Twitter Picks for College Football Week Nine

Game of the Week

#9 Notre Dame (6-1) at #21 Temple (7-0)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, ABC
Favorite:  Notre Dame by 11
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Notre Dame- 9th, Temple- 20th


Big Game Guarantee

Georgia (5-2) at #11 Florida (6-1)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Favorite:  Florida by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Georgia- unranked, Florida- 11th


Upset of the Week

#12 Oklahoma State (7-0) at Texas Tech (5-3)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ESPN
Favorite:  Oklahoma State by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Oklahoma State- 12th, Texas Tech- unranked


Closer Than the Experts Think

South Carolina (3-4) at Texas A&M (5-2)
Saturday, 12:00 pm ET, SEC Network
Favorite:  Texas A&M by 17
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked


NFL Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers (6-0) at Denver Broncos (6-0)
Sunday, 8:30 pm ET, NBC
Favorite:  Packers by 3


Season to Date
Overall Record: 35-24
Last Week: 5-0
College Overall Record: 30-22
Game of the Week: 6-2
Big Game Guarantee: 17-8
Upset of the Week: 3-8
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-5
NFL Game of the Week: 4-2

College Football Power Rankings for Week Eight

At the top of college football’s rankings, there is currently a very tight top five teams, making up the same top five as you will read below.  Each of the five can make a case as to why they should be number one, and looking through the lens of the College Football Playoff, you could arguably make a case for each of the five to be the one team among them left out of the four-team field.  Each of the five received at least three first-place votes in the AP Poll, and with the exception of one writer who voted for Alabama (which doesn’t make much sense since they have a loss), the five at the top were the only teams receiving first-place endorsements.

Why focus on the top five, you might ask?  Those five have created a gap between themselves and the rest of the field.  It isn’t a big enough gap to where the teams can lose a game and drop to fifth, but it is there nonetheless.

Following the top five, it gets easier to put the teams in order, as my rankings below match the AP Poll exactly from seventh to 12th, and are very close to it all the way through 25th.  While we are now over halfway through the season, there are still a lot of games left, and any of the teams on this page can still reach the College Football Playoff, although some near the bottom need to win out and get a lot of help for that to happen.

1. TCU (7-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 5th)
The Horned Frogs were idle over the weekend, preparing for a this week’s Thursday night contest at home against West Virginia (3-3).  TCU is at the top on the strength of an offense that has scored 23, 70, 56, 55, 50, 52, and 45 points in their games so far, supplemented by a defense that has allowed just seven points twice and 21 or less four times, although in the other three games that defense has been a bit of a question mark for Gary Patterson’s club.

2. Ohio State (8-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 1st)
In the Buckeyes’ first game since Urban Meyer named J.T. Barrett the starting quarterback, in place of Cardale Jones, Ohio State cruised to a 49-7 win over Rutgers (3-4).  Barrett completed 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 101 yards on 13 attempts, scoring two more touchdowns.  Ezekiel Elliott also ran for 142 yards and two scores.  The Buckeyes have a bye Saturday before beginning a pivotal November stretch with Minnesota (4-3), a stretch that ends with Michigan State (8-0) at home and Michigan (5-2) on the road.

3. Clemson (7-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 3rd)
While Miami (4-3) coach Al Golden was probably already on a short leach, the Tigers accelerated Golden’s demise, as they destroyed the Hurricanes, 58-0, and Golden was fired after the game.  The Tigers outgained the ‘Canes 567-146, including 416 rushing yards.  Even with seven Tigers touchdowns, they were spread out amongst the offense, with the only player to score two being backup quarterback Kelly Bryant (as an Anderson Independent-Mail freelancer I’ll add that Bryant is a Wren High School product).  Saturday the Tigers face a decent NC State (5-2) team on the road, a week ahead of a potential de facto divisional title game against Florida State (6-1) at home in Death Valley.

4. Baylor (7-0, LW: 5th, AP: 2nd)
The Bears won and lost on Saturday.  They won their contest with Iowa State (2-5), 45-27, in a game they led 35-0 over the Cyclones.  However the win was a pyrrhic victory, as the Bears lost starting quarterback Seth Russell for the year with a neck injury.   For the season, Russell has thrown for 2,104 yards, with 29 touchdowns against six interceptions, and although he didn’t have as good of a game against Iowa State, his loss is a huge blow for the Bears moving forward.  Backup Jarrett Stidham will now step in, and the question for the rest of the regular season will be if he can lead the Bears to the College Football Playoff (Bears fans, remember, Ohio State won the title last year on their third QB).  Luckily, the bye on the Bears schedule comes at the perfect time, as Stidham has an extra week to prepare his first start, next Thursday, November 5, at Kansas State (3-4), before facing a gauntlet of three straight ranked opponents the following three games.

