November 21, 2005
Tony Stewart:
Wins the 2005 NASCAR points championship by finishing 15th. If only Joe Gibbs had the same success managing the Redskins as he does his NASCAR teams.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
COLTS.  STAMPEDE.

Indianapolis . . . then who?

Since every team has played 10 games and the Colts have outgunned their nearest competitor on the road (the Bengals in Cincy), everyone else is playing for second.

For the first half of the season, the top of the AFC appeared to have some contenders:

Steelers? Lost to the RAVENS.
Pats? Uh, refer to Week 9.
Jags? Still too green.
Broncos? Only if you've forgotten their recent record against the Colts in the playoffs.

(I'll take the 6-4 Chargers as the AFC's next-best contender; they've got the offense to keep up and have navigated a punishing schedule. But not without injured TE Antonio Gates.)

Over in the NFC, the Panthers looked like the most serious challenger; they were just overwhelmed by the Bears D.

(But who can take the Bears seriously, even at 7-3, as the favorite in the NFC?)

Falcons? Just lost their second straight game at home.

Seahawks? Have yet to win a playoff game in the Holmgren Era. They're suddenly going to win a couple in a row? (Nearly lost to the 49ers!)

Bucs? Cowboys? Still can't believe in either of 'em, despite two coaches who have proven to be playoff winners.

Giants? Let's make them the front-runner in the NFC (despite only one quality win, over Denver), but reserve judgment until after next week's prove-it game at Seattle. And would you really believe in them vs. Indy?

So at 10-0, the Colts aren't simply the only unbeaten; they're the only team without obvious flaws.

And as of today, that makes them the only obvious contender for the Super Bowl title.

More from Week 11
The Eagles are finished for the season, but Mike McMahon is not the tomato can that his critics said he was (298 yds, 2 TD).

Dump the Redskins in the "done" pile, too. Yet another close loss. Yet more turnovers. (Insult/injury: Beaten by ex-coach Norv Turner.)

Wait: So Vick threw for 300 (quiet, critics) but the Falcons still lost? Either Tampa owns them or ATL has an issue.

The Bears (6 straight Ws) might be a first-weekend playoff loss waiting to happen, but with that sick D, they'll be in every game.

Ravens off the schneid: When Kyle Boller outplays you, you know you have QB problems. Steelers can't get Big Ben back soon enough.

Thanksgiving preview: Easy wins by Dallas and Denver should help in a short week before they meet on Thursday. (Lions? Not so much.)

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Peyton Manning: 365 yards, 3 TDs leading IND to W in Cincy
Larry Johnson: 211 yards breaks Chiefs rushing record
Nathan Vasher: Bears' "Mr. 108" extends hot streak: 2 INTs
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Miami: Curse of "7th Floor Crew"? 'Canes lose to GA Tech
Roger Federer: Nalbandian breaks his 35-match win streak
Hawks: Atlanta becomes NBA's only winless team. It's ugly.
 
MNF: Vikings at Packers. Unbelievably, the Vikings can reach .500 with a win at Lambeau. Pack simply looking for respectability. (9 ET, ABC)

Is USC No. 1?
Fresno State was underrated: Fresno proved that, by giving USC as much of a game as it has had at home in its entire dynastic run.

The Trojans, however, might be slightly overrated: Definitely arguable whether they should be ranked No. 1 ahead of Texas. Not with that D.

(Of course, Fresno State is so fearless, I'm not sure that would-be No. 1 Texas would have fared much better against them.)

But Reggie Bush for Heisman: And no one else is even close (sorry, Vince Young). 513 all-purpose yards? 294 rushing? That's cartoonish.

Penn St: BCS-Bound
This season was the best coaching job of Joe Paterno's career (and, yes, that takes into account his two national-title seasons).

Factoring in his age, all the offseason criticism, the youth of his team and the competitiveness of the Big Ten, for him to go 10-1 is astounding.

BCS At-Large Bids
Without a title-game dispute, the new drama is which teams should get the two BCS at-large bids.

Notre Dame is a no-brainer, and it has nothing to do with their on-field performance (although that helps); it's all about the money.

Ohio State is the favorite for the other spot: Two Ls are glaring, but they were to Texas and Penn State (No shame.) Fans travel. Big TV draw.

Other At-Large Contenders:

Auburn? LSU will likely win the SEC's auto-BCS bid, but Auburn is playing as well as anyone right now. And isn't it due for a little payback from last year's screw-job?

Oregon? Ha, yeah right. Remember, this is a discretionary pick. Ohio State is a high bar to hurdle. And the Ducks don't do it.

Fresno State? Why not? Fresno gave USC its toughest game of the season, vindicated my Lead Item prediction from Friday and provide the Cinderella element the BCS cabal desperately needs (yet strenuously avoids).

College Hoops Wrap
Rising: Florida. Beat two ranked teams (Wake, 'Cuse) en route to Coaches/Cancer title. (Saw it up close: PG Taurean Green legit.)

Falling: Michigan State Preseason Final Four fave loses at Hawaii -- uh, and that was BEFORE the competitive Maui Classic. (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.)

NBA Wrap
Clippers still sizzling: In a head-to-head battle of the Pacific's best, the Clips ran past the Warriors. (Wait ... did I just write those names?)

Knicks win first at home: Marbury scores season-high 27 (with 8 assists), allowing both him and Larry Brown to feel like they're both right.

Here's the Lakers' season in a nutshell: Kobe scores 43, but the team still loses (96-93, at home, to the Bulls).

Congrats to the Raptors, who won their first game of the season in style, over the Heat. Chris Bosh (27 pts, 12 reb) could be this season's Amare -- and should be an All-Star.



Tennessee football:
The Vols are the new Vanderbilt: SEC punching bag and bowl-ineligible (and even losing to Vandy!) Fire Fulmer? Maybe not, but what's his excuse?
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Page 2 Index
Page 2 Critics
 
NFL Power Ranking
Colts
Toughest W of season
 
Chargers
Brees getting hot
 
Broncos
Beating Jets? Yawn.
 
Giants
Rebounds from L to MIN
 
Bears
Half-team better than most
 

MLB Hot Stove: The Marlins have '03 World Series ace Josh Beckett on the block. Rangers are hot-n-heavy for him, but the Red Sox are involved, too.

Did the Browns actually manage to have their most impressive win of the season AND start a QB controversy? How does a team pull THAT off?

NFL Injury Watch: Foot (Antonio Gates); Shoulder (Zach Thomas, Marc Bulger, Tatum Bell); Ankle (Dan Morgan, Lito Sheppard).

Table your jokes about Florida State's academics: Track star Garrett Johnson won a Rhodes Scholarship. School should celebrate that more than any NCAA CFB All-American or NFL draft pick.

Former H.S. slam-dunk champ Candace Parker made her debut for Tennessee women's hoops with a double-double (19/10) in a win for the Vols.

The Young 'uns might be the LPGA's future, but "oldie" Annika showed she's still the alpha player, with her 10th '05 win in the season finale.

Condolences to the Belichick family on the loss of Steve, Bill's father and coaching mentor. He was 86.



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