Wednesday

Bowl Mania: Round 4 Post-Mortem & Round 5 Picks

(Ed.'s Note: I had this thing 3/4 of the way written by 2:45pm. Then we had a local Gopher pregame show at 3pm, so I had to break away from writing. And when I came back to it, the browser crashed and it had only saved the first 1/3. Lovely. Hopefully you trust my honesty when it comes to the timing of the picks!)

Hello again everybody!

Happy Wednesday to you all. And since this is my last post of 2008, allow me to wish you a Happy New Year! I managed to finish 2008 still gainfully employed (which can't be said for about 20 of my former colleagues), so here's to hoping I can set a slightly higher goal in 2009!

It's the last of the Bowl Mania heavy lifting today. Eight picks are headed your way as we start the downhill ride in the college football bowl season. But prior to the Round 5 picks, I have to break down those from Round 4. Did we get things back on track, or are we still slogging along -.500? Stay tuned and find out!

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me."
- Noel Coward (1899-1973), English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer


I can't really add anything to this except: kudos Sir Noel!

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First up, it's the Round 4 Post-Mortem:

One holdover from Round 3...

Papajohns.com Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Rutgers -7

ST Pick: Rutgers -7
Hammer's Pick: Rutgers -7
Dark Star's Pick: Rutgers -7

Final Score: Rutgers 29, NC State 23

One freaking point?! Come on Rutgers! Help a guy out! Oof.

Sports Take: 5-8
Hammer: 4-9
Dark Star: 4-9

On to Round 4...

Valero Alamo Bowl: Missouri -12.5 vs. Northwestern

ST Pick: Northwestern +12.5
Hammer's Pick: Northwestern +12.5
Dark Star's Pick: Missouri -12.5

Final Score: Missouri 30, Northwestern 23 F-OT

I told all those Mizzou folks that the Wildcats would give them a game and boy did they ever! Fun game to watch. It took a big effort in the second half for Mizzou to get it into overtime and unfortunately it was a series of errors that finally did Northwestern in. But we covered! Woo!

Sports Take: 6-8
Hammer: 5-9
Dark Star: 4-10

Next...

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl: Maryland vs. Nevada -2

ST Pick: Nevada -2
Hammer's Pick: Maryland +2
Dark Star's Pick: Nevada -2

Final Score: Maryland 42, Nevada 35

The field was blue, and so was my pick apparently. Damn you Terrapins! Damn you!

Sports Take: 6-9
Hammer: 6-9
Dark Star: 4-11

Onward...

Texas Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Rice -2

ST Pick: Rice -2
Hammer's Pick: Rice -2
Dark Star's Pick: Western Michigan +2

Final Score: Rice 38, Western Michigan 14

Nice to see a game I knew nothing about break my way! I'd love to tell you more, but I didn't see any of this game since it was on NFL Network (see: Insight Bowl in Round 5).

Sports Take: 7-9
Hammer: 7-9
Dark Star: 4-12

Next up...

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State -3 vs. Oregon

ST Pick: Oklahoma State -3
Hammer's Pick: Oregon +3
Dark Star's Pick: Oklahoma State -3

Final Score: Oregon 42, Oklahoma State 31

Ugh... And I officially lose the lead in Bowl Mania. But I'm going to get it back! You hear me Hammer! I'm going to get it back!

Sports Take: 7-10
Hammer: 8-9
Dark Star: 4-13

One more...

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Houston -3.5 vs. Air Force

ST Pick: Houston -3.5
Hammer's Pick: Houston -3.5
Dark Star's Pick: Houston -3.5

Final Score: Houston 34, Air Force28

Another pick I knew nothing about that came through! I should really start tracking these by "guesses" and "I think I know what I'm talking about's". But I'm afraid of how that might turn out. Never mind.

Sports Take: 8-10
Hammer: 9-9
Dark Star: 5-13

Penultimately (sort of...)

Brut Sun Bowl - Pittsburgh vs. Oregon State -2.5

ST Pick: Pittsburgh +2.5
Hammer's Pick: Pittsburgh +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Oregon State -2.5

Final Score: Oregon State 3, Pittsburgh 0

Didn't see any of this one due to work interfering. Don't you hate when that happens? Looks like I missed a whole lot of nothing.

Sports Take: 8-11
Hammer: 9-10
Dark Star: 6-13

*At the time of this writing, the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl had yet to go final. That result will be included on Friday.

So on to Round 5 of Sports Take Bowl Mania!

First up...

Insight Bowl - Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Wednesday 12/31, 5pm CT (NFL Network)

Minnesota vs. Kansas -8


The Gophers are 7-5 (3-5 in the Big Ten). The Jayhawks are 7-5 (4-4 in the Big 12).

Kansas split their last 4 games, but beat Missouri to end their regular season.

Minnesota lost their last 4 in a row, including getting blown out in the finale against Iowa.

Neither team plays much defense, so this should be a fairly high scoring game. I just think Kansas is going to score more.

ST Pick: Kansas -8
Hammer's Pick: Kansas -8
Dark Star's Pick: Kansas -8

Next...

Chik-fil-A Bowl - Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Thursday 12/31, 6:30pm CT (ESPN)

LSU vs. Georgia Tech -4


The Tigers are 7-5 (3-5 in the SEC). The Yellowjackets are 9-3 (5-3 in the ACC).

LSU lost 3 of their last 5 and the two wins were against Troy and Tulane. And one of those losses was against a woeful Arkansas program. Not good.

Georgia Tech won 3 of their last 5 and had wins against Florida State, Miami and Georgia. Not too shabby!

"Not good" versus "Not too shabby"? Yeah, I'll take Tech.

ST Pick: Georgia Tech -4
Hammer's Pick: LSU +4
Dark Star's Pick: Georgia Tech -4

Onward...

Outback Bowl - Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Thursday 1/1, 10am CT (ESPN)

Iowa -4 vs. South Carolina


The Hawkeyes are 8-4 (5-3 in the Big Ten). The Gamecocks are 7-5 (4-4 in the SEC).

Iowa won 5 of their last 6 and beat eventual Big Ten champions Penn State.

South Carolina lost 3 of their last 5 with the two wins coming against Tennessee and Arkansas.

I know that SC has the "ball coach" at the helm, but I don't think they have the talent to overcome their deficiencies.

ST Pick: Iowa -4
Hammer's Pick: South Carolina +4
Dark's Pick: South Carolina +4

Moving on...

Capital One Bowl - Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
Thursday 1/1, 12pm CT (ABC)

Michigan State vs. Georgia -7.5


The Spartans are 9-3 (6-2 in the Big Ten). The Bulldogs are 9-3 (6-2 in the SEC).

Try and find a clear separation between these two teams, I dare you.

As you've seen their records are identical. The Spartans two losses were to Penn State and Ohio State. Georgia's two losses were to Florida and Georgia Tech.

When it's this close, I say follow the money. The game opened at Georgia -7 and is now -7.5. That means the money's going Georgia's way, so my pick will go that way too!

ST Pick: Georgia -7.5
Hammer's Pick: Georgia -7.5
Dark Star's Pick: Michigan State +7.5

Are we still going? Yes we are!

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl - Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
Thursday 1/1, 12pm CT (CBS)

Clemson -2.5 vs. Nebraska


The Tigers are 7-5 (4-4 in the ACC). The Cornhuskers are 8-4 (5-3 in the Big 12).

This is a tough one. I'm friends with a clan of Nebraska fans, but after my "homer" pick in the Champs Sports Bowl, I'm a little gun shy about personal connections.

Nebraska won 5 of their last 6. And all of their losses came to bowl teams. There's no question that the Cornhuskers can score as they put 40+ on the board in each of their last 3 games.

Clemson won 4 of their last 6. After firing Tommy Bowden, their defense took a big step forward allowing them to beat Boston College and South Carolina. And they gave up no more than 14 points in each of their last 3 games.

So I hate to do this to you Kelley family, but defense has been winning bowl games lately, so I'm going with Clemson! But don't fret, at my sub-.500 clip, I probably just guaranteed you a win!

ST Pick: Clemson -2.5
Hammer's Pick: Nebraska +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Clemson -2.5

3 more to go, I promise...

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi - Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Thursday 1/1, 3:30pm CT (ABC)

Penn State vs. USC -9


The Nittany Lions are 11-1 (7-1 in the Big Ten). The Trojans are 11-1 (8-1 in the Pac 10).

I've said it in previous picks, and turned out to be both right and wrong, but I think this will be closer than the pundits predict.

Yes, USC is scary-good on defense, but I don't think they have the overpowering offense of past Trojan teams. And Penn State is no slouch on defense either.

