Fast Five: What I’m Looking Forward To in the 2018 NASCAR Season

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season gets underway today, with the star-laden Advance Auto Parts Clash, a week ahead of the sport’s biggest event, the Daytona 500.

Every season has storylines, and this one is no different. As NASCAR makes its annual trip to the beach, here are the five things I’m most looking forward to for the 2018 season.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the broadcast booth

The 2017 season marked Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell as a driver in the Cup Series, but he is not leaving the sport by any means.

Junior continues to own an XFinity Series team, and plans to run at least one one-off event in that series this year. He will also be in a very visible role for the second half of the 2018 season as an analyst for NBC Sports for their portion of the schedule, beginning at Daytona in July.

It’s great that the driver who has been voted Most Popular Driver for the last 15 consecutive years is staying involved in the sport, and in a way that he will be seen and heard by the fans. It’s also always a great idea for a broadcast network to add a just-retired driver to their coverage, as he will have excellent insight into the drivers and teams, since he just competed against them; Earnhardt also has a phenomenal knowledge of the sport’s past, given his family history and his own passion for it.

4. Who can match Truex’s stage-racing success?

Last year, in the first season of stage racing, Martin Truex Jr. mastered the new concept almost instantly and his 19 stage victories and eight race wins propelled him to his first Cup Series title.

Now, as the sport has had a year to adjust to stage racing, who will step up to match Truex’s mastery in 2018?

Kyle Busch won 14 stages in 2017, and Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson each won eight. And it was Larson, not Truex, who had the most stage top 10s, earning 56 of them. In addition, several young stars seem primed to rise to the next level in 2018 (see below).

It will also be interesting to see if more drivers win stages in 2018. Last year, there were more race winners (15) than stage winners (13), due in part to Truex and Busch’s stage dominance.

3. The Charlotte “roval”

NASCAR has made significant changes to the schedule for the early rounds of the Playoffs, with Las Vegas and Richmond hosting the first two races of the first round, and Dover moved to the opening race of the second round. Another notable change is that the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis will now be the regular-season finale on Sept. 9.

But perhaps the biggest change is that the Playoff race at Charlotte on Sept. 30, now the last race of the first round, will now be run on the track’s “roval” — racing jargon for a road course-oval combo, as the circuit will include parts of the 1.5-mile oval and the infield road course.

This will be the first race since 1987 that NASCAR has had three road-course races in a season, something which I find as a great change for the sport. Adding one to the Playoffs is also a welcome change.

The new layout will be a unique challenge for the drivers and teams, especially with the event’s timing as a cut-off race in the Playoffs. Who will conquer the sport’s newest challenge?

2. The emergence of young stars

Two rookies enter the Cup Series full-time in 2018, as both take over a storied ride: defending XFinity Series champion William Byron takes over the No. 24 Hendrick seat, while Darrell Wallace Jr. will be in the Petty No. 43 full-time after subbing four races last year for the injured Aric Almirola. Both have the talent and the personality to be big stars in the very near future.

But in addition to these two, other young guns are ready to establish themselves more firmly among the sport’s upper echelon. Erik Jones moves to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 from Furniture Row Racing, taking over Matt Kenseth’s seat, while Ryan Blaney joins Penske Racing, who is expanding to three cars with the new No. 12 team. Both should be threats to win often, and have legitimate shots at contending for the championship this fall.

Alex Bowman takes over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride in the No. 88 car at Hendrick Motorsports; many forget that he has 81 Cup Series starts between a stint in the No. 88 filling in for the concussed Earnhardt in 2016, as well as stints at the smaller teams of Tommy Baldwin Racing and BK Racing. Former XFinity Series champion Daniel Suarez also shows promise as he moves into his second season.

Oh, and there’s one other rising star primed for a huge 2018… some guy named Elliott.

1. The next level for Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott enters his third Cup Series season, and this year changes over to the No. 9 car at Hendrick Motorsports, driving for the same team but changing numbers after the opportunity arose to bring back to the Elliott family the number made legendary by Bill Elliott, Chase’s father.

Chase has not won a Cup Series race yet, though he has come painstakingly close on numerous occasions, including five runner-up finishes in 2017. Yet he seems primed for a breakout year in 2018, especially given a strong Playoff performance last year, finishing fifth in the final standings. Many feel one win may open the floodgates and lead to many victories.

With Earnhardt Jr. now retired, Elliott is set to take over as the sport’s most popular driver (I wasn’t sure about this, until at Darlington last year I noticed the number of Elliott shirts nearly equaled that of Earnhardt). But to validate that title in 2018, he needs to have the success to match — and he is more than capable of doing just that.

