Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brent Musberger: "You were looking live" at a great career.

News coming out today that Brent Musberger will be retiring to Las Vegas January 31st prompted me to spend just a minute thinking back on both his career and what it means for us going forward as sports fans.

Most young folks will only remember Mr. Musberger for two things. his tone-deaf comments regarding OU running back Joe Mixon and his hilarious comments about Katherine Webb, girlfriend of then-Alabama QB A.J. McCarron.  And that's too bad.  Because for those of us with considerably more gray hair, Musberger WAS sports in an era where we didn't have near the access and outlets we enjoy today.

Back in the old days, major college sports on TV was limited to ABC, CBS and NBC period. Whereas today we have ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, WatchESPN, ESPN Classic, Fox, Fox Sports1 & 2, NBCSportsNetwork, CBSSportsNetwork, the regional Fox sport's networks, B1G TV, PAC-12 TV, the SEC Network, the soon-to-be ACC Network, CSN, Root Sports, BeIN sports, the WB and a host of other channels that carry live games, all available through your cable box, dish network, U-verse service or, increasingly, streaming online. And that doesn't include NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB networks, TNT and other outlets for professional sports. There are a bunch more sports available for live viewing today than there has ever been in the past. This is a good thing.

It also means that the audience for live sports is bigger than it's ever been. This is a good thing as well.

A bad thing from this is that the old guard, those that are used to the 'old' way seem to be having a tough time adapting to the new reality of things. As such, it's probably time for them to go. I knew an older gentleman once who had spent his entire life working as a school superintendent where he presided over racial integration efforts and advocated for them. As he got older he never did stop calling Black people "colored". He meant no malice by this and, in fact, when he was much younger this was considered a non-offensive term. But he wasn't on social media, he wasn't trendy and he wasn't up with the politically correct movement. In short, time had passed him by.

Mr. Musberger's comments about Katherine Webb remind me a lot of that man. In that I don't think he meant them to be disparaging but he also didn't really understand the cultural zeitgeist at all. We now live in an age where even compliments toward attractive women are frowned upon, especially coming from men who are old enough to be their grandfathers. We also live in a society where looks are (supposedly) not something that should be taken into account when judging someone. This works better in theory than in practice, but it's there nevertheless.

I think his Mixon comments spring from the same ignorance, although many people have taken it upon themselves to proclaim him a "bad man" without giving it a second thought. The fact is that society has a much healthier attitude towards women, and women's issues, than it has in any time in history. But there are still pockets of resistance on both sides of the aisle. Some of that resistance springs from hate, some from ignorance, and some from just wanting to tear everything down for the spite of it. And those people are sucking up the oxygen in many areas of the discussion.

Sports is one of those areas, where the lynch mob mentality has lead to travesties like the Duke Lacrosse Team, and the win at all costs crowd gave us the tragedy in Baylor and Joe Mixon doing bad things resulting in only token punishment. In both of those cases there were extreme opinions. You would like to think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Sadly, as with most things in society these days, it doesn't.

Brent was, ultimately a victim of a society changing (for the better) and him not changing alongside it. ESPN is pinky-swearing that the Mixon backlash has nothing to do with this, but I think we all know better. Musberger's Mixon views meant that he had to go, that he was a man out of time and out of step with popular thought regarding 2nd chances and who should receive them. Fooball, and the people who cover it, still have a long way to go when it comes to women's issues, and it will be the next generation of commentators who are going to have to do a better job negotiating that mine field than the last generation has done.

From a "fan of sports" perspective however I can tell you that I'm bummed . Not because I agree with Musberger on Mixon (I don't, not entirely but that's a different post that I'll probably never write) or because I think hitting a woman is not wrong (I do, in polite society hitting in general is unacceptable) but because I'm going to miss his calls, I'm going to miss "You are looking live" and "our friends in the desert", I'm going to miss his asides and even his awkward moments. I'm going to miss a play-by-play caller who is not so desperately corporate that not toeing the company line is as unthinkable as slandering Nick Saban.

In short, I'm going to miss the personality, and the individuality that Mr. Musberger brought to his calls. I'm going to lament being saddled with the current corporate group of announcers who never say a controversial thing, ever, and whose delivery is somewhat wooden, but solid. I'm going to miss the individuality and 'wow' moments that the great announcers of the past brought to the sports watching experience. I'm going to miss the fun.