I think USC will win, but I like Penn State to cover.

ST Pick: Penn State +9
Hammer's Pick: USC -9
Dark Star's Pick: USC -9

Penultimately...

FedEx Orange Bowl - Dolphin Stadium, Miami, FL
Thursday 1/1, 7:30pm (Fox)

Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati -2.5


The Hokies are 9-4 (6-3 in the ACC). The Bearcats are 11-2 (6-1 in the Big East).

The least publicized of the BCS bowls might be one of the best.

Tech won 4 of their last 5 with the loss coming at Miami. And they blew out a tough Boston College squad in the season finale.

Cincinnati won their last 6 in a row with wins over Pittsburgh, West Virginia and South Florida. There's a loss to UConn on the schedule that bothers me a bit, but they've got a solid resume.

If I'm going with the defensive teams, I have to go with Tech, though I think a Cincy win would be a great story.

ST Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5
Hammer's Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5

Finally (yes, yes, I did that joke on Monday...)

AT&T Cotton Bowl - Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
Friday 1/2, 1pm CT (Fox)

Mississippi vs. Texas Tech -4.5


The Rebels are 8-4 (5-3 in the SEC). The Red Raiders are 11-1 (7-1 in the Big 12).

Ole' Miss won their last 5 in a row including a win at LSU. They also beat National Championship contender Florida earlier in the year and played Alabama close.

Tech's only loss was a blowout at Oklahoma. They also survived a scare in their regular season finale against Baylor.

Sounds like I'm leaning towards Mississippi doesn't it? As much as I like what Houston Nutt has done with the Rebels, I think Tech has way too much offense for Ole' Miss to deal with.

ST Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Hammer's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Dark Star's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5

Whew! There you have it. Eight picks to get us through the bulk of bowl season. Only six more picks remain to be revealed. Three of those head your way on Friday. Until then, have a happy and safe New Year, enjoy some college football, and thanks for reading!

Monday

Bowl Mania: Round 3 Post-Mortem & Round 4 Picks

Hello again everybody...

Another holiday week means more jumbled up scheduling for folks. But not here at Sports Take. The standard 3 columns await you here this week. That's right, we're in the meat of the Bowl Mania schedule, so there will be plenty of college football discussion coming your way this week.

I know there are some of you that are itching for me to talk some more about the Hot Stove League. And trust me, I've got plenty of baseball subjects percolating in the back of my mind (R.A. Dickey a Twin?! Really?! Oof). But in the interest of keeping these columns from turning into novellas, I'm going to hold off until we reach the end of Bowl Mania when I can give them the appropriate attention.

But today, it's time to break down how the Round 3 picks fared (almost all of them anyway, there's a game kicking off in 15 minutes that'll complete Round 2). And then there's a whole new slate of picks that I like to call: Round 4. I know. It's terribly creative. But that's just how I roll.

Off we go!

"It is the mark of the educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
- Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), Greek philosopher


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Okay. There are a lot of picks to post-mortem and many more to deliver freshly. So forgive me if I keep the descriptions brief. Trust me, I'm doing it as much for you as I am for me.

So here's the Round 3 Post-Mortem:

Motor City Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan -7

ST Pick: Central Michigan -7
Hammer's Pick: Central Michigan -7
Dark Star's Pick: Central Michigan -7

Final Score: FAU 24, Central Michigan 21

Ugh. Two things about this game:

One, the announcers were horrible. I mean beyond bad. I know it was Detroit on the day after Christmas, but they had to be able to get somebody better than these two knuckleheads to do the game! It was so bad, I kept a running list on my Facebook page of all the moronic things they said. My friend Dave suggesting finding a way to listen to the game in 5.1 surround sound, so I could disconnect the center channel and eliminate the announcers all together. Unfortunately, my "home theater" system leaves much to be desired, so I was forced to suffer through.

Two, seeing FAU head coach and coaching legend, Howard Schnellenberger, doused in Gatorade was one of the more disturbing images I've seen in a while. A 74-year-old man in a suit and tie dripping in "Frost Rip Tide Rush", being clumsily hoisted onto the shoulders of a couple of linebackers? It just felt like elder-abuse!

Oh yeah, and Central Michigan was bad. They played bad. They coached bad. They were just bad.

Sports Take: 3-5
Hammer: 2-6
Dark Star: 2-6

Next...

Meineke Car Care Bowl: West Virginia -2 vs. North Carolina

ST Pick: North Carolina +2
Hammer's Pick: West Virginia -2
Dark Star's Pick: West Virginia -2

Final Score: West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30

This was a key game for me as I was going WAY out on a limb with my next pick. It was a crazy shootout in the first half. The two teams combined for 35 points in the first 13 minutes.

I thought I had this one in the bag as UNC led most of the second half. Things got scary towards the end as WVU got the ball with 3:45 left in the game and a clear desire to extend their lead, but the Tar Heel defense held on long enough for me to cover.

Thank you Heels!

Sport Take: 4-5
Hammer: 2-7
Dark Star: 2-7

Thirdly...

Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Florida State -6

Sports Take Pick: Wisconsin +6
Hammer's Pick: Florida State -6
Dark Star's Picks: Florida State -6

Final Score: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13

Okay, okay, I homered it on this one. I really didn't want to root against Bucky, so I found a way to talk myself into them covering the spread.

Not so much.

Despite the blowout score, the Wisconsin defense played pretty well early on. But the inept Badger offense left the "D" out on the field for FAR too long, and eventually they wore out under the Seminoles' attack.

Wisconsin still had their running attack, but their passing-game was virtually non-existent. And when you can't throw the ball, the opposing defense can stack the line against your running game and stop your offense all together.

It was depressing, but I made myself watch the whole thing. Oh well, at least they made a bowl, right? Oof.

Sports Take: 4-6
Hammer: 3-7
Dark Star: 3-7

Next up...

Emerald Bowl: Miami vs. California -9

Sports Take Pick: California -9
Hammer's Pick: California -9
Dark Star's Pick: California -9

Final Score: Cal 24, Miami 17

I thought this was a mortal lock. Obviously I was wrong. Can't say much more than that, as I didn't watch a second of it. Yes, I was still bummed out from the thrashing of the Badgers.

Sports Take: 4-7
Hammer: 3-8
Dark Star: 3-8

Penultimately (sort of...)

Independence Bowl: Northern Illinois -1 vs. Louisiana Tech

Sports Take Pick: Louisiana Tech +1
Hammer's Pick: Louisiana Tech +1
Dark Star's Pick: Louisiana Tech +1

Final Score: Louisiana Tech 17, Northern Illinois 10

I didn't watch a second of this game either. But in my defense, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story", "Dr. No" and "National Treasure" were all on at the same time. It took some deft remote control work to make it happen, but I caught significant chunks of all 3.

Compare those to Tech/NIU? Sorry. Even *I* don't love college football that much!

Sports Take: 5-7
Hammer: 4-8
Dark Star: 4-8

Finally...

Papajohns.com Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Rutgers -7

Sports Take: Rutgers -7
Hammer's Pick: Rutgers -7
Dark Star's Pick: Rutgers -7

This game is currently underway at the time of writing. I'm not feeling particularly good as it's already 10-6 NC State with one minute to go in the first quarter.

So 12 games into the 34 game slate, things aren't going nearly as well as I'd hoped. But there are still a majority of the games yet to be played, so let's kick off Round 4 of Bowl Mania!

First...

Valero Alamo Bowl - Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Monday, 12/29, 7pm CT (ESPN)

Northwestern vs. Missouri -12.5


The Wildcats are 9-3 (5-3). The Tigers are 9-4 (5-4).

I've said since this game was announced that the Wildcats are going to give the Tigers a game, and the bettors agree with me. This game has moved a full point in Northwestern's favor since it opened. And I still think the spread is too high. If Missouri comes out flat, I think Northwestern has a shot at a win here.

ST Pick: Northwestern +12.5
Hammer's Pick: Northwestern +12.5
Dark Star's Pick: Missouri -12.5

Next...

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl - Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Tuesday 12/30, 3:30pm CT (ESPN)

Nevada -2 vs. Maryland


The Wolfpack are 7-5 (5-3). The Terrapins are 7-5 (4-4).

This, of course, is the "blue field" bowl. Played on the famed blue turf of Bronco Stadium in Boise, ID, the Humanitarian Bowl is probably the only game people look forward to purely for the field.

These two clubs finished the season in opposite ways. Nevada won 3 of their last 4, while Maryland lost 3 of their last 4. Maryland's losses were against tougher competition as they were beaten by Virginia Tech, Florida State and Boston College. Mixed in there was a win against a solid North Carolina squad.

