Pigskin (P)review – Conference Championships and the Like

It’s a big Saturday for a lot of NCAA football conferences. Last chances for teams to assert themselves BCS-wise, and a lot of final games before the season wraps and the long (monthish-long) wait begins for bowl games. Here are your weekend notables and what has gone down already.

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #24 Southern Miss is currently visiting and leading undefeated #6 Houston, 42-21 in the 4th. Can Houston overcome and stay undefeated (seems kind of unlikely now)? What will it mean for them bowl-wise? It’s always interesting when a dominant team emerges from a smaller conference – interesting in that even when staying undefeated, it’s hard to crack into a notable bowl. Southern Miss is playing spoiler hardcore.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #14 Georgia takes on #1 LSU for a 4 PM kick-off. If LSU beats Georgia (at the Georgia Dome), they will be (almost certainly) headed to the BCS national title game . LSU has already nabbed the first 12-0 regular season in school history, and today they battle for their 11th SEC title (first since 2007 – the year LSU also won the national title). Georgia might not make it easy for them, having won ten straight games.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #15 Wisconsin and #13 Michigan State are meeting in Indianapolis for the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship game – and a rematch (remember that mildly controversial last-second Michigan State hail mary win? No? Go look it up.). Wisconsin was battling for a chance to go to the national championship when it lost to Michigan State earlier this season. Now, a ticket to the Rose Bowl is on the line for the Spartans and Badgers, both of which are riding a four-game win streak. Kick-off at (the awkward time of) 8:17 PM.
BEDLAM
  • The Big 12 no longer has a championship game (because it is kind of falling apart) due to the lack of having 12 teams, but there are big things on the line tonight when #10 Oklahoma faces off with #3 Oklahoma State for what is referred to as Bedlam (kick-off at 8 PM). There is still a (slight) chance that Oklahoma State can leap-frog current-#2 Alabama and catapult into the national title game – they have to blow-out Oklahoma tonight. The Cowboys, however, are only 3-point favorites and have historically been on the losing side of the Bedlam match-up (Oklahoma has a nine game win-streak). If an Oklahoma State win isn’t a big enough beating, or if the Sooners take another win away, the winner will head to the Fiesta Bowl (to most likely battle Andrew Luck-led Stanford).

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #5 Virginia Tech is looking to avenge its loss to #20 Clemson earlier this season in tonight’s ACC Championship game. Kick-off at 8 PM. The Hokies haven’t lost since falling to Clemson on October 1, whereas the Tigers, after a strong 8-0 start, have lost three of the last four – most recently falling to South Carolina a week ago (34-13, ouch). Tonight’s ACC winner will also head to the Orange Bowl (the Hokies made it that far last year, falling to Stanford in the Orange Bowl 40-12. Damn that Andrew Luck).
PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #9 Oregon is headed to the Rose Bowl after beating UCLA 49-31 on Friday night. The win sealed Oregon’s third-straight conference title. The Bruins kept it closer than most thought they would, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Ducks and RB LaMichael James (who found himself in the endzone three times), who might be slipping to the NFL next year (James is a junior).  The game was the last for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired earlier this week.

 

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – December 2 Edition

Wow, are the Philadelphia Eagles imploding or what? I could also say the same about the Washington Capitals. Rough night for two struggling teams that should be playing a lot better than they are.

The Good

It's been rough.

Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning (who is sorely missed this season by the 0-11 Colts) has been cleared for more intense rehabilitative workouts. Manning’s doctor, Dr. Robert Watkins, said Manning’s neck has, for all intents and purposes (unless those intents and purposes currently include full-speed pro football), healed.

“X-ray and CT examination of the surgical area shows that the fusion performed in September has achieved firm fixation. Peyton will now be allowed to increase the intensity and breadth of his workouts as tolerated. There remains every indication that his recovery will continue,” Watkins said.

Manning, 35, hasn’t practiced since a September 8 spinal fusion, which was meant to repair a damaged nerve in the quarterback’s neck, which affected his throwing arm. Manning has had three neck surgeries in 19 months.

As alluded to above, the Manning-less Colts have broken team streaks of success established in recent years – throw nine straight playoff appearances and nine consecutive 10-win seasons out the door. The Colts, currently in line to pick up Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the first round of the NFL Draft, are 0-11 for the first time in 25 years. Damn.

The Bad
Indiana state high school basketball stand-out Austin Hatch will not be on the basketball court this season. Hatch was involved in a plane crash that killed his father and step-mother, in which Hatch sustained a head injury, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and a broken collarbone. Hatch’s father was flying the plane at the time of the crash. The 6-foot-6 junior had made an early commitment to play for the University of Michigan in 2013. His family has reported that Hatch’s rehabilitation is going very well, but that he needs time and requests privacy in his recovery. The tragedy was the second plane crash that Hatch survived, the first in 2003, during which Hatch’s mother and two siblings were killed. Hatch’s father was flying the plane in the 2003 crash as well.

