Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

December 21, 2020

๐Ÿ‘‹ Happy Monday! The college football regular season is officially complete. Of the 674 scheduled games, 541 were played (80.3%).

Coming up: We have back-t0-back special editions leading into the holiday break.

  • Tomorrow: NBA season preview
  • Wednesday: 2020 in photos

Today's word count: 1,967 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐Ÿˆ College football's four-team finale

Graphic: Axios Visuals
Graphic: Axios Visuals

In the end, the most unpredictable season in college football history will end with perhaps the most predictable lineup of powerhouses imaginable.

  • Rose Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (Arlington, Texas)
  • Sugar Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State (New Orleans)

The big picture: One of the season's defining narratives was the chasm that exists between the Power 5 and the Group of 5, but the imbalance within the Power 5 itself is equally jarring.

  • 22 0f the 28 playoff berths have now gone to five programs: Alabama (6), Clemson (6), Ohio State (4), Oklahoma (4) and Notre Dame (2).
  • If Clemson and Alabama make the national championship, it will be their fifth playoff meeting in the past six years.
  • Looking ahead: Of the top 100 players in the 2021 recruiting class, 48 (and counting) are going to five schools: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and LSU. The clustering of elite talent will only continue.

Between the lines: The selection committee's decision to put undefeated Cincinnati at No. 8 and two-loss Oklahoma at No. 6 confirms that the Bearcats โ€” like all Group of 5 schools โ€” never stood a chance.

  • The playoff was sold as a way to give everyone a shot.
  • Instead, it seems half of the FBS' 130 teams are eliminated from contention before the season even begins.

Elsewhere: Coastal Carolina's reward for a perfect season is a trip to the ... Cure Bowl. Meanwhile, Army (9-2) was left without a bowl, while five SEC teams with losing records will play. What a system.

  • Orange Bowl: Texas A&M vs. UNC
  • Peach Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia
  • Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Florida
  • Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Iowa State
  • Outback Bowl: Indiana vs. Ole Miss
  • Citrus Bowl: Northwestern vs. Auburn
  • Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. Liberty
  • Boca Raton Bowl: UCF vs. BYU
  • Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Colorado
  • Cheez-It Bowl: Miami vs. Oklahoma State
  • Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Kentucky
  • Texas Bowl: TCU vs. Arkansas
  • Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Tennessee
  • Armed Forces Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Tulsa
  • Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri
  • Duke's Mayo Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin
  • Arizona Bowl: San Jose State vs. Ball State
  • First Responder Bowl: Louisiana vs. Texas-San Antonio
  • Lending Tree Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State
  • Gasparilla Bowl: South Carolina vs. UAB
  • Camellia Bowl: Buffalo vs. Marshall
  • New Mexico Bowl: Hawaii vs. Houston
  • Montgomery Bowl: FAU vs. Memphis
  • Idaho Potato Bowl: Tulane vs. Nevada
  • Myrtle Beach Bowl: North Texas vs. App State
  • New Orleans Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Louisiana Tech

2. ๐Ÿˆ End of an era: Pats playoff streak ends at 11

Patriots on sideline

Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Patriots were eliminated from playoff contention with a 22-12 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, snapping an 11-year postseason streak (NFL record).

  • That streak would have been 17 had the 2008 Patriots (11-5) not become the only 11-win team to miss the playoffs since the postseason expanded in 1990.
  • 2020 will be New England's first non-winning season in 20 years โ€” and just the fourth non-winning season of Robert Kraft's 27 seasons at the helm.

The big picture: Perhaps the Patriots are fading, or maybe they're just retooling. Either way, there's no easy path out of AFC East purgatory.

  • The Bills and Dolphins are on the rise and have already laid the foundation for sustained success with young franchise QBs and stud head coaches.
  • Buffalo, in particular, has the looks of a potential juggernaut. Fresh off capturing their first AFC title since 1995, the Bills are legit contenders.

As for that other AFC East team...

New York Jets Football GIF by NFL - Find & Share on GIPHY
Giphy

Even when the Jets win, they lose. With a 23-20 upset of the Rams, Gang Green won for the first time in 358 days but also relinquished pole position for the No. 1 pick in the draft.

  • Herm Edwards, 2002: "You play to win the game."
  • Jets fans, 2020: "Listen, pal..."

The other side: "[T]hose of us who love football should be standing and applauding what we saw on the field Sunday," writes SI's Connor Orr.