So thank you Mr. Musberger, for a lifetime of memorable moments, and doing your best to explain them to me in the most colorful manner possible.  On my next trip to Vegas I'm going to look for you, I'm going to introduce myself and offer to buy you a drink.  I hope you'll be willing to talk sports and betting and tell Vegas stories to me for a while. Even if I have to buy you two drinks.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Houston Rockets: The new Kings of poor-timing.

Consider this:  The Houston Rockets current slump is like missing a game-winning 3-point shot as time expires. Just as the Rockets had gotten the Texans out of the way (via a blowout loss to the  Tom-Brady led New England Patriots) the Rockets had a Nationally televised game against the Golden State Warriors, and they stunk up the joint hitting only 7 of 35 3-point shots (on which their offense is reliant) and getting blown out by the Warriors 125-108 at home.

Were the Rockets the Texans this would be no problem. Despite getting boat-raced by the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots (QB: Jacoby Brisset with an injured throwing hand) 27-0 Houston still tuned in, and inexplicably showed up to support the team week after week. And while the Texans did manage to make the playoffs there was never any serious doubt what the result in New England would be.

So, football season over, Houston Rockets front and center playing an entertaining brand of basketball and winning for the most part to boot. In fact, the team is currently sitting in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a .723 winning percentage (34-13) and, at this point, looks to be likely to get a home series in the playoffs.

And then they laid an egg.  Talk about having horrendous timing.

Yes, they bounced back against Memphis but the damage had already been done. Because unlike in football Houston sports fans only seem to give other Houston teams one chance per season to become invested.  Sure, there will be some bandwagon jumping if the eventual playoff run comes but I'm talking about truly invested, in a similar manner the city is inexplicably invested in the chronically mediocre Texans.

It's too bad, because this Rockets team is FUN to watch play basketball.  James Harden (of whom I've been a critic) has let his actions back up his rhetoric this year and is playing, and acting, like a legitimate star/leader type of player, not just the instant offense guy from the past who I thought found his best role as 6th man with the Thunder. Harden is distributing the ball, taking control of the team and, on several occasions, playing defense.  The rest of the team is really a bunch of role-players who play those roles well.  They are a deep team that plays fasts, rotates in frequently, and is more concerned with out-scoring you than they are stopping you.  For long-time Mark Dantonio Mike D'Antoni* followers this will not come as too much of a surprise.

The problem with this approach is when the other team does stop you, as happened against the Warriors. Then the Rockets are basically bringing their knife of a defense to a gunfight, and the results are messy.

What Houston sports fans tuned into Friday night was ugly, and unfortunate, because until the Astros start playing the Rockets are the best game in town.

It's just too bad that the Texans dominate Houston's sports room.

*Thanks to Mike Morrison Twitter user: @mike_morrison66 for pointing out my brain fart confusing Mark Dantonio with Mike D'Antoni.

I'm not planning on watching the Super Bowl BECAUSE I'm a sports fan.

Another weekend has come and gone and with it two pretty horrible NFL playoff games.

And I'm done with it.

I'm done giving time and money to a sub-par product that's had all of the joy sucked out of it by corporate lawyers, Roger Goodell's leadership and a group of owners who care less about the product on the field and more about PSL's and jersey sales. The NFL has made it's product unwatchable and frequently about as entertaining as jock-itch. Then they've released a compliant sports media with facts and figures which supposedly tell us that this is the best the league has ever been. They tell us that, as sports fans, we HAVE to watch the game because it's an American institution or something.

I say no.

I'm not going to waste my Sunday watching Tom Brady and the Patriots try and put one over on the league for having the temerity to punish Tom Terrific. I'm not going to listen to how wise Bill Belicheck is for doing nothing more than having the good fortune of coaching during the era of Brady, or how gritty the Falcons are under Dan Quinn.

I'm also not buying into the hype and spectacle that the game has become. I live in Houston, which means that we're about to bear witness to a city getting down on its knees and servicing a league for two straight weeks. And yes, I intended that metaphor to be graphic.

Because all the Super Bowl really is for the host city is a week of increased drug crime, drunk driving and prostitution.  There are "Pimp and Ho" parties and a host of other revelries that both objectify women and encourage criminal behavior, are sponsored by active players (almost always from teams that didn't make the playoffs) and have nothing to do with the actual game.