The Fugly
After years of respect and loyalty to ESPN, I have some major issues connected to the way the network and its commentators & writers have handled the Bernie Fine case juxtaposed against the coverage and scrutiny of dismissed Penn State coach Joe Paterno (in connection to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case). On November 4, the Jerry Sandusky grand jury report was released, and the media (but I’m honing in on ESPN) was whipped into a feeding frenzy involving Joe Paterno’s role in the scandal. A slew of ESPN commentators wrote op-eds and went on-air to vehemently and publicly voice their disapproval of Joe Paterno, saying he failed in his moral obligations, that he just didn’t do enough.

As the Sandusky storm was (briefly) coming off a coverage peak, another child-molestation-accusation-at-a-major-university story broke. (Now former) Syracuse men’s basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine allegedly molested team ball boys over the course of several years. Fine was fired on Sunday (11/27), after ESPN released a recorded phone conversation between first accuser Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife, Laurie Fine, during which Laure Fine admits to Davis that she was aware of the molestation and/or abuse Davis is now accusing her husband of.

Syracuse University officials stated that the tape was never made available to the university, or they would have fired Fine a lot sooner.

In a letter published by USA Today, chancellor Nancy Cantor writes “Mr. Davis didn’t give [the audiotape] to us in 2005, nor did the media, which have acknowledged having it since 2003. Had that tape surfaced in 2003, Fine would have been fired. Had we been given the tape in 2005, we would have gone straight to the authorities.”

ESPN has stated that they did not release the tape when they received it because they could not get anyone to corroborate the story, and they weren’t sure that the female voice in the recording was actually Laurie Fine. The network did not go any further until LAST WEEK, when they turned to a voice-recognition expert to confirm whether the female voice was in fact Laurie Fine (it was).

But for eight years, no one that heard the tape did ANYTHING with it. The network held onto damning evidence for eight years. Yes, there is an argument for the role of the “objective journalist”, that the journalist is obligated to stay out of the story itself. But journalists are also human. And this is not black and white. This is grey. And this had to do with sexualized crimes against children. Why didn’t anyone at ESPN share the recording with police or Syracuse officials?

ESPN commentators were vicious in their scrutiny of Joe Paterno, rightfully so or not. The problem is that the network was guilty of the same thing it was damning Paterno for. Except that Paterno actually did report the alleged abuse to his superior (which he was legally obligated to do). ESPN just didn’t do anything.

The Penn State (Jerry Sandusky) and Syracuse (Bernie Fine) situations are not the same, but I cannot ignore or stay silent about the incredible hypocrisy displayed by ESPN in its coverage and handling of both, especially because the network is now directly tied to the Fine firing. Failed moral obligation by those that preach it. It’s depressing as hell. And mostly because the victims have to suffer more, and longer, because of those moral failings.

Pigskin Review – No Big Surprises

Not a “rumor” anymore.

The biggest (college football) news of right-this-minute is that Urban Meyer is returning to football as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team (officially hired Monday). Meyer, a native of Ohio, left the helm of the Florida Gators after last season due to health concerns. Apparently he’s feeling up to the task – which spells even tougher games for the other schools in the Big Ten. Yeesh.

The biggest personal news of right-this-minute is that Dirt in the Skirt is FINALLY located at a real domain. Look up at your URL bar. Snazzy as hell.

NOTABLE WEEK 13 GAMES

  • #1 LSU throttled #3 Arkansas 41-17. With the win, LSU stays undefeated (12-0 for the first time), stays at #1, and looks to its final test next weekend (the SEC Championship game) against #13 Georgia. A win in Atlanta means another trip to the BCS title game. Arkansas falls to #8.
  • #2 Alabama rolled over #23 Auburn, 42-14. Heisman candidate (and frontrunner) Trent Richardson (Alabama RB) rushed for a career high of 203 yards, Bama QB AJ McCarron threw 3 TDs, and the Cam Newton-less Auburn Tigers couldn’t stage a comeback. Alabama has its eyes on a rematch with LSU, and that will almost assuredly happen if LSU wins next week. Auburn drops out of the top 25 with the loss.
  • #9 Oklahoma found a bit of redemption (and a trip to the Big 12 Championship game) with a win over Iowa State, 26-6. This sets up a rivalry championship game – Oklahoma vs. #3 Oklahoma State (who were helped back up to #3 with the Arkansas loss). Oklahoma comes in as current champion and Big 12 championship record-holder (12).
  • #5 Virginia Tech locked up a shut-out against state-mate #24 Virginia, 36-0. Coming into the game, Virginia was working with a four-game winning streak, but the Hokies snapped that with authority (and claimed the ACC Coastal Division title). Virginia Tech holds steady at #5, and Virginia drops out of the rankings.
  • #6 Stanford dropped #22 Notre Dame, 28-14. Tossing 233 yards in the air and connecting for 4 TDs, Heisman hopeful Cardinal QB Andrew Luck set a Stanford record for most career TD passes and passed his own best-season mark. Stanford climbs up to #4 in the BCS rankings (hoping for a BCS bowl bid), and the Fighting Irish slide out of the top 25.
  • In a fight to face now-#9 Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, #16 Wisconsin dismantled #19 Penn State, 45-7. Badger RB Montee Ball (and should-be top Heisman candidate) ran for 156 yards and 4 TDs, while Penn State ended its emotionally-tumultous season with a loss (any many questions about what will shift for next year). Wisconsin edges up to #12, and Penn State slips to #22.