It was another intriguing weekend in sports, especially here in The Midwest where baseball is currently king and a changing of the guard is underway in the Big Ten. Here are 8 things we learned this weekend.
1. The Midwest owns baseball.
All 3 Midwestern Playoff teams—the Brewers, Cardinals, and Tigers—advanced to their respective League Championship Series, and at least one team will represent the region in the World Series. If the fifth inning of yesterday’s NLCS Game 1 is any indication, the Playoffs will not suffer from the elimination of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies.
2. Alex Smith dominates Jay Cutler style.
It may be too soon to remove Alex Smith’s name from the list of top draft picks that didn’t pan out (a list that includes Tim Couch, David Carr, and Jamarcus Russell). At the moment Smith is third in the league in quarterback rating (104.1), and he’s only thrown a single interception. (Prior to this year, Smith averaged one interception per start.) The 49ers, after a 48-3 drubbing of the Bucs, are 4-1 and maintain a 2-game lead in the NFC West.
3. Wisconsin and Michigan are still doing well.
In addition to the Brewers and Tigers advancing to their respective League Championship Series and the Brewers winning Game 1, the Packers, Badgers, Lions, and Wolverines all remain perfect. (The Badgers were off this week and the Lions play tonight, but still.)
4. Luke Fickell won’t be Ohio State’s head football coach next year.
And Jim Bollman won’t be the offensive coordinator. The Buckeyes blew a 21-point second-half lead on Saturday, losing 34-27 to Nebraska. Bucknuts, the Ohio State fan site, is calling the loss “arguably the biggest collapse in school history.” For Nebraska, the win was the biggest comeback in the history of the program. Ohio State is now 3-3, with consecutive losses for the first time in 7 years, and has 4 games remaining against ranked opponents.
Ohio State didn’t want Fickell to spend the year wearing the “interim” tag (the proverbial scarlet “I”), but functionally, he’s an interim head coach. Unless the Buckeyes win every remaining game (except, maybe, the Wisconsin game but including the bowl game), Fickell and Bollman won’t be back next year. And I get the impression that Ohio State fans won’t be sad to see embattled senior quarterback Joe Bauserman follow them out of Columbus.
5. Air Force refused an invitation from the Big 12 and will be joining the Missouri Valley Conference?!
A couple weeks ago a rumor surfaced that the Big East was interested in adding Air Force and Navy as football-only members. Saturday, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh told the Denver Post that the interest was mutual. Mueh floated a plan that “would have the Falcons joining the Big East only in football, while moving teams in other sports to the Missouri Valley Conference.” (Of course, as we learned from Oklahoma, just because a school wants to join a conference doesn’t mean that the presidents of the schools in that conference will give the school an invitation.)
We were approached by the Big 12, and I told them we’re not a good fit for that conference. In the Big 12, geography makes sense, the economics make sense, but recruiting makes no sense for us. I can’t recruit against Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State.
What does that say about the Big East?
At any rate, I look forward to many Falcons-Purple Aces basketball games to come.
6. Don’t be surprised if Jimmie Johnson wins his sixth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship.
Johnson followed up a second-place finish last week in Dover with a win this week in Kansas. Two weeks ago, Johnson was 10th in the Sprint Cup Standings and on a 20-race winless streak. Now, he’s in third place, only four points behind leader Carl Edwards, with a good chance of winning yet another Sprint Cup Championship. Six races remain, including the Tums Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville, which Johnson has won 4 times, and the Kobalt Tools 500 in Phoenix, which Johnson has won thrice.
7. Craig Smith is an early candidate for NHL Rookie of the Year.
I know that October is way to early to start talking about NHL, but Nashville Predators rookie Craig Smith is off to an impressive start. The Preds decided that Smith, a Wisconsin native and University of Wisconsin product, would not spend any more time in his home state. Instead of starting their first-round draft pick with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s farm team, the Preds put Smith in the opening day lineup. The move paid off. In two games, both Predators wins, Smith already has two goals and two assists.
8. We’re going to spend the week talking about Tim Tebow, aren’t we?
The Broncos are 1-4, and the quarterbacks on their roster have been selected to a total of zero Pro Bowls, but I get the feeling that we’re going to be talking about Orton and Tebow this week like they’re Montana and Young.
The usually serviceable Kyle Orton Sunday went 6-for-13 for 34 yards and an interception. Tim Tebow, who replaced Orton in the second half, more than doubled Orton’s passing output, added another 38 yards rushing, and scored two touchdowns (one on the ground and one through the air). The Broncos still lost to the Chargers, but they made a game of it.
I have no idea what Tebow’s future in the NFL looks like, but maybe he could be this year’s version of 2006 Vince Young. That year Young led a Titans team that started 0-5 to within a game of the Playoffs running the just-do-your-thing-Vince offense. Were it not for attitude problems, which have never plagued Tebow, Young likely would still be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Maybe Timmy has a future in this league after all. Then again, Broncos’ coach John Fox has given no indication that Tebow will replace Orton, so this may be a one-week conversation.