As a matter of fact, the Super Bowl itself has little to do with the actual game being played on the field.  It's a four-hour orgy of "look what a show the NFL can put on" this time featuring Lady Gaga of all people. We're constantly told, usually by media types who make their living covering the NFL, how good this is for a city, about the economic impact that a city gets, which is often negated by the increased tax expenditures required to put on the two-week extravaganza.

Houston has gussied itself up in an attempt to make people from around the US like them, really, really like them. Any compliment will be broadcast on local media as if it's the best thing said about any city ever. We'll be inundated with poorly sourced rumors of NFL officials saying how "great" a job Houston is doing, and how Bob McNair should be proud.

But it's all bunk. Because in the same breath those same NFL officials will express "concern" that NRG stadium (less than 20 years old FWIW) is "out of date" and "not competitive" with other, newer stadiums in the league and that, in order to ensure the money train keeps rolling, Houston is going to need to 'get serious' (i.e. spend tons of taxpayer money) to either improve NRG or pony up and build a new, more extravagant, Billion dollar complex so that the city can, one day, possibly get another NFL event that attracts even more prostitutes and drug dealers to town.

Of all the major sporting events that have come to town I dislike the Super Bowl the most. In large part due to the economic damage that it inflicts on the area, and the fact that it's more about stroking the egos of the NFL executives and less and less about the game itself.

I get that this sounds like little more than the 'get off my lawn' ramblings of an old man, but I think it's something entirely different than that. I'm a fan of sports and I enjoy watching, and attending actual sporting events. The Super Bowl is no longer a sporting event, and more a cocktail party for owners, b-list stars, local politicians and league executives. Because of this I will not be spending any more time writing on, or paying attention to, the NFL's annual circle-jerk. The ability to change the channel is about the only leverage we have left against the league, I hope more and more people decide to use it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

GambleBlog: Books take a beating, cry some crocodile tears.

Listening to Sportsbook-friendly sites such as ESPN Chalk one would think the Books are on the edge of financial ruin....

Bettors jump to underdogs as Sports books suffer huge losses. David Purdum*, ESPN Chalk.

"Seemed like a blue-collar betting day with public parlaying, teasing and pounding money lines on Packers and Steelers," said Bill Sattler, the director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment. "We salvaged the under in [the] late game, but another solid week for the public."
Rodgers led the Packers on a last-second drive to set up Mason Crosby's winning field goal in Sunday's 34-31 victory over the Cowboys.
The Steelers topped it off. MGM took twice as much money on Pittsburgh plus the points as it took on Kansas City, but the more severe damage was done by parlays.
"It's just colossal," Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports, said of his shop's loss.
"Awful," said Westgate SuperBook assistant manager Ed Salmons of the weekend's results. "Can't be worse."

Don't believe it.

In fact, in the long run, this couldn't be better for the Books.  Winning weekends for the public, especially big ones, make amateurs feel like pros, they lead to an increase in betting traffic and, inevitably, more revenue long-term.  If the public took a beating every week, and only the sharps won, then sports betting would crater quicker than the rest of casino revenue.

There's a reason people aren't playing as much slots, blackjack and other table games, and it's not because Millennials "don't like to gamble".  It's because casino operators got way, way too greedy and ginned the odds.  People like to play in an environment where they at least feel they have a chance. Tighter slot odds, the horrific move to 6/5 Blackjack and reduced pay tables on other games only serve to drive gaming revenue away from the big casinos on the Strip.

It's in this same vein that consistently losing will drive away all but the addicted gambler, and those people (sadly) won't have money to risk for much longer anyway.

The bottom line is that casinos understand math, players understand luck (and often mistake it for skill).  You see it all the time.  It's the same misunderstanding of odds and probability that lead people to pay outrageous sums to touts for picks of dubious provenance.   Everyone goes on short runs, especially in sports gaming.  I could tell you that I'm 7-4 in College basketball for the last week but my Million Star plays are 3-0.  It's meaningless.

What is meaningful is that I'm somewhere around 54% right now season long, and that (after factoring in the bowls) I ended last college football season at right around 50%, despite my rather brutal regular season start.

None of this should matter to you however because of this reason:

I'm an oil and gas accountant, living in Houston where sports betting isn't allowed. I keep saying this, but a lot of the picks that I like aren't things I'm betting on because of two reasons: 1. I'm not currently in Vegas and 2. Given the nature of my job, and the fact that I post under my real name, there are reasons for me to avoid the online sports betting sites. If I were always as hot as I am right now I'd be living in Vegas.

