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New Year's Day Bowl Review
[Posted early Wed. a.m.]
Golf Quiz: Name the top ten in the world rankings as we head into the first Tour event of the calendar year, the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Answer below.
New Year’s Bowl Action...National Semifinals
Before we get to the semis....
In the Outback Bowl, Michigan finished a poor 8-5 with a really lousy 26-19 loss to South Carolina (9-4), the Wolverines up 19-3 with 5:40 left in the third, only to see the Gamecocks score 23 unanswered to close it out, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh with some highly dubious play-calling down the stretch.
The Wolverines also had five turnovers, all in the second half – 3 lost fumbles and 2 interceptions by QB Brandon Peters. A big step back for the program, and Harbaugh, this season.
In the Citrus Bowl, 14 Note Dame finished its season 10-3 with a 21-17 win over 17 LSU, thanks to a spectacular one-handed grab and 55-yard pass reception for the winning touchdown by Miles Boykin from quarterback Ian Book (who replaced an ineffective Brandon Wimbush early and tossed two TD passes). LSU had taken a 17-14 lead with 2:03 to play before Boykins’ heroics.
The Fighting Irish now have a shot at cracking the final AP Top Ten.
And in the Peach Bowl, in an entertaining affair, No. 12 UCF will be in the final top ten after completing an undefeated season, 13-0, with a 34-27 win over 7 Auburn (10-4), as the Knights had an interception return for a TD with 5:56 left to take a 34-20 lead and then held on, coach Scott Frost completing his dream season, even as he had previously been named head coach at his alma mater, Nebraska. It was tremendous both schools were able to pull this off and allow Frost to complete his mission, which was good all-around for the Cornhuskers and the Knights.
For UCF, their whole team on Monday was quarterback McKenzie Milton, who was only 16 of 35, but threw for 242 and two touchdowns, with no picks, and then picked up 116 yards on the ground in just 13 carries, with a score.
So on to the national semifinals....
What a Rose Bowl, 3 Georgia pulling it out 54-48 in double overtime over 2 Oklahoma.
Georgia was trailing OU’s seeming juggernaut 31-14 with just six seconds in the first half, when after a Baker Mayfield touchdown pass, the Sooners’ executed what was to be a squib kick down the field that was swallowed up around midfield instead and Rodrigo Blankenship nailed a 55-yarder to cut the lead to 31-17 at the intermission, a huge momentum boost for the Bulldogs, who then outscored Oklahoma 37-17 in the second for the win.
For Georgia, the story was the play of true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who was a cool 20/29, 210, 2-0, and the beyond stupendous play of the running back tandem of Sony Michel (11-181-3) and Nick Chubb (14-145-2)...yes, 326 yards on just 25 carries. Alabama’s defense should be having nightmares all this week.
Michel and Chubb in the process became the all-time top rushing duo in FBS history, exceeding the totals of SMU’s Eric Dickerson and Craig James; the Mustangs’ great tandem with 8,194, while Chubb and Michel finished up Monday at 8,284 with a game to go.
And in the end, it was Michel’s 27-yard score up the left sideline in the second overtime that won it.
For Oklahoma, running back Rodney Anderson was superb, 26 carries for 201 yards and two TDs.
And then there was Baker Mayfield, 23/35, 287, 2-1. Hardly a poor effort. He made some plays, some great throws, and you saw why he has been steadily moving up the draft board the second half of the season. He can be a franchise quarterback.
But boy, he’s hard to like. Really a....well, cue Jeff Spicoli.
Dennis Dodd / CBSSports.com
“The best-ever College Football Playoff semifinal should at least still be going on – and probably should have ended in Oklahoma’s favor.
“Forget OU blowing a 17-point lead or failing to adapt to Georgia’s second-half adjustments. Georgia got off easy because Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley got conservative – late in the fourth quarter and in overtime with the game in the balance, when it counted most.
“It’s hard to nitpick what was the most thrilling semifinal in the CFP’s short four-year history. It’s hard to narrow down a game that featured a Rose Bowl-record 102 points and 1,058 combined yards.
“But we must. If someone told any of us before the game the final score would be 54-48, that would have been a Sooners win.
“It sure dawned on Oklahoma kicker Austin Siebert: ‘I would have said we would have scored  points.’
“It occurred to Riley. ‘We moved the ball on them like nobody has...all season,’ he said.
