January 4, 2005
NBA facemasks:
Looking like an extra from "Phantom of the Opera," LeBron James showed no problems wearing a mask, scoring 26 in a Cavs W. (New on-court fashion trend?) QUICKIE LIVE! 9-10 a.m.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

For its first act of independence since bolting the BCS cabal, the media who vote for college football's No. 1 should give half of the national title to deserving (and 13-0) Auburn.

With that simple, powerful statement, a system's inequities are put into better balance. Not ideal (that's a playoff), but undeniably better.

No need to list Auburn's bonafides; it's simply the most fair (and accurate) outcome for a system where fairness and accuracy are a rarity.

I'm not saying Auburn is better than the winner of the Orange Bowl; however, the Tigers certainly deserve their rightful half.

What finally convinced me was this: Fans want it that way. And not just Auburn fans. Fans all over the country:

According to the most recent ESPN.com poll, the majority of ESPN fans (who, as a group, are at least as knowledgeable as the voters) say that's the way it should be -- by nearly 10 percentage points. That's a rout.

If the Orange Bowl is ugly, expect a last-second surge of support for an Auburn title-share.

But even if it isn't, the ugliest outcome would be punishing Auburn for the system's problems.

Orange Mania
No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Oklahoma: For all the criticism of the BCS, there sure is a lot of pregame hype that this is the best title matchup in years. (From the same consistently inconsistent folks who will dis Auburn. OK, letting it go now ...)

Battle of System-Heisman QBs
(M. Leinart edges J. White)
Battle of Shoulda-Heisman RBs
(A. Peterson edges R. Bush)

Ironically, for all the marquee names on offense, it will be the staggeringly effective defenses that will own a low-scoring title game.

Pick: USC (8 ET, ABC)

MLB HOF Results
Wade Boggs is a lock, and he'll probably wear a Red Sox hat, simply because it's the cool thing to do these days. He had so much faith in the franchise that he fled to New York to win his ring.

Ryne Sandberg deserves to make it, and I'm not just saying that because he was my favorite player when I was growing up.

Bruce Sutter? Eh: I could go either way. Check out Rob Neyer's nifty take-down on his ESPN Insider column.

Alex Smith: Wiry, brainy, winning Utah QB heading to NFL
Aaron Rodgers: Ditto. Cal stud could be first QB drafted
Vernand Morency: Ditto. Latest in line of OK St RB studs
Trojan Pride: OJ Simpson will be in Miami rooting on USC
Ravens O-coordinator Matt Cavanaugh: Axed ... ya think?!
Who's Your Daddy: It's not just a stadium chant anymore ...
Meanwhile: Let's hope the media-circus "big tent" doubling as the HOF voters' pool has never disparaged the BCS; college football polling is transparent by comparison. Make all HOF ballots public!

Mets Woo Beltran
Silly Omar Minaya: He can fly to Puerto Rico to rush Carlos Beltran, but doesn't the Mets GM realize that Beltran's going to the highest bidder, period? But wait ...

Yankees out? Check that: Omar Minaya might be the highest bidder, if rumors are true that the other team from New York dropped out of the bidding. (Wait: The Yankees have limits?)

Amazin'-ly enough: The Mets are the new leader for Beltran.

Sonics beat Heat
The Sonics winning in Miami did more than simply snap the Heat's 14-game W streak.

Playoff foreshadowing: The "Skimpy-Sonics" can go toe-to-toe on the road vs. a team with a dominant big man (Shaq: 25/14) and grit out a W.

Seattle fans should bust out this example to justify their optimism in the team's playoff chances.

Moss vs. Alexander
As often noted in this space: It's not the mistake itself; it's the damage control. So, ripped from today's headlines, let's look at two opposite strategies:

Player: Shaun Alexander
Mistake: "Stabbed/back" quote
Justified: Was ONLY 2 yards
Reaction: Apology in media
Long-term rep effect: Low

Player: Randy Moss
Mistake: Exited game early
(Real Mistake: Busted by TV)
Justified: Was ONLY 2 seconds
Reaction: None; media silence
Long-term rep effect: Medium

Which player takes the bigger hit? See DQ'ed for the ultimate loser.

Jumping to NFL
Bowls are over: Let the annual rite of underclassmen signing with agents begin! This is when critics publicly gnash their teeth, while privately inserting the talented underclassmen somewhere near the top of their draft boards.

But thanks to Maurice Clarett, only juniors: Nevermind that the most talented (and NFL-ready) player in college football is a freshman, Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson.

L.A. vs. Anaheim
L.A. Angels of Anaheim: Yeah, right, like anyone's going to use that.

But for struggling franchises trying to glom onto brands with more cachet (but legally keeping their original affiliation as part of the "official" name), can you imagine the ramifications:

New York Nets of New Jersey?

Vegas Hornets of New Orleans?

Tiger Montgomerie of Colin?

Nicole Hilton of Richie?

NFL Hockey League of NHL?

Randy Moss:
Alexander jobbed by Holmgren for that rush title; Moss, meanwhile, made the fan-inexcusable move of *quitting* on his team. Now, permanent part of rep.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live!
SportsNation: Auburn No. 1?
Neyer on Sutter
Best Bowls of Season (Before the Orange)
Liberty (L'ville-Boise)
Did you take that over?
Rose (Tex-Mich)
Vince Young Party
Capital One (Iowa-LSU)
Iowa's last-gasp TD
Holiday (TT-Cal)
Cal takes a hit
Fiesta (Utah-Pitt)
To see Utah's skills

Unit to NY: Selig approved the trade; now, it's up to the Yankees to sign Randy to a 2-year deal extension. Asking price? Whatever he wants ...

NFL rumors: Browns eyeing Pats as a model (literally). They are looking at Romeo Crennel to coach and Scott Pioli to GM ...

Wade watch: 28 points in loss to Sea, with a nifty 23 in the 2nd half. But shot an uncharacteristic 9/22 FG, with only 2 reb, 4 ast ...

Is a Golden State trade for a Euro benchwarmer named Cabarkapa what goes for NBA trade action these days? Yawn ...

Someone explain this to me: Auburn isn't a top-2 team, yet most voters will rank them there, dropping the Orange loser to No. 3 ...

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