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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Rocks Will Reign Down in Blaine
U.S. Open of Curling Kicks off 2015

After a lengthy time away from my laptop to refresh and celebrate the Christmas holidays with family and friends, #TwineTime is back baby!  I have cleared the dust off the computer, did some finger exercises and am ready to ring in 2015.  Some of the top curling teams in North America (including one team from China) will be heading down to Blaine, MN for the inaugural U.S. Open of Curling.  In fact, when you look at the teams entered, there is more diversity in where teams are from than most events on tour.  We have teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I., Minnesota, Washington, Pennsylvania and China.  Talk about an eclectic field of hometowns!

This is an excellent opportunity to continue growing the sport to our friends south of the border.  Now there are world curling tour events in the U.S. during the season, but this event has a stellar field, especially given the time frame and being a new event to the tour.  Huge kudos to the organizers of this event as one game per draw will be webstreamed throughout the event.  For those interested, here is the link  We have not seen this done very often on tour but this is the future of the sport.  A few teams webstream their games at events (Looking at you Laycock and Dunstone to name a few).  This is great for teams to maximize their exposure, great for fans to follow their favorite players/teams and great for team sponsors.  Everyone can win here.  

For many of these teams, this will be their final event before provincial/territorial playdowns get under way.  Minus practices, this is a chance to get in as much high-level competitive games as possible for preparation.  Nobody wants to enter the playdown part of the season on a low.  This is when top teams step up.  Anyways, on to the field preview....

The Favorites

Team Reid Carruthers (13 Order of Merit, 8 YTD) - I have been a bit critical of this team this season, namely referring to them as the Rama Rollercoaster.  I think the stats support my critique with 9 events played and 4 missed qualification results.  However, when these guys are on, they are a threat to win.  Back-to-back qualifications at Grand Slam events (National, Canadian Open) plus the win early in the season at StuSells Toronto show this team can beat anyone.  They excel in a round robin format it seems as well.  They have an interesting group where they get the old skipper in Jeff Stoughton, but other than that they cannot complain about their draw.  They should have no problem making the playoffs, it's just to see if they can find playoff mode when the pressure is on.  Skip Reid Carruthers was welcomed into the 3-0 club this week as well.  What a birthday gift: celebrate New Year's in MN and perhaps kick off 2015 with a big event win?

Team Steve Laycock (9,9) - Looking for a team with momentum and consistency this season?  Just give the year results of the boys of Saskatchewan a view: 9 events played, 7 qualifications, 1 tournament win, a grand slam finalist appearance.  This team is having a terrific season.  Home town favorites Team McCormick look to be their only tough game in the round robin so expect to see them in the playoffs.  If these guys continue to ride the momentum they built in Yorkton at the Canadian Open, watch out!  #TeamOranje could look very golden by the end of this event.  

Watch Out For

Team Heath McCormick (24,21) - This is the premier team in the U.S.A. right now.  They will have heavy fan support as well since Blaine, MN is listed as their home location.  It would be a huge plus for USA Curling to see these guys perform well at this event.  It would be an even bigger story if they can pull out the win.  Minus Laycock in their pool, they should have a clear path to the playoffs.  Once there, anything can happen (just ask Glenn Howard).  They enter with momentum as well having their semi-final appearance at the National grand slam and winning their recent event in Duluth (where they were considered hometown favorites again with vice Chris Plys calling Duluth home).  These guys are putting USA Curling back on the map....this is the perfect time to make a statement!

Team John Epping (10,5) - I am sure the Christmas break could not come soon enough for this team.  They have been curling a lot this season and probably welcomed a break.  They have played in 11 events, qualifying in 6 and picking up a win already this year.  But the hot start at the beginning of the year has fizzled down quite a bit.  Failing to qualify in back-to-back grand slam events (The National, Canadian Open) are a bit concerning.  These guys could use a big result here as they enter the playdowns.  They were certainly blessed with the draw as they will be favored in each game they play for the round robin.  If they can navigate themselves into the playoffs, we could see the Epping team from early in the season back on the ice.

The Dark Horse

Team Korey Dropkin (92,87) - Oh you haven't heard of these guys?  Well you will....and soon.  Dropkin has two USA Jr Championships to his credit (2012, 2013).  He represented the USA at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics and the 2013 Winter Universiade (playing with Chris Plys).  This kid has the international experience to become the next big name for USA Curling.  2014 has already been a successful season as this team picked up their 1st tour event win early in the season at the Twin Cities Open.  Interestingly enough, they also claim Blaine, MN as their hometown.  They will have lots of family and friends in the stands supporting them.  We have seen how teams excel when they have the crowd support (Jacobs, Laycock, McEwen, McCormick).  If they can keep the emotions in check, they could knock off many of the teams ranked above them.  They are in the same pool as Epping (and Adam Casey).  They will have to pull some upsets to qualify but who doesn't enjoy cheering on a dark horse?

Qualifiers:  Team Laycock, Team McCormick, Team Shuster, Team Epping, Team Casey, Team Dropkin, Team Carruthers, Team Stoughton
Championship:  Team Steve Laycock over Team Heath McCormick - This is a tough call as I think there are 4 top teams who could easily win (Laycock, McCormick, Carruthers, Epping).  But Laycock and McCormick have great momentum heading into this event.  Plus, who doesn't want to see a Canada-USA championship matchup for an inaugural US Open of Curling event?

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!  

Thank you for your support of this blog in 2014.  Looking forward to more in 2015

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Let's Go Bowling...39 TIMES!!
1st #CFBPlayoff + Bowl Season = Couch Ass Grooves for All

'Tis the season for bowling....college football bowl games I mean.  Although, if you want to head out to your local bowling alley for some pin-knocking fun, go for it.  College bowl season is a bit out of a hand I will admit.  39 games...39!!!...played over a three week period is crazy.  For a college football fan, this is pure heaven.  Of course everyone knows this is really just a money grabber for the NCAA and sponsors.  I mean look at some of the name of the bowls being played this year: Camellia, Miami Beach, Heart of Dallas, Foster Farms, TaxSlayer.  Who wouldn't want to celebrate the new year with a fancy title of Potato Bowl Champion?  Oddly enough, there are even arguments over some teams being left out of playing in a bowl game.  From a university football program perspective, the invite to a bowl game does generate revenue, usually brings national exposure with a televised game (for some teams the 1st televised game of their season) and can assist with recruitment and program recognition.  From the players perspective, they get one last game to impress scouts, build on next year and, for the seniors, perhaps play their final game of football.  Not to mention some of the cool gifts!  Just take a look at what each player from all 39 bowl games will be taking home with them this year, courtesy of Sports Business Daily.

But let's get to the big discussion: the #CFBPlayoff!  Everyone, myself included, was ready to scrutinize the selection committee for their top 4 picks but at the end of the day it is very hard to argue against them.  The top 3 of Alabama, Oregon and Florida State have been locks for many weeks (assuming they won out, which they did).  It was that 4 spot which everyone was left guessing.  I honestly saw Baylor nabbing that last spot if they could get past Kansas State in their final game (which they did).  However, I was not expecting Ohio State to win...and win BIG...in the B1G Championship Game.  Had the Buckeye's lost, or maybe even not have won in such a dominant one-sided way, the argument would have been made for Baylor.  But the lack of a championship game in the Big 12 coupled with Ohio State destroying a highly ranked Wisconsin team were too much for Baylor (or TCU) to overcome.  At the end of the day, these are the top 4 teams in the nation and, unlike the BCS era, there is little argument against the selection committee.  I would call the first year of the playoff a success actually.  On to the bowl picks....

