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12/05/2016

No Surprises with the Final Four

[Posted Sunday p.m., prior to Seahawks-Panthers]

NCAA Football Quiz: In the post-1936 poll era-present, including the BCS and CFP, name the seven schools to win at least five national titles.  Answer below.

College Football Review

I’m writing the following before the noon Eastern release of the final College Football Playoff Rankings and sorry, boys and girls, there will be no surprises...Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are your Final Four...as it should be, despite Penn State’s nine in a row to close out the season.

In the conference title games, starting with Friday:

No. 17 Western Michigan (13-0) finished up perfect against Ohio (8-5) in the MAC Championship, 29-23.  It was 23-7 at the half and WMU seemed very much in control but they let Ohio get back in it as Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell threw two interceptions, though overall he was 19/31, 290, 2-2.  I had no idea Terrell had thrown just one INT, vs. 30 TD passes, all season heading into the contest.  He was lucky he had All-World receiver Corey Davis, 8-144-1, because the WMU running game was held to 114 yards on 44 carries.  For Ohio, quarterback Greg Windham had three touchdown passes in a gutty effort, but his lone interception came on the Bobcats’ final drive when they had a chance to steal the game.

Western Michigan did not look good, but 13-0 is 13-0 and they are deserving of the Cotton Bowl bid that goes to the highest-ranked Group of Five team (that also wins their conference championship).

In the Pac-12 title game, 4 Washington (12-1) sealed its final four bid (in my estimation) with a convincing 41-10 rout of 8 Colorado (10-2) as the Huskies relied on the running game and a stifling defense that held the Buffaloes to just 163 yards offense, while Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was picked off three times in the second half after being knocked out in the first, Liufau finishing a godawful 3/13, 21, 0-3.

For Washington, quarterback Jake Browning was underwhelming, 9/24, 118, 2-0, but Myles Gaskin rushed for 159 yards on 29 carries, while Lavon Coleman chipped in with 101 on 18.  Freshman safety Taylor Rapp had two of the interceptions, returning one of Liufau’s errant throws for a TD.

No. 19 Navy blew its shot at the Group of Five Cotton Bowl berth as it fell to 9-3 in losing to Temple (10-3) 34-10 in the American Athletic Conference Championship.  Navy quarterback Will Worth severely injured his ankle early in the second quarter and it was game over.  [Worth is also out for Army-Navy, a major blow.]  The Midshipmen, which had 500 yards offense three straight games for the first time in school history, had just 306 against a solid Temple ‘D’.  The Owls also received a strong effort from quarterback Phillip Walker, who had two touchdown passes.

Navy’s senior class dropped to 37-14, which is still pretty pretty good.

In the SEC title game, if you thought 15 Florida (8-4) had a shot against No. 1 Alabama (13-0) you were nuts.  Alabama rolled, 54-16, with the Gators getting a net zero yards rushing, while quarterback Austin Appleby was picked off three times.  ‘Bama had their 10th defensive TD of the season, an interception return by Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the Crimson Tide blocked a punt for a TD (both in the first quarter).  Coach Nick Saban is now 43-5 when ranked No. 1.

Clemson (12-1) punched its ticket into the final four, holding on for a 42-35 win over a gutty Virginia Tech (9-4) in the ACC title game. Clemson took a 35-14 third quarter lead but the Hokies kept coming back.

For the Tigers, Deshaun Watson was 23/34, 288, 3-1, with another 85 yards and two scores on the ground.

And in the Big Ten Championship, 7 Penn State (11-2) strengthened its case for a final four berth with a 38-31 come from behind victory over 6 Wisconsin (10-3).  The Nittany Lions were down 31-28 entering the fourth quarter but prevailed on an 18-yard TD pass from Trace McSorley to Saquon Barkley and a Tyler Davis field goal.  McSorley was 22/31, 384, 4-0.  Receiver Saeed Blacknall had six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

In another key game....

No. 9 Oklahoma moved to 10-2 in running away from 10 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the second half for a 38-20 win and the Big 12 title.  The Sooners are Sugar Bowl bound.

Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield was his usual efficient self, 13/19, 288, 3-0, while Samaje Perine rushed for 239 yards on 37 carries with a touchdown, and running mate Joe Mixon had another 99 yards and a score on just 11 carries.

I didn’t see the extent of star receiver Dede Westbrook’s injury to know about his bowl availability but what will really suck is this exciting Sooner team will likely have 8-4 Auburn as its opponent.  I’d put Oklahoma No. 6 in the country. [Penn State 5, Michigan 7.]

So before we see the final CFP Rankings, I need to get down for the record that I believe USC (9-3, 7-2) should be in the Rose Bowl over Colorado, because USC beat Colorado 21-17.  But the higher-ranked team in the CFP gets that prestigious berth.

And here are the CFP Rankings....

1. Alabama 13-0
2. Clemson 12-1
3. Ohio State 11-1
4. Washington 12-1
5. Penn State 11-2
6. Michigan 10-2
7. Oklahoma 10-2
8. Wisconsin 10-3
9. USC 9-3
10. Colorado 10-3
11. Florida State 9-3
12. Oklahoma State 9-3
13. Louisville 9-3
14. Auburn 8-4
15. Western Michigan 13-0

Largely as I thought, and I’m thrilled USC overtook Colorado.

So it’s Alabama vs. Washington, Ohio State vs. Clemson.

And in an outstanding Rose Bowl...USC vs. Penn State.

Orange Bowl...Michigan vs. Florida State...another good one.

Sugar Bowl...Oklahoma vs. Auburn...Sooners deserve a better opponent but the incredibly overrated SEC nonetheless gets this slot.

Cotton Bowl...Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin...like it, though Wisconsin’s ‘D’ could easily have their way with WMU.

Yes, there is all kinds of bitching, but Penn State’s James Franklin was very classy in the immediate moments after learning his team didn’t get in the final four.  After all, nothing wrong with the Rose Bowl!  [And you’re not getting manhandled by Alabama.]

Colorado can complain, but USC beat them head to head and, frankly, the Trojans are playing as well as anyone in the country these days.  Just love this matchup with the Nittany Lions.

I’ll get into all the other bowl contests next time.  [Pssst....love West Virginia-Miami.]

Finally, the AP Poll then confirmed the CFP Selection Committee’s picks...and this is important in holding down some of the discussion....

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Washington
5. Penn State
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma
8. Wisconsin
9. USC
10. Florida State
11. Colorado
12. Western Michigan

In the Division I-AA / FCS  Playoffs:

James Madison 55 New Hampshire 22
Youngstown State 40 Jacksonville State 24
South Dakota State 10 Villanova 7
Sam Houston State 41 Chattanooga 36...as SHS goes to 12-0
North Dakota State 45 San Diego 7...Bison still in line for sixth title in a row
Eastern Washington 31 Central Arkansas 14
Wofford 17 The Citadel 3
Richmond 27 North Dakota 24

--I can’t help but note 16 West Virginia’s 24-21 win over Baylor (6-6) to move the Mountaineers to 10-2.   Or, really, just to note that this completed Baylor’s total collapse from a 6-0 start.  Just an awful ending for interim coach Jim Grobe, who you know did his best to provide stability amid all the chaos.  Grobe deserves a long vacation.  I wouldn’t touch this coaching job with a 10-foot poll and a number of high-profile coaches have already turned it down.

For example Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said after the Pac-12 championship on Friday he was not interested in Baylor.  “I love it at Colorado.  And my family loves Colorado.”

Gee, Boulder or Waco...Waco or Boulder.  Seems like a pretty easy choice to me.

--San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey is now No. 2 on the all-time rushing list after gaining 110 yards during Saturday’s Mountain West championship game against Wyoming, a 27-24 victory.

But Pumphrey was a lock to be No. 1 just three weeks ago, before he was held to 76 yards in an overtime loss at Wyoming, and then just 53 yards against Colorado State, and then Saturday’s subpar effort (for him) back in Laramie.

So with a bowl game to go:

1. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 6,397
2. Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU: 6,290
3. Ricky Williams, Texas: 6,279

Is the senior just running out of gas?  At least it means the Aztecs’ bowl contest warrants a look-in.

--Verne Lundquist called his last SEC game for CBS on Saturday.  The 76-year-old began his tenure as the unofficial voice of the conference in 2000.  The last 11 years Verne has been alongside analyst Gary Danielson and the two have been a terrific duo.  [Danielson is as good as there is in the college game.]

