In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
Manassas Junction, Virginia, 1861 — It's July 21, and the Civil War is about to begin for real. Union soldiers march south from Washington, D.C., to meet the Confederates, and the feeling throughout the north is that the rebels will hightail it back south after they get massacred on day one. The high muckety-mucks from D.C. — congressmen, business owners, and various other rich people — come down to picnic and watch the rout. Instead, after a long day of fighting, Stonewall Jackson and the Confederates send their enemies into a headlong retreat for Washington. As they flee north, the soldiers find the roads blocked by the panicked civilians who had come to watch the end of the pesky rebellion. And that's how the Battle of Bull Run ended.
I was a Civil War nerd as a kid, so it probably figures that while watching the Pac-12 shock the world last Saturday, I thought of Bull Run. It was the conference's best day in years, and it completely transformed their image around the country. The three ranked teams did their job, and that was expected — USC beat Syracuse, Oregon beat Fresno State, Stanford beat Duke. But the little guys did their part, too. Arizona dominated no. 18 Oklahoma State at home, Oregon State stunned no. 13 Wisconsin, UCLA outgunned no. 16. Nebraska in one of the best games of the weekend, and Arizona State destroyed Illinois. (Only Washington disappointed in the high-profile games, failing to make a dent against the Baton Rouge Tigers of the NFL's Second Division.)
There are now five Pac-12 teams in the AP top 25, and two more within sniffing distance. It's a revolution! The games were mostly at home, sure, but even under those circumstances the odds were long. Yet the mighty programs of the Big 10 and Big 12 left with their tails between their legs, fans in tow, realizing they'd underestimated the enemy. Week 2 was the Pac-12's Bull Run, and now everyone has to take them seriously.
So I'm calling it: This is the year of the Pac-12. Here are three more semi-ignorant reasons to love the rejuvenated conference.
"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.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday
Flu-like symptoms didn't stop LeBron James from scoring 31 points and leading the Heat to a 98-87 win over the Lakers. "It was just like Jordan in Game 5 of the '97 Finals!" yelled a sweaty, 6'8" reporter wearing a fake mustache and beard, as everyone in the press area waited for LeBron to come out.
Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal both advanced to the round of 16 in straight sets at the Australian Open, where they're on a collision course to meet in the semifinals. The last time they met in Australia, Rafa made Roger cry by beating him in the finals. This time, Roger vowed to stew moodily in the background, flick wisps of hair off his forehead, and daydream about fire-bombing the whole island of Mallorca.
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.
1. It's tough to be a kicker. 2. The 2-point conversion is a cruel mistress. 3. The marquee games disappointed, but everything else delivered.
I feel bad giving the Oregon-Stanford blowout short shrift, but the result can really be summed up in two words: speed kills. The Stanford run defense, which had been one of the nation's best prior to facing Oregon, gave up 232 yards. From the size of the holes LaMichael James was exploiting, it felt like Stanford was playing a prevent defense all game. In fact, if you'll let me brag for a moment (and I hope you will, because I'm so often wrong), everything I predicted in the preview essentially came true. The words of the prophet:
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
Well, friends and enemies, here we are. No. 1 LSU vs. no. 2 Alabama. The national championship play-in. We've been anticipating this game for so long that watching it will almost feel strange, as though, with all the buildup and the weight of our collective expectations, it shouldn't actually happen. It would be like if one of the wacko apocalypse predictions you hear about every few years actually came true. This is fire-and-brimstone stuff, and I'm not ready.
I'll forgo any suspense and admit to you right now that I have no idea who's going to win. In fact, I'm so overwhelmed by the sheer size of this game that I can barely think straight. But I'm lucid enough to know that this is: