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Saturday, November 17, 2012

This Week in Sports: November 17, 2012

The plague that is sweeping across central Virginia felled Wild Banshee and kept her under the covers for a good part of the week.  Fortunately, I have rallied for a new weekend of sports ... and to write this weekly column.

The Week That Was:  Sports is drama without a script, so sometimes events jump into this section that I did not anticipate.  This week, Jeff Gordon pushed NASCAR into the headlines ... and not necessarily for the right reasons.

NASCAR:  The Chase for the the Sprint Cup had only two races to go as the circuit headed to Phoenix last weekend.  The championship had basically boiled down to a duel between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.  But the ongoing feud between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer stole the headlines from this race.  In the late stages of the race, Bowyer and Gordon had gotten together in a minor incident that caused Gordon to end up in the wall with significant damage.  Instead of heading into the pits and allowing the race to come to an orderly conclusion, Gordon waited for Bowyer and intentionally wrecked him with 2 laps to go.  Bowyer was running in the top five at the time.  The wreck also collected Joey Logano and happened just a few feet in front of championship contender Brad Keselowski.  As Jeff Gordon climbed out of his car in the garage area, he was accosted by members of Bowyer's pit crew.  Gordon's crew was able to pin Gordon against a tool box and keep him safe from the worst of the fray, but the two crews had it out in a full brawl.  Bowyer himself sprinted to the site but was stopped on the doorstep of Gordon's hauler before any more mayhem could ensue.

In actual racing news, Kevin Harvick won the race.  Jimmie Johnson hit the wall early in the race and limped home to a 32nd place finish.  Brad Keselowski avoided two wrecks in the final laps of the race and finished in 6th place.  That allowed Keselowski to wrestle the points lead away from Johnson as they head into the final race of the season.

College Football:  The reason the SEC is the most best conference in the nation is because of its depth.  Every weekend presents a stern test to title contenders.  Alabama was reminded of that last weekend.  Just one week after an emotional nighttime victory over LSU, the undefeated Crimson Tide returned home to host the #15 Texas A&M Aggies.  Led by their freshman sensation Johnny Manziel, the Aggies exploded to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, and held on for a 29-24 victory.  The loss knocked the Crimson Tide out of the top spot in the BCS rankings.  Alabama now sits behind three undefeated teams:  Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame.

NFL:  Football fans had to wait till the Sunday night game for the most anticipated game of the day.  The 7-1 Houston Texans played the 7-1 Chicago Bears in Chicago.  It turned out that it was a sloppy, turnover-filled defensive struggle played in a cold rain.  In the end, the Texans prevailed by a score of 13-6.  The Bears lost more than just a game.  They also lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion in the second quarter.  Cutler will miss at least one more game.

NBA:  After just five games, the Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown.  Last weekend, it seemed all but assured that the Lakers would turn to Phil Jackson to return them to glory.  However, at the last moment, the Lakers changed their mind and hired Mike D'Antoni.  The move reunites D'Antoni with point guard Steve Nash, but it is unclear how D'Antoni's up-tempo style will suit this aging Lakers roster.  D'Antoni is still recovering from knee surgery and will not join the team until next week.

The Week Ahead:  Before the nation turns its focus to turkey and stuffing, there is a full weekend of sports on tap.

NASCAR:  The Chase for the Championship will come to a conclusion on Sunday in Homestead, Florida.  Brad Keselowski has a solid 20-point lead over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.  Keselowski will start 3rd on Sunday.  If Keselowski finishes in 15th or better, he will capture his first championship.  But Johnson, who will start 10th, can put some serious pressure on the young Keselowski if he puts up a strong effort of his own.  The race will air on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.

College Football:  The SEC has a virtual week off this weekend.  #1 Kansas State and #3 Notre Dame are both playing relatively weak opponents.  That allows the nation to turn its full focus to the west coast.  For the first time in a long time, the annual clash between #18 USC and #17 UCLA will have some national appeal.  Although the game will have no impact on the national championship, there will be plenty of pageantry when this rivalry game is played in the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.  That game will be shown on FOX at 3:05 p.m. EST.  Later in the night, the #2 Oregon Ducks will try to keep their national championship hopes alive when they host the #13 Stanford Cardinal.  It will be interesting to see if the physical Stanford defense can slow down the high-flying Ducks.  One thing that is certain is that atmosphere in Eugene will be electric.  That game will be shown on ABC at 8:00 p.m. EST.

NFL:  As we head into Week 11, almost every game has some sort of playoff implication, either direct or indirect.  That makes it hard to pick just a few games to focus on.  One game with a little extra interest on it will take place in Foxboro when the surprising 6-3 Colts take on the 6-3 Patriots.  Both teams are battling for playoff berths, but this game has extra appeal because it will be rookie QB Andrew Luck's first matchup against the golden boy, Tom Brady.  That game will be played at 4:25 p.m. EST on CBS.  In the Sunday night game, the Ravens will play the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers need to win this home game since the Ravens currently have a one game lead at the top of the division.  However, the Steelers will have to do it without QB Ben Roethlisberger who is suffering from shoulder and rib injuries.  That game will be shown in primetime on NBC.  The Chicago Bears will be in the national spotlight again this week when the travel to San Francisco for the Monday night game.  The Bears and Niners both have tenuous leads in their divisions.  The Bears will not have Jay Cutler at QB as he is still recovering from last week's concussion.  All reports are that Niners QB Alex Smith has recovered sufficiently from his concussion to be back in the lineup on Monday night.  This game will be shown on ESPN on Monday night.

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