Morning Line Archives: December 26-January 1


The weekend starts early, as college football has four bowl games going wall-to-wall on ESPN Friday. The Notebook previews all four. Also a part of our weekend series we have…

*NFL Week 17 Previews
*A look at six NBA contenders
**An overview of the NHL’s Atlantic Division as we get set for Monday’s Winter Classic of NY Rangers-Philadelphia.
*Five bowl games on Saturday.
*A breakdown of Saturday’s seven major college basketball games.

All of the above is coming up, so check back today and check back throughout the weekend. Also take a look at the Historical Museum, where the history of the modern age of sports (1976-Present) is being preserved. Enjoy the weekend and Happy New Year! Come Monday, the Notebook’s bowl coverage resumes.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Notre Dame-Florida State highlight today’s bowl action, as they kick off another day-night football doubleheader at 5:30 PM ET in Orlando. The nightcap will come from San Antonio where Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III leads up Baylor against Washington.

The Irish-Seminoles game is one of the nationally anticipated matchups on the bowl undercard, especially by those of us who have memories of their bitter 1993 game and subsequent debate over who was #1. This year’s matchup offers two teams who are pretty good, look to be on the upswing, but still have their share of flaws. Both teams are 8-4, and the losses were generally to good teams. Notre Dame dropped games to Michigan, USC and Stanford, while Florida State came up short against Oklahoma, Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia. Both teams have second-year coaches in Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fischer, and both impressed in their bowl debuts last year. It promises a good late afternoon of action on Orlando, and here are some pertinent thoughts to keep in mind…

*College football fans think of throwing the ball and having turnover problems when it comes to Kelly’s Irish, but the ultimate difference for the this team comes in their ability to establish the run. Notre Dame’s rush offense was non-existent in losses to USC and Stanford, and it was very good in five key wins over Michigan State, Pitt, Purdue, Air Force and Wake Forest. Running the ball reduces turnovers and it’s imperative that Cierre Wood have a good game for the Irish.

*Florida State has to keep the game clean. In their losses, they piled up double-digit penalties and that free yardage cost them, especially in the three ACC defeats that were all close. The play of quarterback E.J. Manuel is also important. In their noteworthy wins over N.C. State, Miami and Florida, he wasn’t spectacular, but he was efficient. Without a running game, the ‘Noles have enough offensive issues as it is, and they can’t be turning the ball over.

*The biggest issue is Florida State’s health in the secondary, where some ankle injuries are being nurses. Starters are expected to play, but how they react to Notre Dame’s up-tempo passing attack is another question. It calls to mind an Irish prayer, where one implores God to turn the hearts of thine enemies, and failing that “if He can’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we’ll know them by their limping.” It’s the condition of those ankles in the FSU secondary that will decide today’s game.

Then it’s time to see if Griffin can cap off his amazing year with a good bowl performance. The matchup couldn’t be more favorable. The Washington defense is positively awful and they are especially poor against the run, giving up an average of 273 rush yards in losses to Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon , USC and Oregon State. Baylor’s not just a one-trick pony—Terrence Ganaway is a very good threat out of the backfield and in fact his success tends to define whether the Bears win or lose, since “RG3” is a constant. Washington can move the ball themselves, but not nearly enough to keep pace with their Big 12 rival.

The Big 12 already got the drop on the Pac-12 last night when Texas beat USC 21-10, thanks to Cal losing four fumbles, while Toledo beat Air Force in a wild 42-41 affair, where Toledo’s production of a defensive touchdown ultimately made the difference.

I’d make picks on tonight’s game, but having gone 0-4 the last two days, I’m a little gunshy…oh to heck with it, I like Florida State and Baylor, the latter in a blowout.

In college basketball…

*Georgetown knocked off Louisville because they rebounded better and no one was more important than Otto Porter off the bench who scored 14 points and grabbed 14 boards.

*Michigan State beat Indiana because the Hoosiers couldn’t cool off the Spartan shooters, who hit 54 percent and IU center Cody Zeller spent much of the game in foul trouble.

*The TV fare tonight is an ESPN2 tripleheader that starts at 7 PM ET and offers non-conference games of Florida-Rutgers, Vanderbilt-Marquette and BYU-St. Mary’s. The Pac-12 also starts conference games and the Notebook will take a look at the conference later this morning.