Last Week: 9 - 4 (69%)
Overall: 276 - 108 (72%)

I would say overall not a bad winning percentage in picking games.  I was really hoping to stay under the 100 L mark but could not pull it off (mostly because of Georgia Tech and the MAC!!!).  Let's see how I can do with my bowl picks though.  Bowl games are tricky to pick and often see some upsets.  Teams are unfamiliar with one another, teams have had many weeks off to prepare...you really never know what you are going to get.  You can get some amazing bowl games....and you could end up with some real stinker sleeper games.  Let's hope we see more of the former and less of the latter.

December 20, 2014

New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) over Nevada (7-5) - The Cajuns have owned this bowl lately.  They have only gone bowling 3 previous times in their program history and all 3 have been to the New Orleans Bowl.  They have yet to lose as well, going 3-0 in their bowl games.  Nevada, on the other hand, has not won a bowl game since 2010.  This is basically a home game for the Ragin' Cajuns, so going with them.

New Mexico Bowl
Utah State (9-4) over UTEP (7-5) - Interesting stat for you: UTEP's last bowl win was in 1967.  They have not even played in a bowl game since 2010.  I think the losing streak will continue.

Las Vegas Bowl
Colorado State (10-2) over (22) Utah (8-4) - The Rams were an outside pick at making a Big 6 bowl game this season.  They are a very talented team.  Utah has not looked as good in closing the PAC-12 season.

Potato Bowl
Western Michigan (8-4) over Air Force (9-3) - Talk about two teams on similar paths.  Both had turnaround seasons with the Broncos going from 1-11 to 8-4 and the Falcons going from 2-10 to 9-3.  Also similar is their inability to win bowl games.  Air Force has lost 5 of their last 7 and Western Michigan has NEVER won a bowl game (0-5).  I think the Broncos finally get their 1st program bowl win....in the Potato Bowl!

Camellia Bowl
Bowling Green (7-6) over South Alabama (6-6) - South Alabama will be playing close to home in their home state and playing their first bowl game in program history.  Bowling Green has looked great in some games this season and horrible in others.  Which team steps up on Saturday?

December 22, 2014

Miami Beach Bowl
Memphis (9-3) over Brigham Young (8-4) - The Tigers have been one of the feel good stories of the season, claiming a share of the AAC title this season.  Memphis has not had a 10 win season since 1938.  I like this team and, given the Christmas spirit, would like to see a bit of an unheralded team pull off a bowl win.

December 23, 2014

Boca Raton Bowl
Northern Illinois (11-2) over Marshall (12-1) - These are two of the best teams in the Group of 5 conferences.  Both had hopes of crashing the Top 6 bowl games during the season.  The Herd are a tough team to rate due to their relative cupcake schedule.  Northern Illinois came through the often unpredictable, yet also relatively weak, MAC.  Both teams will have lots to prove and want to build towards next season.  Expect a high scoring game with many lead changes.  This should come down to a last possession, end of the 4th quarter type score or big defensive stop.

Poinsettia Bowl
San Diego State (7-6) over Navy (7-6) - The Aztecs are playing at home.  They have won 9 straight over the service schools (Navy, Army, Air Force).  Navy has lost their past two games in this bowl.  All signs points to the home town fans having an early Christmas present W.

December 24, 2014

Bahamas Bowl
Western Kentucky (7-6) over Central Michigan (7-6) - Well these two teams can't really complain, getting to spend Christmas Eve in the Bahamas.  Sounds nice doesn't it?  They are also quite familiar with one another as they played against each other just last year in the Little Caesar's Bowl, which Central Michigan won.  The Hilltoppers are still looking for their 1st bowl win and what better way than a revenge matchup in Nassau.

Hawaii Bowl
Rice (7-5) over Fresno State (6-7) - Another Christmas Eve bowl game, another exotic beach location.  The Bulldogs had to request a special approval to qualify for a bowl game after finishing the season under .500.  They have not won a bowl game since 2007 either.  Rice has not had a ton of bowl experience and have often been considered a cupcake team in the past.  They have a shot at getting an 8 win season for only the 10th time in school history.

December 26, 2014

Heart of Dallas Bowl
Louisiana Tech (8-5) over Illinois (6-6) - I am a bit surprised to see Illinois playing in a bowl game.  They needed to upset Penn State and Northwestern to end the season to get here.  The Bulldogs are coming off a tough C-USA championship game loss to Marshall, which they could have easily won.  LA Tech only has 1 bowl game win in their history and are playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

Quick Lane Bowl
North Carolina (6-6) over Rutgers (7-5) - Expect a ton of offense from these two teams.  Not because their offenses are really good...more because both defenses are really bad.  Each team could score over 40 points.  We may see a classic 56-55 or 62-58 final here.

St. Petersburg Bowl
UCF (9-3) over NC State (7-5) - The Knights are trying to end with a 10-win season for the third straight year and 4th in the past 5.  The Wolfpack looked dead in the water for a bowl game a few weeks back but after dominating wins over rivals North Carolina and Wake Forest, they find themselves with a redemption bowl game and chance to end their season on a high.

December 27, 2014

Military Bowl
Cincinnati (9-3) over Virginia Tech (6-6) - This is the same Hokies team that beat Ohio State?  What looked like a huge win died off quickly for this team as their season unraveled.  But hey, they still qualified for their 22nd straight bowl game, 2nd longest active streak in the nation.

Sun Bowl 
(15) Arizona State (9-3) over Duke (9-3) - We have ourselves a classic battle of the Devils in this game.  Clever for the Sun Bowl selection committee.  Who will come out on top: Sun or Blue?  Arizona State had a successful PAC-12 season, just missing the championship game with a loss to rival Arizona.  Duke hasn't won a bowl game since 1961.

Independence Bowl
South Carolina (6-6) over Miami, FL. (6-6) - What do we expect in a game with two teams who underperformed this season?  Both were huge disappointments for their fans, players and coaches.  Hard to bet against Spurrier in a bowl game though.  The Hurricanes could send him to his first losing season as a head coach since 1987 though.

Pinstripe Bowl
Penn State (6-6) over Boston College (7-5) - The Nittany Lions are back in a bowl game.  Earlier in the season their appeal to lift their postseason ban was approved and here they are.  I would not expect a lot of offense in this game as both teams have very strong defenses.  This should be a close, low scoring affair.  We could see a 14-10 or 17-14 final.  Which D will step up with the big stop at the end of the game?

Holiday Bowl
(24) USC (8-4) over Nebraska (9-3) - These two storied programs have never met in a bowl game.  The 'Huskers have fired HC Bo Pelini before this game and will have an interim HC in Barney Cotton calling the shots.  Odd fact but USC has never played in the Holiday Bowl.  Quite surprising given the PAC-10/12 tie in to this bowl game.

December 29, 2014

Liberty Bowl
West Virginia (7-5) over Texas A&M (7-5) - Do you like passing?  Want to see some spectacular catches and some high scoring?  Need something to do on a Monday afternoon before New Years?  This is the perfect game for you.  Expect a shoot-out.

Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma (8-4) over (17) Clemson (9-3) - The Sooners entered this season with high hopes and expectations to be playing in one of the #CFBPlayoff games.  This has not been the season they were hoping for!  The Tigers had a similar case with many thinking they could give Florida State a run for their money this year.  Neither team really lived up to expectations.

Texas Bowl
Arkansas (6-6) over Texas (6-6) - Both of these teams enter this game riding momentum.  Both looked dead in the water midway through the season.  Both had to pull out a winning streak at the end of the season just to get here.  The Longhorns won 3 of their final 4 games just to qualify.  The Razorbacks had a more daunting schedule, having to beat ranked SEC rivals LSU and Ole Miss near the end of the season.  Arkansas enters with more momentum, has played and beat stronger teams and looks to end their season on a high, building lots of momentum for next year. 

