Today is the first of March, and so I wish you a Happy March Day. March Day is the lesser-known cousin of May Day, which is a pagan holiday celebrated on May 1. But March Day is far more important because it means we're getting close to the most essential time of year: The Madness. When 64 become one, all shall be revealed. Hail March Day, for The Madness Is Upon Us.
(If there's ever an apocalypse that wipes out most of humanity, I hope the only thing future societies recover from our time is the paragraph above, with absolutely no context.)
Time for the top 10 games of the weekend. Note that a week from Sunday, the regular season is OVER.
In case you were busy justifying your documentary short's omission from this year's Sundance Film Festival, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Miami scored the final nine points of the game in a 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. LeBron James dominated the game on both ends of the court scoring 39 points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals. "We've been bad on the road this year by our standards, so I came out mad," LeBron explained after the game, before Kobe Bryant appeared behind him cloaked in a cloud of smoke. "Oh, you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it," Bryant said to James with a menacing laugh. A terrified James responded, "Why didn't you just beat us then?" Bryant grinned broadly at James and hissed, "your punishment must be more severe."
This is it, gang. This is the last Semi-Ignorant Guide of the year. Thank you for joining me on this ride as I spouted half-truths and outright lies, took credit for lucky upset predictions, and generally learned nothing of value. This, in the end, is what being a sports fan is all about. Let's get right to the top 10 games (all times EST).
10. No. 16 UCLA at no. 8 Stanford (Friday, 8 p.m.)
I've told you before about my college football pool, in which 18 of us pick the 10 most prominent games each week against the spread. So far the leader has 68 points through 13 weeks, for an average just barely above .500. All but two people are at .500 or below. Some of us know football pretty well, others are clueless, but it doesn't matter. It's impossible to pick games against the spread. But over the course of the season, I've come to realize that Las Vegas knows everything. Every once in a while, there's a point spread that seems absolutely ridiculous. Last week, when Louisville (undefeated in the Big East) was an underdog against Pittsburgh (1-4 in the Big East, 4-6 overall), everyone in the pool thought it was a gimme. The result? Pittsburgh won, 27-6. Somehow, Vegas knows all.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Falcons intercepted Drew Brees five times and ended his record streak of 54 straight games with a touchdown pass in a 23-13 win over the Saints. In a weird coincidence, popular rabbi Andrew Altman, a.k.a. "Drew Briss," also had his own streak — 54 straight successful outdoor circumcisions — snapped by a falcon yesterday.
It's Rivalry slash Thanksgiving Week, when teams who have historically aggravated one another by virtue of shared geography, but who may not even be in the same conference in 2012, meet up for an annual gathering of bad feelings. This is the week for Florida–Florida State, Georgia Tech–Georgia, South Carolina–Clemson, and more. But before we get to the top 10 games, let's take a quick look at the perfect scenario for the final few weeks of college football, and let's do it in stream-of-consciousness form. For the ultimate comedic and poetic payoff, here's what has to happen:
Oregon loses to Oregon State, Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, Florida loses to Florida State, Alabama loses to Georgia in SEC title game, Georgia Tech beats Florida State in ACC title game, Kansas State loses to Texas, Stanford beats UCLA then loses to UCLA in Pac-12 title game, Louisville beats Rutgers but loses in a bowl game, Wisconsin beats Nebraska in Big Ten title game, Notre Dame loses to USC, Oklahoma wins out, Kent State and Northern Illinois both lose in bowls.
First, none of those outcomes are unlikely. All of them put together? Highly unlikely. But humor me for a second, because these are the teams that would earn automatic BCS berths if that scenario plays out: Georgia Tech, Georgia, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Oklahoma. And the national title game would probably be Notre Dame vs. Georgia. Now, let's say Notre Dame, at 11-1, loses to 11-2 Georgia. Also, Ohio State beats Michigan this week.
The result? Zero bowl-eligible teams with even a one-loss record, and a BCS champion in Georgia that lost 35-7 to South Carolina, and suffered a hypothetical loss to Georgia Tech. The whole college landscape is a dusty wasteland. And then, rising amid the destruction, like a glorious phoenix, is Urban Meyer with his 12-0 Ohio State team. So riddle me this — could the AP poll, which is independent of the BCS, really put the Buckeyes anywhere but no. 1? I say no, and that means Ohio State would win a split national championship. The same Ohio State that's banned from postseason play because some kid got a free tattoo, and the same Ohio State that barely beat Cal at home, escaped from Indiana, and needed a miracle to beat Purdue in overtime.
And when all that happens, I'm going to phone up the BCS and just start laughing in their faces. A dude can dream.
While agonizing over the possibility of a second straight Alabama-LSU title game, I think I came up with the worst thing about their horrible dominance: as a neutral college football fan, you have to pick a favorite.
