Rhymes with Mess

Rhymes with Mess

Friday, October 23rd

In case you missed it due to the fact that you were mesmerized by the hot topic of the last week, the NFL trade deadline (LOL), the first BCS (Bowl Championship Series) rankings of the year were announced. Yawn. I dont know if its the fact that where I live is not necessarily a hot-bed for college football these days (The Big Ten is awful! is a familiar refrain.) or understanding how frustrating following college football rankings can be, it wasnt really a topic at the bar. The few conversations Ive had were fairly animated and I guess thats the point. When a system is flawed, hard to understand and subject to many interpretations, of course everyone, including yours truly, is going to have an opinion and think theyre right. (And why should my opinion on this be any different than on other topics?!) Its an argument thats had every year at the bar, the only things that change are the names: I cant believe that Small Town U. is ranked behind Established Moneymaker State! This is an outrage! They should be able to settle it on the field, we need a playoff. Been there, done that, with this discussion. Is there really any new ground to be covered? It becomes mind-numbing.

Then I look at the paper and see my boy Orrin Hatch has better things to think about than healthcare reform. Still ticked off that his undefeated Utah Utes (Did you say, Ute?) got left out of the national championship last year, hes picking up on President Obamas well received line that he would like to see a playoff in college football. In fact, he was part of a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee that hosted a hearing on the BCS in July. To get his desired result, hes following the thing thats most important to the BCS, the money, and wondering out loud if its legal. This because there is a LOT of money involved, and he wants to make sure the right thing is being done, and did I mention what happened to his Utes last year?!! Coincidentally he sent a letter to the President this week calling for an antitrust probe of the BCS. This guy is one angry Ute! What Id like to say to him is: Good luck, pal! While youve been busy filibustering and entertaining moneyed interests, we college football fans have been enduring this farce forever!

I guess hes new here, since controversy and college football rankings (and subsequently bowl pairings) go together like, controversy and Dennis Rodman. (Does this mean that Dennis Rodman = BCS?) Without the controversy are people talking about them? The thing to remember is that college football is first and foremost about making money. College football fights for the headlines in the national spotlight with the NFL, its not going to get attention in the larger cities (those with NFL teams) or the larger populated areas without a hook. What better a hook than to drive those who do follow you insane, while protecting your business model? Genius!

Now I dont want to beat this to death, again, but does he understand the game thats being played here? This system is well oiled and time tested. Even if, due to some public outcry, they have to offer an insignificant tweak now and then, the good old boys do what they want. Then again, he is a POLITICIAN! It starts like this: Each year at the end of summer, theres a little thing in the paper thats called the USA TODAY Coaches Poll. Thats right, before a game is even played, the teams are arranged in an order that the coaches think they will finish. (Again, part of the beauty of this is that I could spend an hour typing about the coaches part of the process alone.) It could also be called, stacking the deck. What you do is put the various favorites of the power conferences in the top 15 or so, (check out this years, the names are very familiar) and then sprinkle the rest of the top 25 with those pesky good teams from the lesser conferences. Like say putting LSU, coming off an 8-5 season and unranked at the end of the year, at 9, ahead of Boise State, TCU, and Utah, which all finished in the top 13 last year. I wont even get started on the fact that Notre Dame coming off their stellar 7-6 campaign of a year last year was ranked a preseason 23! (I will admit, that right now LSU is 10, but thats the roll of the dice that they take, 8 of the pre-season top 25 are no longer in the polls, including a fall from grace of 3 Oklahoma which is now one of the dreaded others receiving votes even with a 3-3 record. (Its hard to let go!)

Why have this pre-season poll? Why not wait until say October 1st? What it does is make sure that it is harder for a team to move up past ALL of the teams from the bigger conferences. And the computer polls? While they give you generics about their formulas, they have to have a starting point dont they? I wonder what that is? I will give them this though, they average out to have Iowa, Cincinnati and Boise State ahead of Texas, which since they all are undefeated is not entirely far-fetched. But as long as there are voter polls, and the perception is that the SEC and Big 12 are the stronger conferences, those teams will stay where they are as long as the records are the same, because the voters still control 67 of the vote. So, if youre Iowa, even if you run the table, good luck getting into a title game if Texas and Florida are undefeated. And, what do you think the odds are that an undefeated Boise State or Cincinnati could make it to the title game over a ONE LOSS Florida squad? How about nada?

I dont know if its a coincidence, but it seems with all of the better programs in the south, theres not as much interest in the bowl games around the bar. Dont get me wrong, as long as you can bet, people will watch, and everyone was excited for that Illinois Rose Bowl a couple of years ago. But its not consistent, the games dont have the level of anticipation that they used to. Although I know what youre thinking: that last years Virginia Tech-Cincinnati Orange Bowl was must-see-TV. Not! (Now imagine if the winner had to play the winner of the Rose Bowl in a national semi-final? Think it would have gotten some interest then?) Plus theres the fact that there are 34 of them. What do you think? Too many without meaning? Not to mention, thats a lot of travel for student athletes around finals time. (Kidding! Only are students!)

So whether the distinguished gentleman from Utah is looking out for his own interest or not, Im rooting for him. As one who watches what the NCAA basketball tournament does for the bar, I think one involving football would be just as big, if not bigger, and could be done while still incorporating the 34 bowl system. Theres enough money for everyone, as long as the big conferences realize that its in their best interest to share it. What? Did I just type that? Have I lost my mind? The presidents of the schools with the most to lose will never let that happen. Institutions of higher learning have definitely learned one thing: Protect the nest egg! (The Desert Inn doesnt have heart!) Good luck Orrin!

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”