5. LSU (7-0, LW: 6th, AP: 4th)
The Tigers easily dispatched of Western Kentucky (6-2), winning 48-20 in their final regular season non-conference date.  Running back Leonard Fournette got his normal workload, rushing for 150 yards on 26 carries for “only” one touchdown.  Fournette is rushing for 193 yards per game, and has now scored 15 touchdowns in LSU’s seven games.  The Tigers are idle this weekend, as scary thought for Alabama (7-1) this Halloween, as they are the Tigers next opponent on November 7 in Tuscaloosa.

6. Michigan State (8-0, LW: 4th, AP: 6th)
With the exception of a 7-0 score in the first quarter, the Spartans never trailed Indiana (4-4), but much of the game was closer than the 52-26 final score would indicate, as Sparty scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth.  They drop two spots in these rankings after I reassessed their season.  While the Spartans haven’t lost, their seven games against currently unranked teams were won by margins of 13, 3, 14, 20, 3, 7, and 26, and while they were statistically better than Michigan in their win in Ann Arbor, there was certainly a peculiarity to the way they won that game.  The Spartans are 2-6 against the spread, meaning they haven’t played as well as expected in most of those games.  Therefore, I have dropped them behind the first five, although they still could very easily make the College Football Playoff if they win out, starting with a trip to Nebraska (3-5) next Saturday after a bye this week, with a big one lurking at Ohio State (8-0) on November 21.

7. Alabama (7-1, LW: 7th, AP: 7th)
It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Crimson Tide survived their rivalry game with Tennessee (3-4), 19-14, in a very even, back-and-forth contest.  While the Tide were held by the Volunteers to 117 rushing yards, Derrick Henry ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns (yes, the rest of the team ran for -26 yards), including the game-winner with 2:24 to go from 14 yards out for the Tide’s come-from-behind win.  Henry increases his season totals to 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight games.  After a bye this week, the Tide are likely to be home underdogs for the first time since 2007 when they host LSU (7-0) next week.

8. Stanford (6-1, LW: 11th, AP: 8th)
The Cardinal took care of business late Saturday night, beating Washington (3-4), 31-14.  Christian McCaffrey, who has become one of the nation’s best players, rushed for 109 yards on 23 attempts, with one touchdown, and caught five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.  For the season, McCaffrey has 1,237 yards of offense, including 953 rushing yards, and has 1,818 all-purpose yards (includes kick/punt returns).  McCaffrey and company travel to Washington State (5-2) this week, in a game pivotal to the Pac-12 North divisional race.

9. Notre Dame (6-1, LW: 10th, AP: 9th)
The Irish enjoyed an off weekend, fresh off their win over USC (4-3) last week, which now looks even better after the Trojans’ win over Utah.  A big key for the Irish so far this season has been running back C.J. Prosise, who has rushed for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns despite being in his first season as a running back.  Prior to this season, Prosise had 126 career rushing yards, although he did have 588 yards and two touchdowns over two seasons as an Irish receiver.  This week, the Irish travel to Philadelphia to play Temple (7-0), in a game that didn’t look very interesting before the season but has suddenly become a big game for both sides, and is the best game in college football this weekend.

10. Iowa (7-0, LW: 12th, AP: 10th)
The Hawkeyes reach the top 10 for the first time this season, and for the first time in the two-year history of these rankings.  This team has shown it has an ability to win the close ones, beating Pittsburgh (6-1), 27-24, and Wisconsin (6-2), 10-6, as well as the ability to put teams away with authority, beating Northwestern (6-2), 40-10.  That win over Northwestern was October 17, before the Hawkeyes were idle this past weekend, and featured a breakout performance by backup running back Akrum Wadley, who was thrust into the spotlight after injuries to the team’s top two backs, and responded by running for 204 yards and four touchdowns.  Kirk Ferentz’s team doesn’t play a ranked team the rest of the way, and has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West, hosting Maryland (2-5) on Saturday.

11. Florida (6-1, LW: 13th, AP: 11th)
12. Oklahoma State (7-0, LW: 15th, AP: 12th)
13. Michigan (5-2, LW: 16th, AP: 15th)
14. Oklahoma (6-1, LW: 17th, AP: 14th)
15. Memphis (7-0, LW: 18th, AP: 16th)
16. Ole Miss (6-2, LW: 21st, AP: 19th)
17. Florida State (6-1, LW: 9th, AP: 17th)
18. Utah (6-1, LW: 8th, AP: 13th)
19. Toledo (7-0, LW: 19th, AP: 20th)
20. Temple (7-0, LW: 20th, AP: 21st)
21. Houston (7-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 18th)
22. Duke (6-1, LW: 23rd, AP: 22nd)
23. UCLA (5-2, LW: unranked, AP: 24th)
24. Mississippi State (6-2, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)
25. North Carolina (6-1, LW: unranked, AP: unranked)

Fell from rankings:  Texas A&M (5-2, LW: 14th, AP: unranked), Pittsburgh (6-1, LW: 24th, AP: 23rd), California (5-2, LW: 25th, AP: unranked),

World Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

111th World Series:  New York Mets (NL Champion) vs. Kansas City Royals (AL Champion)
Game 1:  Tuesday in Kansas City
Game 2:  Wednesday in Kansas City
Game 3:  Friday in New York
Game 4:  Saturday in New York
Game 5:  Sunday in New York (if nec)
Game 6:  November 3 in Kansas City (if nec)
Game 7:  November 4 in Kansas City (if nec)
All games are at 8:07 pm ET on FOX

This year’s World Series is a bit of a throwback, as the Fall Classic is between two teams trying to win their first title since the mid-1980’s, with the Royals trying to win their first since 1985, and the Mets trying to win their first since 1986.  Both franchises are in their second World Series since then, with the Mets losing to the Yankees in 2000, and the Royals losing in seven games to the Giants just last year.

