Fast Five: Memorable Sports Farewells

I’ve attended academic classes for five days a week, nine months a year from the time I was three years old, through two years of preschool, 13 years of K-thru-12, and four years of college.

But last week, I walked out of a college classroom for the last time, ahead of my graduation from Anderson University this Saturday.

As the sports aficionado I am, I couldn’t help but compare myself leaving school–retiring from school, in a sense, after what amounts to a 19 year academic “career”–to many of my athletic heroes in recent years walking away from the game.

Sure, the conclusion of my school years has come with much less fanfare than many of the highly-publicized retirements, such as Chipper Jones, David Ortiz, Tony Stewart, Alex Rodriguez, Paul Pierce, Landon Donavan, and even broadcaster Vin Scully, over the last several years in the sports world (in addition to some of the athletes listed below).  But, like many of these stars, I am also unsure of what is next.

But while the finish of my last final exam was as mundane as me handing it to the professor and quietly walking out the door, these athletes had more memorable farewells:

Honorable Mention:  Jeff Gordon

The four-time NASCAR champion’s final season came alive when he won at Martinsville in The Chase for his 93rd career win, clinching a spot in the Championship Round.  Gordon was one of four drivers to compete for the title at Homestead in the season finale, when he finished 6th behind champion Kyle Busch after leading nine laps.  The roar of the fans when Gordon took the lead could be heard over the roar of the engines in the race’s broadcast.  While Gordon has returned as an injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his final full season was a memorable and successful farewell in a sport where many stars’ careers have ended either in mediocrity or by injury/death.

Honorable Mention:  David Ross

Ross, a “role player,” was never a household name, playing mostly as a backup or platoon catcher during stints with the Dodgers, Pirates, Padres, Reds, Red Sox, Braves and Cubs.  In his final season with the Cubs, “Grandpa Ross” hit 10 home runs in 67 games in the regular season, most often getting playing time as Jon Lester’s personal catcher, and was a leader of the 103-win Cubs team.  But his farewell will be remembered for his playoff performance.  Ross hit .250 in the postseason with two home runs, with a .400 batting average in the World Series.  In his final at-bat, Ross became the oldest player (39) to homer in a World Series Game 7, helping the Cubs to their first championship since 1908.

5.  Kobe Bryant

The Black Mamba played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and by the final season was playing reduced minutes in most games as his body was less durable than in his prime.  But on his final night in the NBA, Bryant played 42 minutes and exploded for 60 points, the most by any player in a game in the 2015-16 NBA season.  Bryant made 22 of his 50 shots, including six threes, and was 10-for-12 on free throws.  Bryant outscored the opposing Utah Jazz 23-21 in the fourth quarter, helping the Lakers to a 101-96 win to eliminate the Jazz from playoff contention.

The only thing that could have made this farewell better was if it were in a game that counted for the Lakers.  But as Bryant ended a career that included five NBA championships, his Lakers struggled to a 17-65 record.

4.  Ted Williams

Teddy Ballgame was one of the greatest hitters in MLB history.  His .482 career on-base percentage is the best of all-time, and he is the last player to hit .400 or better in a season (.406) in 1941.  Williams hit .316 with 29 home runs and 72 RBI in his final season in 1960 with the Boston Red Sox, where he played his entire 19-year career.

The final home run, the 521st of his career, came dramatically, in his final at-bat at Fenway Park on September 28, 1960.  Williams never acknowledged the crowd during his career, but later said he almost tipped his cap while running around the bases after the home run as the fans roared.  The Red Sox’ final three games of the season were in New York, but Williams played in none of them, making the Fenway home run the final at-bat of his illustrious career.

3.  Peyton Manning, John Elway and Jerome Bettis

This group of two Hall of Famers and Manning, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when eligible, each culminated their careers with a Super Bowl title, with each overcoming the criticism of not being able to win “the big one” over the course of their careers.

Manning won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, but also lost Super Bowls XLIV with the Colts and XLVIII with the Broncos.  He was able to finish with a second championship by winning Super Bowl 50 with a 24-10 win over the Panthers (although it should be noted the defense had more to do with the championship than Manning’s tired arm).  Manning didn’t announce his retirement until weeks later, although fans and the media alike could sense that Super Bowl 50 was very likely his final game.