NFL

I noted the other day that now the Giants were in the Big Boy part of their schedule and they dropped to 8-4 with a 24-14 loss to the Steelers (7-5) in Pittsburgh.  Ben Roethlisberger threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, while Eli Manning basically sucked...24/39, 195, 2-2, 69.9.  For Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell had 182 yards of total offense, including 118 on the ground.

New England is 10-2 after a 26-10 win over the 4-8 Rams.  The Pats are without star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season after he underwent back surgery on Friday, a huge blow for their title hopes, but coach Bill Belichick will have none of that, ditto Tom Brady, who was 33/46, 269, 1-0, 93.5.  For the Rams, Jared Goff was a poor 14/32, 161, 1-2, 43.9.

Shockingly, we learned before the game that the Rams extended coach Jeff Fisher’s contract another two years.  This guy is horrible.  In four-plus seasons with the Rams he is 31-44-1.  In 22 years as a head coach, he has only six seasons of above .500 football to his name.  What kind of dirt does he have on people in the organization?!

Green Bay stayed relevant at 6-6 following a 21-13 win over Houston (6-6) at snowy Lambeau Field.  Aaron Rodgers played well in the poor conditions, 20/30, 209, 2-0, 108.9.  Texans QB Brock Osweiler was actually OK himself, 22/35, 202, 2-0, 97.6.

Kansas City continued to roll, now 9-3, following a nice 29-28 road win over Atlanta (7-5), Alex Smith a cool 21/25, 270, 1-0, 125.0.

Denver improved to 8-4 with a 20-10 win at Jacksonville, the pathetic Jaguars falling to 2-10.  The less said about this one the better.

The Ravens are now 7-5 after a 38-6 pasting of the Dolphins (7-5) in Baltimore.  Joe Flacco was superb...36/47, 381, 4-1, 119.2, while Miami’s Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions.

The Lions are 8-4!  Good lord.  Time to take them seriously after another solid effort, this time a 28-13 win over the Saints in New Orleans as the Lions’ ‘D’ picked off Drew Brees three times and held him without a TD for the first time in 60 home games!  Matthew Stafford was 30/42, 341, 2-0 for Detroit, while Matt Prater chipped in with five field goals.

“Good Andy” Dalton showed up for the Bengals in a 32-14 win over the 5-7 Eagles, Cincinnati moving to 4-7-1. Dalton was 23/31, 332, 2-0, 130.0.  For Philadelphia, Carson “Senor Wences” was 36/60!, 308, 1-3, 58.2, as he continues to swoon following his good start.

Chicago improved to 3-9 (cough cough) with a 26-6 win over the 49ers (1-11) in the snow at Soldier Field.  Chicago is playing without quarterback Jay Cutler for the rest of the season, out with an injured right shoulder, but sub Matt Barkley was good enough and Jordan Howard rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns.

The story was San Francisco. In losing their 11th in a row, Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert combined for 5 of 15 and a net six yards through the air.

Tampa Bay (7-5) has won four in a row, today defeating San Diego (5-7) on the road, 28-21, as Jameis Winston threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, while Philip Rivers had a poor effort, 15/26, 225, 2-2, 79.8.  Rivers needs a change of scenery in the worst way. He turns 35 this coming Thursday and if I was the Jets, I’d make a play on him for two years, rather than the stupid Romo talk.

Arizona moved to 5-6-1 with a 31-23 win over Washington (6-5-1), hurting the Redskins’ wildcard hopes.  Carson Palmer threw for 300 and three touchdowns, while David Johnson rushed for 84 yards and caught nine passes for another 91, with two scores.

The Raiders are an amazing 10-2 after a 38-24 win at home over the 6-6 Bills, Derek Carr throwing for two touchdowns.  For Buffalo, LeSean McCoy was outstanding with 191 yards total offense (130 rushing).

Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys won their 11th in a row, 17-15 over the Vikings in Minnesota, the Vikes dropping to 6-6Dak Prescott was just fine, 12/18, 139, 1-0, 108.3, with Ezekiel Elliott picking up 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and Dez Bryant catching four for 84 yards and the other score, while the Dallas defense did the rest.

--The football world was saddened to learn that former NFLer Joe McKnight was shot and killed in a road rage incident outside New Orleans.  The killer, a white man, stayed on the scene and was later released from police custody as officials contradicted witness claims McKnight, black,  was killed as he lay helpless in the street.

An unarmed McKnight, 28, had been arguing with Ronald Gasser, 54, at an intersection in the suburb of Terrytown, just before the shooting occurred, police said.

At a press conference Friday, Sheriff Newell Normand insisted, “Mr. Gasser did not stand over Mr. McKnight and fire shots into him,” adding that Gasser was in his vehicle when he opened fire. Three shell cases were found in his car.

Normand told reporters, “A rush to judgment does not equal anything.... The easiest thing for me [to say] would have been, ‘Book him, Danno.’  Right?  But the fact of the matter is that in trying to flesh out these details as it relates to all of this and not having that rush to judgment and doing this in a very deliberate and appropriate fashion, we chose not to do that.”

Normand added, “This isn’t about race.”

McKnight was a Louisiana schoolboy legend who played three seasons at USC, rushing for 2,213 yards, with a 6.4 yards per carry average.

Taken in the fourth round by the New York Jets in 2010, I think a lot of us thought we had something, but while he was a fine kick returner, leading the league in 2011 with a 31.6 average, and taking it the distance once that season and another time in 2012, he just never broke through.

From 2010-2012, McKnight carried it 112 times for 502 yards, a nice 4.5 average, but it was always like, ‘What am I missing?’

When you plug McKnight into my search engine, all you see are several references to recruiting violations and improper benefits while he was at USC...the same era as Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo.

But he got into all kinds of trouble with the Jets in the 2013 offseason, for issues both on and off the field, and he was released that August.

McKnight’s NFL career was over after just two games with Kansas City in 2014.  He then played some in the CFL, including this season with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.  RIP.

--Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended indefinitely after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy a third time since the end of the 2014 season, his only full season with Dallas after reviving his career following a year away from the game.

MLB

So after I posted Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced it had reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, adding five more years of labor peace.

Baseball is thriving, a $10 billion business, not far behind the NFL’s $13 billion, and ahead of the estimated $8 billion the NBA takes in.

For all the heat he took, deservedly so on the steroid front, Bud Selig did a pretty good job running things and now Rob Manfred is successfully carrying the torch.  You also have the sense that with baseball’s tough drug penalties that the sport is reasonably clean.

As Richard Sandomir of the New York Times notes, some of the clubs are also signing mammoth cable deals with regional sports networks.  The Dodgers are getting $8.35 billion in local TV money over 25 years, the Angels $3 billion over 20 years and the Phillies $2.5 billion over 25.

ESPN, Fox and TBS together pay baseball about $1.5bn annually.

And then you have the Walt Disney Company, which paid $1 billion for a 33 percent stake in BamTech, which streams baseball games and HBO programming.

So what has changed in terms of the sport?  For starters, the All-Star Game won’t mean a thing in the future. Instead of it determining home-field advantage in the World Series, now home field will go to the pennant winner with the better regular season record.  Under the new C.B.A., players in the All-Star Game will compete for a pool of money.

The luxury tax is changing, but this topic bores the hell out of me.  It does appear the Yankees benefit as they no longer pay a multiplier in revenue sharing for being in the No. 1 market.

Starting with the Class of 2017, teams no longer are required to surrender a first-round pick to sign free agents, and can’t lose more than second and fifth-round picks.

But for this year, the C.B.A. came too late for someone like Jose Bautista and Ian Desmond who rejected the $17.2 million qualifying offer.  Teams signing them now will still have to give up a first-rounder, which reduces their value.  If they took the $17.2 million, they could try again in next year’s easier market (in theory...though admittedly in the case of the aging Bautista he’s probably hurt either way).

Latin ballplayers can no longer receive contracts in excess of about $5 million, so some now say a few of these may go to Japan, hone their craft, and then get a huge payday after proving themselves there.  [Talk about a double culture shock, though.]

And speaking of Japan, the new international rules will require professional players to be at least 25 if they want unrestricted free agency, so that means a player I mentioned the other day, Shohei Otani, Japan’s version of Babe Ruth, won’t be eligible to play in the U.S. until 2019, but he could receive an unlimited contract.