“And that’s the issue. You put up 48 points on the nation’s No. 4 defense, you expect to win – big....
“You throw enough points at defensive guru Kirby Smart, the Georgia coach begins to feel a tightness in his chest....
“Going in tied 45-45, Riley ran seven plays in those two extra periods. Only one featured the best player in the country (Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield) throwing into the end zone. You know, where he is most dangerous.
“And that one didn’t count. A Mayfield interception was a free play negated by a Georgia offsides. Riley never allowed his Heisman-winning quarterback to go into the end zone again.
“Four runs out of those seven plays gained 10 yards. The team boasting the No. 1 total offense in the country really never sniffed the end zone because it wasn’t allowed to go there....
“And that’s the next issue. The thing about overtime is the proximity to the end zone. You’ve got to give yourself a chance with a weapon like Mayfield.
“In the same game, Mayfield was the best player in the country and was becoming the reason Oklahoma lost. In the second half, he took sacks instead of throwing it out of bounds. As Georgia’s defense stiffened, he tried to drop passes down silos that weren’t there....
“(But in the end), the best CFP game ever will be known for Georgia getting off easy because of the passes Mayfield didn’t get to throw.”
Dan Wolkien / USA TODAY
“(Instead) of leaving the Rose Bowl as a folk hero who burnished his credentials as the greatest college quarterback of all time, (Mayfield) instead watched helplessly as those chances passed by and running back Sony Michel took a direct snap 27 yards to give Georgia a 54-48 victory....
“For all the talent and self-belief Mayfield conjured to put the Sooners in position to play in the College Football Playoff championship game, the cold reality is that he came up empty in the moment that was seemingly made for him. Blame the conservative play-calling from first-year head coach Lincoln Riley, blame the flu bug that had sapped his energy throughout the week or blame Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith for single-handedly snuffing out first downs when most defensive players would have been sucking wind....
“There’s no real blame here. Mayfield’s impact on this era of Oklahoma football is above reproach, delivering two Playoff berths in his three seasons, three Big 12 titles and a Heisman. Moreover, what he accomplished as a college player comes with a unique flair, stemming from his creativity with the football and framed by his willingness to become a trash-talking antagonist with a mountainous chip on his shoulder....
“And none of that changed against Georgia, as the 31-14 lead he authored with seconds left in the first half was a dizzying array of precision, skills and moxie against the kind of celebrated defense he didn’t get to face regularly in the Big 12. Could he do it against an SEC monster like Georgia? For 30 minutes, there were no more questions. He even caught a touchdown pass, of all things.
“Then, as Mayfield led a comeback in the fourth quarter after what seemed like an avalanche of Georgia points, he seemed destined to put his stamp on this game and this season in a way the all-time greats tend to do....
“In reality, Mayfield never came close.
“The last possession of regulation? It ended with a missed throw to running back Rodney Anderson, who was there on the wheel route in one-on-one coverage. Then, after Oklahoma limited Georgia to a field goal in the first overtime, Mayfield was 25 yards from victory. He only got 9 before Riley took the ball out of his hands and kicked the field goal rather than let Mayfield try to make one more play....
“(As) the Bulldogs celebrated a return to their home state and a chance to win their first national title since 1980, the Sooners will spend years regretting how this one unfolded.
“What if Mayfield had been 100% healthy? What if Oklahoma’s play-calling had not gotten conservative with five minutes when Mayfield could have put the hammer down with a touchdown lead? What if head coach Lincoln Riley hadn’t called for that silly squib kick at the end of the first half, which took an unlucky bounce but undeniably helped give Georgia a little bit of momentum coming out of the locker room after a 55-yard field goal.
“This isn’t to take any credit away from Georgia, which made the right second-half adjustments and finally got in Mayfield’s face, sacking him five times and intercepting him once. The Bulldogs scored 24 straight points and forced Oklahoma to dig deep, showing us in the fourth quarter that Mayfield’s moxie had become the fabric of the entire program.
“But Monday, Mayfield had one last test that could have turned him from one of Oklahoma’s greatest quarterbacks to an all-time transcendent star. And three opportunities later, now we know it was the one he couldn’t pass.”
As for the second semifinal....