Elway lost three Super Bowls early in his career (XXI, XXII, XXIV), but reached two more Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII) in his final two seasons and finished with back-to-back titles.  After beating the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII for his first championship, Elway led the Broncos to a convincing 34-19 win over the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, his final game, and finished his stellar career by winning Super Bowl MVP.  Like Manning, Elway didn’t officially announce his retirement until after the season.

Bettis, the lone player in this group who played running back instead of quarterback, played his final 10 seasons with the Steelers after playing for the Rams his first three years.  Super Bowl XL was the first Super Bowl appearance of his career, which included six Pro Bowl appearances and the 2001 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.  After Bettis’s Steelers won the Super Bowl with a 21-10 defeat of the Seahawks, Bettis announced during the post-game trophy presentation that “the last stop for ‘The Bus'” would be with the NFL title won in his hometown of Detroit.

2.  Derek Jeter

The Captain, whose jersey will be retired this Sunday night by the New York Yankees, was one of the most beloved players throughout his career as the Yankee shortstop.  The .310 career hitter, who hit .308 in the playoffs in his career while leading the Yankees to five World Series titles, announced before his 20th season in 2014 that he would retire at season’s end.

Through eight innings of Jeter’s final home game at Yankee Stadium on September 25, 2014, Jeter had a double, two RBI, and a run scored.  But after the Yankees blew a 5-2 lead in the top of the ninth, Jeter got an additional at-bat in the bottom half, with the game tied and pinch-runner Antoan Richardson at second.  Jeter delivered one of the great moments in recent MLB memory, collecting a walk-off single to right field in his final home at-bat for his third RBI of the game, giving the Yankees a 6-5 win.

But the season still had three games remaining, which were played in Boston.  Jeter played DH–he wanted his final game at Yankee Stadium to be his final game at shortstop–and on September 28 earned an RBI infield single in his final at-bat, before being pinch-run for by Brian McCann.  As dramatic as his final home at-bat had been, his final overall at-bat in Boston showed how respected Jeter is, as he left the field to a standing ovation from the fans of the Yankees’ archrivals.

1.  Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was the “Iron Horse,” a durable player who was twice American League MVP as the Yankees first baseman, was a part of six World Series titles, and is one of 12 modern-era players to win a Triple Crown.  But Gehrig’s performance began to diminish in late 1938, and by the beginning of the 1939 season, it was clear something was physically wrong.  On May 2nd, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup, ending a streak of 2,130 consecutive games over the previous 14 seasons, a record that would stand until 1995.

Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS (nicknamed Lou Gehrig’s Disease), on June 19, and officially retired on June 21.  On July 4, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day.  Between games of a doubleheader, after Gehrig’s #4 became the first number retired by a team in MLB history,  stirring tributes were given by Babe Ruth, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, among others.

Once Gehrig stepped to the mic he was, at first, too emotional to speak.  But once he did, he delivered a speech that has long been remembered beyond the realm of baseball:

“Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. 

“Today… I consider myself… the luckiest man… on the face of the earth.  I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today?  Sure, I’m lucky.  Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert?  Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow?  To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins?  Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?  Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something.  When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something.  When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something.  When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing.  When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that… I might have… been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.  Thank you.”

Gehrig’s remarks were followed by a two-minute standing ovation from the sellout Yankee Stadium crowd.

Gehrig was immediately elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as the writers who vote waived the typical five-year waiting period for eligibility due to Gehrig’s illness.  Gehrig died of ALS on June 2, 1941.


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.

Super Bowl 50 Preview: Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos

Super Bowl 50
Carolina Panthers (NFC Champions, 17-1) vs. Denver Broncos (AFC Champions, 14-4)
Sunday, 6:30 pm ET, CBS
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Favorite: Panthers by 5

The biggest sporting event in the American culture (and arguably the third biggest in the world behind the World Cup and the Olympics) is tonight, and while Super Bowl storylines generally are not hard to find, this year’s golden anniversary edition seems to have even more of an abundance than normal.

