Purple Reign: Why Did Washington Make the College Football Playoff?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Let’s play a game.

There are two teams in college football. Both of them are in the College Football Playoff, and both have the same record of 12-1. In fact, they are so supposedly similar that they are only separated by one spot in the rankings. There is only one difference between them, though: their out-of-conference schedules. Here they are: one team is Team A, the other Team B.

Team A

Team B

Bowling Green (W, 77-10)

Rutgers (W, 48-13)

Tulsa (W, 48-3)

Idaho (W, 59-14)

@Oklahoma (W, 45-24)

Portland State (W, 41-3)

As you can see, Team B’s schedule is significantly weaker than that of Team A. By now, you’ve probably guessed it: Team A is Ohio State. Team B is Washington.

Let me preface just about everything I am about to say by expressing that Washington looked awfully good at the end of this season. The Huskies blew through their final three opponents, including a road win against Washington State and a Pac-12 title game triumph over Colorado. However, their best opponent on the schedule (USC) easily handled them on November 12th. Washington checks all of the boxes when it comes to being a Playoff team (one loss, conference champion, talent), but does that mean they should actually be in the Playoff? Let’s take a closer look.

For starters, the three teams that were contending for the final Playoff spot were Washington, Penn State, and Michigan. Penn State and Michigan both had two losses, but the former won the Big Ten Championship Game over Wisconsin. In fact, the presence of those two teams in the conference title game was and is a testament to the strength of the conference; both the Big Ten’s two best teams, Michigan and Ohio State, were unable to make their own conference’s championship game because the conference was just too good. Additionally, the Big Ten had four of the top eight teams in the final Playoff rankings. The Big Ten kinda sorta cannibalized itself at the end of the season, and it’s clear that two of the three teams competing for the fourth spot played in college football’s best conference. As for Washington…. not so much.

The Pac-12 had its fair share of struggles this season, as established powers such as UCLA, Oregon, and Stanford all struggled to some degree over the course of the year. Unfortunately for the Huskies, this weakness manifested itself in their schedule. Washington’s best regular season game was easily a home tilt with USC in week twelve. The Trojans defeated Washington, 26-13, but that’s not all they did: they showed that it is entirely possible to handle the Huskies in all facets of the game, even on their home turf. Even though Chris Pedersen’s team was undefeated at the time, that game should have sent major warning signals to the Playoff Committee. It didn’t.

Instead, the Committee only dropped Washington two spots; in fairness, week twelve also happened to be the week that Clemson lost at home to Pittsburgh and Michigan lost on the road against Iowa. When that is taken into consideration, Washington’s loss is the best out of the three. Also, Michigan did not drop after that loss and Clemson only dropped two spots as well. So the committee was very fair to Washington then, but why were the Huskies that highly ranked in the first place?

No, really, I’m serious: when your best in-conference win is Stanford and your best out-of-conference win is Rutgers, why was Washington the fourth-best team in the country? Granted, they did look very impressive until the USC game, but how could you know for sure that the Huskies could hold their own against any team in America? And let’s go back to the aforementioned out-of-conference schedule. If we’re really splitting hairs, the Huskies’ out-of-conference slate was not as good as Western Michigan’s. And once again, I’m completely serious.

Another facet to the anti-Washington argument is this: should we value winning, the eye test, or a team’s resume in our assessment of said team? Personally, I believe that we should use all three, but we should also use another measuring stick: common sense. And common sense is what takes us back to the last Saturday of November in Columbus, Ohio.

On that day, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in the rivalry so amazing that it is literally referred to as “The Game”. In The Game, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes went back-and-forth and eventually needed overtime to decide a winner. In the second overtime, Michigan kicked a field goal on their possession; Ohio State was faced with a fourth-and-one on their possession and opted to go for it to keep the game alive. The best rivalry in college football hung in the balance. The call was a run up the middle for quarterback J.T. Barrett. Michigan’s defensive line got a push and came in contact with Barrett just short of the line to gain. And then, college football’s game of the year came down to this spot:

Photo Credit: Greg Storer/YouTube

Good luck trying to decipher that one. I thought the spot was correct, but chances are we will never know for sure. Ohio State got the first down and a touchdown on their very next play. The Game was over, as was Michigan’s Playoff chances.

