Dec 9, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Hope you had the best weekend.

🚨 Breaking: Russia has been handed a four-year ban from all major sporting events, including next summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo. We'll go deeper tomorrow.

Today's word count: 1,460 (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 🏈 Football's final four

Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After three-plus months of chaos, championship weekend brought clarity to the top of college football, and delivered two semifinal matchups that are, at least stylistically, about as good as it gets.

The playoff:

  • No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (+9.5): The Tigers and Sooners have the top two offenses in the country.
  • No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson (-2.5): The Buckeyes and Tigers have the top two defenses in the country.

The debate: With no other one-loss teams in the top 10, this year's picks feel immune to controversy. In fact, the only thing truly worth debating is whether the committee got the No. 1 seed right, which matters more than usual because of the clear drop-off from the top three teams to No. 4 Oklahoma.

  • LSU reclaimed the top spot after steamrolling Georgia in the SEC title game, 37-10. They emerged undefeated from the country's toughest division and beat five AP top-10 teams, tied for the most ever in the AP Poll era (1936-present).
  • Ohio State overcame a slow start to beat Wisconsin, 34-21, in the Big Ten title game. While LSU has a more impressive resume, basically every well-known computer ranking favors the Buckeyes (top team in SP+, Sagarin ratings, Massey ratings, Colley matrix, etc.)

What to watch:

  • The year of the transfer: In addition to being the top three Heisman contenders, LSU's Joe Burrow, Ohio State's Justin Fields and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts are also all transfers, with Burrow having transferred from Ohio State. Pretty nuts storyline if he beats them in the title game.
  • The next two No. 1's: In the Ohio State-Clemson game, we could see the potential top pick in the 2020 draft (Buckeyes DE Chase Young) trying to chase down the potential top pick in the 2021 draft (Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence).
  • The curse of the top seed: The Sooners may be underdogs, but the No. 4 seed has more titles in the past five years (two) than the No. 1 seeds (0).
  • Prepare for points: All four playoff teams rank in the top seven in the country in scoring offense.

See the bottom of the newsletter for a full list of every bowl game.

2. 🏀 Luka breaks MJ's record

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Luka Dončić just passed Michael Jordan for the most consecutive games since the NBA/ABA merger with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists (19). Reminder: He's 20 years old.

By the numbers: Here are the best seasons by a 20-year-old in NBA history, according to their player efficiency rating (PER):

  • Dončić: 30.1 pts, 10.0 reb, 9.2 ast in 33.4 mins; 32.2 PER
  • Anthony Davis: 20.8 pts, 10.0 reb, 2.8 blk in 35.2 mins; 26.5 PER
  • LeBron James: 27.2 pts, 7.4 reb, 7.2 ast in 42.4 mins; 25.7 PER
  • Shaquille O'Neal: 23.4 pts, 13.9 reb, 3.5 blk in 37.9 mins; 22.9 PER

Why it matters: We appear to be watching the emergence of an all-time great, and Dončić's historic start could forever change how overseas players are viewed.