Elliott is already a star, but this year — with the timing of Earnhardt’s retirement and Elliott’s potential on-track success– may be the perfect storm for the humble, relatable Georgian to hit the fast track to superstardom, as in Junior’s absence he may be exactly what the sport is looking for.

 

 

Daytona Speedweeks Schedule

Sunday, Feb. 11
12:15 p.m. — Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying
3 p.m. — Advance Auto Parts Clash (75-lap exhibition race for 2017 pole winners, Playoff drivers and past Clash winners)

Thursday, Feb. 15
7 p.m. — CanAm Duels (Sets the starting lineup for the Daytona 500)

Friday, Feb. 16
7:30 p.m. — NextEra Energy Resources 250 (Camping World Truck Series race)

Saturday, Feb. 17
2:30 p.m. — Powershares QQQ 300 (XFinity Series race)

Sunday, Feb. 18
2:30 p.m. — 60th Daytona 500

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Column: An Unexciting Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl LII is tonight, but I’m not excited.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll still watch — it’s the Super Bowl after all — but I’m the least excited I have ever been on any Super Bowl Sunday since I started watching them 14 years ago.

A big part of the reason dates back to my maiden Super Bowl, the 38th one in 2004, when the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers, birthing a distaste for the Patriots that has grown ever since.

The principals from that 2003 team are still around in quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. Brady, even at 40, is as good as ever, taking home his third NFL MVP Award at last night’s NFL Honors and continuing to build his case that he may be objectively the best player to ever play the game.

Now, as the Patriots play their third Super Bowl in four years and their eighth in 17, it’s hard for me to be excited about watching the same old thing, especially since they are favored to win another Lombardi Trophy. If they do, they would have won each of those three appearances in the last four years and six of their eight since 2001.

Depending on who from Las Vegas you read, the Patriots are between four- and five-point favorites, although I think they’re even heavier favorites than that, given that they’ve been here before and seem to be able to come back from anything (see: multiple Super Bowl comebacks, this year’s AFC Championship Game, etc.).

They are facing an upstart Philadelphia Eagles team which has come from nowhere to get here. They posted a 13-3 regular season, primarily with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, then won their two NFC playoff games, with backup signal-caller Nick Foles under center after Wentz’s torn ACL cost him the season.

It’s cool to see a team that has been down recently — before this season they had one playoff appearance in the last six years, which ended in the first round — make this run to the Super Bowl.

The Eagles have relished the underdog role this postseason, as without Wentz they were underdogs to both the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round and the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.

But neither one of those games were against the mighty Patriots, the “evil empire” if you will, who are in the midst of the greatest sustained run of excellence in NFL history, dating back to Brady’s first season and Belichick’s second in 2001. This run includes a 24-21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

As such, I am mentally preparing myself for the disappointment of another Patriots title tonight, even while hoping that my forecast is incorrect.

Perhaps it will be; eight straight MVPs to play in the Super Bowl have lost, including Brady 10 years ago in the Super Bowl XLII classic against a Giants team that was far heavier underdogs than tonight’s Eagles.

But by expecting Brady to end that trend before the game even starts, I’m hoping to dampen the disappointment level around 10 p.m. tonight when the Patriots are inevitably celebrating, again.

Oh well. It’s almost baseball season.

 

Prediction: Patriots 28, Eagles 20

Column: MLB Free Agency Unusually Slow This Winter

Forget the hypothetical of “what would it be like to run an MLB team” — this year I’m actually going to do it. All I need is a couple hundred million dollars and the cooperation of MLB to allow me to start an expansion team less than two months before Opening Day.

With any luck, by the first week of November I’ll be lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy as a World Series champion.

How am I going to do this, you ask? I’ll simply sign a team of current free agents, and that team will be so deep and talented that they’ll win it all this fall.

***

Of course I’m kidding about starting a team, but the fact is, even just two weeks from Spring Training, the MLB free agent market has moved so slow this winter that there still remain enough quality free agents on the market that a hypothetical team of them could win the World Series.

If you’re skeptical, check out this potential roster:

Catchers: A.J. Ellis, Jonathan Lucroy
Infielders: Todd Frazier, J.J. Hardy, Eric Hosmer, Logan Morrison, Mike Moustakas, Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker
Outfielders: Jose Bautista, Carlos Gonzalez, Jon Jay, J.D. Martinez
Starting Pitchers: Jake Arrieta, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn
Relief Pitchers: Jeanmar Gomez, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, Trevor Rosenthal, Koji Uehara, Tony Watson, Tom Wilhelmsen

Every position has an All-Star-caliber player on the board, with all except catcher also featuring incredible depth on a hypothetical team.