At the same time, this World Series has a very modern feel, as it is the first World Series ever between two expansion franchises, after the Mets were founded in 1962, and the Royals in 1969.  In addition, both teams are made up of fairly young rosters (particularly the Mets), adding to the contemporary feel, as the game continues to get younger.

By the accounts of most this series is very even and should be very close, although these teams got here two different ways.  The Mets started 49-48, before catching fire on their way to the NL East title, and sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals led their division for 164 days, and never trailed by more than one game, but played a closer, six-game ALCS.  Here’s a breakdown of who will have the advantage:

Starting Pitching:
The Royals had the worst starting ERA of all 10 postseason teams (4.34), although they did pitch very well in the ALCS.  However, the Mets have baseball’s best young rotation, and will send Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA) to the mound in Game 1, followed by Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54), Noah Snydergaard (9-7, 3.24), and Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27).  Collectively the Mets rotation posted a 2.16 ERA in the four games of the NLCS against a good Cubs lineup.
Advantage:  Mets

The Mets have a very solid relief unit, sporting a 3.48 relief ERA, led by Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.85 ERA).  However, they are matched up against a relief corps for Kansas City that has a 2.72 ERA, the second best in baseball, but one I will call the best bullpen in the game.  Wade Davis (17 saves, 0.94 ERA) showed his value as the leader of this ‘pen with a strong ALCS performance.
Advantage:  Royals

Both of these teams have been hitting well during the postseason, with the Mets averaging 4.8 runs per game in the playoffs, and the Royals averaging 5.7 per contest, and scoring 38 runs in the six games of the ALCS.  In the regular season, the Royals had a team batting average 25 points better than the Mets (.269 to .244), and although the Mets’ average is a bit misleading, as they were much better offensively in the second half (.257, after a .233 first half average), there is still an edge for the Royals, even when they can’t use the DH in the games under NL rules in New York.
Advantage:  Royals (barely)

On one hand, the Royals fans experienced the World Series last year, while Mets fans haven’t since 2000, and on the other hand, the Royals have four of the seven games at home.  But both teams are looking for their first title in at or near 30 years, and Royals fans are hungry to go one step further than last year’s loss in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and won’t be content with just another AL title.
Advantage:  even

The Royals experienced the World Series last year, but that’s not solely why I’m giving them the advantage here.  Kansas City has trailed in four of their seven postseason wins this year, taking the lead in the seventh or later in three of those wins, in addition to their clutch hitting to take an eighth inning lead in Game 6 of the ALCS (although they never trailed that game).  Two of the Mets wins in the NLDS were comeback wins, although they were down earlier in the game, and they never trailed a game against the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals seem more equipped to win the close games in this series, because they’ve done it throughout this postseason.
Advantage:  Royals

Yes, Ned Yost was here with the Royals a year ago, and Terry Collins is in his first postseason, let alone his first World Series, but both of these managers have done superbly with young teams in leading them to get better each year, culminating with the two meeting in the World Series.  Giving an edge to one or the other is both unreasonable and unfair.
Advantage:  even

While the Royals have the advantage in three of these six criteria, and the Mets only do in one, with two even, this series is more even then that would indicate.  However, the Royals have been dominant all year, and although this pick is very close, they look more primed to win the series, and trends show they fit the mold of a champion better than the Mets.  That being said, because of how strong both teams are, I think this series will go the distance.

The Royals will win the series, four games to three.

ALCS Recap: Royals def. Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals 4, Toronto Blue Jays 2
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, Toronto 0
Game 2:  Kansas City 6, Toronto 3
Game 3:  Toronto 11, Kansas City 8
Game 4:  Kansas City 14, Toronto 2
Game 5:  Toronto 7, Kansas City 1
Game 6:  Kansas City 4, Toronto 3

After ending a 29-year playoff drought a season ago by advancing to the World Series, and losing it in seven games to the Giants, the Royals have booked their return trip to the Fall Classic, eliminating World Series favorite Toronto in the process in a six-game series.  The Royals are the first team to repeat as AL Champions since the 2010-11 Texas Rangers, and will face the NL Champion New York Mets in the World Series.