That being said, I'm going with Nevada. They run a spread which I think will give the Terps trouble. Plus, I have a hard time seeing Maryland get up for this trip.

ST Pick: Nevada -2
Hammer's Pick: Maryland +2
Dark Star's Pick: Nevada -2

Thirdly...

Texas Bowl - Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Tuesday 12/30, 7pm (NFL Network)

Western Michigan vs. Rice -2


The Broncos are 9-3 (6-2). The Owls are 9-3 (7-1).

Tough one. Rice won their last 6 in a row, and are essentially playing at home. But Western Michigan had some solid wins on it's schedule including MAC Champion Buffalo and Illinois.

I'm very tempted to take the dog here. But Rice just scores too many points and the home field advantage has to put them over the top.

ST Pick: Rice -2
Hammer's Pick: Rice -2
Dark Star's Pick: Western Michigan +2

Next up...

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl - Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Tuesday 12/30, 7pm CT (ESPN)

Oregon vs. Oklahoma State -3


The Ducks are 9-3 (7-2). The Cowboys are 9-3 (5-3).

OSU's only 3 losses this year? Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. I think those can be forgiven.

The Ducks lost to Boise State, USC and Cal. Not terrible, but not the tests that OSU had.

This is supposed to be a crazy shootout, so if you're betting, take the over.

Otherwise, I'm going with Oklahoma State and hoping they win by a touchdown rather than a field goal.

ST Pick: OSU -3
Hammer's Pick: Oregon +3
Dark Star's Pick: OSU -3

Are we still going? Yes we are!

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl - Amon G. Carter Stadium, Forth Worth, TX
Wednesday 12/31, 11am (ESPN)

Air Force vs. Houston -3.5


The Falcons are 8-4 (5-3). The Cougars are 7-5 (6-2).

These two teams take different approaches to solid offenses. Air Force runs the ball. Houston throws it. So you'd think they'd have trouble preparing for each other.

That being said, Houston scores more points on average, and when you know nothing about two teams, that's as good a determining factor as any.

Sports Take Pick: Houston -3
Hammer's Pick: Houston -3
Dark Star's Pick: Houston -3

Penultimately...

Brut Sun Bowl - Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Wednesday 12/31, 1pm (CBS)

Pittsburgh vs. Oregon State -2.5


The Panthers are 9-3 (5-2). The Beavers are 8-4 (7-2).

This is the consolation prize for Oregon State, who went into the last week of the season with a shot at the Rose Bowl. Consolation Bowls generally mean the team won't be as inspired to play. And I fear that'll be the case with the Beavers.

Pittsburgh had a sneaky-good year beating West Virginia, Notre Dame and South Florida, who've all won bowl games already this year. And they're getting points? I'll take it!

ST Pick: Pittsburgh +2.5
Hammer's Pick: Pittsburgh +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Oregon State -2.5

Finally (and I mean finally)...

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl - LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee
Wednesday 12/31, 2:30pm (ESPN)

Boston College -3.5 vs. Vanderbilt


The Eagles are 9-4 (5-4). The Commodores are 6-6 (4-4).

Vandy hasn't been to a bowl game since 1982. Boston College has won 8 straight bowl games.

That not enough for you? BC won 4 of their last 5 games. Vandy lost 6 of their last 7.

If that doesn't make BC the obvious play, I don't know what will. In fact, 3.5 seems a small price to pay. We're taking the Eagles!

ST Pick: Boston College -3.5
Hammer's Pick: Boston College -3.5
Dark Star's Pick: Boston College -3.5

Whew. That was more work than I thought! That gets us through the middle of Wednesday. And there are plenty more to come. In fact, it looks like I have 8 games to pick for Wednesday's column. If I start working now, I should be able to have it done at a decent hour on Wednesday! Oh, and in case you were wondering, it's 17-6 NC State over Rutgers as they start the 2nd half. Looks like we're going down in flames on that one!

Until Wednesday, thanks for reading!

Friday

Bowl Mania Round 2 Post-Mortem & Round 3 Picks


Hello again everybody...

Hope your Holidays have been safe and fun! Mine went quite well. Got some neat stuff, including the stuffed version of Rocky you see above! (Every now and then my folks come up with a gem!)

Round 2 of Sports Take Bowl Mania wasn't nearly as productive however. Today I'll break down how we all did. But the good part about bowl season, there are a bevy of games yet to be picked! And in that spirit, today I'll be bringing you Round 3! So off we go!

"I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly."
- Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), French Renaissance writer


A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, no?

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First up today, it's the post-mortem on Round 2...

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: TCU -3 vs. Boise State

ST Pick: TCU -3
Hammer's Pick: Boise St. +3
Dark Star's Pick: TCU -3

Final Score: TCU 17, Boise State 16

This one lived up to it's billing. I was concerned early when Boise ran out to a 13-0 lead. But as has been the pattern this bowl season so far, my pick made a strong push in the second half.

Unfortunately, it wasn't quite strong enough. TCU had the ball late, and could've added a garbage field goal to cover for me. But head coach Gary Patterson decided that running out the clock and taking the win was good enough.

Jerk.

Much like picking an underdog who then wins outright feels fantastic, picking the winning team that then fails to cover the spread... well that just sucks.

Sports Take: 3-3
Hammer: 2-4
Dark Star: 2-4

Finally...

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Notre Dame -1.5 vs. Hawaii

ST Pick: Hawaii +1.5
Hammer's Pick: Hawaii +1.5
Dark Star's Pick: Hawaii +1.5

Final Score: Notre Dame 49, Hawaii 21

Wow. We were way off on this one. Notre Dame hopped on the gas early and didn't let up until the game was long past decided.

Irish QB Jimmy Clausen broke Notre Dame's bowl record for passing with 401 yards through the air. The bulk of them going to sophomore WR Golden Tate who caught 6 balls for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Anyone see that kind of offense coming from the Irish? Anyone? Yeah, me either.

Oh well. Fortunately, Round 2 only had 2 games. Round 3 is bound to go better!

Sport Take: 3-4
Hammer: 2-5
Dark Star: 2-5

Okay... we're all below the .500 mark. Not the way we wanted to start. But we're only 7 games in to a 34 game schedule. Lots of time to go!

And with that in mind, it's time for Round 3 of Sports Take Bowl Mania!

First up...

Motor City Bowl - Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
Friday, 12/26, 6:30pm (ESPN)

Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan -7


The Owls are 6-6 (4-3). The Chippewas are 8-4 (6-2).

Again, not the biggest marquee match-up in the world, but we're picking them all, so I've got to come up with something, right?

Florida Atlantic finished on a roll winning 5 of their last 6. But that was in a fairly weak Sun Belt Conference. Central Michigan lost their last two, but won the 6 previous to that. The Mid-American Conference isn't a major conference, but it's rated well above the Sun Belt, so I'm going to give the Chippewas a slight edge there.

Throw in the fact that this is a de facto home game for Central Michigan, and I think they're the play here.

And apparently most people agree with me.

Sports Take Pick: Central Michigan -7
Hammer's Pick: Central Michigan -7
Dark Star's Pick: Central Michigan -7

Next...

Meineke Car Care Bowl - Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Saturday, 12/27, 12pm (ESPN)

West Virginia -2 vs. North Carolina


The Mountaineers are 8-4 (5-2). The Tar Heels are 8-4 (4-4).

While I'm far more familiar with these two teams, this game is just as difficult to pick as the last one.

Neither of these teams has been on much of a roll headed into the post-season. West Virginia went 3-2 in their last 5. And so did North Carolina. I guess you could say that West Virginia's wins were more impressive and their losses were against better teams.

But North Carolina was really beat-up at the end of the season and they're likely to be healthy for their bowl game. Plus the Tar Heels dominated their common opponents: UConn and Rutgers.

And again, we have a home field advantage as North Carolina's playing a scant 2 hours from home.

Put all that together, and I'm going with the underdog in this game.

Sports Take's Pick: North Carolina +2
Hammer's Pick: West Virginia -2
Dark Star's Pick: West Virginia -2

Thirdly...

Champs Sports Bowl - Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
Saturday, 12/27, 3:30pm (ESPN)

Wisconsin vs. Florida State -6


The Badgers are 7-5 (3-5). The Seminoles are 8-4 (5-3).

I hate trying to pick this one. On instinct, I want to go with Florida State, but my loyalty obviously lies with the Badgers.

So now I've got to try and find a reason to justify my loyalty right?