Here is my fundamental point: Michigan was ranked third that week in the Playoff rankings. In watching that game, what in the world could convince you that the Wolverines did not deserve one of the four spots? They went on the road to play the second-ranked team in the country, held their own, nearly won, and the entire game literally came down to that spot! I know that we want every game to count for something, but the result could have been very different if not for just one play. And yet, Michigan tumbled to fifth after that defeat, and their not making the conference championship game doomed their hopes of a national title. Washington, on the other hand, destroyed Colorado (who, full disclosure, is a ten-win team) and held on to the fourth and final spot in the Playoff.

The objective of the College Football Playoff is to get the best four teams, no matter what. Unfortunately, the Playoff committee did not do that this year. Michigan deserved the fourth spot over Washington, regardless of the fact that they have two losses.

They were clearly better than Washington this season, and that shouldn’t change just because of their record alone.

Soccer: Bergen Catholic 1, Wayne Valley 0

24 minutes into their soccer game yesterday, Bergen Catholic’s Miles Franklyn scored to put the Crusaders on top 1-0 over Wayne Valley.  The goal, Franklyn’s third of the year, would be all Bergen needed to secure another victory.

The Crusaders, ranked the 18th best team in Bergen County and the 5th best non-public team in New Jersey, moved to 4-0 on the season with the win.  Senior Cole Bosch assisted on the only goal of the game and goalkeeper Nick Vafiadis secured yet another clean sheet in the victory; the junior netminder has allowed just one goal this season. The hard-fought victory prepares the Crusaders for next Monday night’s challenge against top rival Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey.

Wayne Valley fell to 2-2-1 with the loss. Their next game is tomorrow at Lakeland.

Start Spreading the News: It’s Time for the Yankees to Overhaul Their Current Roster

Carlos Beltran
Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Throughout their history, the New York Yankees have not exactly been associated with patience and prolonged rebuilding processes. That may be about to change, and for a franchise that has had its fair share of recent success in recent years, it may not be such bad news.

With the team currently sitting at 44-45 and 5.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the AL’s second Wild Card spot, it doesn’t appear as though they’ll be going anywhere this year.  While the Yanks only rank 11th in baseball in average age (29), there are aging veterans on the team who could reasonably be dealt by GM Brian Cashman before the month ends.

That is, if president Randy Levine and owner Hal Steinbrenner allow him to do so.

ESPN’s Wallace Matthews reported Thursday that the higher-ups in management are internally at odds over how to counteract the team’s struggles.  This is exactly what he wrote about the specific disagreement between two very different factions of the New York front office:

According to a baseball source who spoke to ESPN on condition of anonymity, the opposing factions are composed of the baseball operations people, led by general manager Brian Cashman, who believe the team should sell off its assets and plan for the future, and the business side, which is led by owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine, who hold to the belief that the club is still in contention.

Here’s the thing: Steinbrenner and Levine genuinely believe that the ballclub will come back in the standings and make a deep playoff run. They want Cashman, who answers to them, to make a deal at the trade deadline to improve the roster this season while potentially compromising it for years to come.  The Cashman camp would like to move older, more experienced players such as Carlos Beltran (39 years old), closer Aroldis Chapman, set-up man Andrew Miller, and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

On the other hand, the Levine and Steinbrenner group really think that the team with the fourth-worst record in the American League is capable of making moves to win another championship.  The problem is that the Yankees, in their current state, are the the definition of mediocre.  In terms of results, that means many different things but very little consistency.

For example, a 6-5 stretch from June 14 to June 26 against the Twins and Rockies was followed by a split of a four-game series against the Texas Rangers, the best team in the American League.  Those outcomes would be followed by series defeats at the hands of the Padres and White Sox, not exactly teams you equate with serious contenders.  Up next on the schedule was a four-game weekend series against baseball’s hottest team, the Cleveland Indians.  What would the Yankees do?  Win three out of four (in Cleveland, no less).  They’re doing what mediocre teams do: showing flashes of brilliance while lacking the consistency of an elite squad.

Here is another problem the Yankees have: their pitching.  This does not pertain to their bullpen of Miller, Chapman, and Dellin Betances, but it relates to the starting pitching that has been incapable of consistently getting the ball to those three with a lead.  The team has used a combination of starters this season and is currently shuffling Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation; both have struggled and pitched to ERAs over 5.00 this season.  The Yanks’ two best starters this season are staff ace Masahiro Tanaka and… C.C. Sabathia, who has not pitched a full season since 2013.  No bueno.

