama outlasted Costa Rica 2-1.

Just like that, the wheels were off the bus.

“We had everything there for us today,” Arena said. “No excuses. It’s a blemish for us. We should not be staying home for this World Cup and I take the responsibility for that.”

The combined results meant that Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama clinched the three automatic berths from CONCACAF and Honduras earned a home-and-home playoff with Australia to secure another spot in Russia.

 The unexpected results caused the United States to fall from third in the standings to fifth. All Arena’s team needed to do to punch its ticket to Russia was to tie Trinidad, which had won just one other Hexagonal stage game.

After last Friday’s 4-0 win over Panama, which had appeared to put the U.S. back on course, perhaps too much was taken for granted entering Tuesday’s match.

Were they overconfident? The fact the U.S. beat Trinidad 2-0 back in June may have fed into that narrative.

Certainly, there was a noticeable lack of urgency in the way Arena’s squad played in the first half, including allowing an own goal with sloppy defending.

It doesn’t matter how Trinidad scored its goals, of course.They scored them and now the U.S players are free to make new plans for the summer.

That, of course, has to be a jarring realization for old guard players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard. This can’t be how either of them wanted their international soccer careers to end.

But Arena has to know that in order to make it to the 2022 World Cup,  the rebuilding of the USMNT needs to begin pronto. Only nine of the 26 players who are listed in the current player pool are younger than 30. Just six of those players will be younger than 30 in four years.

Dempsey is 34 and Howard is 38. It’s defintely time for them to hang up their boots. And while Bradley, who is 30, could have another cycle in him, he’s hardly irreplaceable. 

The best player on the field during this qualifying stage was 19-year-old Christian Pulisic. It’s time to get him more help, preferably from more young players who have similar skill and vision.

The revamping that’s been done in recent years with pro clubs funding youth academies was a good way to kickstart anew the player development process. But there also needs to be a greater grassroots effort to identity players who are being overlooked by the travel club systems for a variety of reasons, including economic.

After failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 32 years, it’s a good time to examine everything the U.S. Soccer Federation is doing in order to compete at an elite international level.

It’s not happening under current system.

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering how many McDonald’s meals O.J. Simpson will be eating now that he’s out of prison and living in Las Vegas:

Wedding crasher

Good to know Jerry Rice is still  putting his dancing shoes to good use.

As reported this week by theringer.com, the former 49ers receiver has been crashing weddings since 2006. He told writer Kevin Clark that the first time was shortly after he retired from the NFL and after playing a round of golf at a country club where a reception was being held.

Now he claims he’s been walking in unannounced at a wedding reception most weekends. Although not an invited guest, he’s apparently always welcome to stay.

Indeed, by now, Rice must be close to earning a listing in the Guiness Book of World Records.

Here’s just a few possibilities:

 “Most Times Boogying with a Different Bridesmaid.”

 “Most Wedding Dances by a Pro Football Hall of Famer.”

“Most Times Dancing to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

Hurricane warning

Miami’s 24-20 victory over Florida State in the final six seconds on Saturday extended a pair of winning streaks that are cherished by Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt.

First, it extended Miami’s winning streak to eight games, dating back to the Canes’ final five games last season. But on a more personal note, it was the 52nd consecutive time Richt has walked off the field at Doak Campbell Stadium as a winning coach.

A former assistant under Bobby Bowden, including seven seasons as the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator, Richt was part of FSU’s 51-game home winning streak from 1992-2000.

Meanwhile, UM’s comeback ended FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s seven-game winning streak over the Hurricanes. The loss also dropped FSU to 1-3, which is the Seminoles’ worst start  since 1976, which was Bowden’s first season in Tallahassee.

With fan unrest growing weekly in Tallahassee, could this 1-3 start by the Seminoles foretell Fisher’s last season as FSU’s head coach?

They said it

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Remember Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s restaurant scandal involving sex on a table? From what the FBI now tells us, there’s been way more going on under the table.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “San Diego has started building a border wall. Not to keep out immigrants, but to keep the LA Chargers from coming back.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on singer Willie Nelson owning a golf course: “If you make a hole-in-one, you have to buy a round of joints.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “From the You Just Can’t Make Up Stuff Like This file comes word that the Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium — home of the Browns, losers of 29 of their past 31 games — was the scene of a dumpster fire last Tuesday.”

Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Sales are sluggish for tickets to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Factors include high prices, a sagging world economy, and a reluctance to buy front-row seats for a nuclear holocaust.”

