Monday, December 29, 2014

Sports Report

In football, the preliminaries are over--time for the playoffs.

I am grateful that the big-time colleges have seen fit to add a round to their championship; now the issue is no longer "Who's #3?" but "Who's #5?"  This is progress.  I hope, and believe, that this stage of evolution will be successful, and that the next move will be to expand the playoffs to six teams, of which the #6 team should be the best chosen from the mid-major level (and should face #3 in the first round).  They will be glad to have the opportunity.

One lesson should have been clear from the final selections of the four playoff teams:  the "Big 12" needs to get two more teams, so that they really are "12"--that lack, according to the "rules", prevented them from having a conference championship game.  The result was that number 5 and number 6, both from the Big 12 (TCU and Baylor) both had final games which earned them no credit and they end up missing out on the playoffs.  The conference will need to pick up a couple of stragglers and fill out their roster--that or get the rule changed so they can have their conference championship game next year.  That being noted, I really have no complaint with the four teams chosen.  I would expect Alabama to make it to the final, but that Florida State-Oregon game is a very interesting matchup. .

In a year in which the SEC teams beat each other up all year, the main interest in the other bowl games will be to see whether the conference's #2-#9, all of which are in prominent bowls, will be able to preserve their sterling record against all comers.   I would recommend betting SEC throughout--except for any cases when SEC teams' top players get arrested in the leadup to their bowl games..

In the NFL, the big story (which I didn't hear covered) was the question of which team was playing its last game before moving to Los Angeles.  I would put my money on it being the San Diego Chargers, which played a gutless game and blew a playoff spot for which it had the inside track.  The other two leading contenders for the LA lottery, the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams, should be disqualified as teams that have had the blessing of an LA franchise and left there.  I do feel for the SD fans, though, who deserve better: theirs is one of the original AFC franchises, one that has stayed in place through thick and thin and no SB championships --I think it and Buffalo are the only ones.

There were some new developments in the league during the regular season--I note the rise of the Arizona Cardinals and the surprising shortcomings of the 49ers--but the end product has a familiar look.  The defending champion Seattle Seahawks gave their fans some anxious moments early but came on strong late in the season and secured the top seed in the conference.  In a sign of the increased parity evident, no team did better than a 12-4 regular season record (five teams had that mark), but in spite of that, it would be disappointing if the conference final matchups are anything other than #1 vs. #2 (Green Bay vs. Seattle; Denver vs. New England).  I will stick with my preseason prediction of the final being the QB showdown of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Speaking of parity, baseball seems to be in a bit of a leaderless confusion; although the Giants won their third World Series in five years in 2014, I would say they are far from being a favorite next year.  I would generalize the offseason thus far by saying the bad teams have gotten better while the teams which have been good are not very convincing.  The Dodgers are the case in point for the latter; they should be favored but have not yet demonstrated any passion or quest for postseason excellence.

The opposite of parity is occurring in college basketball these days, as a few teams scoop all the top prospects in this era of "one and done", year after year.  Those that can convince their charges to stay more than one year have a bit of an edge.  Last year's mediocre U of Kentucky team made it to the national championship final, but a number of their stars were unfulfilled, career-wise (i.e., not going to be drafted among the lottery picks) and stayed around--that combined with yet another stellar crop of freshman recruits makes the Wildcats one of the most potent 10-man-rotation teams ever seen in college hoops and a massive favorite to go through the regular season unbeaten.  It has been a very long time since a team did that and won that championship--if that occurs it will be historic, but there are a few other fat cat teams with talent that will challenge them in the tourney.

Finally, the NBA regular season is about half over and the standings are in total chaos.  Injuries to stars for the top teams of recent years has been a major factor, along with major adjustments in the personnel of some of those teams.  As a result, upstart teams like Portland, Golden State, Toronto, and Washington are riding atop the conferences--not that I believe these teams will end up playing for the titles.   I like Houston and Oklahoma City (assuming they get healthy) to be the best in the West, with Chicago and Cleveland (when LeBron & Co. finally get their act together) my prediction for the finalists in the East.  So, like the NFL, not so different from the usual contenders in the end, though I think San Antonio's run may finally come to an end (and they may not even make the playoffs this year).


Anonymous said...

The comment with regard to the SEC should read "#2 - #12; they have that many teams in the bowls. So far they are 4-1; credit to Notre Dame for beating a somewhat tarnished LSU on a last-second FG (with some LSU whining about a touchdown at the end of the 1st half for which they did not get the call).
Let me be clear: 1) this was a weak SEC season, in the sense of the lack of a truly dominating team, but I still feel their teams will beat up the other regions in the bowls; 2) I think their colleges are mediocre at best; but 3) they provide an excellent free development league for the NFL.

Chin Shih Tang said...

SEC finished only 6-5 in the bowls. More surprising was their poor performance in the bigger games: both Ole Miss and Miss St. disapppointed in their "selection" games, but above all, there was that shocker of historic proportions in which Alabama came up short against Ohio St. Crimson Tide clearly lost their way after going up 21-3 early, but give credit to Ohio St.: their linemen were not intimidated by their size disadvantage, their controversial former 3rd-string QB (Cardale Jones) had a great game, and maximum credit for the coaching of Urban Meyer, who has brought proven SEC methods successfully to the Big 10. Why not?
I don't like Ohio St.'s chances vs. the Oregon offensive machine, but they deserve praise.

Chin Shih Tang said...

Correction: SD Chargers are one of the original "AFL" franchises. "AFC" was the wrong word.

Chin Shih Tang said...

Well, I certainly should have been right with my preseason prediction (Green Bay vs. New England in SB XLIX). The Packers had thoroughly beaten Seattle on offense and defense for 3 1/2 quarters, but their special teams (on the fake field goal, particularly, and the 2-point conversion) let them down, and the rest of the team followed.