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Sports Then and Now

Will Stanford Spoil Notre Dame’s Championship Dreams?

Posted on November 26, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal will look to run Notre Dame out of the college football playoff mix.

Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal will look to run Notre Dame out of the college football playoff mix.

The Stanford Cardinal just keeps churning along. They enter a sequence of two big games—Notre Dame on Saturday night and the Pac-12 Championship Game against the UCLA-USC winner the following week—with a chance to reach at least the Rose Bowl, and maybe the College Football Playoff with a little help. And for my purposes as a handicapper, they’ve been an excellent bet all season long.

Stanford is 8-3 against the spread (ATS), covering in five of six home games and going 3-2 on the road. They do it primarily with the power running game that has become a staple of this program under the current leadership of head coach David Shaw and his predecessor Jim Harbaugh.

This year’s stud running back is Christian McCaffrey, a Heisman contender who has rushed for over 1,500 yards and is averaging nearly six yards a pop. McCaffrey has also caught 34 passes for 416 yards, making him the Cardinal’s second-leading receiver.

You don’t run the football like that without talent on the offensive line, and NFL people love the left side of the Stanford line, with tackle Kyle Murphy and guard Joshua Garnett. Both of them will be on your TV screen on Sundays next season.

The combination of McCaffrey and the great offensive front has made Stanford that rare team that can not only run the football, but still be explosive offensively while doing it. It’s enabled the Cardinal to cover big pointspreads in conference games—they won at Oregon State 42-24, at home against Washington 31-14, and at Colorado 42-10 each time covering a two-touchdown line. Stanford dropped 50-plus points in easy covers over Arizona and UCLA, and they delivered another double-digit cover last week, beating Cal 35-22 as a (-10) favorite.

Those type of offensive explosions are coming almost exclusively through the running game, which ranks 15th in the country. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is in his fourth year as a starter and he’s smart and competent, but his limitations along with that of the receivers’ corps have resulted in a passing game that ranks 79th.

On the flip side, Stanford is not an outstanding team defensively. They aren’t bad by any stretch, but good offenses have been able to put up points—notably Oregon, which came to The Farm on November 14 and won 38-36. Stanford also gave up 35 points to UCLA. The Cardinal defense isn’t dotted with players that attract NFL attention. Read the rest of this entry →

Boston College’s Doug Flutie and His Hail Mary Pass

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Mike Raffone

Doug FlutieThe subject of today’s Sports Then and Now blog almost never got the chance to prove what he could do on the football field with a pig skin in his hand.

Boston College was the only Division I school to recruit the 5’9” and 175 lb. Doug Flutie and offer him an athletic scholarship.

Diminutive by big time college football quarterback standards, Doug Flutie didn’t have to wait long to prove to skeptics that he was a natural leader and an elite playmaker.

During an October 1981 game against Penn State, Flutie seized the opportunity as a fourth string freshman QB when unexpectedly called on in the fourth quarter during a blowout loss.

Flutie surprisingly passed for 135 yards in less than 15 minutes and showed uncommon cool and amazing athleticism for a freshman. Following the Penn State game, Flutie started every game as QB for Boston College for the rest of his career.

Along with Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, Flutie ranks as the most celebrated athlete in Boston College history. The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner finished his storied career in New England as Boston College’s all-time leading passer with 10,579 yards. Read the rest of this entry →

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MSU vs. OSU: Two Bad Bets Collide Saturday in Columbus

Posted on November 19, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State and Michigan State are indisputably successful on the football field. The record is a combined 19-1 as they prepare for their Saturday showdown in Columbus (3:30 PM ET, ABC) and it would be a perfect 20-0 if not for a terrible officiating blunder that cost Michigan State a win at Nebraska. But the Spartans and Buckeyes haven’t been so good to their backers at the betting window—a combined 7-13 against the spread (ATS).

Michigan State is the slightly bigger offender, going 3-7 ATS to Ohio State’s 4-6. But for Saturday’s game that can be cancelled out by the fact the Buckeyes have been atrocious bet at home, failing to cover in five of six home games.

It might sound harsh to call this game a battle of the overrateds, but ATS numbers like that make it difficult to dispute. The spread reflects how the teams are ‘rated’ by opinion that is informed (though not infallible) and coldly objective and these two haven’t measured up.

Maybe expectations were unreasonably high—when you see Ohio State (-13) against a team one point away from being undefeated themselves, it’s enough to make you wonder if these programs simply haven’t been bet past the capacity of any normal college football team to deliver. It happened to Alabama and Florida State last year, who covered a combined five spreads in the 2014 regular season, and it’s happening in Columbus and East Lansing in 2015.

Figuring out the reasons why are going to be crucial, because even beyond Saturday, both are going to play in significant games that will be fun to watch—meaning they’ll be fun to bet. Ohio State has its trip to Michigan. Michigan State has a less-marquee, though still very interesting game with Penn State. The odds say either the Buckeyes or Spartans will be in the Big Ten Championship Game and then we could have one of them in the College Football Playoff and the other in the Rose Bowl. Read the rest of this entry →

Hard Hitting Baseball Facts

Posted on November 18, 2015 by John Harris

catcherBaseball is not just a game. It is a way of life! And for over a century it’s been loved and played and pulled and pushed into the game we love today.