But, I'm not.  And neither are most bettors. Everyone needs a run and the casinos understand this.

This is why they're crying crocodile tears on the outside but are secretly dancing a jig internally.  Even IF this public-money hot streak continues through the Super Bowl, they're going to rake it in on most weeks next year.

It's called churn.

And they understand it better than almost anyone else.

*I'm a huge fan of the work of David Pardum, so please do not take this to mean he's written a bad piece.  He's a good gaming reporter.

NFL Playoffs: Finally, some decent games

Saturday was a bummer.  First the Atlanta Falcons (looking for all the world like the team to beat in the NFC) dismantled the overrated Seattle Seahawks and then the New England Patriots did to the Houston Texans what they always do to the Houston Texans: Beat them by double digits.

Houston @ New England (-16 around kickoff). 

It WAS a little different this time, because Houston's defense made New England struggle. They turned over Tom Brady 2 times and they were legitimately in the game at halftime.  The 2nd half was all Brock Oswieler however, a QB who is so inaccurate you'd almost be better off running the ball 99% of the time and relying on a halfback pass the other 1%.

Oswieler is a proverbial "would miss water if he fell out of a boat" QB and that killed any hope the Texans had in the second half.  Add to that an offensive line whose play is offensive, and you have a recipe for a season coming to a thudding end.

Then, there was Coach Bill O'Brien's NFL Mentality strategy.  The Texans never went for it on 4th down, they took no chances, and as a result the (slightly) better team won by 18 points.

And, that's the rub. Talent wise the Texans are equal, if not better, than the Patriots at all of the positions except for two: Quarterback and offensive line.  Defensively the team played well. Yes, they struggled on special teams (giving up a 98 yard return for a TD) but throughout the game they did more to frustrate and bother Tom Brady than most other teams in the league.  By the end of the game Brady was so frustrated he was openly arguing with the referees every time Jadeveon Clowney planted him on the ground.

The problem for the Texans now is that they are seemingly going to repeat the same actions (retaining GM Rick Smith, and HC Bill O'Brien) while expecting different results.  It is possible that team owner Bob McNair is going slightly senile.  If they allow O'Brien to retain Offensive "coordinator" George Godsey you know he has.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-6 around kick-off). 

Throw out all of the noise about Future and Little Bow Wow knocking Russell Wilson off his game. That wasn't what happened here.

The reality is the Falcons (and I can't believe I'm saying this) look like the most complete team remaining in the playoffs.  Offensively they have an obscene amount of talent (Julio Jones is quite possibly the best receiver in the NFC, Devonta Freeman is a load in the backfield and the supporting cast is quite good) and QB Matt Ryan (I refuse to call him "Matty Ice") is playing some of the best football of his career.

Seattle on the other hand is not the Legion of Boom monster that they once were.  Sherman is becoming more and more exposed as just a jerk who hits hard and the rest of the defense is more dirty than nasty.  It's no coincidence that, once they started falling significantly behind, the game started getting chippy.  Offensively the team desperately needs to address O-line, or they're going to be this kind of team perpetually going forward.

Green Bay @ Dallas (-4.5 around kick-off).

Admit it, right out of the gate you thought this one was going to be ugly.  As so-called "analysts" nodded sagely as Dallas fell behind 21-3 it seemed that all of the rote things people thought about the Cowboys were coming true.

"That defense is a house of cards"

"Those rookies won't do well in the playoffs."

Lazy analysts everywhere looked to be having that one game that keeps them relevant, that they can hang their hat on when their "expertise" is challenged.

But, the Cowboys had a different idea.  The defense rallied around LB Sean Lee and Dak, Zeke, Dez and the boys started making plays.  The reality is, both Dak and Zeke are good players who, barring injury, should have long and productive careers with the Cowboys.

But nothing could overcome the sustained greatness of one Aaron Rodgers.

Watching him throw the ball is a lesson in what NOT to do (throw off the back foot, over the middle late, etc.) but it always seems to work out because he's got such a strong arm, such good downfield, vision and accuracy throwing the ball.

Long story short: The Cowboys played a hell of a game, and they were beaten by the best quarterback currently playing the game.

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (-2 around kick-off).

After Green Bay and Dallas this game had a lot to live up to.  And while the ending was exciting the rest of the game was a rather mundane affair.

