After a one-week hiatus, welcome back to this week’s “Case of the Mondays” where we are officially entrenched in college football’s offseason. Final exams have started nationwide, spring ball is over, and what we’re left with one big void of college football knowledge and information.
Of the few nuggets remaining this week, we begin at UCLA, where there’s…
1. A fresh start in Westwood: Yup, that’s right, spring practice officially went final this weekend, when the last spring game of 2012 was played. It was in Westwood, CA, where Jim L. Mora made his debut as the UCLA head coach.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for hard-hitting insight, and information that can’t be found anywhere else, well, sadly you’ve come to the wrong place. Like most every other team in the country, there really didn’t seem to be a ton of big-picture takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage for UCLA, and if anything, the biggest uncertainty- at quarterback- is still more question than answer. Mora entered spring ball unsure whether Richard Brehaut, Brett Hundley or Kevin Prince would be able to pull ahead in the quarterback derby, and from all reports none did. All three seemed impressive in their own right Saturday, combining to throw for seven touchdowns, with Hundley adding a rushing score on the ground. Granted, it was against an injury-ravaged UCLA defense, but still, not a bad day overall.
Of course in the big picture, Saturday wasn’t about finding answers for Mora, as much as it was simply about setting the tone. This program had become soft in the final few years of the Rick Neuheisel era, a word that we don’t expect to hear much with Mora now in charge. From the beginning, Mora has held his guys accountable, held them to a higher standard, and if you’ve read reports this off-season, they’ve stepped up; everywhere you turned this spring, UCLA’s football team may have been called a “work in progress.” But nobody questioned their effort.
It may be a long time before Mora gets this team into the upper-echelon of the Pac-12 to stay. But they’re definitely heading in the right direction.
2. Outside of Westwood: We are now hitting the time of year in college football where just about any news coming out, is probably bad news.
On Friday Crystal Ball Run told you about Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ arrest, and later that day an even more bizarre story broke when former Ohio State recruit Alex Anzalone de-committed from the school, after a series of pictures surfaced with he and a prominent Ohio State booster an Ohio State fan (thank to you reader “Tekekini” fo catching this mistake. I apologize for mis-representing Waugh as a “booster” and not a fan) named Charles Eric Waugh. The catch? Waugh is a registered sex offender in the state of Kentucky.
Scary stuff, huh?
Anyway, this news story has made its way through the cycle over the weekend, so at this point there really isn’t much to add. Fortunately, it seems like cooler heads are prevailing on all accounts, and everyone, from school, to Anzalone and his family are working together to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
Frankly, it’s hard not to feel bad for all parties involved (with the exception of Waugh, of course). Obviously Ohio State is to blame here, but at the same time no institution ever wants to put any prospective student (let alone one as high-profile as Anzalone) in the uncomfortable position he was faced with in Columbus a few weeks ago. And as for the kid, you feel terrible too; it’s one thing to be famous as a football player, it’s another to be “infamous” for something like this.
Luckily, it does appear as though everyone is ready to move on, and on Sunday Anzalone’s dad even released a statement saying that his son was still considering the school. The senior Anzalone made it very clear in his remarks that Ohio State did nothing to put their son or family in harm’s way at all.
Again, just a sad, sick and twisted situation, but credit Ohio State for being proactive, and to the family for realizing the unfortunate situation was- in large part- out of the school’s control.
3. Moving away from college football: I’ve got to ask: Was Saturday the last “great” sports day we’ll have in 2012 until football kicks off in the fall?
Personally, I think a very compelling case could be made, as from about 2pm EST until well after midnight, it was one of the most epic wall-to-wall, channel-to-channel, sport-to-sport days in recent memory. The NBA playoffs went strong for 11 hours, the Kentucky Derby was run to much fanfare (although admittedly, I actually fell asleep during the coverage), and both UFC and boxing had big, headline fights. Add in a solid day with Major League Baseball and the Wells Fargo Open in golf, and there literally wasn’t a dull moment the entire afternoon.
Sadly, don’t expect to see such a fun Saturday anytime soon.
4. Let’s talk a little about the NBA Playoffs: And let’s talk about the Knicks… who won their first playoff game in over a decade on Sunday afternoon! For those keeping score at home, their last win came on April 29, 2001. But seriously, at this point who’s counting?
Either way, one thing did kind of disturb me about the game. Did anyone notice that after the win, right as the horn made the score final, streamers and confetti fell from the rafters? I mean, I know there’s reason for excitement, but confetti? In the first round? When your team is down 0-3? I mean seriously, what would happen if the Knicks actually won a series? Would they give Carmelo a key to the city?
Regardless, it was a great win and a fun game. I also fully expect it to be no earlier than the spring of 2013 before the Knicks pick up their next playoff win. The Heat will win Game 5 Wednesday night.
5. Moving out West, I was wondering: Has Oklahoma City positioned themselves as the favorites in the NBA? Call me crazy, but I actually think they might have. Seriously, give me one good reason why it can’t be the Thunder?
First off, let’s forget about their age, and remember that they do just about anything you’d ever want a championship team to do. They play great defense, defend the rim, rebound and have three guys who can all get their shot whenever they want. Oh, and they’re super young and super athletic, meaning that they’re a matchup nightmare for everyone other than one or two teams in the league.
As a matter of fact, what impressed me more than anything on Saturday night was their front-line depth; with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook struggling, it was James Harden- James freakin’ Harden- who went out and won them that game. To which I ask, does anyone have a third option quite like Harden? Sure some are good (Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh are two that come to mind), but is there a single one that can dominate, and completely take over a game like Harden did when his team’s stars are struggling?
