College Football Power Rankings for Week 13

With college football season in the home stretch, there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

Going into championship weekend, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are in the desired top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings, and should likely be in the four-team Playoff with a win this weekend (Ohio State doesn’t play this weekend, but more on that later).

But if one or more of those teams don’t win on Saturday, chaos could ensue, something that we’ve already seen on multiple Saturdays this season.

Could a two-loss team get in the Playoff?  Does a team that didn’t even win their division, like Ohio State or Michigan, deserve a playoff bid?  Could the Big Ten get more than one team in the four-team field?  Could a Pac-12-champion Colorado team or the Big Ten champion get in?

In short:  yes, and it is actually guaranteed to happen if either Clemson or Washington lose;  yes, because the best four teams should get the four spots;  yes, with some help, and there is even a long-shot, chaos-driven, doomsday scenario with three Big Ten teams getting in;  maybe, although even a win and some help doesn’t guarantee them anything.

Each team’s best chance to reach the playoff is listed below, with still a variety of possible scenarios–perhaps the most entering championship weekend in the three years of the College Football Playoff format.

The last few weeks, I have not had the time to write a rankings post, but have posted my top 25 on Twitter.  (See rankings for Week 10 here, and Week 11 here).  I ranked the teams after Week 12 last week, but never posted them to Twitter; however, those rankings are reflected below, listed as each team’s “last week” ranking.

 

The Current Top Four

1. Alabama (12-0, Last Week: 1st, CFP Ranking: 1st)
Last Week:  def. #13 Auburn, 30-12
This Week:  SEC Championship Game vs. #15 Florida
The Crimson Tide are the only Power Five conference team who is undefeated, with 10 “convincing” wins that include triumphs over USC and Auburn, as well as a 10-0 road win over LSU.  Even if the Tide are upset by Florida in the SEC Championship Game, their resume would still be good enough to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

2. Ohio State  (11-1, 2nd, 2nd)
Last Week:  def. #3 Michigan, 30-27 (2ot)
In the first two years of the Playoff format, all eight teams to make the four-team field have been conference champions.  Ohio State will not be a conference champion, as their lone loss to Penn State cost them the Big Ten East Division title, but the Buckeyes have played four of the top nine teams in the CFP’s current rankings, and beat three of them, including Wisconsin and Oklahoma on the road, and Michigan in last week’s double-overtime instant classic.  Yes, the committee infamously dropped TCU from third to sixth after a win in the final week of the 2014 season, but I see no way they would drop the Buckeyes three spots and out of the playoff field.

3. Clemson (11-1, 3rd, 3rd)
Last Week:  def. South Carolina, 56-7
This Week:  ACC Championship Game vs. #23 Virginia Tech
Clemson’s loss is to Pittsburgh, who is now a top 25 team, appears to have been a wake-up call for the Tigers, as all they’ve done in the two games since is outscore their competition 91-20, including a 56-7 win over rival South Carolina, the largest win in the series since 1900.  Clemson is one of the teams that could make things interesting–even chaotic–with a loss, but if the Tigers beat Virginia Tech in the ACC title tilt, the 2015 runners-up will be back in the Playoff for the second straight year.

4. Washington (11-1, 5th, 4th)
Last Week:  def. #23 Washington State, 45-17
This Week:  Pac-12 Championship Game vs. #8 Colorado (Friday)
The Huskies dominated rival Washington State, clinching the Pac-12 North Division.  Washington has the least impressive resume of the one-loss teams, which is why they’re fourth and not higher, and has a loss to the highest ranked team they’ve played, USC.  CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt even said the margin between Washington and Michigan is “extremely small.”  However, past precedent shows the committee values conference championships, and if the Huskies win they would not only have a conference trophy but also a new signature win over an 8th-ranked opponent (Colorado), which should be enough to seal their spot.  If they lose, since their game is Friday night, if could make Saturday’s action even better as the teams below the top four would have added hope knowing a spot is already potentially open.

Other Contenders

5. Michigan (10-2, 4th, 5th)
Last Week:  lost at #2 Ohio State, 30-27 (2ot)
The Wolverines, like Ohio State, did not win the Big Ten East, although unlike Ohio State, Michigan did beat Penn State head-to-head.  After Hocutt’s comments on the small difference between Washington and Michigan, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit inferred that, should one or both of Clemson and Washington falter, the Wolverines would be the next team on a hypothetical Playoff depth chart.  Two three-game stretches are the key to Michigan’s resume:  back-to-back-to-back wins over Colorado, Penn State, and Wisconsin could, in the end, be what gets the Wolverines in the Playoff, but losing two out of three to end the season–even with the losses by just one on the road to Iowa and to Ohio State only after a controversial fourth-down spot to keep the Buckeyes’ eventual game-winning drive alive (it was very close, but yes, it was a first down)–could be what keeps them out of the four-team field.

6. Wisconsin (10-2, 6th, 6th)
Last Week:  def. Minnesota, 31-17
This Week:  Big Ten Championship Game vs. #7 Penn State
On one hand, Wisconsin’s biggest win came way back on Sept. 3 over LSU (who has changed coaches since), although they have also beaten Iowa and Nebraska.  The Badgers two losses are in tough games they played well in–a 7-point loss at Michigan and an overtime loss to Ohio State.  If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten on Saturday, they will have a new signature win over Penn State, but they need some help to have any Playoff shot, especially since one of the teams they would have to jump is a Michigan team they’ve lost to.

