Then came the Winter Olympics with some engrossing competitions in hockey, downhill, bobsled and cross-country.
Next up, the MLS season started and my Seattle Sounders blazed out to a big points lead over the rest of the league - even without two of their stars who were playing for team USA in the World Cup. They've come back to Earth a bit of late, but still one of the top 2-3 teams in the league heading down the stretch. Should be fun to see how they finish the season and cheer them in the MLS playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Mariners are now above .500 and looking like a contender for a MLB wild card playoff spot. Could be the best season for them in, what, a decade? It could, even if they don't get a wild card spot. But guess what? No wild card race, no wild card appearance? I'm not paying attention. For those of you who say that makes me a fair weather baseball fan, you are correct. I'm on record as not caring about the Mariners unless they are good when it counts. Which, in their history, is almost never.
The World Cup provided the best soccer viewing you're going to see. In particular, this year the matches were high scoring and dramatic. Team USA made it out of one of the "groups of death" and played a plucky close game with the far-better Belgium team before being eliminated by them. In the end, the clearly best squad - Germany - won the whole thing.
And, the Tour de France was awesome as usual...but for different reasons this time: 1) so many key contenders abandoned the race due to injuries sustained from crashes, throwing the whole thing into question pretty early on, 2) more interesting than usual stages such as cobble stones and the prolog in England with hills, 3) bad weather wreaking havoc with the normal ebbe and flow of the Tour....and on and on. A highly entertaining sports event to watch daily through July. And, despite all of the above, clearly the best rider in the race won the overall Yellow Jersey championship - Italian Vincenzo Nibali. I loved how he attacked rather than played it safe following one good day early on. However, I wonder how he would have fared with past Tour winners Contador, Schleck and Froome (all who had to abandon due to injury) still in the race? Oh, and big time American contender Andrew Talansky had to abandon too because of injury.
But now...now we are full circle back to American FOOTBALL. The sports bridge has been crossed to American football! Yes, that time of year when all is right with the universe. I won't be abandoning the Sounders or Mariners (well, not the Sounders...I'll bail on the Ms if they go in the tank), but now American football will be getting a lot of my sports attention.
I'll forgo commenting on the NFL as I don't follow that very closely except for the Seahawks.
Rather, to get things started in 2014 I'll delve into Pac-12 college ball. As readers of this blog know, I try to keep up on a week to week basis with short little predictions and re-caps. I'll try the same this year.
Below is my 2014 season preview.
I think Oregon or Stanford will win the division once again. As it has over the past several seasons, it'll probably come down to who wins head to head in that matchup. In 2014 the tilt is in Eugene.
Meanwhile, UW is a question mark. Will they improve under a new coach? How will their new QB perform? OS, WSU and Cal don't seem like threats to win the North, but the Beavs and Cougs may win a couple they are not favored to. Cal, well, they were horrible last season, and while there is nowhere to go but up from there I don't think it'll be much.
Here is how I think the North will finish:
- Oregon - The Ducks rebound to win the North for the first time in three seasons. They beat Stanford at home to avenge the last two seasons losses. A tough game against UCLA in LA looms too. But other that, things look pretty good for Oregon. They have almost everybody back, including star QB Mariota. The Ducks also have high profile game against Michigan State early, and while that won't count for the Pac-12 race, a win could set them up for a run at the nation title playoffs.
- Stanford - These guys will be good again. They could win the North. But, they've got some tricky games on the road and have lost some key talent on the their lines and at RB. So, I say their run of division and league titles is up.
- Oregon State - If UW had a returning QB, I'd put them here. But they don't. So, I'll go with the fighting river rodents at #3 in the North. Typically, they'll wins some they shouldn't and lose one they have no business losing. And, as always, they'll rise to the occasion for the Civil War and give Oregon all it can handle...this time played in Corvallis. A bowl for the Beavs.