Starting Point:  Kansas City Domination in First Two Games
The series started with both teams coming off the emotional highs of winning their Division Series matchups in winner-take-all fifth games against Texas and Houston, and in Game 1 Kansas City picked up right where they had left off, while Toronto appeared to have a slight hangover.  The Royals scored two in the third, on RBI hits by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and another in the fourth on a Salvador Perez solo homer.  That was all starter Edinson Volquez needed, as he went six shutout innings, allowing just two hits, before turning it over to the game’s best bullpen, with Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales adding to the lead with RBI in the eighth.  Game 2 looked different for six innings, as the Blue Jays led 3-0 on a third inning RBI double by Ryan Goins and an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single and Troy Tulowitzski RBI double in the sixth.  But Blue Jays starter David Price came unraveled in the seventh, and suddenly it was 5-3 Royals after RBI by Hosmer, Morales, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Alex Rios, and the excellent Royals bullpen didn’t need any more help, although they got some in the eighth from Moustakas with another RBI, as the Royals won 6-3 to take a 2-0 series lead.

Turning Point: 14 Royals Runs in Game 4
The Royals took their momentum from the ninth inning of Game 3, when they turned an 11-4 deficit into a more respectable 11-8 loss which made it a 2-1 series, into Game 4, roughing up Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey for four runs in the first, with the biggest blow coming from a Ben Zobrist two-run homer, and an add-on run in the second, courtesy of a Rios long ball, giving the Royals a quick 5-0 lead.  Toronto scored a pair in the third on a Josh Donaldson ground rule double and a Jose Bautista RBI groundout, before Kansas City blew it open with four in the seventh, three in the eighth, and two in the ninth.  The 14-2 win meant the Royals were up 3-1, and within a game of the World Series.

Ending Point:  Lorenzo Cain’s Baserunning and Wade Davis’s Pitching
The series finally produced a classic game in Game 6 in Kansas City.  The Royals took an early 2-0 lead on homers by Zobrist in the first and Moustakas in the second, before Bautista countered with a long ball in the fourth to make it 2-1.  The Royals increased their lead to 3-1 on a seventh inning RBI single by Rios, before Bautista homered again, this time hitting a two-run shot, to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the eighth.  Closer Wade Davis got the Royals out of the inning with no further damage, but then a 45-minute rain delay halted the game before the bottom of the eighth.  Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna came in after the delay in the bottom of the eighth, walking Cain to start the inning.  On an ensuing Eric Hosmer single down the right field line, Cain scored from first, a rare feat of baserunning excellence, giving the Royals a 4-3 lead.  Osuna eventually got a double play to escape the inning.  Despite the delay, and having not thrown a pitch in over an hour, Davis returned to the mound for the ninth, and at first didn’t look quite as sharp, as Russell Martin singled to center and, after pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third, walking Kevin Pillar to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base with no one out.  Davis then turned the switch back to his normal, 0.94 ERA self, striking out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere, before getting possible AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to third to end the game.  Like last year, a groundout to Moustakas was the final out of the ALCS, clinching a World Series berth for the Royals.

The Royals won the fourth American League championship in their franchise history, with previous titles in 1980, 1985, and 2014, and advance to play the Mets in the first ever World Series between two expansion teams, beginning Tuesday in Kansas City.

Twitter Picks for College Football Week Eight

Game of the Week

#15 Texas A&M (5-1) at #24 Ole Miss (4-2)
Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, ESPN
Favorite:  Ole Miss by 6
Stiles on Sports Ranking: Texas A&M- 14th, Ole Miss- 21st


Big Game Guarantee

#20 California at UCLA
Thursday, 9:00 pm ET, ESPN
Favorite:  UCLA by 4
Stiles on Sports Ranking: California- 25th, UCLA- unranked


Upset of the Week

#3 Utah at USC
Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, FOX
Favorite: USC by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking: Utah- 8th, USC- unranked


Closer Than the Experts Think

Tennessee at #8 Alabama
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Favorite: Alabama by 15
Stiles on Sports Ranking: Tennessee- unranked, Alabama- 7th


NFL Game of the Week

New York Jets (4-1) at New England Patriots (5-0)
Sunday, 1:00 pm ET, CBS
Favorite: Patriots by 9


Season to Date
Overall Record: 30-24
Last Week: 6-4
College Overall Record: 26-22
Game of the Week: 5-2
Big Game Guarantee: 16-8
Upset of the Week: 2-8
Closer Than the Experts Think: 3-5
NFL Game of the Week: 3-2


NLCS Recap: Mets Sweep Cubs

New York Mets 4, Chicago Cubs 0
Game 1:  New York 4, Chicago 2
Game 2:  New York 4, Chicago 1
Game 3:  New York 5, Chicago 2
Game 4:  New York 8, Chicago 3

Back to the Future 2 famously included a newspaper headline “Cubs Sweep Series” on October 21, 2015.  Well, on October 21, 2015, the Cubs were part of a sweep in a postseason series, although it wasn’t the World Series, and they were the ones being swept.  The New York Mets swept Chicago, as the Mets never trailed in any of the four games in the series, to advance to their first World Series since 2000, as they try to win their first championship since 1986.

