Previewing the UEFA Champions League Round of 16

On Monday, fans in Paris and Madrid lost their minds. While Manchester City gets Basel and Bayern gets Besiktas, PSG will face Real Madrid in the Round of 16. After the Whistle previews and predicts the chaos.

Basel vs. Manchester City

Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and Manchester City are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and get a favor from UEFA. This won’t be close.

Pick: Manchester City

Bayern vs. Besiktas

This is the point where I make an argument for Besiktas.

This is the point where I acknowledge Bayern is going to win by 90 goals.

Pick: Bayern

Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

The Ukrainians were so good in the group stage that Shakhtar eliminated Napoli and pushed Man City for the top spot. Meanwhile, Roma sits at fourth in the Serie A, and doesn’t have Mo Salah to carry the team when Edin Dzeko can’t score. I’ll take the upset here.

Pick: Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus vs. Tottenham

The Spurs were flying through the first five games. Tottenham then made the mistake of playing red-hot Arsenal in the Premier League, and haven’t beaten a team since, except for Stoke. Juve has surged up the Serie A standings, and run into an Inter Milan roadblock. The team from Torino possesses a little more firepower, and should put up a few goals on a stuttering Totteringham defense.

Pick: Juventus

Porto vs. Liverpool

Vincent Aboubakar will be a handful for Liverpool’s vertically challenged defenders, but Porto isn’t the power they once were. Mohamed Salah’s incredible run of form should continue as the Reds advance to the quarters.

Pick: Liverpool

Sevilla vs. Manchester United

While their weekend performance at Real Madrid didn’t show it, Sevilla is a dangerous side to come up against. Romelu Lukaku’s struggles against high-quality opposition pose problems for MUFC, but Mkhitaryan, Martial, and the on-fire Marcus Rashford will propel Manchester United to a most-needed victory. Too many M’s?

Pick: Manchester United

Chelsea vs. Barcelona

The Blues haven’t been terrific, dropping to third in the loaded Premier League. Arsenal and Liverpool are nipping at Chelsea’s heels, and Antonio Conte might choose to focus on England. Barcelona have no such qualms, as Lionel Messi and Co. are on top of La Liga. This won’t be close even if Chelsea fields their starting XI.

Pick: Barcelona

Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Neymar and Dani Alves face a familiar foe in Spanish giant Real Madrid. Kylian Mbappe’s transformation into superstardom has continued, and the Parisians won’t struggle to light up the score sheet. Defending will be the concern.

Real Madrid has slipped this season, slotting in at fourth in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. have focused more on the Champions League, and draw the best team in Europe for their troubles. Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos will have to anchor a surprisingly ineffective defense, while Ronaldo, Marco Asensio, and the attack will have no problem scoring. This should be an amazing two games.

Pick: Paris Saint-Germain 🤑

 

Far too early semifinals prediction: PSG, Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester City

Far too early finals prediction: Paris Saint-Germain over Bayern Munich

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College Basketball Power Rankings: Upset Special

Don’t point out the 7-1s to Brazil.

Kansas, Texas A&M, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and Florida all lost to unranked teams. Just a typical week in college basketball.

1. Duke 11-0

The Blue Devils’ cramped schedule finally pays off, as Duke only plays three games for the rest of December. Duke put up a massive 124 points in a game against Saint Francis, including 71 in the first half. Mental.

2. Michigan State 8-1

Blowout victories over Notre Dame and North Carolina have buoyed the Spartans, and MSU keeps blowing out opponents. Rutgers is the latest opponent to stand no chance against Miles Bridges and Co.

3. Villanova 9-0

The Wildcats asserted themselves as a Final Four threat with a win over Gonzaga, an 88-72 blowout. Mikal Bridges has transformed into a star, and Jalen Brunson is a terrific point guard.

4. Miami 8-0

Nothing noteworthy, as the ‘Canes beat Boston U by 15, and remain stationary.