7. Oklahoma (9-2, 7th, 9th)
Last Week:  idle
This Week:  vs. #10 Oklahoma State
With the Big 12 lacking a conference championship game, the league has regular season games this weekend.  However, as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play their “Bedlam” rivalry game, it will double as a de facto league title game, with the victor winning the Big 12.  The Sooners have won nine straight after early-season losses to Houston and Ohio State, although they only have one win over a team that is currently ranked, West Virginia.  The CFP committee did not rank the Sooners as high as I have, which means they face a very uphill battle to have any Playoff shot–it would likely take a huge blowout of the Cowboys and losses by both Clemson and Washington, and even then that probably would still not be enough, as the Sooners are would have to jump two teams out of Michigan, the eventual Big Ten champion, and Colorado (who would be the team to potentially beat Washington).

8. Penn State (10-2, 8th, 7th)
Last Week:  def. Michigan State, 45-12
This Week:  Big Ten Championship Game vs. #6 Wisconsin
The Nittany Lions are one of the nation’s best stories of the season, winning 10 games and the Big Ten East after two straight 7-6 seasons, and just three years removed from postseason ban that followed the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  To some, Penn State have a better case than a couple of the teams directly above them, given their eight game winning streak that includes wins over Ohio State and Iowa.  The Nittany Lions also won a division most consider the toughest division in college football this year, preventing Ohio State and Michigan from doing so.  Two September losses to Michigan and Pittsburgh are what hurts the Nittany Lions chances, especially considering the Michigan loss was by 39 points.  Still, Penn State may have a shot at the top four, albeit a small one, with a win Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship Game and some help from a couple of the teams ranked above them.

9. Colorado (10-2, 9th, 8th)
Last Week:  def. #22 Utah 27-22
This Week:  Pac-12 Championship Game vs. #4 Washington (Friday)
The Buffaloes may have an even better story than Penn State.  They are in playoff contention after clinching their first bowl appearance since 2007 and their first winning season since 2005, and had won just 11 conference games in the last eight years entering this season, finishing last (tie or outright) all five seasons in the Pac-12.  Now, they are the champions of the Pac-12 South, with their only losses coming to Michigan and USC, although they lack a true signature win (#20 Utah is their best).  At the very least, they can play the role of spoiler in Friday’s title bout against #4 Washington.  It would take a dominant performance and a lot of help, but if chaos occurs, the Buffaloes could still have an outside shot at the four-team field.  Regardless, Mike McIntyre is easily the national coach of the year.

10. Oklahoma State (9-2, 10th, 10th)
Last Week:  idle
This Week:  at #9 Oklahoma
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys have quietly put together another solid season, and are one win away from the Big 12 title, facing Oklahoma in the “Bedlam” game on Saturday.  While the Cowboys have wins over West Virginia and Pittsburgh, although they also have losses to Baylor and Central Michigan.  The latter is the worst loss among any of the Playoff contenders, although the game was only lost after the officials made a procedural error at the end of the game that allowed Central Michigan an untimed down, on which they scored, an error the Big 12 later admitted to.  The Cowboys resume doesn’t have the punch that the nine teams above them do, and with the two Big 12 contenders ranked 9th and 10th they are likely out of Playoff contention, even in the most unusual circumstances, although if the Pokes blow out Oklahoma and have a lot of help, they may have a sliver of hope.

Great Team, But No Playoff Case

11. USC (9-3, 14th, 11th)
Last Week:  def. Notre Dame, 45-27
USC may be the hottest team in the country, with eight straight wins, including victories over both Pac-12 division winners (the only conference loss for both teams), leaving a few of the more radical pundits clamoring for the Trojans to be considered for the Playoff.  But the Trojans lost three games in September, and only one of them was close.  This is a hot team, and one which I would not want to play as an opposing player or coach, but three losses is simply too much for a team to be even considered for the Playoff.

12. Western Michigan (12-0, 13th, 17th)
Last Week:  def. Toledo, 55-35
This Week:  MAC Championship Game vs. Ohio (Friday)
The Broncos are one of two undefeated teams in FBS, alongside Alabama, but with their MAC schedule I agree with the committee that they aren’t a Playoff team (although I do have them five spots higher than the committee does).  It’s not that they haven’t been dominant–the Broncos have scored 34 or more in 11 games and allowed 21 or less in eight games–but looking over their schedule there are no truly quality wins.  I can’t even identify who their “best win” is.  Western Michigan plays Ohio for the MAC title on Friday night, and currently holds a two-spot edge over Navy to be the highest ranked “Group of Five” champion, a distinction that earns an automatic “New Year’s Six” bowl bid (this year, the Cotton Bowl).

The Best of the Rest

13. Florida State (9-3, 15th, 12th)
14. Florida (8-3, 12th, 15th)
15. LSU (7-4, 23rd, 21st)

16. West Virginia (9-2, 21st, 16th)
17. Louisville (9-3, 11th, 13th)
18. Auburn (8-4, 16th, 14th)
19. Iowa (8-4, unranked, unranked)
20. Virginia Tech (9-3, unranked, 23rd)

21. Stanford (9-3, unranked, 18th)
22. Pittsburgh (8-4, unranked, 25th)
23. Navy (9-2, unranked, 19th)
24. Nebraska (9-3, 17th, unranked)
25. Utah (8-4, 22nd, 20th)

Also ranked in CFP Rankings:  Tennessee (8-4, CFP: 22nd), Houston (9-3, 24th)

Fell from Rankings:  Tennessee (8-4, Last Week: 18th), Houston (9-3, 19th), Boise State (10-2, 20th), Texas A&M (8-4, 24th), Washington State (8-4, 25th)

 

 

Note:  the tweets with my power rankings from previous weeks can be seen here:
Week 10
Week 11

2016-17 ACC Men’s Basketball Preview

College basketball begins today, and while the sports world will honestly not be focused on college hoops for a couple of months and the first conference game will not be played until December 28, the games do count starting tonight.