Since this series was not as back-and-forth as some other postseason series have been, the key points in this series I will outline won’t be individual moments, but the things that helped the Mets throughout the series.

Starting Point:  Daniel Murphy
Murphy, the Mets second baseman, set a postseason record with a home run in six straight games, dating back to Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.  Murphy’s homer in Game 5 of the NLDS was the difference, as the Mets won to advance, and he homered in the first inning of Game 1 against the Cubs to give the Mets a 1-0 lead, and again in the first inning of Game 2 to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.  In the third inning of Game 3 in Chicago, Murphy went long again to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.  In Game 4, after the Mets had already taken a 6-1 lead, Murphy made history with a 2-run shot to center to extend New York’s lead to 8-1, as he set the postseason record for consecutive games with a homer, breaking Carlos Beltran’s record set in 2004.  For the series, Murphy hit .529 with four homers and six RBI, and was named the series MVP.

Turning Point:  The Mets’ Starting Pitching
It is not news to close followers of the game that the Mets have good, strong, young starting pitching, but that was shown off to the world in this series.  Over 25 IP, the Mets starting staff had a 2.16 ERA.  In Game 1, Matt Harvey pitched 7.2 innings, allowing four hits and two runs.  In Game 2, Noah Snydergaard, threw 5.2 innings, allowing three hits and one run.  In Game 3, ace Jacob deGrom went seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits.  In the clincher, Steven Matz only went 4.2 innings, but only allowed a run on four hits.  Each starter except Matz got credit for a win in their game (Matz didn’t pitch the minumum of five innings for a starter to get a win). For the series, the rotation had an incredible WHIP of 0.84.

Ending Point:  Lucas Duda
The Mets’ first baseman was just 1-for-6 in the series going into Game 4, with his lone RBI coming on a groundout, but he took over in the finale, with a 3-run homer as part of a first inning that gave the Mets a 4-0 lead.  In the second, Duda got two more RBI on a double, which made the Mets lead 6-0.  While Duda wasn’t a huge part of the Mets success in the first three games, he helped to put away Game 4 early, and got the party started in Queens as the Mets clinched their first NL pennant in 15 years.

The Mets will advance to the World Series to play either the Toronto Blue Jays or the Kansas City Royals, with the Royals currently leading the ALCS, 3-2.  The AL winner will have home-field advantage in the series, so the Mets will host Games 3-5, but many experts are saying the Mets will be the favorites in the Fall Classic, regardless of the opponent.

College Football Power Rankings for Week Seven

Saturday marked arguably the best day of college football all season, with four matchups of two ranked opponents, and it did not disappoint.  One of the craziest plays in college football history ended one such game, between Michigan State and Michigan.  Two others in the SEC ended in Alabama and LSU earning big conference wins.  A fifth ranked matchup was played Thursday night between Stanford and UCLA, and although the score was one-sided, the game still produced an incredible catch by Francis Owusu.  The weekend also saw Memphis upset Ole Miss, in a huge win for the Tigers’ program, as well as the American Athletic Conference.

There are now 14 undefeated teams left in college football, and it is possible for as many as seven to make it through the regular season undefeated, a scenario that is unlikely, but would make things very difficult for the College Football Playoff selection committee.  There are seven games left (excluding still to be determined conference championship game matchups) between two teams who are currently undefeated, with the next two coming on November 7 when Clemson hosts Florida State and TCU travels to Oklahoma State, although these teams have to win their games in the interim to reach these November contests with a perfect record.

1. TCU (7-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 4th)
The Horned Frogs trailed Iowa State (2-4) after a quarter, 21-14, but games are 60 minutes, and over the last three quarters, TCU did not allow the Cyclones to score again, winning 45-21.  TCU gained 621 yards of total offense in the game, with quarterback Trevone Boykin accounting for 510 of them, with 436 in the air and 74 on the ground, and five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing).  This week, TCU hosts West Virginia (3-3), who has lost three straight games and is winless in Big 12 play.

2. Ohio State (7-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 1st)
Ohio State’s critics will say that, while they are undefeated, they haven’t appeared to be dominant in many of their wins, even though they have yet to play a ranked opponent.  Saturday against Penn State (5-2), the Buckeyes may have played their best game yet, dominating the Nittany Lions in a 38-10 triumph.  Ezekiel Elliott ran for 153 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback J.T. Barrett ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns.  Barrett came in to run the ball in the first half, before replacing starter Cardale Jones full-time at quarterback in the second half.  Coach Urban Meyer has named Barrett the starter for this week’s game, as the Buckeyes travel to Rutgers (3-3).

3. Clemson (6-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 6th)
Just as running back Wayne Gallman registered his worst statistical outing of the year, rushing for just 48 yards against a strong Boston College defensive front, quarterback Deshaun Watson had his best statistical performance of the season by far, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-17 win over the Eagles (3-4).  The Tigers more than doubled their opponent in total yards for the second straight game, outgaining the Eagles 532-246.  Saturday the Tigers travel to Coral Gables to face a sneaky good Miami (4-2) team.

