Behind the Mic: Four Is Not Enough

If any college football fan doubts the wisdom of a four-team College Football Playoff system, this past weekend should eliminate those doubts.  The Selection Committee has no choice under the current system.  They can choose four and ONLY four.  The idea in the beginning was that conference champions would fill the four slots.  The only problem there is that there are five power conferences, but I’m sure the founders felt they could surely eliminate one of the champions.  But this year, the committee eliminated two – the Big 12 champions and the Big 10 champion.  The ACC will send Clemson; the Pac 12 will send Washington; and the SEC will send Alabama.  It is hard to argue with any of those choices.

Now we come to Ohio State.  Should they go or should the committee have chosen Penn State – the Big 10 champion?  I have no argument with Ohio State’s pedigree.  They lost only one game; they beat Michigan; they were ranked in the top three all year; and they beat Michigan.  That’s good enough for me.  EXCEPT….

Penn State won the Big 10 championship, while Ohio State did not play at all last week.  Penn State gave Ohio State their only loss of the year 24-21.  Penn State’s losses were to Pitt, which, by the way, beat Clemson and they lost to Michigan.  Both of those losses were on the road.  And if “playing well at the end of the year” means anything, Penn State has not lost since September.  They have won nine games in a row.  Ohio State lost to Penn State in October and Michigan lost two of their last three.

Winning a conference title is supposed to give the winning team a 13th data point.  Penn State earned that point; Ohio State did not.  Conference championships should matter.  For two teams, it did not.

As I said earlier, Ohio State, with only one loss should be in the mix for a national championship.  My fault with the system is four teams.  If you make it eight you add only one more week to the schedule and that should be palatable.  I know if you add eight, then nine and ten will feel shunned.  But eight gives you the five conference champions,   (the Big 12 will start playing one next year) and three “wild cards”.  A similar system works quite well for the NFL and six of those teams have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

So Penn State will play in the Rose Bowl against USC and that certainly is a justified reward for their season, but should they have been playing for a national championship?  What if you were on the committee – how would you have voted?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I really started to watch Penn State because of Saquon Barkley, the former Whitehall Zephyr. Now I watch them because they are one of the most exciting and dramatic teams in college football.  Their win over Wisconsin, after being down by 21 points and being totally dominated early in the game, was nothing short of miraculous!
  2. The Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks played almost as well on Friday night against undefeated Imhotep Charter out of Philadelphia. Imhotep is the defending state champion and has won 28 games in a row.  No team stayed within 30 points of them this season.  Until they met the Hawks!  The Hawks lost 24-13 when Imhotep scored a TD late in the game. Beca was in it right up until the very end of the game and actually led at one point.  It was a great year for Coach Kyle Haas and the Beca football team.
  3. Notre Dame High School did not win a game two years ago. On Friday night, they played in the PIAA state semifinal game against undefeated Middletown.  The Crusaders lost that game, but their resurgence in the past two years has been amazing.
  4. The Eagles looked like a team that cannot make the playoffs this past Sunday. The Bengals just crushed them.  Maybe it’s not a good thing for the coach to say they are looking towards the future before the present is completed.  The Eagles took major steps in the wrong direction this past Sunday.
  5. High school basketball begins next week with Freedom-Allen and Liberty-Easton on Tuesday, December 13. We will have Liberty-Central and Saucon Valley-Wilson on Friday, December 16.  The wrestling season begins on Wednesday, December 14, with Liberty taking on Nazareth.

 

 Gary's Picks

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 12-3; Overall – 119-72-2 – 62%)
Week Fourteen

OAKLAND
PHILADELPHIA
MINNESOTA
DETROIT
CINCINNATI
ARIZONA
INDIANAPOLIS
DENVER
CAROLINA
PITTSBURGH
JETS
TAMPA BAY
ATLANTA
SEATTLE
DALLAS
NEW ENGLAND

The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Year Predictions – Part 2

Recently here at the “Shop,” we took a look at some of the predictions I made last winter to see how I did.  Today, I look ahead to the next several months and guarantee* they come true!

1)  PREDICTION:  This fall’s HS football season will be more competitive than last year’s.
Last year, it was virtually Parkland and Easton as the favorites in District XI’s EPC league and Northwestern and Southern Lehigh, with Saucon Valley rising to prominence in the Colonial League.  There seemed to be a “next level” of several teams right below the top squads, and then another grouping of teams below them.  This made for a rather predictable season, with hardly any upsets or teams beating other squads not quite at the same talent-level.  While the Trojans and Red Rovers are the early favorites once again in the EPC, I see several teams stepping up and providing tougher competition, making for a more balanced schedule this fall.  Also, among the Colonial teams, Saucon Valley is the only one of the top three that didn’t suffer a huge number of graduate losses and many of the league’s teams that struggled in 2014 will be improved.  After the Panthers?  I could see Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Southern Lehigh, Pen Argyl, Palmerton and maybe even Salisbury, Wilson or another team all playing competitive football.

I think it will be much more difficult for the football prognosticators to accurately figure out which teams will have the most success, and make for many more “even” games to watch this fall.  For more on the upcoming high school football season, make sure you tune into our “SportsTalk: HS Football Preview” show on RCN-TV on Thursday, August 27, at 7pm—complete with coach and player interviews, insights, analysis, and predictions on many of the teams in the RCN coverage area.

2)   PREDICTION:  Emotions will be running at an all-time high for Eagles fans this season.
We’ll be talking more about the Birds on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show with legendary play-by-play broadcaster Merrill Reese, complete with his thoughts on the team’s offseason moves and updates from Eagles training camp.  But regardless of how Philadelphia does this fall, when you tear apart a team—personnel-wise—and move some of the region’s most popular players for ‘high-risk’ returns (see Kiko Alonso’s concussion injury this weekend), fans have been stirred-up for this team well before training camp even started this summer.  The overly passionate fan base has been building emotional steam for months and it won’t take much for people to start boiling over and voicing their excitement/anger (based on a win or loss) with Chip Kelly early and often this fall.

3)  “Stone-Cold Lock” PREDICTION:  The next 12 months will be a banner year for DC sports fans.
I think the Nationals will persevere through an incredible amount of injuries.  The Mets did make some nice moves at the non-waiver deadline, but I still believe that quality pitching—and Washington has a ton—must get the edge.  The impressive return of Stephen Strasburg this weekend can only help, and I think the Nats will soon gain momentum and retake the NL East League.  Even if they don’t and have to settle for a Wild Card berth, with the arms the Nationals have, I think they can challenge any potential National League opponent, perhaps with the exception of the Dodgers, the team that scares me the most.

But the Nats’ potential deep run in the playoffs won’t be the only reason for optimism for Washington sports fans in the near future.  The Redskins will have six wins and improved play (and boast closer margins in their losses than last year).  I also think Georgetown—in both football and basketball—will have solid campaigns.  If you haven’t noticed, Mike Lonergan has transformed the George Washington men’s basketball program and shows no signs of slowing down, and American will again be a major force in what’s shaping up to be another competitive Patriot League season.

I also think the Wizards and Capitals will also continue to improve on the court and ice, respectively, all making for what I feel could be the best stretch of professional and collegiate sports action the DC area has seen in decades.

And even if the Nats don’t get to the World Series—which, granted, will be a major disappointment, they still have a boat-load of talent that will return.  The Nats will still have work to do in the off-season picking and choosing which of their free agents they will bring back, but I think with Max Scherzer in tow, anchoring the staff, there won’t be a major drop-off in 2016.

There you have it.  Mark it down…and we’ll check back to see in a few months how these predictions fared.

*NOTE: ”guaranteed” is used in the most relative-term possible.

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Other” Spring Battle

There’s plenty of good sports battles going on in the Lehigh and Delaware Valley areas this spring. The Phillies have looked decent so far and find themselves just behind Atlanta and Washington in the standings. There’s also some great rivalries at the collegiate and scholastic levels in many of the sports going on this spring, and many of the battles between the larger schools will get plenty of attention over the next few months.

But there’s one great rivalry that has been brewing in the RCN-TV viewing area. One that won’t garnish nearly as much attention as those mentioned above, and will not exactly capture the thousands of fans some of those big matchups will attract. In fact, the rivalry I would like to focus on involves two of the smallest schools in our coverage area. That of the battle between the Catasauqua and Pen Argyl girls’ softball teams.

Here’s a few statistical reasons why this rivalry has become so special in the Lehigh Valley:

• They played four times in 2013, with each team winning two games

• Catasauqua trumped Pen Argyl for the 2013 Colonial League Championship; the Green Knights returned the favor in the District XI Title game a few weeks later

• In as competitive a year for Colonial League softball as many people can remember, Catty & Pen Argyl are the two teams that nearly everyone agreed are the #1 and #2 teams in the league’s preseason polls (and the Lehigh Valley is LOADED with exceptionally good softball players this spring)

• In the first meeting this season, Pen Argyl jumped out to a 5-1 lead early, only to have the Rough Riders come back and win the game late

When Mother Nature allows, both teams have continued to rack up wins when playing other opponents, and seem destined to play each other at least two more times in very meaningful contests this spring.

I could continue comparing the on-the-field similarities, including how strong both teams’ pitching is, both squads’ ‘big game’ experience, the players’ ability to come up clutch hits, et al. Instead, I was struck by something not as clearly visible.

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to meet with both teams as a part of the features we produce for our Thursday night sports show. In speaking with the players, I found that each of them exhibited a tremendous level of respect for the game, a passion to play it, and an incredibly strong knowledge and awareness of the game.

For people who haven’t regularly followed high school sports in recent years, this is far more unique than one might think. I have heard numerous, off-the-record stories in recent years regarding players who you’d have to drag to practice…or players who deal well with their teammates, and/or gruesome stories of an athlete not only making a bonehead play, but not understanding the game enough to realize what he or she did wrong. Living in an era frequently described as “me first” has lent itself to less team-focused play and not nearly as much desire, let alone passion, to practice or to work on improving skills and sports knowledge.

This was not the case when I stopped by the team’s practices. It was great to hear players genuinely looking forward to coming to practice—whether indoors or out, expressing a strong desire to encourage their teammates and working to improve the overall team. There was no talk about what an individual needed to do to enhance their opportunity for a scholarship (although there are a few at each school looking to do so). It was refreshing to hear the players’ insights about their school, their league and their sport.

I have to believe a large part of the credit for this team’s outlook—not to mention all the wins the last several seasons—has to belong to their respective coaching staffs. You won’t find a nicer group of coaches than the ones at Pen Argyl. Bill Schankel, Ron Singer, Tom Rosser, Brian Schriner, and James Trach, Jr. have always embodied that wonderful spirit of sportsmanship and good-nature that you find attending an event in Green Knight’s territory. I also enjoyed meeting Catty Skipper Bobby Thomas for the first time last week. He clearly “gets it” with a tremendous knowledge of softball and sports in general here in this area. The fact that the Rough Riders do not have enough players to field a JV team yet continue to produce topline talent the last several seasons is a direct result of Thomas’ coaching skills and the drive that his players have.

So while the Phillies will continue to battle the Nationals and Braves for the top spot in the National League East, Emmaus, Parkland, and a few other teams will have fierce battles on the baseball diamond, and local colleges will no doubt have their annual rivalry battles, let’s not forget about all the young ladies from Catasauqua and Pen Arygl. They will continue to make for some great on-field confrontations, and, more importantly, represent their school and their sport, with an amazing level of pride and professionalism.

What other sports programs do you feel deserve some extra attention? Which players have stood out and have overcome challenges this spring? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for this Thursday’s live show at 6pm as we look back at the first half of the high school spring sports season and look ahead to the second half and the playoffs.