Ohio State – LSU it is …
Voters in the USA Today coaches and Harris polls looked at all the teams late Saturday and stacked up all the conference champions. Ohio State and LSU came out on top, and those two teams are headed to the Allstate BCS National Championship in New Orleans.
Virginia Tech came in third, and Oklahoma was fourth in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.
Virginia Tech landed in the FedEx Orange Bowl for a date with Kansas. The Fighting Manginos finished eighth in the BCS standings, and South Beach is a well-deserved reward for a team that reached never-before-seen heights this year.
"Dreaming is a passive state," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "We talk here all the time with our players, 'You can dream or you can pursue.' This is the product of our players and our coaches pursuing this goal and working hard to obtain it."
OU had to settle for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and a date with West Virginia. The Mountaineers probably won't need a hook-and-lateral or the Statue of Liberty like Boise State did last year. They simply need quarterback Pat White's dislocated thumb to heal this December.
OU coach Bob Stoops had a legitimate gripe about coming up short. The Sooners won the Big 12 title by whipping last week's No. 1 team, Missouri, in San Antonio. But Stoops wasn't about to stir the BCS pot.
When asked if his team should have been in New Orleans, Stoops said, "It's a little bit too late for that. Things are what they are. ... In the end, we're excited to be in the Fiesta Bowl."
In the end, the voters got it right. They threw away last week's ballot and rearranged the teams in the proper order on their final ballot – the only one that truly counts.
And by proper order, I'm talking about stacking the conference champions on top.
That's what Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did. Tressel said he "got scolded pretty good" last year by Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, for not turning in a final ballot.
The Games We Care about …some more than others…
Pacific Life Holiday
Arizona State vs. Texas San Diego Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ESPN HD
TCU vs. Houston Houston Dec. 28, 7 p.m. NFL
Penn State vs. Texas A&M San Antonio Dec. 29, 7 p.m. ESPN HD
Missouri vs. Arkansas Dallas Jan. 1, 2008, 10:30 a.m. FOX
Texas Tech vs. Virginia Jacksonville, Fla. Jan. 1, 2008, 2 p.m. CBS
Oklahoma vs. West Virginia Glendale, Ariz. Jan. 2, 2008, 7 p.m. FOX
Virginia Tech vs. Kansas Miami Jan. 3, 2008, 7 p.m. FOX
Allstate BCS Championship Game
LSU vs. Ohio State New Orleans Jan. 7, 2008, 7 p.m. FOX
Meanwhile, the NFL weekend isn’t the same without the Cowboys and Packers, but somehow the league went on. All NFC East teams had some portion of drama added to their seasons yesterday:
The Redskins honor Sean Taylor; but Joe Gibbs is not going to quiet his “the game has passed him by” critics this way …
In the final frantic moments of another close game after the most difficult week the Washington Redskins could remember, Coach Joe Gibbs sought help before making a key decision yesterday against the Buffalo Bills. It was Gibbs's leadership that had helped the Redskins move forward in the wake of safety Sean Taylor's death from a gunshot wound last week, but Gibbs needed someone to guide him while the Bills lined up for the second time to attempt a potential game-winning field goal.
Unsure about the rules regarding the use of timeouts in an attempt to "freeze" a place kicker, Gibbs said he consulted an official along the sideline, asking whether he could call another timeout after the one he had used a moment earlier, before Buffalo's Rian Lindell sent the ball through the uprights from 51 yards away.
Regardless of what the official told Gibbs, his decision to call consecutive timeouts in that situation led to a 15-yard penalty.
"To be quite truthful, I made a decision there at the end that very likely cost us the game," Gibbs said. "That's on me."
Put in position to make a shorter kick in the rain because of Gibbs's gaffe, Lindell connected again, this time on a 36-yard field goal with only four seconds remaining on the clock. The Bills rallied for a 17-16 victory in front of 85,831 at FedEx Field, writing an ending that Washington and its fans had hoped to avoid in the team's first game since Taylor's death. The Redskins got the ball back with three seconds left and ran two plays. Quarterback Jason Campbell's final pass landed incomplete and the Redskins had a four-game losing streak for the first time since Oct. 10, 2004.
"First off, we can't have consecutive timeouts. That's number one," referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter. "Number two, if that timeout is called to freeze the kicker, it becomes unsportsmanlike conduct."
The Eagles realize Donovan isn’t so bad ….
The Eagles have mustered some momentum at various points during this increasingly disappointing season, and they firmly believed they were a massive force moving in a positive direction as they stepped on the field for a critical home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
That strong effort in a losing cause against the powerful New England Patriots the week before became nothing more than a meaningless footnote yesterday as the Eagles wasted a gargantuan performance by Brian Westbrook and lost, 28-24, to the Seahawks on the soggy new sod at Lincoln Financial Field.
The loss left the Eagles at 5-7, which means they probably can't afford to lose again if they want to have any chance of making a second-straight postseason appearance.
A.J. Feeley, making his second start in a row, spared us all the possibility of a quarterback controversy this week by throwing four interceptions, including one in the final minute after Westbrook had put the Eagles in position to pull out a victory with a 64-yard punt return reminiscent of his magical season-saving moment at the Meadowlands in 2003.