4. Michigan State (7-0, LW: 4th, AP: 7th)
To say Michigan State snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Saturday against Michigan is an understatement.  All the Wolverines had to do to win was successfully get a punt in the air, but punter Blake O’Neill bobbled the snap, and the ball was picked up by Jalen Watts-Jackson, who ran it into the end zone for a touchdown and a 27-23 Spartans win as time expired.  In the ensuing celebration, as teammates dogpiled on to Watts-Jackson in the end zone, he broke his hip, and is out for the season, but he later said he would do it all again.  While the win looks to be a fluke, the Spartans did play well enough to win, outgaining Michigan 386-230, and having the advantage in first downs, 20-10.  This week, the Spartans host Indiana (3-4).

5. Baylor (6-0, LW: 5th, AP: 2nd)
The Bears gained 693 yards of total offense Saturday in 62-38 win over West Virginia (3-3).  While the defense is still a question mark, as they allowed 38 points to the Mountaineers, the offense is not, led by quarterback Seth Russell.  Russell accounted for 540 yards (380 passing, 160 rushing) and six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) in the win.  Iowa State (2-4), fresh off their loss to TCU, visits Baylor in Waco this week.

6. LSU (6-0, LW: 7th, AP: 5th)
Florida (6-1) didn’t escape Death Valley with a perfect record, as the Tigers defeated the Gators, 35-28.  The winning touchdown came with 10:40 remaining, when kicker Trent Domingue scored on fake field goal, receiving a pitch from holder Brad Kragthorpe and running it in from 16 yards out.  You know running back Leonard Fournette is having a good year when a 180 yard rushing performance against the Gators is over 20 yards below his season average per game (200.3), as Fournette has now run for 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns in LSU’s first six games.  Game number seven is this week, as the Tigers host Western Kentucky (6-1) in non-conference action.

7. Alabama (6-1, LW: 6th, AP: 8th)
The Crimson Tide took advantage of four Texas A&M turnovers and used a career-high 236 rushing yards by Derrick Henry to defeat the Aggies (5-1), 41-23.  Henry has now run for 907 yards on the season, good for 128.7 per game, and 12 touchdowns.  Alabama isn’t dropping a spot here because of their win over Texas A&M, but because LSU beat a better team (Florida) and is still undefeated, and because Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss became slightly worse of a defeat with the Rebels’ loss to Memphis.  The Tide host rival Tennessee (3-3) in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

8. Utah (6-0, LW: 8th, AP: 3rd)
Many saw Utah’s game with Arizona State (4-3) as a potential upset, and the Utes trailed the Sun Devils 18-14 after the third quarter, but Utah responded with 20 unanswered points in the fourth to win 34-18.  Devontae Booker ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and now totals 783 yards and eight touchdowns on the year, while quarterback Travis Wilson, who is very quietly having a solid year with 980 yards and seven touchdowns, threw for 297 yards and two scores in the victory.  Another game some of the experts see as a possible upset alert game for the Utes is Saturday, when they visit USC (3-3) at the Coliseum.

9. Florida State (6-0, LW: 11th, AP: 9th)
The Seminoles beat Louisville, 41-21, on Saturday, on the strength of excellent outings by both Everett Golson and Dalvin Cook, and jump into the top 10 in these rankings for the first time this season, after staying almost exclusively inside it the last two seasons.  Golson threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals, and for the season has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, which is especially remarkable considering he led the nation in turnovers last season while at Notre Dame.  Cook has now rushed for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, including 163 yards and two scoring runs against Louisville, and might be considered the best back in the country if it wasn’t for Leonard Fournette.  This week, the Seminoles travel to Georgia Tech (2-5), who is really struggling after many (including me) saw them in the preseason as a 10+ win team.

10. Notre Dame (6-1, LW: 14th, AP: 11th)
Despite a 31-24 deficit entering the final quarter, Notre Dame was able to put away rival USC, 41-31, after scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.  The Trojans outgained the Irish, 590-476, C.J. Prosise aided Notre Dame in the win, rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns.  Ironically enough, from midway in the second quarter to early in the fourth, it was USC on a scoring streak, as 21 straight put the Trojans up 31-24 after they had trailed 24-10.  After a bye this week the Irish have a game that didn’t look very relevant before the season but is now between two ranked teams, as they travel to Temple (6-0).