What could be more iconic symbols of the game than the gloves we cherish, the almighty bat, the helmet and visor, or even the catcher’s body armor? Serious baseball nuts know this was not always the way.

The heroic players of yesteryear stepped out onto the field in nothing more than the clothes they wore. They would have regarded today’s baseball apparel as something of a cheat.

They were the guys who’d take the knocks on the chest and head!  Battles scars were common and bruises, even broken fingers, were a part of the action.

You could argue the game wasn’t as fast.  After all, pitchers threw underarm to start with.

Even so the discovery of baseball’s battle armor is a fascinating part of our favorite sport’s history.

Bare hands not gloves

The glove was not a part of a respectable player’s kit. A far cry from the youth baseball gloves of today.  In fact the first player to dare to wear a glove knew he’d be ridiculed.  That was the glove worn by Charles Waite in 1875. In fact, he was so embarrassed that the glove he wore was flesh colored and most definitely unpadded.  Well, he sure was right about one thing.

He was jeered and laughed at for being a sissy!

Read the rest of this entry →

Favorite Iconic Sports Sayings

Posted on November 16, 2015 by Mike Raffone

Chris BermanToday’s Sports Then and Now blog highlights some of my favorite iconic sports sayings.

They’re timeless expressions that we’ve all used at some point while describing a game or in a simple conversation.

Julius Caesar’s “Vedi Vidi Vici” (Latin for I came, I saw, I conquered), Jesus’ Golden Rule “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the poet Horace’s adage “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) are as nearly well known today as they were in centuries past.

In the world of sports, expressions, clichés and iconic sayings have also been memorialized.

Some are just as popular now as they were back then.

Sports fans learn these iconic sayings at an early age and repeat them regularly throughout their lives. They apply them not only to sports games they watch, but even to the everyday problems they face.

In this case, these iconic sports sayings fit nicely into today’s blog.

Here ya go…

Whenever we don the name of a certain company’s athletic apparel, we’re reminded to “Just do it!” as Nike’s marketing campaign suggests, whether on the playing field or strategizing in the boardroom. Read the rest of this entry →

Can the Houston Cougars Stay Undefeated?

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Greg Ward Jr. has led Houston to a perfect record both by passing and running.

Greg Ward Jr. has led Houston to a perfect record both by passing and running.

The Houston Cougars have quietly kept winning games all year long. They’re now 9-0 and poised to make a move at the getting an automatic bid to one of the six major bowl games played on December 31-January 1. From the perspective of sports bettors, Houston has been good to us, covering the spread in six of their nine games. Now they get to play some spotlight games that will be fun to watch and fun to wager on. The first one is Saturday night at home against Memphis (7 PM ET, ESPN2).

Houston has flirted with some national prominence in the past, and always on the strength of a prolific quarterback and a high-scoring offense akin to what we say in the Big 12. In recent years we’ve seen it with Case Keenum. Some of us can turn back the clock and remember when it was David Klingler or Heisman Trophy-winning Andre Ware blowing out the scoreboard lights. But this Cougar team is different.

Now it’s about running the football in Houston and both quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and running back Kenneth Farrow are adept carrying the ball. The Cougars have consistently dominated rushing yardage totals throughout the season. Their first big win, a 34-31 upset at Louisville on September 12 as a (+13) underdog was keyed by a 226-70 advantage on the ground.

The pattern has held throughout this magical season under first-year head coach Tom Herman. Houston rolls up the yardage on the ground and for the most part, they’ve done good job defending the run. There have been some trouble spots—SMU got them for 151 yards, but the Cougars control the trenches.

A byproduct of this is that Houston consistently wins the turnover battle. Running the ball is the safest way to travel, and when you can do it while your opponents can’t, it stands to reason that they’ll be the ones making the most mistakes.

This emphasis on the run doesn’t mean the Cougars can’t throw the ball though. Ward has a 70 percent completion rate and that has not come at the expense of big plays. The Houston quarterback generates an outstanding 9.1 yards-per-attempt, with his primary target of wide receiver Demarcus Ayers. This is going to be an important part of Houston’s game going forward. In two weeks they play Navy on Black Friday, and no one is going to beat the Midshipmen in a battle of ground games. The Cougars can bring some versatility to the table.

Houston’s ability to run and stop the run while still keeping an open offense has led to them not only being a good ATS bet, but being outstanding on the road. The Cougars have played four road games and covered all of them. That includes games like Louisville where they were a hefty underdog. It includes games like Tulane and Central Florida when the Cougars gave three touchdowns. You name the ATS situation, they’ve met the challenge. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Bob Gibson: Big Game Hurler
      October 4, 2015 | 10:33 am
      Bob Gibson

      Bob Gibson

      With the baseball playoffs upon us, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a two-time World Series MVP who hurled eight complete games in the Fall Classic and still holds the record for strikeouts in a World Series game.

      Throughout his 17 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, opponents knew they were in for a battle every time they faced Bob Gibson.  

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