Lets see. The Badgers won their last 3 regular season contests and 4 of their last 5 with the loss coming at Michigan State by one point to a game Spartans team. Those are solid selling points.

The Seminoles on the other hand, had a roller coaster ride down the stretch, going 2-3 in their last 5 with big wins over Maryland and Clemson. Their losses came to Florida, Boston College and Georgia Tech. Not exactly pushovers.

And the 4-hour trip is pushing the bounds of "de facto home game". Especially considering how well Badger Nation usually travels.

So yeah, I've done it. I've talked myself into taking Wisconsin, even though I'm clearly biased. What the hell, let's do it!

Sports Take Pick: Wisconsin +6
Hammer's Pick: Florida State -6
Dark Star's Pick: Florida State -6

It's starting to look like I'm either going to end up far ahead or far behind!

Next up...

Emerald Bowl - AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
Saturday, 12/27, 7pm (ESPN)

Miami vs. California -9


The Hurricanes are 7-5 (4-4). The Golden Bears are 8-4 (6-3).

At first glance it would appear that Cal has the momentum advantage. They won four of their last six including the last two in a row. Miami on the other hand lost their last two regular season contests.

But if you look a little deeper, you see that Miami won the six games previous to those last two losses. So the big Mo doesn't look to be decidedly in either corner.

Instead what's tipping this one for me is academics. How could academics factor in you ask? I'm glad you asked.

Turns out that Miami starting QB Robert Marve won't be taking the trip out West. He was suspended for the bowl game by head coach Randy Shannon who cited "academics", in the form of missing classes, as the reason for the suspension.

So take away the starting QB for the Hurricanes and suddenly California becomes a rather obvious play.

Sports Take Pick: Cal -9
Hammer's Pick: Cal -9
Dark Star's Pick: Cal -9

Penultimately (I love that word)...

Independence Bowl - Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
Sunday, 12/28, 7:15pm (ESPN)

Northern Illinois -1 vs. Louisiana Tech


The Huskies are 6-6 (5-3). The Bulldogs are 7-5 (5-3).

And I thought some of the previous games were tough to pick!

Louisiana Tech lost to Army. Army! But they also squeaked out a win against Fresno State.

Northern Illinois lost to Navy but played Central Michigan close and beat Bowling Green.

Aw hell, I've got no clue here. The game opened at NIU -2 and has dropped to -1, which means that more money's gone on Tech than on the Huskies. So let's take the de facto home team and hope that the dog comes through again!

Sports Take Pick: Louisiana Tech +1
Hammer's Pick: Louisiana Tech +1
Dark Star's Pick: Louisiana Tech +1

Finally...

Papajohns.com Bowl - Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
Monday, 12/29, 2pm CT, (ESPN)

North Carolina State vs. Rutgers -7


The Wolfpack are 6-6 (4-4) . The Scarlett Knights are 7-5 (5-2).

NC State won their last four in a row including wins over Miami, North Carolina and Wake Forest. Rutgers won their last 6 in a row with wins over Louisville, South Florida and Pittsburgh. Maybe a slight edge for the Knights, but not much.

I think in the end this could come down to a question of experience. Rutgers has senior Mike Teel quarterbacking their offense. North Carolina State has freshman Russell Wilson.

Throw in the fact that Rutgers has score 30 or more points in their last 5 straight and I have to go with them. This could be close enough for me to get screwed by the spread, but I'll stick with Rutgers anyway!

Sports Take Pick: Rutgers -7
Hammer's Pick: Rutgers -7
Dark Star's Pick: Rutgers -7

So there you have it. Six games to tide you over the weekend. 3 favorites and 3 underdogs. And seeing how Hammer and Dark agreed the whole way through, there's a chance for some separation here. We shall see!

(Ed's note: Hammer has asked me to point out that he was completely unaware of Dark's picks when he made his own.)

Enjoy your weekend and I'll be back on Monday with 7 more games to ponder! Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Bowl Mania Round 1 Post-Mortem, Round 2 Picks

Hello again everybody...

As this will be my last post prior to Christmas, allow me to start off by wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Also Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays in general. We're all-inclusive here at The Sports Take. So I don't want to leave anyone out!

Today I'm breaking down how we did in the first round of Bowl Mania here at The Sports Take. So I'll start with a quick Post-Mortem on the first 5 games of the college football bowl season. Then it's time for Round 2. There are 2 bowl games between now and Friday, so I'll bring you my picks and analysis as well as the picks from Hammer and Dark Star. So off we go!

"There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German author


This especially applies to drivers on snowy roads here in Minnesota. Oof.

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First up today, I break down Round 1 of Sports Take Bowl Mania. Due to the number of games involved, they won't be quite the same breakdowns as I did during the season. But you'll get the general idea!

First...

EagleBank Bowl - Wake Forest -3 vs. Navy

ST Pick: Wake Forest -3
Hammer's Pick: Navy +3
Dark Star's Pick: Navy +3

Final Score: Wake Forest 29, Navy 19

I have to admit, when Navy went up 13-0 early in the 2nd quarter, I feared it might be a rough start to Bowl Mania. But Wake stormed back in the second half to grab a 3-point lead late in the 4th quarter. So I thought I was going to have to settle for a push, which as they say, is better than a shove. But it's still not the way I wanted to start the season.

But as fate would have it, the Midshipmen defense gift wrapped me a win when they allowed Wake RB Rich Belton to break loose for a 35-yard TD run with :54 remaining. Victory, sweet, sweet victory!

ST: 1-0
Hammer: 0-1
Dark Star: 0-1

Next...

New Mexico Bowl - Fresno State -3 vs. Colorado State

Sports Take Pick: Colorado State +3
Hammer's Pick: Fresno State -3
Dark Star's Pick: Colorado State +3

Final Score: Colorado State 40, Fresno State 35

Oh how we love it here at The Sports Take when an underdog we've picked wins outright! Again, I thought I was in trouble early on, as the Rams couldn't seem to stop Fresno's offense no matter how they tried.

But once again, my pick came storming back. CSU hit a Hail Mary at the end of the first half to pull within one at 21-20 (Fresno leading).

I don't know what Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild said at halftime, but whatever it was, he should bottle it and break it out for every game next year. CSU physically dominated Fresno in the second half and pulled away late for the 40-35 victory.

Sports Take: 2-0 (34-0 here I come!)
Hammer: 0-2
Dark: 1-1

Thirdly...

magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl - South Florida -12 vs. Memphis

Sports Take Pick: Memphis +12
Hammer's Pick: South Florida -12
Dark Star's Pick: Memphis +12

Final Score: South Florida 41, Memphis 14

Woops... So much for 34-0. I could make excuses like Memphis' QB got hurt early on and limped his way through most of the game. But the simple truth is that the Bulls just had way too much for the Tigers to handle.

Memphis hung with them for the first half, but got shut-out in the second half while South Florida ran away and hid.

What can I say? I got cute and got crushed. It was bound to happen.

Sports Take: 2-1
Hammer: 1-2
Dark: 1-2

Penultimately...

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl - Arizona -3 vs. BYU

Sports Take Pick: BYU +3
Hammer's Pick: BYU +3
Dark's Pick: Arizona -3

Final Score: Arizona 31, BYU 21

First of all, Arizona's Red monochrome uniforms should have disqualified them outright. I don't know who came up with this idea, but unless your team wears black, your jersey shouldn't be the same color as your pants. It's just wrong. And truthfully, even if it's black, it's really inadvisable.

But that not withstanding, this game can easily be labeled as "BYU's Cursed Kicker Game".

Cougar kicker Mitch Payne missed two field goals all year, but missed 3 of them in this game. Granted, BYU lost by 10, so 3 field goals wouldn't have won them the game, but it would covered the spread for me dammit!

Oh, and I should mention that Arizona QB Nick Tuitama threw for 325 yards and dominated offensively.

But three missed field goals?! Come on!

Sports Take: 2-2
Hammer: 1-3
Dark: 2-2

Finally...

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy -4.5 vs. Southern Mississippi

Sports Take Pick: S. Mississippi +4.5
Hammer's Pick: Troy -4.5
Dark Star's Pick: Troy -4.5

Final Score: Southern Mississippi 30, Troy 27 F-OT

Did I mention I love it when the dog wins outright?

I have to admit, I didn't get to watch this game. But I saw some highlights. And in the end it came down to a blocked field goal in overtime to clinch the win for the Golden Eagles.

Somewhere Brett Favre was smiling I'm sure!