December 30, 2014

Music City Bowl
(23) LSU (9-3) over Notre Dame (7-5) - Oh Notre Dame, how everyone loved you and considered you a playoff team during the first half of the season.  They held close with FSU and almost knocked off the Seminoles.  Then reality set in and this team has not looked the same since.  Amazing this team started the season 6-0 remember!  LSU on the other hand is in next season mode right now.  They are looking to make a statement towards next year and put themselves in the early prediction line for a next year's playoff.

Belk Bowl
(13) Georgia (9-3) over (21) Loisville (9-3) - The Bulldogs have lost 3 of their past 4 bowl games.  The Cardinals have won their past 3 bowl games.  Do streaks continue or end in this game?  I think Nick Chubb is going to be able to run all over the Cardinals D and should lead his Bulldogs to a big victory in this game.

Foster Farms Bowl
Stanford (7-5) over Maryland (7-5) - What to expect from this game with two teams with opposite feelings on their season?  Stanford has to consider this season a disappointment, seeing their streak of playing in 4 straight BCS bowl games come to an end.  Maryland, on the other hand, had a successful first season in the B1G, beating Iowa, Michigan and Penn State.  If Stanford plays how they did in their regular season finale upset win over UCLA, the Terps are going to be hard pressed to stop them.

December 31, 2014

Peach Bowl
(6) TCU (11-1) over (9) Ole Miss (9-3) - Ah the first of the Big 6 bowl games and what a blockbuster match-up.  Both of these teams had high hopes of making the playoff and both were ranked in the top 4 by the selection committee at some point of the season.  The lack of a Big 12 Championship game and loss to Baylor killed the Horned Frogs chances.  The Rebels were brought down by a tough SEC schedule.  Both enter off huge wins, TCU destroyed Iowa State and Ole Miss pulled the upset of rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl (also knocking their rivals out of the playoff).  This will be a game of which side is stronger: TCU offense or Ole Miss defense?  TCU is a Top 5 team and should win this game, ending the Bulldogs 6 game bowl winning streak.  The TCU win will propel them as an early favorite for next year's playoff.

Fiesta Bowl
(16) Arizona (10-3) over (20) Boise State (11-2) - Everyone remembers Boise State's first trip to the Fiesta Bowl: the epic Statue of Liberty play, OT upset win over Oklahoma in 2007.  They replicated the success in a victory over TCU in 2009.  Can they pull off the same kind of holiday magic this year?  Arizona will play in their first Fiesta Bowl since 1993 and enter the game off of a tough PAC-12 Championship loss to Oregon.  Don't let that one game fool you, remember this is the same Wildcats team who handed the Ducks their only loss this season.  This has the makings for another Fiesta Bowl classic.  I would not recommend missing this game.  

Orange Bowl
(12) Georgia Tech (10-3) over (7) Mississippi State (10-2) - Entering this season, who thought Georgia Tech and Mississippi State would qualify for a Big 6 bowl game and play one another in Miami?  Yeah, don't all raise your hands at once.  These are two of the feel good stories of the season with both teams far exceeding what was expected of them.  The Jackets almost knocked off the defending champion Seminoles in the ACC Championship game.  The Rebels were a win away from possibly making the playoff.  The difference here is going to be momentum.  Tech is happy to have climbed throughout the season to make the Orange Bowl.  Miss St, on the other hand, had higher hopes in November to be playing in the playoff game.  Suffering 2 defeats in their final 3 games ended those dreams quickly.  The Bulldogs are ripe for the upset and the Jackets are in full sting mode right now.  

January 1, 2015

Outback Bowl
(18) Wisconsin (10-3) over (19) Auburn (8-4) - What is going on in Madison the past few seasons?  This is the 2nd time in 3 seasons where the Badgers enter their bowl game needing their Athletic Director Barry Alvarez step in on the sidelines.  I suppose it is more a compliment than a concern as their head coaches are being pouched by other programs because of the success they have had at Wisconsin.  This game will provide an opportunity to watch Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon run all over the field for a final time.  I don't think Auburn has the D to stop him all game either.  He should be able to put up some big numbers.  Auburn can score as well though, averaging 35.8 points per game this season.  The question is the Auburn D.  If they cannot stop Gordon, they are going to have a hard time winning this game.  The Badgers are also going to want to come out and redeem themselves after that embarrassing 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the B1G Championship.

Cotton Bowl
(5) Baylor (11-1) over (8) Michigan State (10-2) - Yowzers, what a match up.  Two teams who had high hopes of the playoff throughout most of the season.  Sparty had two tough losses this year to knock them out but look who they lost to: Oregon and Ohio State.  Both losses came to teams playing in the playoff.  And what about the Bears?  If they had taken care of West Virginia they would be in the playoff.  Baylor has a strong case to make on why they should have made the playoff but in the end, a loss to Sparty will just prove they didn't belong in the first place.  This will be another game of contrasting playing styles.  Baylor will come at you with high-octane offense and lots of long passes.  Michigan State will try to smoother you with its defense and limit the amount of long yard plays.  Which side will prove to be superior?  Baylor can run a similar offense to Oregon and we saw what happened to Sparty in that game.

Citrus Bowl
(16) Missouri (10-3) over (25) Minnesota (8-4) - People keep underestimating the Tigers in a loaded SEC but they have won back-to-back SEC East titles now.  Shouldn't we all start giving this team the praise they deserve?  The Gophers have had a tremendous season, far outweighing expectations.  This is a surprising New Year's Day bowl matchup but one that should not disappoint.  If you haven't had a chance to see either of these two teams in action this season, this is a great opportunity and one not to miss.  The Gophers do not have bowl history on their side however as they have lost their past 6, with their last bowl win being the 2004 Music City Bowl.

January 2, 2015

Armed Forces Bowl
Pittsburgh (6-6) over Houston (7-5) - I think we can conclude a close game will be had in this one.  Both of these teams have been on the losing end of very close games all season.  The Cougars lost 4 games by 8 points or less and the Panthers lost 4 games by 5 points or less.  Which team will break the streak?  Which can come up with the big defensive stop?  Which team can come up with the big turnover at the right time to clinch a victory?

TaxSlayer Bowl
Iowa (7-5) over Tennessee (6-6) - A classic B1G vs SEC matchup, with no real momentum or interest.  I don't expect a classic game between these two teams.  But what else are you doing on Jan 2 in the afternoon?

Alamo Bowl
(11) Kansas State (9-3) over (14) UCLA (9-3) - A battle of "what could have been" teams.  The Bruins were one win away from a PAC-12 Championship game berth, only to be foiled by rival Stanford.  Kansas State struggled against BIG 12 Co-Champs Baylor and TCU.  This match-up will feature two of the better QB's of the season trying to outdo one another though.  This is a good way to enjoy some New Years leftovers over a supper-time game.  Not a bad game to keep the hangover going either.

Cactus Bowl
Washington (8-5) over Oklahoma State (6-6) - The Cowboys took until the last game of the season to become bowl eligible and what a way to do it, upsetting rival Oklahoma.  This is a young and inexperienced team and I think just making the bowl game is a victory in itself for them.  The Huskies on the other hand are probably not too happy with their mediocre PAC-12 season.  They entered with high expectations to challenge Oregon in the North but were unable to mount much of a threat.  They need this victory more heading into the off-season.

January 3, 2015

Birmingham Bowl
Florida (6-5) over East Carolina (8-4) - Well the Gators certainly have lots to play for in this game.  A disappointing SEC season ended with head coach Will Muschamp being fired.  The question will be if this team comes out with motivation to put the season behind them and go out with a win or wilt under the disappointment and firing of their head coach and let East Carolina walk all over them.  The Pirates on the other hand are trying to knock off their 3rd opponent from a Power 5 conference this season after upsetting Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  This Pirates team was a bit of an enigma this season in beating teams they shouldn't and struggling against teams they should easily beat.  This game really is a case of two teams suffering from a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.

