Congratulations to the British Columbia Lions, who defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34-23 in front of a crowd of 54,000 to win the 99th Grey Cup. I’m not sure that Vancouver deserves nice things, considering how the city responded to losing the Stanley Cup, but I can’t imagine that Winnipeg is too torn up about the loss. After all, the Jets are back!
Anyway, here’s what we learned this weekend:
1. November keeps getting worse.
Last week I wrote that “We will remember November 2011 as one of the worst months in sports history.” Within hours of that post going live, I learned that two runners—21-year-old Jeffrey Lee and 40-year-old G. Chris Gleason—died during last Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon. Later that morning news broke that Seattle Mariners and Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Greg Halman had been fatally stabbed in the Netherlands.
Things didn’t get any better this weekend.
Last Saturday Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion died following the Rattlers’ game against Bethune-Cookman. Shortly thereafter rumors circulated tying Champion’s death to hazing. On Wednesday Florida A&M president James Ammons fired band director Julian White, citing “alleged misconduct and/or incompetence involving confirmed reports and allegations of hazing.”
Yesterday morning ESPN’s Outside the Lines played an audiotape of a 2002 conversation between Laura Fine, wife of Syracuse assistant head basketball coach Bernie Fine, and Bobby Davis, who has accused Coach Fine of sexually assaulting him when he was a minor. According to the recording, Mrs. Fine was aware that her husband was having sexual relations with underage boys.
A third person also came forward this weekend to accuse Fine of sexual assault. While the third accuser is not related to either of the first two (who are step-brothers), he himself faces sexual assault charges.
Following these new allegations, Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor fired Coach Fine (who already had been put on administrative leave). Head coach Jim Beheim said that he supported the school’s decision and that he had “never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged.” He also backed off remarks he made last week calling Davis a “liar” and suggesting that Fine’s accusers were “using ESPN to get money.”
2. David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, and Adam Silver are giving me the only thing I want for Christmas . . . I think.
Friday, NBA owners and players reached an agreement to end the 149-day lockout and open the 2011-12 season on Christmas. Players will get 50 percent of revenues, give or take 1 percent (depending on whether revenues meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations). The league softened its proposed luxury tax rule (which players had deemed unacceptable) and reinstated sign-and-trade and extend-and-trade provisions.
I really don’t care about the details. I’m just glad the NBA will be back. And while I’ve already missed watching Ernie, Kenny, and Charles on Tuesday nights, I can survive a few more weeks without the NBA as long as I know there will be pro basketball on Christmas.
The proposed 66-game season is certainly an improvement over the 50-games we got during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. It may even be an improvement over the standard 82-game season (though I would never suggest that the NBA permanently adopt a 66-game schedule).
Free agency will begin on December 9, 16 days before the season starts. Suddenly this year’s otherwise lackluster class of free agents got much more interesting.
Then again, the agreement between players and owners is still “tentative.” Simple majorities of players and owners must ratify the agreement. For this to happen, players will have to drop the antitrust suits they filed against the league and reform the union. Then the sides will have to reach agreements on minor issues such as drug testing, age minimums, and rookie salaries. All of these things will almost certainly happen.
But my Christmas dreams won’t be fully realized until all the papers are signed.
3. 2011 Tim Tebow = x * (2006 Vince Young)
I’m not yet sure what x equals.
In October 2006 rookie Vince Young took over as the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback. His play was erratic. His stats were mediocre-to-bad. He had an unconventional throwing motion and often had to rely on his feet. The Titans had to change their offense to cater to Young’s strengths and cover his weaknesses.
But when Young took over as quarterback, the Titans started winning games. He led a team that began the season 0-5 to within a game of the Playoffs. And while 2006 Vince Young was anathema to fantasy owners, he led several game-winning drives in the 4th quarter and overtime.
He did the same thing in 2009. And again last Sunday against the Giants.