The Yankees’ lineup has also struggled this season, as Rodriguez, Starlin Castro, Gardner, and others have struggled.  When you combine this with their lackluster pitching, you realize that there are no signs that point to any type of deep run in the playoffs.  So why are Levine and Steinbrenner so hellbent on the Yanks’ being buyers at the trade deadline?

The simple answer: they are, after all, power brokers for the Yankees, the most successful franchise in the history of sports.  When have the Dallas Cowboys, Manchester United, or FC Barcelona ever been in “rebuilding mode”?  Yeah, never; at least they won’t admit that.  The Yankees fall in the same category: they expect to win, win, win, no matter what.  Their fans expect that too, as it’s most of what they’ve known no matter how long they’ve been rooting for the Yanks.  The problem is that the Yankee mystique invariably clouds the fans and, apparently, the team’s decision-makers from the franchise’s ultimate reality: the Yankees aren’t that good of a team and don’t have a great future, either.  Those things can change.

And with August 1 (this year’s trade deadline) quickly approaching, Cashman has the opportunity to do just that.  For example, Beltran is having something of a renaissance year, hitting nearly .300 and coming off an appearance in his ninth career All-Star game. Translated: he has a lot of value right now and Cashman could deal him to a contender for a solid return.  More importantly, Beltran has stayed healthy to this point in the season.  This is something he really hasn’t done over the past few seasons and is important to note when considering his trade value.  The clock is ticking on Cashman and the front office to find a trade partner for Beltran’s services because he is suffering from a hamstring injury that has forced him exclusively into the team’s Designated Hitter role.  The hamstring injury could reoccur on any given day; an injury to the Yankees’ best hitter would make him a full-time DH, drastically reducing his trade value and thinning out the trade market for his talents.

And then there’s the obvious benefit to a Yankee fire sale: the opportunity to receive prospects in return for star players in their prime.  While the Yankees have some very intriguing prospects (Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, Gary Sanchez, among others), there is room for improvement and added depth in the farm system.  While these prospects have very bright futures, here’s something to remember when building a farm system: you can never have too many prospects in your organization.  The prospects you receive today could be used as trade chips for star players tomorrow; they could also become cornerstones for your franchise.  Just ask the Cubs about this.  Who wouldn’t want one of those two outcomes, even if it meant biting the bullet and going into a full-blown rebuild?

The Yankees have a multitude of reasons to blow up their current roster and start fresh without their stars of today.  Doing this would enable the team to realize a future that is available to them if they decide that’s what they want for the long-term betterment of their franchise.

They must make that decision soon.  We all know what the right move is.

Let’s see if Levine and Steinbrenner allow it to be made.

Dab This: Don’t Criticize Cam Newton’s Celebrating

(WARNING: article may contain subjects inappropriate for those under the age of nine years old.)

You’re probably reading this and wondering what in the world I’m talking about.  Nine years old?  Why is that?  I’ll explain it near the end of the article.

This controversy started when star quarterback Cam Newton’s Panthers traveled to Nashville to play the Titans.  Newton’s Carolina team was 8-0 entering the game; no small feat, especially considering the parity that currently exists in the NFL.  Newton is their leader, but he’s also a character the likes of which has rarely been seen in the league recently.  He’s not afraid to show his personality, and sometimes, that can get him into trouble with the more rigid of football fans.

Sunday would be possibly the first time he has been heavily criticized for his in-game antics; he caught plenty of heat for things that happened while he was in college, but that was mainly directed at him for off-the-field transgressions, which were nothing compared to what the NFL deals within regards to some of their stars now.

In any event, Newton would lead the Panthers to a late 10-point lead in Tennessee.  He played a masterful game, completing 81% of his passes, throwing for over 200 yards, throwing and rushing for a touchdown each in the process.  However, the rushing touchdown would be the one that has us talking this week.