"We can become cynical during the age of organized self-sabotage, with front offices systematically dismantling their teams and selling off parts in efforts to rebuild, always looking a few short years ahead."
"For a day, [the Jets] were good enough to upend the idea that you can collectively will a group of more than 60 players, coaches, trainers and administrators to do anything that doesn't ultimately involve their best interests. And their best interests are to play well."

Elsewhere:

  • Chiefs top Saints: Kansas City extended its winning streak to nine games with a 32-29 win over New Orleans. The defending champs are 13-1.
  • Chasing 2,000: Derrick Henry (24 car, 147 yds) ran wild in the Titans' 46-25 rout of the Lions. He has 1,687 rushing yards with two games left. Only seven players have ever reached 2,000.
  • Throwbacks: For the first time since 2017, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant caught TD passes in the same week.

Playoff picture:

  • AFC โ€” Clinched: Chiefs (13-1), Steelers (11-2), Bills (11-3) ... In the hunt: Titans (10-4), Browns (10-4), Colts (10-4), Dolphins (9-5) ... On the bubble: Ravens (9-5), Raiders (7-7)
  • NFC โ€” Clinched: Packers (11-3), Saints (10-4), Seahawks (10-4) ... In the hunt: Washington (6-8), Rams (9-5), Bucs (9-5), Cardinals (8-6) ... On the bubble: Bears (7-7), Vikings (6-8), Cowboys (5-9), Giants (5-9), Eagles (4-9-1)

Go deeper:

3. ๐Ÿ“ธ Tiger and Charlie hit the links

Tiger and Charlie Woods
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tiger Woods has always kept his golf and family life separate, but he made an exception this weekend at the PNC Championship.

  • Woods teamed up with his 11-year son, Charlie, the youngest golfer to ever compete in the father-son event.
  • "I'm just making sure Charlie has the time of his life," Woods said on Saturday.
  • Playing from forward tees, Charlie put most of his drives on the fairway and often placed his approaches inside his father's efforts. Check out his eagle.

How they did: Team Woods (-20) finished in seventh, five strokes behind the victorious Team Thomas (-25). Full leaderboard.

Elin Nordegren looks on
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Zoom out ... Woods beamed with pride at the mention of Charlie's good manners and said he had to share credit with his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, who showed up on Sunday with their 13-year-old daughter, Sam.

  • Tiger and Charlie understandably got all the attention, but the story of their relationship โ€” of their lives โ€” isn't complete without Elin and Sam.
  • Pictured above: A proud mother watches her son play golf with his dad, while her daughter wears ... Under Armour?! The horror.

4. ๐Ÿ’ต Companies wary of buying Super Bowl ads

Data: Kantar Group, Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Kantar Group, Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Some companies are wary of paying millions for an ad in this year's Super Bowl when the pandemic has complicated the big game.

Driving the news: CBS has yet to book all of its 30-second slots, which cost roughly $5.5 million a pop.

What they're saying: Companies fear that fewer viewing parties, combined with a mostly empty stadium, could tamp down the overall excitement, NYT reports.

  • The other side: With more people watching at home alone or in small groups, they're more likely to pay attention to the ads and might actually be able to hear them without that loud friend shouting over everybody.

What to watch: For the companies that do choose to advertise this year, expect them to take on a more serious tone.

5. ๐Ÿ’ NHL to play 56-game season starting Jan. 13

NHL divisions

Courtesy: NHL

The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to play a 56-game regular season starting Jan. 13, 2021, and concluding on May 8.

  • Venues: Games will be played in each team's home arena, but the league says it will be prepared to host games at neutral sites if necessary.
  • Format: Teams have been realigned in four new divisions and will exclusively play division foes.
  • Postseason: The top four teams in each division will qualify for the 16-team, four-round playoff consisting of best-of-seven series.

Divisions:

  • North: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
  • West: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas
  • Central: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay
  • East: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

What's next: Most of the league will open training camp Jan. 3. The seven teams that didn't make the playoffs last season can start as soon as Dec. 31.