Each week, when I put together this list of things we learned over the weekend, I consider including a “2011 Tim Tebow = 2006 Vince Young” item. But I decided Sunday that my equation was not accurate. 2011 Tim Tebow doesn’t equal 2006 Vince Young; he is a caricature of 2006 Vince Young. He is 2006 Vince Young multiplied by a factor I have yet to identify.
2006 Vince Young sometimes made up for poor play with late-game heroics. 2011 Tim Tebow does that every single week.
2006 Vince Young attempted fewer passes than his peers and struggled with accuracy. 2011 Tim Tebow has attempted fewer passes than anyone who has started 6 or more games and has completed only 45.5 percent of them.
2006 Vince Young set a record for rookie quarterbacks by rushing for 552 yards. 2011 Tebow has already run for 455 in 9 games (including 2 early games in which he saw limited action).
2006 Vince Young took a once hopeless team to the brink of the Playoffs. Considering Denver’s remaining opponents (home games against Caleb Hanie’s Bears and Tyler Palko’s Chiefs and road games against the Vikings and Bills to offset a probable Week 15 loss to New England), I expect 2011 Tebow’s once hopeless Broncos to host a Playoff game.
The bad news for Tim Tebow: 2007 Vince Young wasn’t nearly as effective as 2006 Vince Young. Opposing coaches figured him out.
The good news for Tim Tebow: If Young had even half of Tebow’s attitude, he’d still be starting for the Titans. (I’m not sure that it’s possible to have half an attitude, but you know what I mean.)
4. The Texans will make the Playoffs, with or without a quarterback.
The Houston Texans are the only NFL team never to make the Playoffs. The Texans have finished over .500 only once in 9 seasons. (That was 2009. They were 9-7 and in a 4-way tie for the 2 AFC Wild Card spots. The tiebreakers favored the Jets and Ravens.)
At the moment the Texans are 8-3, 2 games ahead of Tennessee. The Texans also have a perfect record against the AFC South, including a 41-7 win over the Titans in Nashville, giving them the advantage should they need a tiebreaker. The problem is that Houston doesn’t have a quarterback. Starter Matt Schaub is out for the season with a fractured foot. Backup Matt Leinart fractured his collarbone during the first half of Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. Leinart will likely have surgery this week and is out indefinitely.
Third-stringer T.J. Yates, a rookie from North Carolina drafted in the 5th round who doesn’t even have a picture to accompany his ESPN.com player card, stepped in and played well enough not to give away the game. (Yates led only a single scoring drive; it resulted in a field goal late in the second quarter.) Yates will start again on Sunday, and the Texans plan to sign another quarterback this week. (Jeff Garcia, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, and Jake Delhomme all have been mentioned as possibilities. I’m not sure any of these players is a significant upgrade over Yates, who at least has the advantages of being in shape and knowing the Texans’ offense.)
Who knows…Houston could end up playing a wide receiver at quarterback before the season is over. It worked for Kentucky.
But the Texans still have Adrian Foster, Ben Tate, and a top-5 defense. And they have that aforementioned 2-game lead over the Titans. The Titans could conceivably go 4-1 down the stretch. (They have games against a reeling Bills team, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and quarterback-less Houston.) Even so, Houston would need only 2 wins to keep pace. They can get those at home against the Panthers in Week 15 and on the road against the Colts in Week 16.
5. The Packers will finish the regular season undefeated, unless they choose not to.
I don’t care that the Packers are ranked 31st in pass defense and 25th in rushing. They’re going undefeated, unless Mike McCarthy decides to rest players after the Packers clinch home field throughout the Playoffs. Green Bay has games remaining against the Giants (away), Raiders (home), Chiefs (away), Bears (home), and Lions (home). None of those teams is bad, but none of them is going to beat the Packers.
The Lions on Thursday had the best chance of anyone to put a blemish on the Packers’ record. They were a division rival playing at home in a game with Playoff implications. But after halftime that game was never really in doubt.
The Giants, and their 3-game losing streak, will be playing on short rest when they host Green Bay next week. Caleb Hanie’s Bears aren’t going into Lambeau and upsetting the Packers. And I don’t expect either of the AFC West teams to put up much of a fight. Maybe the Lions, perhaps needing a win to secure a Wild Card spot, will surprise the Pack in a Week 17 revenge game. But don’t count on it.