In the NBA…

*Boston got pounded in New Orleans because they didn’t play good defense and they didn’t rebound. In an 0-3 hole, the Celtics have followed the pattern of the Red Sox and Bruins in getting off to painfully slow starts.

*Oklahoma City beat Memphis in a good game last night and now deals with 0-2 Dallas on the TNT doubleheader, starting at  8 PM ET. The nightcap out west will be Knicks-Lakers.

In the NHL…

*Washington got a badly needed win over the NY Rangers, as Alex Ovechkin twice fed Alex Semin for the goals that opened up a 2-1 game and set up an easy Caps win.

*Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, Boston and Vancouver, each went to overtime to get their wins in Phoenix and San Jose.

*The key game tonight is Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, although a pall is over this game and the entire league right now, but the recurrence of Sidney Crosby’s concussion symptoms.

Wednesday, December 28

The day-night schedule of bowls continues today as we kick off with Toledo-Air Force (4:30 PM ET, ESPN) and then have Cal-Texas (8 PM ET, ESPN) in the prime-time slot. Toledo is playing for a winning bowl season for the Mid-American Conference, which got wins with Temple and Ohio, and lost yesterday with Western Michigan after the Broncos allowed Purdue to recover two onside kicks, return a kickoff for a touchdown and quarterback Alex Carder threw four interceptions—all in a five-point loss. Clearly, the MAC matches up physically and now Toledo has to try and get the conference to 3-1 (league champ Northern Illinois is still ahead on January 6).

With Toledo it’s all about offense, and their back-to-back games against Northern Illinois (63-60 loss) and Western Michigan (66-63 win) illustrate that. The question mark looming over this one is the thumb of quarterback Austin Dantin. He’s expected to be available, but it’s unsure if he’ll start. As long as he plays, he can have success against an Air Force pass defense that was unable to slow down good quarterbacks, and running back Adonis Thomas can at least keep the defense honest. Air Force’s five losses all came to bowl teams and none are anything to be ashamed of, but the Falcons didn’t beat a single bowl team this year. I was in attendance at their best win of the year, a 35-34 overtime affair at Navy and believe me when I say neither team looked special. Toledo is actually the favorite in this game at (-3) so Air Force’s vulnerability is no secret and as long as Dantin plays, Toledo should get it done.

Cal-Texas is one of the compelling matchups on the bowl undercard. Texas has played very good defense this year, ranking second in the Big 12 in points allowed and shutting down good running games from Kansas State, UCLA and BYU. The Golden Bears can run the ball with Isi Sofele, but it is not a dominant attack, and I expect the Longhorns to contain Sofele…unless Zac Maynard can get the ball downfield to Keenan Allen and loosen things up. Here’s where the game is going to be decided. Maynard has imploded a couple times. Once against a good USC defense, a second against a bad UCLA one. If Texas can force him to throw, getting three interceptions is very reasonable and even UT’s struggling offense can manage the game to a win. The problem with that scenario is that this offense is really bad and Cal is a better team on defense than on offense, ranking 4th in the Pac-12. If Maynard keeps his cool, the Golden Bears will win a close game along the lines of 17-14, and that’s what I lean to see happen.

N.C. State got the ACC on the board in its first bowl try last night, beating Louisville 31-24, intercepting freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times. Both of those programs have the look of ones coming back for more.

In college basketball..

Pitt was ice-cold from behind the arc last night in South Bend as a 1-for-14 showing on three-pointers sent them to a 72-58 loss to Notre Dame. More Big East action is on ESPN2 tonight when Georgetown-Louisville tip off at 7 PM ET. Make sure to check out the Notebook’s breakdown of the Big East basketball landscape.

In the NBA…

Miami beat Boston 115-107 because the Heat hit the boards, winning the battle 38-28 with Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem doing the dirty work. Tonight there’s two good games in the West with Oklahoma City-Memphis (8 ET, NBA-TV) and LA Clippers-San Antonio. There’s also late action from the West Coast on NBA-TV with New York-Golden State.