Sports Take: 3-2
Hammer: 1-4
Dark Star: 2-3

So it was a solid start for The Sports Take. Sure 34-0 was taken away a little sooner than I'd have like, but I'm still solidly +.500. Right where I like it! Dark's only a game back, and I'm sure will give me all the competition I can handle. Rough start for the Hammer, but I have no doubt he'll make a run sooner than later.

And with that said, it's time for Round 2 of Sports Take Bowl Mania! Let's get to the picks:

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Tuesday, 12/23, 7pm CT (ESPN)


TCU -3 vs. Boise State

The Horned Frogs are 10-2 (7-1). The Broncos are 12-0 (8-0).

This game was also considered for "Most Ridiculous Bowl Title - 2008". But the game's so good, I gave it a pass.

In fact, this might be one of the best bowl games of the entire season. Certainly it belongs amongst the January 1 bowls in terms of competitiveness. Unfortunately it sort of got buried in the pre-Christmas bowls.

I had a helluva time making this pick. Momentum doesn't play a role. Boise went undefeated. TCU won 6 of their last 7 including thrashing Air Force in the season finale. There weren't any common opponents to compare. And their conferences were similar enough in quality that I can't even go there to find a winner.

The game basically breaks down to Boise's offense versus TCU's defense. Boise hasn't scored less than 40 pints in a game since October. But TCU hasn't given up more than 14 points since September!

So when you have two teams matched up like that, I have to go for the defense. I heard a pundit say today, "Defense wins championships, but points win games." So I'm taking TCU and hoping Boise doesn't run out to an early lead. If TCU keeps the score down early, I think they win it.

Sports Take Pick: TCU -3
Hammer's Pick: TCU -3
Dark Star's Pick: Boise State +3

Lastly...

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl - Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
Wednesday, 12/24, 7pm CT (ESPN)

Notre Dame -1.5 vs. Hawaii


The Fighting Irish are 6-6. The Warriors are 7-6 (5-3)

This game exists for two reasons. One, to guarantee that if Hawaii wins 6 games, they'll have a bowl to go to. Two, to guarantee they'll have an opponent, because who's going to turn down a trip to Hawaii for chrissakes?!

This is another tough one to pick. There's no question that Notre Dame struggled this year. There's also no question that they played a tougher schedule than Hawaii.

But there's that pesky loss to Syracuse that keeps bothering me. How in the hell do you lose to Syracuse, Irish fans?! You're going to have to explain that one to me before I can pick you here.

Momentum-wise, the Golden Domers lost 4 of their last 5 games. The Warriors won 3 out of their last 4.

All the evidence seems to be pushing me towards Hawaii. But the bettors like Notre Dame. The game opened at Hawaii -1.5 and has since moved to Notre Dame -1.5. That means a decent chunk of money has gone down on the Irish.

But I can't shake my gut feeling that Hawaii is the play here. So though it'll upset my father, I'm going with the Warriors.

Sports Take Pick: Hawaii +1.5
Hammer's Pick: Hawaii +1.5
Dark Star's Pick: Hawaii +1.5

So not a lot of separation's going to happen this week. Oh well. Lots more picks to come on Friday.

That's all for today. As I said, I'll be back with more Bowl Mania on Friday. Until then, keep safe and enjoy your holiday celebrations. Oh yeah, and thanks for reading!

Friday

Bowl Mania

Hello again everybody...

There's a palpable feeling of finality to today isn't there? With Christmas next week and New Year's the week after that, hardly anybody's working full weeks for the rest of 2008, so this sort of feels like the end doesn't it?

Fortunately for you, my dear readers, this isn't the end. Rather it's the beginning of that wonderful experience I like to call Sports Take Bowl Mania! Yes, the college football bowl season kicks off tomorrow morning. So today I kick off my bowl picks.

As an aside, I know I missed the DFTU on Wednesday. I got all excited about Charles Barkley's crusade for Turner Gill and just plain forgot to do it. Perhaps it was a subconscious thing since the Wild have been sucking the bag lately and Wisconsin had the week off for finals. I promise the DFTU will return very soon. But for now, on to the Bowls!

"Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself."
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher and classical philologist


I think this is the second or third time I've had a quote from my man Freddy. Mostly because I like typing "Nietzsche". Can't tell you why. It just flows off the fingers!

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As I said, today begins Sports Take Bowl Mania!

College football bowl season means a lot to many of us. I like to think of it as college football fans' own little Hanukkah. It's 20 days of gifts and you don't even have to pretend that the argyle socks Aunt Tessie gives you every year are the greatest gift ever!

(The preceding sentence was cleared for P.C. purposes by a close, personal Jewish friend. So feel free to chuckle freely!)

So in the spirit of the season, I've decided to pick all 34 bowl games. That's right every single game starting tomorrow and ending with the BCS National Championship game on January 8th will be picked in advance by yours truly.

And after careful consideration, I've decided to set aside the "Flier Pick" for the entire slate of bowl games. I figure if I'm going to "pick them all" then it seems kind of pointless to give myself freebies. Even though I defy anyone to speak intelligently on all 34 match-ups!

I've also decided not to force you to digest all 34 picks at once. Instead, you'll get them in several well-proportioned doses. Just enough to satisfy your ravenous hunger for college football goodness without leaving you feeling too full to function!

And not only are you going to get my quality analysis, but I've also enlisted the services of some other sports gurus. The Hammer you already know from his high-quality NHL and NFL previews. But I'll also be bringing you the picks of the Dean of WCCO Recreational Gaming: Dark Star.

(If you haven't enrolled your kids in Uncle Darky's Gambling Camp, sign them up now! Triple Crown primer classes are filling up quickly. "Hitting the 10-team Parlay 101" is always a big hit! And new this year, "Advanced Collection Techniques" will be taught featuring guest-lecturer, The Beast! That's Uncle Darky's Gambling Camp. The only place to send the future recreational gamer in your life!)

So prepare yourself for 20 days of Picks and Post-Mortems headed your way! Without further ado, here is the first round of Sports Take Bowl Mania!

The Eagle Bank Bowl - RFK Stadium, Washington DC
Saturday, 12/20, 10am CT (ESPN)

Wake Forest -3 vs. Navy


The Demon Deacons are 7-5 (4-4). The Midshipmen are 8-4.

The lid-lifter on the Bowl Season doesn't exactly promise to be a barn-burner. Yes, we got it right when Navy thumped Army, but that was more about Army (who's since fired their head coach) stinking out the joint, than Navy being all that good.

Wake's been up and down all year, and ended up in the middle of the pack in a mediocre ACC.

Both teams are going to try to run the ball. Normally I'd worry about Wake's ability to stop Navy's triple-option threat, but Wake coach Jim Grobe came up as an assistant with Air Force, and is quite familiar with the scheme and it's weaknesses.

So I'm giving the 3 points and going with the Deacs to get us off to a solid start.

ST Pick: Wake Forest -3
Hammer's Pick: Navy +3
Dark Star's Pick: Navy +3

Next...

New Mexico Bowl - University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Saturday, 12/20, 1:30pm CT
(ESPN)

Fresno State -3 vs. Colorado State

The Bulldogs are 7-5 (4-4). The Rams are 6-6 (4-4).

I have to admit, I don't know much about either of these teams. The only time I saw either of them play this year was when Wisconsin squeaked out a win at Fresno early in the season.

Neither of them have terribly impressive records - I suppose that's why they're in the New Mexico Bowl.

But I've always been one to believe in momentum when it comes to bowl performances. Colorado State won their last two including a 20-6 thumping of New Mexico who is not appearing in the New Mexico Bowl for the first time in its 3-year existence.

Fresno on the other hand, closed the season by having their lunch handed to them, 61-10, by Boise State.

So I'm taking the points and hoping Colorado State keeps it close.

ST Pick: Colorado State +3
Hammer's Pick: Fresno State -3
Dark Star's Pick: Colorado State +3

Onward...

magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl - Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
Saturday 12/20, 3:30pm (ESPN2)

Memphis vs. South Florida -12


The Tigers are 6-6 (4-4). The Bulls are 7-5 (2-5).

This game qualifies as "The Most Ridiculous Bowl Name - 2008". Seriously, have you seen the commercial for magicJack?! Infomercials are annoying enough, but creating a commercial to look like an infomercial? That's the last functioning brain cell that comes up with that idea!

But on to the game.

The Bulls were expected to contend for the Big East crown. In fact, I think I picked them to win the conference in my pre-season preview. It's a long way from a BCS berth to the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. Combined with South Florida losing 4 of their last 5, I expect the Bulls to come in on something of a down note.

Memphis on the other hand won 3 of their last 5 and put up some serious points along the way, including thumping a game Tulane squad 45-6 in their regular season ender.