Perhaps the biggest is Peyton Manning.  The surefire first-ballot hall of famer-to-be has led his Denver Broncos team back to the Super Bowl, just two years after being humiliated by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.  Many around the game believe Manning could be retiring after the Super Bowl, so the story of whether or not the 39-year old will or will not retire, and whether or not he can finish his illustrious career with a storybook ending of a second Super Bowl title, has been a major talking point for the last two weeks leading up to the big game.  Manning will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, and is the first starting quarterback to ever lead two teams to multiple Super Bowl appearances.  Manning is in his fourth season with Denver after a remarkable 14-year stretch with the Indianapolis Colts.

Manning was not even starting for Denver just a few weeks ago, sitting on the bench behind up-and-comer Brock Osweiler after a foot injury, before coming into Denver’s game in Week 17 against the Chargers and leading the Broncos to victory to secure home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.  After defeating the Steelers, 23-16, and the Patriots, 20-18, Manning and the Broncos are back in the Super Bowl for the eighth time in their rich history (tied for the most appearances ever), as they look for their third title.

The Broncos opponent, the Carolina Panthers, do not quite have the history of their opponents, as they have only appeared in the Super Bowl once, a loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, after coming into the league as an expansion team in 1995.  The Panthers have amassed a strong recent history, as this season marked their third straight NFC South Division title (prior to this streak the division had never been won by any team in consecutive years since its inception in 2002).

A big part of the reason for that is quarterback Cam Newton, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for the 2015 season.  Newton, who won a Heisman Trophy and a BCS National Championship at Auburn, is trying to become just the second player ever to win a Heisman, a collegiate national title, an NFL MVP, and a Super Bowl in a career (Marcus Allen, running back for USC/Los Angeles Raiders).  Newton is the first Heisman winner to start a Super Bowl since Jim Plunkett in Super Bowl XVIII, and just the third ever.  Newton was the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and this Super Bowl is the first in which both quarterbacks are former #1 picks (Manning was picked first by Indianapolis in 1998), as well as the first matching up the top two picks from the same draft, as Broncos linebacker Von Miller was picked second behind Newton in 2011.

Newton has improved each season, and has now led this Panthers team to the brink of the franchise’s first championship in his fifth season.  This season, Newton threw for 35 touchdowns, and rushed for 10, becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 30 or more and run for 10 or more.  His 45 total touchdowns were the most by any player in a single season since, ironically enough, Peyton Manning in 2013 (56 total; 55 passing, 1 rushing).

Opposite the quarterbacks in this game will be a pair of very stellar defenses.  In fact, Super Bowl 50 features the top two teams in the league in defensive efficiency, with Denver 1st and Carolina 2nd.  Each unit leads the league in multiple statistical categories.

The Broncos made franchise history this year by leading the NFL in total defense (yards allowed) for the first time.  The league leader in total defense is 9-2 in the Super Bowl, although one of the losses was just last year by the Seahawks.  Denver allowed the fewest rushing yards per attempt (3.28) and the third least rushing yards per game (83.6).  The defensive front led the league in sacks (52), while generating pressure on 35 percent of dropbacks, which also leads the NFL.

The Panthers lead the NFL in takeaways (39), turnover differential (+20), and points off turnovers (148), as well as interceptions (24).  These stats do not include the postseason, in which the Panthers have forced nine turnovers, including six interceptions.  Carolina is one of two teams (Bengals) to have more interceptions than allowed touchdown passes this season.  Carolina has also allowed the sixth least yards, and the sixth least points, although Denver leads and is second in the two categories, respectively.

It’s safe to say it isn’t likely either defense will be what keeps their team from winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The Denver defense is, however, facing, the best offense they have seen all year, as the Panthers are the highest-scoring offense in the NFL (31.3 points per game), which would tie them for the fourth highest-scoring offense to win a Super Bowl.  Teams to lead the NFL in scoring are 10-9 in Super Bowls, although such teams have lost four of their last five appearances (the 2009 Saints, who beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, are the exception).  The Panthers offense, with Newton and his supporting cast of characters including running back Jonathan Stewart, tight end Greg Olsen, and left guard Michael Oher (of The Blind Side fame), is a very efficient well-oiled machine, leading the league in scoring despite ranking only 11th in yards gained, although they were second in rushing yards despite the lack of a 1,000-yard rusher.