The ACC is one of the best and deepest leagues in the country, and after sending seven teams to the 2016 NCAA Tournament (plus a Louisville team that would have gone if not for a postseason ban), preseason projections for this coming season estimate nine to 10 ACC teams playing in the Big Dance come March.

The top of the league appears to be much of the same, with Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia as the consensus three best teams in the conference.  The bottom three of Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Boston College are also pretty much the same on everyone’s radar.  The nine teams, in the middle, however, are a complete tossup, and I could see those nine falling in any order.

Only three of the 15 players named All-ACC last year are back this season (Duke G Grayson Allen [first team], Clemson F Jaron Blossomgame [first team], Pittsburgh F Michael Young [third team]), leaving the door open for breakout stars in the 2016-17 season.

That said, the league is still exceptionally talented from top to bottom, with really good players on all 15 teams.  The ACC is collectively a little bit younger this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, with a very deep field of talented freshman coming into the league, and sophomores poised to break out in their second trip through ACC play.

Without further adieu, here is how the teams stack up, in my estimation, entering the beginning of play tonight.

(And also, as a disclaimer… don’t go to Vegas with these predictions.  Last year’s predictions were decent, but I really missed on a couple of teams.)

 

Records for 2016-17 are projected for the regular season
Statistics are from 2015-16 unless otherwise noted

1.  Duke (Media Pick: 1st)
2015-16:  25-11, 11-7 ACC, NCAA Sweet 16
2016-17:  28-3, 16-2 ACC, NCAA National Champion
The Blue Devils are as talented as any team in the country, with the veteran leadership of G Grayson Allen (21.6 ppg, 3.5 apg), G Matt Jones (10.4 ppg) and F Amile Jefferson (11.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg), and two of the top-three rated incoming freshmen in the country, F Jayson Tatum and F Harry Giles.  Chemistry could potentially be an issue here, but the Blue Devils are not alone with that issue, and Mike Krzyzewski has made a career out of making sure talented teams play together as one.  This team is really good.

2.  North Carolina (2nd)
2015-16:  33-7, 14-4 ACC, NCAA National Runner-Up
2016-17:  25-7, 13-5 ACC, NCAA Elite Eight
After losing the national title game to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater, the Tar Heels lost Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, but did not lose a single player to the NBA for the first time since 2011.  As a result, while replacing Johnson and Paige is no small task, the lineup is still experienced and primed for success, led by Justin Jackson (12.2 ppg, 2.8 apg), Joel Berry (12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) and Isaiah Hicks (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg).  While they aren’t quite on the level of their neighbors in Durham, the Heels were the only other team anyone at ACC Media Day picked to win the league (85 of 91 writers voted for Duke, and the other six voted for North Carolina).

3.  Virginia (3rd)
2015-16:  29-8, 13-5 ACC, NCAA Elite Eight
2016-17:  20-10, 11-7 ACC, NCAA Sweet 16
Last year’s Cavaliers got within a win of their first Final Four since 1984, but 58% of the scoring from that team graduated (Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte).  ACC Player of the Year Brogdon was that team’s leader, but London Perrantes (11.0 ppg, 4.4 apg), a four-year starting point guard, should be as effective leading this team, while Memphis transfer F Austin Nichols (13.3 ppg, 3.4 bpg) will be a key addition.  Tony Bennett’s philosophy, especially on defense, is based completely around the team, something that can help a group without many established stars to maintain their place as one of the best programs in the ACC right now.

4.  Pittsburgh (12th)
2015-16:  21-12, 9-9 ACC, NCAA First Round
2016-17:  20-10, 11-7 ACC, NCAA Second Round
The Panthers, who started 14-1 last year before stumbling to the finish and a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament, are a unique case in predicting this year’s ACC.  On one hand, while the Panthers lost NCAA all-time assist-to-turnover ratio leader James Robinson, the four seniors of Michael Young (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Jamel Artis (14.4 ppg, 3.0 apg), Sheldon Jeter (8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Chris Jones (6.1 ppg) do return, making this one of the league’s more experienced lineups.  On the other hand, former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings replaces Jamie Dixon, who left for TCU.  If the cohesion the Panthers players will have extends to the coach’s chair, they can be a strong sleeper in the ACC, despite being picked 12th by the media.

 5.  Florida State (8th)
2015-16:  20-14, 8-10 ACC, NIT Second Round
2016-17:  20-11, 10-8 ACC, NCAA Second Round
Florida State loses Malik Beasley, their first ever player to leave for the NBA as a freshman, and Devon Bookert, but still returns a very strong and well-balanced roster, led by G Dwayne Bacon (15.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and G Xavier Rathan-Mayes (11.8 ppg, 2.3 apg), as well as highly-touted freshman F Jonathan Isaac.  The Seminoles under coach Leonard Hamilton have been to four NCAA Tournaments, but none since 2012, a fact that could change come March.

