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Saturday, December 1, 2012

This Week in Sports: December 1, 2012

I took a week off from this column to cook a Thanksgiving dinner.  For those of you who have never done it ... yes ... it is a multi-day task.  A lot happened since the last update column, so I will add a bonus section to this week's post.

The Week I Was Absent:  I picked a busy week to take a break.  NASCAR crowned a champion and the NCAA football landscape shifted dramatically ... on the field and off.

Keselowski hugs team owner Roger Penske
NASCAR:  Brad Keselowski had a 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson when the engines fired at Homestead, Florida on November 18.  That was a significant lead, but with a strong finish, Johnson still had a very realistic chance to put pressure on the young Keselowski.  As it turns out, Johnson had a dismal day.  Keselowski cruised to a championship in Roger Penske's iconic #2 car.  The championship was a first in NASCAR for Roger Penske who was already American motor sports royalty.   It was also the first championship for 28 year-old Brad Keselowski.  As evidenced by his post-race interview on ESPN, Brad clearly enjoyed the victory.

College Football:  The last time I published this column was November 17.  Back at that time, Kansas State was #1 in the BCS standings and Oregon was #2.  In that column, I declared that Kansas State had a weak opponent up next on their schedule.   Turns out that the Baylor Bears were a little stronger than I gave them credit for.  Baylor ruined Kansas State's national championship hopes by defeating the Wildcats by a score of 52-24.  Oregon also lost at home to Stanford by a score of 17-14 in overtime.  Those losses left Notre Dame as the sole undefeated team in the nation and propelled the Irish to the #1 ranking in the BCS standings.  Alabama moved into the #2 spot with Georgia at #3.


Revised Big Ten map
NCAA Conference Realignment:  While the SEC has established itself as the most dominant football conference, the Big Ten continues to pride itself on being the conference with the highest academic standards required for admission.  On November 19 and 20, the Big Ten officially added Maryland and Rutgers.  Maryland was one of the founding members of the ACC.  Rutgers is leaving the crumbling Big East.  Both schools will being play in their new conference in 2014.  The additions bring the Big Ten up to 14 members and extend the conference's footprint all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.


The Week That Was:  College athletics garnered most of the headlines on Thanksgiving week.

College Football:  Thanksgiving weekend is rivalry weekend.  For Notre Dame, their annual battle against USC held extra importance.  Notre Dame was the #1 ranked team in the BCS standings.  A win against the Trojans would assure them a place in the BCS championship game in January.  The stout Irish defense capped off their excellent regular season with a fourth quarter, goal line stand that sealed the victory.  Notre Dame won the game by a score of 22-13.

The other half of the BCS national championship game was a little less clearly defined at the start of the weekend.  Alabama was ranked #2, and Georgia was ranked #3.  If both teams won their final regular season games then they would face each other in the SEC championship.  That would make that game a de facto national semi-final.  Georgia throttled a very mediocre Georgia Tech team 42-10.  And, Alabama dismantled a lousy Auburn team 49-0 in the Iron Bowl.

College Basketball:  Thanksgiving break features a large slate of high profile, non-conference match ups.  Indiana was the preseason #1.  The Hoosiers lived up to that ranking by thoroughly beating #14 North Carolina 83-59 in the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  But it's Duke that has made the strongest statement to start the season.  Back on November 13, Duke beat preseason #3 Kentucky in the Georgia Dome.  On November 24, Duke won the Battle For Atlantis by defeating #2 Louisville at a tournament in the Bahamas.  The Blue Devils followed that up by beating #4 Ohio State at home.  Pretty impressive stuff.

NCAA Conference Realignment:  In response, to the loss of founding member Maryland, the ACC moved quickly to add Louisville to the conference.  Louisville will start play in the ACC in 2014.  The Big East responded to the loss of Rutgers by adding Tulane and East Carolina.  The addition of Tulane and East Carolina are just the latest in a long line of drastic changes for the Big East.  Thankfully, the Big East has provided a webpage to help us keep track of their shifting membership.


The Week Ahead:  Football takes center stage in this first week of December, but it's not the only sport with big events on the calendar.

College Football:  The PAC 12, the Big Ten, and the ACC will all hold conference championship games this weekend.  But the nation's eyes will be focused on Atlanta, Georgia for the SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia.  In addition to the prestige of winning the SEC title, the winner of this game will be #2 in the BCS standings and will have a date to face Notre Dame for the national championship.  This game will be played at 4:00 p.m. EST and will be shown on CBS.

(Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger)
NFL:  It's Week 13 in the NFL.  The top of the playoff picture is starting to come into focus.  But the wildcard in both the AFC and the NFC are still very much up for grabs.  In the NFC, the teams that are at 5-6 cannot afford any more losses if they want to maintain a realistic chance at the playoffs.  One of those teams is the Cowboys.  The Cowboys get to host the dismal 3-8 Eagles on Sunday night.  That game will be shown on NBC at 8:20 p.m. EST.  The other 5-6 team in the NFC is the Washington Redskins.  The Redskins will host the division-leading New York Giants on Monday night.  That game will be shown on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. EST.  In the AFC, the Steelers, the Bengals and the Dolphins are battling it out for the final playoff spot.  The Dolphins trail the other two by one game.  Thus, the Dolphins face a must-win situation when they host the red-hot Patriots on Sunday afternoon.  That game will be shown on CBS at 1:00 p.m. EST.  The Bengals will be traveling to the West Coast to play the struggling San Diego Chargers.  That game will be shown on CBS at 4:25 p.m. EST.  The premier game on Sunday's schedule will be played between the Steelers and the division-leading Baltimore Ravens.  The Steelers have lost their last two games and will be starting third-string quarterback Charlie Batch when they face their arch rivals in Baltimore.  The game will be played at 4:25 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on CBS.

Rodeo:  The National Finals Rodeo will get underway on December 6 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The NFR is the Super Bowl of rodeo.  All tolled, over $6 million in prize money is on the line as the world's top cowboys gather for the nine-day event.  Beginning on Thursday night, GAC will broadcast the rodeo live from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. EST.


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