In the NHL…

*Detroit allowed two power play goals against St. Louis, but was able to take the game over in the third period in a 3-2 win. Florida used a pair of power play goals of their own in rapid succession to open up their game against Toronto, winning 5-3. Tonight’s TV fare is a good game in the East as the New York Rangers meet the Washington Capitals (7:30 PM ET, Versus). It’s a playoff rematch from last year, with the Rangers rolling, while the Caps are trying to fight back into the playoff picture, we should get some real intensity here.


Tuesday, December 27

The bowl season picks up today, as Tuesday marks the first of three consecutive days with day-night doubleheaders, if I may borrow a baseball term. Today it’s Western Michigan-Purdue (4:30 PM ET, ESPN) in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, followed by N.C. State-Louisville (8 PM ET, ESPN) in the Belk Bowl. The latter game was formerly called the Continental Tire Bowl…well, maybe that doesn’t help you much. Anyway, it’s played in Charlotte, while the Pizza Bowl is at Detroit’s Ford Field.

Purdue looked nothing like a bowl team for the entire season, but their home upset of Ohio State helped get them to 6-6 and sneak in. The Boilermakers have no obvious strengths to their team, while they’ve put on a full display of their weaknesses, at least against bowl competition. Early losses to Rice and Notre Dame saw the secondary lit up. Against the Irish it’s understandable, against the Owls less so. In Big Ten play they were overrun on the ground. Western Michigan has a great passing combination of Alex Carder hooking up with Jordan White and they should be able to remind the Boilermaker secondary of the early problems. Western Michigan isn’t without problems themselves—the run defense is positively atrocious, as losses to bowl-bound Northern Illinois and Toledo saw the Broncos give up over nine hundred yards combined on the ground. Purdue will certainly get its yards, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep up with Carder and White.

Louisville-N.C. State in the nightcap is a good matchup between well-coached teams that finished the year strong. The Cardinals started off 2-4, losing to bowl teams Florida International, Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati. The problem was they couldn’t force turnovers and got only two in these four games total. Their 5-1 stretch to close the season was highlighted by wins over Rutgers and West Virginia and the Cardinals got five takeaways combined in those two games. N.C. State lost early games to top passing games from Wake Forest and Cincinnati, but was able to beat Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson in the second half. The Wolfpack defend the run pretty well, so look for them to force Louisville freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have to put it up. I can make a good argument either way in this game, but while I respect N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien, I love Louisville boss Charlie Strong as a rising star in coaching and expect him to sneak out of Charlotte with a win.

Bowl action yesterday didn’t offer much excitement, as Missouri destroyed North Carolina, thanks to 337 yards on the ground. The Tigers didn’t miss a beat without injured running back Henry Josey and scored an early blow for the Big 12. And of course the big news in football was in the NFL where Drew Brees’ broke Dan Marino’s single-season record for pass yardage in New Orleans’ 45-16 rout of Atlanta. The Saints have clinched the NFC South and the odds look pretty good we’ll get a Falcons-Saints rematch in the first round of the playoffs on January 7-8.

Other action tonight…

*Big East and Big Ten basketball are on ESPN2 with Pitt-Notre Dame followed by Wisconsin-Nebraska. The games start at 7 PM ET. The Notebook took a look at the Big Ten landscape yesterday and the Big East is on the docket for tomorrow.

*TNT has an NBA doubleheader of Boston-Miami and Utah –LA Lakers starting at 8 PM ET. Also of note is Sacramento-Portland. The Kings knocked off the Lakers last night, while the Blazers beat the Pistons.

*The NHL on Versus is St. Louis-Detroit (7:30 ET) with both teams within a point of each either in the 4-5 spots of the Western Conference race.



Monday, December 26

Some quick thoughts on the NFL Week 16 games…

SHOWDOWN GAMES (Both teams in playoff hunt)

*Oakland survived Kansas City in overtime and stayed alive, but only getting 71 yards rushing is a big source of concern as a potential playoff spoiler plays San Diego next week and then a possible first-round home game with Pittsburgh or Baltimore. They won’t win if they can’t run.

*The Battle Of The Big Apple, Giants-Jets, was about as appalling of a football game one can imagine for a situation that was so important to bad teams. Both teams looked like they were sleepwalking. Neither one could stand prosperity. In the end, Mark Sanchez was inept, while Eli Manning pulled some big plays out his hat, notably the 99-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz.