Add in Serge Ibaka in the post, depth up front…and the fact that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant DIDN’T EVEN PLAY WELL and I see no reason why this team shouldn’t be the favorites going forward.
6. As for the rest of the sports day: It was capped by a great fight out in Vegas with Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto. As a matter of fact, if anything it surpassed my expectations all together.
For anyone who has watched Mayweather in the past, for whatever insane natural talent he has, he doesn’t always put it on display when the lights are on. That’s not to say he’s not insanely talented, just that it doesn’t always show. Floyd is at his best when he’s fighting defensively, keeping his opponent off balance and dictating pace.
Except to Miguel Cotto’s credit, he brought it Saturday. I mean, the dude really brought it. He didn’t let Mayweather control the pace, but instead, brought the pace to him, in what was undoubtedly one of the most exciting fights in recent memory for Mayweather.
And the crazy thing was that Mayweather still won comfortably, proving once again why he’s still pound-for-pound the best in the world.
Now, how about a fight with Manny Pacquiao…
7. Which, oh wait a second, is never happening: Look, I know I’m no boxing expert, but I firmly believe you’ve got a better chance of seeing me step into the ring with Money Mayweather in the next few years than you do Pacquiao. Why? Well think about it this way: Floyd made $32 million Saturday against Cotto, and over $100 million for his last three fights combined. To which the question has to be asked: Why risk stepping into the ring- and adding a blemish to a perfect record- against Pacquiao? The risk doesn’t outweigh the reward. And not just for Mayweather, but Pacquiao too.
It also got me wondering, if there was any one fighter I’d actually pay money to see Mayweather fight. The answer is no… sort of. I don’t think I’d pay to see him fight any boxer currently on the circuit. But what if he started taking on opponents from different sports?
It’s totally implausible, but still something I was discussing with a buddy this week. After all, at this point is there any reason to actually pay for a Floyd Mayweather fight? We already know he’s going to win, we already know it’s almost certainly going to be by TKO, and there’s also a reasonable chance that Floyd will spend most of the night dancing and prancing rather than actually boxing (Saturday night was a major exception however). Why spend $60 on that?
Buuuuuuuuut what if Floyd were willing to step out of his comfort zone and take on someone from a different sport, like, oh, I don’t know… Ed Reed. Now, is that something you’d pay to see? Because I’ll tell you what, I’d be much more likely to Pay-Per-View that fight, than against Sergio Martinez or whomever is next on Floyd’s docket. Plus, given Reed’s height and weight (about three inches and 30 lbs. more than Mayweather) it wouldn’t be a total mismatch, especially with Floyd having the upper-hand in a boxing sense.
Now obviously that’s something that would never happen, but admit it: The idea is intriguing, no?
8. Moving over to baseball: One storyline that I wish was getting more attention is the incredible play of Bryce Harper in Washington.
Now, looking at the stats, you’re probably thinking to yourself “What is Aaron talking about?” Harper was hitting just .261 through Sunday night’s game with Philadelphia, with no home runs and just three RBI. Those aren’t exactly numbers that get you into Cooperstown, if you know what I’m saying.
Of course the thing that’s easy to forget about Harper is that he’s, ahem, only 19-years-old! The fact that he’s even in the Major League’s is simply mind-boggling, and the fact that he’s competing, and already has become a cog in the middle of the Nats order is another story altogether.
Although, what the real story here is about how he’s doing it. The truth is, of every player in modern baseball, nobody has had more pressure on him than Harper has. The kid was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at aged 16, graduated high school two years early, played a year of JUCO ball and was drafted after what should’ve been his junior year of high school. Along the way he’s been critiqued and criticized at every turn, for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with his ability to play baseball. Like all other young phenoms, most of the criticism of Bryce Harper comes from sheer jealousy.
Yet here he is, still six months away from his 20th birthday, and he’s simply getting it done at the Major League level. Not only is playing well, but the Nats are playing out of their minds. Currently, they’re in first place in the very tough NL East.
Simply put, if you’re not paying attention to Bryce Harper now, you need to be. He’s one of the best stories in baseball. Forget that, he’s one of the best stories in sports.
You know who isn’t though?
9. Albert Pujols: Who finally hit his first home run Sunday afternoon! I mean, we knew it was going to happen eventually, but Albert, my man, what took so long?
(On a completely different note, how do you think Angels owner Arte Moreno is feeling about this whole mess? I mean we know Albert is eventually going to get everything together, but in the meantime… you do realize he’s owed over $200 MILLION over the next 10 years, right? I know Pujols will eventually break out of his slump, but if it’s bad in 2012, imagine what it might be like in 2015? Or 2018? Or 2022!!!
Point being, I enjoy watching Albert Pujols play baseball. I’m just glad I’m not the one signing his checks.)
10. And finally: I always wrap up with some kind of movie, TV or book review in this space.
Unfortunately I was on vacation last week, meaning that I didn’t watch any TV, movies and I certainly didn’t read any books.
One recommendation I would make though is that if you’re ever in Miami, make The Clevelander Hotel a part of your routine. I already wrote about The Clevelander a little in my review of Marlins Park earlier this week, but more importantly, when you’re on South Beach, there isn’t a better place that mixes a fun scene with a first-class staff like those guys do. My buddies and I weren’t even staying at the hotel, yet by the end, we knew everyone that worked there on a first name basis and vice versa. And given that the hospitality in South Beach wasn’t always the greatest, that’s a bigger deal than you think.
Regardless, I want to give a big thanks to the Clevelander, and a big thanks to you all for reading.
Until next time…
For all his opinion, insight and articles on college football, follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.