What the above means is that major league teams will no longer be throwing away huge bucks on amateur players who turned out to be busts.  Such as the $72.5 million that Rusney Castillo got from the Red Sox.  The union now hopes the money saved in the amateur market can be paid to veterans.

Teams are now restricted from spending more than $4.75 million to $5.75 million a year on foreign amateur players, depending on the market size.

But otherwise, there are no major changes.  Beginning in 2018, the season will start four days earlier, so that four extra days off can be included in the schedule.  And there are new provisions requiring more teams to play day games when one or both teams face long flights after the game.

As for the issue of roster sizes, here I thought rosters would increase to 26 and the September roster would be reduced from 40 to 29.

But nooo....rosters stay the same.  25 per team, rising to 40 in September.  This really surprised me.

--Free agent Carlos Beltran agreed to a one-year deal worth $16 million with the Houston Astros. The deal includes a no-trade clause.  The Astros had previously traded for catcher Brian McCann and signed free agent outfielder Josh Reddick.

Beltran turns 40 in April, but he slammed 29 homers and drove in 93 last season with the Yankees and Rangers.

--Albert Pujols underwent offseason foot surgery on Friday and will be out four months.  Last offseason he underwent a similar procedure to “alleviate pain near the arch of his right foot.”  this procedure was done “to release his right plantar fascia,” the Angels said in a statement.

Which means he won’t be ready for Opening Day for Los Angeles, April 3.  Which begs the question, why did he wait until Dec. 2?  It’s not the like the Angels went deep into the postseason this year, know what I’m sayin’?

College Basketball

--Huge upset on Saturday...No. 11 UCLA (9-0) beat No. 1 Kentucky (7-1), in Lexington, 97-92 as all five Bruins starters scored in double figures, while Wildcats freshman Malik Monk had 24 points and 5 steals.  Yes, the Bruins are obviously legit, but what makes this a big upset is it broke Kentucky’s 42-game home win streak.

So No. 1 will be Villanova (8-0), which blasted Saint Joseph’s 88-57.

No. 25 West Virginia (6-1) upset 6 Virginia (7-1) 66-57.

No. 9 Baylor (8-0) handed 7 Xavier (7-1) its first loss, 76-61.

Wake Forest (6-2) had a nice road win at traditional nemesis Richmond (4-4) 75-67 despite shooting horridly from 3-point range a second straight game.  [9 of 45 from downtown over the two.]

My “Pick to Click” San Diego State (4-2) lost at Loyola (Chicago) (7-2) 65-59.  Yuck, though Loyola isn’t bad, having beaten Washington State while losing to N.C. State 79-77.  I don’t know what to say about the Aztecs...they haven’t really played much, and the other loss is to still undefeated Gonzaga, but it can’t lose a game like this and expect to be invited to the tourney.

And remember Ft. Wayne defeating then-No. 3 Indiana?  Well another member of Ft. Wayne’s Summit Conference, Omaha, upset Iowa 98-89 on Saturday.  Granted, this isn’t your father’s Iowa, now 3-5, but still.

I should also add Fairleigh Dickinson lost to Ohio State on Saturday by just 70-62, which no doubt beat the spread, if there was a line on the game to begin with...because at the end of the day, boys and girls....

Earlier this week, 13 Indiana defeated 3 North Carolina 76-67 in Bloomington, but it was Carolina coach Roy Williams’ truthful remark afterwards that got the attention.

“It was a great college basketball atmosphere, and one team really played right from the get-go, the second one did not and that was us,” Williams said.  “We were not ready for the intensity, the enthusiasm, anything that you want to talk about in the first half.  But it was a wonderful crowd.  Gosh.  I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin’ Duke game.  And that was just...congratulations to them, their fans, their students.  It was a big-time crowd.  But I’ve got to coach better, players got to play better.  First half, it was about as ugly as it could be.”

UNC has long had an issue with the intensity of its crowds at the Dean Dome. A lot of it has to do with the makeup of the crowd near the court.  There is no student section, like virtually everywhere else.  It’s just a bunch of old folks and big-money donors...a classic wine and cheese crowd.  Not the kind yours truly would be sharing a beer with on his perfect Saturday.

So good for Roy Williams.  Sometimes the truth hurts.

Finally, I have to note on Friday, Duquesne (4-5) beat Pitt (6-2) 64-55, a huge win for them.  Way back in the late 1960s, early 1970s, the Dukes were actually a consistent AP Top 20 (as it was back then).  You can look it up.  The last time they played in the NCAA tournament was for the 1976-77 season.  [Remember those days, J. Mac?  Duquesne was occasionally on local New York television, playing the likes of Manhattan.]

NBA

--Last Wednesday, after my last chat, the Knicks beat the Timberwolves 106-104, with Kristaps Porzingis getting 29 points.  But the story was the T’Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns.  The budding superstar was awesome...47 points and 18 rebounds.

Then in a return game two days later at The Garden, the Knicks won again, 118-114, holding Towns to 20 and 8, as New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, heretofore basically a stiff in his time with the Knickerbockers, had his best game with the team, 20 points and 13 rebounds.

What’s funny is the Knicks are 4-0 with O’Quinn in the starting lineup over $72 million man, Joakim Noah.  [I’m writing this before the conclusion of Knicks-Kings, tonight...Knicks up at the half.]

--LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” for a second time, certainly not a surprise.  James, who also won it in 2012, beat out, according to SI, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Jimmie Johnson.

Bolt is no doubt hurt by the issue of PED use in his sport, even though he has never tested positive, while I’ll say this now...if Jimmie Johnson wins his record-breaking eighth NASCAR championship next year, he better get the award.

--You gotta love Charles Barkley.  His latest: “Maybe I’m old school but I’m never gonna like that little girly basketball where you have to outscore people.  I’m biased against girl basketball.”

Barkley was on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” and let loose in criticizing the Golden State Warriors.

Kenny Smith replied: “Did you ever watch U-Conn?”

Barkley: “I love [Huskies Coach] Geno Auriemma.  He’s one of my favorite people.  I love women’s college basketball, but I don’t want it in the NBA.”

--Speaking of Golden State, there is no bigger jerk these days in the sport than the Warriors’ Draymond Green, who has been up to his old kicking ways again, and then the a-hole slams the NBA for its rules on ‘unnatural acts.’  Of course Green has a penchant for kicking opponents in the face and groin.  Just another reason to hate the Warriors this season.  I want them goin’ down...which of course probably means at the hands of LeBron and Co. and I don’t want that either.  This is most depressing.

--Wake Forest alum James Johnson is having an outstanding season off the bench for the Miami Heat, having secured a two-year contract in the offseason (which surprised some of us), and on Thursday, in Miami’s nice 111-110 road win at Utah, Johnson had 24 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes.

[Cough cough...but then on Saturday in Portland, Johnson had 2 points in 17 minutes, with a -20 attached to his line, in a 99-92 loss to my “Pick to Click” Trail Blazers, who are just 11-10 and still playing without key component Al-Farouq Aminu.  Geezuz, how long does it take for a calf injury to heel?  I thought only Victor Cruz could lose a year over a seemingly minor deal like this.]

NCAA Soccer Championships

Men:

My Wake Forest Demon Deacons are Final Four bound!  Wake beat Virginia Tech 2-0 in the Elite Eight on Ema Twumasi’s two goals in two minutes in the second half.

The Deacs will take on Denver, 1-0 winners over Clemson.

In the other semifinal it will be Stanford, 2-0 victors’ over Louisville, against North Carolina, which defeated Providence 1-0.  The semis are Friday, the final on Sunday.

This is Wake’s first appearance in the College Cup since 2009.

Women:

In the semifinals, USC defeated Georgetown 1-0, while West Virginia beat North Carolina 1-0.

So in Sunday’s final it was USC 3 West Virginia 1.

Premier League

In Saturday’s action, Chelsea won its eighth in a row, an impressive 3-1 win at Manchester City to remain on top of the standings, while my Tottenham Spurs waxed lowly Swansea 5-0, Harry Kane getting two more goals.

You know how in the NFL ‘a win is a win’?  In baseball and the Premier League, it’s about two things.  Beating up on the teams at the bottom of the standings and then trying to play .500 against the elite.  In baseball that’s a recipe for a playoff berth.  In the Premier League that gives you a shot at a top four and the Champions League.  So Tottenham did what they needed to do, and the five goals are important from a goal differential standpoint down the road.