*Cincinnati took the pole position for the last AFC playoff spot when they beat Arizona 23-16, allowing all of the Cardinals’ points in the fourth quarter. The Bengals shut down Beanie Wells on the ground, something that will bear them in good stead for a matchup with Ray Rice and Baltimore in the finale.

*Michael Vick was razor-sharp in the Eagles’ 20-7 win over Dallas, although when you have enough time to set up and order for delivery when you’re in the pocket, the job gets a lot easier. By the time this game actually kicked off, the Giant win meant Philly was eliminated and Dallas was going to a Week 17 battle in the Meadowlands regardless. The Cowboys played like it—the lack of a pass rush is the bigger long-term problem than Tony Romo’s bruised hand, while the Eagles played with some pride.

*Like Philadelphia, it just took Seattle too long to get started. Even in a tough 19-17 home loss to San Francisco, the Seahawks still ran the ball on the league’s toughest run defense, as Marshawn Lynch ran for 107 yards. Seattle is certainly playing better than Dallas or the NY Giants right now, but at 7-8, they have only themselves to blame for the poor start.

*Detroit’s Matthew Stafford continues to mature into an elite quarterback in front of us. One week after leading a double-digit comeback in Oakland, the Lion signal-caller was flawless in a blowout of San Diego that locked up a playoff berth. Stafford was 29/36 for 373 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS (1 team involved)

*Not only did the bloom come off Tim Tebow’s rose, with his four interceptions in Buffalo, but the Denver rush defense collapsed along with it, allowing 111 yards to C.J. Spiller.

*Jacksonville hung with Tennessee defensively, containing Chris Johnson to only 56 yards, while Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 103, but the lack of a passing game continues to be the Jags’ sore spot, as the Titans stayed alive with a 23-17 win.

*Not making mistakes will take you a long way. New England couldn’t stop Miami’s running game with Reggie Bush, they didn’t run it themselves and they gave up big plays down the field to Brandon Marshall, all the while falling behind 17-0. With no turnovers though, Tom Brady eventually brought them back and the Patriots are closing on the AFC’s #1 seed.

*Baltimore’s 20-14 win over Cleveland put them on the cusp of the AFC North title and at least a first-round bye, but this was a disappointing effort. There was no rush defense, as Peyton Hillis ran for 112 and the Ravens did nothing particularly well offensively.

*Pittsburgh’s easy win over St. Louis without Big Ben didn’t come in spite of backup Charlie Batch. The #2 quarterback was solid, going 15/22 for 208 yards and no mistakes. With a game against Cleveland next week that only means something if Baltimore loses in Cincinnati, I could see the logic in Mike Tomlin sitting down his starter again.

*Chicago didn’t have the firepower to beat Green Bay last night, but the Packers really have work to do on that rush defense, which was gashed for 199 yards and by all rights should have had them in a hole by halftime. With a #1 seed locked up, I would imagine we won’t see too many Green Bay starters again until the divisional playoffs.


*I don’t ever like to say a team quit, especially from reading a box score, but how else do you explain Tampa Bay giving up 270 rush yards to Carolina?  I hate making character judgments of a team when I’m not in the clubhouse, so I’m open, if not anxious to hear a more strategic explanation.

*Adrian Peterson goes down for Minnesota, Toby Gerhart picks right back up, as the backup rushes for 109 yards as Washington takes an inexcusable home loss to a team that was 2-12 coming in.

Tonight’s fare…

Its back-to-back football games starting in the late afternoon. Missouri-North Carolina meet in the Independence Bowl (5 ET, ESPN2) and then it’s Atlanta-New Orleans on Monday Night Football. Previews of both games will be on the Notebook’s free weekly newsletter, which you can sign up for on the right hand side of the home page.

No college basketball tonight. The NBA continues with a doubleheader of Houston-Orlando and LA Lakers-Sacramento starting at 7 ET on NBA-TV. Other notable games include Denver’s visit to Dallas and Memphis matching up with San Antonio in a rematch of last year’s big playoff upset.

In hockey it’s Dallas-St. Louis (7:30 ET, Versus) as both teams are currently in a packed top eight in the Western Conference. Perhaps of greater significance is Washington-Buffalo, with both teams just outside the current playoff field in the East.