5. Wichita State 7-1 

The Shockers took care of South Dakota State, but the most impressive aspect is the improvement of Baylor, who Wichita State handled 69-60. Gregg Marshall’s team has a great chance at a #1 seed come March.

6. North Carolina 9-1

Many teams in this range lost, so UNC vaults a few places despite only playing Western Carolina. Luke Maye’s incredible production continues to astound the nation, but can the forward string good performances together in ACC play?

7. Kentucky 7-1

The Wildcats haven’t played anyone good other than Kansas, but continue to win games. Kentucky thanks preseason projections.

8. Xavier 8-1

The Musketeers’ meteoric rise (#12 last week) continues, as some help provides Xavier with a top 10 appearance. However, Trevon Bluiett’s inconsistency needs to resolve itself if the shooting guard wants to lead Xavier anywhere.

9. Texas A&M 7-1

In preseason, every Aggie fan would’ve taken a three point loss to preseason #2 Arizona. Now, the three-loss Wildcats seem uncertain of where they want to go. Texas A&M falls to #9, and should hang around until games against Tennessee and Kentucky.

10. Kansas 7-1

Devonte Graham is human. Kansas dropped a strange game to Washington, and falls to the ten spot. Sunday, the Jayhawks face a massive non-conference test against Arizona State.

11. Arizona State 7-0

The Sun Devils will need to get past an interesting game against St. John’s before the massive Kansas clash. Sunday will be fun.

12. Minnesota 8-2

Losing to Nebraska hurts, but the Golden Gophers could get on a roll heading into a Feb. 13 Michigan State clash. Pending Purdue, the Spartans have circled the Gophers in red.

13. West Virginia 8-1

Not only beating Virginia, but dominating the Cavaliers is what catapults WVU so high. The Mountaineers haven’t lost since the Texas A&M game, and could be the best challenger for Kansas in the Big 12.

14. Tennessee 6-1

The Vols keep winning. The latest to be trounced is Georgia Tech, which is not a given. Tennessee could be on the brink of something special. In the words of Rick Barnes, “Look at little ol’ Clemson Tennessee!”

15. Gonzaga 7-2

The Zags may be WCC favorites, but Gonzaga will need to stay close against high-quality opposition. Villanova had its way against the lackluster side. Gonzaga needs to get better.

16. Seton Hall 7-1

The Pirates wrecked Louisville and Texas Tech, and rise to the #16 spot. The Desi Rodriguez—Angel Delgado tandem is working well.

17. Notre Dame 7-2

You can’t lose to Ball State and expect not to plummet. The Irish were awful in their second loss of the season, and fall a long way.

18. Cincinnati 7-1

The Bearcats were blown out in the Crosstown Shootout by Xavier, and fall due to a nonexistent strength of schedule otherwise. Western Carolina keeps showing up on the records of top 25 teams.

19. Purdue 9-2

The Boilermakers are off to a 2-0 start in Big 10 play, and looked impressive. Expect Purdue to keep winning until a mid-January showdown with Minnesota.

20. Florida State 8-0

A demolition of Florida helps, and an undefeated record isn’t too bad either. FSU won’t drop off too much in the loaded ACC, and that’s a wonderful achievement.

21. TCU 9-0

The Horned Frogs find themselves ranked after demolishing SMU, and undefeated records look nice.

22. Baylor 6-2

The Bears didn’t play.

23. Virginia 8-2

The Cavaliers did play, and West Virginia says thanks.

24. Creighton 6-2

See Baylor.

25. USC 4-2

Argh.

First five out: Clemson, Houston, Georgia, Syracuse, Oklahoma

Saints Meet Falcons In Pivotal NFC Matchup

Photo source: CBS Sports

Two playoff hopefuls collide as the 9-3 Saints visit the 7-5 Falcons. New Orleans is a threat in the NFC for the first time since Bountygate and the game-that-shall-not-be-named. Behind a running game of Mark Ingram and sensational rookie Alvin Kamara, (pictured above) Drew Brees doesn’t have to carry the Saints anymore. Marshon Lattimore has come in and mobilized a suddenly decent secondary, but they’ll have their hands full.

