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Ohio State has best chance to spoil SEC’s national championship party

Angelo Moretti



Ohio State has best chance to spoil SEC’s national championship party

It lost to the best team it faced. Its last three league wins have come over teams with a combined one conference victory. Its defense was shredded for 66 points by the two best offenses it has seen.

And, yet, Ohio State has looked every bit the way Ohio State is supposed to look over the past month, scoring 231 points and holding its last four opponents to 44. Freshman C.J. Stroud has emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender, the latest quarterback that coach Ryan Day has molded into an elite playmaker. The previously suspect defense has found its swagger, producing seven turnovers in the last four games. The skill positions are loaded with future pros such as Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson.

It gives me reason to believe the national champion isn’t a lock to come out of the SEC. Georgia is the clear-cut favorite and Alabama is the team many have pointed to as giving the Bulldogs the most trouble.

Ohio State, though, has played better over the last month than the Crimson Tide. It certainly has been more consistent than Nick Saban’s team, which lost to Texas A&M and struggled at home against mediocre Tennessee on Saturday.

We’ll learn more about the Buckeyes in the coming weeks, with games still remaining against the two undefeated Michigan teams, the Wolverines and Spartans, and a potential Big Ten title game with one-loss Iowa.

Steele Chambers dives for a fumble in the second quarter against Indiana.Getty Images

Since losing to Oregon on Sept. 11, Ohio State has reeled off five straight wins over Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana. It has put up at least 41 points in all of those games. Now the caveat: Of those five, only Maryland, at 4-3, has a winning record. Its best win was the 45-31 season opener at Minnesota, which is tied with Iowa for the Big Ten West lead.

Day’s team still has a lot of proving to do. The résumé needs work. Plenty of questions remain. But the pieces are clearly there to make another national championship game run. Supposed top teams have struggled against the kind of weak opponents Ohio State has destroyed in recent weeks.

The Buckeyes are college football’s X factor — the team standing in the way of an all-SEC party in the College Football Playoff.

Over it

College football’s new overtime rules, intended to prevent extra-long games, is so poorly designed MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is in favor of it.

It gave us nine overtime sessions in the disaster that was Illinois’ 20-18 upset of Penn State. Of course, it wasn’t a true nine overtimes. The rules have changed that. After the first two overtime periods, instead of each team starting at the other’s 25-yard-line, we go right into two-point conversions.

Penn State and Illinois combined to miss on their first 10 two-point tries before both converting in the eighth overtime. Illinois mercifully ended it on Brandon Peters’ scoring strike to Casey Washington in the following stanza.

It made a mockery of the sport and gave extra attention to a game that really didn’t deserve it. I’m praying college basketball doesn’t get any ideas from this.

Eyes on the prize

The College Football Playoff may come down to Oklahoma or Cincinnati, one team leaving the Big 12 and another joining it. You’re going to hear so much about Cincinnati’s strength of schedule, the level of opponent it faces in the AAC. On social media, there was plenty of criticism of the Bearcats’ underwhelming victory over one-win Navy this weekend.

But let’s not forget how badly Oklahoma struggled with Big 12 punching bag Kansas. How underwhelming it has been all year against inferior opponents, beating the likes of Tulane, West Virginia, Nebraska and Kansas State by a single score. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won six of its seven games by at least 11 points, including a road victory over Notre Dame. The AAC program wins the eye test and game-control comparison, which you hear so much about from the playoff committee every year. Hopefully, they remember that if it comes down to these two schools.

Top 10

1. Georgia (7-0) (Last week: 1)

Florida is the last roadblock between Georgia and a perfect regular season. The Gators may have three losses, but they are capable, particularly if Dan Mullen finally gives the ball to fantastic freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson.

2. Alabama (7-1) (3)

The Crimson Tide defense has alternated between stifling and porous. It dominated Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and was lit up by Texas A&M and Tennessee.

3. Ohio State (6-1) (5)

Ohio State’s last four wins, over Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana, have come by an aggregate of 231-44. It’s not elite competition, but it is certainly elite results.

4. Cincinnati (7-0) (2)

Yes, it was just one poor performance, an ugly showing in a narrow victory over one-win Navy. but Cincinnati really can’t afford any more of these.

Lincoln RileyGetty Images

5. Oklahoma (8-0) (4)

The Sooners held a five-point lead over Kansas with 3:20 remaining, and the ball was at the Oklahoma 46-yard line. Instead of punting on fourth-and-1, Lincoln Riley went for it, which says all you need to know about what he thinks of his defense.

6. Michigan (7-0) (7)

Now we finally start to see what this Michigan team is made of, beginning Saturday in East Lansing against Michigan State. The Wolverines have beaten the teams on their schedule, but don’t have a single win that really stands out.

7. Michigan State (7-0) (8)

The last time Michigan State and Michigan were both ranked in the top 10 entering their annual showdown was 1964. The atmosphere at Spartan Stadium will be electric.

8. Ole Miss (6-1) (NR)

Lane Kiffin’s team has responded to the ugly loss at Alabama by beating Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU, keeping itself alive in the SEC West race.