The Broncos offense has been less efficient, averaging just 22.2 points per game.  However, four of the last six teams to reach the Super Bowl with that low of a scoring average have won.  The Broncos are 14th in passing yards and 17th in rushing yards (out of 32 teams), and only 19th in points per game.  However, Brock Osweiler started seven of the Broncos’ 16 regular season games, and Manning has been very efficient since his return.  Manning has not thrown an interception in the playoffs, making this his first postseason of two games or more without an interception.  Denver has not had to score a lot of points to be successful this season due to their stingy defense, a point evidenced by their two playoff wins with 22.5 points per game, almost exactly equaling their regular season average, with both of those games coming against top five offenses in the Steelers and Patriots.

One storyline in this Super Bowl that is not getting as much attention as it probably should is the coaching matchup.  While we have been spoiled with the coaching matchups in recent Super Bowls, including Bill Belichick vs. Pete Carroll last year and John Harbaugh vs. Jim Harbaugh just three years ago, and while the resumes of these two coaches don’t quite match those of other recent Super Bowl coaches, both are still among the best in the league.

While Broncos coach Gary Kubiak and Panthers coach Ron Rivera are both in their first Super Bowl as a coach, neither is a stranger to the big stage of the Super Bowl, as both appeared in Super Bowls as a player, making them the sixth and seventh men to play and coach in a Super Bowl.  Kubiak is the first to do so with the same team, however, as he was on the Denver Broncos roster when they lost Super Bowls XXI, XXII, and XXIV, as the backup quarterback to John Elway.  Rivera played on the winning side of Super Bowl XX as a member of the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears, and was the Bears defensive coordinator in 2006 when they lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.  Rivera is the 2015 NFL Coach of the Year.

Ironically enough, the last coach of both teams before Kubiak and Rivera is the same man, John Fox.  Fox led both franchises to a Super Bowl, losing Super Bowl XXXVIII with Carolina and XLVIII with Denver.  Fox parted ways with the Broncos after last season, before Denver hired Kubiak, who has reached the Super Bowl in his first season with the team (but not his first as an NFL head coach after his stint in Houston).  Rivera, like Newton, is in his fifth year with Carolina, who fired Fox after a 2-14 season in 2010 that resulted in Newton being picked first by the Panthers in the 2011 Draft.

The milestone Super Bowl marks the return of the NFL’s championship match to the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time in 31 years, since Stanford Stadium hosted Super Bowl XIX in 1985.  Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home of the San Francisco 49ers since 2014, hosts its first Super Bowl.  Since the first outdoor Super Bowl on the West Coast in 13 years will begin at 3:30 local time, the first half of the Super Bowl will be played in daylight for the first time since Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, which was also the last Super Bowl played in California.  Coldplay will perform the halftime show, while Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem.

As I mentioned, there are no shortage of storylines in this Super Bowl, but the story of the MVP and fresh new face of the league reaching the Super Bowl and going against the legendary veteran in what could be his final game is the biggest, and could also come into play in determining who wins.  While the Broncos defense is statistically the best in the league, they can and will be matched by the Panthers defense, with neither team’s defense giving them an advantage in the game.  That being said, while the Broncos offense is statistically average, the Panthers offense has been tremendous all year.  While, because of the strength of both defenses, I don’t expect a lot of points from either side in this game, I do expect the Panthers offense to reach the end zone enough to outscore the Broncos, who will struggle offensively against the Panthers defense.

Panthers 24, Broncos 13.