Pittsburgh kicked six field goals, and won the game over a Chiefs team that did score two touchdowns and a FG, but who was unable to convert the 2-point conversion on the last because of a horrible hold by their left tackle.

Gripe all you want Chiefs fans, that was a hold and it had to be called.

In a way, I was glad to see Pittsburgh win because it keeps alive what I think is the best remaining SuperBowl match-up, Atlanta vs. the Steelers.  Yes, they are a hard team to root for because their defense has a propensity to hit late and target the head.  And no, that last personal foul wasn't intentional, and there was nothing the DB could do, but it was still a penalty.

L'eveon Bell is the best RB in the league right now, and Antonio Brown is the best WR.  Add to that a strong O-line, good TE play and a quarterback who is above-average, and you have a very interesting offense that can move the ball, but had some difficulty pushing it across the goal-line on Sunday night, something that might hurt them if it continues against New England.

It was not, as many NFL people say, the "best football weekend of the season".  Pick any college football weekend and I'll show you a better one, but it did have (finally) two competitive and entertaining playoff games which is something the NFL has been missing.

Next week we get the Conference Championships, and the odds look as follows:

Green Bay @ Atlanta (-4) [60]

Pittsburgh @ New England (-5.5) [51]

The New England line opened at -4.5, but sharp money moved it almost immediately to -5 and I think it will continue moving up. It's the same with the Atlanta line in the inverse, it opened at -5.5 and immediately moved to -4.

If you like either New England or Green Bay I think you've missed your best window of opportunity.  At this point, I would wait a bit and see if the lines settle back any as the steam guys try and take the other side.

I'll have complete write-ups on these as soon as I get a chance to review.  I've no leans at this time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Professional Football: The Chargers to L.A. Charges up no one.

After the St. Louis Rams decided to relocated to Los Angeles, there was always a rumor that another team was going to follow.  Today we found out just who that team is going to be:

The San Diego Chargers  who immediately revealed that they are 100% incompetent by unveiling one of the worst logos in recent memory.  "I know, we'll make it like the Dodgers, but with LIGHTNING!"

Good on you Dean Spanos.

As is expected, jilted San Diego fans have decided that the best way of handling this is to deposit their already-purchased jerseys on the front doorstep of the Chargers' San Diego offices. This is both a worthless gesture and somewhat silly.  The fans have already paid the money for the jerseys, part of which went to the team, and now they even lose the utility of using it to catch paint stains, or as an expensive toilet paper.

In a stupid move designed to show for some reason that "football is family" I wouldn't be surprised if the Chargers gathered these all up, laundered them, and donated them to some homeless charity.  You know, for the good of the community that they're abandoning.

Not that the good people of Los Angeles are going to care.

It's always felt that the NFL has been pining to get back into the LA market not because of a groundswell of fan support, but more because Roger Gooddell feels that a major sports league should have teams in LA.  Certainly, judging by Rams attendance this season, it's not because the fans are clamoring for the NFL game day experience.

This is really all about TV markets and owner revenue.  The simple matter is that LA has more televisions than does San Diego or St. Louis, so (theoretically) higher ad rates can be charged.  And while this might be true initially I'm willing to bet that if the product stays sub-par (which, given both of the owners of these teams it's likely to do) Los Angeles is a town with too many distractions to reward bad teams with high ratings and continued sell-outs. In short, both teams need to start winning and they need to do so fairly quickly.

Contrast this to Houston, which has about the most bone-headed fan base in all the NFL.  Bob McNair is still making money hand over fist, is selling out NRG, and has a better than average chance (in my opinion) of getting hundreds of Millions in upgrades to his playpen because Houston is 1. Ran by idiots 2. Has a collective inferiority complex the size of the Grand Canyon.

LA won't be burdened with both of those things however, despite the fact that the city itself is, by all accounts, also governed by idiots.

One last thought.  These moves (especially the move from St. Louis) illustrate the idiocy that the NFL continually shovels that the teams are a vital part of any community, and that residents of any one town have some sacred obligation to be a fan of their "home town team".  This, is crap.

Because the minute a better offer comes along that will project more money into the pockets of the owners any franchise is just as likely as the next (excepting a very few, like those in New York) to pull up stakes and leave for greener pastures.

As bad as your college team might be right now, it's very likely they're going to roll up the sidewalks and start playing in St. Louis, since they have a shiny stadium that's sitting empty.