9. Kentucky (6-1) (9)

Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, Kentucky had won double-digit games just twice in program history. It is on pace to do that for a second time in five seasons this year. He’s a name you don’t hear enough during the coaching carousel.

10. Oregon (6-1) (NR)

The Ducks’ playoff dream isn’t dead, but it has come close to being extinguished in nail-biting victories over Cal and UCLA the last two weeks.

Dropped out: Penn State (5-2) and Oklahoma State (6-1)

Heisman Watch

(in alphabetical order)

QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Playing through injuries, the junior produced two touchdowns in a win over LSU, extending his streak of at least two scores to 17 consecutive games.

QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Two games up on Virginia, Pitt is in position to win the ACC Coastal division with Pickett leading the way. He’s thrown 23 touchdown passes and just one interception, emerging as one of the premier quarterbacks in the country.

Kenny PickettGetty Images

QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

It’s getting harder to imagine Stroud not getting a New York City invite as he stacks one eye-popping performance upon another, now with 14 touchdowns over his last three games without an interception and a 73.8 completion percentage.

RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

This week Walker can make a statement by lighting up Michigan’s second-ranked scoring defense which has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in seven games.

QB Bryce Young, Alabama

The Heisman remains Young’s to lose, as he continues to pile up huge numbers. He had his best day yet on Saturday, producing four touchdowns and 413 total yards.

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Yankees haven’t fixed anything in disappointing start to offseason

Angelo Moretti



Yankees haven’t fixed anything in disappointing start to offseason

No obligation for any of us outsiders to turn up the heat on the Yankees. Just turn back to what the ultimate insider, Hal Steinbrenner, said last month after bringing back his manager Aaron Boone:

“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve. We need to get better. Period.”

With one day to go before Major League Baseball, barring a miracle, locks out its players and shuts down all transactions, that sits as one mission seriously unaccomplished.

Doesn’t mean it can’t happen by Opening Day 2022, whenever that occurs. It sure as heckfire hasn’t occurred yet, though.

At Tuesday’s deadline to tender contracts, the Yankees made news with their lack of news, a distressing development for their fans already anguished by the team’s decision to stand back as big names like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Starling Marte and Max Scherzer came off the board in a pre-lockout frenzy, the last two going to Steve Cohen’s Mets. Steinbrenner’s club retained Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar, each candidates to be non-tendered in the realm of public speculation if nowhere else, along with other slam dunks like Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green.

Keeping Sanchez justifiably generated the biggest headlines and most social media agita, and to reiterate my opinion, it’s a significant mistake to bring back the source of so much tension and drama, no matter how much of that reflects New York’s drawbacks as much as Sanchez’s own, no matter if he can dominate offensively for a month. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spread the word this week that he was working on a trade for a catcher. Perhaps such a transaction still can occur to find a better partner for Kyle Higashioka, although now the Yankees find themselves on the hook for about $8 million, albeit only a portion guaranteed, to Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez and Brian CashmanChristopher Sadowski. USA Today Sports

Voit, too, appeared in jeopardy after a miserable, injury-plagued 2021 during which he went to the plate 241 times, a mere seven more than during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign when he won the big-league home run title. He’s back, for now, maybe as much as a designated hitter option (with Giancarlo Stanton preferring the outfield) as first base. Andujar, meanwhile, has totaled -1.9 wins above replacement — that’s 1.9 wins below replacement, if you prefer, as per — since he finished second in the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has tallied three straight seasons of sub-replacement performance. Yeesh.

The Yankees haven’t answered their questions at shortstop or center field, and they could use another starting pitcher (they offered one year and $25 million to Justin Verlander, who accepted two years and $50 million from the Astros) plus some more bullpen depth. Moreover, the Yankees jettisoned the speedy trio of Greg Allen, Andrew Velazquez and Tyler Wade after acknowledging their desire to get more athletic.

There hasn’t been a first act this discouraging since the start of “Superman III.”

Now, before you plunge yourself into a months-long funk as the sport goes dark, don’t miss the key words there: First act.

Even after this past week’s flurry of activity, the free-agent pool features a bevy of appealing options from shortstop Trevor Story to Swiss Army knife Chris Taylor to high-end starting pitcher Carlos Rodon to a pair of lefty-hitting ex-Cub first basemen, one of whom (Anthony Rizzo) handled New York quite well, the other of whom (Kyle Schwarber) thrived in Boston. The A’s have not yet begun to sell off their veterans, including first baseman Matt Olson. And if the Yankees somehow wrested Freddie Freeman from the Braves, my hunch is you’d be just fine with Andrelton Simmons manning shortstop until Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe are ready.

(Yes, you want Sanchez gone, even if the Yankees figure out how to clone Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Jeter. Understood. And I still don’t see Carlos Correa or Marcus Stroman as fits.)

That Steinbrenner issued his mandate despite his team qualifying for the 2021 playoffs underlined the frustrating journey to a quick October exit. Growth, evolution and improvement still reside on their to-do list. If they can’t accomplish those goals in time, an angry owner will represent the least of their problems.

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Tom Thibodeau, Julius Randle ‘pissed’ at refs after Knicks’ loss to Nets

Angelo Moretti



Tom Thibodeau, Julius Randle ‘pissed’ at refs after Knicks’ loss to Nets

The Knicks’ first game following the benching of Kemba Walker didn’t end with a victory, but it came with promise in taking the first-place Nets down to the final seconds in a 112-110 thriller at Barclays Center.

However, instead of taking the close defeat and gleaning the positives, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle railed about the officiating while overshadowing the Knicks’ move to Alec Burks (25 points, five assists) as the starting point guard.

There was a lot of holiday whine in the postgame in Brooklyn.

Thibodeau ended his press conference early, saying he’s “pissed’’ and “something’s wrong,’’ referring to the foul calls. Randle then said the officials need to brush up on basketball.

Both Thibodeau and Randle could be fined by the NBA after the Knicks shot 12 free throws to the Nets’ 25.

Randle picked up a late technical foul during a timeout arguing his case and then needed to be restrained after the final buzzer.

Julius Randle and Tom ThibodeauGetty Images; N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

It’s not the first time Randle had an incident at Barclays Center, as last season he was fined for charging at referee Scott Foster after the game.

“You saw what happened, everyone saw what happened,’’ said Randle, who scored 24 points. “No need for me to talk about it. Everybody saw what was going on.

“I’m not going to talk about them. I’m going to talk about the game and what the players are doing. I’m not going to talk about those guys. They clearly don’t understand the game.’’

Told the Knicks shot just 12 free throws to the Nets’ 25, Randle said, “I shot two, right? Yeah.’’

Randle talked to the officiating crew after the game and got further incensed by the explanations.

“I don’t know what they’re watching or seeing,’’ Randle said. “I’m aggressive attacking the paint. I can’t be penalized for just being stronger than people. That’s the answer I got today.

“They said certain contact doesn’t affect me like it affects other players because I’m stronger so they missed the calls. It pissed me off even more, to be honest. It’s not how you officiate the game.

“You know when smaller players guarding bigger players, they get away with a lot more. But certain things are more blatant. If you just slap a guy, I don’t care who it is, it’s going to affect him.”

Julius RandleN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The Knicks’ moping was started by Thibodeau, who was asked about the Nets’ final possession in which Mitchell Robinson was called for a clear hacking foul on a driving James Johnson that produced the winning free throws.

“I don’t know,’’ Thibodeau said, pausing.

Unsolicited, Thibodeau then mentioned the discrepancy in free throws and Randle taking just two shots at the line.

“I don’t care how the game is called,’’ the Knicks coach said. “I really don’t. You call it tight, call it loose. But it’s got to be the same.

“I want to watch the film. But something’s not right. I’m watching what’s going on both ways. They’re a good team. But I know Julius was driving the ball pretty darn hard. And I’m pissed. Thank you.”

Last week, Thibodeau made an offhanded remark about the officials missing a foul call when Robinson got a concussion against the Rockets.

The TNT broadcast crew never made the officiating or foul calls an issue the entire broadcast.

Randle said he has to curtail his technicals though mouthing off probably doesn’t win friends among the striped shirts.

“I can’t let my techs affect whether we win or lose,’’ Randle said.

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Devils whipped by Sharks in Jack Hughes’ return to lineup

Angelo Moretti



Devils whipped by Sharks in Jack Hughes’ return to lineup

The Devils had no answers for the San Jose Shark’s top gun.

Sharks’ leading scorer Timo Meier scored twice, James Reimer made 32 saves and San Jose defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Tuesday night at Prudential Center in Newark, spoiling Jack Hughes’ return.

Noah Gregor, Jacob Middleton and Erik Karlsson also scored for the Sharks, who have started their five-game road trip at 2-0.

Tomas Tatar and Jesper Bratt scored for the Devils, and Mackenzie Blackwood had 26 saves.

Gregor opened the scoring at 4:26 of the first, beating Blackwood for his first goal of the season. Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted.

Middleton made it 2-0 at 4:14 of the second period with his second goal this season, with assists going to Gregor and Alexander Barabanov.

Meier poured it on to make it 3-0 midway through the second on the power play, and Karlsson followed not long after to make it 4-0 San Jose.

Jacob Middleton scores a goal on Mackenzie Blackwood during the Devils’ 5-2 loss to the Sharks.USA TODAY Sports

Despite having Hughes back in the lineup for the first time since the second game of the season, the Devils offered a minimal offensive attack against the Sharks until the third period.

Tatar ruined Reimer’s shutout bid with his fourth goal at 9:12 of the third. Pavel Zacha and Devils captain Nico Hischier assisted, the 100th career assist for the 22-year-old.

Bratt then made it a 4-2 game with his sixth goal at 12:49, and Andreas Johnsson had the lone assist.

Meier’s second goal of the game (his team-leading 11th goal of the season) came with three minutes left in the third.

The Devils announced earlier Tuesday that the 20-year-old Hughes agreed to an eight-year, $64 million contract extension that starts next season after his three-year entry level pact expires. Hughes was the first overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft. He missed 17 games after suffering a shoulder injury on Oct. 19 against Seattle.

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