6. Conference championship games might not be a good idea.
Thanks to Utah’s inexplicable home loss to Colorado and USC’s postseason ineligibility, 6-6 UCLA will be playing in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. If the Bruins win, they will go to the Rose Bowl. If they lose, they will be ineligible for any bowl. Pac-12 teams play 9 conference games: 5 against teams in their division, 4 against teams in the other division. After a 9-game season, Oregon and Stanford are both 8-1. Yet 5-4 UCLA is one fluke win away from being the conference’s representative in one of college football’s premier bowl games.
Meanwhile in the SEC, even if Georgia were to beat #1 LSU in the conference championship game, LSU could remain #1 in the BCS. At worst the Tigers (because of their strength of schedule and a lack of undefeated teams from leagues stronger than Conference USA) would be #2. Depending on how Oklahoma State fares against Oklahoma, #2 Alabama could remain at #2, behind LSU, or rise to #1. We could end up with a situation where Georgia wins the SEC but LSU and Alabama play for a BCS National Championship. And Alabama could actually benefit from not having to play this weekend. The Tide doesn’t have to worry about picking up a second loss, losing key players to injury, etc.
At 7-1 Michigan State is a game better than any other team in the Big Ten, including Wisconsin, whom the Spartans beat on October 22. Yet, Michigan State has to face the Badgers a second time for the Big Ten title. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl. The loser could be passed over for a BCS Bowl spot in favor of Michigan, who didn’t qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game. (More on that later.)
Conference championship games aren’t going away. They make too much money for conferences and member schools. But they don’t make a lot of sense.
7. Michigan Wolverines fans shouldn’t plan on going to a BCS bowl game.
During Saturday’s broadcast of the Michigan-Ohio State game, broadcasters Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman (and not Urban Meyer) intimated that a BCS bowl bid was on the line for Michigan. Conventional wisdom says that, if the Wolverines—with their tradition and ginormous fan base that travels well—are eligible, a BCS bowl will take them as one of 4 at-large teams.
The question is: Will Michigan be eligible?
Ten teams play in BCS bowl games. Six are the winners of the automatic-qualifying conferences. One of the 4 remaining at-large spots will go to #4 Stanford. A team from a BCS conference that doesn’t win its conference but is ranked 3rd or 4th is guaranteed a BCS bid (provided that its conference hasn’t already earned 2 automatic bids). If Houston wins the Conference USA title next week, the Cougars will clinch another of the 4 spots. A third of the 4 slots will go to either LSU or Alabama, depending on whether LSU wins the SEC Championship game. If Georgia wins but LSU and Alabama remain as the #1 and #2 teams, the SEC will get 3 bids, including 2 at-large bids, and there will be no spots left for Michigan.
Michigan also has to finish in the top 14 of the BCS Standings to be eligible. Right now they’re #16. The Wolverines will probably jump the loser of the Big Ten title game; and they’ll probably jump Georgia if the Bulldogs lose to LSU. Otherwise, they’ll have to hope that Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma by a wide margin or that Kansas State loses to Iowa State.
Even then Michigan likely won’t rise above #14 in the BCS Standings. And who knows? Maybe the people at the Sugar Bowl will say, “How could we take #14 Michigan before #7 Boise State? That wouldn’t be fair!” (I’m just kidding. They’d never say that.)
8. Vanderbilt is bowl eligible.
For only the 2nd time since 1982 and only the 5th time ever, the Vanderbilt Commodores are going bowling. Sure, it helps that more than 63 percent of Division I-FBS teams get bowl invites, but after consecutive 2-10 seasons in Nashville, going 6-6 and nabbing a bowl bid is a big deal for Vandy and first-year coach James Franklin.
