This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 10/27/2008
A - Arkansas. Few people were sad to see Houston Nutt leave Arkansas last year after 10 seasons. Maybe they should have been. Nutt led his new team, Ole Miss, into Fayetteville and left with a win. To make matters worse for the fans who were watching, Nutt stayed on the field long after the game ended, hugging several of his former players and making it look like he was the most popular coach on both sidelines. Nutt knew he was going to get booed before the game, so he wisely led his team onto the field at exactly the same moment as Arkansas entered.
B - BCS Busters. It's time to acknowledge two teams that weren't on the radar to start the year, but which could well be in position to crash the BCS party. Ball State is 8-0 behind the impressive QB play of junior Nate Davis. They have four conference games left. Three could be tough, but they should be favored in all of them. Tulsa and freakish QB David Johnson are in an even better spot. They have to get past Arkansas this week, but if they managed that then their three remaining conference games are all very winnable.
C - Curlin. Sigh. The greatest horse of his generation didn't end his career in the way that I--and most of the 55,000 other people at the track with me--hoped. He never looked comfortable in the Classic. He made a move to the lead at the top of the stretch, but it was immediately obvious that his time at the front would be brief. I won't make excuses for the horse--he certainly doesn't need it after all he has done--but he was far from the only dirt horse who struggled on the synthetic surface. Of all the horses that finished in the top three in the non-turf races all weekend, only one--Midnight Lute--had achieved most of his success on dirt. The other 23 were all synthetic or turf specialists. A bias that strong definitely took something away from the event.
D - Defending champ. Midnight Lute won the Breeders' Cup Sprint for the second straight year, and he took a truly bizarre path to get there. After winning the Sprint last year he ran again soon after and ended up second. He was out of action until the summer when he had a disastrous 10th place outing. And that was the total extent of his preparations. He never should have been ready, but Bob Baffert trains him and he's a master at doing the unusual very well.
E - Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were the story of the start of the season when they came out of the gate surprisingly strong, winning their first four. It seemed too good to be true, and it turns out it was. They have lost three in a row, including two divisional games. Their earlier success came from surprisingly good offense and goaltending. Both of those aspects have returned closer to expectations, and that's not good news.
F - Florida. The Gators have looked sluggish and unfocused at times this year, especially in games played earlier in the day, but they truly served notice on Saturday that they shouldn't be overlooked. Kentucky is a team that has shown it can be dangerous, but Florida obviously wasn't bothered. They were up 35-0 before 20 minutes had elapsed, and wound up winning 63-5. Tim Tebow looked more like he did last year than he has looked this year as he threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more.
G - Golden Gophers. Tim Brewster isn't a high profile coach, but he is doing a masterful job in Minnesota. In his first year last year he finished an ugly 1-11. You'd never guess it now, though. The team beat Purdue this week to move to 7-1. That has them firmly established in the Top 20 - an almost impossible position considering where this team has been the last five years. The key is a ferocious defense that is masterful at forcing turnovers and an offense that avoids mistakes. They lead the nation in turnover margin.
H - Hip flexor. No. 1 pick Derrick Rose gave his new team a scare this week when he left the Bulls' last preseason game with a hip flexor injury after just five minutes. It could have been bad news, but it seems that he will be fine for Chicago's first game on Tuesday. The good news is that Rose has shown the promise that made him the top pick in the first place - he had seven points and two assists before the injury, and he was the second leading preseason scorer for the team with 14.9 points per game.
I - Idiot. Plaxico Burress seems determined to self-destruct. You would think that a guy would want to be at his best to play, and would want to stay out of his team's doghouse after a rocky season. Apparently it's no on both counts. Burress skipped a team scheduled physical therapy session for a neck injury on Saturday. He did have time, though, to go out for dinner with several Pittsburgh players that night. Burress was benched for the start of the Giants' game as punishment, and ended up with just three catches for 15 yards. The Giants won, but they desperately needed his offense. This situation is going to get uglier before it is resolved.
J - Jets. Right about now I am wondering whether the Jets wish they had never brought Brett Favre into town. First, they have had to weather the distraction of the bizarre story in which Favre allegedly helped the Lions' coaching staff prepare to play the Packers. Then they had to watch as Favre threw three interceptions and made beating Kansas City look way, way harder than it should have been. Favre isn't the only problem the Jets have, though - the defense made Tyler Thigpen look like Joe Montana.
K - Kevin Love. The Timberwolves had to make a trade to land Kevin Love, and after his first preseason game the fans were probably wondering why they had bothered. Love was brutal in Wednesday's preseason home opener, missing nine out of 10 shots, and winding up with just four points. He bounced back strong next time out, though, winding up with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Like the rest of Minnesota, Love is going to need a good deal of patience this year.
L - Lute Olson. This last year is not how anyone would want a legend to end his career. Olson took last year off from coaching amid rumors about his marriage and personal life. Now, just weeks before the season begins for Arizona, Olson has announced his retirement. It's a bizarre situation--on Tuesday he had appeared at media day, talking about how he was fired up for the season. This is a real distraction for the team, and, coupled with the draft defections the team endured after last season, could threaten to bring the school's 24-year NCAA Tournament streak to an end.
M - McCoy, Colt. The junior Texas QB seems to be en route to a Heisman win and, perhaps, a national championship. It would seem like McCoy is holding a golden ticket. It's both refreshing and surprising, then, that McCoy has already announced that he will be returning to Texas for his senior season. There's still lots of time for him to change his mind, of course, but the risk seems reasonably low--the team should be good again next year, and he just keeps getting better every time he plays.