College Football Picks for Week Eight

Game of the Week:  #5 Notre Dame (6-0) at #2 Florida State (6-0)
Florida State is a nine-point home favorite as they face their toughest test yet, a top five opponent in Notre Dame.  A dark cloud hangs over Seminoles QB Jameis Winston, both for the upcoming student code of conduct hearing regarding the 2012 sexual assault case, and a potential scandal brewing over autographs.  On the field, however, Winston still has not lost as Florida State’s starter, winning 20 straight.  His Notre Dame counterpart, Everett Golson, is 16-1, with the only loss coming to Alabama in the 2012 BCS Championship Game.  Notre Dame has only beaten one team with a winning record, with their 17-14 win over Stanford.  Florida State hasn’t played an exceptionally tough schedule either, but they are one of four teams in the nation with multiple wins over the current top 25.  Since 1999, Notre Dame is 1-16 against top five teams, and have lost seven in a row by 13 or more.  While they should keep this game within that 13-point window, their history and their easy schedule, in addition to the fact this is their first road game, doesn’t suggest they find a way to pull the upset.
Florida State 24, Notre Dame 17.

Big Game Guarantee:  #14 Kansas State (4-1) at #11 Oklahoma (5-1)
Oklahoma is a seven-point home favorite as they host Kansas State, coming off of their 31-26 win in the Red River Rivalry over Texas.  The Sooners only loss was a 37-33 defeat at TCU, and they were able to beat West Virginia on the road, although this is their first conference home game, and their first since their win over Tennessee.  Kansas State’s only loss was a 20-14 home loss to Auburn, meaning both of these teams are undefeated against teams not in the top 12, but the Wildcats haven’t been tested otherwise, although they were impressive last week in a 45-13 win over Texas Tech.  K-State was able to beat Oklahoma the last time these two teams played in Norman, but the Sooners should have the home field advantage here, and they are the better team as well, as evidenced by being ranked three spots higher in the AP Poll and six spots higher in my power rankings.
Oklahoma 38, Kansas State 27.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #15 Oklahoma State (5-1) at #12 TCU (4-1)
A week after blowing a 58-37 fourth quarter lead in a loss at Baylor, TCU returns home to face a top 15 opponent in Oklahoma State, and the Horned Frogs are favored by 10.  TCU’s defense certainly has question marks, after allowing 61 to Baylor, but the team will surely play like they have something to prove after the blown lead, even with the impressive win over Oklahoma the week before.  Oklahoma State’s only loss all season was to Florida State in the season opener, and they were fairly impressive in a 37-31 loss to the then-top ranked Seminoles, and while they have won all their games since, they haven’t played an overwhelming schedule, with their best win over Texas Tech.  TCU has played the tougher schedule, and has looked better doing it, and has the home field advantage as well.  This is both a “revenge game”, after Oklahoma State won a year ago, as well as the game after a heartbreaking loss, so TCU is going to be very tough to beat.
TCU 41 ,Oklahoma State 31.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #23 Stanford (4-2) at #17 Arizona State (4-1)
Arizona State is coming off a bye week after an improbable, last second win over USC on a hail mary pass, and is ranked higher than their opponent, the Stanford Cardinal, but the Sun Devils are four-point home underdogs.  Stanford is coming off of a 34-17 win over a solid Washington State team, and their only losses this year are to ranked opponents Notre Dame and USC.  The Cardinal have only allowed 10.0 points per game, which leads the nation, and while their offense isn’t their strength, as they rank 89th in points scored, they have scored enough points to win in their victories and stay competitive in their defeats.  The Sun Devils’ win over USC came off a blowout loss to UCLA the week before, and the games against the Bruins and Trojans are the only tough games they’ve had so far.  Last year, Stanford beat Arizona State twice, including a 38-14 win in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  Expect the trend to continue.
Stanford 24, Arizona State 20.