6.  Louisville (4th)
2015-16:  23-8, 12-6 ACC, postseason ban
2016-17:  20-11, 10-8 ACC, NCAA Second Round
The Cardinals’ championship-caliber team last year could not participate in the postseason due to a self-imposed ban due to NCAA investigation.  While Louisville lost their top three scorers when Damion Lee and Trey Lewis graduated and Chinanu Onuaku left for the NBA, the Cardinals did dodge a bullet when the NCAA did not punish them further when the investigation into the program’s escort scandal concluded.  G Quentin Snider (9.4 ppg, 3.5 apg) and F Mangok Mathiang (7.1 ppg, 5.7 apg) provide a solid one-two, backcourt-and-post combo, and the Cardinals have their typical depth under coach Rick Pitino, so they should return to March Madness this year.

7.  NC State (6th)
2015-16:  16-17, 5-13 ACC
2016-17:  20-11, 10-8 ACC, NCAA First Round
The Wolfpack had a rough year last season after some (including me) picked them as high as fourth in the ACC.  Even with league scoring champion Cat Barber leaving for the NBA and the Martin twins, Cody and Caleb, transferring, the Pack are the wild card of this year’s ACC.  F Abdul-Malik Abu (14.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) turned down the NBA to come back for his junior year, G/F Maverick Rowan (12.9 ppg) should improve as a sophomore and G Terry Henderson returns after a season-ending injury in last year’s opener.  In addition, NC State boasts solid freshmen in G Dennis Smith Jr., who is already drawing Chris Paul comparisons, and Turkish C Omar Yurtseven.  If Mark Gottfried can put it together, the Wolfpack have the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament.

8.  Virginia Tech (10th)
2015-16:  20-15, 10-8 ACC, NIT Second Round
2016-17:  18-12, 9-9 ACC, NCAA First Round
Buzz Williams’ rebuilding project in Blacksburg took a step ahead of schedule last year, going over .500 in league play and returning to the postseason in the NIT.  The top four scorers are back, led by F Zach LeDay (15.5 ppg, 7.9 apg), G Seth Allen (14.7 ppg, 2.5 apg), and G Justin Bibbs (11.7 ppg), and with the momentum the program has, they have a realistic chance to make their first trip to the Big Dance since 2007.

9.  Notre Dame (7th)
2015-16:  24-12, 11-7 ACC, NCAA Elite Eight
2016-17:  17-12, 9-9 ACC, NIT
The Fighting Irish nearly qualified for the Final Four last year, something they have not done since 1978, but repeating that feat will be difficult this season.  Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson have graduated, and it will be up to VJ Beachem (12.0 ppg), Steve Vasturia (11.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Bonzie Colson (11.1 ppg, 6.7 apg) to step up.  I’m not necessarily doubting their leadership, but I’m not sure the Irish have the depth beneath them to duplicate the great success of the last two seasons.

10.  Syracuse (5th)
2015-16:  23-14, 9-9 ACC, NCAA Final Four
2016-17:  18-13, 8-10 ACC, NIT
A legitimate case can be made that the Orange should not have made the NCAA Tournament last year, but once they were in they stunningly advanced to the Final Four, falling to North Carolina in the semifinals.  Graduates Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and Trevor Cooney are gone, and it’s up to sophomore sensation F Tyler Lydon (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and senior F Tyler Roberson (8.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) to lead.  Depth could be an issue, as the Orange’s NCAA penalty of a scholarship reduction can be seen in a razor-thin roster.

11.  Miami (9th)
2015-16:  27-8, 13-5 ACC, NCAA Sweet 16
2016-17:  17-13, 8-10 ACC, NIT
Under the leadership of the senior trio of Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri, Miami was ranked as high as eighth last year and made just the third trip to the Sweet 16 in program history.  It’s now up to the less-polished senior trio of former “sixth man” G Ja’Quan Newton (10.5 ppg, 2.5 apg), F Davon Reed (11.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and F Kamari Murphy (5.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg).  It typically isn’t wise to underestimate Hurricane coach Jim Larranaga, but he has less depth with this team than either his 2013 or 2016 Sweet 16 squad.

12.  Clemson (11th)
2015-16:  17-14, 10-8 ACC
2016-17:  16-14, 8-10 ACC
The Tigers have one of the league’s best players in senior F Jaron Blossomgame (18.7 ppg, 6.7), a newly-renovated home arena at Littlejohn Coliseum, and the most underrated coach in the league in Brad Brownell.  In addition to Blossomgame, last year’s other double-figure scorers are also back in F Donte Grantham (10.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and G Avry Holmes (10.0 ppg, 2.6 apg), although they will miss the leadership of Jordan Roper and Landry Nnoko.  The league’s depth is why they are this far down this list, but the Tigers are perfectly capable of playing their way back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

13.  Wake Forest (13th)
2015-16:  11-20, 2-16 ACC
2016-17:  14-16, 6-12 ACC
Four year starters Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre have graduated, and while the Deacons will certainly miss their production, that means that every player playing significant minutes is a Danny Manning import, either via recruiting or transfer.  Point guard Bryant Crawford (13.8 ppg, 4.4 apg) and F Dinos Mitoglou (9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg) lead the returners, while the team adds transfer shooters Keyshawn Woods (Charlotte) and Austin Arians (Milwaukee) and freshman G Brandon Childress, the son of Deacons legend and assistant coach Randolph Childress.  Arians is the only rotation player who won’t return next year (barring transfers), so the rebuilding Deacs can not only focus on this season, but next.