January 4, 2015

GoDaddy Bowl
Arkansas State (7-5) over Toledo (8-4) - If you made it through all the other bowl games, why stop now?  This is the final bowl game of the season (minus the National Championship game).  The Red Wolves have owned the GoDaddy Bowl the past few seasons and have a way of knocking off, usually, heavily favored MAC teams.  The past two seasons they have defeated Kent State and Ball State.  In fact, this is the 4th straight GoDaddy Bowl game for this program.  Why stop the trend now?

#CFBPlayoff

January 1, 2015

Rose Bowl
(2) Oregon (12-1) over (3) Florida State (13-0) - This is really the prime bowl game match-up everyone is looking forward to.  The defending, undefeated national champions vs. the high-flying media darling favorites.  The ACC Champ vs the PAC-12 Champ.  The 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston vs 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.  FSU has won 29 straight games and will aim for 30 straight, a FSU and ACC record.  The Ducks are playing towards their first national championship, coming up short in 2010 vs. Auburn.  Florida State has been the escape artists all season, barely pulling off some of their wins.  Can they continue their Houdini act in the national semi-final?  The Ducks have a high-octane explosive offense led by Mariota.  The Flyin' Hawaiian is not done yet though.  I have a feeling the Ducks defense can contain Winston and the Seminoles while the offense will be too much to handle. FSU has not played a team like the Ducks all season.

Sugar Bowl 
(1) Alabama (12-1) over (4) Ohio State (12-1) - Oh Ohio State, you make it to the playoff and who do you find on the other side of your bracket?  Another SEC team!  The Buckeyes have lost 10...10!!..straight postseason games to SEC teams (not including the 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas erased due to NCAA violations).  These have been two of the hottest teams at the end of the season and both have looked very convincing in their wins leading up to this game.  Fans cannot complain either getting another SEC Champ vs B1G Champ match-up in the semi-final.  These teams have only played each other 3 times with Alabama winning each time.  I think the more exciting story line may come from the sidelines in seeing another chapter in the Nick Saban vs Urban Meyer rivalry.

January 12, 2015

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
(2) Oregon (12-1) over (1) Alabama (12-1)

After months of talk, speculation and outstanding action on the field, the 1st college football playoff national championship game will finally take place on Monday January 12.  If this predicted game is what we end up getting, no college football fan (or sports fan for that matter) will have anything to complain about.  These are the two best teams in the nation this year.  The Crimson Tide would be going for their 4th National Championship in 6 seasons and a victory here would give Nick Saban his fifth national title, tying his with legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most in history.  The Ducks will be holding up the hopes of a nation tired of seeing an SEC champion.  The PAC-12 often feels some disrespect from those in the college football world living out east.  This would present a classic East vs West game.  The difference in this game will be the play of the two quarterbacks.  Heisman winner Mariota will be looking to end his college football season on top, the exact reason why he came back this year.  Can Tide qb Blake Sims go head to head with him?  I think this will be a close game until the 4th quarter.  Both teams have shown they can struggle at the beginning of games and then pour on the gas in the second half and pull away.  I think the Ducks defense can withstand the Bama offensive attack but I am not as confident with the Tide D containing Mariota and Ducks O.  I think it is time for a change on the college football landscape and time for the PAC-12 to regain the top of the mountain.  The Oregon Ducks will be your National Champions and take home their first national championship in football.

#GoDucks





Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Red Rings + Red Pants = Another McEwen Win?
15 team come to Yorkton trying to stop the McEwen frieght train

The Grand Slam of Curling will be making their 3rd stop of the season in Yorkton, Saskatchewan this week.  With the action starting tonight (on a Tuesday!!) and finishing with crowning another grand slam champion on Sunday, we are sure to be in for a full week of great curling action.

As noted in my preview of the women's field (found HERE), this format is a bit different than the other grand slams.  Having a triple knockout rather than a round robin places a bit more intensity in every game.  As well, with a round robin, you know who you are playing and when once the draw is released.  You can scout your competition a bit.  In a triple knockout, you know who you play first and can speculate a bit on who you play second but really every game after the first is a toss up.  Who you play depends on all the other games.  You cannot really look ahead.

The 2014 Canadian Open of Curling will be the 14th edition of this event.  When you see that number you would think the event began in 2000 and was held annually.  Oddly enough, you would be incorrect.  The Canadian Open began in 2001 and was not held in 2004 or 2008.  So how are we getting ready to kick-off the 14th event?  Well, in 2007 and 2011 the event was held in January and December of the same year.  The event kind of served as a bookend to the curling calendar year in a way.  Even more strange, when the event was held twice in the same year, both times the event had the same winner.  In 2007, the Kevin Martin team won both events.  In 2011, team Mike McEwen pulled the double.

In preparation of the National, I noted the previous winners were dominated by the West (namely Alberta for the most part).  The Canadian Open is no different.  Alberta teams have won 6 of the past 13, with Kevin Martin staking claim to 5 of those championship wins.  Manitoba and Ontario have 3 titles each with Saskatchewan having 1 (2003).  The defending champion is Kevin Koe, but with the team he had last year so a new TEAM will be crowned champion this year.  The win at this event sure seemed to be a boost to the Koe team though, look where their season ended (Brier Champions).  Who could walk away with the title this year and will they have a similar success story to Team Koe last year?  Small note worth making here, this is also the first time this event has been held in the province of Saskatchewan.  

Let's get to the men's preview....

The Favorites

Team Mike McEwen (1 Order of Merit / 1 YTD ranking) - I am not sure what can be left to say about this team.  7 events this year.  6 wins.  1 runner-up.  1 grand slam title already.  They are the hottest team on the planet right now.  The rings for this event are red.  They wear red pants for championship weekend games.  Should we just assume now the other 15 teams are playing for the prestige of playing in a grand slam final on Sunday and taking home the runner-up prize? 

Team Niklas Edin (7/5) - The Swedish team could almost be mistaken for wanting to be from Switzerland given how successful they have been on Swiss ice this season.  They may want to just adopt Switzerland as a second home.  The newly crowned European Champions found success on the Swiss ice a few weeks ago.  They not only won...but won convincingly!  From the opening draw it seemed like this team was destined to win the entire championship.  Let's also make note of two 3rd place finishes this year in Basel and Baden.  Their results on Canadian ice have been a bit unpredictable.  Playoff qualifications at Stu Sells Oakville and the Point Optical in Saskatoon are promising but missed qualification results at the opening grand slam (Masters) and Shorty Jenkins were disappointing.  Those results seem like the distant past though now and this team is coming in red-hot....perhaps ready to challenge McEwen even?

Watch Our For

Team Glenn Howard (5/6) - Glenn has won this event twice in the past (2009, 2012).  Longtime lead Craig Savill was part of both of those winning teams and best bud, current vice Richard Hart was a member of the 2009 championship.  With McEwen's hot start and Jacobs Olympic success still dominating the media, Team Howard has been quietly putting together a very good season.  Sure they missed out on a qualification spot at the Masters, but they looked strong at the National (minus the QF shocking loss to Heater).  Qualifying in 5 of 6 events and making the semi-finals in 4 of 6 events (including last weekend's Canada Cup) makes this team a strong threat to be playing over the weekend.

Team Brad Jacobs (2/2) - Could this team be hitting the Olympic hangover period now?  Back to back championship game losses to Team McEwen (National, Canada Cup) has to start eating a way a bit on the confidence.  Their 1 tour win this year was back in September and is becoming a faded memory behind the recent losses.  However, let's remember who this is.  These are the Olympic champs.  And they are making these finals still.  They are curling at a level higher than most of the teams in the world right now.  It is still hard to believe this team does not have a grand slam title yet.  The knockout format might be advantageous for these guys to pick up that elusive slam title.

