In case you were out living your own sports dreams by eating pretzels like Jason Alexander circa '94, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Los Angeles Kings once again showed that Staples Center is a fortress, extending their unbeaten home playoff record with a 3-1 win over the Blackhawks to narrow Chicago's Western Conference finals lead to 2-1. "Man, it's harder to win there than it is at a Staples," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I mean, you go in, and the prices are way higher than you'd find online, but it's like, I need index cards today and where the hell else can you get index cards? Then you end up wandering down an aisle and remembering that your wife told you the router was on the fritz, so you go to pick up a new one, but all the models are weird and overpriced. Then you get up to the counter, and boom, Jonathan Quick rejects your credit card. So you go to shoplift some highlighters. Which, and trust me on this one, only makes things worse."
Oklahoma avenged its defeat in last year's Women's College World Series by completing its sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers with a 4-0 series-clinching win. Oklahoma became the first WCWS champion to finish first in the nation in ERA and scoring, putting it in the conversation about the greatest women's college softball teams of all time. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops differed in his assessment, however, saying, "Last year's model was definitely better; it's always better when you make it to the finals and lose. Builds character. Shows true greatness."
The football rivalry between Oregon and Oregon State, nicknamed the "Civil War,” has always had something of an image problem. Take the name, for starters: Though quite common, it’s not as deliciously ironic as the BYU-Utah “Holy War,” or as geographically appropriate as the West Virginia–Pittsburgh “Backyard Brawl.” But for decades, that name was all they had. Neither school was even remotely on the national radar before the mid-'90s. And if they were, it was because of their Disneyfied color schemes and innocuous mascots.
But now, the “Civil War” sounds entirely quaint seeing as how the Beavers have taken after the Ducks’ Decepticon rebranding and the two schools will appear to be reenacting Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen this December, right in time for Christmas. By this point, I don’t think I have to preface you on why it’s major news when Oregon State’s Nike-sponsored gear is dropping jaws. My lord, have you seen these new Oregon State unis? Being that Phil Knight is a UO alum, I’m unsure if OSU has much pull in Beaverton (oddly enough), but it appears as if the school took a gander at Nike’s Pro Combat line and said, “We’re trying to win football games, not look like we’re going to church.” Those Neopolitan face masks!
The lesson was important: The Beavers already had one of the most recognizable color schemes and logos in college football, but as coach Mike Riley tweeted, it’s all about luring 18-year-old kids who might base the next four years of their lives on the possibility of wearing socks that are inscribed with “hip hop hooray.” Oregon State can serve as an example for many other second bananas across the college football landscape that are seeking to gain ground on their more respected rivals through some kind of radical and ridiculous rebranding. Sure, it looks a little desperate and they might always be no. 2 compared to their wealthier, more successful elders, but there’s nothing wrong with being Solange these days. Here are some more glaring opportunities:
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.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The San Francisco Giants are World Series champions. Marco Scutaro hit the go-ahead single with two outs in the 10th inning as the Giants beat the Tigers 4-3 to sweep the series. Pablo Sandoval, who hit .500 in 16 at-bats with three home runs, a double, and four RBIs, was named the Series MVP. "Total bullshit!" said delusional Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks, who got his first hit of the series in the sixth inning of Game 4. "The MVP is so political now. It's all about who you know."
A quick one this week, amigos, with a rundown of the top 10 games and Your Perfect Saturday:
10. Kent State at no. 15 Rutgers
Big Ten fans will be unhappy to see that I chose this one over Michigan-Nebraska, if only because the Big East is starting to look like a pretty interesting race, and Kent State, at 6-1, is on a crash course with Ohio for a MAC East championship game on November 23. It feels like there might be upset potential here, but Kent State's blowout loss to Kentucky earlier in the season should give you pause.
I understand! My coach just showed up at the Cotton Bowl with a team that looked like it had graduated from the Wade Phillips School of Game Planning and the Jason Garrett Institute for Workplace Motivation. Happily, college football is one of the few sports where outraged fans can directly affect the course of history. But the way fans rage at their coach has changed.