I don't really think that Memphis will win. But I do think that they'll keep it closer than the odds makers believe. So I'll take the 12 points and root for the Tigers!

ST Pick: Memphis +12
Hammer's Pick: South Florida -12
Dark Star's Pick: Memphis +12

Penultimately...

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl - Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, 12/20, 7pm CT (ESPN)

BYU vs. Arizona -3


The Cougars are 10-2 (6-2). The Wildcats are 7-5 (5-4).

The Mormons are coming to Vegas! The end is nigh!

Okay, probably not. BYU's fan base travels well, so even though the game is in Sin City, I expect a solid Cougar contingent at this game. But not necessarily in the craps pit. I do have a humorous scene in my mind of a Mormon couple trying to explain to their kids what Clarissa, the nurse in fishnets, does for a living!

Can anyone tell me why Arizona's favored in this game? I can think of 3 times this year where I looked at a game and had the wrong team favored in my head outright. And I think I ended up being right all 3 times.

So I'm taking BYU and the points here, and gladly so.

ST Pick: BYU +3
Hammer's Pick: BYU +3
Dark Star's Pick: Arizona -3

Finally...

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Sunday, 12/21, 7:15pm CT (ESPN)

Troy -4.5 vs. Southern Mississippi


The Trojans are 8-4 (6-1). The Golden Eagles are 6-6 (4-4).

This one came in second for the "most ridiculous name" title. But because it's in New Orleans, I give it a pass.

Again, we're dealing with two teams I know virtually nothing about.

The only time Troy appeared in the Picks this year, it was when they gave LSU an enormous scare. Oh yeah, and I was picking LSU -18 in that game. Nice. So I'm a little sore at the Trojans, needless to say.

Southern Mississippi won their last 4 straight, while surrendering an average of 8.75 points per game.

Those numbers are enough for me. I'm taking the points and screaming "Brett Favre Rules" for very little reason.

ST Pick: Southern Mississippi +4.5
Hammer's Pick: Troy -4.5
Dark Star's Pick: Troy -4.5

So there you have it. The opening round of Bowl Mania here at The Sports Take. If you'd like to join the fray and add your picks, feel free to do so. I may add your record to the three of ours. Just be sure you're committed to pick all 34 games!

I'll be back on Monday with the Post-Mortem on the first five bowls, and more Picks for your perusal. It's Bowl Mania! Catch the fever! Until Monday, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Charles Knows Racism...

Hello again everybody...

Hope you're all feeling warm wherever you are. Those of us in Minnesota are daring to dream of double-digits today. As I write today's preamble, it's 8 whole degrees above zero here in the great white North. Okay, the windchill is still -2 degrees, but you can't have anything right?

Oof.

But it's Minnesota. We expect this sort of thing, right? It's not like people would decide to leave the 60-degree pleasantness of Phoenix to travel into this meteorological morass right? Right?!

Sorry Mom and Dad... but it had to be said!

I'm only writing about one subject today. I've got a big column planned for Friday, so I'll keep it somewhat short today. At least that's the plan. I haven't started writing yet, so who knows where this thing will end up!

Today I'm talking about the controversy surrounding the new head football coach at Auburn University. Was it racism? Was it cronyism? Was it just an awful hiring? I'll tell you what I think.

Onward!

"In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock."
- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States


My man T.J.!

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So what's all the mess down at Auburn?

Let's review.

On December 3rd, former Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville "resigned". I put "resigned" in quotes, because immediately after that announcement, rumors started to surface that indicated that Tuberville's resignation wasn't so much his wanting to leave as it was Auburn officials paying him $5 million to go away.

I can hardly blame Tommy for taking the offer. All he did was go 6-1 against arch-rival Alabama over the last 7 years, including a season where his team went 11-0. But even with all that success, he was derided and made to feel unwanted by boosters with unrealistic expectations.

Either way, Auburn leadership looked bad given their desire to spin what was essentially a firing as a "resignation".

But apparently the PR wizards at Auburn weren't done trashing the University's image.

Ten days after Tuberville's "resignation", it was announced that Gene Chizik will be the next Tigers head football coach. And nearly immediately, the uproar began.

Chizik is a former Auburn defensive coordinator and had success in that role as well as in his time as Texas defensive coordinator. Those two stints helped him land a job 2 years ago as the head coach at Iowa State... where he compiled a 5-19 record. Now granted, he was taking on a big-time rebuilding project when he took the Iowa State job. But should 5-19 at Iowa State really earn you a job at Auburn which for all intents and purposes is a promotion?

And apparently the Tiger fan-base agreed. According to one poll, nearly 2/3 of the respondents were against the hiring of Chizik.

But the big hubub began when Auburn alumnus and former NBA MVP Charles Barkley accused the administration of blatant racism in the hiring of Chizik.

As it turned out, Auburn officials also interviewed Turner Gill who turned around a moribund Buffalo program and led them to a Mid-American Conference Championship this year. Oh, and by the way, he's also an African-American.

When Gill didn't get the job, Barkley suggested that his race was the reason he didn't get the job:

"I believe race had a factor. Of course I do. First of all, you can't compare these two, their records. That's not even close to being fair. I look at things from a commonsense standpoint; how do you interview Turner Gill and pick Gene Chizik over Turner Gill?"

Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs defended the hiring, claiming that race was not a factor in Chiziks hiring. Rather he said he "picked the best fit for Auburn".

That quote smacks of cronyism to me. And I think ultimately that's what happened here. Jacobs is familiar with Chizik from his time as Auburn Defensive Coordinator. And ultimately he decided to go with the familiar rather than the unfamiliar in Turner Gill.

But I also wonder if Barkley isn't also right. I mean if the "familiar" is 99% white coaches, then isn't hiring the "familiar" a latent form of racism?

Cronyism has always been the reason given as to why there aren't more African-American coaches in a sport dominated by African-American athletes. Simply put, Universities hire people they have a connection to. But if African-Americans aren't given a chance to get their foot in the door, how are they ever supposed to have the opportunity to do the kind of networking that seemingly landed Chizik the Auburn job?

Clearly white kids aren't the only ones who are able to translate their skills as players into skills as coaches. So there has to be a way to more fairly involve African-American coaches in the hiring process for a sport dominated by African-American athletes.

The worst part about this whole deal is that even if you dismiss the potential racism in this situation, it's still a tough hire to defend. Sure, maybe Chizik was lacking the tools he needed to get the Iowa State program turned around. But what exactly is it about a 5-19 record that you can set aside to decide he should be the next coach at what ought to be an SEC powerhouse?!

So why would you hire a guy who's difficult to defend, especially when doing so is going to put you in a position where you'll certainly be accused of racial bias? Arrogance? Incompetence? You'd have to ask the folks at Auburn University I guess, because I can't figure it out.

Was it a bad hire? I think so, though obviously Chizik will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong.

Was it cronyism? I don't see how you could argue that it wasn't.

Was it racism? In a subtle form, yes I think it was.

What does it mean for those of us who love college football? That's why I write columns like this. So we can discuss it. If you've got an opinion, attach a comment below and let us know what you think.

What it means for me is that I'll be rooting for Wisconsin and "whoever is playing Auburn" next year. Sorry Coach Chizik. It's not necessarily your fault. But you're working for people I have a hard time respecting, and unfortunately, that rolls down onto your program.

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Friday as we get ready to kick off Bowl Season here at The Sports Take. I'm so excited I'm tingling! Well, I hope that's the excitement and not frost bite! Until Friday, thanks for reading!

Monday

Heisman Recap & ST Mailbag

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another Monday. I hope today finds you anywhere other than the upper Midwest, because oh my freaking lord is it cold up here today. As I write this at 1:30pm central time, the current air temperature is -4 degrees Fahrenheit. And with winds out of the west at 16 mph and gusting to 22 mph, the windchill factor is -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Or as I like to call it "inhumanly cold".

Look, I've lived my entire life in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Been there, done that, I can take it. But why should we have to? Human beings weren't meant to live like this! Think about it. People moved out here and learned it gets inhumanly cold during the winter. Did they realize their mistake and leave? Nooooo. They invented means to try and mitigate their misery! What the hell is wrong with us? I know the summers are fairly nice, but come on! This is just wrong people. Wrong.

Weather rant, fin.

Thanks. I feel better.

On to the important stuff. We had the most legendary individual trophy in sports awarded on Saturday. And I have to admit, I was surprised! I'll discuss. Then it's the latest edition of The Sports Take Mailbag. It's a hockey-related question that some of you will already know the answer to, but I'll try to make it an entertaining read anyway! Off we go!