The Commodores reached the magical number 6 despite plenty of same-old-Vandy moments along the way. On their way into the end zone to clinch an upset of then #10 Arkansas on October 19, Vanderbilt fumbled the ball on the Arkansas 4-yard line; the Razorbacks returned the fumble 96 yards for a touchdown. Against Tennessee, Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Aaron’s little brother) threw an interception on the game’s final drive and another one in the first overtime. The first interception denied the Commodores a chance to attempt a game-winning field goal. Tennessee returned the second for a game-winning touchdown.
Vanderbilt came within a play of winning 4 of the 6 games they lost. And the future is bright for the Commodores. Next year they welcome the highest-rated recruiting class in school history, and 5-star quarterback prospect (and Indiana de-commit) Gunner Kiel reportedly made an unofficial visit last weekend and has an official visit scheduled this weekend.
9. Indiana is back.
Here I switch from football to basketball.
The Indiana football team, which failed to win a single game against an FBS opponent and could lose Gunner Kiel to Vanderbilt, is anything but back.
The Indiana basketball Hoosiers, however, got their biggest win of the young season Sunday, beating Butler 75-59 at Assembly Hall. (I could argue that Indiana’s victory against Evansville was a bigger deal, since it was on the road and since Evansville beat Butler. But Evansville hasn’t played in consecutive Final Fours.)
Indiana is 6-0 going into Wednesday’s game against NC State. And while the NCAA Selection Committee won’t care about IU’s wins over Chattanooga or Gardner-Webb, the Hoosiers have been impressive thus far in games against inferior competition. Indiana has won its 6 games by an average of 24 points; freshman Cody Zeller has exceeded lofty expectations, leading the Hoosiers in points and rebounds and shooting .725 from the field; and while depth could be a problem for Indiana, sophomore Will Sheehey is contributing 13 points per game off the bench.
If you want real Indiana Basketball analysis, check out Jerod and Andy’s IU Postgame Show, The Assembly Call.
And in case you missed it on Sunday:
10. So is Rick Majerus.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Rick Majerus, who learned under Al McGuire at Marquette, was one of the great coaches in college basketball. His 1988-89 Ball State Cardinals went 29-3 and nearly upset eventual champion UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Nine years later, he led Utah to the NCAA Championship Game. The Utes surrendered a double-digit lead and lost to Kentucky 78-69.
In 2004 Majerus retired due to health concerns. He returned to college basketball in 2007 as the coach of the St. Louis Billikens, but he has yet to earn an NCAA Tournament bid at SLU. His 2009 team went to the CBI final, but last year’s squad went 12-19.
Last night the Billikens beat Oklahoma 83-63 to win the 76 Classic. St. Louis is 6-0 with four double-digit wins against teams from major conferences (Oklahoma, Villanova, Boston College, and Washington). The Atlantic 10 is as good as it has ever been, but don’t be surprised to see St. Louis next to a single-digit number on your NCAA Tournament bracket.
11. Expect a Horizon League team to make a deep run in March.
I’m not one to doubt Brad Stevens, but from what I’ve seen so far from Butler I can’t see the Bulldogs making a third consecutive run to the Final Four. But I expect another Horizon League team to be alive deep into the NCAA Tournament.
I’m talking, of course, about the Green Bay Lady Phoenix.
Following wins this weekend over Illinois and #25 Georgia Tech, the Phoenix are 5-0, #23 in the AP Poll, and #18 in the coaches’ poll. Seniors Julie Wojta (the team’s leading scorer) and Hannah Quilling (the team leader in assists) have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of their three seasons in Green Bay. As freshmen, they lost in the first round. As sophomores, they lost in the second round. Last year, they made it to the Sweet 16.
So when you print out your Women’s NCAA Tournament bracket in a few months, pencil in the Green Bay Phoenix for the Elite Eight.
12. You need to see The Muppets if you haven’t already.
The Muppets didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but my expectations were impossibly high. It is a great movie, true to the spirit of the Muppets, and there are gags, musical numbers, and celebrity cameos for moviegoers of every demographic. Jason Segel and Amy Adams give great performances, as do Fozzie, Beaker, and Rowlf.
Most importantly, my kids haven’t stopped talking about it.
See it if you haven’t already.