11. Stanford (5-1, LW: 16th, AP: 10th)
12. Iowa (7-0, LW: 18th, AP: 12th)
13. Florida (6-1, LW: 10th, AP: 13th)
14. Texas A&M (5-1, LW: 9th, AP: tie for 15th)
15. Oklahoma State (6-0, LW: 17th, AP: 14th)
16. Michigan (5-2, LW: 12th, AP: tie for 15th)
17. Oklahoma (5-1, LW: 19th, AP: 17th)
18. Memphis (6-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 18th)
19. Toledo (6-0, LW: 20th, AP: 19th)
20. Temple (6-0, LW: 21st, AP: 22nd)
21. Ole Miss (5-2, LW: 13th, AP: 24th)
22. Houston (6-0, LW: 23rd, AP: 21st)
23. Duke (5-1, LW: unranked, AP: 23rd)
24. Pittsburgh (5-1, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)
25. California (5-1, LW: 25th, AP: 20th)

Fell from rankings:  UCLA (4-2, LW: 15th, AP: unranked), Northwestern (5-2, LW: 24th, AP: unranked)

Don’t Count the Cubs and Blue Jays Out Just Yet

As both League Championship Series in Major League Baseball continue, to many their outcomes have become an afterthought.  In the ALCS, the Royals lead the best-of-seven series over the Blue Jays, 3-1, while the Mets lead the NLCS over the Cubs, 3-0.  Both series continue tonight, with both the Royals and Mets trying to clinch berths in the World Series, and the Mets trying to complete a series sweep.  However, history shows the outcomes of these series may not be as much of a sure thing as many people think.

The Cubs are trying to become just the second team in history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win any best-of-seven series in MLB history, but they are eerily similar to the first team to do it, the 2004 Boston Red Sox.  Those Red Sox were led by general manager Theo Epstein, were trying to break a long-standing curse, were down 3-0 to a team from New York, and came back to win four straight over the Yankees to win the series, before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.  These Cubs are led by Epstein, who is now their president of baseball operations, are trying to break a long-standing curse, and are down 3-0 to a team from New York.

Before Game Four in the 2004 ALCS, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar made a famous proclamation, caught on camera, and shown in the film Four Days in October, “Don’t let the Sox win this game.  Because then they (the Yankees) get Petey (Pedro Martinez), then they get Schil (Curt Schilling) in Game Six, and then Game Seven anything happens.”  The Cubs match the 2004 Red Sox in this regard as well.  Should the Cubs win tonight, the Mets would face Jon Lester in Game Five, then Jake Arrieta in Game Six.  And like Millar said, should Lester and Arrieta take the series to Game Seven, anything can happen.

The Cubs opponent is the New York Mets, which could also play into a potential comeback.  The Mets are stereotypically known, even by some of their own fans, as a team that is always going to give a game or a series away.  While the team does have two World Series titles, the most recent was in 1986, and they have never swept an opponent in any best-of-seven playoff series.

On the American League side, the Blue Jays aren’t in quite as big of a hole, but they need a big comeback nonetheless, as they trail the series, 3-1.  However, the Blue Jays trailed the Texas Rangers, 2-0, in the best-of-five ALDS, and won three straight games to advance, something they need to do to win this series.  Like the ALDS, out of the three potentially remaining games in the series, one is home in Toronto while two are on the road (although they are in a different order than in the ALDS).  Marco Estrada pitched the first game of the comeback against Texas, and pitches Game Five against the Royals tonight.

The Royals have scored 33 runs in the first four games of the series, which is the tied for the second most in LCS history.  However, the team they are tied with, the 2003 Cubs, and the team with the record, the 2004 Yankees (36 runs), both had 3-1 leads after the first four games of the series–and both blew their 3-1 lead and lost the series in seven games (the Yankees were, in fact, up 3-0, in the aforementioned 2004 series against Boston).

Royals fans are also aware that a 3-1 series lead isn’t necessarily safe, although their experience came from the position the Blue Jays are currently in.  The 1985 Royals were down 3-1 in the World Series to the Cardinals, but came back and won the series in seven games.  They reached that World Series after coming back from another 3-1 deficit in the ALCS, ironically enough against the Blue Jays.

You might think that, in general, the defending league champion leading the League Championship Series by a 3-1 gap means the series is over, but history shows that is not the case.  The most recent such case of a defending league champion leading the LCS 3-1 was in 2012, when the Cardinals blew such a lead against the eventual world champion Giants.  The 2004 Yankees, falling victim to the Red Sox famous comeback, also fit the bill.  Overall, in the last 11 postseasons, there are four such cases of the defending league champion leading the LCS 3-1, and only two won the series (although this is certainly a small sample size).

There are also similarities between the Cubs and Blue Jays in their attempts to make comebacks.  Both have shown earlier in these playoffs that they have very explosive offenses, which can put a lot of runs on the board in a hurry.  Both have strong pitching staffs to supplement those offenses.  Both are at home for the immediate future (Game Five for the Blue Jays, Games 4-5 for the Cubs), in games that can change the momentum of the series.  While many look to Games 6-7 (on the road for both) as games that can extinguish any momentum the Cubs or Blue Jays gain at home, the ultimate example of a comeback, the 2004 Red Sox, were in the same position, playing at home in the middle games of the series, before playing the final two games at Yankee Stadium.

Let me provide the disclaimer that I am not explicitly picking the Cubs or Blue Jays to come all the way back to win their series and advance to the World Series.  However, I did want to point out how possible these comebacks are, based on some interesting historical trends and similarities relevant to both of these series.  As J.P. in Angels in the Outfield would be quick to point out to Cubs and Blue Jays fans, “It could happen!”