"I don't feel I have a concussion problem. I have a problem with people giving me traumatic blows to the head." - Dean McAmmond (1973- ), Canadian professional hockey player currently with the Ottawa Senators

Thanks to Renee in Minnetonka for the quote. Sort of a hockey version of the "chicken and the egg" bit if you think about it.

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First up today, we've got to talk Heisman. The 2008 Heisman Trophy Award winner was announced Saturday evening. And believe it or not, I was both right and wrong!

I gave you my ballot on Wednesday as: 1. Sam Bradford, 2. Colt McCoy and 3. Tim Tebow. I also told you that I thought McCoy was going to win it.

Turns out I got the order exactly right and McCoy didn't win it.

Here's the breakdown:

Heisman Voting

Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma 300 315 196 1,726
Colt McCoy, Texas 266 288 230 1,640
Tim Tebow, Florida 309 207 234 1,575
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech 13 44 86 213
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech 3 27 53 116
Shonn Greene, Iowa 5 9 32 65
Patrick White, West Virginia 3 1 8 19
Nate Davis, Ball State 0 1 8 10
Rey Maualuga, USC 2 1 1 9
Javon Ringer, Michigan State 1 0 5 8

Notice that Tebow actually received the most first-place votes, yet finished 3rd. Not that it's a distinction that you'd want, but he's only the second player in Heisman history to pull that off.

How does that happen, you ask? The best speculation that I've heard is that some voters (one would suspect mostly in the middle-south) made their 3-candidate ballot an all-Big 12 ballot using either Graham Harrell or Michael Crabtree in 3rd and left Tebow off their ballot entirely. Personally I'd argue that's a mistake, but they have actual ballots and I don't.

The important thing, obviously, is that I had the top 3 ordered exactly correct.

Did I mention that my ballot was dead-on? I just want to make sure I make that point clearly!

I did? Okay. Moving on...

Time for another edition of The Sports Take Mailbag! This week's question comes from Mary in Plymouth who asks:

"What the heck is with the point system in hockey? I think I understand it; it just seems a bit like trying to fix something that wasn't necessarily broken, whatever it was that The Powers That Be thought was broken in the first place."

Good question Mary.

First of all, let me give you the specific rules. If a team wins a game in regulation, they receive 2 points. If teams are tied after regulation, they each receive 1 point. They then play a 5-minute sudden-death overtime period. If a team scores a goal during that period, they get an additional point, giving them a total of 2. If neither team scores, then the game goes to a best-of-3 shootout with extra skaters added if the teams remained tied. The team that wins that gets the additional point, giving them a total of 2.

Straight-forward, the system is not.

It used to be that if the game was tied after regulation, they'd play an overtime period and if nobody scored, the game finished in a tie and each team got their one point. The problem was if a team scored in the overtime, they got 2 points, and the team that lost got zero. This created a condition where teams would play super-tight defensively in the overtime, figuring that 1 point was better than none.

So the NHL decided to try and create an incentive for teams to open things up a bit in the overtime by guaranteeing each team a point if they tie in regulation. So if a team scored in overtime, they got 2 points and the team that "lost" still got their 1 point. This led to the obnoxious standings line for the NHL which read: "Wins - Losses - Ties - Overtime Losses". See if you won in overtime, you could just put a tick in the "Win" column, but if you lost in overtime, well it wasn't really a loss, because you still got a point. Simple, right? Oof.

Then, starting in 2005, the NHL further "fixed" overtime by adding the shootout. On the plus-side, this meant that fans going to a game would be assured that they'd see a winner. But hockey purists hated the idea. And I certainly understood why.

If you think about it, it'd be the same if the NFL decided to have teams kick field goals from increased distances to decide a winner. Or if the NBA had teams shoot free-throws to decide a game. Or worst of all, if MLB had teams hold mini-home run hitting contests to decide games that go beyond 12 innings or something. It's taking one small part of a wondrously complex game, and having it decide who wins and who loses.

So back to Mary's question, "was the change really necessary"? That's a tough one.

At the time the NHL made the initial change, their ratings and attendance were starting to decline, so I guess they figured they had to try something to regain their stature in the sports universe. Unfortunately it didn't work. At best, you could currently say that hockey is 4th amongst the 4 major sports leagues. And though it pains me to say it, if you add NASCAR into the mix, the NHL is probably 5th.

So in that sense, the initial change probably wasn't necessary. But assuming that change is made, I'd argue that the 2nd change (the addition of the shootout) was absolutely necessary. As odd as the "Wins - Losses - OT Wins" line looks to some folks, it's far better than having to create a column for a special kind of loss.

The purists (and I know there are some that read this blog) will still say that they hate the shootout. I guess I've been moderately won over. I understand the casual fan's desire to have a definite winner and loser like the rest of the leagues (except the rare occasion in the NFL and certain MLB All-Star games). And the shootout does add a layer of excitement to the end of a game. Let's just say I've begrudgingly accepted it's existence. And while I'd like to see it changed to a best-of-5 skaters rather than best-of-3, I can live with the system as currently constructed.

Hopefully that clears things up for you Mary. Thanks for the question! Remember, if you want your question answered, submit it to the mailbag at: dcook93@yahoo.com!

That's all I've got for today. I'll be back on Wednesday, presuming I don't die of hypothermia before then. Did I mention it's inhumanly cold? As long as we're clear. Until next time, thanks for reading!

Friday

CC in NY & ST Top 10 (12th Ed.)

Hello again everybody...

I'm writing from the Sports Take home offices today. Thank heavens for union mandated vacation time! I did have to stop by the shop for a brief period this morning for an all-staff meeting to meet the new Grand Pooh-Bah. It was an interesting meeting to say the least.

Put it this way, you know how I've said all along that there's no doubt Gopher football coach Tim Brewster can get inspire people to run through brick walls, yet I'm not sure if he can coach them up to do it properly? I'm kind of at the same point with the new boss. He says all the right things. And unlike Brewster, he actually has a track record of getting things done. That being said, this is a new ballgame, so we'll see how he follows through on what was an impressive pep talk.

Whatever happens, there will still be plenty of sports to discuss. Today I've got to talk about one of the crown jewels of the hot stove league: CC Sabathia. The hefty lefty signed an equally hefty contract with the New York Yankees. I'll share my thoughts. Then it's time for the final regular season version of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Florida and Oklahoma ended up 1/2 in the BCS. Did the Sports Take pollsters agree? We'll find out. So let's get to it!

"The man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance."
- Laurence J. Peter (1919-1988), PhD, educator and hierarchiologist


Think I'm feeling somewhat cautious of promises hinted at today? Yeah, just a bit.

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First up today, I've got to talk about the new contract agreed to by CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees.

7 years, $160 million.

Ponder that for a second. That's almost $23 million per year. The richest contract ever awarded to a pitcher.

And because it's the Yankees, there have been the usual outcries of the doom of baseball as we know it. How on earth are mid-to-small market teams supposed to compete when they can't possibly pay free agents the kind of money that the Yankees are tossing around?!

There's one small flaw with that complaint. Mid-to-small markets are competing. They have been competing, and they will continue to compete.

Look, all the Yankees money allows them to do is buy their way out of their mistakes. It doesn't guarantee them a championship. It doesn't even guarantee them a playoff spot as we learned just this past season.

And it's my opinion that this signing of Sabathia will turn out to be one of those mistakes.

Why do I say that? First let's look at history.

The Yankees could have had Johan Santana last year for a mere $120 million. All they had to do was sacrifice Phil Hughes who was an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees last year, and Melky Cabrerra who's on the way to becoming the Milwaukee Brewers latest acquisition.

But they decided that was too steep a price to pay, so they passed. Now, they've found themselves in a position where they're forced to spend $160 million on a pitcher who most would agree isn't as good as Santana is to begin with.

Second, look at CC himself.

In the last 2 years he's pitched almost 500 innings. That's an enormous total. It's also likely to have an effect on the condition of his arm. I don't blame the Brewers one bit for the way they used Sabathia last season. If I were them, and knew that they were basically renting CC for half a season, I'd have pitched the bejeezus out of him too. But if I was the Yankees, I'd be awfully concerned about all the tread that was worn off his tire over the last couple of years.

Then there's the fact that CC didn't want to come to New York in the first place. He made it quite clear at the beginning of the free agency period that he wanted to play on the west coast. That's where his wife's from. That's where his family is building a house. That's where he wanted to go.

Unfortunately, when the bidding began, the interest from out west was tepid to say the least. He practically begged Dodgers management to make him a competitive offer, but to no avail.