14.  Boston College (15th)
2015-16:  7-25, 0-18 ACC
2016-17:  10-21, 3-15 ACC
The Eagles literally have nowhere to go but up after a winless ACC campaign last year, although they did lose their best player, Eli Carter, to graduation.  The roster still lacks in proven players beyond G Jerome Robinson (11.7 ppg), but does feature incoming transfers Connor Tava (Western Michigan), Maurice Jeffers (Delaware) and Jordan Chatman (BYU), meaning this team isn’t necessarily as strong at the top, but could have slightly more depth than last year’s disaster.  Still, it will be an uphill climb for the Eagles.

15. Georgia Tech (14th)
2015-16:  21-15, 8-10 ACC, NIT Quarterfinals
2016-17:  9-22, 2-16 ACC
The Yellow Jackets turned a strong finish last year into Brian Gregory’s first postseason bid there, an NIT trip.  Now, former Memphis coach Josh Pastner replaces Gregory, as the roster has little resemblance to a season ago.  The Jackets have lost 78 percent of their scoring from last year and their top four scorers, including team leader Marcus Georges-Hunt, while leading returning scorer Quinton Stephens only averaged 5.0 ppg last year.  None of the incoming freshman are viewed as impact players, and it could be a long debut season for Pastner in Atlanta.

 

My Preseason All-ACC First Team:  Duke G Grayson Allen, Clemson F Jaron Blossomgame, Virginia G London Perrantes, North Carolina G Justin Jackson, Florida State G Dwayne Bacon

Media Preseason All-ACC First Team:  Allen, Blossomgame, Perrantes, North Carolina G Joel Berry, NC State G Dennis Smith Jr.

If Sports Stars Became President

Today, the United States will elect its 45th president.

But after this dreadful campaign season, instead of imagining either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as the next president, let’s have some fun.  I’ve taken the liberty of looking at what might happen if some of the biggest sports stars in sports became president, using their sports careers as the framework for what might happen in their time in office (the real-life sports example is in parentheses).

Kevin Durant

After Durant has been president for one fairly successful term (nine seasons with the Thunder), he declines a second term (elects free agency) and announces he is moving to Russia (the Golden State Warriors) in an attempt to become the Russian president, claiming he thinks he has a better chance to be seen as a winner on the global stage (winning an NBA championship).

LeBron James

Similar to Durant, James left the country (elected free agency) after one term to try and become a legendary leader (NBA champion) elsewhere in the world (the Miami Heat).  After a successful term as the French president (two NBA titles in Miami), he decides to return home to the United States (the Cleveland Cavaliers) and try to become president again (win a title in Cleveland).  In a classic election (the 2016 NBA Finals), James comes from way behind (three games to one) to upset incumbent Stephen Curry in the election and become president again (win the NBA championship).

Tom Brady

After winning a fourth term as president (four Super Bowl titles), Brady is impeached for shredding the ballots of his opponent’s voters (deflating footballs) in the primary election (AFC Championship Game), and convicted by the Senate (suspended by the NFL).  Brady continuously appeals the impeachment ruling (appeals the suspension to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) and proclaims his innocence, but after multiple appeals finally accepts his fate, and vice president Jimmy Garoppolo (backup quarterback) becomes president (starting quarterback).

Dabo Swinney

After president Tommy Bowden resigns (Bowden resigned as Clemson football coach in 2008), Swinney, the little-known Secretary of Commerce becomes president (Swinney was promoted from wide receivers coach to head coach).  He is initially thought of as nothing more than a temporary figurehead (interim coach), but after he does a good job finishing Bowden’s term (4-3 to finish the season), Swinney wins reelection (is named permanent coach), and goes on to be one of the best presidents in American history (one of the best coaches in Clemson history).

Steve Spurrier

Spurrier oversees a period of great prosperity in his first stint as president (an ACC title at Duke, then six SEC titles and a national championship at Florida), but declines another term to seek other challenges (goes to the NFL).  In the next election, Spurrier wins back the presidency (returns to the college game at South Carolina), and after a slow start to his second stint (five-plus losses his first six seasons at South Carolina), Spurrier oversees the greatest three-year economic stretch in American history (three consecutive 11-2 seasons were the greatest run in South Carolina school history).  However, the economy quickly receded into depression (South Carolina fell back into mediocrity), and Spurrier resigned mid-term (he resigned after a 2-4 start to 2015), citing vice president Shawn Elliott (interim coach) as the new leadership the nation needed.

Peyton Manning

Manning, the son of former president Archie Manning (NFL Hall f Famer), came into office with much anticipation and momentum (entered the NFL as the #1 overall draft pick).  After a lengthy presidential career with many personal accomplishments (five NFL MVP awards), but little tangible evidence to show the nation’s progress (only one Super Bowl entering 2015), the nation has the highest GDP (the Broncos win the Super Bowl) in his final year in office (final NFL season), although much of the public realizes that in his lame-duck status he actually had very little to do with it (Manning was a shell of his former self in the playoffs, and it was the defense who guided the team to the Super Bowl title).

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt is the son of a political legend who died in office (Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in an accident competing in the 2001 Daytona 500), and rides his father’s popularity to become president (Earnhardt Jr. has consistently been the sport’s most popular driver since his father’s death), with a high approval rating.  His presidency is decent, but not overwhelming (26 wins in 18 seasons, highest points finish of third), before he is unexpectedly forced to resign due to a brain injury (he has missed the second half of 2016 with a concussion), and is replaced by rising political star Alex Bowman (Bowman will run a total of 10 races in Earnhardt’s car this season), who becomes the youngest president, while legendary former president Jeff Gordon comes out of retirement to be Bowman’s vice president (Gordon came out of retirement to run eight races in Earnhardt’s car this season)

Tiger Woods

Woods is the most dominant political figure of his time (he won 14 major championships his first 12 years on the PGA Tour), winning every election he ever ran in by a landslide (many of his major championship wins were not close), before he is forced to resign in disgrace after a sex scandal (he took a break from the PGA Tour in 2010 after a sex scandal).  Woods keeps trying to make political comebacks (trying to win more major championships), but each time faces a setback (multiple injuries and a struggling golf game), including most recently withdrawing from a Senate race just three days before the election (withdrawing from the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open three days before), saying he felt he would be “vulnerable” on Capitol Hill (he said he felt his game would be “vulnerable” on the PGA Tour).