After punching it in on the ground from two yards out, Newton proceeded to partake in a dance known as the “dab”, which is credited to the Atlanta hip-hop duo Migos.  Anyway, it wasn’t the dance itself that is the problem, it’s the nature in which it was done. See for yourself how Newton sticks it to Tennessee here:

As you can see from the video, the dance was pretty darn in-your-face.  Here’s the thing, though: I really didn’t have much of a problem with it.  There are any number of reasons why, but I’ll outline a few of them here.

1. He’s 9-0- And All the People Criticizing Him Aren’t

This is the simplest reason why it’s easy to defend Cam here. Whether you like him, dislike him, or compare him to Colin Kaepernick hate him, there are two quarterbacks in the NFL that are undefeated. They are:

  1. Tom Brady (the greatest quarterback ever)
  2. Cam Newton

That’s it.  And no, you won’t see Tom Brady hitting any dabs on Sunday, but that’s okay.  He and Newton are polar opposites as quarterbacks and leaders, but the marked differences between them is what makes their success so interesting.  Newton’s team is having the same amount of success as Brady’s, whether you like that or not. If I was 9-0 in fantasy football, I’d probably be dabbing right now, too. The fact that Newton’s Panthers are 9-0 in real life is more than cause enough to celebrate.

2. Haters Gon’ Hate- But Detractors Need to Direct Their Anger Elsewhere

Speaking of the Panthers, the man in the picture used to play for them.  His name is Greg Hardy.  He plays for the Cowboys, he is a lot to handle at defensive end, and his presence has improved the team’s defense this season.  He also happens to be a proven domestic abuser, and he’ll also be suiting up for Dallas on Sunday with not nearly as much fanfare as Newton (although that’s debatable; the public protest of Hardy has existed, although very intermittently).

If you want to get mad at Hardy, I’m more than okay with that.  If you want to get angry at the fact that he’s been playing since week 5, you go do you.  But to get mad at Newton more so than you are at Hardy….. come on.  You’re just being ridiculous at this point.

You could also get mad at the NFL because the quality of their games is completely terrible; that would make sense as well.  But, apparently a dance is worse than both of those things, so I’m glad that we have at least established this for the rest of the season.

NOTE: Before I get into my next point, let me just say that it will be very divisive.  I absolutely loathe using this reason for basically anything inside the sports world, and most of the time, I think people use it because it’s an easy cop out.  I didn’t want to do this, and it doesn’t apply most of the time anymore (thankfully), but as I thought about the reasons why Newton has gotten so much backlash, this was the first thing that popped into my mind.

After another quarterback did something that should have yielded him double the controversy on the exact same day to maybe half the criticism, I knew why.  So, with some trepidation, this is the last reason why people are wrongly criticizing Newton, but shouldn’t….

The Race Card

I still hate this excuse, but this is one of those times when it applies. Warren Moon has repeatedly stated that criticism of Newton is driven by Newton’s being an African-American, and at least in this case, it’s true.  I’ll explain why it is briefly but hopefully succinctly.

Later that day, in fact, that night, the Cardinals faced the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.  The Cardinals got what was probably the biggest win of their season, and with it, the NFC West is essentially theirs to lose.  After the team had clinched the win, quarterback Carson Palmer got so “excited” that he commanded the Seahawks fans to, well…. judge for yourself.  (WARNING: video may be disturbing to some, and I’m actually serious this time.)

So, let’s think: the Palmer gesture was just seeing people and getting excited, but the dab was an in-your-face, outlandish, and inappropriate behavior, showing once and for all that the player in the act of dabbing does not know how to win with grace?  Huh, that’s funny.  I wonder why that is.

It’s something that Greg Howard of Deadspin wrote about yesterday. I can’t quote the full article because it’s so expletive-laden, but it’s absolutely brilliant.  This is the important part:

If the Panthers weren’t undefeated, and if Newton weren’t a midseason MVP candidate, some would take some dabbing as a window into his soul and his future, proof that he’s not and will never be a True Franchise Quarterback. But they can’t anymore. He’s showing with every win that pearl-clutching talk about his maturity or whether he’s appropriately deferential after touchdowns says more about those doing the complaining. Newton’s proving that the things about him that make people so angry are entirely unconnected to his on-field success, and that to “play the right way” is to win and put yourself and your team in a position to dance every week.

Amen.  I’ll leave it at that.

Our business is just about done here, but to this point, I’ve left one promise unattended to.  Yes, I said I’d get into the whole thing about nine-year olds, and the time has come to talk about what relevance they have to this story.

