Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sports Notes

Heisman: Cam--Shaft or Be Shafted?
Cam Newton of Auburn was loaned the Heisman tonight by an overwhelming vote margin. There was no doubt that Cam was the top player in college football this year, leading the number one team and coming up with dozens of key plays, both passing and running the ball. The only question was whether he could keep his eligibility to play through the season (OK, there was some doubt whether Auburn would win all its games, but I'm not even sure that would've been required for him to establish his claim to the trophy). Given the quality of his performance and that his team surmounted every obstacle to finish the regular season undefeated, his landslide victory was assured.

Newton is without doubt an outstanding pro college player and should be successful in the NFL, when he will be beyond the threat of investigation. I have little doubt that his trophy will ultimately suffer the same fate as Reggie Bush's--'05 winner Bush surrendered his claim recently when allegations of major payoffs from when he played in college at USC were substantiated. The only allegations against Newton established during this season were that his father negotiated for payoffs with a college (Mississippi State) that Newton, who was coming out of junior college, didn't end up attending this year. That just means that MSU wasn't the highest bidder--Auburn was-- but there is no evidence yet to support that suspicion.

Heisman voters were faced with a difficult choice: to ignore the impropriety, or deny the award to the clear top player of the season. A significant number refused to name Newton on their ballots, but many more accepted the assumption of innocence for Cam (his father was disinvited from the Heisman ceremony).

Not Completely BCS This Year
The NCAA got lucky: there were exactly two teams from automatic-berth major conferences who went undefeated this year, so their national championship game has some legitimacy (for once). The critical break for their hopes to have a fair 1 vs. 2 matchup was Auburn's come-from-behind 28-27 win over last year's champion Alabama. Auburn and Oregon may not be the best two teams in the country, but they did manage to get through without a loss. A third major-college team went undefeated, the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University, but their conference and schedule difficulty don't rate so highly, so they could be safely excluded.

The other BCS pairings are less impressive: TCU, which has just announced they will degrade themselves and the Big East conference by bringing their football prowess to that top basketball conference in a couple of years, got a matchup with Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl: a good test for TCU's claims to belong in the big time, but a matchup between Stanford (loser of one game, to Oregon) and Wisconsin would've been more in line with Rose Bowl's traditional Big X-Pacific pairing. Instead, Stanford got bumped to the Orange Bowl and a game with ACC survivor Virginia Tech. The real disaster of the BCS is the Fiesta Bowl with 8-4 Big East "champion" Connecticut vs. Oklahoma. And there's another game, I guess. And about 30 other bowl games, including a lot of teams with 7-5 records.

For a really fine flaming of a BCS conehead's public defense of his system (printed in the USA Today recently), see this blog. I refer you also to my post at the start of the college football season.

In Other Sports News
A couple of weeks ago, everyone couldn't stop talking about how the Miami Heat were disappointing everyone and their young coach was doomed and Lebron and Dwayne couldn't play together because they had the same games. All it took was their seven-game win streak since then to shut all that nonsense up: clearly the Heat have enough to blow away all the mediocre teams and win 60 games or so. There's still a question whether the Heat will be a good playoff team, able to get past the second round, and in particular whether they will be able to deal with the Celtics whenever they end up facing them. Next to that question, the theoretically more important question of whether anyone--in any round--can beat the Lakers seems less significant. The Heat-Celtics question, and the future of the next year's season, are the critical dramas that will have to remain unanswered for the next four or five months while the regular season plays itself out.

I'm not a Formula One fan, but the finish of this season with four car/drivers in the running until the last day, and the win by the youngest, nearly unknown driver (whose name continues to escape me) must rank fairly highly in the history of this perpetual snoozefest.

The Yankees and Red Sox have reacted swiftly and instinctively to their unsuccessful campaigns (success defined by a minimum of reaching the World Series): they've whipped out their checkbooks and started writing zeroes--lots of them. The Dodgers, who are waiting for the courts to figure out who will own them, have not been idle, either. It would seem to be a return to normalcy in baseball after this exciting season with the likes of the Giants, Rays, Reds, and Rangers unaccustomedly showing up in the postseason.

I was pulling for Tiger Woods to win that last tournament of the season so that we could have another theme for golf coverage besides when would he ever win again. Unfortunately, he lost a lead on Sunday (unheard of, in the pre-scandal Woods history) and ended up losing in the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. I do think Tiger will pick one up in the early-season Hawaii segment of the tour so we can move on.

I almost forgot to mention the NFL, and this is the time of year when it gets interesting. Early-season league-wide parity, approaching universal mediocrity, has given way to a settling out of the cream and the sediment, and the identity of most of the playoff teams has emerged. In the NFC, the most riveting question now is whether the Eagles, with reinvigorated convict Michael Vick playing quarterback not just better than anyone else right now, but better than anyone can remember, will make it to the playoffs at all. If not, the defending champion Saints look a good bet to make it back to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, last week's Jets-Patriots game established New England as the favorite for that conference, though they could get knocked off their perch in the playoffs by either the Jets or Baltimore Ravens, if either can get their defense up to the challenge that Tom Brady presents.

Finally, I'm strongly rooting for someone to knock Duke's block off in college basketball, so we can look at the wide variety of talent and tons of competitive teams out there, but we may have to wait--in a weak ACC season--for a long time. Perhaps a much-desired early-round upset in the tournament itself.

No comments: