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The Week in Sports 11.3.2011

Big stories this week. LSU vs. Alabama. The NBA lockout. Philip Rivers’ struggles. And Baseball news. Obviously, I weigh in.

One after another, my brilliant boring ideas for midweek posts kept falling through. So, I emailed my brother and asked him what I should write about. The topics below were his recommendations. If you have something you’d like covered, send it along.

I like college football. But I don’t love college football. Too many teams. Too many crappy games. Too many songs/chants/traditions to learn. You see, growing up in the Philadelphia area, college football isn’t that big of a deal. You like the Eagles, and that’s it. If you find time for a collegiate team, so be it. Good for you.

To be fair, college football can be fun and exhilarating, just not in the Big Ten. I went to a big time football school that rhymes with Ben Tate. While there, I still didn’t acquire a taste for collegiate football. Especially Big Ten football where the football is brutally boring (Michigan being the exception), and the uniforms are beyond dull (again, Michigan being the exception).

Obviously, I don’t have a favorite team. I’m a college football nomad. Last year I picked Auburn as my team after they knocked off Clemson in an exciting game early in September. (Front-runner? Yep.) This year, I chose Clemson because they looked decent and Brian Dawkins went there. I don’t know all that much about college football, but I know the “BCS Title” is a fancy way of saying “The best team from the SEC.”

What I’m trying to say is college football isn’t important to me. However, even a nonchalant fan like myself is intrigued by Saturday’s SEC showdown. It’s the biggest game of the year. I haven’t watched every game LSU and Alabama have played this year, but I’ve seen enough to pick a winner.

I’m picking LSU. I know Alabama’s defense is great and they’re at home and blah, blah, blah, but LSU and Les Miles have a weird knack for winning games they just shouldn’t be winning. Miles is the Charlie Manuel of college football. He’s goofy and a little strange, yet finds ways to get the most out of his players because they love him so much. Can I name more than seven players on either team? Nope. I’m just excited to be super excited about a college football game for the first time since I scalped my Ohio State – Penn State ticket for a large sum of money.

Philip Rivers needs a hug
I tabbed Philip Rivers my 2011 MVP over the summer. After eight weeks, he’s probably ranked 127th in the MVP rankings. Needless to say, I was off. After fumbling away a win in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football last week, fans, news outlets, and talking heads have asked, “What’s wrong with Philip Rivers?”

Well, there’s really nothing wrong with Rivers, per say. His issue is the absence of Darren Sproles. Sproles, who left for New Orleans via free agency in the offseason, was Rivers’ security blanket. Especially on 3rd downs, Rivers could always count on Sproles to juke his way to a 1st down, or at the very least, bail Rivers out of a sack. With Sproles gone and Antonio Gates nursing what seems like a never-ending foot injury, Rivers is without his two most reliable targets. Vincent Jackson isn’t helping matters, either. After a shortened season in 2010 due to an extensive holdout, Jackson doesn’t look like the same player he was before 2010. He showed flashes when he tore through New England’s secondary in Week 2, but Jackson has done little since. Besides, every receiver has a field day against New England.

I’m not excusing Rivers’ play, because a quarterback like Rivers should still succeed with such a talented stable of players. However, if you took Wes Welker from Tom Brady, he would struggle to adjust as well. In fact, after the Patriots traded Deion Branch following the 2005 season, Tom Brady struggled to a certain degree with a subpar group of receivers in 2006. It led the Patriots to bring in Wes Welker and Randy Moss in 2007. Rivers’ receivers aren’t subpar at all, but Darren Sproles was Rivers’ Deion Branch.

NBA Lockout.
As the lockout drags on, I’m forced to either watch TV shows I don’t enjoy (Happy Endings) or be productive after my son crashes for the night. I’d prefer a nice NBA matchup to productivity and certainly, lousy TV, so I’m a little bummed progress hasn’t been made toward ending the lockout. Plus, I’m a gigantic NBA fan. I can survive a little longer without it, but if I’m entering 2012 without a full slate of NBA action through February and March, you can bet I’ll be devastated.

I know what you’re thinking; college basketball is better anyway. Well, you see, it’s not. You’re wrong. I love college basketball, too. Big time conference battles on ESPN make fabulous TV and conference tournaments followed by the NCAA Tournament make up one of my favorite sports stretches of the year. But it’s not the NBA.

NBA teams don’t regularly shoot 30% and win. NBA players don’t panic down the stretch and hoist contested threes in a two point game with 24 seconds still on the clock (ok, Andre Iquodala might do this). NBA teams don’t play defense like an NFL safety, bogging down the game and forcing us to watch college kids shoot 45% from the charity stripe. So sue me if I prefer millionaire NBA players to thousandaire college athletes.

Also, let’s hope it doesn’t come to this, but if the NBA lockout wipes out the entire season, the 2012 Summer Olympics will be our first glance at NBA Superstars in over a year. How many players will want in on that team? Wait, how about this…

Let’s televise the Olympic tryouts. Full, 24/7 national television coverage of three to four weeks of tryouts open to any NBA or super-talented collegiate player. After a year without NBA basketball, I’d eat this up. Plus, the Olympics would be twice as exciting because we would all feel an extra connection to the team because it’d feel like we made it through tryouts with them. It’d be like Hardknocks: The 2012 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. We’d pick our favorite underdogs and then get misty when they’re sent home just like we did with Danny Woodhead in 2010. It’d be fantastic. Well, not really, because it’d mean we didn’t have an NBA season, but it’d be a nice consolation.

Seriously, com’n David Stern. Stop being pig headed. Agree to 52-48 in favor of the players. You remember the players, right David? They’re the guys that put rear ends in the seats and make your TV deals so lucrative? Don’t cheat your workforce because your owners are as brilliant with their money as the US Government.

Baseball news
Philadelphia is all up in arms about whether or not to bring back Jimmy Rollins. Word on the street is the Phillies don’t really want him at the price it’d take to bring him back. Plus, age is a serious concern for this squad, so keeping Rollins wouldn’t make the Phillies any younger. It also doesn’t help that the Phillies have limited funds to improve a team in desperate need of an offensive makeover. Oh yeah, Cole Hamels is due for arbitration, too. Super. The Phillies are handcuffed to fading players with enormous contracts and a depleted farm system. Unless Ruben Amaro Jr. is a miracle worker, the Phillies are destined for the NL East basement in four years.

As for the World Series Champion Cardinals (yes, the team Charlie Manuel allowed into the playoffs), they’re without a manager. Tony LaRussa went John Elway on St. Louis and went home. I tend to believe LaRussa knew something about the Albert Pujols situation that we don’t. But even if LaRussa didn’t, why would Pujols want to come back and play for a team that could now flounder under a new manager? Obviously, the Cubs would be in a similar situation, only worse. That leaves the “Los Angeles Angels of a handful of other California cities” as Pujols’ most competitive suitor. Actually, never mind. This is about money, not winning. If the Cardinals pony up, he’ll stay put.

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