The Dark Horse

Team Steve Laycock (10/10) - Similar to my women's preview, we cannot discuss an event in Saskatchewan without mentioning a home province team.  Team Laycock will have strong fan support with skip Steve Laycock being from the surrounding area.  With teams like McEwen, Jacobs and Howard playing so well, it is sometimes overlooked that this team has qualified for the playoffs in both grand slam events this season.  They also have a tour win (Weatherford Curling Classic in Estevan, SK) and a few runner-up finishes on the year (Direct Horizontal Drilling and HDF Insurance Shoot-Out, both in Edmonton).  If they can ride the green wave of support in the crowd, they could pull the upset and take home this title.

Team Reid Carruthers (14/8) - The Rama Train seems to be on the right track now.  I questioned this team heading into the last grand slam, The National, and boy did Reid prove me wrong.  They went undefeated in the round robin, including playing their opening two games with a spare in place of regular vice Braeden Moskowy.  A tough quarterfinal draw vs Jacobs ended their National hopes but still a very solid event for the Winnipeg team.  They were not blessed by the draw gods in this event unfortunately.  Koe to open, Morris/Stoughton and possibly Jacobs just on the A side.  Slip up in the A and they could find themselves facing off against Howard/Edin/McEwen in the B.  The top half of the draw is a bit more staked in resume successes in comparison.  However, the Rama Train has shown rankings mean little once you hit the ice.  Can they build on the success at the National and get out to the hot start again in their second grand slam?  Will we see the Rama Train or the Rama Roller Coaster this week? 

Qualifiers: Team Jacobs, Team McEwen, Team Howard, Team Laycock, Team Edin, Team Stoughton, Team Epping, Team Koe

CHAMPIONSHIP: Team Niklas Edin over Team Mike McEwen - Going with a bit of an upset here.  I think a bit of fatigue will set in for Mikey and the boys.  Can the winning streak really just keep going?  With the recent success for the Swedish boys, the confidence (plus the bit of a break) plays as a huge advantage.  The Edin team has struggled a bit on Canadian ice but this is the perfect event to turn that around.  If they can avoid taking the long road to qualification and nab an A or B spot, they could very well be playing on Sunday.  Plus, for those who love colors, a red vs blue pants match-up would be entertaining.  Wouldn't this be an excellent preview towards a potential 2015 World Championship final even?  Oh the possibilities when you start to look too far ahead.....  

SIDENOTE:  I made mention of this in my women's blog preview but I also want to mention it here.  A huge thank you to the men's teams around the world who have been very supportive of my blog.  The positive comments, RT and Fav's from players (Mike McEwen, Nik Edin, Reid Carruthers, Team Jacobs, Team Laycock, Team Blandford, Team Epping and more) really means alot.  I started this blog just because I am a huge fan of sports, curling being one of them.  I thought sharing a pure fan perspective would be interesting and the feedback from the actual athletes on the ice has been amazing!  Give the teams a follow on twitter, it is worth it.  The engagement with fans and their fellow competitors really shows the unique comradery of the sport. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hello Ladies...Welcome to the Canadian Open Grand Slam
Yorkton opens its doors to top Men and Women teams

The Grand Slam season continues this week as the best teams from around the world arrive in Yorkton, Saskatchewan for the Canadian Open.  For the first time, the ladies will be joining the men for this grand slam event.  I like the idea of having both gender's curling at the same grand slam events and trying to mirror the grand slam season as best as possible.  The real hiccup I see with this event is the timing.  Many of these teams were just competing at the Canada Cup.  For those top teams invited to participate, they barely got off the ice before hitting the road for another event.  Take the finalists from yesterday's Canada Cup: Teams McEwen, Jacobs, Sweeting and Homan.  They just finished an event yesterday and need to be in Yorkton by Tuesday.  There is little to no time to relax and rest in between big events.  Now I know these are high-performance athletes and I don't think the level of play will diminish but in fairness, the CCA and WCT might want to take a better look at scheduling!

Ok enough complaining.  This blog is more about praising and previewing events rather than looking at the negatives.  One big note on this event is the format.  In previous grand slam events we have seen a round robin pool format with the top 8 teams overall making the playoffs.  This event will be different.  Keeping with a format more common on tour, this will be a triple knockout with A, B and C brackets.  We will still see 8 teams qualify for the playoffs of course.  I think the triple format really gives an advantage to a team who starts strong from the beginning.  If you can win one of the two A qualifying spots, you give yourself some time off and do not have to go through the grind of B or C.  As well, in a round robin format, you sometimes see one or two teams run away with their pool only to have to play one or two meaningless games near the end of the round robin before the playoff round.  The triple knockout event places extra importance on each game and adds a bit of a buzz and competitive energy through the teams and the fans in every draw.  There are no meaningless games!

Let's start our preview with the women!  A full preview of the men's draw will be posted shortly.

WOMEN

As mentioned this will be the first time the women have competed in this event.  This will also be the final grand slam event for the ladies until the Player's Championship in April, well after provincial playdowns and the Scotties.  For many of these top teams, this is their last major event before the start the grueling road to the Scotties.  The three previous grand slam events have had three different winners with Jennifer Jones (Autumn Gold Curling Classic in October), Val Sweeting (Masters in October/November) and Eve Muirhead (Colonial Square Ladies Classic in November) all besting their competition to grab a grand slam trophy.  Can one of these winners add to their season hardware or will we see yet another different winner over the weekend?

The Favorites

Team Val Sweeting (4 Order of Merit / 2 YTD ranking) - How can you not name them favorites for this event?  They are coming off a huge Canada Cup victory this past weekend where they will see many of the top teams they just beat.  They will be challenged of course with a deeper field, including the top European teams who have been resting since the Euro Championships.  The big question mark here is will fatigue sit in?  Will the emotions from Sunday's win carry over and help them or hurt them?

Team Binia Feltscher (7/6) - The defending world champions enter this event as newly crowned European Champions.  Current World and Euro Champs....yup I would say they are a HUGE threat to win this event.  They have been very successful in grand slam events this past season as well.  With much of the focus being directed towards the top Canadian teams (Jones, Homan, Sweeting) and considered "bigger name" Euro teams (Muirhead), the quiet Swiss team could just steal another win.

Watch Out For

Team Rachel Homan (2/3) -  Team Homan is coming off a tough loss in the Canada Cup final to Sweeting.  It has been a weird season for the Homan clan.  Strong consistent results week in and week out only to suffer disappointing losses in semi-finals and finals (3 runner-up finishes now).  No wins this season could start taking a mental toll on the two-time defending Canadian champs.  Can they finally pull out a W?

Team Eve Muirhead (3/4) - The Scottish champs come back to Canada ice looking to add another grand slam title to their resume.  A 3rd place finish at the Euro championships was probably a bit disappointing but the result is a positive outlook heading into Yorkton.  That shocking quick exit at the Masters seems like ages ago now.  This team has all the credentials to be a threat and is probably one of the biggestnon-Canadian fan favorite teams.

Team Jennifer Jones (1/1) - The #1 team in the world, the Olympic champs, multiple grand slam titles, multiple Scotties wins...the resume goes on and on.  Always a threat, people may be questioning the team mentality entering this week after the out of sorts play at the Canada Cup.  Was last weekend just a hiccup in the road or a bigger dent in the Jones armor than they would want their competition to believe? 