National League Championship Series

Game 1:  New York 4, Chicago 2
W: Harvey, L: Lester, S: Familia
New York leads 1-0

Game 2:  New York 4, Chicago 1
W: Syndergaard, L: Arrieta, S: Familia
New York leads 2-0

Game 3:  New York 5, Chicago 2
W: deGrom, L: Cahill, S: Familia
New York leads 3-0

Game 4:  Wednesday, Oct. 21 at Chicago
Game 5 (if nec):  Thursday, Oct. 22 at Chicago
Game 6 (if nec):  Saturday, Oct. 24 at New York
Game 7 (if nec):  Sunday, Oct. 25 at New York

American League Championship Series

Game 1:  Kansas City 5, Toronto 0
W: Volquez, L: Estrada
Kansas City leads 1-0

Game 2:  Kansas City 6, Toronto 3
W: Duffy, L: Price, S: Davis
Kansas City leads 2-0

Game 3:  Toronto 11, Kansas City 8
W: Stroman, L: Cueto
Kansas City leads 2-1

Game 4:  Kansas City 14, Toronto 2
W: Hochevar, L: Dickey
Kansas City leads 3-1

Game 5:  Wednesday, Oct. 21 at Toronto
Game 6 (if nec):  Friday, Oct. 23 at Kansas City
Game 7 (if nec):  Saturday, Oct. 24 at Kansas City

NLCS Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets
Game 1:  Saturday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 2:  Sunday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 3:  Tuesday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 4:  Wednesday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 5:  Thursday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 6:  October 24, 4:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 7:  October 25, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS

Two teams who haven’t played much postseason baseball recently are playing for the right to play more of it–in the World Series.  The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 2008, and the NLCS for the first time since infamous 2003 edition (including the “Steve Bartman Game”), trying for their first NL pennant since 1945, and first World Series title since 1908.  The Mets are also trying to break a title drought, as 1986 was their last world championship, as well as their last NL title, as they return to the NLCS for the first time since 2006, which was also their last playoff appearance.  The Mets host the first two games of this series, after winning Game 5 on the road to eliminate the Dodgers, while the Cubs eliminated the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, marking their first postseason series clinch at the friendly confines on the North side.

Starting rotation:
The Cubs have the better rotation ERA, but not by much, as theirs is 3.36 to the Mets’ 3.44 (both those marks are outstanding).  The Mets do have a slightly better starter’s ERA in the postseason so far, but not enough to give them an obvious advantage.  Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA) for the Mets and Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA) for the Cubs will be the key starters in the series.
Advantage: even

Like their starters, both teams’ bullpens are very statistically even, with the Cubs having an bullpen ERA of 3.38, with the Mets at 3.48.  The Mets have struggled to a 4.30 ERA so far in the postseason, while the Cubs, whose bullpen’s core consists of pitchers who began their careers as starters but have found their niche in the ‘pen, have been solid, even without consisting of too many overwhelming names.
Advantage: Cubs (barely)

These offenses statistically are very even and very similar in runs (Cubs 689, Mets 683), batting average (both teams at .244), home runs (Mets 177, Cubs 171), an OPS (.719 for Cubs, .712 for Mets).  In the postseason, the Cubs are hitting .237 to the Mets’ .208, and while the run total is similar (Cubs 24, Mets 22), the Cubs are outpacing the Mets in homers (Cubs 12, Mets 7) and OPS (Cubs .823, Mets .650).  I don’t generally rely as heavily on postseason stats, but the offenses were so even all year, that’s the only way to give either side an advantage, but the Cubs clearly have the hotter hand (hotter because both offenses are hot).
Advantage: Cubs (barely)

Both cities have waited years for this series, and strutted their stuff for their team’s NLDS home games.  Citi Field in New York and Wrigley Field in Chicago will both have extraordinary atmospheres for this series, as two incredibly passionate and hungry fan bases will be boisterous as they try to will their respective teams into the World Series.
Advantage: even

Both of these rosters are centered around strong young talent which has never had the opportunity both of these teams have in this series.  Both teams do have a few veterans to solidify the experience factor and lead their younger teammates through the postseason gauntlet.
Advantage: even

The managerial matchup is what such a matchup in the NLCS should be, as the two leading candidates for NL Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon of the Cubs and Terry Collins of the Mets, do battle.  Both led young teams to the playoffs for the first time this decade, despite not being favored to do so.  Maddon was Collins’ bench coach with the Angels in the late 1990’s.
Advantage: even

As you can see above, this series is between two incredibly even teams that practically mirror each other.  Because of that, this should be an excellent series, as everything one team does, the other can easily counter to even things up.  The Cubs have the slight edge, and in the Year of the Goat in the Chinese calendar, will return for the World Series to end the “Curse of the Billy Goat”.

The Cubs will win the series, four games to three.