Just another data point proving College Football > NFL any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Were I a San Diego Chargers' fan I'd go out and get me some Aztec tickets as quick as I can.  And for as long as Chargers are in town I'd find something better to do on Sundays.

I guarantee you that the good people of Los Angeles will.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

College Football: Crazy Days and Mondays

In the end, it was a classic.

When Clemson finally scored to take the lead 35-31 with :01 second left in the 4th quarter (at around 12:30 AM EST FWIW) it seemingly brought and end to what has been an outstanding college football season.  But, of course, the season wasn't finished with us yet because there was still the kick-off (onsides) and the Clemson recovery (under further review) which told us both what is great about this silly game and what is wrong with it all at the same time.

In the end, however, the officials got the call correct, Deshaun Watson took a well-deserved knee and Clemson are your 2016-2017 College Football Playoff Champions.  Congratulations to the Tigers.  And congratulations to the Crimson Tide as well, because the two teams treated us to an all-time performance and, especially, a 4th quarter for the ages.

Before all of that however it felt as if the game was being played in a fug.

It started slowly. Both teams went three and out and then, behold, Bama scored on one of those drives where all of Twitter goes "Uh Oh" before cringing in front of what we all know is going to be a blowout.

Then, it was 14-0 as Bo Scarbough started to run roughshod over the Clemson defense and it looked all the world like the pundits worst fears were true.  As the saying goes Evil, always wins and it appeared that Darth Saban's Evil Empire was just about to blow planet Clemson to smithereens.

A funny thing happened however, as Clemson rallied, scored a couple of touchdowns and actually ended the half down 14-7, only one TD down and with a team that was looking more and more competitive as the game went on.

At the end of the 3rd quarter it was 24-14 and Clemson was driving. Right at the beginning of the 4th they scored a touchdown to draw close at 24-21 and the stage was set. Ironically, 24-21 was the exact same score as last year's title game at the start of the 4th quarter, a game that Clemson lost 45-40 which was driving their motivation this year.

After that the game boiled down to Alabama's athletes, including TE OJ Howard who, same as last year, was left totally unguarded and scored a long TD to put Alabama up 31-21 and looking for all the world like the next champions, versus Mr. Watson.  And it was Deshaun Watson who decided that is team was just not going to lose today.

Wherever Deshaun is today, I'm sure he's sore.  Because the Alabama defense administered an old-fashioned ass-whuppin on him as the game went on.  Hard hit after hard hit, a Watson-Copter play where he whirling dervished at around his own 40, and Watson just kept getting up and willing his team to the end-zone.

Then, Clemson's passing game started working, as Mike Williams (another member of the "beat to a pulp" club) started making acrobatic catches down field and "gritty" Mike Renfrow (future New England WR) started making key catches and RB Wayne Gallman and TE Jordan Leggett made just enough plays to set up the final stanza.

And what a stanza it was.  Seemingly every play was a great play, with some level of spectacular contained within it. The ESPN announce crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit did a pretty good job of accentuating the high moments and then getting out of the way. By this point the game had become fully-formed and the drama was set.

And then Renfrow caught his TD pass with one second left in the game.  35-31 Clemson, ballgame. Clemson fans went wild, Bama fans (probably) destroyed ever TV in the State and the long-loud wail that you heard was the Las Vegas sports books realizing their ultimate fear: Clemson outright and the over. (I had Clemson with the points, but not on the ML. I didn't play the total)

There will be a lot of talk as to whether or not this was "the best College Football Championship Game of the modern era".  The obvious contender being the 2005 Rose Bowl where Vince Young took UT-Austin on his back and willed them to a championship.  I'm not going to get into that here. All I'll say is that I've been privileged in life to be able to witness both.  Both great games with two of the greatest individual performances I've ever seen from Vince Young and Deshaun Watson respectively.

There will also be a lot of (silly) blame placed at the feet of Steve Sarkesian, who, in my opinion, called just about the best offensive game that he could, given that his Freshman QB is not yet able to consistently complete the forward pass down the field.  Losing today does not take away from the fact that Alabama's defense was an all-time, once in a decade unit.  And what they achieved this year is arguably the best single-season performance in the modern era.

In the end the College Football Playoff gave us exactly what it was supposed to, a a match-up for the championship between the two best teams in the country. In the end, it gave us what will probably be the best football game of the season, college OR pro.