The Rent-a-Plane Era (1997-2002)
I start in ’97 only because it was my first truly awful season of college football. The Texas Longhorns, who had Ricky Williams in the backfield, lost a home game to UCLA by 63 points. (I challenge even those Texas fans at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday to find a more soul-crushing afternoon than “Rout 66.”) Two weeks later, when we played Rice, an airplane flew overhead.
I'm not sure the world is ready to handle too much serious discussion about Duke football, so I'll make this quick. All I ask is that you look at these rankings. OK, not at the rankings themselves; look a little lower, the "also receiving votes" section. Where the real teams hang. See that team with three votes in the AP poll, and 10 votes in the USA Today poll? Ranked 36th and 34th, respectively? That, my friends, is the pride of Durham, going places where they're not known or expected or wanted. Or invited.
How can I communicate the strangeness of seeing them on that list? How incredibly weird this feels for Duke football fans? Imagine if Paul Ryan showed up at tonight's debate wearing a Phish bandanna and a Grateful Dead poncho, and insisted on coming out to the sunshine part from that "Age of Aquarius" song. (I'm not even sure they make Grateful Dead ponchos anymore, and the ESPN research people get mad when you make that kind of request, so you'll just have to picture it.) That's how unlikely this feels. Everything is clicking with a backup quarterback named Anthony Boone, and if they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg this weekend, there's even a chance they could be ranked for the first time since 1994. At that point, I would start buying canned goods and digging some kind of apocalypse tunnel that would almost certainly collapse on itself within an hour or two.
A couple of years back, I had a revelatory moment on a college-football message board. We must have gotten tired of posting police booking photos of Texas A&M players, because someone asked the board: Who here has been to the most University of Texas games?
The revelation happened when I got a little way down the thread. A few posters announced they’d been to every single Texas game, home and away, over a period of 30-plus years. Provo, Utah, 1988; Piscataway, New Jersey, 1999; Manhattan, Kansas, 2002 Moreover, they had no intention of ending their streaks. Thirty years from now, we’d find them face-down at Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, with their iPhones logged onto the message board and unused tickets in their cold, dead hands.
My own road-trip inventory is comparatively light. I got to hear the Colorado fight song back in 1996, before the Buffaloes program got fully Neuheiseled. I squeezed in a fantastic, Saturday-to-Sunday road trip to Columbus, Ohio, in 2005, when Texas beat the Buckeyes. It was there, with my pal Daniel, that I began to think there was an art to attending a college-football game on the road.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
In the first major league baseball game of the regular season on American soil, Kyle Lohse pitched six no-hit innings and lasted into the eighth as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 4-1. It was the first regular-season game in the new Marlins Park with the new Miami name, and it led to this conversation:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Giants arrived home yesterday, and were greeted by 200 raucous fans at their practice facility. Oddly enough, one of the wildest fans was a heavily intoxicated Rob Gronkowski.
Gisele Bundchen, the wife of Patriots QB Tom Brady, was videotaped after the Super Bowl complaining to her friends about the team's receivers. "My husband cannot f------ throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time," she said. "I know exactly how you feel," said Julie Bartoli, wife of failed juggler Lazario "Butter Hands" Bartoli.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The final BCS rankings are out, and LSU and Alabama will meet again for the national championship. And in a world of chaos and confusion, let me be the first to thank the BCS for yet another year of controversy-free rankings that show, without a doubt, that this is the best possible system for determining a champion.
It's the last week before bowl season, and though much has been decided, there's at least a modicum of drama left. Let's get all judgmental and count down the eight best games.
8. No. 9 Oregon vs. "UCLA," "Pac-12" "Championship"
Once in a while, as a kid, I would invite my neighbor up to play basketball. He wasn't very good, but there was no one else around. I'd regret it almost immediately; he'd feel bad for not playing well, I'd feel bad for beating him, and then I'd try to let him win a game to make it less horrible, but it ended up making it more horrible because he knew what I was doing. Still, we'd have to keep going to maintain the whole facade, to make sure no feelings were hurt. But why were we playing? What was the point? What I'm trying to say is, that neighbor's name was Rick Neuheisel (gasp!).
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.)