Elsewhere, Sunderland defeated Leicester City 2-1, dropping defending champ Leicester to 3-4-7 (W-D-L).  Again, they lost three times in 38 matches last season.  This year it’s 7 in 14.

And get this, after Monday’s Middlesbrough-Hull City match, Leicester will be 16th in the PL standings!  It’s not too early to begin talking they could face relegation!  [Bottom three teams of 20 get booted out each season.]

One other, Arsenal whipped West Ham 5-1.

Then on Sunday....

The Bournemouth Cherries were down 2-0 and 3-1 at home to Liverpool, but fought back with 3 goals in 15 minutes for a superb 4-3 win.  What a blast it would have been to be in attendance at that one, with a slight amount of pubbing after.

In the other Sunday contest, Everton and Manchester United played to a 1-1 draw.

So the standings after 14 of 38....

1. Chelsea 34 points
2. Arsenal 31
3. Liverpool 30
4. Manchester City 30
5. Tottenham 27
6. Manchester United 21
7. West Brom 20
8. Everton 20

--And I have to note that Real Madrid secured a 1-1 draw against Barcelona in their latest El Clasico, as Real maintains their six-point lead at the top of La Liga.  They are undefeated, 10-4-0, while Barcelona is 8-4-2. We’re talking these matches bring the likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Ronaldo together.  Normally quite a show.

Golf Balls

--I watched bits and pieces of Tiger Woods’ return at his Hero World Challenge, an 18-man event in the Bahamas, and I would say he could pull off a comeback next year.

Yes, he finished at -4, 14 back of winner Hideki Matsuyama, as Tiger shot 73-65-70-76, but while he had three double-bogeys in his final round, he also had five birdies.

The guy showed a few flashes.  More next chat.

--Karen Crouse of the New York Times had a nice piece on Tiger’s caddie Joe LaCava, who has stuck with Tiger during all this time off, 466 days.  LaCava was in “loopers’ limbo. He was neither employed nor unemployed.  His financial arrangement with Woods, for whom he has worked since the end of 2011, freed him from having to seek temporary employment.

“ ‘He’s taken good care of me since the first day I’ve worked for him,’ said LaCava, who politely declined to divulge any specifics.”

The thing is, LaCava wasn’t prohibited from working for another golfer while Tiger was recovering, but he didn’t want to sign on with anyone else “because he wanted to be available to join Woods at his home in Florida for practices whenever he was nearing his return.”

LaCava, 52, lives with his wife and two children in Southbury, Conn.

“As time went on, obviously you get more antsy,” he said, “but I was just going to enjoy the time off while I had it.”

LaCava was the longtime caddie for  Fred Couples, so he knows about back injuries.  Couples “never felt great, and he was never the same after he hurt it, but he also had success after he hurt it.  Nobody’s as determined as Tiger, and I figured if Fred could fight through it, so could Tiger.”

Auto Racing

--Nico Rosberg startled the racing world when just days after winning this year’s Formula One championship at the age of 31, he announced he was retiring via a Facebook message.

“From the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion,” he wrote.  “On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi [site of the season’s final race], I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start.  I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time.”

Rosberg had never hinted at retirement and was seen Thursday at the Mercedes team’s factory in Brackley, England. 

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels great,” he wrote.  “My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.”

Remember, Rosberg’s father, Keke, also won the title.  Nico finishes with 23 wins, including nine of the 21 races this year to beat out teammate Lewis Hamilton by five points.

When asked if there was any chance of a return, Rosberg added: “No definitely not.  End of story. Done.”

Rosberg wants to focus on his family.  What a classy move by a classy guy.

--Kind of ironic the same day that Rosberg retires, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he feels “100%” and expects an on-track test later this month will confirm he’s ready to return to racing in February at Daytona.

Earnhardt admitted there were times when he wondered whether or not he’d ever get healthy again as his concussion symptoms persisted.

After doctors advised him to remove all stress from his life, including talk about his future, he began to improve.  He’s also getting married.

Boy, NASCAR needs him back in the worst way and it would make for a terrific story at Daytona.  [At this point, I will no longer express my doubts on the topic.  That’s not fair.  As a Dale Jr. fan, I only want the best for him.]

--Monster Energy was announced as the replacement for Sprint as the benefactor of NASCAR’s top series.  The suffix ‘Cup’ will no longer be used, but NASCAR didn’t say what they will call it.

Monster already has a heavy footprint in motorsports, so this makes sense, but no word on financial terms.

Stuff

--Until catching some of the action Saturday, I forgot the FIS World Cup Ski Season was underway.  The men had to cancel events at Beaver Creek, Colorado, due to lack of snow, and went to Val d’Isere instead, as the U.S. men haven’t done anything in the first five events.

But 21-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. continues to rock and roll, winning the first two women’s slalom events (Levi, Finland and Killington, Vermont).  She already has 22 career World Cup wins; 21 slalom, one giant slalom.

It would seem that Shiffrin is the only reason to halfway follow the World Cup this season with Lindsey Vonn out.  After her latest serious mishap, Vonn will be targeting the 2018 Olympics for her return.

--Magnus Carlsen of Norway defended his World Chess Championship, defeating challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia in a tiebreaker.  Carlsen, who turned 26 the day he clinched the title, is a rock star back home, and deservedly so.

--Just a note on the New York Rangers. At 17-8-1, they are 8-0-1 after losses this season. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’

--Talk about a bunch of dirtballs.  Look at Harvard University.  First the school canceled the rest of the men’s soccer team’s season for continuing to create sexually explicit “scouting reports” on incoming female soccer players.  Then this weekend, the men’s cross-country team was placed on “athletic probation” for essentially doing the same thing; creating annual spreadsheets about the women’s team.

--I see that Jaye P. Morgan, the singer, turned 85 this weekend.  You have to be of a certain age to remember her on Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show,” one of the great game shows of its era.  As was the case on “Hollywood Squares,” you knew the guest panelists were hammered (and coked up), borne out by all the books and stories that came later.  YouTube Jaye P. and the Gong Show for ‘Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.’

--Brad K. first passed along the story of the beaver walking into a Maryland store, trashing the place while examining the selection of artificial Christmas trees, a story that was then national news Thursday, but ‘Beaver’ has long been suspended from the All-Species List and no date has been released for a reinstatement hearing.

At least this particular beaver was apprehended by animal control and released to an “animal rehabilitator.”  If he’s lucky one of those joints in Malibu, where I desperately want to go myself for rehab.  “Please, take me!”

--The mountain lion known as P-45 has apparently been granted a reprieve by the owner of the 10 alpacas that the big cat is accused of slaughtering.

Victoria Vaughn-Perling told California’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service she would prefer to see P-45 caught and relocated in the Santa Monica Mountains or place it in captivity, according to her attorney.

State officials had issued a permit to Vaughn-Perling to kill the mountain lion, which then sparked an outcry.  Activists and other ranchers in the area have persuaded her to seek donations that would enable her to build lion-proof enclosures for her livestock, he said.

We await further developments.

--In Australia, a 65-year-old surfer was bitten by a shark and his surfboard snapped in two at a beach south of Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast.  The man suffered deep bite marks to his foot and arm, but was able to give a thumbs up as he was wheeled into hospital following the attack Thursday morning.  It wasn’t immediately known if it was a great white.

Look for a major ASL development later Monday.  An old friend returns to the Top Ten.

Top 3 songs for the week 12/4/82: #1 “Truly” (Lionel Richie)  #2 “Gloria” (Laura Branigan...ugh...)  #3 “Mickey” (Toni Basil...see #2...)...and...#4 “Maneater” (Daryl Hall & John Oates...love these guys, but this was far from their best...)  #5 “Heartlight” (Neil Diamond)  #6 “Up Where We Belong” (Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes...I’m breaking out in hives...)  #7 “Steppin’ Out” (Joe Jackson)  #8 “The Girl Is Mine” (Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney...just shoot me...)  #9 “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley)  #10 “Muscles” (Diana Ross...what an incredibly dreadful week...back to the 60s!)

NCAA Football Quiz Answer: Seven schools to win at least five national titles in post-1936 poll era.

Alabama 11
Notre Dame 8 (last 1988)
Oklahoma 7
USC 7
Ohio State 6
Miami (Fla.) 5
Nebraska 5

Next Bar Chat, Thursday...actually late Wed. morning...Pearl Harbor.