Julio Jones was contained by Xavier Rhodes in the Falcons’ five point loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week. In fairness, Rhodes has shut down Jones some other games. . . try every time. The Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, (it feels so good to say that!) and Atlanta won’t be penalized for dropping that one. Matt Ryan and the offense need to put up more than nine points against New Orleans, and the defense will need to limit the Saints. Good luck with the latter.

Thursday Night Football will be entertaining, (there’s a first) and showcase two likely  playoff teams. (also a first on TNF) The Saints seem to have enough offensive firepower to get past the Falcons in Atlanta.

 

Yes, the image at the top is of Alvin Kamara at Tennessee, because trolling.

College Football Power Rankings: Championship Week

College football’s regular season is over and done with, and another four teams will go to the Playoff. For Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alabama, the national title is at stake. For others, a bowl game. For Baylor. . . um. . .

1. Oklahoma

Every team’s season has been reevaluated, and Oklahoma emerges on top. The Sooners torched TCU in the Big 12 Championship to earn a trip to the Playoff.

2. Clemson

The Tigers ran Miami off the field in a 38-3 annihilation. Clemson booked a spot in the Playoff, and that Auburn win looks impressive.

3. Georgia

The Bulldogs erased a bad memory by winning the SEC. Auburn couldn’t beat the former #1 a second time, and Kirby Smart is heading to the Playoff.

4. UCF

I said I reevaluated everyone. The Knights put up 62 en route to beating Memphis in the AAC Championship, went undefeated, and boasts signature wins over the aforementioned Tigers (twice!) and South Florida. In a perfect world UCF would be in the Playoff, but will instead settle for the Peach Bowl. Opponent? Auburn.

5. Auburn

The Tigers’ losses to Clemson and Georgia can be excused, leaving Auburn with one unavoidable loss. The LSU game hurts, but running the SEC West gauntlet slots the Tigers in at fifth. Wins over Alabama and Georgia by a combined 35 points headline an incredible resume.

6. Alabama

The Tide were the only top 10 team not participating in a conference game, yet still made the Playoff. Despite undefeated AAC champ UCF’s similar strength of schedule, Alabama will have a shot at Clemson for the third straight year.

7. USC

The Pac-12 champions head to the Fiesta Bowl, which is the de facto Rose Bowl against Ohio State. USC led Stanford by double digits long into the fourth quarter, and vaults above Ohio State upon reevaluation.

8. Ohio State

If you want to make the Playoff, don’t lose to Iowa by 31. Fair?

9. Wisconsin

The Badgers lost a hard-fought Big 10 Championship, and head to the Orange Bowl to face Miami. The Hurricanes have made a habit of running teams off the field, (Notre Dame agrees) and could mock Wisconsin’s weak schedule.

10. Miami

The Hurricanes weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders in a 38-3 drubbing from Clemson. Miami should beat an overmatched Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, and jump a few spots.

11. TCU

The Horned Frogs got smoked—again—by Oklahoma. Kenny Hill played well in the first half, but TCU imploded on both sides of the ball. Baker Mayfield is going to win the Heisman, while TCU falls out of New Year’s Six consideration.

12. Washington 

13. Penn State

I’m not sold on a team that lost every challenge. The Lions aren’t cut out for high-quality opposition.

14. Notre Dame

15. Michigan State

MSU enjoyed a nice rebound season, but a blowout loss to Notre Dame early in the season hurts.

16. Stanford

The Cardinal were never really close in a blowout loss to USC, and will compete in a medium-quality bowl. Bryce Love is a finalist for the Heisman, but the trophy appears to have Baker Mayfield’s name written on it.

17. Memphis

The Tigers played an incredibly fun AAC Championship, a 55-62 2OT loss to UCF, and Memphis doesn’t fall far, as both of their losses are to #4 UCF.