This isn’t about all third and fourth graders, but it’s about one and her mother.  I’m not even going to give my opinion on the letter other than to say this: it’s absurd.  I’ll leave it all right here and you can judge its craziness for yourself:

Dear Mr. Newton,

Congratulations on your win in Nashville today. Our team played well, but yours played better. Kudos to the Panthers organization.

That game happened to be my nine year old daughter’s first live NFL experience. She was surprised to see so many Panthers’ fans sitting in our section of the stadium; that doesn’t happen much at fourth grade football games. And she was excited we were near the end zone, so we would be close to the “action,” particularly in the second half.

Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter. The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the ‘in your face’ taunting of both the Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all.

I refuse to believe you don’t realize you are a role model. You are paid millions of dollars every week to play hard and be a leader. In the off season you’re expected to make appearances, support charities, and inspire young kids to pursue your sport and all sports. With everything the NFL has gone through in recent years, I’m confident they have advised that you are, by virtue of your position and career choice, a role model.

And because you are a role model, your behavior brought out like behavior in the stands. Some of the Panthers fans in our section began taunting the hometown fans. Many Titans fans booed you, a few offering instructive, but not necessarily family friendly, suggestions as to how you might change your behavior.

My daughter sensed the change immediately – and started asking questions. Won’t he get in trouble for doing that? Is he trying to make people mad? Do you think he knows he looks like a spoiled brat?

I didn’t have great answers for her, and honestly, in an effort to minimize your negative impact and what was otherwise a really fun day, I redirected her attention to the cheerleaders and mascot.

I could tell she was still thinking about it as we boarded a shuttle back to our car. “I guess he doesn’t have kids or a Mom at home watching the game,” she added.

I don’t know about your family life Mr. Newton, but I think I’m safe in saying thousands of kids watch you every week. You have amazing talent and an incredible platform to be a role model for them. Unfortunately, what you modeled for them today was egotism, arrogance and poor sportsmanship.

Is that what your coaches and mentors modeled for you, Mr. Newton?

Newton is absolutely aware of his standing as a role model, but that term means different things to different people.  His mom, Jackie, likely was watching the game whilst he dabbed.

And no, that probably isn’t what Cam Newton’s coaches and mentors modeled him for.   But it’s what has the Panthers at 9-0, and it’s what has made Newton successful in his young NFL career.

Which is why this debate is coated with a dab of stupidity.

 

Matt Hasselbeck’s Outplaying of Andrew Luck Is Just the Least of the Colts’ Problems

On the very surface, this would seem like a ridiculous discourse to engage in.  Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and has reached the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s arguably carried the Indianapolis Colts on his shoulders every year since he was drafted, and his team would not have gotten as far as it did without his leadership and play at the position.

On the other hand, his backup Matt Hasselbeck has also reached three Pro Bowls… but he’s in his 17th season.  He hasn’t been a regular starter on an NFL team since 2012 and has been Luck’s backup since ’13.  He’s 40 now, and this may be his final season.  An accomplished career that started with him backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay will end with him backing up Andrew Luck in Indy… or will it?

Luck was ruled out of the team’s week 4 game against Jacksonville with a shoulder injury, and, with the team playing on Thursday night against Houston, he had little time to recover and missed that game as well (the NFL should scrap TNF, but that’s for another time).  In the meantime, Hasselbeck has filled in, and while he has played two inferior opponents, the Colts have won both games.

And, in a much more troubling development, Hasselbeck has outplayed Andrew Luck.

This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact.  And the numbers back it up:

I would call this a minor issue, but that wouldn’t give this conundrum justice.  Hasselbeck has clearly played better, but Luck is clearly the Colts’ franchise quarterback; he has to play, right?  But even when Luck comes back, the team will still have plenty of issues to sort out.

Such as this one: they’ve been playing really bad football.  While they’re 3-2 and obviously in the driver’s seat in the AFC South, they basically got hammered by the Bills and Jets in the first two weeks of the season.  In each of the past three weeks, they’ve been taken deep into games in the last three weeks by the Titans (with Luck), Jaguars, and Texans (the last two with Hasselbeck).