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Bar Chat

12/05/2016

No Surprises with the Final Four

[Posted Sunday p.m., prior to Seahawks-Panthers]

NCAA Football Quiz: In the post-1936 poll era-present, including the BCS and CFP, name the seven schools to win at least five national titles.  Answer below.

College Football Review

I’m writing the following before the noon Eastern release of the final College Football Playoff Rankings and sorry, boys and girls, there will be no surprises...Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are your Final Four...as it should be, despite Penn State’s nine in a row to close out the season.

In the conference title games, starting with Friday:

No. 17 Western Michigan (13-0) finished up perfect against Ohio (8-5) in the MAC Championship, 29-23.  It was 23-7 at the half and WMU seemed very much in control but they let Ohio get back in it as Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell threw two interceptions, though overall he was 19/31, 290, 2-2.  I had no idea Terrell had thrown just one INT, vs. 30 TD passes, all season heading into the contest.  He was lucky he had All-World receiver Corey Davis, 8-144-1, because the WMU running game was held to 114 yards on 44 carries.  For Ohio, quarterback Greg Windham had three touchdown passes in a gutty effort, but his lone interception came on the Bobcats’ final drive when they had a chance to steal the game.

Western Michigan did not look good, but 13-0 is 13-0 and they are deserving of the Cotton Bowl bid that goes to the highest-ranked Group of Five team (that also wins their conference championship).

In the Pac-12 title game, 4 Washington (12-1) sealed its final four bid (in my estimation) with a convincing 41-10 rout of 8 Colorado (10-2) as the Huskies relied on the running game and a stifling defense that held the Buffaloes to just 163 yards offense, while Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was picked off three times in the second half after being knocked out in the first, Liufau finishing a godawful 3/13, 21, 0-3.

For Washington, quarterback Jake Browning was underwhelming, 9/24, 118, 2-0, but Myles Gaskin rushed for 159 yards on 29 carries, while Lavon Coleman chipped in with 101 on 18.  Freshman safety Taylor Rapp had two of the interceptions, returning one of Liufau’s errant throws for a TD.

No. 19 Navy blew its shot at the Group of Five Cotton Bowl berth as it fell to 9-3 in losing to Temple (10-3) 34-10 in the American Athletic Conference Championship.  Navy quarterback Will Worth severely injured his ankle early in the second quarter and it was game over.  [Worth is also out for Army-Navy, a major blow.]  The Midshipmen, which had 500 yards offense three straight games for the first time in school history, had just 306 against a solid Temple ‘D’.  The Owls also received a strong effort from quarterback Phillip Walker, who had two touchdown passes.

Navy’s senior class dropped to 37-14, which is still pretty pretty good.

In the SEC title game, if you thought 15 Florida (8-4) had a shot against No. 1 Alabama (13-0) you were nuts.  Alabama rolled, 54-16, with the Gators getting a net zero yards rushing, while quarterback Austin Appleby was picked off three times.  ‘Bama had their 10th defensive TD of the season, an interception return by Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the Crimson Tide blocked a punt for a TD (both in the first quarter).  Coach Nick Saban is now 43-5 when ranked No. 1.

Clemson (12-1) punched its ticket into the final four, holding on for a 42-35 win over a gutty Virginia Tech (9-4) in the ACC title game. Clemson took a 35-14 third quarter lead but the Hokies kept coming back.

For the Tigers, Deshaun Watson was 23/34, 288, 3-1, with another 85 yards and two scores on the ground.

And in the Big Ten Championship, 7 Penn State (11-2) strengthened its case for a final four berth with a 38-31 come from behind victory over 6 Wisconsin (10-3).  The Nittany Lions were down 31-28 entering the fourth quarter but prevailed on an 18-yard TD pass from Trace McSorley to Saquon Barkley and a Tyler Davis field goal.  McSorley was 22/31, 384, 4-0.  Receiver Saeed Blacknall had six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

In another key game....

No. 9 Oklahoma moved to 10-2 in running away from 10 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the second half for a 38-20 win and the Big 12 title.  The Sooners are Sugar Bowl bound.

Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield was his usual efficient self, 13/19, 288, 3-0, while Samaje Perine rushed for 239 yards on 37 carries with a touchdown, and running mate Joe Mixon had another 99 yards and a score on just 11 carries.

I didn’t see the extent of star receiver Dede Westbrook’s injury to know about his bowl availability but what will really suck is this exciting Sooner team will likely have 8-4 Auburn as its opponent.  I’d put Oklahoma No. 6 in the country. [Penn State 5, Michigan 7.]

So before we see the final CFP Rankings, I need to get down for the record that I believe USC (9-3, 7-2) should be in the Rose Bowl over Colorado, because USC beat Colorado 21-17.  But the higher-ranked team in the CFP gets that prestigious berth.

And here are the CFP Rankings....

1. Alabama 13-0
2. Clemson 12-1
3. Ohio State 11-1
4. Washington 12-1
5. Penn State 11-2
6. Michigan 10-2
7. Oklahoma 10-2
8. Wisconsin 10-3
9. USC 9-3
10. Colorado 10-3
11. Florida State 9-3
12. Oklahoma State 9-3
13. Louisville 9-3
14. Auburn 8-4
15. Western Michigan 13-0

Largely as I thought, and I’m thrilled USC overtook Colorado.

So it’s Alabama vs. Washington, Ohio State vs. Clemson.

And in an outstanding Rose Bowl...USC vs. Penn State.

Orange Bowl...Michigan vs. Florida State...another good one.

Sugar Bowl...Oklahoma vs. Auburn...Sooners deserve a better opponent but the incredibly overrated SEC nonetheless gets this slot.

Cotton Bowl...Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin...like it, though Wisconsin’s ‘D’ could easily have their way with WMU.

Yes, there is all kinds of bitching, but Penn State’s James Franklin was very classy in the immediate moments after learning his team didn’t get in the final four.  After all, nothing wrong with the Rose Bowl!  [And you’re not getting manhandled by Alabama.]

Colorado can complain, but USC beat them head to head and, frankly, the Trojans are playing as well as anyone in the country these days.  Just love this matchup with the Nittany Lions.

I’ll get into all the other bowl contests next time.  [Pssst....love West Virginia-Miami.]

Finally, the AP Poll then confirmed the CFP Selection Committee’s picks...and this is important in holding down some of the discussion....

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Washington
5. Penn State
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma
8. Wisconsin
9. USC
10. Florida State
11. Colorado
12. Western Michigan

In the Division I-AA / FCS  Playoffs:

James Madison 55 New Hampshire 22
Youngstown State 40 Jacksonville State 24
South Dakota State 10 Villanova 7
Sam Houston State 41 Chattanooga 36...as SHS goes to 12-0
North Dakota State 45 San Diego 7...Bison still in line for sixth title in a row
Eastern Washington 31 Central Arkansas 14
Wofford 17 The Citadel 3
Richmond 27 North Dakota 24

--I can’t help but note 16 West Virginia’s 24-21 win over Baylor (6-6) to move the Mountaineers to 10-2.   Or, really, just to note that this completed Baylor’s total collapse from a 6-0 start.  Just an awful ending for interim coach Jim Grobe, who you know did his best to provide stability amid all the chaos.  Grobe deserves a long vacation.  I wouldn’t touch this coaching job with a 10-foot poll and a number of high-profile coaches have already turned it down.

For example Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said after the Pac-12 championship on Friday he was not interested in Baylor.  “I love it at Colorado.  And my family loves Colorado.”

Gee, Boulder or Waco...Waco or Boulder.  Seems like a pretty easy choice to me.

--San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey is now No. 2 on the all-time rushing list after gaining 110 yards during Saturday’s Mountain West championship game against Wyoming, a 27-24 victory.

But Pumphrey was a lock to be No. 1 just three weeks ago, before he was held to 76 yards in an overtime loss at Wyoming, and then just 53 yards against Colorado State, and then Saturday’s subpar effort (for him) back in Laramie.

So with a bowl game to go:

1. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 6,397
2. Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU: 6,290
3. Ricky Williams, Texas: 6,279

Is the senior just running out of gas?  At least it means the Aztecs’ bowl contest warrants a look-in.

--Verne Lundquist called his last SEC game for CBS on Saturday.  The 76-year-old began his tenure as the unofficial voice of the conference in 2000.  The last 11 years Verne has been alongside analyst Gary Danielson and the two have been a terrific duo.  [Danielson is as good as there is in the college game.]