The Dark Horse

Team Chelsea Carey (15/18) - So how has the big off-season move to Alberta been working for Chelsea Carey?  I guess it depends who you ask.  Chelsea and her new team are not having a great season but not a bad season either.  Did people maybe put too much pressure and expectations on her right out of the gate based on last season's results?  Perhaps!  She is playing with a brand new team remember.  I read a quote from Chelsea where she mentioned there are growing pains with a new team but she is quite happy with the progress they are making as a team.  I think that is a positive step in the right direction.  Let's also take note, this team does have 2 WCT event wins this season (remember Homan has none!).  The hard comments on Team Carey may have more to do with the success of Sweeting and Nedohin right now and how competitive Alberta is as a province.  This would be the perfect event to turn aside the doubters though and make their mark on a big event.  Plus I am sure Chelsea would like to put the disappointment of the Masters behind her.

Team Chantelle Eberle (23/24) - We cannot have an event in Saskatchewan and not mention a SK team!  With Sherry Anderson skipping this event, Team Eberle is probably the best chance the home province has at seeing Team Green in the playoffs.  They are a long shot yes, but they have had some strong results on tour this season.  A win in Saskatoon and qualifying at the Canad Inns Women's Classic have shown this team can compete with the big names.  Can they ride the home province fan support to a few upset wins and be playing on the weekend? 

Qualifiers: Team Sweeting, Team Fletscher, Team Homan, Team Jones, Team Muirhead, Team Carey, Team Nedohin, Team Tirinzoni

CHAMPIONSHIP: Team Binia Feltscher over Team Eve Muirhead - Probably not going to be the most popular final for an event in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada to see Switzerland vs Scotland.  With all due respect to the Russian ladies, this was the Euro final most in the sport were hoping for.  Unfortunately for Canadian curling fans, these two teams have strong momentum on their side.  Team's Homan and Sweeting are going to have fatigue working against them, plus Homan seems to have hit a championship round mental brick wall.  Both Feltscher and Muirhead have had some rest and time to prepare.  Curling fans should not be disappointed though if this prediction is correct, this will be a classic final...perhaps a preview of the 2015 World Championship final even?  The World Champ/Euro Champs are full of confidence right now!

SIDENOTE:  I would like to give a huge shout out and thank you to many of the teams on the tour (Sweeting, Homan, Feltscher to name a few) who have been very supportive of my small blog posts.  I truly appreciate the RT and Favs.  For those not following most of the teams on twitter, I highly recommend it.  These athletes truly engage and interact with their fans.  Also, you really appreciate the comradery of the sport when you see the athletes interact with one another on twitter all the time.  There is a great respect shown for competitors, friends, fans and the sport in general!

Friday, 5 December 2014

#ChampWeek Could Make a Mess of the #CFBPlayoff
Lots to gain, lots to lose, lots of waiting around...Final bowl prediction time!!

 Rivalry week has come and gone...and left a few interesting story lines along the way.  The #CFBPlayoff saw some movement from the selection committee based on the results last weekend.  With Championship Week kicking off tonight, I have a sneaky suspicion movement amongst the Final Four will continue...as will the debate...right through Sunday (and perhaps until the Jan. 1 games are played).  Let's compare the selection committee rankings to #TwineTime:

Selection Committee                                                       #TwineTime

1. Alabama                                                                      1. Oregon
2. Oregon                                                                         2. Alabama
3. TCU                                                                             3. Florida State
4. Florida State                                                                4. TCU
5. Ohio State                                                                    5. Baylor
6. Baylor                                                                          6. Ohio State
7. Arizona                                                                        7. Arizona
8. Michigan State                                                             8. Michigan State

This week, I think the we can agree the committee has the correct top 4 teams.  Again, remember this is based on results so far, not projections.  The top 3 teams of Oregon, Alabama and Florida State are basically locks (assuming they take care of business this weekend).  A case could be made, which I am considering, that even if Florida State was to lose the ACC Championship, they would still qualify for the playoff.  I have a bit of an issue with the committee putting TCU above Florida State.  The Frogs do have a strong resume and profile but the Seminoles are undefeated and defending champs.  Are they winning big every weekend? No.  Perhaps should they have lost one or two (or three) games already this season?  Yes.  Are they still undefeated and the only undefeated team in the nation?  Yes.  It is a bit weird to punish an undefeated team and move them down in the rankings after they continue to win.  To be fair, I did move them down to the #3 spot this week after seeing Alabama beat Auburn.  Alabama is without a doubt a better team than Florida State so far this season with a more impressive resume so I felt that move was deserving.

The fourth spot is an interesting one.  I think, right now, realistically, there is only 6 teams fighting for 4 spots.  I cannot see Arizona and Michigan State moving up, even if everyone above them loses.  TCU shot up to #3 by the selection committee, I still have them as my #4.  This could easily change this weekend though.  Let's review a few scenarios:

Scenario 1:  Oregon, Alabama, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, Ohio State all win
Result:  Final Four become UO, Bama, FSU...with the committee deciding between Baylor and TCU.  I would go with Baylor in this instance, committee would likely still take TCU.

Scenario 2:  Oregon, Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State all lose with TCU and Baylor winning
Result:  Florida State stays, TCU and Baylor both move in, Could Ole Miss or Mississippi State claim the final spot over Alabama?  They would actually have a strong argument.  I know I have been hard on Ole Miss all season but in this scenario, it could happen.  I think the committee still takes Alabama but I would actually give Ole Miss a look.  I know they would have 3 losses, which is tough to argue for but they did beat Alabama and Mississippi State.  Could this be the instance were Arizona actually gets the #4 spot?  In this scenario, it's going to be a toss-up.  Alabama could still survive though.  I think Alabama only gets left out in a scenario where everyone win EXCEPT them.  Hmm, what would that look like?

Scenario 3: Everyone win EXCEPT Alabama
Result:  Oregon moves into #1, Florida State #2 and TCU and Baylor probably benefit with both moving into the top 4.  TCU would probably be given the #3 spot and Baylor #4.  In this instance, the debate between the 2 would become mute, perhaps a blessing in disguise for the committee?  Or would this just create a new argument: No SEC team in the playoff?  The apocalypse would reign down!

Scenario 4:  Everyone loses
Result:  Ok TCU losing to Iowa State isnt going to happen, lets keep them in the Top 4.  Florida State would also stay.  Now the big question would be what to do with all the 2 loss teams.  Oregon would be punished for losing both games to Arizona.  Arizona still wouldn't have the resume to beat out the others.  Ole Miss would have wins against Alabama and Mississippi State, probably enough to move up into the playoff.  Baylor would be eliminated due to losses to West Virginia and Kansas State.  The interesting argument would be between Alabama and Ohio State.  I think Alabama would stay Top 4. 

Scenario 5 (What I project will happen):  Oregon, Alabama, TCU, Baylor win with Florida State, Ohio State losing
Result:  Oregon, Alabama stay in the playoff.  Florida State, as a 1-loss team, would stay put as well as the committee will still reward them for their season over other 1-loss teams.  Again, it would come down to Baylor vs. TCU.  In this situation, I think Baylor would get the advantage and the committee would take the H2H win.  I will say if Baylor wants to make the case easier for them, they need to put up style points in their win this weekend, especially at home!

Based on Scenario 4 (my projections), here is how the major bowls would look:

Peach (At-large vs. At-large): Ohio State vs. Ole Miss
Fiesta (At-large vs. At-large): Arizona vs. Boise State
Orange (ACC vs SEC/B1G/ND):  Georgia Tech vs. Michigan State
Cotton (At-large vs. At-large): TCU vs. Wisconsin
Rose (CFB #1 vs. CFB #4): Oregon vs. Baylor
Sugar (CFB #2 vs. CFB #3): Alabama vs. Florida State



On to the Championship Week predictions (spoiled a few above mind you)..