"I thought I was going to score," Westbrook said. "In hindsight, maybe I should have tried to cut it back a little bit, but I knew I had a trailer behind me. I think the guys did a good job of blocking in front of me, and I was able to get out in space and try to make a play and give us an opportunity to win the game."
Like so many other times this season, the Eagles put the word missed right in front of the word opportunity.
And Eli gets it done somehow …
If the Giants had lost yesterday -- and for more than three quarters, their offense looked as if it wouldn't pick up a first down, much less points -- it would have been irreparable.
Even with the Giants at 7-5, Eli Manning's confidence would have been in the depths after another horrific game, and the second-half swoon that has become an annual occurrence under Tom Coughlin would have reared up again.
But as it turned out, there were no would-haves, no could-haves. Manning erased 49 .minutes of ineptitude with two brilliant scoring drives in the final 11:45 and the contributions came from everywhere, turning what would have been a .Manning-fueled loss into a team-building 21-16 win over the Bears.
Now 8-4, the Giants are two games clear of the crowd in the wild-card race and 5-1 on the road, where they would start the postseason. And the questions about their shaky, skittish quarterback can rest for at least a week.
"We came here to be 8-4," Coughlin said, "and by the grace of God, we are."
"This was a character win," Shaun O'Hara said. "We had plenty of opportunities to fold up the tent today. Our defense kept us in the game and we gave ourselves a big boost with the way we finished. Our confidence is back up after the blow we took last week."
Manning turned the ball over three times inside the Bears' 30, twice on interceptions and once on a fumble that slipped out of his hands without a navy blue jersey in sight. Derrick Ward had 154 rushing yards and a touchdown, but he fumbled twice, losing one, and then was lost for the season with a fractured left fibula.
But both of those offensive lightning rods loomed large in the Giants' fourth-quarter comeback. With the Bears up 16-7 -- the Giants were that close only because their .defense kept Chicago from piling up points off the numerous turnovers -- Manning finally got the offense pointed in the right direction. He led a 75-yard drive that ended with a Giants replay challenge on Amani Toomer's 6-yard touchdown catch with 6:54 left.
It initially was ruled incomplete, but Toomer convinced Coughlin to challenge, and the Giants got the call overturned. It was ruled that the diving Toomer had both hands under the ball and that it had not touched the ground, instead .ricocheting off a forearm into his chest.
The Bears, who had minus-9 total yards in their first three fourth-quarter drives, went backward, with Rex Grossman sacked by Justin Tuck and .Kawika Mitchell on third down.
The Giants had 4:55 and the ball at their 23, but no Ward, who suffered his injury on the previous drive. No matter. .Reuben Droughns had a couple of good runs and little-used receiver David Tyree had two huge catches on that final drive, including a 24-yarder that brought the .Giants to the Bears' 17 with two minutes left. Even in field-goal range, Manning kept .firing; he was 7-for-9 for 95 yards on the final two drives after going 9-for-18 for 100 yards through the first 49 .minutes.
Manning hit Plaxico Burress for 15 yards to the 2 and Droughns scored on a run around right end with 1:33 left.
Grossman, who started the game 8-for-8 and finished 25-for-46, drove the Bears to the Giants' 28. But James Butler fittingly batted away the final pass; the third-year safety was the most experienced player at his position yesterday thanks to a knee injury to Gibril Wilson, and Butler should have sat with a hamstring injury .suffered on the Bears' first play from scrimmage.
"The way it happened wasn't the prettiest," Manning said, "and at times it was flat-out ugly, but [in the end] it was sweet."
In Baseball, it is Winter Meetings Week. Johan is the story of the week …
With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.
But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have informed the Twins that they are going to pull their offer off the table soon -- perhaps by Tuesday at the latest -- unless they get an answer. The Yankees changed their offer on Friday, adding pitcher Phil Hughes after much internal debate, to go along with Melky Cabrera and a third prospect.
The Yankees have told the Twins they will not give them one of their top prospects as the third player in their offer -- not pitchers Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne, or outfielder Austin Jackson, for example.
It's possible that the Twins may find that the offers from Boston and the Yankees are not acceptable, and decide, ultimately, to keep Santana. But executives involved in the trade talks fully expect that the Twins will trade Santana, and that they will make a decision within the next 72 hours on what offer they prefer. If either the Yankees or the Red Sox were to pull out of negotiations, the Twins' leverage would be greatly diminished.
What the choice for Minnesota may come down to, in the end, is this: Do they prefer Phil Hughes as the centerpiece player in a deal, or Ellsbury?
If the Twins do agree to a tentative deal, Santana must still agree to waive his no-trade clause, and in order to do that, Santana likely will ask for a six-year extension worth something in the range of a $150 million; he would become the first pitcher ever to sign for a multiyear deal for at least $20 million a year.
Johan could grab around $25 million a year for 6 years. His commission should no doubt be sent to the Texas Rangers who last season contributed to his money by being dominated twice like no other team in baseball:
May 22 at Texas : 7IP, 4H, 1ER, 13K’s, Win
Aug 19 vs Texas : 8IP, 2H, 0ER, 17K’s, Win
But, you ask, What are the Rangers doing to improve? …
Doesn’t sound like much.