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez is on track to become one of the greatest presidents in American history (one of the great players in MLB history), when evidence appears that he has been taking specially-designed and illegal drugs to help his performance as president (performance enhancing drugs/steroids), with the help of aide Tony Bosch (Rodriguez’s friend who ran the Biogenesis clinic and provided PED’s).  A-Rod denies the allegations (he denied using PED’s for many years), famously proclaiming “I did not have performance-enhancing drugs with that man.”

Bruce Bochy

A younger Bochy won the presidential nomination with the Padres party but lost to Joe Torre and the Yankees (Bochy’s Padres won the 1998 NL Pennant but lost the World Series to New York), and after moving to the Giants party, Bochy becomes president in 2010 (the Giants won the World Series).  In ensuing elections, Bochy always looks down and out, but he and his political team are gritty competitors and always find a way to win the elections in the even-numbered years (the Giants won the World Series in 2012 and 2014).

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz

After the United States returns to the Articles of Confederation system, in which a three-person executive panel leads the nation instead of one president, the trio of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz from the Braves party comes into power (the three pitchers were Braves teammates from 1993-2002).  They become known as “the Big Three,” and while they are all from the same party, Maddux and Smoltz lean to the right, but Glavine leans to the left (Maddux/Smoltz were right-handed pitchers, and Glavine left-handed).  While all three are most remembered with the Braves party, all of them switched parties before the end of their political careers (all three left the Braves before the end of their careers).

 

Bonus:  The Chicago Cubs 

The Cubs political party won the White House in 1908 (won the 1908 World Series), but lost each election for the following 108 years (did not win the World Series for 108 years), despite a passionate nationwide base who optimistically proclaims “Wait ’til next year” each time the party loses, while opponents call them the “lovable losers.”  Close calls include losing to a third-party bid by the Billy Goats in 1945 (the “curse of the billy goat” began in 1945), and to another bid by the Black Cats in 1969 (the Cubs blew a large division to the Mets lead after a black cat ran in front of their dugout at Shea Stadium in New York in 1969).  In 2003, the Cubs lost to the Marlins Party (lost the NLCS to the Marlins) after write-in candidate Steve Bartman, a private citizen with no intentions of the fame of public office, stole enough votes to cost the Cubs the election (Bartman, a fan, infamously prevented outfielder Moises Alou from catching a foul ball when the Cubs were five outs away from the pennant, and the Marlins came back and won).  The 2016 Cubs, with the ticket of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo (NL MVP candidates), and under the direction of party chairman Joe Maddon (manager), came from behind with a late surge to beat the Indians party and win the election (came from 3-1 down to win the World Series), ending the party’s drought.

College Football: Week Nine Power Rankings and Week 10 Twitter Picks

Power Rankings for Week Nine

1. Alabama (8-0, Last Week: 1st, College Football Playoff Rankings: 1st)
2. Clemson (8-0, 2nd, 2nd)
3. Michigan (8-0, 3rd, 3rd)
4. Washington (8-0, 4th, 5th)
5. Louisville (7-1, 5th, 7th)

6. Ohio State (7-1, 6th, 6th)
7. Wisconsin (6-2, 9th, 8th)
8. Texas A&M (7-1, 10th, 4th)
9. Oklahoma (6-2*, 12th, 14th)
10. Nebraska (7-1, 8th, 10th)

11. Florida (6-1, 14th, 11th)
12. Auburn (6-2, 15th, 9th)
13. Florida State (5-3, 11th, 22nd)
14. Baylor (6-1, 7th, 17th)
15. North Carolina (6-2, 16th, 21st)

16. LSU (5-2, 20th, 13th)
17. Utah (6-2, 19th, 16th)
18. Oklahoma State (6-2, unranked, 18th)
19. Western Michigan (9-0, 21st, 23rd)
20. West Virginia (6-1, 17th, 20th)

21. Virginia Tech (6-2, 24th, 19th)
22. Penn State (6-2, 23rd, 12th)
23. Boise State (7-1, 13th, 24th)
24. Colorado (6-2, 25th, 15th)
25. Tennessee (5-3, 18th, unranked)

Also Ranked in CFP Rankings:  Washington State (5-2, 25th)

Fell from Rankings:  Navy (5-2, Last Week: 22nd)

*Oklahoma improved to 7-2 in their Week 10 game on Thursday night, beating Iowa State 34-24.