Having this many high-quality free agents available on Feb. 2 seems unprecedented (with the exception of the strike offseason of 1994-95), and due to the high volume of unsigned players, the MLB Players Association is considering running a Spring Training camp for these players to attend until they sign, and has even discussed a potential work stoppage in protest of the high number of unsigned players (more on that later).

Looking closely at the current MLB landscape, there are reasons for this offseason’s historically-slow market.

With the recent success of the Cubs and Astros, winning the last two World Series as the dividend of their massive rebuilding projects, more teams are following that model, going all-in on rebuilding — some would even call it tanking — trying to win later by building up the talent in their farm system at the expense of the current success of the major league club.

Because of this, more teams than ever are uninterested in spending the millions of dollars it takes to sign free agents. Outspoken agent Scott Boras pointed this out to The Athletic a week ago, saying “We have to get rid of the noncompetitive cancer… that is destructive to our sport because it has removed one-third of the competition.”

Those comments are quite stern, and should be taken with at least a moderate grain of salt since Boras is always brash, and here is venting frustration that his players are not yet signed. But he may have actually been under-selling the number of teams opting not to compete in the free agent market — according to Jayson Stark, 13 of the 30 MLB teams have not signed a position player to a major-league contract this offseason.

Another factor, and one less discussed than the number of teams rebuilding, is the absolutely loaded free agent class coming next winter (Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson,  Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are just the headliners, with many others also set to be free agents).

With a historically-good group set to be free agents next winter, it is entirely possible that teams are consciously not spending money now to keep funds available to offer big contracts to major players this time next year.

Unfortunately, these factors have combined to negatively impact the current free agents listed in the hypothetical team above and others, as it is February and they still don’t know where they will play in the 2018 season and beyond.

The possibility of a work stoppage by the MLBPA has reportedly been discussed, although it’s unknown how realistic that possibility actually is. Such a move would certainly not be popular among fans (See: 1994 MLB strike), but certainly is not unprecedented — remember, the first time MLB and the MLBPA went through a round of collective bargaining negotiations without a work stoppage was not until 2002.

So maybe that expansion team full of current free agents isn’t such a bad idea. If it prevents a work stoppage, and thus a black eye on baseball, it may be priceless.

Stiles on Sports’ Best of 2017

Best Posts of 2017

1/12: My Interview with Clemson Radio’s Kevin Selman
1/13: Carl Edwards Leaves Just as He Competed – With Class
1/16: Check Championship Parade Off My Sports Bucket List
1/20: Parsons Gets Long Overdue Honor, Enters NASCAR Hall
1/23: NASCAR May Be Digging Its Own Grave

2/5: The Greatest 64 Days in Sports
2/6: The Atlanta Sports Curse Remains Alive and Well
2/6: The NFL Overtime Rule Needs Changing
2/26: A Trip to the Beach

3/16: It’s March

4/3: Rules Unfairly Rob Thompson of LPGA Major Title
4/5: The Masters Stands Tall
4/10: Sergio’s Major is Worth the Wait
4/25: Why Earnhardt Jr.’s Retirement Isn’t Surprising

5/10: Fast Five: Memorable Sports Farewells

6/6: Mein Deutschland Und Schweiz Journal (My Germany and Switzerland Journal)
6/19: Fowler Shadowing Mickelson in More Ways Than One
6/25: Why Road Course Racing is Good for NASCAR
6/27: Fans Week Roundtable, Part I: Gratifying Wins and Gut-Wrenching Losses
6/28: Fans Week Roundtable, Part II: Sports Heroes and Hysteria
6/29: Fans Week: Creatures in the Bleachers

7/1: Earnhardt’s Daytona Experiences are a Microcosm of His Career
7/15: Hootie Johnson Leaves Behind a Complicated Legacy
7/25: Not the Next Tiger, But the First Spieth

8/14: Thomas Earns PGA – And Rightful Place Among Golf’s Young Stars

9/28: Don’t Mourn for Pitino

10/14: Finding Inspiration From a Winless Team

11/1: A True Fall Classic
11/26: A Gamecock Embarassment

 

2017 Champions

College Football Playoff Championship:  Clemson Tigers def. Alabama Crimson Tide, 35-31
Heisman Trophy:  Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield

Super Bowl LI Champion:  New England Patriots def. Atlanta Falcons, 34-28
NFL MVP:  Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Super Bowl LI MVP:  Patriots QB Tom Brady

NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament Champion:  North Carolina Tar Heels def. Gonzaga Bulldogs, 71-65
Naismith Player of the Year:  Kansas G Frank Mason III
Final Four Most Outstanding Player:  North Carolina G Joel Berry II

Stanley Cup Champion:  Pittsburgh Penguins def. Nashville Predators, 4-2
Hart Memorial Trophy (Regular Season MVP):  Oilers C Connor McDavid
Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP):  Penguins C Sidney Crosby

NBA Finals Champion:  Golden State Warriors def. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-1
NBA MVP:  Thunder G Russell Westbrook
NBA Finals MVP:  Warriors F Kevin Durant

College World Series Champion:  Florida def. LSU, 2-0
Golden Spikes Award:  Louisville P/1B Brendan McKay

PGA Tour FedEx Cup Champion:  Justin Thomas
The Masters:  Sergio Garcia
U.S. Open:  Brooks Koepka
The Open Championship:  Jordan Spieth
PGA Championship:  Justin Thomas
PGA Tour Player of the Year:  Justin Thomas

World Series Champion:  Houston Astros def. Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-3
NL MVP:  Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young Award:  Nationals RHP Max Scherzer
AL MVP:  Astros 2B Jose Altuve
AL Cy Young Award:  Indians RHP Corey Kluber
World Series MVP:  Astros OF George Springer

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion:  Martin Truex Jr.
Daytona 500 Champion:  Kurt Busch
IndyCar Series Champion:  Josef Newgarden
Indianapolis 500 Champion:  Takuma Sato

Kentucky Derby Winner:  Always Dreaming
Preakness Stakes Winner:  Cloud Computing
Belmont Stakes Winner:  Tapwrit
Breeder’s Cup Classic Winner:  Gun Runner

 

Stiles on Sports Sportsman of the Year:  Jose Altuve
Sports Illustrated Sportspeople of the Year:  Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt
AP Male Athlete of the Year:  Jose Altuve
AP Female Athlete of the Year:  Katie Ledecky
AP Sports Story of the Year:  NFL player protests

Column: A Gamecock Embarrassment

I’ve followed South Carolina football closely since moving to the state in 2009.

In that time, the Gamecocks have certainly had their share of ups and downs, but I can’t recall any game as embarrassing for the Gamecocks program as Saturday’s rivalry-game loss to Clemson.

I’m not talking about the score. Sure, the 34-10 score wasn’t the result what the Gamecocks and their fans were looking for, but we all knew going into the game that Clemson was the better team, and Gamecock fans were hoping their team would play a strong game and have a chance to shock the world. That didn’t happen, and the Tigers dominated, so the Gamecocks will move on to the next one.

But in the process of watching their team lose a fourth straight game in the Palmetto Bowl series, some of the Gamecock fans showed a complete lack of class and respect.

After a bad call against the Gamecocks in the middle stages of the second quarter, some fans threw trash on the field in protest. They continued throwing trash — some of it aimed at Clemson players — after additional penalties, or any time Clemson did something good for the duration of the half. Furthermore, it was reported that things had been thrown at Clemson personnel before the game even started, during pregame warmups.

“That’s an embarrassment,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN at halftime. “These people are better than that. And it’s just a few people here — that’s not a majority of these South Carolina people. That’s an embarrassing situation right there. That’s how somebody gets hurt.”

I agree with Swinney — the lack of character shown by this faction of Gamecock fans is appalling. There is no excuse for this behavior, plain and simple. It is classless, disrespectful, and most importantly, it’s dangerous.

I have been to my share of live sporting events as a fan. I’ve seen my team of choice be dominated, and occasionally disagreed with calls by the officials. I’m don’t always react perfectly calmly — but the thought of showing my displeasure by throwing something on the field has never even remotely crossed my mind.

Yet the Gamecock fans not only did this, but did it multiple times, even after being asked not to by the stadium’s public address announcer — an announcement which was reportedly booed.

The result is an embarrassment for the rest of the fan base, on top of the disappointment for the team playing their worst game of the season in its biggest.

This was more embarrassing for the Gamecock program than losing 56-10 in the program’s only SEC Championship Game appearance. It was more embarrassing than consistently being unable to beat Kentucky.

This was even more embarrassing than losing to The Citadel during the 3-9 debacle of 2015.