Last Week:  38 - 20 (66%)
Overall:  267 - 104 (72%)

Bit of a disappointing week for me.  Made some upset calls incorrectly.  And was surprised by the upsets that did occur.  Cracked the season loss mark of over 100 games too, that sucks!  Oh well, few thoughts on last weekend:

  • After having almost a perfect Friday night record heading into last week, I got ROCKED by the MAC!  Buffalo, Kent State, Ball State each scored W's I didn't predict.  UCLA let me down as did Virginia.  And what about Marshall?  Playing to go undefeated...wow!
  • Georgia Tech curse gets me again.
  • I have been against Ole Miss all season but they came out and dominated the Egg Bowl.  They deserve that win, my bad on picking against them.  They still have a slight shot at the playoff (with LOTS of help) 
Friday Games

PAC-12 Championship Game
(2) Oregon over (7) Arizona - The Ducks are 1 win away from making the playoff.  After the loss this season to these same Wildcats, at Autzen, the Ducks have to be a bit happy about getting redemption.  A win here will erase that loss and put them possibly into the #1 spot (where I have them ranked).  Arizona has owned the Ducks though.  They have derailed potential championship seasons in the past and would love to do so again.  Can Marcus Mariota finally beat the Wildcats?  If Arizona pulls off the win, and a few other upsets occur, what does the committee do with a 2-loss PAC-12 Champ who beat up a strong Ducks team twice this season?  I think Marcus and company will get it done though.  On to the playoff and this should cement the Heisman for Mariota.

MAC Championship Game
Northern Illinois over Bowling Green - The Huskies are clearly the class of the MAC.  They survived their toughest test last weekend in beating Western Michigan (a game I thought they would lose).  I think that game was almost a de facto MAC title game.  Bowling Green has looked great at times but then has put up a few real stinkers, including the blowout loss to Wisconsin and the loss last week to Ball State.  Hand the Huskies another MAC title!

Saturday Games 

C-USA Championship Game
Marshall over Louisiana Tech - I have been going back and forth on this one.  LA Tech has looked very strong this season.  Marshall is coming off a crushing loss last weekend that ended the undefeated season and possibility of making one of the elite Jan. 1 games.  Will they enter this game deflated and have little passion for the secondary conference championship when all season you were aiming for a major bowl game?

Cincinnati over Houston - We could see a 3-way tie for the American conference title if the Bearcats win here and Memphis takes care of business as well.  UCF survived on Thursday with an epic end of game hail mary to beat ECU.

UCONN over SMU - Even in the final week of the season we get a Pillow fight of the Week matchup.  Stay winless Mustangs.....

(3) TCU over Iowa State - Frogs favored by 34.5 here.  It would be in their best interest to cover the spread and try to tack on as many style points as possible.  They are in a precarious position heading into this weekend's games.  Take care of business though and hope for the best.

(20) Oklahoma over Oklahoma State

SEC Championship Game
(1) Alabama over (16) Missouri - Have to admit, I personally want to see Missouri win this game just to see what the committee will do with a 2-loss SEC champ.  No, Missouri has no chance to make the playoff but would Alabama slip completely out?  What about Ole Miss or Mississippi State?  Could either of them benefit?  A Tigers upset here could really shake up the rankings come Sunday.  Unfortunately I don't think that will happen...back to reality here and another Roll Tide victory.

Temple over Tulane

(6) Baylor over (9) Kansas State - Well this is the big one!  Baylor wins and we ourselves the great debate.  Kansas State wins and hands TCU the Big 12 title and a spot in the playoff (always assuming TCU beats Iowa State).  If this game was at Kansas State, I would actually be inclined to pick the Wildcats, especially based on how Baylor struggled last weekend with a weak Texas Tech team.  However, I think last week was more about Baylor getting caught looking ahead to this week than anything.  They have their sights set on the BIG 12 championship and a playoff spot.  If they win, the debate between Baylor and TCU will continue to be the big topic of discussion with the first year of the playoff.  How do you rate H2H results?  I think Minnesota losing last weekend opened the door for the Bears though.

ACC Championship Game
(11) Georgia Tech over (3) Florida State - Here is the upset..and a change to end my GTech curse on a positive.  FSU has been escaping games as of late but they really have not played as good of a team as Tech all season.  The Jackets are coming off a HUGE road win over rival Georgia as well.  Talk about a confidence boost heading into a conference championship game.  Tech knows they are going to the Orange Bowl regardless of the outcome here.  Can they be the team to finally end the Florida State winning streak?  I don't think FSU is out of the playoff even with the loss but why leave it to chance?  Does FSU have another Houdini escape plan this week or have they used up their 9 lives already?

B1G Championship Game
(13) Wisconsin over (5) Ohio State - Saturday night is going to be where we see some upsets I think.  As FSU is suffering their first loss, the Buckeyes will see their playoff dreams end.  The Badgers are too strong of an offensive team.  With J.T. Barrett out of this game, OSU is going to struggle offensively.  The Buckeyes have just had bad luck at QB this season and will be relying on 3rd strnig QB Cardale Jones to lead them to a championship and possible playoff spot.  But this team wasn't in the playoff even with Barrett, will a championship win with a 3rd string QB help?  They are going to need A LOT of help to see that happen.  I don't think it will matter though as the Badgers will end that debate quickly.  Wisconsin cannot make the playoff but can derail a rival's dream, take another B1G championship home and qualify for one of the elite Jan. 1 bowl games.  I would say that is a lot to play for.  Look for the Badgers to roll in this one.

Mountain West Championship Game 
(22) Boise State over Fresno State - A win and in mentality for the Broncos here.  Boise has quietly put together a very nice 10-2 season.  If they can pull out a MW title Saturday night, they will no doubt be playing on Jan. 1.  They are favored by 23, at home on the Smurf Turf and playing a 6-6 Bulldogs team.  Good thing this is the last game of the weekend, those on the east coast should be able to call it a night by half time.

Enjoy the action this weekend everyone.  I will actually be flying home to spend the weekend with my brother for his 30th birthday and will miss most of the games.  Will be tough to not watch the action but I will rely on my phone for updates.  Besides, family first right?!!!?  Sunday night is going to be monumental in the announcement of the 1st ever #CFBPlayoff...let's make history!

#CIS

Last Week: 1 - 0 (100%)
Overall: 43 - 19 (69%)

Finally a perfect weekend!  Ok so there was only game to chose from but it was the Vanier Cup, Canada's national championship.  Congratulations to the Montreal Carabins on winning their first Vanier Cup.  Again, the Q proves they are the class of the country.  It was nice to see a team other than perennial powerhouse Laval hoist the trophy though.  Not many would have predicted Montreal winning the Vanier Cup at the start of the season so I would call this a bit of an upset....but in a good way.  The success of Mount Allison in the Atlantic, Calgary being upset in Canada West, the rise of Manitoba, Guelph surprising many in Ontario and Montreal dethroning Laval (twice this year!!) are all great story lines heading into the off-season.

#TwineTimeSalute - Jared Janotta, U of Regina
A bit sad to see the CIS career of my cousin come to an end though with a playoff loss in Calgary.  He did have an excellent career though, setting U of R career records for pass reception yards (2579) and pass receptions (191).  Plus he had the opportunity to play in a Hardy Bowl game.  I am excited to see where his future takes him and an confident he will back on the turf playing somewhere again soon!  Much love and respect for you JJ!  #21


Thursday, 4 December 2014

NCAA Women's Volleyball: YES! YES! YES!
Road to the 2014 National Championship set to begin

One of favorite times of the year is about to begin...nope not talking about the upcoming CFBPlayoff.  Grand slam curling action, nope!  The World Junior Hockey Championships, wrong again!  Don't get me wrong, I love all those sporting events but this one rings true to my heart a bit more.  The NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament!!!!  Ok ok so I know most people know nothing about it, nor probably care.  But I do!  I have played volleyball since I was a kid and love the sport.  It is without a doubt my favorite sport to play and I could watch volleyball all the time.  