NFL

I noted the other day that now the Giants were in the Big Boy part of their schedule and they dropped to 8-4 with a 24-14 loss to the Steelers (7-5) in Pittsburgh.  Ben Roethlisberger threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, while Eli Manning basically sucked...24/39, 195, 2-2, 69.9.  For Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell had 182 yards of total offense, including 118 on the ground.

New England is 10-2 after a 26-10 win over the 4-8 Rams.  The Pats are without star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season after he underwent back surgery on Friday, a huge blow for their title hopes, but coach Bill Belichick will have none of that, ditto Tom Brady, who was 33/46, 269, 1-0, 93.5.  For the Rams, Jared Goff was a poor 14/32, 161, 1-2, 43.9.

Shockingly, we learned before the game that the Rams extended coach Jeff Fisher’s contract another two years.  This guy is horrible.  In four-plus seasons with the Rams he is 31-44-1.  In 22 years as a head coach, he has only six seasons of above .500 football to his name.  What kind of dirt does he have on people in the organization?!

Green Bay stayed relevant at 6-6 following a 21-13 win over Houston (6-6) at snowy Lambeau Field.  Aaron Rodgers played well in the poor conditions, 20/30, 209, 2-0, 108.9.  Texans QB Brock Osweiler was actually OK himself, 22/35, 202, 2-0, 97.6.

Kansas City continued to roll, now 9-3, following a nice 29-28 road win over Atlanta (7-5), Alex Smith a cool 21/25, 270, 1-0, 125.0.

Denver improved to 8-4 with a 20-10 win at Jacksonville, the pathetic Jaguars falling to 2-10.  The less said about this one the better.

The Ravens are now 7-5 after a 38-6 pasting of the Dolphins (7-5) in Baltimore.  Joe Flacco was superb...36/47, 381, 4-1, 119.2, while Miami’s Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions.

The Lions are 8-4!  Good lord.  Time to take them seriously after another solid effort, this time a 28-13 win over the Saints in New Orleans as the Lions’ ‘D’ picked off Drew Brees three times and held him without a TD for the first time in 60 home games!  Matthew Stafford was 30/42, 341, 2-0 for Detroit, while Matt Prater chipped in with five field goals.

“Good Andy” Dalton showed up for the Bengals in a 32-14 win over the 5-7 Eagles, Cincinnati moving to 4-7-1. Dalton was 23/31, 332, 2-0, 130.0.  For Philadelphia, Carson “Senor Wences” was 36/60!, 308, 1-3, 58.2, as he continues to swoon following his good start.

Chicago improved to 3-9 (cough cough) with a 26-6 win over the 49ers (1-11) in the snow at Soldier Field.  Chicago is playing without quarterback Jay Cutler for the rest of the season, out with an injured right shoulder, but sub Matt Barkley was good enough and Jordan Howard rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns.

The story was San Francisco. In losing their 11th in a row, Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert combined for 5 of 15 and a net six yards through the air.

Tampa Bay (7-5) has won four in a row, today defeating San Diego (5-7) on the road, 28-21, as Jameis Winston threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, while Philip Rivers had a poor effort, 15/26, 225, 2-2, 79.8.  Rivers needs a change of scenery in the worst way. He turns 35 this coming Thursday and if I was the Jets, I’d make a play on him for two years, rather than the stupid Romo talk.

Arizona moved to 5-6-1 with a 31-23 win over Washington (6-5-1), hurting the Redskins’ wildcard hopes.  Carson Palmer threw for 300 and three touchdowns, while David Johnson rushed for 84 yards and caught nine passes for another 91, with two scores.

The Raiders are an amazing 10-2 after a 38-24 win at home over the 6-6 Bills, Derek Carr throwing for two touchdowns.  For Buffalo, LeSean McCoy was outstanding with 191 yards total offense (130 rushing).

Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys won their 11th in a row, 17-15 over the Vikings in Minnesota, the Vikes dropping to 6-6Dak Prescott was just fine, 12/18, 139, 1-0, 108.3, with Ezekiel Elliott picking up 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and Dez Bryant catching four for 84 yards and the other score, while the Dallas defense did the rest.

--The football world was saddened to learn that former NFLer Joe McKnight was shot and killed in a road rage incident outside New Orleans.  The killer, a white man, stayed on the scene and was later released from police custody as officials contradicted witness claims McKnight, black,  was killed as he lay helpless in the street.

An unarmed McKnight, 28, had been arguing with Ronald Gasser, 54, at an intersection in the suburb of Terrytown, just before the shooting occurred, police said.

At a press conference Friday, Sheriff Newell Normand insisted, “Mr. Gasser did not stand over Mr. McKnight and fire shots into him,” adding that Gasser was in his vehicle when he opened fire. Three shell cases were found in his car.

Normand told reporters, “A rush to judgment does not equal anything.... The easiest thing for me [to say] would have been, ‘Book him, Danno.’  Right?  But the fact of the matter is that in trying to flesh out these details as it relates to all of this and not having that rush to judgment and doing this in a very deliberate and appropriate fashion, we chose not to do that.”

Normand added, “This isn’t about race.”

McKnight was a Louisiana schoolboy legend who played three seasons at USC, rushing for 2,213 yards, with a 6.4 yards per carry average.

Taken in the fourth round by the New York Jets in 2010, I think a lot of us thought we had something, but while he was a fine kick returner, leading the league in 2011 with a 31.6 average, and taking it the distance once that season and another time in 2012, he just never broke through.

From 2010-2012, McKnight carried it 112 times for 502 yards, a nice 4.5 average, but it was always like, ‘What am I missing?’

When you plug McKnight into my search engine, all you see are several references to recruiting violations and improper benefits while he was at USC...the same era as Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo.

But he got into all kinds of trouble with the Jets in the 2013 offseason, for issues both on and off the field, and he was released that August.

McKnight’s NFL career was over after just two games with Kansas City in 2014.  He then played some in the CFL, including this season with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.  RIP.

--Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended indefinitely after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy a third time since the end of the 2014 season, his only full season with Dallas after reviving his career following a year away from the game.

MLB

So after I posted Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced it had reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, adding five more years of labor peace.

Baseball is thriving, a $10 billion business, not far behind the NFL’s $13 billion, and ahead of the estimated $8 billion the NBA takes in.

For all the heat he took, deservedly so on the steroid front, Bud Selig did a pretty good job running things and now Rob Manfred is successfully carrying the torch.  You also have the sense that with baseball’s tough drug penalties that the sport is reasonably clean.

As Richard Sandomir of the New York Times notes, some of the clubs are also signing mammoth cable deals with regional sports networks.  The Dodgers are getting $8.35 billion in local TV money over 25 years, the Angels $3 billion over 20 years and the Phillies $2.5 billion over 25.

ESPN, Fox and TBS together pay baseball about $1.5bn annually.

And then you have the Walt Disney Company, which paid $1 billion for a 33 percent stake in BamTech, which streams baseball games and HBO programming.

So what has changed in terms of the sport?  For starters, the All-Star Game won’t mean a thing in the future. Instead of it determining home-field advantage in the World Series, now home field will go to the pennant winner with the better regular season record.  Under the new C.B.A., players in the All-Star Game will compete for a pool of money.

The luxury tax is changing, but this topic bores the hell out of me.  It does appear the Yankees benefit as they no longer pay a multiplier in revenue sharing for being in the No. 1 market.

Starting with the Class of 2017, teams no longer are required to surrender a first-round pick to sign free agents, and can’t lose more than second and fifth-round picks.

But for this year, the C.B.A. came too late for someone like Jose Bautista and Ian Desmond who rejected the $17.2 million qualifying offer.  Teams signing them now will still have to give up a first-rounder, which reduces their value.  If they took the $17.2 million, they could try again in next year’s easier market (in theory...though admittedly in the case of the aging Bautista he’s probably hurt either way).

Latin ballplayers can no longer receive contracts in excess of about $5 million, so some now say a few of these may go to Japan, hone their craft, and then get a huge payday after proving themselves there.  [Talk about a double culture shock, though.]

And speaking of Japan, the new international rules will require professional players to be at least 25 if they want unrestricted free agency, so that means a player I mentioned the other day, Shohei Otani, Japan’s version of Babe Ruth, won’t be eligible to play in the U.S. until 2019, but he could receive an unlimited contract.