 

Twitter Picks for Week 10

Game of the Week

#1 Alabama (8-0) at #13 LSU (5-2)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, CBS
Favorite:  Alabama by 8
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Alabama- 1st, LSU- 16th

 

Big Game Guarantee

TCU (4-4) at #17 Baylor (6-1)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, FOX
Favorite:  Baylor by 8
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  TCU- unranked, Baylor- 14th

 

Upset of the Week

Pittsburgh (5-3) at Miami (4-4)
Saturday, 12:30 pm ET, ACCN
Favorite:  Miami by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

Closer Than the Experts Think

#10 Nebraska (7-1) at #6 Ohio State (7-1)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, ABC
Favorite:  Ohio State by 17
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Nebraska- 10th, Ohio State- 6th

 

Not Closer Than the Experts Think

#11 Florida (6-1) at Arkansas (5-3)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Favorite:  Florida by 4
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Florida- 11th, Arkansas- unranked

 

Bad Spread Game

#18 Oklahoma State (6-2) at Kansas State (5-3)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ABC/ESPN2
Favorite:  Kansas State by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Oklahoma State- 18th, Kansas State- unranked

 

Group of Five Game of the Week

Notre Dame (3-5) vs. Navy (5-2)
at Jacksonville, Fla. (EverBank Field)
Saturday, 11:30 am ET, CBS
Favorite:  Notre Dame by 7
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

Is This Futbol?

Missouri (2-6) at South Carolina (4-4)
Saturday, 4:00 pm ET, SECN
Favorite:  South Carolina by 7
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

Is This Basketball?

Texas (4-4) at Texas Tech (4-4)
Saturday, 12:00 pm ET, FS1
Favorite:  Texas by 3.5
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

Toilet Bowl

Indiana (4-4) at Rutgers (2-6)
Saturday, 12:00 pm ET, BTN
Favorite:  Indiana by 14
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

Miscellaneous:  Commander in Chief’s Trophy, Game #2

Air Force (5-3, 1-0 in Comm. in Chief Trophy) at Air Force (5-3, 0-0)
Saturday, 12:00 pm ET, CBSSN
Favorite:  Army by 1
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  both teams are unranked

 

NFL Game of the Week

Denver Broncos (6-2) at Oakland Raiders (6-2)
Sunday, 8:30 pm ET, NBC
Favorite:  Raiders by 1

 

For what it’s worth…

Overall Record: 59-47-1
Last Week: 7-5
College Overall Record: 56-43
NFL Game of the Week: 3-4-1

Game of the Week: 5-4
Big Game Guarantee: 3-6
Upset of the Week: 4-5
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-5
Not Closer Than the Experts Think: 7-2
Overhyped/Bad Spread Game: 4-5
Group of Five Game of the Week: 6-3
Is This Futbol?: 7-2
Is This Basketball?: 7-2
Toilet Bowl: 5-4
Miscellaneous: 4-5

For an explanation of the categories for Twitter Picks, click here.

Column: Game 7 WAS the Game of the Century

I called it the biggest baseball game of the century to date.

I told myself that with that much buildup and hype, it would be difficult for the game to live up to that lofty title, even with the guarantee of one championship drought coming to an end.

But after the Chicago Cubs outlasted the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings to win their first championship in 108 years, Game 7 of the 112th World Series didn’t just live up to the hype–it surpassed it, unquestionably becoming greatest baseball game played in this century, and arguably the greatest of all-time.

Even before first pitch the game had a plethora of storylines.  The 37th winner-take-all World Series game in history, between franchises looking for their first titles since 1908 and 1948.  The Cubs trying to complete a Series comeback after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven contest.  A 103-win Cubs team having to play Game 7 on the road because the American League won the All-Star Game.

Cy Young Award contenders from each league, Kyle Hendricks and Corey Kluber, facing off head-to-head for all the marbles.  A managerial battle between Joe Maddon and Terry Francona.  The Cubs exceptional young core of position players and the equally exceptional Indians bullpen.

Game 7 had all this, and more.  Really, it had a little bit of everything.  Things that were expected to happen never unfolded, and things no one expected did occur.  One game contained innumerable moments that will live in the lore of the World Series much longer than 108 years from now.

Dexter Fowler’s leadoff homer.  Kyle Schwarber’s steal in the first.  Kris Bryant sliding between the legs of catcher Roberto Perez to score.  Javier Baez’s homer.  The Cubs stunning Kluber to take a 5-1 lead.  Three Cubs errors.  Hendricks dealing, then being pulled for Jon Lester.  Two Indians scoring on a wild pitch (the first time two scored on a wild pitch in a World Series game since 1911).  David Ross homering in his final career at-bat, becoming the oldest to homer in a World Series Game 7.  Rajai Davis’s unlikely home run in the 8th, the latest game-tying homer in any Game 7 in history.  Aroldis Chapman, running on fumes, somehow getting the Indians in order in the 9th.  Extra innings.

A rain delay.  Schwarber’s leadoff walk in the 10th.  Pinch-runner Albert Almora tagging to second on a flyout.  Zobrist’s go-ahead double in the 10th.  He and Montero earning RBIs after the previous batters were intentionally walked.  Rookie Carl Edwards getting the first two outs in the 10th.  Davis making it 8-7 with an RBI single.  Mike Montgomery, of all people, throwing all of two pitches and getting the final out, his first professional save at any level.  Kris Bryant grinning ear-to-ear as he fielded the grounder to win it all.

It was a paradoxical game with both an abundance of clutch hitting and its share of solid pitching.  Both managers made some tough–and controversial–decisions, and while he ended up on the losing end, Francona appeared to outmanage Maddon.

Both sides experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions:  joy, frustration, hope, despair, and eventually triumph and heartbreak in the respective dugouts when the classic culminated.

The final result is what many veterans of the sports media world have called the greatest story they have ever covered–the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908.

The first time in 39,466 days.  The first time since Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States–all 45 of them–and William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan were running to replace him.  The first time since two weeks after Ford began producing the Model T.  The first time since the year Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Stewart were born and Grover Cleveland died.  The first time since 19 years before any of my grandparents were born.