In each of those circumstances, the on-field result was objectively bad for the Gamecocks. But Saturday night, it was the unacceptable behavior of a few fans that was objectively bad, and put a blemish on the reputation of a loyal, enthusiastic fan base.

As a result, this embarrassment is worse than it would be for any on-field result, and will last longer than the disappointment of the blowout loss, too.

College Football Power Rankings for Week 10

The college football season typically begins reaching its peak as the calendar turns to November. Sure enough, this past weekend–on the first Saturday of November–several big games wrecked the Playoff hopes of some big-name teams, while others solidified their status, or at least survived to stay in contention another week.

This week should be even more consequential, as eight of the top 10 face a ranked opponent, with four of those on the road, and six of the top 10 facing each other.

With three weeks left in the regular season, here are how the teams stack up in this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (9-0, Last Week: 1st, CFP Ranking: 2nd)
Although the Crimson Tide are second in the Playoff rankings, they remain first in both polls. Their 24-10 win over LSU was convincing on the scoreboard, although the Tide and the Tigers were quite even statistically. This week the Tide meet arguably their biggest test yet when they travel to #16 Mississippi State.

2. Georgia (9-0, LW: 2nd, CFP: 1st)
Georgia dispatched South Carolina, 24-10, behind one of quarterback Jacob Fromm’s best performances of the season (16-22, 196 yards, two touchdowns), as the Bulldogs held the Gamecocks to 43 rushing yards. Georgia will play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2–they clinched the SEC East on Saturday–but the biggest threat ahead of that game to their Playoff status is this weekend when they head to the plains to face #10 Auburn.

3. Notre Dame (8-1, LW: 4th, CFP: 3rd)
The Irish beat Wake Forest 48-37, although they led 48-23 early in the fourth before a pair of late Demon Deacon touchdowns. The Irish totaled 710 yards offensively, but those defensive lapses are something the Irish need to fix; if they allow 587 yards again this week, the odds of leaving with a win over #7 Miami would be slim.

4. Clemson (8-1, LW: 5th, CFP: 4th)
NC State is a tough place to play, but the Tigers were able to survive their trip to Raleigh with a 38-31 win. Although the Wolfpack outgained the Tigers 491-415, the Tigers used 224 rushing yards–including 88 from quarterback Kelly Bryant–and two Wolfpack turnovers to seal the win. The Tigers host Florida State this week in a game that, given Florida State’s 3-5 record, is much more pedestrian than it would have appeared before the season.

5. Oklahoma (8-1, LW: 6th, CFP: 5th)
The Sooners’ “Bedlam” game with rival Oklahoma State was just that: a 62-52 shootout with 1,446 combined yards of offense and 62 first downs. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 598 yards and five touchdowns, throwing himself right into the middle of the Heisman discussion. Saturday the Sooners will host #6 TCU; it’s a potential preview of the Big 12 title game, although the winner will greatly enhance their chances of getting there.

6. Miami (8-0, LW: 9th, CFP: 7th)
The biggest knock on Miami has been their schedule, but that is changing. The Hurricanes beat Virginia Tech on Saturday, 28-10, on the strength of 210 rushing yards and four Hokies turnovers, and will now host #3 Notre Dame on Saturday
#3 Notre Dame

7. Wisconsin (9-0, LW: 8th, CFP: 8th)
Wisconsin, who beat Indiana 45-17 on Saturday, is another team who has been hurt some by their schedule. However, they do now at least have one win over a ranked team, as Northwestern, who they beat Sept. 30, is now a top 25 team, and they will have a chance at another this weekend due to the emergence of #20 Iowa.

8. TCU (8-1, LW: 10th, CFP: 6th)
The Horned Frogs responded to their Oct. 28 loss to Iowa State with a 24-7 win over Texas, outrushing the Longhorns 177-9 in the win. This week, TCU faces their biggest test so far this season, when they travel to #5 Oklahoma, a team they could potentially have to beat twice to make the College Football Playoff.

9. Washington (8-1, LW: 13th, CFP: 9th)
The Huskies are quietly hanging around in the top 10, and defeated Oregon 38-3 on Saturday, holding the Ducks to just 31 passing yards. The Huskies are the favorites to win the Pac-12, but to return to the College Football Playoff they’ll need a ton of help. First though, they must win out, starting Saturday at Stanford.

10. Auburn (7-2, LW: 14th, CFP: 10th)
The Tigers beat Texas A&M 42-27 on Saturday, and are still lurking in the SEC race. They still control their fate in the SEC West, although it won’t be easy–they would have to beat the top two teams in the nation to reach the title game, then beat one of them again to win it–but Auburn has been in a similar situation before; remember 2013? The gauntlet stretch run begins Saturday, when the Tigers host #1 Georgia.