Middle man

Bruce Arena’s decision to play 19-year-old Christian Pulisic in central midfield during Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama may have been his best decision since starting his second stint as the coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team.

Pulisic had a goal and assisted Jozy Altidore on another in the opening 20 minutes of a 4-0 U.S. victory that has the team close to clinching a berth in the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia.

“We needed a result and we came out flying right from the beginning,” said Pulisic, who has now scored or assisted on 11 of 16 goals scored by the U.S. in this final round of qualifying.

Added Altidore: “You can’t help but see the improvement when he’s on the field, especially when he’s in the middle of everything.”

Defining roles for players like Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola, Arena has led a rescue effort that has seen Team USA rebound from a minus-five goal differential to a plus-five differential in the final round of qualifying.

With Panama now saddled with a minus-two goal differential, Friday’s rout created the safety net this U.S. team needed. And that might not have happened if Pulisic hadn’t excelled under pressure.

https://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2017/10/6/16439840/usa-vs-panama-final-score-2018-world-cupu-qualifying-results

Coaching excellence

Arena is 10-1-6 since his return as the U.S. men’s national soccer coach last November.

Overall, as coach of Team USA, he has won 85 games, tied 33 and lost 29. He led the team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Manning’s legacy

Peyton Manning was immortalized with a statue in downtown Indianapolis this week, serving as another reminder to legend-in-waiting Andrew Luck that he’ll never measure up in the eyes of Colts fans.

Especially with the state of Indianapolis’ offensive line that left Luck so banged up and bruised last season that he has yet to take a snap this season.

While most of the speakers came to praise the future hall of famer Manning during the unveiling of the statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, comedian David Letterman took note of the fact that he is no longer winning games, either. But rather than picking on Luck, he loaded a double-barreled shot at Peyton, who has retired, and his brother Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants.

“By the way, if you like football trivia, so far this year, Eli and Peyton have won the same number of games,” said Letterman. “I’m sorry, I was told this was a roast.”

At least Peyton could laugh but I doubt Eli found it funny.

Playing excellence

Manning, who played 14 seasons for the Colts after being drafted No. 1 in 1998, holds Indianapolis records for passing yards (54,828), touchdown passes (399), passer rating (94.9) and wins (141).

In addition to the statue, his No. 18 jersey will be retired Sunday and he’ll be inducted into the franchise’s  Ring of Honor.

Headlines

From SportsPickle.com: “Rick Pitino says he has no idea he has been running a New York crime family for the last 30 years.”

From TheOnion.com: “NHL warns hockey fans that banging on glass scares players.”

From Fark.com: “George Constanza resigns as Atlanta Braves GM.”

From TheOnion.com: “Bill Belichick’s challenge flag transforms into swarm of snakes after hitting ground.”

From SportsPickle.com: “Protestors demand Colin Kaepernick be allowed to develop CTE.”

From TheKicker.com: “To add some drama, NBA will also have captains pick teams in the Finals.”

Basketball on grass

Seriously, when Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71-68 in seven overtimes Saturday, it meant the two schools finished with 19 more combined points than the last time their two basketball teams played each other.

The 139 combined points set a scoring record for an FBS game. The previous record was 137 points set last season by Syracuse’s 76-61 win over Pittsburgh.

While Saturday’s game ended in a 31-31 tie in regulation, it still legitimately earned the “basketball on grass” description There were four long touchdown plays covering 66, 64, 54 and 48 yards and three scoring drives of 75 or more yards lasting four or fewer plays.

All is ‘Rosie’

Cam Newton thought it was funny earlier this week when a woman reporter for the Charlotte Observer asked him about the improvement of one of his receivers.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he replied to Jourdan Rodrigue.

Now, Newton has declared to the world that he’s a feminist.

When the Carolina quarterback boarded the team’s flight to Detroit on Saturday, he was wearing a “Rosie the Riveter” pin on his hat. The image is an iconic one from the feminist movement during World War II, promoting the role women played by filling factory jobs.

The Panthers, naturally, used its social media accounts to let everyone know that Newton magically is no longer sexist.

If only it was that easy, Cam.

Weekend warrior

My winning percentage from this weekend’s college football games included a perfect 6-0 performance in the ACC, 5-1 in the SEC and 5-2 in the Big Ten.

That improves the season totals to 41-7 in the ACC (85.4%), 40-10 in the SEC (80%) and 40-12 in the Big Ten (76.9%).

My picks can be seen each week in my blogs on the three conferences.