- UW - The Dawgs are challenged with losses at RB and QB. But, in my opinion, they have upgraded coaching with the arrival of Chris Peterson. I think UW takes it up one notch this season. No, they won't beat Oregon on the road or Stanford. But, they could win as many as 8 or 9 games if their QB play is consistent. Perhaps a stretch, but in any case I think the'll be better than the next two squads.
- WSU - The gradual accent of the Cougs continues in 2014 under Mike Leach, but it's not enough for them to challenge for the North title. A bowl? Yes, they'll be in the mix for that.
- Cal - Sorry, not much to cheer for here I think. Notch up a few wins and it'll be better than last year.
This division is going to be more competitive than the past few years. UCLA, ASU, UA and USC all have shots at winning it. It could be very tight with the fourth best team only one game off the pace, for example. Here is how I think it'll finish:
- UCLA - This is the trendy pick for unseating USC/ASU in the South and beating Oregon/Stanford in the North. Up and until last season, my default setting for the annual predictions for UCLA's ascent to the top ranks of the league was "I'll believe it when I see it." Well, they did very well last year and I believe they'll be the South division winners in 2014. It won't be easy, but they've got great talent all over the field on both sides of the ball. Throw in some key games at home (Oregon for example) and things are looking good for the Bruins.
- USC - A new coach and a still-young/unsettled QB situation are question marks. However, USC is USC, so they'll have a good team that can win any game they are in. I think they'll be good and could edge out UCLA or ASU for the South title, but I don't think they will. This year. Look out next season though.
- ASU - Last year's South winner has a lot going for it. But, in the past, when the Sun Devils threw down a good season or two, they'd go right back to middle of the pack. I say that happens again.
- UA - Here's a squad that could challenge for the South title, but I don't think they will.
- UU - Better than last year, but not much. Will continue its status as a bottom dweller since moving into the league.
- CU - The slow re-build continues in Boulder, but this year won't be special.
The title game pits the winner of the North against the winner of the South with the game being played at the home field of the team with the better record and/or higher ranking.
Oregon vs. UCLA in Eugene. I think this is what will happen. If it does, it'll be a good one. And not an easy one to predict a winner. I'll say that it'll be in Eugene because Oregon will have a better record or be higher ranked. If so, I think Oregon wins. If it's the other way around, I say UCLA wins in LA. Just so I'm on the record with a pick though, I'll say Oregon wins 34-28 in a tight one at home.
As I understand it, the league winner is at least guaranteed a major bowl of some sort. But, it won't be the Rose Bowl because that game is part of the new NCAA football playoff this year.
However, the league winner is NOT guaranteed a spot in the four-team playoff that will now be the way the National Champion is decided. Those spots will be hand picked by an NCAA appointed panel of "experts." I think any Pac-12 champion would have to be undefeated to get into one of those four spots. Why? Well, you know the SEC title winner will get in, even if they have a loss. If things happen right, a second SEC team could/would likely get another spot (say, if the league winner is undefeated and there's another SEC team with only one loss...to that undfeated team). That would leave two spots open, and there very well could be an undefeated or one-loss team from the Big10, Big12 or at-large conference. I think the Pac-12 doesn't command the same respect as other leagues. So, our champ will need to be undefeated to secure a spot.
Sadly, I predict that the Pac-12 winner will not be undefeated. I think, for example, Oregon may very well lose one to a UCLA, Michigan State or a surprise like UA or UW. Therefore, I am going to say that the Pac-12 champ does NOT appear in the final four playoffs.
This will be controversial for sure, but I think we'll see two SEC teams (their winner and next best team), an undefeated team from some other conference (Big 10, Big 12) and then another smaller school that is undefeated (think schools like Nevada, Boise State, N. Illinois). Remember, the panel appointing does not have to follow any mathematical criteria...just who they think the best four teams are. If there are four undefeated teams out there come selection time, look out. They'll be in.
So, I think we'll see a 11-1 or 10-2 Pac-12 Champ playing in a consolation bowl. Not sure what that is this year. Fiesta Bowl or one of the "big" bowls not aligned this year with the four team playoff is my guess. We'll see.