Closer Than the Experts Think:  #21 Texas A&M (5-2) at #7 Alabama (5-1)
The Crimson Tide are 13-point home favorites against Texas A&M in a rematch of a series that, despite only seven all-time meetings, has become one of the more underrated rivalries in college football.  In 2012, Johnny Manziel had his “Heisman moment” in a 29-24 A&M win in Tuscaloosa, and in the rematch last year in College Station, billed in the weeks before as the “Game of the Century”, Alabama won 49-42.  The home team has lost the last three meetings, with Alabama’s 1985 win being the last by a home team, and some believe that trend will continue, as the Tide are coming off of a closer than expected, 14-13 win against Arkansas, the week after a 23-17 loss to Ole Miss.  However, Texas A&M has lost back-to-back games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss, with both teams seeming to have figured out the Aggies high-powered offensive attack.  While some (including me) have questioned Alabama’s defense, the defense was fine in last week’s game, with the offense struggling to put points on the board.  Alabama’s defense will stop the Aggies just enough, stopping A&M similar to how the Bulldogs and Rebels have done it, and Blake Sims and Amari Cooper will make just enough plays to survive.
Alabama 31, Texas A&M 28.

NFL Game of the Week:  San Francisco 49ers (4-2) at Denver Broncos (4-1)
The Broncos are a seven-point home favorite in a game that could have been played in last year’s Super Bowl, had the Seahawks not held on to win the NFC Championship over San Francisco.  The big storyline of this game is the possibility of history, as Broncos QB Peyton Manning can break the all-time NFL record for passing touchdowns in a career.  Manning needs two scores to tie and three to beat the Brett Favre record, and while that would be a near guarantee for a game’s work against some defenses in the league, it is not certain the record will come against a defense as good as the 49ers.  The two QBs in this game have very differing styles, with Manning being the prototypical pocket passer, and Kaepernick making his living as a dual-threat playmaker who can throw on the move or run for a big gain when necessary.  At the end of the day, all Manning is really focused on is beating the 49ers and not the Favre record, and while I think the Broncos will win, the record chase will have to wait one more week, as Manning will throw two touchdowns to tie the mark.
Broncos 24, 49ers 20.

College Football Picks for Week 8

Game of the Week: #5 Florida State (5-0) at #3 Clemson (6-0).  This is the game of the year in the ACC, and may be the game of the year (so far) period, as it is the year’s first meeting of top-5 teams.  Florida State won last year’s meeting at home 49-37, but this year have to travel to Death Valley to one of the most hostile environments in the country.  For some unknown reason, although Clemson is ranked higher, has played a tougher schedule so far, and has the game at home, Florida State is somehow a 3-point favorite in this game.  By the way, this is the ACC’s first matchup of top-5 opponents since 5th-ranked Miami beat 3rd-ranked Virginia Tech in 2005.  These teams are pretty even, so instead of focusing on overall stats, I’ll look at some trends.  Florida State hasn’t won at Clemson since 2001, back when this matchup was known as the “Bowden Bowl”, when Bobby Bowden coached Florida State and Tommy Bowden coached Clemson (I feel safe saying the existing coaching matchup is the only one all year between guys named Jimbo and Dabo).  In fact, the home team has won the last 6 meetings.  Also, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd has been there before, while Florida State QB Jameis Winston is a redshirt-freshman who has never played a game like this, although he has played 2 road games so far.  Winston has impressed everyone, including Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who said, “He doesn’t look like any redshirt freshman I’ve ever seen,”  but there’s still that unknown of how he will perform in a hostile environment (although I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he plays really well).  Although, Clemson did really struggle to get over Boston College last week, BC also led FSU by 14 in the first half, so it’s not as big of a deal as people think.  One friend said today the game will won and lost for both sides on 4th quarter mistakes.  I agree.  Clemson 52, Florida State 49.

Big Game Guarantee: #22 Florida (4-2) at #14 Missouri (6-0).  This is a big game for a couple of teams who are still trying to win the SEC East.  Even though Missouri has the game at home, is unbeaten, and is coming off a big road upset against Georgia, they are still a 3-point underdog is this game.  The Gators have lost twice, but both are to current top-10 teams, Miami and LSU, and both were on the road.  Missouri’s win over Georgia came at a big cost, as QB James Franklin will be out 3-5 weeks with a shoulder injury, meaning that Maty Mauk will make his first career start (yes, that’s the younger brother of former Wake Forest/Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk) in this big contest.  In addition, the Florida secondary has allowed the 2nd least passing yards in the nation.  That, in addition to Missouri being stuck in a very difficult three-week stretch including last week’s game and next week’s game against South Carolina, will help Florida here.  Florida 20, Missouri 17.

