Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#sports: 11/11/14

Having a two-month old baby at home actually means I've been watching more sports - more time at home, much of which needs to be spent with somebody holding and/or feeding a baby, which a lot of the time can be done in the room that has the television in it. But, this will swing wildly in the other direction once Bruce starts walking, 6-12 months from now.

College football

Due to a combination of on-field success and off-field news, everybody hates Florida State now, right? Other FSU fans encourage that we "embrace" the villain role. That would be perfectly fine - fun, even - if the hate were strictly football-related. But, hey, we've gone several Friday afternoons in a row now without any new New York Times anti-FSU hit pieces! Instead, the most recent anti-FSU stories have had absolutely zero substance. (By the way, any journalist/columnist who runs with a story like that, you should probably not trust them in general.)

So...the football: I really thought Florida State would lose to Louisville, but for some reason I'm more confident about the Miami game, even though FSU is favored by (slightly) fewer points against Miami than they were against Louisville. Eventually, this win streak will come to an end - most likely this season - and that would be okay. (Just as long as the streak doesn't end against Florida. That would be awful.) Especially considering the Clemson and Notre Dame games, the Seminoles are very fortunate to have won this many games in a row. Whether or not a 12-1 ACC Champion Florida State would make the 4-team playoff probably depends on what happens in other conferences. I think it's better than 50/50, but not guaranteed: if Mississippi State/Alabama/Oregon/TCU all finish with one loss, then do they all finish ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Do one or more 2-loss SEC teams end up ranked ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Thing is, though, at this point in the season, we just kind of assume teams like Oregon and TCU will win out when making bowl projections, but then they end up losing a game or two.

Might Penn State actually be better off if the bowl ban were still in effect? It appears their best hope at this point is one of those crappy bowls that pits two 6-6 teams against each other. And given how awful Penn State games have been to watch lately, does anyone really want an additional Penn State game on the calendar? (Seriously, though, the bowl ban being rescinded is good for the program.)

NFL

In hindsight, maybe it was unrealistic to expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to have success this season. Sure, last year was rebuilding, but this year is really re-rebuilding, with rookie quarterback and other fresh young players. It's hard to predict when teams that are as far off as the Jaguars will "turn the corner", or whether it will happen at all without getting rid of the GM/coach/QB all over again. We're still at least 2½ seasons from the point where the team should consider any front office firings, I think; hopefully by then, Blake Bortles will quit throwing so many interceptions. Without the interceptions - 14 on the year, by far the most in the league, even though Bortles hasn't played every game - I think he's actually playing pretty well, but turnovers are killer in the NFL. The Robinsons (Denard at RB, Allen at WR) look good, and the defense is improving...or, I thought it was, prior to the Dallas game. Pretty much any attempt to find positives with the Jaguars is a reach until they start winning more games. 1-9.

(So, right after I wrote this...Allen Robinson: out for the season with a foot injury. Ugh.)

NASCAR

I can't lie: this NASCAR "Chase" elimination-style format has been pretty entertaining. I'd still prefer a 36-race "no chase" championship format, if nothing else to make the first 26 races of the season more meaningful, and because I like the idea of the best driver over the course of a 36-race season being the champion. But once this elimination format gains credibility, I think the fans who don't like it will stop complaining about it.

Here's why I say that. Out of the major sports, Major League Baseball has the most random and/or arbitrary post-season: after a 162-game season, you play a wild-card elimination game, then everybody must win a best-of-5 series to advance. Baseball is pretty random to begin with - even the best teams only win 60% of the time - so the outcome of a 5-game series against two good teams is pretty random, even if one team is slightly better over the course of a 162-game season. And yet, the reaction when the Washington Nationals lost, was, "they just didn't get it done in the playoffs", without acknowledging the inherent randomness of MLB's playoff format. Yet, in NASCAR, when two of the best drivers get eliminated while two others who have had much less successful seasons advance, then it's just because the format is broken?

There are many difference between baseball and NASCAR, but the reason the fans react the way they do is this: MLB has had 5-game divisional series for the last 20 years. The format has been around for a while, and so fans have accepted it (perhaps begrudgingly). So when the Giants win the World Series despite being the 5th-best National League team over the course of the season...oh, that's not luck, that's CLUTCH! This is year 1 for the NASCAR format. By year 20, people will talk about how "clutch" Ryan Newman was in the Chase despite not winning a race all year. (Except that Newman hasn't really been that "clutch"; he's just avoided bad finishes. That's REALLY what this Chase is about: avoiding bad finishes. Or, win races, but only one guy can win each week.) For a somewhat arbitrary playoff format to gain acceptance and credibility, it just takes time. Hopefully Brian France realizes that, and that his best move at this point is to not tinker with it anymore and keep it the same for the next 20 years or longer. Or...if there are 10 laps to go and it looks like winless Ryan Newman is going to win the championship, throw a debris caution! (Seriously, watch for that, because it is in NASCAR's best interest for Harvick or Logano to win.)

NHL

Due to injuries to some of its best players, and the fact that they didn't really improve the roster in the offseason, I had zero hope for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. And, they responded by losing their first 8 games. Season over? Time to start positioning for a top draft pick? Apparently, there are two "can't miss" prospects in the upcoming draft, so if you're going to tank for draft position / lottery odds, this is the season to do it.

Well, the Hurricanes won 5 of their next 6, so it appears they are, in fact, too good to get a top draft pick next season...but still not good enough to make the playoffs, probably. In other words, this season is shaping up to be just like every other damn season! ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm finding it hard to truly celebrate the team's recent success. Maybe if their Sports Club Stats playoff odds ever get back over 50%, then I can start really cheering the wins in earnest again. Still reading this streak as false hope for the time being.

NBA

The Charlotte Bobcats are now the Charlotte Hornets. I tried to coax myself into being a "Bobcats fan" multiple times in the past, but it never stuck, mostly because the team has been terrible. But, the Hornets name and colors have plenty of positive equity - not just in Charlotte, but in the whole state of North Carolina. And, unlike the Hurricanes, the Bobcats/Hornets have turned it around and are coming off a playoff year, and actually have a shot at going back this year too. So, count me in!

I've always thought the key to NBA success was one of the following:
- Be the type of "glamour" franchise that is attractive to superstar free agents (not the Hornets)
- Suck for several years in a row and get a bunch of top draft picks, or if you're really lucky, an MVP-caliber player

The Bobcats have done plenty of sucking, and so they have some decent talent on the roster...I would assume. Actually, their best player - Al Jefferson - was signed as a free agent. So, I don't really know what I'm talking about here. I've never really followed the NBA that closely. But, safe to assume that the Hornets will stink again in a few years' time (maybe sooner?), so if I'm ever going to follow the Hornets, now is the time.

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