Are there problems? Sure. The games run too long for one, and college football needs to figure that out (hint: don't stop the clock after every first down, except in the last three minutes of each half) and the instant replay process is still cumbersome and a little bit odd.  The officiating needs some work, but to be fair this Big XII crew did a pretty good job calling the game. (Maybe you could argue they might have called targeting from time to time but that didn't seem to be biased against any one team) And "Buff Ref" became the star of the show.

College football (and it's TV partners) do need to seriously look at how to reduce the in-game commercial breaks. There were times in this game where I felt I was watching a commercial show and the game was the sponsor.  The games need to be played in three to three and a half hours. That's a problem the rules committee needs to address.

Because tomorrow morning I, and many others, are going to wake up, and drive to work in a state that makes us technically comatose, all because we had to get one last Larry Culpepper commercial in before the broadcast was complete. (Leaving Jesse Palmer behind was the funniest thing they've done with that all year.) Also, this game should have been played on a Saturday, so that we all could stay up later and eviscerate our livers with the college football drinking game.

You have around 8 months to rest-up, replenish, and recharge before the 2017-2018 season begins.

I can't wait.

Until then though,.....College basketball is looking fun this year.

Monday, January 9, 2017

College Football: Ending the Season with the CFP Championship

By most accounts, this has been an excellent season of College Football. Filled with big plays, huge upsets, stunning finishes and great performances by both teams and individuals college football proved, once again, that it's a far superior product to the "No Fun League" that operates primarily on Sundays.

And....there's one last game....

College Football Playoff Championship Game. Monday, January 9th, 7:00 PM CST.

Clemson vs. Alabama (-6.5) [51]. There are two schools of thought on this game: First, are the people who believe that this is nothing more than a coronation for Nick Saban as the greatest college football coach of all time. A fitting capstone to a decade of football domination.  Second, those who believe that Clemson has the physical talent, and the style of play, that can give Alabama fits.

And where do I stand?  Somewhere in the middle.

I do think that Alabama is a very good, albeit not great, football team. They have talent across the board, a good, albeit inconsistent quarterback who is limited by the fact that the Crimson Tide do not have the best receivers in the game.  What they do have, on offense, is a sturdy offensive line and a deep, talented roster of RB's and TE's who make the plays needed to win the game.  Bama QB Jalen Hurts has been great, for a true Freshman, but can get sloppy with the ball and is not the best down-field passer that you've ever seen.

In terms of skill-players, Clemson has the clear edge offensively. Tiger quarterback DeShaun Watson is a spectacular playmaker who's game is tailor made for today's college football offensive environment. He's fast, athletic and can make throws down the field. Usually those throws are made to all-world WR Mike Williams, or Sophomore Deon Cain. What makes Clemson's offense so potent however is the "run" piece of the "run-pass option" the Tigers employ. Besides Watson running the ball Jr running back Wayne Gallman is having a great year carrying the ball. He's explosive, and runs hard behind his pads.

The defense tasked with stopping the Tigers is one of if not the best in the nation. Their strength is in their front 7. A 3-4 scheme that features De-Ron Payne at NT, flanked by a solid pair of DE's. The linebacking corps is strong, fast and athletic and ball-hawking. Alabama's secondary is young, but aided by the fact that they don't have to cover long due to the pressure that the pass-rushers put on opposing quarterbacks.  One thing to watch for is whether or not Watson can extend plays and force
Bama's relatively young defensive backfield cover those talented WR's for an extended period of time.

There are some unknowns leading into this game for Alabama offensively.  Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkesian will be calling plays for the first time this season after former OC (and new FAU head coach) Lane Kiffin accomplished the rare feat of being fired from a job he had already quit last week. The expected dual between WR ArDarias Stewart and Clemson CB Cordrea Tankersley could be key to Bama having any semblance of a downfield passing attack.  One thing Alabama will (probably) do well, is run the ball with Sophomore Damien Harris starting things off and then (hopefully, for Tide fans) Sophomore Bo Scharbough (all 240 lbs of him) coming in to wear the Tiger's defense down.

Clemson's defense has some young, talented players, but they are anchored by three Seniors, the aforementioned Tankersley, LB Ben Boulware and DT Carlos Watkins.  Watkins and Boulware will be key in stopping Alabama's running attack, Watkins matching up against the RB's and Boulware stopping Tide QB Hurts from causing havoc on the outside.