As an aside, men, I would HIGHLY recommend giving this tournament action some view time.  Trust me!  You can thank me later...and I confident you will.  Ok, re-focus here...


For those unfamiliar with this tournament, here are few interesting stats to consider:

  • Penn State won last year's tournament, their 6th overall and 5th in the past 7 years (Dynasty?)
  • Penn State and Stanford are the most successful schools, each with 6 titles
  • Stanford has participated in a record 14 Championship Finals with 18 Final Four appearances
  • PAC-12 has the most NCAA Championships with 14
  • The 2014 Final Four will take place in Oklahoma City, OK for the 1st time
  • 32 conference champions automatically qualify with the remaining 32 teams receiving at-large bids
  • The 2013 Final Four teams (Penn State, Wisconsin, Texas, Washington) are all ranked in the Top 9 at the end of the season (with defending champ Penn State being the lowest at 9)
  • Last year, Wisconsin became the lowest seed to ever play in the Championship (Seeded 12)
  • Last year was the 1st time two teams from the Big 10 played in the championship game and the first time a championship final was contested without a PAC-12 school since 2009

This year could we see more of the same, with the traditional dominant teams making it to OK City (Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Texas) or can new powerhouse teams emerge and challenge them (Wisconsin, Florida State, North Carolina, Florida)?  Will the PAC-12 continue their domination or could we finally see an ACC or SEC school take home the championship?

Here are my predictions:

Ames, Iowa Regional

First Round
(1) Stanford over CS Bakersfield
Michigan State over Loyola Maramount
Creighton over Oregon State
(16) Kansas over AK Little Rock
(9) Illinois over Murray State
Iowa State over Western Kentucky
Miami over UCF
(8) Florida over Alabama St

Second Round

(1) Stanford over Michigan State
(16) Kansas over Creighton
Iowa State over (9) Illinois
(8) Florida over Miami

Regional Semifinal

(1) Stanford over (16) Kansas
(8) Florida over Iowa State

Regional Final

(1) Stanford over (8) Florida - 3 sets to 2.  Florida is coming off an 18-0 SEC season and just knocked off #2 ranked Texas last weekend.  They could give Stanford an unexpected challenge and could pull the upset if the Cardinal are not on top of their game.  Stanford is entering the tournament off their 1st loss of the season in the regular-season finale vs rival Washington.

Minneapolis, MN Regional 

First Round

(2) Texas over Northwestern State
Arizona State over Texas A&M
Colorado over Northern Colorado
(15) Colorado State over Denver
(10) Oregon over Santa Clara
Oklahoma over LSU
USC over Coastal Carolina
(7) North Carolina over Hampton

Second Round

(2) Texas over Arizona St
Colorado over (15) Colorado St
(10) Oregon over Oklahoma
(7) North Carolina over USC

Regional Semifinal

(2) Texas over Colorado
(10) Oregon over (7) North Carolina

Regional Final

(2) Texas over (10) Oregon - 3 sets to 1.  Texas is coming off a 15-1 Big 12 Championship season.  They do enter the tournament coming off a loss to Florida but that match had no impact on season-ending standings or rankings.  If anything, the match proved to be a pre-tournament feel with both teams just prepping themselves for the march towards the championship.  Oregon competes in the very competitive PAC-12, where 6 teams finished in the year-end Top 25.  This would also be a rematch of the 2012 NCAA Championship, which Texas won 3-0.  The 'Horns have been in back-to-back final fours and would like to erase last year's final four loss.  They are after redemption this year!

Seattle, WA Regional

First Round

(3) Washington over New Hampshire
Hawaii over Duke
Kansas State over Utah
(14) Nebraska over Hofstra
(11) Arizona over Yale
BYU over Seton Hall
Alabama over Samford
(6) Florida State over Jacksonville

Second Round

(3) Washington over Hawaii (Possible upset warning here though. Hawaii has beaten the Huskies on their home court in the tournament before.  Watch out!!)
(14) Nebraska over Kansas State
(11) Arizona over BYU
(6) Florida St over Alabama

Regional Semifinal

(3) Washington over (14) Nebraska
(11) Arizona over (6) Florida St

Regional Final

(3) Washington over (11) Arizona - 3 sets to 0.  The Huskies just look too strong to be beaten, especially with having home court advantage all the way to OK City.  Hawaii could give them a scare in the second round with perhaps a 3-2 Huskies win.  But if that does happen, Nebraska and Arizona should be worried.  The early scare could be the motivation and wake-up the team needs to elevate their game and coast to the Final Four.  Remember, the Huskies just beat the #1 team in the country (Stanford) at home to end the regular season.  They are ready for a deep championship run.

Louisville, Kentucky Regional

First Round

(4) Wisconsin over Western Michigan
Marquette over Illinois State
Ohio State over Lipscomb
(13) Kentucky over Oakland
(12) UCLA over LIU Brooklyn
Long Beach State over San Diego
Dayton over American
(5) Penn State over Sienna

Second Round

(4) Wisconsin over Marquette
Ohio State over (13) Kentucky
Long Beach State over (12) UCLA
(5) Penn State over Dayton

Regional Semifinal

(4) Wisconsin over Ohio State
(5) Penn State over Long Beach State

Regional Final

(5) Penn State over (4) Wisconsin - 3 sets to 2.  The 2013 NCAA Championship re-match everyone wants to see from this region.  Overall, this region is probably the weakest, minus these two teams.  I cannot envision a different regional final.  The 28-2 Badgers vs the 30-2 Nittany Lions.  The up and coming Big 10 Champs vs the dynasty.  Can the Badgers finally knock off Penn State and become the Big 10 powerhouse team of the future?  Or will Penn State continue their dominance and again prove why they are one of the best volleyball programs in history?  This is a neutral court game so no advantage to either team playing in Kentucky.  I would have to think the difference in this game will come to coaching.  Penn State's Russ Rose is the best in the business...and Penn State has beat the Badgers already this season.

FINAL FOUR

National Semifinal

(5) Penn State over (1) Stanford - 3 sets to 2.  The rematch of the epic regional final clash last year, also won by Penn State.  Stanford had a 2 sets to 0 lead in that match and could not close the deal.  You know Stanford would love to get the rematch with their rivals in the final four.  And they should get it!  Unfortunately, I see a similar end result for the Cardinal.

(3) Washington over (2) Texas - 3 sets to 1.  Both of these teams played in the Final Four last year.  Both lost in the national semifinal.  Both remember that feeling.  Both want to redeem that loss and play in the championship this year.  One is going to be disappointed twice over.  I expect close sets, like 25-23 or 27-25 or maybe even a 32-30 type of match.  The Huskies just look like the better team all season.  I think playing in the ultra competitive PAC-12 is going to be the difference here.  Washington has played high caliber tournament teams all season (10 PAC-12 teams made the tournament this year!! 10!!) where the Big 12 is still not as competitive top to bottom.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

(3) Washington Huskies over (5) Penn State Nittany Lions - 3 sets to 2

Even me, a huge Penn State fan, has a hard time seeing the Nittany Lions win back to back to back 5 sets matches.  This feels like the year of the PAC-12 and the Huskies are the class of the country.  Huskies fans have been heart broken in the past with Final Four losses last year and 2006.  They won their only championship in 2005 but time to start a new chapter.  They have the character building disappointment of last year, the battle-tested year of PAC-12 play, the confidence of being the only team (so far) to beat Stanford and get to play their regional games at home.  All that adds up to a national championship for the Huskies!