BONUS:  Another Big Game Guarantee:  #9 UCLA (5-0) at #13 Stanford (5-1).  The Cardinal of Stanford come home after a tough loss on the road against Utah last week, 27-21, to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.  Stanford has won 5 straight in this series, dating back to their last loss to the Bruins in the 2007 season opener.  The Cardinal have a 12-game home winning streak, dating back to a loss to Oregon in 2011.  That is their only home loss since 2009.  That 2009 season also marks the last time Stanford lost back-to-back games; that was during Andrew Luck’s freshman season.  Those trends seem to point to a Stanford win, but UCLA is ranked 9th and hasn’t lost yet this year, and have an overall solid team.  While UCLA hasn’t necessarily played the toughest schedule, they do have a road win over that Utah team that beat Stanford, as well as one at Nebraska in a game that they were down 21-3 before winning 41-21.  This is also a good matchup of underrated quarterbacks between UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan.  Should UCLA win, they will make a statement and throw themselves into the national championship picture.  However, I think Stanford is such a good team all-around that them losing two weeks in a row would be unlikely, even if they’re playing a top-10 opponent.  Stanford 38, UCLA 34.

Upset of the Week:  #6 LSU (6-1) at Ole Miss (3-3).  Both of these teams come off of big games last week, after LSU beat Florida 17-6 and Ole Miss almost upset Texas A&M with a 41-38 defeat on a field goal as time expired.  Ole Miss played very well in that game, and has overall been starting to trend upward, despite three straight losses, as they were blown out by Alabama, and lost by 8 to Auburn, both on the road, before the near miss against Texas A&M.  LSU lost on the road at Georgia three weeks ago, before beating Mississippi State on the road and the Gators last week at home.  Even though the LSU-Alabama game won’t be until November 9, will the Tigers be looking ahead already?  The Rebels should learn from the mistakes they made in their close losses to Auburn and A&M, and will keep this game close at home.  LSU’s only close game was against Georgia, another road test, and they lost when Georgia had the ball last.  In the end, a very close game will go the way of the Rebels.  Ole Miss 38, LSU 37.

Closer Than The Experts Think:  Iowa State (1-4) at #12 Baylor (5-0).  While Baylor has possibly the nation’s best offense, and Iowa State has a struggling defense, this game will be closer than people think.  There is a reason Baylor is a 33-point favorite at home, but I think this game will be a little bit closer than that.  Iowa State’s 1-4 record is not an indication of how good or bad they are, as all four losses have been in close games, including one last week at undefeated Texas Tech, and another at home against Texas in a game that the Longhorns were benefitted by a very controversial call.  Also, while this game is on the road, so is their only win.  The Cyclones also have a knack for big upsets in Big 12 play.  Iowa State also held the potent Baylor offense to their lowest point total last year, when they defeated the Bears 35-21.  Baylor is averaging 714 yards per game and 63.4 points per game (which leads the nation), so I do believe the offense will be too much for Iowa State to handle, but they will keep the game closer than everyone thinks.  Baylor 42, Iowa State 30.

BONUS: NFL Pick: Peyton Returns to Indy: Denver Broncos (6-0) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2).  Peyton Manning has an 82-32 career record in games played in Indianapolis.  In each of those wins, however, he put on the home uniform.  Sunday, for the first time, Manning will be in the visitor’s locker room in Indy.  His Denver Broncos visit Indianapolis with a 17-game regular season winning streak, one win away from tying the New England Patriots in 2003-04 for 3rd all-time.  Manning’s replacement on the Colts, Andrew Luck, is showing no signs of a sophomore slump.  His career numbers through 22 games are much better than Manning’s at the beginning of his career.  That being said, Luck is still a long way away from Manning’s status, as Manning has proven himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. At the age of 37 he has shown no signs of slowing down, and may in fact be having his best season ever.  The Broncos are favored by 7 on the road, and will cover the spread and then some.  Broncos 38, Colts 24.