A lot of sports to get through, so let’s tackle the biggest issues of the day in no particular order.
Alabama crushing Notre Dame was no surprise. As an Indiana Catholic school parent I don’t hate Notre Dame nearly as much as I used to. I don’t mind them winning, but still take some pleasure in their losses. One day that fan base will wake and realize it isn’t 1977 anymore. Brian Kelly is the perfect Notre Dame coach: no doubt he’s an excellent coach, but ultra thin skinned and bristles at any suggestions the Irish might be overrated, not at talented as the elite, and benefit from decades of institutional bias toward their brand.
I think it’s funny that Ohio State waxing Clemson was seen as such a huge upset. It’s Ohio State we’re talking about here! They are the third leg in the current Kings of College Football triad. You expect them to be in the playoff every year and if they have a good QB, have a solid chance to win it all.
That it was a surprise that they beat Clemson is just a confirmation of how preseason narrative controls college football. This was supposed to be Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s season of redemption. And so the whole season was just playing out the string until we could get to Clemson-Bama. Ohio State being sucked into all the drama of the Big 10 season kept them from making a claim to be one of the best teams in the country. But they thoroughly exposed Clemson, so much that I saw a couple “how can Clemson fix this” posts yesterday. Which are 100% idiotic. Play ten games and those teams probably split them evenly, or maybe one team goes 6–4. Clemson ran into a motivated opponent and lost a playoff game. I don’t think that’s a sign that they need to blow the program up. Although firing Dabo would be cool…
That said, Alabama is just a freaking machine, and this could be their best offensive team ever. If Justin Fields is 100% Ohio State certainly has a chance. But I see another Saban/Crimson Tide title coming.
We Jayhawks fans were feeling pretty great after KU used a huge second half to run away from West Virginia in their final game before the holidays. It looked like they crushed the souls of the Mountaineers that night, as WVU seemed to completely give up in the final 10 minutes. Hell, Oscar Tshiebwe even left the program after playing particularly poorly.
We were all saying, “Damn, now they have to take 10 days off?”
The layoff sure showed on Saturday vs. Texas. All those shots that fell against WVU were bricks against the Longhorns. For once all that athleticism Texas always has proved to be too much for KU. A convincing win that makes Texas a threat not just to Baylor to win the Big 12, but to actually go deep into the tournament too.
BTW, I found it both ironic and fitting that Texas’ biggest basketball win in a decade or so came on the same day most UT fans were distracted by their football team firing their coach. News even broke of Tom Herman’s firing just before tipoff, meaning most Longhorns fans were busy scrolling and texting and reading about football for the two hours their basketball team was getting a signature win.
I believe I said this last month, but my feelings for college hoops are dialed way back this year. While the season has been without interruption for KU so far, I don’t expect that to hold. The games still feel very different without true crowds. I watch them all but don’t get nearly as up or down as I normally would. I wish that meant I said fewer bad things about David McCormack during games, but I can’t help myself there.
That’s not to diminish Texas’ win, or any other games KU will lose in the coming months. There won’t be an asterisk next to home loses for KU just because there aren’t 16,300 packing Allen Fieldhouse. It just means my emotional investment is not where it has been for the past 35 years or so.
NCAA Tournament in Indiana
This has been rumored for some time and has finally been locked in. The entire NCAA tournament will be played on a variety of courts here in Central Indiana. The plan is for it to still be a March/April deal. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if a champion is crowned later than that, though.
I don’t know that another area could pull this off like Indianapolis. Obviously it helps that the NCAA is headquartered here, and has a long history of working with local government agencies. My only quibble with the plan is that it makes no sense to keep the Final Four at Lucas Oil stadium. Whether there will be crowds or not is still to be determined, but I am confident if fans are allowed, there will not be 40,000+ allowed to watch the game. At a minimum the game should be moved to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Ideally it should be played at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus. Some people have suggested playing the final at a historic high school gym. That’s a step too far for me. But there is no way it should be played in a huge, empty football stadium.
The Colts snuck into the playoffs on the back of Jonathan Taylor’s breakout performance against Jacksonville. For some reason Phillip Rivers struggles against the Jags, and for awhile Sunday it looked like the Colts would be on the outside looking in thanks to him playing poorly twice against the worst team in the league. Fortunately the defense and Taylor bailed Rivers out.
The Colts are an odd team. When they look good, they look really freaking good, like a team that could give the Chiefs a run for three quarters. But in every game they have lapses when things fall apart, when the offense suddenly can’t move the ball, when the defense can’t stop anyone, when penalties pop up at the worst possible moment. They feel like a team that should have been better, but probably got about as much out of their talent as possible. And now I guess we get Rivers back for another year. Yay?
I know the Bills are the hottest team in the game right now, but I think I’d rather the Colts play them than the Ravens. That’s probably dumb, since the Ravens beat the Colts earlier this year and that could be a motivating force. I don’t have much faith in the Bills, though, where I think the Ravens are the Wild Card with the best chance of winning two games.
Looking at the bracket, I admit I did a triple take when I saw that the Bears made the playoffs. I knew the NFC East was awful, but there are enough Bears fans in my Twitter feed that I assumed they were 5–11 or something. I mean, 8–8 ain’t great, but it’s much better than I thought the Bears’ record would be.
That said, I was shocked the Dolphins were a win away from making the playoffs. Weren’t they intentionally choking just a year ago? Things change quick in the NFL!
Right now, I see no reason not to call a Chiefs-Packers Super Bowl and install the Chiefs as early 7.5 point favorites.
The Pacers are off to a solid start, sitting at 5–2 after last night’s overtime win at New Orleans. That was the first game I watched almost start-to-finish.
New coach Nate Bjorkgren has them playing faster, which is fun and suits the roster. But, man, they just get killed on the boards. When you give the other team three chances to score, it sucks the life out of you.
TJ Warren is now expected to miss significant time with a stress fracture in his foot. Jeremy Lamb is still a month or so away from returning from his ACL rehab. Since these are the Pacers, you have to expect at least a couple of the current starters will suffer significant injuries and miss large stretches of games as well.
Yep, the Pacers are still in that weird middle ground they seem to be perpetually stuck in: good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make a deep run. Which means they are never drafting in the lottery. And since free agents do not want to come to Indianapolis, they must rely on savvy trading and take fliers on guys other teams pass over. And then hope they get hot in the playoffs. I guess it’s better than sucking.