Are they going to make the playoffs?  Of course they are, for the simple reason of the three teams they’ve beaten over the last three weeks.  But, as Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report writes, once they get there, they may not do very much:

But the next few weeks, as the Colts begin to face opponents that aren’t covered in frosting, are going to serve as an excellent barometer for what will happen in those playoffs—for what’s going to happen when that erratic offense and nonexistent defense have to square off against the AFC’s best.

And if the first five weeks of the 2015 season are any indication, the same thing is going to happen that happened to the Colts in Weeks 1 and 2.

They’re going to get pounded.

Well, yeah.  They are going to get pounded.  If the Buffalo and New York games are any indication, they will be unequipped to handle even fringe playoff teams.  They have myriad issues, but this is where they start: their defense, or lack thereof.

This is how the first five offenses the Colts have faced have faired against them, with the quarterbacks of those teams in parentheses.  It isn’t too pretty:

  1. Buffalo Bills (Tyrod Taylor): 342 yards
  2. New York Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick): 344 yards
  3. Tennessee Titans (Marcus Mariota): 433 yards
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (Blake Bortles): 431 yards
  5. Houston Texans (Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer): 444 yards

That isn’t good, but the problem gets magnified when you consider the quarterbacks the Colts will be facing the next three weeks: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton.  Based on prior results, there’s little reason to think that Indy can do anything to stop them.

Another problem of theirs?  Their new playmakers, and how they haven’t performed.  The team added running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson through free agency this past offseason; couple that with the addition of wide receiver Philip Dorsett through the draft and you should get a very dangerous looking assortment of offensive weapons.  Of course, through five games, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

Johnson has 13 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns.  These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, however; 77 of those yards came and six of the receptions came in the win against Houston, and in the two games before that, Johnson had approximately zero catches.  Both of his touchdowns came against his former team, and he has been rather inconsistent so far this season.

Gore has been okay to decent in his first year away from San Francisco, but he too has been inconsistent.  He’s come alive recently, with games of 86 and 98 yards coming within the last three weeks. Wedged in between, though, is a 53-yard game against Jacksonville, and before the Tennessee game, 31 and 57-yard performances against the Bills and Jets.  He’s also lost two fumbles so far this season, which is just another thing to worry as the Colts go forward.

And as for Dorsett, he only has eight catches through the first five weeks, more or less acting as a non-factor.  He hasn’t caught for more than 45 in any game this year and only has one touchdown; to call him a disappointment to this point would be a colossal understatement.

This is the heart of the matter: there is an unfathomable number of issues with the latest version of the Indianapolis Colts.  Coach Chuck Pagano is on one of the hottest seats in the NFL (not right, but that’s just the way it is) and his team has struggled mightily to a 3-2 start. The team will make the playoffs and win the division, but this will occur only because of the teams that comprise the remainder of the AFC South.

The colts should be thankful to be sitting at 3-2; they could be 0-5.  But they should also realize that they are a deeply flawed team.

A deeply flawed team that also happens to have issues with its quarterback(s).

The MLB Awards, At (Near) the End of the Season, Part II

This is the second part of the MLB end of the season awards.  The first part of these awards was published Friday, and you can find them here.  The same rules apply; I don’t care what you call them, but they are my choices for the remaining major awards.

This post will cover the rookies and managers that have separated themselves from the rest of baseball’s pack.  Of course, my choices aren’t necessarily going to be winners for each league; rather, they are the people who I think are worthy of the honor of receiving these awards.  Again, the season has been competitive and interesting.  The award races are the same way.

Let’s get things going with the Rookies of the Year for each league.

AL Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

This is a very close race, with Correa, the Twins’ Miguel Sano and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor all being worthy of consideration for the award.  However, I’m giving a very slight edge to the Astros’ shortstop for a couple of reasons.

One of them?  He actually hasn’t really done anything badly.  He’s hit for average (.282), power (21 home runs) and even has 12 steals to boot this year.  His promotion on June 8 has helped the Astros get past some of their first-year-of-contention struggles with their current core, so he’s been rather critical for the 2017 World Series champs.