  • Jan. 13: Puck drop
  • April 12: Trade deadline
  • May 8: Regular season end
  • July 21: Expansion draft
  • July 23โ€“24: NHL draft
  • July 28: Free agency begins

6. ๐Ÿ“Š By the numbers

Canelo Alvarez lands a punch

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom via Getty Images

  • ๐ŸฅŠ 54-1-2: Canelo Alvarez cruised to a win over previously unbeaten champion Callum Smith at the Alamodome, capturing a major world title in his fourth division. Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) landed 57% of his power shots.
  • โšฝ๏ธ 643 goals: Barcelona star Lionel Messi tied Pelรฉ for the most official goals with a single club. Pelรฉ set the record with Santos (Brazil) back in 1974.
  • ๐Ÿ€ 94 years: Kentucky (1-5) is off to its worst start since 1926. "We've got work to do," said John Calipari. "We're gonna have to get this thing right."
  • โšฝ๏ธ 5th MLS club: LAFC upset Mexico's Club Amรฉrica, 3-1, to reach the Concacaf Champions League final (vs. Tigres tomorrow). Only four other MLS clubs have made the final this century: LA Galaxy (won in 2000), Real Salt Lake (lost in 2011), Montreal Impact (lost in 2015) and Toronto FC (lost in 2018).
LAFC celebrating
Source: @LAFC (Twitter)

7. ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช The Gaelic Games crown champions

Gaelic Football
The Gaelic football men's final between Dublin and Mayo. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Gaelic football and hurling, the two dominant sports of the Gaelic games, crowned their men's and women's champions this past week.

  • Hurling is played mainly in the Irish provinces of Munster and Leinster (South), while Gaelic football is dominant in Ulster and Connacht (North).
  • Both sports are strictly amateur, meaning athletes play for hometown pride rather than paychecks. Last week's men's hurling final featured teachers, engineers, accountants and a car salesman.
Women playing Gaelic football
The Gaelic football women's final between Dublin and Cork. Photo: Piaras ร“ Mรญdheach/Sportsfile via Getty Images

In Gaelic football, two teams of 15 players aim to kick or punch a round leather ball about the size of a volleyball into the opposing team's goal (like soccer) or between two upright posts above the goal (like rugby).

  • Ballcarrier: While running with the ball, players must bounce it off their foot or the ground every four steps. The ball can't be bounced off the ground twice in a row.
  • Passing: Players can "handpass" (slap with open palm) or "fist" (strike with closed fist) the ball to their teammates, and they can do so in any direction.
  • Scoring: If the ball goes past the goalie and into the net, it's a goal (3 points). If it goes over the crossbar and between the posts, it's a point (1 point).
Irish hurling
The hurling men's final between Limerick and Waterford. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Hurling shares many of the same fundamentals as Gaelic football, including team size and scoring. The main difference is that it's a stick and ball sport.

  • Players use curved wooden sticks called "hurls" to hit a leather ball called a "sliotar," which is roughly the same size as a tennis ball.
  • Fun fact: Hurling is thought to predate Christianity, having come to Ireland with the Celts.

8. Dec. 21, 1984: ๐Ÿˆ BYU wins national title

BYU players celebrating
Robbie Bosco after winning the Holiday Bowl MVP trophy. Photo: Sporting News via Getty Images

36 years ago today, BYU beat Michigan, 24-17, in the Holiday Bowl to remain undefeated and secure their first-ever national championship.

Why it matters: All subsequent national champions have come from what are now known as the Power 5 conferences, plus Notre Dame.

The backdrop: Many pollsters and coaches were reluctant to name the Cougars as national champion, partly because of their weak schedule. Only two of BYU's opponents won at least seven games.

  • They believed Washington was a more deserving champion, but BYU ultimately finished No. 1 in both major final polls (AP and Coaches).
  • Washington declined an invitation to play BYU in the Holiday Bowl, choosing instead to play Oklahoma in the more prestigious Orange Bowl. The Huskies won that game, 28-17, and finished the season ranked No. 2.

Go deeper: BYU winning the national title in 1984 was fine because no one else deserved it either (SB Nation)

9. ๐Ÿ€ NBA trivia

Rudy Gobert Nba GIF by Utah Jazz - Find & Share on GIPHY
Giphy

Rudy Gobert's five-year, $205 million extension with the Jazz is the third-richest deal in NBA history.

  • Question: Who are the only two players ahead of him?
  • Hint: Both play in the East.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐ŸŽฅ Weekend's top plays

Xavier celebrating

Xavier celebrating. Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "The Jets buttfumbled their tank" Baker

Trivia answer: Giannis Antetokounmpo ($228 million) and Russell Westbrook ($206.8 million)