What the above means is that major league teams will no longer be throwing away huge bucks on amateur players who turned out to be busts.  Such as the $72.5 million that Rusney Castillo got from the Red Sox.  The union now hopes the money saved in the amateur market can be paid to veterans.

Teams are now restricted from spending more than $4.75 million to $5.75 million a year on foreign amateur players, depending on the market size.

But otherwise, there are no major changes.  Beginning in 2018, the season will start four days earlier, so that four extra days off can be included in the schedule.  And there are new provisions requiring more teams to play day games when one or both teams face long flights after the game.

As for the issue of roster sizes, here I thought rosters would increase to 26 and the September roster would be reduced from 40 to 29.

But nooo....rosters stay the same.  25 per team, rising to 40 in September.  This really surprised me.

--Free agent Carlos Beltran agreed to a one-year deal worth $16 million with the Houston Astros. The deal includes a no-trade clause.  The Astros had previously traded for catcher Brian McCann and signed free agent outfielder Josh Reddick.

Beltran turns 40 in April, but he slammed 29 homers and drove in 93 last season with the Yankees and Rangers.

--Albert Pujols underwent offseason foot surgery on Friday and will be out four months.  Last offseason he underwent a similar procedure to “alleviate pain near the arch of his right foot.”  this procedure was done “to release his right plantar fascia,” the Angels said in a statement.

Which means he won’t be ready for Opening Day for Los Angeles, April 3.  Which begs the question, why did he wait until Dec. 2?  It’s not the like the Angels went deep into the postseason this year, know what I’m sayin’?

College Basketball

--Huge upset on Saturday...No. 11 UCLA (9-0) beat No. 1 Kentucky (7-1), in Lexington, 97-92 as all five Bruins starters scored in double figures, while Wildcats freshman Malik Monk had 24 points and 5 steals.  Yes, the Bruins are obviously legit, but what makes this a big upset is it broke Kentucky’s 42-game home win streak.

So No. 1 will be Villanova (8-0), which blasted Saint Joseph’s 88-57.

No. 25 West Virginia (6-1) upset 6 Virginia (7-1) 66-57.

No. 9 Baylor (8-0) handed 7 Xavier (7-1) its first loss, 76-61.

Wake Forest (6-2) had a nice road win at traditional nemesis Richmond (4-4) 75-67 despite shooting horridly from 3-point range a second straight game.  [9 of 45 from downtown over the two.]

My “Pick to Click” San Diego State (4-2) lost at Loyola (Chicago) (7-2) 65-59.  Yuck, though Loyola isn’t bad, having beaten Washington State while losing to N.C. State 79-77.  I don’t know what to say about the Aztecs...they haven’t really played much, and the other loss is to still undefeated Gonzaga, but it can’t lose a game like this and expect to be invited to the tourney.

And remember Ft. Wayne defeating then-No. 3 Indiana?  Well another member of Ft. Wayne’s Summit Conference, Omaha, upset Iowa 98-89 on Saturday.  Granted, this isn’t your father’s Iowa, now 3-5, but still.

I should also add Fairleigh Dickinson lost to Ohio State on Saturday by just 70-62, which no doubt beat the spread, if there was a line on the game to begin with...because at the end of the day, boys and girls....

Earlier this week, 13 Indiana defeated 3 North Carolina 76-67 in Bloomington, but it was Carolina coach Roy Williams’ truthful remark afterwards that got the attention.

“It was a great college basketball atmosphere, and one team really played right from the get-go, the second one did not and that was us,” Williams said.  “We were not ready for the intensity, the enthusiasm, anything that you want to talk about in the first half.  But it was a wonderful crowd.  Gosh.  I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin’ Duke game.  And that was just...congratulations to them, their fans, their students.  It was a big-time crowd.  But I’ve got to coach better, players got to play better.  First half, it was about as ugly as it could be.”

UNC has long had an issue with the intensity of its crowds at the Dean Dome. A lot of it has to do with the makeup of the crowd near the court.  There is no student section, like virtually everywhere else.  It’s just a bunch of old folks and big-money donors...a classic wine and cheese crowd.  Not the kind yours truly would be sharing a beer with on his perfect Saturday.

So good for Roy Williams.  Sometimes the truth hurts.

Finally, I have to note on Friday, Duquesne (4-5) beat Pitt (6-2) 64-55, a huge win for them.  Way back in the late 1960s, early 1970s, the Dukes were actually a consistent AP Top 20 (as it was back then).  You can look it up.  The last time they played in the NCAA tournament was for the 1976-77 season.  [Remember those days, J. Mac?  Duquesne was occasionally on local New York television, playing the likes of Manhattan.]

NBA

--Last Wednesday, after my last chat, the Knicks beat the Timberwolves 106-104, with Kristaps Porzingis getting 29 points.  But the story was the T’Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns.  The budding superstar was awesome...47 points and 18 rebounds.

Then in a return game two days later at The Garden, the Knicks won again, 118-114, holding Towns to 20 and 8, as New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, heretofore basically a stiff in his time with the Knickerbockers, had his best game with the team, 20 points and 13 rebounds.

What’s funny is the Knicks are 4-0 with O’Quinn in the starting lineup over $72 million man, Joakim Noah.  [I’m writing this before the conclusion of Knicks-Kings, tonight...Knicks up at the half.]

--LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” for a second time, certainly not a surprise.  James, who also won it in 2012, beat out, according to SI, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Jimmie Johnson.

Bolt is no doubt hurt by the issue of PED use in his sport, even though he has never tested positive, while I’ll say this now...if Jimmie Johnson wins his record-breaking eighth NASCAR championship next year, he better get the award.

--You gotta love Charles Barkley.  His latest: “Maybe I’m old school but I’m never gonna like that little girly basketball where you have to outscore people.  I’m biased against girl basketball.”

Barkley was on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” and let loose in criticizing the Golden State Warriors.

Kenny Smith replied: “Did you ever watch U-Conn?”

Barkley: “I love [Huskies Coach] Geno Auriemma.  He’s one of my favorite people.  I love women’s college basketball, but I don’t want it in the NBA.”

--Speaking of Golden State, there is no bigger jerk these days in the sport than the Warriors’ Draymond Green, who has been up to his old kicking ways again, and then the a-hole slams the NBA for its rules on ‘unnatural acts.’  Of course Green has a penchant for kicking opponents in the face and groin.  Just another reason to hate the Warriors this season.  I want them goin’ down...which of course probably means at the hands of LeBron and Co. and I don’t want that either.  This is most depressing.

--Wake Forest alum James Johnson is having an outstanding season off the bench for the Miami Heat, having secured a two-year contract in the offseason (which surprised some of us), and on Thursday, in Miami’s nice 111-110 road win at Utah, Johnson had 24 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes.

[Cough cough...but then on Saturday in Portland, Johnson had 2 points in 17 minutes, with a -20 attached to his line, in a 99-92 loss to my “Pick to Click” Trail Blazers, who are just 11-10 and still playing without key component Al-Farouq Aminu.  Geezuz, how long does it take for a calf injury to heel?  I thought only Victor Cruz could lose a year over a seemingly minor deal like this.]

NCAA Soccer Championships

Men:

My Wake Forest Demon Deacons are Final Four bound!  Wake beat Virginia Tech 2-0 in the Elite Eight on Ema Twumasi’s two goals in two minutes in the second half.

The Deacs will take on Denver, 1-0 winners over Clemson.

In the other semifinal it will be Stanford, 2-0 victors’ over Louisville, against North Carolina, which defeated Providence 1-0.  The semis are Friday, the final on Sunday.

This is Wake’s first appearance in the College Cup since 2009.

Women:

In the semifinals, USC defeated Georgetown 1-0, while West Virginia beat North Carolina 1-0.

So in Sunday’s final it was USC 3 West Virginia 1.

Premier League

In Saturday’s action, Chelsea won its eighth in a row, an impressive 3-1 win at Manchester City to remain on top of the standings, while my Tottenham Spurs waxed lowly Swansea 5-0, Harry Kane getting two more goals.

You know how in the NFL ‘a win is a win’?  In baseball and the Premier League, it’s about two things.  Beating up on the teams at the bottom of the standings and then trying to play .500 against the elite.  In baseball that’s a recipe for a playoff berth.  In the Premier League that gives you a shot at a top four and the Champions League.  So Tottenham did what they needed to do, and the five goals are important from a goal differential standpoint down the road.