In the end, New York won him over by offering him two things: $40 million more than anybody else even hinted at, and an opt-out clause after 3 years. So if he decides that he can't handle playing in the Big Apple, he can walk after 3 years and $70 million or so.

Anyone want to wager on the likelihood of a "year 4" for CC in New York? I didn't think so.

Don't get me wrong, I wish CC and his family the best of luck in New York. I just don't think it's going to work. So I all the folks kicking and screaming about how bad the Yankees are for baseball should take a breath, calm down and see if this thing actually has a prayer of working. Because I don't think it does.

Next up it's time for the 12th and final regular season edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. 10 loyal Sports Take readers have come together to bring you the finest in college football rankings. As always, comments on each club are from a random sampling of pollsters.

Without further ado... the poll...

Rank - Team (First Place Votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Oklahoma (6) - 94 - 2
It's not their fault that the system is broken. 5 straight games of 60+ points? Yup, they're my #1 team.

#2) Florida (2) - 90 - 4
They sold me on that game. I hate to admit it - as I despise their smug coach - but they look really complete as a team.

#3) Texas (2) - 86 - 3
They beat the #1 team and lost on the final play in a hostile environment to a top 10 team for their only loss, so that's good enough for me.

#4) Alabama - 64 - 1
Too bad they won't play Texas in January. That would make a nice semi-final wouldn't it?

#5) USC - 57 - 5
Might be the non-Title Game team that nobody wants to play.

#6) Texas Tech - 43 - 7
"Hey we tied for the Big 12 South too!"

#7) Utah - 42 - 6
Pretender or Contender? We'll know for sure in a couple of weeks.

#8) Penn State - 35 - 8
When was the last time these guys played... 2007?! Sure feels like it.

#9) Boise State - 27 - 9
I know Utah got the nod for the BCS, but I still like Boise better!

#10) Ohio State - 10 - 10
I fear another embarrassment in a BCS bowl game... when will people learn?

Others Receiving Votes: Cincinnati 1, TCU 1

So the Sports Take pollsters think the BCS should have their #1 and #2 reversed. And several of them think that they've got the wrong team in there completely. Ah, the wonder of the BCS!

See anything in the poll you think is dead wrong? Add a comment and let us know!

That's it for this week. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back on Monday with another episode of the Sports Take Mailbag. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Heisman Vote & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Well the news finally came down today. An all-staff meeting's been scheduled for Friday morning at 9:30 at the big 'CCO. Somewhere God is smiling ("let's see... Dan's not a morning person... he has Friday off.... yup, mandatory meeting time!").

Am I whining? Perhaps a touch. But it's out of my system now and I'm feeling better about it, so thanks for helping with my self-therapy.

Today it's time to talk Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately, The Sports Take has yet to earn me an actual ballot for the award, but that won't stop me from sharing my thoughts with you, my loyal readers. Then it's time for everybody's favorite segment. A little thing we like to call the DFTU. So off we go!

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister


No real connection to anything I'm writing today, but it made me chuckle, so there you go.

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First up today it's the official Sports Take Heisman Ballot. Okay, it's not official in the eyes of the folks who actually vote for the award, but it's my official thoughts on the matter. And that's official enough for us!

Without further ado...

3. Tim Tebow, QB, University of Florida
(28 TD passing, 12 TD rushing, 2 INT, 64% completion %, 176.74 passer rating)

Yes, I said on Monday that Tebow might be the best college football player I've ever seen. Yes, that would seem to indicate that he should be my Heisman pick.

But the Heisman is given on a single season's worth of work. And my label of "best I've ever seen" is about Tebow's entire body of work.

The fact that Tebow will likely be a finalist for the second time while only being a Junior is pretty impressive in and of itself. But his statistics last year were so insanely good that the odds of him being able to match those were very small. And if he wasn't able to match those stats, or at least come close, then the odds of him winning a second straight Heisman had to equally decrease.

In the end, I'm voting Tebow third not because he wasn't as good as he was last year, but rather because there were two other players that had such fantastic years, that they simply deserve to be ranked ahead of him.

2. Colt McCoy, QB, University of Texas
(32 TD passing, 10 TD rushing, 7 INT, 77% completion %, 179.20 passer rating)

If I had to place a wager on who's going to win, I'd bet on McCoy. His statistics are excellent, he had the least help of the other candidates and don't discount the sympathy vote given the fact that Texas got "tie-breakered" (yes, I made that word up) out of a shot at the National Title.

So why am I not voting him as my number one choice?

To explain that, I give you...

1. Sam Bradford, QB, University of Oklahoma
(48 TD passing, 5 TD rushing, 6 INT, 68% completion %, 186.29 passer rating)

I really struggled in deciding between Bradford and McCoy. There's no question that McCoy's season was damned impressive. And there's also no question that Bradford had more help around him than McCoy had.

But ultimately, I couldn't ignore the fact that in nearly every respect, Bradford had a better statistical year than McCoy had.

No, the award isn't only about statistics, but considering that both men led their teams to identical 11-1 records, and neither was required to deal with significantly more adversity than the other, which guy had the better stats becomes a reasonable tiebreaker.

So I'm casting my vote for Sam Bradford. I don't think he'll win (and in fact, I think there's a reasonable chance he'll finish third), but I'm interested to see how it all shakes out. It should be some of the closest voting we've seen in quite some time.

The finalists for the Heisman will be announced tonight. The award itself will be presented Saturday night.

Next up it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 15-10-1, which translates to 31 points, which is good for 3rd place in the Northwest Division, 4 points behind the Vancouver Canucks.

The Wild have played 3 games since we last DTFU'd. A 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues last Wednesday started things off nicely. Minnesota was looking to avenge an earlier poor effort against the Blues and managed to do just that.

Unfortunately, that solid effort was followed by two lackluster ones. In their second consecutive Friday/Saturday back-to-back set of games, the Wild dropped two straight. They lost 2-1 at home versus Vancouver (again!) and 1-0 on the road at Nashville.

Both losses were tough to take. The Vancouver game sucked because the Canucks were down to their 3rd-string goaltender, yet the Wild could only scratch out one marker. Add to that the fact that Vancouver is a division opponent whom the Wild has yet to beat this year and that loss becomes even more worrisome.

The Nashville game sucked because exactly a week prior, the Wild handled the Predators easily, winning 6-2. So to get shut out by a team you scored 6 on a week ago clearly highlights a bad run offensively.

But yesterday came news that may help alleviate some of the Wild's scoring woes. For the first time in over a month, winger Marian Gaborik practiced with the team, including skating with the second power-play unit.

There's no guarantee that he'll play Thursday night in Phoenix, but I'd be surprised if he didn't make an appearance sometime on this road trip.

No, Gaborik isn't the end-all be-all of the Wild's offense. But there's no question that he frees up space on the ice for his teammates when he's out there. And that can't do anything but help.

And of course, the other advantage to Gaborik playing is that it showcases him for a potential trade. I think at this point most Wild fans have resigned themselves to the fact that Marian isn't going to be here next year. And if that's going to be the case, then here's to hoping that GM Doug Risebrough can craft a quality return for trading the Wild's biggest star.

As mentioned, the Wild are on the road for the next 3 games. They travel to Phoenix (where I can tell you from personal experience that even though Phoenix is a warm-weather city, it's STILL not a good idea to wear shorts to the arena) to take on the Coyotes Thursday night. Then on Saturday they head to L.A. to clash with the Kings. Then Sunday they head down the road to Anaheim to go Duck hunting.

Wisconsin Badgers (basketball): The Badgers are 7-2 (0-0 in the Big Ten).

I have to admit. Even with college football's regular season being done, it's still really hard for me to get excited about college basketball. Maybe my tastes are changing. Maybe it's just not the right time of year.

Either way, I've only caught bits and pieces of a few Badger games this year, so it's difficult for me to speak intelligently about them (insert punch-line here).

Here's what I can tell you. The Badgers are good, but not great. They had a lead late in the game versus Marquette, but couldn't hang on down the stretch against the Warriors on the road.

They then returned home and squeaked out a 2-point win against that perennial basketball powerhouse known as Idaho State. Idaho freaking State. Are you kidding me? I can only imagine the Bo Ryan tongue-lashing that followed that effort.

Bucky faces in-state rival UW-Green Bay Saturday night before taking a week off for finals.

That's all for today folks. No picks tomorrow as Bowl season doesn't kick off til the 20th, so I'll be back on Friday with the final regular season ST Top 10 Poll and some week ending goodness. And hopefully I'll be able to report that the purge is done after the big meeting! Until then, thanks for reading!