A couple of my friends and I were bemoaning the late starting time on a school night, at least here on the East Coast. I knew I was tired by the end of the first game and took a nap after watching the beginning of 1 Clemson vs. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. I then thought around 10:00 p.m., I’ll get up at 11:00 and watch the rest. I woke up around midnight instead and caught the final five minutes. I obviously needn’t have bothered, the Tide rolling 24-6, outgaining Clemson 261-188, and holding the Tigers to a whopping 64 yards on the ground in 33 carries; ‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts (16/24, 120, 2-0) outplaying Kelly Bryant (18/36, 124, 0-2).
Hurts hardly had a great season in terms of piling up the stats, but he did finish with an impressive 17-1, TD-INT ratio.
Barry Svrluga / Washington Post
“If there was a fella who was going to swing a game that was decidedly not the Rose Bowl, not some double-overtime, defense-is-optional thriller, then good as gumbo he should probably weigh more than 300 pounds. That’s what the Sugar Bowl felt like Monday night as the second College Football Playoff semifinal played out. It felt slow. It felt plodding. It felt downright heavy.
“So here was Clemson, the defending national champion which had been outplayed much of the evening, on the doorstep. And here was Alabama, the champ two years ago, shutting the door, then jamming a chair under the knob to hold out whatever was on the other side.
“The person grabbing the chair: junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. On a day in which nimble little skilled players skittered and scattered all over the Rose Bowl, Payne decided the Sugar Bowl with brute force and surprising dexterity. With Clemson somehow within four points in the third quarter, Payne came up with an interception of Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant, and seven plays later lined up in the backfield and – get this – caught the touchdown pass that broke the game open.”
No this wasn’t Alabama 45 Clemson 40 two years ago; nor was it Clemson 35 Alabama 31 last year. Both teams came into the game with stout defenses; ‘Bama yielding 11.5 points per game, Clemson 12.8. So as Barry Svrluga points out, we should have known this one would be different.
And now we have the sixth title game for the Crimson Tide in nine years, with Nick Saban going for his record-tying sixth title, and fifth with Alabama (the other was 2003 with LSU). Georgia, on the other hand, is looking for their first national title since 1980.
--Arizona fired football coach Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday, shortly after a USA TODAY Sports report on an investigation into the program concerning a troubling off-the-field allegation of sexual harassment brought by a former athletic department employee last fall.
The school fired Rodriguez without cause and said it will honor the separation terms of his contract, including a $6.3 million buyout.
The former employee has declined to provide the University communications she alleged provided support for her allegations. Rodriguez had cooperated fully with the investigation. She, in turn, had filed a lawsuit against him and a financial claim with the state Attorney General’s office.
The school clearly didn’t want significant negative publicity once any suit became public.
Rodriguez had a contract running through the 2019 season, but after a 3-9 season, he was on the hot seat anyway.
--I liked Ken P.’s final AP top ten, which is released after the title game.
5. Ohio State
8. Penn State
10. Notre Dame
Wild Card Weekend
4:30 Titans (9-7) at Chiefs (10-6) ESPN
8:15 Falcons (10-6) at Rams (11-5) NBC
1:00 Bills (9-7) at Jaguars (10-6) CBS
4:40 Panthers (11-5) at Saints (11-5) FOX
Jason Gay / Wall Street Journal
“The NFL playoffs are here, and by the Great Snowbound Gods of Lake Erie, look who’s finally decided to show up to the party: the Buffalo Bills!
“Football’s most arid playoff drought is over, as the 9-7 Bills have snuck into the postseason, thanks to a Sunday win and a last-minute Cincinnati wedgie of the Baltimore Ravens. Whoo-weeee! This is Buffalo’s first visit to the playoffs since 1999 – a dreary wait of 18 seasons. Here’s how long ago 1999 was: Nick Saban and his handsome mane were coaching at Michigan State! Cher had the No. 1 single in the country! People actually listened to their voicemails – and called each other back!....
“So congrats to the Bills fans out there, who now get a roadie in the sun with the 10-6 Jacksonville Jaguars, another revived outfit that hasn’t hosted a playoff game since...1999. We’re starting to sense a late ‘90s trend here. We’re almost starting to get Y2K panic.
“Elsewhere, we’ve got unrest-slash-dread in Philadelphia, where the Eagles locked up home field, but after a December injury to quarterback Carson Wentz, they now seem as reliable as a shopping cart with three broken wheels. Philadelphian Joe Queenan wrote in the Journal the other day that Wentz’s injury ‘ruin[ed] Christmas, and indeed life itself, for everyone in the Delaware Valley,’ so you can see they’re all taking it in stride.”