Elsewhere, Sunderland defeated Leicester City 2-1, dropping defending champ Leicester to 3-4-7 (W-D-L).  Again, they lost three times in 38 matches last season.  This year it’s 7 in 14.

And get this, after Monday’s Middlesbrough-Hull City match, Leicester will be 16th in the PL standings!  It’s not too early to begin talking they could face relegation!  [Bottom three teams of 20 get booted out each season.]

One other, Arsenal whipped West Ham 5-1.

Then on Sunday....

The Bournemouth Cherries were down 2-0 and 3-1 at home to Liverpool, but fought back with 3 goals in 15 minutes for a superb 4-3 win.  What a blast it would have been to be in attendance at that one, with a slight amount of pubbing after.

In the other Sunday contest, Everton and Manchester United played to a 1-1 draw.

So the standings after 14 of 38....

1. Chelsea 34 points
2. Arsenal 31
3. Liverpool 30
4. Manchester City 30
5. Tottenham 27
6. Manchester United 21
7. West Brom 20
8. Everton 20

--And I have to note that Real Madrid secured a 1-1 draw against Barcelona in their latest El Clasico, as Real maintains their six-point lead at the top of La Liga.  They are undefeated, 10-4-0, while Barcelona is 8-4-2. We’re talking these matches bring the likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Ronaldo together.  Normally quite a show.

Golf Balls

--I watched bits and pieces of Tiger Woods’ return at his Hero World Challenge, an 18-man event in the Bahamas, and I would say he could pull off a comeback next year.

Yes, he finished at -4, 14 back of winner Hideki Matsuyama, as Tiger shot 73-65-70-76, but while he had three double-bogeys in his final round, he also had five birdies.

The guy showed a few flashes.  More next chat.

--Karen Crouse of the New York Times had a nice piece on Tiger’s caddie Joe LaCava, who has stuck with Tiger during all this time off, 466 days.  LaCava was in “loopers’ limbo. He was neither employed nor unemployed.  His financial arrangement with Woods, for whom he has worked since the end of 2011, freed him from having to seek temporary employment.

“ ‘He’s taken good care of me since the first day I’ve worked for him,’ said LaCava, who politely declined to divulge any specifics.”

The thing is, LaCava wasn’t prohibited from working for another golfer while Tiger was recovering, but he didn’t want to sign on with anyone else “because he wanted to be available to join Woods at his home in Florida for practices whenever he was nearing his return.”

LaCava, 52, lives with his wife and two children in Southbury, Conn.

“As time went on, obviously you get more antsy,” he said, “but I was just going to enjoy the time off while I had it.”

LaCava was the longtime caddie for  Fred Couples, so he knows about back injuries.  Couples “never felt great, and he was never the same after he hurt it, but he also had success after he hurt it.  Nobody’s as determined as Tiger, and I figured if Fred could fight through it, so could Tiger.”

Auto Racing

--Nico Rosberg startled the racing world when just days after winning this year’s Formula One championship at the age of 31, he announced he was retiring via a Facebook message.

“From the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion,” he wrote.  “On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi [site of the season’s final race], I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start.  I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time.”

Rosberg had never hinted at retirement and was seen Thursday at the Mercedes team’s factory in Brackley, England. 

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels great,” he wrote.  “My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.”

Remember, Rosberg’s father, Keke, also won the title.  Nico finishes with 23 wins, including nine of the 21 races this year to beat out teammate Lewis Hamilton by five points.

When asked if there was any chance of a return, Rosberg added: “No definitely not.  End of story. Done.”

Rosberg wants to focus on his family.  What a classy move by a classy guy.

--Kind of ironic the same day that Rosberg retires, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he feels “100%” and expects an on-track test later this month will confirm he’s ready to return to racing in February at Daytona.

Earnhardt admitted there were times when he wondered whether or not he’d ever get healthy again as his concussion symptoms persisted.

After doctors advised him to remove all stress from his life, including talk about his future, he began to improve.  He’s also getting married.

Boy, NASCAR needs him back in the worst way and it would make for a terrific story at Daytona.  [At this point, I will no longer express my doubts on the topic.  That’s not fair.  As a Dale Jr. fan, I only want the best for him.]

--Monster Energy was announced as the replacement for Sprint as the benefactor of NASCAR’s top series.  The suffix ‘Cup’ will no longer be used, but NASCAR didn’t say what they will call it.

Monster already has a heavy footprint in motorsports, so this makes sense, but no word on financial terms.

Stuff

--Until catching some of the action Saturday, I forgot the FIS World Cup Ski Season was underway.  The men had to cancel events at Beaver Creek, Colorado, due to lack of snow, and went to Val d’Isere instead, as the U.S. men haven’t done anything in the first five events.

But 21-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. continues to rock and roll, winning the first two women’s slalom events (Levi, Finland and Killington, Vermont).  She already has 22 career World Cup wins; 21 slalom, one giant slalom.

It would seem that Shiffrin is the only reason to halfway follow the World Cup this season with Lindsey Vonn out.  After her latest serious mishap, Vonn will be targeting the 2018 Olympics for her return.

--Magnus Carlsen of Norway defended his World Chess Championship, defeating challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia in a tiebreaker.  Carlsen, who turned 26 the day he clinched the title, is a rock star back home, and deservedly so.

--Just a note on the New York Rangers. At 17-8-1, they are 8-0-1 after losses this season. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’

--Talk about a bunch of dirtballs.  Look at Harvard University.  First the school canceled the rest of the men’s soccer team’s season for continuing to create sexually explicit “scouting reports” on incoming female soccer players.  Then this weekend, the men’s cross-country team was placed on “athletic probation” for essentially doing the same thing; creating annual spreadsheets about the women’s team.

--I see that Jaye P. Morgan, the singer, turned 85 this weekend.  You have to be of a certain age to remember her on Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show,” one of the great game shows of its era.  As was the case on “Hollywood Squares,” you knew the guest panelists were hammered (and coked up), borne out by all the books and stories that came later.  YouTube Jaye P. and the Gong Show for ‘Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.’

--Brad K. first passed along the story of the beaver walking into a Maryland store, trashing the place while examining the selection of artificial Christmas trees, a story that was then national news Thursday, but ‘Beaver’ has long been suspended from the All-Species List and no date has been released for a reinstatement hearing.

At least this particular beaver was apprehended by animal control and released to an “animal rehabilitator.”  If he’s lucky one of those joints in Malibu, where I desperately want to go myself for rehab.  “Please, take me!”

--The mountain lion known as P-45 has apparently been granted a reprieve by the owner of the 10 alpacas that the big cat is accused of slaughtering.

Victoria Vaughn-Perling told California’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service she would prefer to see P-45 caught and relocated in the Santa Monica Mountains or place it in captivity, according to her attorney.

State officials had issued a permit to Vaughn-Perling to kill the mountain lion, which then sparked an outcry.  Activists and other ranchers in the area have persuaded her to seek donations that would enable her to build lion-proof enclosures for her livestock, he said.

We await further developments.

--In Australia, a 65-year-old surfer was bitten by a shark and his surfboard snapped in two at a beach south of Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast.  The man suffered deep bite marks to his foot and arm, but was able to give a thumbs up as he was wheeled into hospital following the attack Thursday morning.  It wasn’t immediately known if it was a great white.

Look for a major ASL development later Monday.  An old friend returns to the Top Ten.

Top 3 songs for the week 12/4/82: #1 “Truly” (Lionel Richie)  #2 “Gloria” (Laura Branigan...ugh...)  #3 “Mickey” (Toni Basil...see #2...)...and...#4 “Maneater” (Daryl Hall & John Oates...love these guys, but this was far from their best...)  #5 “Heartlight” (Neil Diamond)  #6 “Up Where We Belong” (Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes...I’m breaking out in hives...)  #7 “Steppin’ Out” (Joe Jackson)  #8 “The Girl Is Mine” (Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney...just shoot me...)  #9 “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley)  #10 “Muscles” (Diana Ross...what an incredibly dreadful week...back to the 60s!)

NCAA Football Quiz Answer: Seven schools to win at least five national titles in post-1936 poll era.

Alabama 11
Notre Dame 8 (last 1988)
Oklahoma 7
USC 7
Ohio State 6
Miami (Fla.) 5
Nebraska 5

Next Bar Chat, Thursday...actually late Wed. morning...Pearl Harbor.