18. LSU

This was a terrific rebound season for Ed Orgeron, and the Tigers will face Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.

19. Oklahoma State

20. Northwestern

21. Toledo

The Rockets destroyed Akron 45-28 to become the MAC champion. Be aware of flying missiles.

22. Florida Atlantic

Lane Kiffin has turned FAU into a conference champion, as the Owls blew out North Texas by 24. Florida Atlantic will face Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl, and it shouldn’t be close.

23. Virginia Tech

24. Washington State

25. Tennessee’s coaching search

The Vols finally found a coach, as Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is thrust into the spotlight. Pruitt has a talented roster, but very few recruits as of yet. Expect that to change, and Tennessee might be a force in the SEC East once again.

Alabama Doesn’t Deserve a Playoff Spot

Sunday morning, the CFP Committee had a decision to make. Did Alabama deserve a spot in the 2017-18 College Football Playoff? The answer from the Committee was yes. The Committee is wrong.

Alabama vs. Ohio State

Let’s first discount the primary “challenger,” Ohio State. If you want to earn a spot in the Playoff, don’t lose to Iowa by 31. Fair?

 

Alabama vs. Auburn

Auburn’s best wins: Georgia, Alabama

Auburn’s worst loss: LSU

Alabama’s best wins: LSU, Mississippi State

Alabama’s only loss: Auburn

Three-loss Auburn is more deserving than the Tide. To the tune of 26-14, the Tigers dominated Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Auburn made the SEC Championship, unlike Alabama. Considering two of Auburn’s losses were to Playoff teams, (Clemson, Georgia) why not the Tigers? Consider the quality wins listed above.

 

Alabama vs. UCF

Alabama’s best wins: LSU, Mississippi State

Alabama’s only loss: Auburn

UCF’s best wins: Memphis (twice), USF

When comparing Alabama to unbeaten UCF, the Tide look bad. The AAC champions beat Memphis twice by a combined score of 102-68. Add on a dramatic Rivalry Week win at South Florida, and ‘Bama’s resume pales in comparison. Please never forget that LSU (the Tide’s best win) lost to Troy.

Alabama vs. USC

Alabama’s best wins: Troy, LSU, Mississippi State

Alabama’s only loss: Auburn

USC’s best wins: Stanford (twice), Arizona

USC’s losses: Notre Dame, Washington State

Although this one seems a bit out there, USC is at least on par with Alabama. The Trojans destroyed Arizona, whose quarterback (Khalil Tate) had run for 840(!!!) yards in the past four weeks, snapping the Wildcats’ four-game win streak. Add on beating Stanford twice, and USC’s 11 wins outweigh Alabama’s 11. USC is also a conference champion. Alabama isn’t even a division champion.

 

Through these comparisons, it’s easy to see Alabama doesn’t deserve to be in the Playoff. UCF, USC, and Auburn all have better cases for the exclusive field of four. The Committee is facing questions that need answering, and are not setting a good precedent. Alabama could get blown out against Clemson, leading to 2015 comparisons. TCU and Baylor are not amused.

Reacting to the 2018 World Cup Draw

The draw for the 2018 World Cup has concluded, with surprises, favorites, and Groups of Life and Death. Italians look away.

Group A: A little help for the hosts

Hosts Russia came out first, as is traditional. Uruguay joined them from Pot 2, with Mo Salah’s Egypt from Pot 3. Saudi Arabia rounded up the first group,

Uruguay are the favorites in the easiest group of the eight. Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah and Egypt will contend with Russia for the second spot, and the Saudis appear to pose no threat.

Group B: The Iberian Supergroup

Portugal was the second team out of Pot 1, and are joined by Spain, Morocco, and Iran.

Portugal and Spain are two of the best teams in the tournament, and whoever wins the group will make a deep run in the knockout stage. Iran and Morocco stand little chance of advancing in place of the Iberian duo. That first matchup will be fun.

