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Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Page 2 Quickie: December 6, 2005

The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Is Duke overrated at No. 1?

Halfway through college basketball's non-conference schedule, there's enough data to scan the latest Top 25 and figure out who's underrated and who's overrated.

(Inertia from preseason rankings annoys me to no end. For solid data points, I give credit based on who teams have actually beaten this season.)

Villanova (Rank: 4). As far as I'm concerned, they have the biggest "prove-it" win of the season: Beating then-No. 5 Oklahoma on Saturday. And that's without injured star forward Curtis Sumpter. They should be No. 1, at least this week.

Washington (Rank: 12). It's as if everyone has forgotten about last year's team. The polls look foolish when UW sits one spot below Gonzaga, even though they just beat them head-to-head Sunday night. Freshman Jon Brockman (13.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is one of the top frosh in the country.

Bucknell (Rank: 27). It's like voters can't get over that the jerseys say "Bucknell." Except they have already won at Syracuse and at DePaul. And this is the same team that shocked Kansas last year in the first round of the NCAAs. Where's the respect?

(Speaking of giant-killing Bucknell and 1-wannabe Villanova, they play tonight on ESPN 360 in tonight's must-follow game.)

Houston (Rank: 35). Any other team from a "real" league who beats two Top 25 teams (LSU, Arizona) in the same week would be ranked. If they can't make it THIS week, when will they ever? Isn't this type of feel-good story what the ballot's 25th-place vote should be used for?

Duke (Rank: 1). Talk about a reputation ranking! Duke barely beat Memphis two weeks ago and then narrowly beat Indiana last week. Most glaring, they needed a 40-foot prayer at the buzzer on Sunday to beat lightly regarded VA Tech -- and that was at home! That's not how a No. 1 team should be winning.

I'm not saying that Duke isn't one of the Top 5 teams; I'm arguing they're not worthy of being ranked No. 1 right now. And keeping them there because of inertia -- not factoring how they won or how other possible No. 1 teams around them did -- is what erodes a ranking's credibility.

I'll follow my own rules, though: Given the weight I put on the quality of opponent a team beats, my vote for the No. 1 team next week will go to the winner of the huge Duke-Texas game on Saturday.

MNF: Seahawks Roll
For Seahawks skeptics wondering if Seattle can win in January-type weather in a hostile road environment of the defending conference champs, there are far fewer questions today.

In the swirling snow, Seattle humiliated the Eagles with Philly's worst home loss in more than 40 years -- and handed them not just the worst loss of Philly's run as an NFC big dog, but arguably the coup de grace of the short-lived "Eagles Era."

The suddenly stout Seahawks are streaking toward home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs; it's OK to buy into them now. Meanwhile, the Eagles are a mess; all eyes on that Westbrook ankle MRI result.

Burnett to Jays?
We've secretly replaced the Toronto management with the management of the free-spending Yankees. Let's see if their customers notice...

Give the Blue Jays credit: They are making the biggest splash (or at least spending the most cash) in the free-agent market this offseason. First closer BJ Ryan, now starter AJ Burnett, reportedly ready to sign.

Here's why other teams will laugh and say "Take him": The Jays are offering a guaranteed 5th year. That's a huuuge gamble for a pitcher (even a young one) with a history of injuries.

(But if he's healthy, the Jays' frontline four of Halladay, Chacin, Towers and Burnett will be the best starting pitching in the division. Are they the '06 version of the White Sox's Buehrle-Garland-Contreras-Garcia?)

More MLB Hot Stove
Clemens done? Won't commit to Houston until early next year, which leaves the team hanging as they try to decode whether they need to find an ace replacement.

Nomar to Yankees? What?! I think this is what agents, GMs and the media do to amuse themselves during the down time at these events.

Boston shopping Clement? Move to tweak Theo? One rumor sends him and Nixon to Philly for Abreu; the other is to Milwaukee for Overbay.

World Baseball Classic
This is going to be huge. Certainly bigger than the All-Star Game. (But not quite as big as a World Series.) Because with so many players included, there's something to intrigue every fan:

There's the passion of nationalism; there's the heat of rivalries; there's the chance to watch unlikely players team up; there's the roster analysis, which sets up like the greatest baseball barstool debate you've ever had; there's the "bracket"-style tournament format that fans can easily follow; and there's the very real chance that the mighty U.S. will be beaten by the Dominican Republic.

Here's the wildest dynamic to watch: Will A-Rod play for the U.S. or the D.R.? Playing with the U.S. will help his endorsements; playing with the D.R. will give him cred. (Of course, NOT playing for the U.S. is its own decision with serious negative p.r. consequences.)

(My only complaint about the WBC? It will have to compete with March Madness. MLB didn't have another option, but the competition for your attention will be fierce next March, to say the least.)

Coaches' CFB Poll
I've been calling for greater college football Top 25 ballot transparency since the Quickie started three years ago, and yesterday, it finally came:

The individual results of the final coaches' poll was released. In the most intriguing development, Texas coach Mack Brown voted USC No. 1 over his team.

Now, let's not give him TOO much credit: He could afford to be magnanimous once he knew his team was a lock for the national-title game.

But the real fun is in the rundown of... hmm: let's call them "anomalies":

*6 of the 7 first-place votes for Texas came from coaches with ties to UT, either through the Big 12, as coaching alums or in-state peers.

*The SMU coach had Oregon 15th; he can expect a visit from the angry Oregon P.R. Squad.

*And Steve Spurrier apparently doesn't buy the whole Notre Dame thing; he had them ranked 14th. Someone's bitter....

The transparency did its job, illustrating that, yes, the coaches' poll is scattered with regional and personal bias. Now, how about some accountability?

Brady is "Sportsman"
Tom Brady: Most Clutch QB Ever? Possibly. NFL's Poster Guy? Definitely. Just-Like-You Internet User? Uh, depends on your habits.

But "SI Sportsman of the Year?" Maybe I'm a little thrown because Brady earned it last winter, and more than 10 months have gone by since.

He's the QB of the NFL's greatest dynasty and worthy-ish, but shouldn't the award have gone to the real mastermind: Charlie Weis?

After all, Weis didn't just coach and scheme Brady into "Sportsman"-level status; he then did the same thing with Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn, while turning Notre Dame into a national power. In one year.

(Okay, if not Weis, then how about Bill Belichick? Maybe SI didn't find him enough of a hottie. We all can't date Bridget Moynihan.)

Last point: As far as athlete-only "Sportsmen" candidates go, is there any difference between Brady and, say, Matt Leinart? Could have gone either way, especially if you combine him with Reggie Bush into "Co-Sportsmen."

(See Big 5 for my ballot.)