Back to Buffalo, it’s great how giddy Bills fans are making donations to Andy Dalton’s foundation, their way of thanking the Cincinnati quarterback for pulling it out against the Ravens, allowing Buffalo to get in. As of Tuesday, the foundation had received more than $170,000 in donations.
The foundation helps children who are ill or have special needs. By noon Monday, support staff couldn’t keep track of the dollar amount as it continued to spin upward.
Dalton said Monday, correctly: “I think I’m the hottest guy in Buffalo right now.”
Thus far, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis fired their head coaches, while Bruce Arians of Arizona announced his retirement. Previously, the Giants had dismissed Ben McAdoo.
Detroit fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, but no one is surprised. Caldwell was 36-28 in four seasons, plus 26-22 in three seasons at Indianapolis, but whenever you hear his name, it’s like “Eh.” The Lions lost their only two playoff games under him.
Chuck Pagano of the Colts, who took over in 2012 for Caldwell, was 53-43, including missing 12 games with cancer treatments in 2012, but the last three years, amid all the Andrew Luck issues, the Colts were in a downward spiral (though certainly not all Pagano’s fault).
John Fox is 62 and just completed his 16th season as a head coach. He has a 133-123 career mark, losing two Super Bowls (Carolina and Denver), but he was a miserable 14-34 in Chicago.
The firing of Jack Del Rio in Oakland was a bit of a surprise. He has a 93-94 career mark in 12 seasons at Jacksonville and Oakland, and when the Raiders shocked the NFL and finished 12-4 in 2016, it seemed as if they were Super Bowl bound.
But then they stumbled to 6-10 this season; along with the Giants probably the biggest disappointment in the league, and it was bye-bye. And hello, Jon Gruden?
Gruden said he believes a decision will be made next week on whether he will have a second stint as the coach of the Oakland Raiders. He is calling the Chiefs-Titans playoff game Saturday. Some are saying it is a conflict of interest for Gruden to be calling the Chiefs, when he could be facing them twice a year as Raiders coach, which is beyond stupid.
Meanwhile, Bruce Arians, 65, resident after compiling a 49-30-1 record in Arizona, but the Cardinals, once considered a rising power, were just 7-8-1 and 8-8 the last two seasons, though this year they had to deal with a myriad of critical injuries, including to star running back David Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer.
Palmer, 38, followed his coach into retirement after 14 seasons, saying the time was right. Palmer threw for 46,247 yards, 294 touchdowns and 187 interceptions. It is believed receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be next. Following Sunday’s season-ending Cardinals win over the Seahawks, Fitzgerald said he didn’t have a “timetable” for his decision. He said he was hoping Arians would return, so with the coach’s departure, combined with the loss of his quarterback, Fitzgerald will follow, you would think.
Fitzgerald, when asked what he planned on doing the next week said, “Go play golf tomorrow. Tuesday play golf again. Wednesday I’ll play golf. Thursday I’ll play some more golf and we’ll figure it out as we do.”
Yes, he’s an avid golfer.
Separately, Cincinnati gave Marvin Lewis a two-year extension when it seemed he was on his way out, by his own volition, despite the fact Lewis had a losing record in 2017 (7-9) and is 0-7 in the playoffs, the worst coaching record in NFL history.
--Green Bay fired general manager Ted Thompson after the 7-9 Packers suffered their first losing season since 2008. Thompson was GM during Green Bay’s 2010 Super Bowl season.
--Order for the NFL Draft
2. NY Giants
6. NY Jets
7. Tampa Bay
9. San Francisco
Mark R. said the Browns should draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, then trade the fourth pick for a later first round pick and a second-round, from which they should select offensive linemen, with their other second-rounders as well. Mark is convinced DeShone Kizer can develop, Kizer throwing just 11 touchdowns with 22 interceptions in his rookie year. [Pssst...Mark is an ND grad.]
AP Poll (Jan. 1)
1. Michigan State 14-1 (43)
2. Duke 13-1 (21)
3. Villanova 13-1 (1)
4. Arizona State 12-1
5. Xavier 14-1
6. West Virginia 12-1*
7. Oklahoma 11-1
8. Virginia 12-1
9. Wichita State 11-2
10. Kansas 11-2**
21. Seton Hall 13-2
25. Clemson 12-1...last finished a season in the Top 25 in 2010.
*Then Monday night WVU had a nice road win at Kansas State (11-3), 77-69.
