This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 01/05/2009
A - Andy Murray. With the Australian Open just around the corner, the tennis season is slowly and quietly off to a start. It's way too early to know how the year is going to turn out, but early indications are that Andy Murray, the talented but underachieving British star, is ready to unleash a big season. He beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on consecutive days to win an Aussie Open prep in Abu Dhabi this week.
B - Boston Bruins. Boston showed a small sign of mortality on Saturday when they finally lost a game. The loss, at home to Buffalo, followed 10 straight wins. It was the first home loss since Oct. 23 for the ridiculously hot Bruins, winners of 20 of their last 23. The streak was the longest for Boston since 1973. Phil Kessel was as strong as always in the loss, scoring his team-leading 24th goal of the year.
C - Canada. The World Junior Hockey Championships, which start the day after Christmas every year, are like a religion in Canada. It's no surprise - Canada plays in the gold medal game on Monday night to secure their fifth straight gold medal. Their path to the final was the stuff of legend. They scored the tying goal in the semifinal against the Russians with just five seconds left in the game, and then got the win with two spectacular shootout goals. Canada was heavily favored in the game, so most of Canada was on edge as it looked like they would lose to their bitter rivals.
D - Ducks. The bowl season isn't quite over yet, but the Holiday Bowl has my current vote for best game. Oklahoma State and Oregon set up as a shootout on paper, and it more than delivered. Cowboys' QB Zac Robinson was beat up as much as a QB can be, but he kept getting up to fight again. On the other side, Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli was brilliant. He passed well, but he was even more dangerous with his feet. It was a lesson on being a mobile QB, and it allowed his team to be the last one standing.
E - Eagles. Philadelphia is on to the second round of the playoffs, and, not surprisingly, they have Brian Westbrook to thank for it. Westbrook turned a short pass reception into a 71-yard touchdown with a stunning display of his running might. Philly had a two-point lead at the time, but the score widened the gap and took the wind out of the Minnesota sails. Next up is a rematch with the Giants - one of four games this weekend that are rematches of regular season games.
F - Favre, Brett. Turns out that Favre wasn't a much-loved teammate. After being knocked out of the playoffs with some terrible QB play, Jets teammates, anonymous and otherwise, threw their high-profile pivot under the bus. They said he was distant, he kept mostly to himself, he was selfish, and that he should have been benched before the season was lost. It was a shockingly ruthless attack on a teammate, but can any of it come as a surprise? Here's hoping he comes to his senses and retires.
G - Gaborik, Marion. Talk about expensive surgery. Gaborik, the very talented but oft-injured Minnesota Wild forward, will miss at least 10 weeks thanks to left hip surgery. He has played just six games this season. Gaborik's contract expires at the end of the season, so the injury and the uncertainty it creates will cost him millions next year. No need to be sympathetic, though - this is all due to Gaborik's stupidity. He was offered a very generous extension in the offseason, but chose to turn it down.
H - Harbaugh, John. Harbaugh didn't get the recognition of Mike Smith or Tony Sparano in year-end award voting, but he's the last rookie coach standing in the playoffs. He'll stay that way for a while, too, if Baltimore's defense keeps playing like it did Sunday. The Ravens picked Chad Pennington off four times, and missed a fifth pick when the ball went through Ed Reed's hands in the fourth quarter. Reed can be forgiven, though - he had two picks, and it was as if he was in the huddle with the Dolphins all game.
I - Iowa. Shonn Greene ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns to lead his Hawkeyes to a win in the Outback Bowl. The performance was impressive for a couple of reasons - Greene became the only player in the country to run for 100 yards in every game he played, and it was his last in college as he declared for the draft right after the game. It was also notable for Iowa - they became the first Big Ten team to win a bowl, and the only one to date to be even remotely competitive.
J - Jamie Dixon. Dixon had big shoes to fill at Pitt after taking over from Ben Howland, but in some real ways he has surpassed his teacher. Pitt has been elevated to No. 1 in both polls for the first time in school history. That history spans 101 years, so it's quite the milestone. They were obviously helped by the UNC loss, but they helped themselves this week by beating both Rutgers and Georgetown on the road to remain undefeated. The 16-point win over Georgetown, ranked 8th at the time, was particularly decisive and impressive.
K - Kurt Warner. If we have learned one thing by now it is never to count Kurt Warner out. Warner's Cardinals had been lousy down the stretch, but you'd never guess it by their play in their win against the Falcons on Saturday. Warner was solid, Larry Fitzgerald was spectacular, and Edgerrin James looked like his old self as the Cards won their first home playoff game since the team played in Chicago. It was much more than most people would have expected from the team in the game.
L - LSU. Who says college football makes any sense? Georgia Tech beat Georgia this year. Georgia beat LSU pretty handily. So Georgia Tech should at the very least be competitive against LSU when the team meet in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, right? Not so much. LSU crushed the life out of the Yellow Jackets, 38-3. Georgia Tech won on the ground all year, but it was LSU who was more effective running the ball.
M - Mike Shanahan. The demise of Mike Shanahan after 14 seasons as head coach of the Denver Broncos was big news this week. We were supposed to be shocked by it. To me, the biggest shock was that it didn't happen sooner. Shanahan hasn't been particularly competitive since John Elway retired, his trademark running game has struggled lately, and the team's total collapse at the end of the season wasn't nearly as unpredictable as it should have been.