The biggest four days of the off-season have arrived, but not every team will have a prominent spot on the hot stove during the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Count the Rangers among the clubs that have holes to fill but won't likely be on a
front burner at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
The help the Rangers seek will probably only plug holes this season until a deeper free-agent market emerges or home-grown talent develops into major-league-ready players.
General manager Jon Daniels said the free-agent market is an expensive one, and trades might also prove too costly.
"In this market, there are probably more free agents who fit in short than long," Daniels said Friday. "Our system in general is probably a year away from maturing. I'm not sure it makes sense for us to trade three or four [young] players for a short-term fix."
Daniels' cellphone will remain on, just as it has been since the free-agent signing period began Nov. 13.
"We've had some conversations that have progressed further than others," he said. "It's tough to say whether something is going to happen quickly, by the end of the meetings or shortly afterward. I would expect that all of our conversations will continue to progress."
Torii Hunter was the lone center fielder the Rangers were willing to offer a long-term, big-dollar contract. Now that he's out of the picture, the Rangers are looking for any outfielder who could make an impact either through free agency or via trade. The free-agent route might be too expensive. Management believes Marlon Byrd and David Murphy can hold down center for at least this season.
Possible targets: Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome, Aaron Rowand, Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley, Corey Patterson, Coco Crisp-x.
From GM Jon Daniels: "Given the asking price on some things, I don't expect to land a long-term center fielder at this point. I think with Marlon and Murphy we do have candidates to play center field. It allows us to look at both the corners and center as the priority."
While the Rangers are open to adding a starter this off-season, their first pitching priority is to find a veteran arm to fortify a bullpen full of younger ones. Some of the pitchers the Rangers could sign might look familiar and could come under the preferred circumstance of a one-year contract.
Possible targets: Jamey Wright, Eric Gagné, LaTroy Hawkins, Trever Miller, Jeremy Affeldt.
From Daniels: "That combination of high innings and [3.69] ERA, I think we had one of the most effective bullpens in the game. We've got some quality arms and guys who can step in and compete in those roles. But I do want some veterans guys to solidify that situation."
As of today, the Rangers' first option at first base is Frank Catalanotto, but the club would also like to see him play some at left field and designated hitter. Switch-hitting veteran Tony Clark is a free-agent option. He has 244 career homers but has hit worse than .250 five of the past six seasons. The Rangers might wait a week or so to see which unsigned players aren't tendered contracts by their current clubs.
Possible targets: Tony Clark, Sean Casey, Mike Lamb, Adam Dunn-x, Ben Broussard-y.
From Daniels: "We've looked at the potential for that [non-tendered] list a little bit. It's hard to count on that. We are still looking into options. We've had some conversations with guys who could fill that role for us."
This is good stuff: True Hoop examines Bennett Salvatore’s role in the 2006 NBA Finals by talking to him …save some time, and look it over. It is very interesting stuff if you can stand the pain of Heat-Mavericks…
Trevor Daley trying to put his big boy pants on …
Trevor Daley had a great game Saturday night.
He needed it.
Daley, 24, has been struggling this season. Through the first 26 games, he was minus-9 and hadn't tallied a point since Oct. 27 – a span of 16 games.
So when he contributed two assists and was plus-2 in a 4-1 win over the Flyers on
Saturday, it was enough for Philadelphia writers to name him the first star of the game.
"It was nice to see," Stars associate coach Rick Wilson said. "He's had other good games, but this was one where the results were tangible. He had a couple of points. He was a plus player. Those are things that I think will help him."
Daley admits this has been a tough year. When Darryl Sydor wasn't re-signed in the summer, it was clear the Stars were hoping that Daley would take a lot of those minutes. Daley was paired with Sergei Zubov at times early and also was given time on the power play.
"Yeah, you definitely get to a point where you don't consider yourself a rookie anymore," he said. "This is my fourth season. I'm not a veteran, so much, but I guess I am a young veteran. You look at that and you want to take it to the next level, you want to be a veteran kind of guy that they can rely on."
The Stars believed this was going to be a breakout season for Daley, but his average time on ice (19:27) is almost identical to last season (19:23). His penalty kill time has gone up (from 2:38 to 2:47), but his power play time has dropped (from 0:43 to 0:39).
"I think the first thing we have to acknowledge is that Trevor is a top-four defenseman, he's dependable and he's playing a solid role on our team," Wilson said. "Would he like more? Sure, I think he would like more. There's some frustration with him, and he's fighting through that."
As with Antti Miettinen last season, Daley is being challenged to do more, to ramp up his game, to "take the next step" in his career. It's a natural challenge for young veterans.
"It's a challenge, but a challenge that a lot of players have faced," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "This is an exciting time for him, a chance to grow as a player."
Some Parents are not cool …
Chico, now 2-4 for the season, got off to a spectacular start thanks to its defense. Punky Brewster, Brittany Spradlin and Andi Younger silenced the Pirates and allowed very little scoring chances.
Kevin Garnett – Craig Sager
Bryant Is a complete Fool