**Kansas lost Tuesday to No. 18 Texas Tech (13-1) 85-73.
I was kind of surprised Butler didn’t enter Top 25 after taking down Villanova...No. 29, if you carry out the votes, but then they lost Tuesday to Xavier, 86-79.
Also Tuesday, 11 Texas A&M (11-3) lost to Florida (10-4) 83-66. Both Kansas and A&M went down at home.
--Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas made his long-awaited debut in a Cavs’ uniform and scored 17 points in 19 minutes off the bench as Cleveland beat Portland 127-110. He was said to have looked good, making six of 12 from the field.
--Boy, the Knicks looked awful in losing at home to San Antonio, 100-91, Tuesday, with Kristaps Porzingis going just 5 of 19 from the field in scoring 13.
--The Rockets’ James Harden is out at least two weeks with a hamstring strain, exacerbating their injury picture, Chris Paul having just returned after missing 17 games, big man Clint Capela in and out of the lineup, and Ryan Anderson missing time.
The heavy schedule continues....
Monday: Liverpool beat Burnley 2-1 in most exciting fashion; while Manchester United shutout Everton 2-0.
Tuesday: My Tottenham Spurs defeated Swansea 2-0 in a monsoon (Storm Eleanor, which wreaked havoc on the British Isles, including my beloved Irish seaside village of Lahinch); Crystal Palace had a huge 2-1 win over Southampton; ditto, West Ham over West Brom, 2-1; and Manchester City got back on the winning track with a 3-1 win over Watford.
--The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are this week in San Jose, Calif., which means you get to see the women take the ice in the long program on Friday night. Berths on the Olympic team are at stake, only it’s been 12 years since an American woman won a medal (Sasha Cohen took silver in 2006 in Turin, Italy).
--LeRoy Jolley, a second-generation trainer under whose guidance Foolish Pleasure and Genuine Risk won the Kentucky Derby, died. He was 79.
Jolley never wanted to do anything but follow his father, Moody, into the business of training thoroughbreds, growing up near Oaklawn Park racetrack in Hot Springs, Ark.
By 19, he had a trainer’s license, and by 24 he had a horse, Ridan, in the 1962 Derby, where he finished third.
Foolish Pleasure, though, gave Jolley his bit of immortality when he won as the favorite of the 1975 Derby.
After finishing second in the Preakness and the Belmont, Foolish Pleasure then raced against Ruffian, an unbeaten filly, in a much-ballyhooed match race on July 6, 1975, at Belmont Park. It would turn tragic.
Holding a lead after nearly half a mile, Ruffian suddenly shattered both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg and had to be euthanized. Afterwards, Jolley offered an unsentimental view of Ruffian’s death. “This game wasn’t cut out for anybody wearing short pants.”
Then in 1980, Jolley won the Derby with Genuine Risk, the first filly to do so since Regret in 1915, even though Jolley was initially against sending her to Churchill Downs and was talked out of the decision by the owners, Bertram and Diana Firestone, who I remember well. But just like Foolish Pleasure, Genuine Risk finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont.
Top 3 songs for the week 1/6/73: #1 “You’re So Vain” (Carly Simon) #2 “Clair” (Gilbert O’Sullivan) #3 “Me and Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul)...and...#4 “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder) #5 “Funny Face” (Donna Fargo) #6 “It Never Rains In Southern California” (Albert Hammond) #7 “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu” (Johnny Rivers) #8 “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (Kenny Loggins & Jim Messina) #9 “Superfly” (Curtis Mayfield) #10 “You Ought To Be With Me” (Al Green)
Golf Quiz Answer: World Golf Ranking....
1. Dustin Johson 10.62
2. Jordan Spieth 9.38
3. Justin Thomas 8.48
4. Jon Rahm 8.16
5. Hideki Matsuyama 8.07
6. Justin Rose 7.92
7. Rickie Fowler 6.90
8. Brooks Koepka 6.42
9. Henrik Stenson 6.03
10. Rory McIlroy 5.78
11. Sergio Garcia 5.77
Next Bar Chat, Monday. Bundle up Friday and Saturday, sports fans!!!