The Denver Broncos, who moved into the top slot in our Elo ratings last week, widened their advantage over the rest of the league in Week 7. Denver looked dominant in beating the San Francisco 49ers, who had been the No. 3 Elo team. The No. 2 Seattle Seahawks lost — greatly imperiling their playoff chances — as did the No. 5 San Diego Shargers. The No. 4 team, the New England Patriots, barely won against an awful opponent, the New York Jets.So, it’s time to pose the question Aaron Schatz asked at Football Outsiders. Is this Denver team merely the best in the league — or one of the best teams ever?The Broncos’ Elo rating is 1683, which translates to being favored by a touchdown in a neutral-site game against an average opponent. It’s also a fairly typical rating for the best team in the league at this point in the season. On average since 1970, the highest-rated team through Week 7 had an Elo rating of 1686, almost exactly matching Denver’s this year.Let’s pick some nits with the Broncos: They’ve lost once this year. They had a bye week. They fizzled in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts. And they were crushed in last year’s Super Bowl.Is this unfair? Except perhaps for the Super Bowl part, of course it is. Denver’s loss came on the road at Seattle and may have literally been the result of a coin flip. Beating Indianapolis by any margin looks more impressive given how well the Colts have played since. It’s not the Broncos’ fault that the schedulers gave them an early-season bye (and thereby one less opportunity to improve their Elo rating). More sophisticated statistical treatments — from Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to Benjamin Morris’s assessment of Peyton Manning’s clutchness — tend to have a higher opinion of the Broncos than Elo does.But if we’re judging whether the Broncos are a historically great team, we have the right — nay, the duty — to be very, very picky.This is not just an academic question. In the table below, I’ve taken the teams that had the highest Elo rating through Week 7 in each season since 1970. Eleven of the 25 teams that rated higher than the Broncos — or 44 percent — would go on to win the Super Bowl. But just two of the 19 (11 percent) that rated below the Broncos did.A lot of this is because even small advantages can compound over time. It’s not as though we can say with all that much confidence whether this year’s Broncos are better than, say, the 1998 edition of the team under John Elway. (Elo would have the 1998 Broncos favored, but by only 1.5 points). But a team that’s ever-so-slightly better is more likely to make the playoffs as a division champion rather than a wild card, more likely to have playoff games at home and to get a first-round bye, and more likely to win those playoff games once they occur. A team that’s a 70 percent favorite in each playoff game, and that needs to win three games to win the Super Bowl because it gets a bye, has a 34 percent chance of winning a championship. A team that’s a 60 percent favorite and that has to win four times has just a 13 percent chance.Elo puts the Broncos’ chances of winning the Super Bowl at 18 percent, somewhere between the two groups. Their Thursday-night home game against San Diego will be highly informative. A win for Denver would put it in a dominant position in the AFC West — it’d be a game-and-a-half ahead of the Chargers and at least two games ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs (with a tiebreaker advantage against each division rival). A loss to the Chargers would instead place Denver half a game behind San Diego with a tiebreaker disadvantage (and with the remaining game between the teams to be played in San Diego).The Broncos will probably make the playoffs as a wild card even if they lose their division, but the Super Bowl is much harder to win under those circumstances. The Broncos would have to play an extra game, and they’d have to play on the road. In our simulations, the Broncos won the Super Bowl 23 percent of the time as division champs but just 4 percent of the time as a wild card team. There’s not only playoff leverage riding on this game; there’s a lot of Super Bowl leverage at stake.Here are the current playoff odds for the other NFL teams:The Colts, who were briefly underdogs to make the playoffs after starting off their year 0-2 (Seahawks fans can take solace in that), are now 95 percent favorites to do so after having won every game since. Some of this is because the Colts are very good, but just as important is their extraordinarily weak division. The Houston Texans project to a record of 7-9, the Tennessee Titans 6-10, and the Jacksonville Jaguars (despite finally winning last week) 4-12. In our simulations, the Colts won the AFC South 82 percent of the time they finished with a 9-7 record and 62 percent of the time they went 8-8. Even a 7-9 record would often be enough to get them in. Andrew Luck is both lucky and good.Otherwise, the AFC playoff chase is more scrambled than last week. The Cincinnati Bengals are winless in their past three games (they managed a tie against the Carolina Panthers) and down to a 54 percent chance of making the playoffs, in danger of being lapped by Kansas City (41 percent) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (33 percent). Their matchup this week, at home against the division rival Baltimore Ravens, is another high-stakes game.The NFC, almost inevitably, will feature a ferocious battle for the wild card positions. Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Detroit, Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle all have somewhere between a 22 and 32 percent chance of winning a wild card. Three of those teams (barring a miraculous run by a team like the Chicago Bears) will win their divisions, but that leaves four teams fighting for two slots.The Arizona Cardinals, incidentally, have a chance to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Although Arizona is probably weaker than either San Francisco or Seattle, it has a leg up in the NFC West by virtue of its 5-1 start. Elo gives the Cardinals a 15 percent chance of making the Super Bowl and an 8 percent chance of winning it.Elo point spreadsRecord against point spread: 49-50-3 (8-7 in Week 7)Straight-up record: 74-31-1 (10-5 in Week 7)Even if we thought you should bet based on these odds — and we don’t — it wouldn’t be in cases where bookmakers have a team as a 2.5-point favorite and Elo has the same team favored by, say, two points. There are a lot of games like that this week and fewer differences between Vegas and Elo than in past weeks. The biggest split of the week is in an unwatchable game: Elo has the Titans favored by three points at home against Houston, while Vegas has the Texans as one-point favorites.The Washington Redskins are also a perpetual punching bag for Elo, and the system would have you take the Dallas Cowboys against them (even as 9.5-point favorites, as Vegas has the Cowboys). As Washington was on the verge of losing to the Titans last week — it pulled the game out but didn’t cover the point spread — The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King tweeted that Washington was struggling to beat “the third worst team in the league,” presumably referring to Tennessee. Actually, Elo has Washington rated as the third-worst team! Washington went 11-5 against the point spread in 2012 and perhaps is still getting too much credit for it; it’s 7-16 against the spread since then. The team’s straight-up record, 5-18, is even worse.
Savannah State just could not keep up with Florida State.Clearly, Mother Nature has a heart. How else do you explain that thunderstorms forced the premature end of the carnage of Savannah State’s meeting with Florida State, a match up many believed should not have happened in the first place?The Tigers from the quaint Georgia coastal town had to feel like a condemned prisoner receiving a reprieve. Florida State led 55-0 with still 8:59 left in the third quarter. Clearly, the Seminoles were on their way to covering the largest betting line in college football history, which at one point last week reached 70 ½ points.But two long delays because of severe thunderstorms of 56 minutes and 40 minutes – and a forecast for more – forced officials to call the game, a reprieve of sorts for Savannah State.Yes, the Tigers lost 55-0. But it could have been worse. It likely would have been worse.Worse, even, than the 84-0 crushing Savannah State suffered last week at Oklahoma State. Why would the small school from the historically black college conference, the MEAC, endure such beatings?It was paid $860,000, that’s why. That goes a long way toward meeting its $5.1 million athletic budget. So, from a Savannah State business perspective, the end justified the means.“It would be really good for my perspective at Savannah if those two teams play for the national championship and you guys call me for my evaluation of the game because I’m the only one who has seen them both,” Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said. “But like I said before, it’s really a helpless feeling. Those two programs and those players are really, really tremendous players.“We knew we were coming in a bit overmatched. Now we just hopefully got to get this thing turned around.”But what about those who bet on the game? According to pregame.com, a sports gambling website, all wagers on the game will be refunded — college football bets aren’t official until 55 minutes have been played.Before weather jumped in to save Savannah State, Florida State racked up 255 yards in the first quarter while the Tigers were minus-20 yards.Florida State led 28-0 seven minutes into the game, 35-0 in the first quarter and 48-0 at halftime. The out-manned Tigers could do nothing to stop the No. 6 team in the country. But Mother Nature did.