Recently, YahooSports’ Mike Oz wrote a piece about the importance of Correa and Jose Altuve to the Astros’ chances in this postseason and beyond.  That said piece contained some crazy stats about just how good Correa has been this season.  Here are some of them:

Correa was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 MLB draft, coming out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School. The Astros gave him a $4.8 million signing bonus when he put his name on a contract. Ever since, he’s been one of the most hyped prospects in the game and that’s continued into this season. He might win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .279/.345/.507 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Some were calling him the best shortstop in the American League only a month into his career. His 3.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, is second among Astros position players. Altuve, naturally, is No. 1.

Before he even played in the big leagues, Correa was compared to Derek Jeter. Talk about high expectations. It wasn’t just for his skillset, but the aura of leadership he emits. Correa has a presence about him. He’s 6-feet-4, lean but solid, with a big smile and good knack for saying the right thing. He’s polished, poised and ready to be a star, on the field and off it.

Well, that’s true.  It can be argued that Correa has been one of the Astros’ MVPs this season (beside Dallas Keuchel and Altuve) and the team’s hopes for a deep playoff run likely rest, at least partially, on his shoulders.

But let’s appreciate what he is in the 2015 season: the American League Rookie of the Year.

Top 5

  1. Carlos Correa
  2. Miguel Sano (Twins)
  3. Francisco Lindor (Indians)
  4. Billy Burns (Athletics)
  5. Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays)

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Well, we go from a really close race to a… not really close race.

I wrote in August about how at that time, I thought that the NL Rookie of the Year should have been the Giants’ Matt Duffy.  This is how I ended that article, which was published on August 4:

Right.  Matt Duffy is the most valuable rookie in the NL.

By writing this, I’m not trying to say that Duffy should definitely win Rookie of the Year; there is a lot of baseball yet to be played.  His sudden power surge may end and his numbers might just fall back down to earth.  However, if he keeps up his current pace, I definitely think he should win the award.  If he does, it will be the ultimate surprise in a season full of them.

And it will be a surprise because no one talks about him.

 

Yes, it would have been a surprise to see Duffy win the most prestigious rookie award in the game.  What’s less surprising is the end result; it isn’t happening.

Duffy actually has kept up his pace since then, but Bryant has exceeded his, and by a lot.  While he’s struck out a lot (182 times!), he’s also hit third in a playoff lineup (as a rookie) and is about to drive in 100 runs, which is difficult for a 10-year veteran, let alone for a newcomer.

When you combine the performance of Bryant with the faltering of Joc Pederson and the general lack of qualification of the other rookies, this becomes very easy.  It’s Kris Bryant, in a landslide only previously seen by 1984 Ronald Reagan.

Top 5

  1. Kris Bryant
  2. Matt Duffy (Giants)
  3. Jung Ho Kang (Pirates)
  4. Noah Syndergaard (Mets)
  5. Justin Bour (Marlins)

AL Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor took over as manager of the Twins this offseason, and it would’ve been easy to understand him if he didn’t expect much.  With a roster that was probably a year or two away from contention, the Twins were headed for another last place finish.

Molitor came into this season with no managerial experience, and while his career and his baseball knowledge were respected, his managerial instincts were undoubtedly going to come into question. And while he probably hasn’t been perfect, he has exceeded anyone’s expectations, and so has his team.

Going into Monday’s action, the Twins found themselves a half game out of the American League’s second Wild Card and a full year ahead of schedule.  While the Twins only have a +5 run differential this year, they are alive and well for a playoff spot in the very poor American League.

However, while this is important, it isn’t a be-all-end-all.  For example, the Rangers are 84-71 with a +9 run differential.  Their record in one-run games is 26-20, while the Twins’ is 21-20.  So while the Rangers will probably win their division, they have more or less done so on luck, while the Twins have made it to 80-75 with almost the same differential.

While the Rangers’ Jeff Banister can make a solid case for being Manager of the Year, I’m giving to Molitor.  And that is the case whether the Twins are in the playoffs or not.

Top 3

  1. Paul Molitor
  2. Jeff Banister (Rangers)
  3. A.J. Hinch (Astros)

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs

In a very tight race between Maddon and the Mets’ Terry Collins, I’m giving the slightest of edges to Maddon.

His quirky style has worked wonders for the Cubs this season, and while they’ll be (wrongly) subjected to a one-game playoff against the Cardinals or Pirates, they’ve won 90 games and will yield the Rookie of the Year and maybe even the Cy Young winner.