"On draft day Doncic was likely to be an All-Star for a very good team one day. That he has, so quickly, done in this league what he did in Europe two seasons ago, tells us how similar the European leagues are to the NBA. After the top 50 or so players here, there isn't much separating the talent. Doncic's success will help pave the way for more guys to make the jump."
— David Thorpe, TrueHoop (subscribe)
3. 🏈 NFL Sunday in 60 seconds
Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
  • Niners 48, Saints 46: Game of the year.
  • Titans 42, Raiders 21: Since naming Ryan Tannehill the starter in Week 7, the Titans are 6-1 and scoring the second-most points in the NFL (31.4 per game). Long-term contract incoming?
  • Steelers 23, Cardinals 17: After starting 0-3, the Steelers have won eight of 10 games to clinch their 16th straight non-losing season (13th straight under Mike Tomlin). Duck Hodges forever.
Photo: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images
  • Chiefs 23, Patriots 16: Kansas City survived mistakes and questionable officiating to snap New England's 21-game home win streak and clinch the AFC West.
  • Vikings 20, Lions 7: Minnesota's Danielle Hunter, 25, became the youngest player in NFL history to record 50 career sacks.
  • Broncos 38, Texans 24: Rookie Drew Lock (22/27, 309 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT) impressed in his second career start and looks like the future in Denver.
Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
  • Rams 28, Seahawks 12: The Hollywood Rams picked up a huge win at home to stay in the playoff hunt, while the Seahawks failed to clinch a postseason berth and fell a game behind the 49ers in the NFC West.
  • Browns 27, Bengals 19: The NFL's leading rusher, Nick Chubb, recorded his 10th career 100-yard rushing game. One more and he'll tie Jim Brown for most by a Browns player in his first two seasons.
  • Chargers 45, Jaguars 10: Philip Rivers balled out on his 38th birthday as the Chargers delivered the Jaguars their fifth straight lopsided loss, all by at least 17 points.
  • Buccaneers 38, Colts 35: Despite the win, Tampa Bay was still eliminated from the playoffs. What will they do with Jameis Winston this offseason?
Photo: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Ravens 24, Bills 17: MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson joined Michael Vick as the only QBs to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Vick ran for 1,039 yards in 2006; Jackson is on pace for over1,200.
  • Packers 20, Redskins 15: I need to see a game at Lambeau.
  • Falcons 40, Panthers 20: The first catch of undrafted rookie Olamide Zaccheaus' career was a 94-yard TD.
  • Jets 22, Dolphins 21: Jason Sanders kicked a Dolphins-record seven field goals, but it was Jets kicker Sam Ficken who got the glory, drilling a 44-yarder as time expired.
4. ⚽️ Stanford wins women's soccer title

Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

After 90 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods went scoreless, Stanford beat North Carolina on penalty kicks (5-4) to win the D-I women's soccer national championship yesterday, the program's second title in three years.

More college soccer:

  • D-I men: The final four is set. No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Wake Forest; No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 7 Stanford.
  • D-II women: The final four is set. No. 1 Grand Valley State (Mich.) vs. No. 4 Saint Rose (N.Y.); No. 2 Flagler (Fla.) vs. No. 3 Western Washington.
  • D-II men: The final four is set. No. 1 Cal State L.A. vs. No. 4 University of Indianapolis; No. 2 Charleston (W.Va.) vs. No. 3 Lynn (Fla.).
  • D-III women: Messiah (Pa.) beat William Smith (N.Y.), 1-0, to win its sixth national title, the most in D-III women's soccer history.
  • D-III men: Tufts (Mass.) beat Amherst (Mass.), 2-0, to win its second straight national title and third in four years.
5. ⚾️ Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons elected into Hall

Marvin Miller, speaking in 1972. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Last night, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that groundbreaking union leader Marvin Miller and former catcher Ted Simmons were voted into Cooperstown by the 16-person Modern Era Committee.

  • Miller was head of the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, leading the union through five work stoppages, overseeing the birth of free agency and bringing team owners to the table to hammer out professional sports' first collective bargaining agreement.
  • Simmons was an eight-time All-Star (six with the Cardinals, two with the Brewers) and hit .300 or higher seven times. Among players who were primarily catchers, his RBIs (1,389) are second only to Yogi Berra and his hits (2,471) are second only to Ivan Rodriguez.

Go deeper: Miller's election was a long time coming, to say the least.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
🥊 23-1 (21 KOs)

Anthony Joshua toyed with an out-of-shape Andy Ruiz Jr. to reclaim the heavyweight crown in the desert and improve to 23-1 (21 KOs). Fierce rival Deontay Wilder wasn't impressed.

⚾️ $280 million

How high could the dollars go in the Gerrit Cole auction? $280 million, per The Athletic's Jayson Stark (subscription), which would crush the previous record for a pitcher (David Price: $217 million). Top contenders: Yankees, Angels, Dodgers.