With Brad Guzan defending America’s goal with a fervor, the United States pulled out a scoreless tie against heavily favored Mexico Tuesday night, earning only their second point in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.The tie moved the U.S. into third place in World Cup qualifying for the North and Central American and Caribbean region after three of 10 matches, one point behind Panama and behind Costa Rica on goal difference. The Americans and Costa Ricans both have four points, but the Ticos, who earlier Tuesday lost their appeal over Friday’s loss to the United States in a Colorado snow storm, are ahead on goal difference.Mexico coach Manuel de la Torre is sure to come under fire after a third straight draw, which dropped El Tri to second-to-last place in the standings. Mexico had plenty of chances, but El Tri was plagued by poor finishing and dismal execution on set pieces. Mexico had 15 corner kicks, including three in the last two minutes of stoppage time, and Guzan body-blocked a dangerous shot by Angel Reyna.Azteca is one of the world’s most imposing venues, and the Americans have a miserable track record there. They are 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifiers in Mexico, with their only other point — also from a 0-0 draw — coming in 1997.But the Americans got a boost of confidence from their win in an exhibition last summer, and not even a patchwork — and inexperienced — lineup could shake them. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann gambled by starting Matt Besler at center back, only the second appearance for the Americans by the young defender. But he and Omar Gonzalez — the last two Major League Soccer defenders of the year — looked like grizzled veterans as they repeatedly snuffed out shots by Javier Hernandez, Javier Aquino and Jesus Zavala.Mexico dominated possession, and Aquino, Hernandez and Zavala repeatedly tested the inexperienced American defense, picking on DaMarcus Beasley in particular after he picked up a yellow card in the eighth minute. But Gonzalez came up with one big play after another, and Besler looked quite comfortable in the Azteca pressure-cooker.But they got some help from El Tri, which blew numerous chances, including what should have been a couple of gimmes for Hernandez.Read more: ESPN
1993-98Bulls362174250.0– Although it didn’t exactly come as a shock to NBA observers, both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers opted out of their contracts last week, creating the real possibility that LA’s recent run of relevance is coming to an end. And if the end is near for “Lob City,” it would mean one of the sports franchises most associated with failure somehow managed to fail even when it was winning games. Few NBA teams have ever accomplished so little with so much talent.With 313 wins since Paul joined the team for the 2011-12 season, the Clippers own the league’s third-best record over that span. They’re coming off what is unquestionably the best six-year period in franchise history. Paul is a bona fide Point God, and with Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, he gave LA a Big 3 that could theoretically go toe-to-toe with the league’s other star-powered trios. In terms of personal honors, Paul has few statistical peers in history among point guards, while Griffin and Jordan made seven combined All-NBA teams. By numerous team and individual standards, the partnership has been a rousing success.But when dissecting this Clippers squad, there’s always the unfortunate matter of the playoffs to address. Because despite all those victories and accolades, LA has won only three measly playoff series in its Big 3 era and never advanced past the conference semifinals — a truly weak performance for a team with so much regular-season success.We can measure just how disappointing the Clippers have been with a system called “playoff success points,” which I’ve used before to judge a team’s performance in the NBA1And NHL! postseason. Teams rack up points for winning series and advancing further into the playoffs. A championship is always worth 1,000 points; losing in the Finals, 500; losing in the conference finals, 250; and so forth.2The value of making the playoffs to begin with is in proportion to how many teams are in the league, and how many of them qualify for the playoffs. Since 2012, the Clippers have accumulated only 562.5 playoff success points, less than half as many as we’d expect based on their regular-season record: 2009-14Spurs347192000.0– 1992-97Bulls367184250.0– 1994-99Jazz355181687.5– 1996-2001Jazz350191562.5– YEARSTEAMWINS*+3 BPM SEASONSPLAYOFF SUCCESS PTS. 1995-2000Jazz357191562.5– 1980-8576ers354182562.5– 1998-2003Jazz32217937.5– 1981-8676ers349172187.5– 2011-16Spurs365222000.0– Going back to the 1976 NBA-ABA merger, no other team has won at least 320 regular-season games3Pro-rating shortened seasons — such as 2011-12 — up to 82 games. in a six-year span and accumulated anywhere near as few playoff success points as the 2012-17 LA Clippers did. (The next-closest were the David Robinson-led 1990-95 San Antonio Spurs, another team known for falling short on the cusp of greatness.)And LA’s star power makes its shortfall even harder to understand. In the CP3-Blake-DeAndre era, the Clippers have been home to 17 individual seasons where a player logged at least 20 percent of available minutes and posted a Box Plus/Minus (BPM) of +3 or better (those cutoffs roughly give you a star-level season): Six by Paul, six by Griffin, four by Jordan and one by Matt Barnes.4I’m as surprised as anyone — but check out his 2012-13 numbers! Only 17 times since the merger has a franchise boasted so many star-level seasons in a six-year span, and they usually come from dynastic teams (Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls; Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs) or would-be dynasties like the Stockton-to-Malone Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers of the early 1980s. Once again, the Big 3-era Clippers have enjoyed the least amount of postseason success of any team in that group: 2010-15Spurs348202000.0– 2012-17Clippers32317562.5– *Wins in shortened seasons are pro-rated to 82 games. Box Plus/Minus (BPM) is an estimate of a player’s net points added per 100 possessions.Source: BASKETBALL-REFERENCE.COM 1991-96Bulls359174250.0– 1993-98SuperSonics357171125.0– The Clippers have the stars, but not the ringsMost playoff success points over a six-year span for teams with at least 17 individual player seasons with +3 Box Plus/Minus (BPM) or higher, 1977-2017 2012-17Spurs365232187.5– 1997-2002Jazz339191375.0– None of this is to say that the Clippers’ core should be blown up; after all, players of Paul and Griffin’s caliber don’t grow on trees. Nor do the duo’s opt-outs necessarily mean either (or both) won’t be back in LA next season anyway. The Clippers can still pay each substantially more money than either could get elsewhere, should LA choose to offer them max deals. Griffin and Jordan will still be under 30 next year, and CP3 is coming off his best statistical season as a Clipper (when he was healthy).So the tank is hardly empty in LA. But with fabled exec Jerry West leaving the champion Golden State Warriors to join the Clippers as a front-office consultant, a Big 3 breakup wouldn’t come as a total surprise, either. And if that does happen, the Clippers and their fans can only look back at the last six seasons with regret over what might have been. 2004-09Spurs347172562.5– SIX-YEAR TOTALS
After a miracle postseason run, the Kansas City Royals’ quest for their first World Series championship since 1985 looks shaky. Combining Baseball-Reference.com’s in-game win probability model with the series win probability numbers I computed for a post on Friday, we can track the odds of each team winning the series at any point within any game thus far.In the top of the third inning of Game 4, the Royals tagged San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong for four runs, opening up a 4-1 lead. As a result, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was forced to bring in reliever Jean Machi from the bullpen early, and Machi promptly walked Jarrod Dyson to load the bases. At that precise juncture — with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, leading the game 4-1 and the series 2-1 — the Royals had an 82.4 percent probability of winning the World Series.Machi eventually got out of the jam, and San Francisco cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the third. But two innings later, the Royals again cracked an 82 percent World Series win probability when Eric Hosmer led off the fifth inning with a double.The odds of scoring at least one run are fairly high with a runner on second base and nobody out, and a three-run lead in the fifth inning would have given Kansas City a better than 80 percent chance of winning the game. With a 3-1 series lead and two of the remaining three games (if necessary) at home, the Royals would have had an 88.5 percent probability of winning the World Series.But they failed to score Hosmer in the fifth, then let the Giants tie the game in the bottom of the inning. An inning later, San Francisco blew the game open with three runs, then tacked on four more in the seventh en route to an 11-4 victory.We may eventually look back at those two moments of Game 4 as the high-water marks for Kansas City’s World Series chances. From the latter point on, the Royals have hemorrhaged win probability. Once tied at two games apiece, the series was almost a 50-50 proposition after taking into account where the remaining games were being played and who was taking the mound for each team. Kansas City still could have pushed its World Series win probability to 78.5 percent with a win Sunday night, but the Royals once again struggled to solve San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, and their odds of winning the series dropped almost linearly from 50.2 percent at the first pitch to 29.3 percent at the final out (just about where they stood after losing Game 1).
It’s no secret that running backs have been falling out of favor on draft day since the NFL’s pre-1980s ground-and-pound era. The amount of draft value invested in the position1As defined by a pick’s expected approximate value in his first five seasons. has declined continuously over the last half-century. This reached a low point in 2014 when not a single running back was taken in the first round for a second consecutive season.Things have changed a bit over the past few years. In the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, two rushers — LSU’s Leonard Fournette (who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (picked by the Carolina Panthers) — were taken among the top eight picks for the first time since 2005. This came after the Dallas Cowboys picked Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016, to great success. And in 2015, two running backs were chosen in the first round.Clearly, a running back renaissance is in the works. Right?Well, sort of. While it’s true that teams haven’t sworn off stud running backs completely at the top of the draft, they’re also being more selective. After McCaffrey went at No. 8, the class of 2017’s other first-round hopefuls — such as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon — were all still available at the end of the night. It’s been five years since a team has taken a RB in the second half of the first round.A lot of this has to do with the economics of the position, as ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote on Wednesday. Because the rookie wage scale pays high picks well and running backs are being devalued across the league as a whole, highly drafted RBs are instantly among the highest-paid players at their position before they ever take a snap in the pros. That means teams better be damn sure about a running back before spending a first-rounder on him (lest they end up with the next Trent Richardson). The problem: teams can’t be sure about much on draft day. Only the elite of the elite check off enough boxes to make that kind of investment feel worthwhile.Adding to the risk, running backs also age differently from the rest of the NFL. Unlike, say, quarterbacks — who improve steadily during their early-to-mid 20s and peak right before age 30 — a running back’s shelf life is much shorter. Depending on the research you look at, RBs peak somewhere between the ages of 24 and 26, with the majority of their most productive seasons front-loaded early in their careers. So if you do manage to snag a game-changing runner, you’re most likely getting the best he has to offer before his rookie contract even has a chance to expire.Because of this, a team willing to invest a high pick on a running back better be in a position to win immediately, otherwise his best years could be squandered. For all the talk about the “Zeke Effect” — that Elliott’s high selection and subsequent performance in Dallas would spur increased investment in running backs on draft day — Elliott fell into a tremendous situation as a rookie with the Cowboys. Dallas’s mammoth offensive line paved the way for Elliott to lead the NFL with 999 yards before first contact.2To be clear, Elliott is a tremendous player; he was also second with 632 yards after contact. That’s a luxury Fournette won’t have in Jacksonville, where he’ll run behind an O-line that ranked sixth-worst in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric. (Maybe he should call 2015 No. 10 pick Todd Gurley, who has had to run behind a patchwork Rams line, for advice.)The Jags are betting that Fournette’s ridiculous ability to break tackles and run away from defenders in the open field will render that point moot, and maybe it will. But that also underscores just how talented a running back needs to be to justify a high draft pick these days. For those who possess that skill level, things are looking up compared with a few years ago. But for the rest, they’ll still have to wait to hear their names called at the podium.
CLEVELAND — After three titles in four seasons — two straight with Kevin Durant winning Finals MVP — it seems fair to begin questioning where Golden State sits in the conversation about the best teams of all-time. But the more compelling thing to analyze now might be whether the Warriors are better positioned to win at this level for a longer amount of time than the other modern-day dynasties the league has produced.And in looking at the vast array of things that make Golden State so dominant — from the club’s versatility and balance on both sides of the ball, its unselfishness on and off the court and its largely magic touch from a managerial standpoint — that feels like a real possibility.“Sometimes you come across those dynasties where you’re just outmatched, and it’s just their time,” Cavaliers guard George Hill said after his team had been swept on its home court.Stylistically, it is so difficult — arguably impossible — for anyone to truly replicate what the Warriors do. Even before the addition of arguably the league’s best pure scorer in Durant, Golden State possessed a point guard with the sort of 35-foot range that most players would only see in a practice setting. In the same backcourt, the Warriors had another guard who was arguably an even more accurate shooter, with a release that is the quickest in basketball — so fast that he doesn’t even need to have his feet set before he shoots.Put another way, this is the best shooting team the sport has ever seen. Golden State breaks defenses regardless of how well positioned or prepared they are. The Warriors were the best jump-shooting club in the NBA when left wide open this past season. And a closer look at the numbers shows the Dubs were also the best jump-shooting team in situations where a defender was draped all over them. Because of that, there really is no surefire way to guard this team.More often than not the Cavaliers, like the Rockets in the round before them, sought to use switches on defense to blanket Golden State’s offense. But in Game 2 of the Finals, the Warriors countered that predictable gameplan (and then changed things up in Game 3 in anticipation of a counterpunch), by using dump-off passes to spring give-and-go opportunities, or to set up lobs for JaVale McGee and Jordan Bell, who were often left all alone in the paint.The latter highlighted how the Warriors, in Bill Belichick fashion, have quietly been a chameleon of sorts by relying far more heavily on their bigs than most observers realize — even as they continue to be viewed as a club that relies solely on its dynamite 3-point shooting.Because of that constant evolution and comfort playing with different styles, the challenge of dethroning the champs could become even more difficult for challengers like the Rockets, who are so heavily vested in a singular type of play that it’s too difficult to adjust to something different if that style stops working in the middle of a postseason series.While the young average age of Warriors’ core would seem to be a plus in their quest to become the best team of all-time, they’re actually not all that unusual when it comes to how young they are when compared to modern NBA clubs that have won three titles in four years. TeamYear of Third Title WinTop Four Players By Win ShareAVG. Age Source: Basketball-Reference Lakers1988Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, James Worthy, A.C. Green26 Bulls1998Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc33 Warriors2018Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson28 The Warriors aren’t as young as you thinkTeams that won three titles in four seasons by the age of their core players in the last title season, 1976-2018 Lakers2002Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher29 Bulls1993Michael Jordan, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, B.J. Armstrong27 If there’s something that makes this team different — and gives it better odds of winning for a greater amount of time — it’s that this group of highly talented players doesn’t seem as likely to be torn apart by the retirements, contract issues and jealousies that trouble other clubs in this spot.The Lakers of the late 1980s began running out of steam when then-coach Pat Riley resigned, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired and then halted entirely when Magic Johnson abruptly left the game following his shocking HIV diagnosis. No one knows how many consecutive titles the Bulls might have won had it not been for Michael Jordan’s retirements from the Bulls. And the infamous infighting between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant shortened what likely could have been a longer run of success with the two Los Angeles superstars in the early 2000s.By contrast, the Warriors have already become the new-age San Antonio Spurs, as a number of their players have acted in the best interest of the team by taking much smaller deals than they could have. That attitude, illustrated by Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala1Iguodala did this with his initial deal to join the Warriors. This past summer, he actually maneuvered to have the Warriors pay him more than what they initially expected to fork up. and Shaun Livingston, makes some of the long-term salary math more feasible in a league where these sorts of things can create strain on a star-laden club. (With Curry having just signed a five-year deal last July, and Durant saying he’ll stay with Golden State this summer, the next key player to look at is Thompson, who is slated to be a 2019 free agent. But even that may not be a concern, as he’s reportedly spoken with the Warriors about the possibility of taking a deeply discounted extension that would see him leave up to $50 million on the table.)The players’ willingness to often take less than market value, even for bit pieces like Zaza Pachulia, has allowed the Warriors to improve the roster on the margins each year — sprinkling in specific attributes that the team lacks. With McGee in particular, Golden State took a minimal risk by signing (then cheaply re-signing) a player who had a less-than-stellar reputation around the league, but was incredibly long and athletic — two things the Warriors lacked in a traditional center. Fast forward to this year’s Finals, and the one-time castaway was pestering LeBron James, the best player in the world, anytime he sought to get to the basket.James, whose own upcoming free agency could play a role in nixing the Warriors’ dominance the next few years, pointed out another advantage Golden State possesses: Brainpower. “Everyone’s trying to figure it out: How do you put together a group of talent, but also a group of minds, to compete with Golden State and compete for a championship?” James asked.Ascending teams may not like the idea of waiting out Golden State’s reign. Aside from how young the team’s core is, the players who compose it don’t depend much on raw athleticism. It’s likely they will age gracefully, given how well they shoot from outside and play off the ball.Injuries are a different story, and they can always come into play; particularly with Curry, whose presence has always been a deciding factor with this club. But short of that, the team is full of two-way talent and should be fine on D as long as it’s anchored by Draymond Green and long, versatile wings that make it possible to switch the way the Warriors do. (Still, Golden State would be wise to try to start the process of locating a younger, less polished version of Iguodala, given how different the Warriors looked at times without the 34-year-old this postseason.) The club has ranked in the top 10 defensively each of the past four seasons it reached the Finals.Coach Steve Kerr has made no secret of the other factor that could eventually catch up with his team, which at times struggles with complacency. Specifically, he’s talked about the weight of expectations, and the toll that comes with taking every opposing team’s best shot for years on end. And this season, Kerr said, was the toughest playoff run he’s overseen with Golden State.“I remember sitting in this room three years ago, and it seemed like a dream. This feels more like reality,” Kerr said Friday, perhaps a realization of the fact that titles are now expected as opposed to being hoped for. “And I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. It’s just that the talent we have, and that’s the experience we’ve gained.”There are any number of things that could turn out to be the Warriors’ downfall. But Golden State also has a handful of factors to hang its dynastic hat on for the time being.— Neil Paine contributed research.
First-year Ohio State football head coach Luke Fickell held a press conference Tuesday and discussed everything from his strategy for calling timeouts to redshirt senior quarterback Joe Bauserman’s smile, as well as the Buckeyes’ Saturday game against Colorado at Ohio Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Timeout indecision against Miami Trailing by 11 points with 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, Fickell elected not to use a timeout during Miami’s 14-play drive, which lasted 8:48 seconds and ended with a touchdown that increased the Hurricanes’ lead to 24-6. The Buckeyes finished the game with all three timeouts remaining. “We were going to call a timeout right there, I think, on (Miami’s) third-down play that they converted,” Fickell said. “I think there was still a minute and a half left to go. They actually ended up calling the timeout.” Fickell, who was asked five questions during the press conference about the late-game timeout situation, said he planned to save the timeouts for OSU’s next drive. “We decided, ‘Hey, we’re going to need to save these unless we get in a situation because we’re going to need two scores,’” he said. “It ultimately didn’t end up hurting us.” Players Gotta Play Numerous freshmen, including Miller, freshmen wide receivers Devin Smith, Verlon Reed and freshman defensive back Bradley Roby, among others, have received significant playing time through the Buckeyes’ first three games. Despite their occasional struggles, Fickell said he’ll continue to field a team that features young, first-year players. “You got to get out there and do it to do it,” Fickell said. “That’s no excuse that they’re young. We’re not going to give them that excuse.” Smile, you’re on camera During ESPN’s national telecast of the Buckeyes’ loss to Miami, redshirt senior quarterback Joe Bauserman was captured on camera smiling toward the end of the game. Fickell said that he received an email about the incident after the game. “I didn’t see it,” Fickell said. “I haven’t talked to (Bauserman) and I know that Joe hurts every bit as I do. But, no, that’s not something you want to see. “We try to tell (the players) that nothing goes unnoticed.” Captaincy carousel Junior defensive lineman John Simon and junior fullback Zach Boren will act as team captains for OSU’s Saturday game against Colorado at Ohio Stadium. Boren, who is roommates with Simon, said that “John and I have a great relationship. It gets competitive (between us) with video games.” Nay-saying the boo birds Bauserman threw the ball away in several instances during OSU’s Sept. 10 win against Toledo, and members of Buckeye Nation sometimes greeted his tosses into the stands with boos. Boren said that if he were in the crowd watching the Buckeyes, he wouldn’t boo. “I know what this team goes through on a yearly basis and I know what we’ve done in fall camp,” Boren said. “I would never boo our team.” Fickell acknowledged the passion of the Buckeyes’ fans, but said that he doesn’t give a whole lot of thought to the crowd’s reaction during game. “They pay their money to get in,” Fickell said. “They love Ohio State, Ohio State football. If they don’t like something, they let you know. “That’s not what we’re going to focus on. Hopefully, that doesn’t affect us mentally in any way.”
OSU sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa (left) forces a fumble from Cincinnati redshirt-sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel during a Sept. 27 game at Ohio Stadium. The fumble resulted in an OSU safety.Credit: Chelsea Spears / Multimedia editorLed by a redshirt-freshman quarterback and a largely inexperienced offensive line, Ohio State put on one of the best offensive performances in school history Saturday, as it rolled to a 50-28 victory against Cincinnati.The Buckeye offense totaled 710 total yards against the Bearcats, just eight yards shy of the school record.In addition to yardage, the Buckeyes broke the school record and tied an FBS record for first downs with 45 and tied a school record for most plays run with 101.OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game that the offensive diversity — along with improved line play — is what contributed to the record-setting night.“We’re an offensive line-driven team. And they won the game for us. And they controlled that line of scrimmage,” Meyer said. “They protected our (redshirt-freshman) quarterback. J.T. (Barrett) played well. Other than a dropped third down and a fumble, I was very pleased for the night, offensively.”The explosive and balanced attack could have easily broken the school record, had it not been for a fumble by freshman running back Curtis Samuel and a dropped third-down pass by senior wide receiver Devin Smith, both in the second quarter. Despite the drop, though, Smith scored twice on the night.Smith’s fellow senior, tight end Jeff Heuerman, who recorded three catches for 38 yards Saturday after sitting out the Kent State game because of a foot injury, said the Buckeyes could have played even better.“We did a whole lot as an offense tonight. The crazy part is we didn’t play our best,” Heuerman said after the game. “We left points and yards out there, too. We punted once, but we fumbled and kicked two field goals. Overall, it was a pretty impressive performance.”Perhaps the most impressive performer was Barrett, who totaled 409 yards of offense. His performance left him just three yards shy of the all-time school record for most individual yards in a game, a mark held by Art Schlichter, a quarterback who accumulated 412 yards against Florida State in 1981.Barrett completed 26 of his 36 pass attempts for 330 yards Saturday, and six of those completions were to sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson, whom Barrett found wide open for a 24-yard score late in the third quarter.Wilson said Barrett’s hard work in practice is starting to show during games.“He is playing very well. I always knew he had it in him because he is such a great leader,” Wilson said. “He works really hard and now, he is just perfecting his craft.”Barrett said he attributes his big night to the big guys up front.“All the credit goes to the offensive line,” he said following the game. “They got it started for us and that’s what coach Meyer always talks about is relying on them to keep the offense going.”The Buckeyes seemed to do just that as Barrett was sacked only once, and OSU rushed for 380 yards.Of the 380 yards on the ground, 182 belonged to sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott in a new career high. But Elliott also said afterward that the offensive line deserves the credit, despite his big stat line.“It all goes to the line. The line made those big holes. It is not that hard to run when you got those gaping holes,” he said.Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said following the game that it did not dawn on him how impressive Elliot was until after the clock hit zero.“I honestly didn’t realize we had run the ball so well until the end of the game,” Herman said. “The guys up front deserve a lot of that credit too. (Elliot) certainly got his pads north and south and was running through arm tackles, and it was fun to watch him run tonight.”Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said he thought his team played hard, but it couldn’t find a way to stop the Buckeye rushing game.“I’m proud of my team for fighting,” he said. “Effort was good on both sides and we played hard. We just got knocked off the ball on zone plays.”The win over the Bearcats marked Meyer’s first-ever win over Tuberville in three tries. Meyer lost twice to Tuberville when both coached in the Southeastern Conference at Florida and Auburn, respectively.The Buckeyes are set to travel to College Park, Md., to take on the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
Then-coach Jim Tressel holds the championship trophy after a game against Oregon Jan. 1, 2010, at the Rose Bowl. OSU won, 26-17.Credit: Courtesy of TNSFormer Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel and three former OSU players are listed on the 2014 College Football Hall of Fame ballot, according to an OSU release.Alongside Tressel — who is the current president of Youngstown State University — on the ballot are former Buckeye running back Keith Byars, linebacker Tom Cousineau and fullback Jim Otis. The former coach and three players are among 193 names on the ballot.The 2015 class is set to be announced on Jan. 9 in Arlington, Texas, three days before the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship Game, according to the release.Tressel coached at Youngstown State from 1986-2000 before joining the Buckeyes from 2001-10. He won the Football Championship Subdivision national title four times with the Penguins before winning the 2002 BCS National Championship with OSU.Byars was the 1984 Heisman Trophy runner-up, the same season he was named the Big Ten MVP and a first team All-American and All-Big Ten. He’s fifth in OSU history for all-purpose yards and rushing yards. Byars also played 13 seasons in the NFL as a running back and tight end.Cousineau’s 572 career tackles while at OSU are the second best in school history and he was named first team All-American twice to go with three All-Big Ten seasons. He was drafted first overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 1979 NFL Draft.Otis won the 1968 national championship with the Buckeyes and was named a first team All-American the following year.Currently in the College Football Hall of Fame are 24 former Buckeye players and 10 former coaches. Former offensive lineman Orlando Pace was inducted last year. The last OSU coach to be inducted was John Cooper in 2008.