First and Ten: December
Sure there are sugar plums and ginger bread houses to be dreaming about, but any real sports fan has only one thing on his mind during Christmas time, and that’s football. Between picking college bowl games, the Heisman, NFL wild-card races and fantasy football playoffs, the best gift this holiday season is the blockbuster sports content we’re bound to see. And if anyone is really has an inkling for a candy cane, the candy stripes of IU are in store for some mid-season basketball action that’s bound to be a treat. To get us ready for a month full sugar-rushes and rushing the field, I’m Tori Ziege.
1. Troll Tide BCS In perhaps the greatest finish of the BCS era, the Alabama Crimson Tide fell at Auburn and once again struck late season chaos into the hearts of college football fandom… Or did it? With Alabama’s loss, only two undefeated teams remain atop the BCS: Florida State and Ohio State. If these two teams stay unscathed through their last weekend of play, expect both to be named to the BCS Championship Game. They’ll be duking it out for the crystal ball in January.
2. Conference Championships The last challenge remains next weekend, where Florida State will literally Duke it out against the Blue Devils in the ACC Championship game. It shouldn’t be too much of a struggle for the Seminoles, who will be double-digit favorites. But the Buckeyes will have game on their hands when they face off against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. The 111 Spartans come in with the toprated defense in college football and will pose a threat for Ohio State’s high scoring offense. After the Buckeyes narrowly escaped Michigan this weekend when the Wolverines failed to convert a two-point conversion, an upset could be brewing in Lucas Oil come December 7th. A loss for Ohio State could leave the door wide open for either Auburn or Mizzou, who are all set to square off in the SEC Championship Game. Even if Ohio State wins, the argument still remains whether or not a oneloss SEC team makes for a better title matchup than an undefeated team from the Big Ten. This will be a huge topic of debate over the next week, but without a loss, I have a hard time seeing voters passing up the unbeaten Buckeyes in favor of the SEC Championship victor.
3. Heisman That drop back field goal return by Auburn’s Chris Davis all but dropkicked AJ McCarron’s Heisman hopes. Despite a stellar 99yard pass play out of traffic in his end zone, McCarron’s Heisman dream would stay afloat only as ‘Bama won. The ball was all but taken out of the senior QB’s hands in the waning minutes of their loss in the Iron Bowl, and now too will his Heisman chances. Things aren’t looking great for Johnny Football either, whose hopes were pretty much dashed after a poor performance against LSU. He certainly wasn’t helped last night as his A&M team suffered yet another loss in a close game with Mizzou. The hot name over the weekend was Boston College RB Andre Williams, but he suffered a knee injury against Syracuse in the third quarter after rushing only 9 times for 29 yards. Sure you can throw in names like Braxton Miller or Jordan Lynch, but the Heisman field is rather flat as of now. It could be hard for the voters to narrow it down to five guests for the ceremony (Dec. 14th) if this keeps up.
4. Winston Charges Scenarios & Implications Hard, that is, if you don’t count Florida State’s Jameis Winston. The freshman has been fantastic all season long, and he alone is perched atop the ballots in many voters’ minds since QB Marcus Mariota lost to Stanford in early November. But the looming question surrounding Winston’s play has nothing to do with football. The QB is still awaiting a sexual assault case dating back to last winter, and won’t expect to hear a decision for another two weeks… One week after the Heisman ballots have been cast. Most voters still have Winston’s name at first, but many will see this character clause as a reason to leave his name off the ballot entirely. Not to mention the fact that if Winston is charged, how does his team fare in the title game without him? These questions pose nothing but doubt in the minds of voters, but unless word reaches them before the votes are cast, I expect Winston to take home the trophy and his team to take a spot in the title game.
5. Heat vs. Pacers Only two months into the NBA season, and already we have two teams a notch above the rest in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers are the only teams with winning records in the East. The Pacers’ one loss came to the Bulls when they still had Derrick Rose, and the Heat have now kicked back nine straight wins to put them at 133. Lucky for us, these two teams will face off twice in one-week span (Dec. 10 @ Indy, Dec. 18 @ Miami) answering the question, at least temporarily, who is the Beast of the East?
6. Who Dat? The Broncos will mount the last leg of their three game trial today, but this month won’t freeze over without another top team getting tested. New Orleans will play at Seattle on Monday night in a smashup game with HUGE playoff implications in the NFC. These two teams are vying for home field advantage, and whoever ends up with it will be absolutely lethal. The Saints will play the redhot Panthers twice in a three-week span to before capping off the season at home to a streaking Tampa Bay. We certainly will know whom the Saints, Seahawks, and Panthers are by the time this month is up. As of now, these teams are considered among the best in the NFC.
7. NFL Playoff Picture As for the AFC, things will largely be decided today when the Broncos and Chiefs play for the second time in three weeks, with the Broncos away at Arrowhead Stadium. This one will be for all the marbles, as the winner will claim the top spot in the AFC West and the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots, who have the second easiest schedule remaining according to opponent’s records, are looming close at 83. However they will need some help from either the Colts, who the Chiefs play in Week 16, or the Chargers and Titans, who are the toughest remaining opponents for Denver after this weekend.
8. Wildcard Races The stickiest part of the playoff picture is without a doubt the wildcard races, which will be tight in the NFC and an absolute freeforall in the AFC. As of now, the top teams in the NFC look to be Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina, San Fran, and Arizona, yet it is physically impossible for all of these teams to make the playoffs because they all come from either the NFC West or the NFC South. Carolina, San Francisco, and Arizona will all be necking it out for those two wildcard spots. Carolina is the only team who still has a chance to win their division, but it’s a pity we can’t just nab one of the AFC spots and give it to the NFC. The AFC features six teams: Tennessee, San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, and Miami, all who are at or below .500 and are vying for the final wildcard spot. It will be a hot race coming down the stretch, but based on upcoming schedules, I’d give the nod to Carolina, San Francisco, and Miami.
9. IU @ Syracuse It may not be the end-all beall that it was last season, but make no doubt that the residents of Bloomington and IU fans everywhere have their hearts set on winning this Sweet Sixteen rematch. A win would avenge the loss of top seeded Indiana to No. 4 seed Syracuse a year ago, and although this squad looks very different than it did in 20122013, these players want it just as bad. Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell remember it best, as they were instrumental players in that game, but it will take some spectacular play from freshmen Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams, and Devin Davis if the 61 Hoosiers want any chance against the No. 8 ranked Orange (70). As for Indiana fans? They can only hope and pray that Coach Tom Crean has finally found an answer to that dreaded 23 zone. The game tips off in New York at 7:15 pm this Tuesday.
10. Happy Holidays! Christmas Day is always jam packed with marquee NBA matchups, and while these games may have looked better on the schedule at the beginning of the season, it will still be fun to see Miami, LA, Chicago, OKC, and New York light up the box score like a Christmas tree. My pick of the day would be Heat at Lakers, who may have Kobe back by then, but don’t sleep on a game that features the Clippers and Golden State either.
Until Next Month,