🏀 5 straight wins

In men's college hoops, defending champ Virginia beat North Carolina for the fifth straight time last night (final score: 56-47), the Cavaliers' longest winning streak over the Tar Heels since 1918-20.

7. Dec. 9, 1935: 🏈 The first Heisman Trophy

Jay Berwanger. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

84 years ago today, University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger won the first-ever Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, which was renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year.

  • Voting results: Berwanger received 84 votes, finishing ahead of Army's Monk Meyer (29), Notre Dame's William Shakespeare (23) and Princeton's Pepper Constable (20).
  • A different era: At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Berwanger played tailback, passed, kicked, punted, blocked, returned kicks and starred on defense. Known as the "one man football team," he almost never came off the field.
  • Fun fact: During a 1934 game, Berwanger's heel clipped the face of Michigan's Gerald Ford, leaving a scar beneath the future U.S. president's left eye.

What happened next: In 1936, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Berwanger with the No. 1 pick, making him the first player ever drafted into the NFL. But due to contract disputes, he never played a down.

"He was unimpressed by his football fame. For years, he had no space at home for the Heisman Trophy, so it sat in his aunt's home. She used it to keep the front door open, allowing cool breezes into the house."
— From Berwanger's 2002 obituary
8. The Ocho: 💦 Stanford wins men's water polo title

Stanford's Andrew Chun blocks a shot attempt by Pacific's Engin Ege Colak. Photo: Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Stanford beat Pacific, 13-8, to win the men's water polo national championship yesterday, the program's 11th title and first since 2002.

  • Semifinal recap: Stanford needed three overtimes to outlast USC, 15-14, while Pacific knocked off Pepperdine, 17-13.
  • The landscape: There are only 22 D-I men's water polo programs, and 12 are in California. That might explain why not a single non-California school has ever made it to the national championship, let alone won it.
9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Interim head coach Mike Miller is the seventh different person to coach the Knicks this decade.

  • Question: Can you name the other six coaches?
  • Hint: Five are no longer in the NBA.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏈 Every bowl game
Giphy

The argument against bowl games is that they are relatively meaningless exhibition games designed to make money — mostly for Disney, which not only broadcasts but actually owns many of them.

  • Yes, but: "There's something nostalgic and fun about sitting down around the holidays and binge-watching football games between obscure teams you wouldn't have watched otherwise," writes FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine.

Dec. 20-21:

  • Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte
  • Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State
  • Celebration Bowl: Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T
  • New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State
  • Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern
  • Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic
  • Camellia Bowl: Florida International vs. Arkansas State
  • Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Washington
  • R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB

Dec 23-26:

  • Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall
  • SoFi Hawai'i Bowl: Hawai'i vs. BYU
  • Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami
  • Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan

Dec. 27:

  • Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina vs. Temple
  • New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest
  • Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
  • San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa
  • Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State

Dec. 28:

  • PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson (playoff semifinal)
  • Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma (playoff semifinal)
  • Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
  • Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Memphis vs. Penn State

Dec. 30:

  • SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan
  • Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
  • Redbox Bowl: Cal vs. Illinois
  • Capital One Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia

Dec. 31:

  • Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky
  • Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. Arizona State
  • AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Navy vs. Kansas State
  • NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State
  • Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah vs. Texas

Jan. 1:

  • Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama
  • Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn
  • Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
  • Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor

Jan. 2:

  • TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Boston College vs. Cincinnati
  • TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee

Jan. 3-6:

  • Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada
  • Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane
  • LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Miami (Ohio)

Go deeper: Predictions for every game (ESPN)

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Stanford athletics coming in hot" Baker

Trivia answer: David Fizdale (2018-19), Jeff Hornacek (2016-18), Kurt Rambis (2016), Derek Fisher (2014-16), Mike Woodson (2012-14), Mike D'Antoni (2008-12)