N - Notonthesamepage. There is a lot of ground to cover between now and the Kentucky Derby, but the trail has officially started. The Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday was the first three year old prep race, and it was Notonthesamepage that served notice with a stunning 8 ¼-length win. The race was just six furlongs, and the horse is viewed as mostly a sprinter, but the win will earn him a chance to prove himself at a longer distance. Two packed allowance races on Thursday at Gulfstream will be the next focus of attention on the trail.
O - Oklahoma. The Sooners' basketball team lost their first game of the season on Tuesday when they fell to Arkansas by eight points on the road. Though the loss was disappointing, the team's stars certainly can't be blamed. Blake Griffin had 21 points and 13 boards, and freshman stud Willie Warren added a career-high 35 points. It was the first big win for the 10-1 Razorbacks, and perhaps it was a sign that Arkansas could be ready to do some damage in the weak SEC.
P - Peyton Manning. It was the best of weeks and the worst of weeks for Manning. He added his third MVP award to his trophy case this week, but he'd almost certainly trade that for a win against the Chargers. The Colts lost, but their often lackluster play was only part of the problem. They also fell victim to the league's ridiculous overtime rule - barely acceptable in the regular season, but truly stupid in the postseason. Manning doesn't have to worry about being a disgrace to his award - Offensive Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan and Coach of the Year Mike Smith lost, too.
Q - Quite unexpected. North Carolina was supposed to be unbeatable. They had looked almost flawless all year, and they seemed to be the clear class of college basketball. Their dominance only stretched as far as their first conference game, though. Under the leadership of senior guard Tyrese Rice, Boston College stunned the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Sunday night. Boston College had a halftime lead, and they added to it in the second half as they left UNC and their fans scratching their heads.
R - Rose Bowl. The greatest of bowl games was compelling and exciting. And then the parade ended and the game began. USC thoroughly and utterly dominated Penn State in every sense of the word in a 38-24 game that looked as close as the score indicated only because Penn State added 17 fourth quarter points after the outcome was long since decided. The decisive win will stir up some controversy if Oklahoma or Florida doesn't show up for the championship game, and was a decisive reminder of just how off the Big Ten was this year.
S - Sugar Bowl. Utah loves the BCS. They were 11-point underdogs against Alabama, but you'd never guess it by watching the game. Utah set the tone early with explosive offense and an incredibly effective pass rush, and they managed to maintain the momentum throughout the game as Alabama woke up and tried to assert themselves. It's probably too much to hope, but the win, coupled with Utah's previous BCS win and Boise State's BCS performance, should start to make the possibility of a non-BCS national championship contender more of a possibility.
T - Tajh Boyd. There were two televised high school all-star games this week to give recruiting junkies their fix. Both games featured impressive play by some players, and some intriguing and important commitments. The most compelling story, though, is QB Tajh Boyd from Virginia. He's the fourth ranked QB in the class by Scout.com, and he was co-MVP of the All-American Bowl with two TD passes. His performance was timely because Boyd is uncommitted, and doesn't seem to yet have a clear favorite school. Let the recruiting frenzy begin.
U - UConn. Donald Brown is the real deal. The junior running back became the 14th player to run for 2,000 yards in a season when he scampered for 261 yards to leads his Huskies past Buffalo in the International Bowl. Brown declared for the draft after the game. The 18-point win was impressive, as the team had to overcome five first half fumbles. They were down at the half, but Buffalo was next to useless in the second half, and UConn asserted themselves.
V - Vanderbilt. The Commodores hadn't won a bowl game since 1955, but they ended that streak in style by beating a ranked team, Boston College, in the Music City Bowl. The win was important for the Vandy program, but it certainly can't be mistaken for and exciting one. The Commodores had just 200 yards of total offense, and their 16 points came from three field goals and a defensive fumble recovery. Still, the win is all that matters.
W - Winter Classic. It's hard to believe, but the NHL actually seems to have a success on their hands, and they seem to be managing it well. For the second straight year, the Winter Classic outdoor game was played on New Year's Day. This year's version was a barnburner won, 6-4, by Detroit over Chicago at Wrigley Field. The weather was good, the game was exciting, the ice was great, and people actually paid attention.
X - Xavier. Our mascots rebounded from two rough losses this week to add a couple of wins and move to 11-2. Neither Robert Morris nor Virginia presented big challenges, but it was a good chance for the team to restore their confidence and remember how to win again. Next up is the start of the A-10 season on Thursday night, with hopes that another league title awaits in a couple of months.
Y - Yikes. Texas Tech just plain didn't play well. Sure, Graham Harrell set a Cotton Bowl passing record, but the Red Raiders were handled easily by Houston Nutt and Ole Miss. Harrell didn't seem to entirely have his mind on the game, and neither did coach Mike Leach. That led to some odd decisions, and some perplexing play calling. On Thursday we'll learn if this game told us that Texas Tech was pouting about their fate, or if the SEC is just better than the Big 12.
Z - Zzzzz. The Sun Bowl is one of the few bowls I haven't watched this year, and I couldn't be more thankful for that. Oregon State beat Pitt, 3-0, in perhaps the least interesting bowl game ever played. The game featured 20 punts and 10 sacks. Needless to say, it was a defensive battle. It was the lowest scoring bowl game since TCU and Air Force stumbled to a 0-0 draw in the 1959 Cotton Bowl. Thankfully, I missed that one, too.