Group C: France’s to lose

France will bring their young squad up against fellow Europeans Denmark, while Peru and Australia will look to exploit the Danes’ over-reliance on Christian Eriksen.

France should run away with Group C á la 2014 Colombia. Denmark doesn’t seem to be equipped for a World Cup, as Christian Eriksen is the only notable attacking star. However, Mathias Jorgensen and the defense could be difficult to break down. Australia desperately needs answers in the coming year to inject life into the Socceroos’ aging squad. Don’t underestimate Peru, the fifth-placed South American side.

Group D: Stars, old and young

Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria form the most star-studded group so far. Lionel Messi and Argentina look the part of a favorite, while Luka Modric’s Croatia and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland will battle it out for the second spot. Nigeria doesn’t seem cut out to contend yet, but a promising generation of young talent headlined by Alex Iwobi will get a shot at the world’s finest.

Group E: A challenged favorite

CONMEBOL champs Brazil came out of Pot 1 to face Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. The two European nations are capable of causing trouble for anyone if given the opportunity, while Costa Rica is a challenge once again. Los Ticos went all the way to 2014’s quarterfinals before bowing out on penalties to the Netherlands.

Group F: A Confederations Cup rematch

The defending world champs face the harshest test of any seeded side. Germany will face CONCACAF champions Mexico, and then turn around to face Emil Forsberg and Sweden. Last year’s Bundesliga assist king leads a dangerous Sweden side. If Mexico and Sweden meet on the final day of the group stage, an electric atmosphere will take shape in Russia.

Group G: European domination

Belgium and England face few tests in Tunisia and Panama, and should advance. In what order, though? Belgium has the talent to beat anyone, but can’t seem to play well together. England. . . well, they’re England.

Group H: 

Disputed top-eight Poland face a tough task. A star-studded Senegal attack including Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao will present defensive concerns. Japan might challenge better than in recent years.

The real focus is Colombia. 2014 World Cup’s top scorer James Rodriguez has ignited into one of the world’s finest center attacking mids. Radamel Falcao and Freddy Guarin are very good once again. Jeison Murillo anchors the defense. Colombia is so good, it’s frightening. Los Cafeteros will wreak havoc in the latter knockout rounds in Russia.

The group winners will be. . .

A: Uruguay

B: Spain

C: France

D: Argentina

E: Brazil

F: Germany

G: Belgium

H: Colombia

 

Wait, where’s Italy?

College Football Power Rankings: Rivalry Week

Photo source: Flickr

The insanity of Rivalry Week is over, but the CFP committee has more questions to answer as Alabama and Miami lost. The SEC and ACC Championships are play-ins, and Oklahoma and Wisconsin are win-and-in. What’s at stake for Championship Week? Read on.

1. Oklahoma

Capturing the top spot for the first time this year, Oklahoma will make the Playoff of the Sooners defeat TCU in the Big 12 Championship. A loss would send Oklahoma to a New Year’s Six bowl.

2. Clemson

The Tigers face a play-in game against Miami. The winner of the ACC Championship will make the Playoff, while the loser is relegated to the Orange Bowl.

3. Auburn

A wild win in the Iron Bowl ensured the Tigers of a chance to play what is essentially a Playoff quarterfinal against Georgia. Defeating Alabama by 12 is no small feat, and Auburn vaults to #3.

4. Wisconsin

The Badgers enter the Playoff picture because of Alabama and Miami’s losses. A shutout in Minneapolis won’t earn Wisconsin anything, as P.J. Fleck couldn’t make anything out of Minnesota’s weakest roster in years.

5. Georgia

The Bulldogs blew out Georgia Tech 38-7 to ensure the SEC of at least one team in the Playoff. The winner of Auburn vs. Georgia will make the Committee’s top four.

6. Alabama

The Crimson Tide need some help after losing a pivotal Iron Bowl to Auburn. Either Oklahoma or Wisconsin needs to lose to TCU or Ohio State. After that, Alabama will need the committee to pick the Tide over a two-loss conference champion.

7. Ohio State

The Buckeyes must beat Wisconsin to have a chance at the Playoff, and even then the committee might choose 11-1 Alabama. Escaping Michigan gave Ohio State another quality win, but quarterback J.T. Barrett is questionable for the Big 10 Championship.

8. Miami

Pittsburgh has done it again. The 4-7 Panthers knocked off a top four opponent for the second year in a row, meaning Miami will have to beat Clemson to earn a spot in the Playoff.

9. TCU

The Horned Frogs blew out ten-loss Baylor as expected, but have little hope of a Playoff appearance. A win over Oklahoma would be a massive boost to the program, and would earn TCU a trip to the New Year’s Six.

10. USC

The Trojans had an extra week to prepare for Stanford, and will need a win in the Pac-12 Championship to clinch a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

11. UCF

What the Golden Knights have done this year is incredible. Rolling through the nation’s sixth best conference is a underestimated feat. UCF won’t make the Playoff, but the Knights could make their second New Year’s Six bowl in the Playoff era with a win over Memphis.

12. Washington 

Unlike many, I ranked the Huskies ahead of Washington State. That decision is justified after Washington’s 41-14 win in the Apple Cup, although Washington won’t go to the Pac-12 Championship. That honor goes to Stanford, who just knocked off Notre Dame.

13. Penn State

The Lions put up 66 on Maryland, pushing Penn Statebup three spots due to receiving some help. Saquon Barkley will need more to further his Heisman case in the New Year’s Six.

14. Stanford

The Cardinal were predicted to be destroyed against Notre Dame, but responded by winning by 18. Stanford will play for a New Year’s Six spot in the Pac-12 Championship against USC.

15. Memphis

For the second week in a row, the American Athletic has two teams in the top 15. Enough said for a New Year’s Six play-in game against UCF.

16. Notre Dame

The Irish eliminated themselves from a New Year’s Six bowl by virtue of losing by 18 to Stanford. Notre Dame’s lack of conference affiliation hurts as well.

17. Michigan State

The Spartans stay put after a 40-7 win over eight-loss Rutgers, and won’t move much after finishing second in the Big 10 East.

18. LSU

A blowout win over Texas A&M helps LSU’s case for a higher-quality bowl, and cost Kevin Sumlin his job. The Tigers move up, but won’t make a New Year’s Six bowl.

19. Oklahoma State

Kansas is not a difficult opponent, and the Pokes only move up one spot in relief of Washington State.

20. Northwestern

The Wildcats have a 30-70 shot at the Citrus Bowl, and will need a Michigan State opponent to trip up. A Wisconsin win would be particularly devastating for MSU.

21. Washington State

A chance to go to the Pac-12 Championship was squandered Saturday night, as a 41-14 blowout loss to rival Washington sends Stanford to play USC. Wazzou might be relegated to the Sun Bowl, televised by CBS against an ACC team.

22. Virginia Tech

VT is the last Power 5 team ranked this week, as Virginia Tech’s 9-3 record makes them the ACC’s third ranked team.

23. Fresno State

The Bulldogs enter the rankings after their upset of former #25 Boise State. Fresno State will have another shot at the Broncos in the Mountain West title game.

24. Toledo

The Rockets put the MAC’s only two-loss record on the line in the Mid-American title game. Surprise division winners Akron are heavy underdogs, but Toledo can’t afford to slip up.

25. Florida Atlantic

Lane Kiffin has turned this program around—from winless to unbeaten. FAU has a shot at a conference championship against North Texas.

 

New Year’s Six bowl projections

Playoff semifinal: Clemson vs. Ohio State

Playoff semifinal: Oklahoma vs. Auburn

Orange: Miami vs. Alabama

Fiesta: USC vs. Wisconsin

Cotton: TCU vs. Ohio State

Peach: UCF vs. Georgia

Next best team: Washington