The Cubs won 73 games last year under Rick Renteria, good for last in their division.  This year, the team won’t be losing 73 games.  Led by Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and MVP-candidate (at least he should be) Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs are going to have the biggest turnaround in the National League this year, and that’s all because of Joe Maddon.

He’s had snakes and magicians in the clubhouse.  He’s managed bullpen games in elimination games.  He’s even offered drinks to reporters.  And now he’ll have a third Manager of the Year trophy.

Top 3

  1. Joe Maddon (Cubs)
  2. Terry Collins (Mets)
  3. Mike Matheny (Cardinals)

Let me know your opinion in the comments section!

College Football Preview- SEC Projections

hi-res-7622448_crop_north

EAST

TeamWinsLosses
Tennessee102
Missouri84
Georgia 84
Kentucky66
South Carolina57
Florida48
Vanderbilt111

I have Tennessee winning the SEC East.  I’m picking against the favorites, Missouri and Georgia (entirely at my own risk) and betting on the returning talent of the Vols.  Kentucky will also improve this season, making a bowl game for the first time since 2010.

WEST

TeamWinsLosses
Auburn102
Mississippi State93
Alabama93
Arkansas93
Ole Miss84
LSU75
Texas A&M66

While the SEC West is one of the best single divisions in college football, it’s going to cannibalize itself.  Auburn will survive and make the league title game, but it won’t contend for a spot in the Playoff.  But there aren’t any bad teams here.

Conference Title Game: Auburn over Tennessee

Biggest Surprise: Tennessee

Biggest Disappointment: LSU

Player of the Year: Leonard Fournette, LSU

Playoff Teams: 0

College Football Preview- Pac-12 Projections

stanford-usc-usatsi_2

SOUTH

TeamWinsLosses
USC102
Arizona State93
Arizona93
UCLA84
Utah75
Colorado39

No really huge surprises here.  USC brings back a lot of talent, and Cody Kessler may be one of the five best quarterbacks in the country.  UCLA won’t settle its quarterback position, which will cost them.  Arizona and Arizona State fight tooth and nail for the Territorial Cup, but both will be very solid.

NORTH

TeamWins Losses
Stanford111
Oregon 102
Washington57
Washington State48
California48
Oregon State39

Stanford takes the crown here, amid the quarterback uncertainty of Oregon.  Other than those two teams?  Not much happening in the North.  The South is stacked.  The North is… not.

Conference Title Game: Stanford over USC

Biggest Surprise: Stanford

Biggest Disappointment: UCLA

Player of the Year: Scooby Wright, Arizona

Playoff Teams: 1 (Stanford, Playoff 4 seed)

 

 

 

 

College Football Preview- Big 12 Projections

 

TCU v Baylor

TeamWinsLosses
Baylor120
TCU111
Oklahoma State93
Oklahoma84
Kansas State84
West Virginia84
Texas 57
Texas Tech48
Iowa State39
Kansas111

Baylor and TCU are the two runaway teams in this year’s Big 12.  Oklahoma State is a pleasant surprise, while Texas and Texas Tech disappoint.

No conference title game, because One True Champion.

Biggest surprise: Oklahoma State

Biggest Disappointment: Texas

Player of the Year: Trevone Boykin, TCU

Playoff Teams: 2 (Baylor, Playoff 1 seed; TCU, Playoff 3 seed)

 

2015 College Football Preview- Big Ten Projections

Ohio State Navy Football

EAST

TeamWinsLosses
Ohio State120
Penn State102
Michigan State93
Michigan75
Rutgers66
Indiana57
Maryland48

Ohio State is the clear favorite in the Big Ten this year, and their schedule will cooperate.  Their toughest opponent, Penn State, will put it all together this season, while Michigan State disappoints.

WEST

TeamWinsLosses
Minnesota102
Wisconsin102
Nebraska102
Iowa84
Purdue57
Illinois48
Northwestern39

Three teams get wedged at the top of the West this year, but Minnesota wins the head-to-head tiebreaker over Nebraska and Wisconsin.  Northwestern and Illinois pick up the rear and likely ax their head coaches in the process.

Conference Title Game: Ohio State over Minnesota

Biggest Surprise: Penn State

Biggest Disappointment: Michigan State

Player of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

Playoff Teams: 1 (Ohio State; Playoff 2 seed)