I don't see much difference between the two side's special teams, but the kicking game could be key and Alabama kicker Adam Griffith has been known to miss FG's from time to time. Could be something to watch for.

While I think that Nick Saban gets a lot of glory, rightfully so, for his coaching excellence, Clemson head-coach Dabo Swinney could be the right man at his job. Bama has questions at OC but I think they'll be OK. Probably the best assistant on either side is Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. His ability to react to the changes in offense that Sarkesian is obviously going to bring makes this a much more interesting game than it already was before Kiffin's dismissal.

Outlook:  I think both teams score early, and then things settle down. I think the line of 51 is just about right so I wouldn't mess with much there.  What I don't like is the spread. I think Clemson is much closer to Alabama than many think and while I'm not comfortable enough to call for the ML pick, I do think they can play close enough to cover.

Prediction:  Clemson 27 Alabama 28

Pick: Clemson to cover +6.5

Monday, January 2, 2017

College Football: Can we (or should we) fix the College Football Playoff?

On New Year's Eve evening people were already bemoaning another round of uninteresting College Football Playoff semi-finals before the 4th quarter even started in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Earlier in the afternoon Alabama had dismantled Washington 24-7 in a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in a game that didn't feel as close as the final score.  Sadly, the nightcap was even worse as Clemson handed Urban Meyer his first shut-out as a head coach ever, thumping the Buckeyes 31-0.

It's probable that very few people were still tuned into the latter game, having chosen to go swill cheap sparkling wine rather than finish watching a mauling.

This is a problem, and it's a recurring one at that. In the three years that we've had a CFP 5 of the 6 semi-final games have been atrocious mis-matches with only Ohio State's 2014 upset over Alabama being what you would call a "good" college football game.  Add to that the horrible decision in 2015 and 2016 to schedule the games on New Year's Eve and you have a multi-pronged disaster.

But, can it be fixed?  SHOULD it be fixed? Is it too early after 3 years to declare the entire mess a disaster?

My answers to this are yes, and yes.  But while the feeling on the first question is unanimous the actual fix for the problem is not that easy.  My preferred choice, is to expand the playoff to 16 teams taking all FBS conference champions and the next 6 at-large teams to make a true playoff. I think that would work but there's little support for it.  The loudest noises are coming from those who want to expand to just 8, which is better, but still leaves out several deserving teams IMO. Amazingly, there are a few (usually SEC loyalists) who think returning to the old, SEC-biased B(C)S system is the best way.

Barring that however, and admitting that playoff expansion is not coming any time soon, here are my "doable" ideas for fixing a playoffs that are threatening to fall in on themselves......

1. Move the games away from New Year's Eve. Granted, this has already happened starting next season, but it was a needed change that should have never been necessary in the first place.

2. Expand the selection committee and bring in a more diverse group of voices. The weakest link in the entire system is the selection committee itself. It's very old-school, very "clubby" and very much not representative of how college football is ran today.  I would increase the committee to around 20, and I would bring in not just AD's, college football insiders and former coaches but also members of the media, internet media, and others. In short: I would bring in the people who are watching the most college football every week, and spending the most amount of time and effort writing and talking about it.

3. Start looking at the computers again. Not weighting them, or factoring them in, but looking at them. "The eye test" is meaningless considering many teams aren't scheduling properly, and many in the committee haven't been involved in the current game.

4. Stop releasing interim rankings. Those add nothing to the conversation. All they do is create a false conversation rigged to derive "controversy" where there is none.  What I would do is not release a top 25, but release a list of 10 teams that are "under consideration" without providing them any ranking at all.  Not only will this eliminate the tortured explanations from Horcutt every week but it will take away the bulk of the criticism when the committee inevitably gives the wrong team the benefit of the doubt because they're a blue blood and then denies it. (Looking at you Ohio State)

5. Publish, and stick to, a firm list of qualifications. Does winning your conference matter? Does score? Does strength of schedule?  Act like the college basketball committee and give us a strong indicator of why teams got in.

None of these 5 things are going to make the CFP controversy free overnight but, hopefully, they will improve the quality of games we see, going forward, in the semi-finals.

Of course, there's this:

This year, it probably wouldn't have mattered who the committee selected because it's pretty obvious both Alabama and Clemson are heads and shoulders above everyone else.  From that perspective maybe the system doesn't need fixing, it's the 3 and 4 seeds who do.

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