Not only did Game 7 mark the first time a Cubs World Series victory was broadcast on television, but the first time it was broadcast, period, as the World Series was not broadcast on radio until 1921, and commercial radio broadcasting in general did not begin until the 1920’s.

The broadcast of Game 7 will endure for ages, as it joins the list of the greatest games in World Series history and, given the circumstances, may eclipse them all as the greatest baseball game of all-time.

The Cubs and their fans have literally waited a lifetime to celebrate winning the World Series.

It’s only appropriate that the game of a lifetime put them over the top.

 

 

 

112th World Series

Game 1:  Cleveland 6, Chicago 0
W: Kluber, L: Lester
Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 2:  Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
W: Arrieta, L: Bauer
Series tied 1-1

Game 3:  Cleveland 1, Chicago 0
W: Miller, L: Edwards, S: Allen
Cleveland leads 2-1

Game 4:  Cleveland 7, Chicago 2
W: Kluber, L: Lackey
Cleveland leads 3-1

Game 5:  Chicago 3, Cleveland 2
W: Lester, L: Bauer, S: Chapman
Cleveland leads 3-2

Game 6:  Chicago 9, Cleveland 3
W: Arrieta, L: Tomlin
Series tied 3-3

Game 7:  Chicago 8, Cleveland 7, 10 innings
W: Chapman, L: Shaw, S: Montgomery
Chicago wins 4-3

 

Column: The Game of the Century

Tonight the Cleveland Indians will host the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, the 37th winner-take-all game in World Series history.

But as big as the game is on the surface, when you look at the storylines and subplots accompanying the Indians and Cubs into Game 7, this game becomes possibly–and I don’t think I’m overstating this–the biggest baseball game of this century to date.

Both teams have long-standing championship droughts, with the Cubs lacking a title since 1908, and the Indians last crown coming in 1948.  One of those historic and well-documented droughts will end in the rain of confetti about three hours after tonight’s 8:00 ET first pitch.

The Cubs are seeking to become just the sixth team in World Series history to win after trailing the series 3-1, and the first since the 1985 Kansas City Royals.  The North Siders would be the first team to pull off such a comeback with the last two games on the road since the 1968 Detroit Tigers.

Both starting pitchers are contenders for this year’s Cy Young Award in their respective league.  Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA), the NL ERA leader in the regular season with the Cubs, has a 1.31 postseason ERA, and no runs allowed in his last two starts.  Corey Kluber, who won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland, won the AL Cy Young in 2014 and could win it again (18-9, 3.14 ERA).  Kluber has a staggering 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts, and is trying to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to start and win three games in a World Series.  Cleveland also has bullpen stalwarts Andrew Miller and Cody Allen rested and ready for potentially extended action tonight.

The Cubs explosive offense struck for nine runs in Game 6 last night, as Addison Russell became the fourth player with a 6-RBI game in the World Series (the first on a team facing elimination), and the second youngest player to hit a World Series grand slam (behind only Mickey Mantle).  Each of the three-through-six hitters in the Cubs order (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Russell) had multiple hits.

The Indians offense has only scored 3.3 runs per game in the Series, but has a six- and seven-run game to their credit.  Last night, Jason Kipnis (3-for-5) was the only player with multiple hits, but Francisco Lindor has been solid the entire series (8-for-22, 2 RBI).

Managers Joe Maddon (Cubs) and Terry Francona (Indians) have both made some bold strategical moves in the series, as both are among the best tacticians in the game.  Francona won two World Series titles with the Red Sox (2004, ’07), and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, while Maddon could be headed for Cooperstown as well.  This is Francona’s first World Series Game 7 in any capacity, while Maddon participated in Game 7 as bench coach for the 2002 Angels, who beat the Giants.

The pair are familiar with each other from their time managing in the AL East, with Maddon in Tampa Bay (2006-14) and Francona in Boston (2004-11).  They have also faced off twice in winner-take-all games:  in the 2008 ALCS, the Red Sox trailed 3-1 and forced Game 7 before Maddon’s Rays won the pennant, and in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game, the Rays beat the Indians, in their first year under Francona.

While tonight’s game–the 178th of the season for the Cubs and the 176th for the Indians–is the third Game 7 of a World Series in the last six seasons, it is just the fifth in this century (2001, 2002, 2011, 2014).

Game 7’s have produced some of the great moments in baseball history, from Bill Mazeroski’s homer in 1960, to the Morris-Smoltz pitcher’s duel in 1991, to Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single to win in 2001, to Madison Bumgarner’s five-inning save in 2014.

Whoever wins tonight, it will be a historic game for baseball, as a drought of either 39,466 or 24,859 days will come to an end.

And if the biggest game of the century is half as good as the hype it is getting, we are all in for a treat.

 

 

112th World Series

Game 1:  Cleveland 6, Chicago 0
W: Kluber, L: Lester
Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 2:  Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
W: Arrieta, L: Bauer
Series tied 1-1

Game 3:  Cleveland 1, Chicago 0
W: Miller, L: Edwards, S: Allen
Cleveland leads 2-1

Game 4:  Cleveland 7, Chicago 2
W: Kluber, L: Lackey
Cleveland leads 3-1

Game 5:  Chicago 3, Cleveland 2
W: Lester, L: Bauer, S: Chapman
Cleveland leads 3-2

Game 6:  Chicago 9, Cleveland 3
W: Arrieta, L: Tomlin
Series tied 3-3

Game 7:  Tonight, 8:00 pm ET, FOX