Well, let me qualify that. A person like me, who is incapable of watching a sporting event of any kind (including youth Frisbee) without vilifying one team and venerating the other, needs to pick a favorite. Believe me, that is a hateful, torturous task in this world of Tigers and Tide. Anyone with a semblance of love for the amateur unpredictability of college football probably despises these two programs. They are the evil empire, magnified by a power of two. While the rest of us stand by and watch, helpless, Les Miles and Nick Saban have created near-professional super-teams in a non-professional sport, slowly sucking the competitive life out of the game.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Quarterback Logan Thomas led no. 16 Virginia Tech back from the brink of defeat with two key drives as the Hokies beat Georgia Tech 17-14 in overtime. Unfortunately, the celebrations on the Blacksburg campus got a little out of hand late Monday night when Virginia Tech students began throwing upholstered hay bales out their dorm windows.
"The ACC tournament doesn't start until Friday," is a phrase I heard more than once Thursday, the day on which the ACC tournament actually started.
I was especially prone to hearing that sentiment, considering my penchant for complaining about the lack of quality basketball. Still, all good drama needs a setup; those first two establishing acts that make us care about the climax. Even a joke needs a foundation, and it remains to be seen which path this tournament will take.
Before we take a tour of the notable events from Thursday, here are the basics you need to know.
The 12 schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference came into league play in various states of ripening or disrepair. Virginia was riding one of the best starts in team history and had surprised everyone by cracking the Top 25. North Carolina had survived a shaky start and was finally starting to look like the national title hopeful we'd imagined in November. Duke had gone the opposite direction, as the luster of early wins faded in the face of recent humiliations. Florida State spent its first 14 games learning that great defense might not quite be enough this year, while others, such as Maryland and Wake Forest and NC State, made strides that will either prove to be omens of rebirth or ignes fatui, false lights in the dark.
When the first six games had passed, most of the questions still lingered. Here are some quick (and not so quick) thoughts on each.
In advance of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins tonight, Shane Ryan and Mark Titus exchanged e-mails discussing Duke, Ohio State, the nature of the Challenge, and a few odds and ends, including a new game called Azerbaijan. And after much fanfare, picks were made.
After the frenetic highs of Week 12, Rivalry Week was a slow coming-down party. In 16 games involving ranked teams, there wasn't a single upset -- at least by the rankings. Most of the games weren't even close. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and several avenues of escape were cut off.
Rivalry Week is here, and there's a lot more at stake than just pride. Which is great because, really, who cares about pride? Most of us threw that out the window when we went on welfare just so we could afford HBO. It's the American story, folks. Don't blame the messenger. Anyway, there are more games with BCS implications this week than I can ever remember. The rundown is enough to make you store canned peaches and rifles in an underground shelter and pray for Thursday. So, here it be. (Note: I realize that not all of these games are true rivalries, so quit it with your semantics. There are bigger problems in this world, dude, such as your reflexive anger at trivialities.)
By my count, there are 2.5 HUGE games left on the college football schedule between now and bowl season. The .5 is LSU-Arkansas on Nov. 25. It falls short of a full point only because I don't believe Arkansas has a legitimate chance to win. We've been over this before — the Razorbacks have one loss, but it was an unvarnished throttling against Alabama, and a handful of their eight wins (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt especially) have not been impressive. Nevertheless, LSU is number one, and Arkansas could be as high as fifth by then. It's worth a mention.
The second HUGE game is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. If I had to pick right now, I would guess that the winner (Oklahoma, I suspect) will play in the BCS national title game against LSU. For the Cowboys, it's a no-brainer; they're already ranked second, and they control their own destiny. For Oklahoma, ranked sixth, help is needed. As of now, there are four teams for the Sooners to leapfrog if they want to land in the coveted second position. The first is Oklahoma State, who they'd pass with a win. The second is Alabama, and I believe the nation's desire to avoid a rematch national championship would take care of that. Then there's Boise State, who will almost certainly end the year undefeated if they beat TCU this weekend. Still, we know how that story goes. The BCS never smiles on the Broncos, and I can't imagine this year will be any different, even if they're one of just two undefeated teams in the country.
That leaves Stanford, and brings us to the present for
1. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
Any time you more or less live out the lifelong dream of every American child born since the invention of the Hershey's Bar, you get your name at the top of our power rankings. I don't care if we're ranking the biggest G's in Western Hemisphere needlepoint; David Freese wins everything.
For the past two Saturday nights, football fans have lived a charmed life. Last week, we got the Hail Mary Game. This week, there was a slice of triple-overtime insanity when undefeated Stanford survived a scare from USC. Those were the best games of the year, and the Musburger-Herbstreit duo were on the scene for both. There's a lot of season left, but it's hard to imagine a better back-to-back stretch. Somewhere in the world, a prime time TV programmer is dancing a jig. And so am I, because this was the most surprising week of the season.