N - New Orleans. Two teams--the Saints and the Chargers--went to London to play a game that they both desperately needed to win to salvage a rocky season. The Saints had lots of reasons not to win--an injured Reggie Bush, and plenty of doping distractions--but they managed to come out on top in the 37-32 shootout. Perhaps the biggest thing the Saints had going for them was Drew Brees--this was the first chance the former Charger had had to show his old team they made a mistake cutting him lose.
O - Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lost to Texas to end their hopes of an undefeated system, but they gained as much respect as a losing team can. Oklahoma State only lost by four on the road in front of almost 100,000 fans, and they put far more pressure on Texas than any team has all year. It was very close right down to the wire. It wasn't a perfect effort--Colt McCoy was more successful than he should have been--but it proved that what this team has accomplished so far is no fluke.
P - Palmer, Carson. Things just keep getting worse in Cincinnati. It appears that Palmer will not be around to play another game this year because his elbow problem is more serious than first thought and will need surgery. The Bengals took the news in stride and did what they do best--humiliated themselves. This time they did that by losing 35-6 to the Texans on Sunday. Things are beyond hopeless in Cincy, and I can't think of one good reason why Marvin Lewis shouldn't be fired today. His performance this year is making my continued assertions that he is the worst coach in football look pretty good.
Q - Quit playing! I was on the West Coast as I watched Game 3 of the World Series, and it still seemed to last far into the night. I can only imagine how it seemed for people watching in Philadelphia--the rising sun could have caused some glare on their televisions. At least it was exciting. Philly found a way to get the win in that game, and came back the next time out and pounded Tampa badly. This thing isn't over yet, but there is definitely a crack or two in Cinderella's glass slipper. It's good to see Ryan Howard coming through and playing like we know he could. His earlier playoff performance was far from what we expect from him.
R - Red carpet. Add this one to the list of bizarre sports injures. St. Louis Blues goalie Manny Legace had to leave Friday's game against the Kings with a hip injury. He sustained the injury when he tripped over a carpet that was in place for Sarah Palin to walk on to make the ceremonial face-off. Hardcore St. Louis fans likely weren't thrilled with the candidate, but it really all boils down to one thing--how in the world do you trip over a carpet? It didn't stand out from the white ice?
S - Scarlet Knights. Rutgers was a great story and Greg Schiano was lauded as a genius, but this year has been pretty rough for them. Though it would take more than one game to salvage their season, the team showed they still have some fight left on Saturday. Their offense was far better than it had been all year as they rose up to overwhelm the Panthers of Pitt, a team that was ranked No. 17 going into the game. QB Mike Teel threw a school record six touchdowns in the win. Impressively, those scores came from just 14 completed passes.
T - Texas Tech. The Red Raiders crushed Kansas on Saturday. The undefeated squad now hosts Texas in the biggest game in school history. As impressive as Texas Tech was in the lopsided win, the story of the game was Matt Williams, the kicker who kicked every extra point. On Sept. 22 Williams came out of the stands to kick a 30-yard field goal in a contest to win a month's free rent. The team's kicking situation was so bad that coach Mike Leach invited Williams to join the team.
U - UFC 90. Anderson Silva got the win that everyone expected from him, but it certainly didn't happen as it was supposed to. Patrick Cote became the first fighter to ever make it to the third round with Silva. As that round was getting underway, Cote took an awkward step and collapsed with a leg injury. The fight was halted and Silva got the TKO. The fight up to that point had been disappointing. As strange as it may sound, Silva really has a lot to prove next time out after this underwhelming showing.
V - Vindication. A dream season had turned very, very ugly for the Missouri Tigers over the last two weeks, but they found a way to ease some of the pain on Saturday. They were facing a Colorado team that can cause some headaches, and they destroyed them. When the dust settled the final score was 58-0, and Chase Daniel had piled up five touchdowns. This won't be enough to put the team back into the Big 12 mix, but it had to feel pretty good.
W - Westbrook, Brian. The Eagles' had their all-World running back return to action this week after an injury had caused him to miss two games and be limited in two others, and it looked as if he had never left. Westbrook carried the ball 22 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, and added 42 more yards through the air as Philly rolled past the Falcons. With the NFC East not looking nearly as strong as it once did, Westbrook's return comes at a good time to help his team get back into the playoff picture.
X - eXplosion. Mike Singletary may not have been able to make the Niners competitive in his first game as head coach, but he sure was fun to watch. He lost his mind both during and after the game. Vernon Davis was committed to continuing to waste his tremendous talent, so Singletary sent him to the showers with 10 minutes remaining. He benched QB J.T. O'Sullivan as well. Then, after the game, he gave a truly world class press conference, complete with all of the yelling that makes the good ones so much fun to watch.
Y - Yikes. Just what the NFL needs to deal with at this point - a doping scandal. The precise details are unclear, but it's known that between six and eight players have tested positive for Bumetanide, a diuretic that can be used to mask steroid use. Among the players alleged to be involved are Saints Deuce McAllister and Will Smith. If this was baseball this would be huge news. The NFL doesn't seem to be nearly as concerned about such things, though - when Shawne Merriman tested positive, he just got a slap on the worst and a four-game suspension.
Z - Zenyatta. It seems quite likely that we will have a female Horse of the Year - the first since Azeri in 2002. Zenyatta capped off a perfect season by winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on Friday so easily that it was ridiculous. Though the win was incredibly impressive it wasn't that surprising - the horse had repeatedly asserted her preference for synthetic surfaces like the one at Santa Anita, and she had previously beaten most of the field.