Worth a Mention: Iowa (6-3)
What is it about Iowa pulling off huge upsets at home? The Hawkeyes have now won four of their last five home games against top-five competition. Last year’s win over Michigan cost the Wolverines a Playoff berth, and Saturday’s 55-24 drubbing of Ohio State will likely do the same to the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes had scored a combined 27 points their previous two games entering Saturday–and more than doubled that in their upset win, with the help of the defense’s four interceptions of Buckeyes signal-caller J.T. Barrett.

11. Ohio State (7-2, LW: 3rd, CFP: 13th)
12. USC (8-2, LW: 17th, CFP: 11th)
13. Michigan State (7-2, LW: unranked, CFP: 12th)
14. Penn State (7-2, LW: 7th, CFP: 14th)
15. Oklahoma State (7-2, LW: 12th, CFP: 15th)

16. UCF (8-0, LW: 16th, CFP: 18th)
17. Virginia Tech (7-2, LW: 11th, CFP: 17th)
18. Mississippi State (7-2, LW: 19th, CFP: 16th)
19. Washington State (8-2, LW: 25th, CFP: 19th)
20. Michigan (7-2, LW: 24th, CFP: unranked)

21. South Florida (9-1, LW: 22nd, CFP: unranked)
22. Memphis (8-1, LW: 23rd, CFP: 22nd)
23. Iowa (6-3, LW: unranked, CFP: 20th)
24. Iowa State (6-3, LW: 15th, CFP: 21st)
25. NC State (6-3, LW: 20th, CFP: 23rd)

Fell from Rankings: Stanford (6-3, LW: 18th), LSU (6-3, LW: 21st)

Also ranked in CFP Rankings: LSU (6-3, 24th), Northwestern (6-3, 25th)

Column: A True Fall Classic

The World Series is nicknamed “The Fall Classic,” but let’s be honest–it doesn’t always live up to that “classic” billing. Many Series over the years have ended in four or five games, with few enduring moments.

But this year, as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers prepare for a winner-take-all Game 7 tonight (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX), the World Series has lived up to the “Fall Classic” label, unfolding as one of the greatest World Series ever played. And just think, there’s a game still to be played, and it’s a Game 7–baseball at its best.

From the time the matchup was set, the 113th World Series was destined for greatness, with two exceptional teams meeting for baseball’s greatest prize–the Astros and Dodgers are the first set of 100-plus-win teams to meet in the World Series since 1970.

Yet as good as this Series looked on paper, it has been even better on the field. With each team playing at an incredibly high level, each game has been close (even the 6-2 Dodgers win in Game 4 was 1-1 entering the ninth), intense and entertaining. The Series has had everything, with pitcher’s duels in Games 1 and 6, an all-out offensive slugfest in the Game 5 instant classic, and a Game 2 that had both extremes in the same game.

A great week of baseball will now conclude with the 38th winner-take-all game in World Series history, as the Astros and Dodgers become the first 100-win teams to meet in a Game 7 since Herbert Hoover was president in 1931.

Tonight’s game marks the first time back-to-back World Series have reached a Game 7 since 2001 and 2002. But while last year’s epic Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians will be a tough act to follow, if there’s a World Series that can produce a comparable classic, it’s this one. It has, after all, already produced six phenomenal contests.

So as the Astros and Dodgers play the final baseball game of the year tonight, bringing this breathtaking World Series to a decisive climax, savor it. We’re watching the determining game of a true “Fall Classic.”

 

 

113th World Series

Game 1
Los Angeles 3, Houston 1
W: Kershaw, L: Keuchel, S: Jansen
Dodgers lead Series 1-0

Game 2
Houston 7, Los Angeles 6, 11 innings
W: Devenski, L: McCarthy
Series tied 1-1

Game 3
Houston 5, Los Angeles 3
W: McCullers, L: Darvish, S: Peacock
Astros lead Series 2-1

Game 4
Los Angeles 6, Houston 2
W: Watson, L: Giles
Series tied 2-2

Game 5
Houston 13, Los Angeles 12, 10 innings
W: Musgrove, L: Jansen
Astros lead 3-2

Game 6
Los Angeles 3, Houston 1
W: Watson (2), L: Verlander, S: Jansen (2)
Series tied 3-3

Game 7
Houston at Los Angeles
Tonight, 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX