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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Extra Points for Dec. 1-15, 2003

Le Batard: Acronym acrimony
Extra Point -- Dan Le Batard (morning):
"May I suggest we rename the Heisman Trophy as it loses more relevance by the day, by the vote, by the decision? This might be a little clumsy, a little wordy and not quite acronym-friendly, but why not rename the thing The Award Given to the Player at the Most Prominent Position for the Team That Is Ranked No. 1 Most of the Year Until It Is Blown Out by Four Touchdowns in Its Final Game After the Voting Is Apparently Complete Award? Oklahoma's Jason White is a nice player with nice numbers, but you are out of your mind if you think he's the finest or most valuable player in college football. He just plays an important position for an important team, which is what allows him to stick a bronze stiff-arm in the face of a Larry Fitzgerald, who is a better pro prospect, was a better college player and was more valuable to Pittsburgh than White was to Oklahoma. The Sooners could have beaten Texas A&M 77-0 with or without White, you know?"
Extra Point -- Trey Wingo (afternoon): "OK, it's one thing to let the Red Sox steal your thunder, but when Baltimore makes the Yankees look silly, it's time to seriously re-evaluate your off-season plans. By signing Miguel Tejada to a six-year, $72 million deal, the playing field and the power base in the American League East may have just taken the biggest shift since Jeffrey Maier took it away from Tony Tarasco and the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS. The signing of Tejada and the potential deals for Pudge Rodríguez and Vlad Guerrero may make Baltimore something they haven't been since '96 -- players. Add in Schilling and Foulke to the Red Sox, Pettitte and 'Rocket's' departure from New York, and you quickly realize that only someone stuck in a spider hole in Tikrit had a worse seven days than 'Boss Hog' George Steinbrenner. I'm not saying the Yankees' World Series run is over, but they're going to get the biggest run for their money they've had yet in 2004."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "We've heard a lot of complaining about weak 'Monday Night Football' matchups and ideas on what to do about them, but folks, no adjustment of your schedule is necessary tonight. The Philadelphia Eagles visit the Miami Dolphins, and you'd better believe both teams really need this one. You might say the Dolphins are more desperate, since they'd be on the outside looking in at the playoffs if the season ended right now. Even with a victory, they still need some help to catch Denver in the race for the AFC's last wild-card berth. Meanwhile, everyone thinks the Eagles and Rams are on a collision course for the NFC Championship, and you know home field will mean everything in that matchup. A Philadelphia win tonight would make both teams 11-3, but the Eagles would hold the tiebreaker. So what's going to give tonight when the Dolphins host the Eagles? Despite winning eight in a row, the Eagles are just about a field-goal underdog on the road. One reason might be their run defense. Despite the winning streak, five opposing running backs have hit the 100-yard mark in the last seven weeks against them. This should be good news to Ricky Williams, who some NFL insiders tell me is not in the class of Priest Holmes or Jamal Lewis or Clinton Portis in the AFC. Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb has been 'lights out' lately for Philadelphia, throwing for nine touchdowns in the last six games with only one interception. Maybe this one will come down to the coaches, and if that's the case, it's advantage Andy Reid. While he's on a roll, Miami's Dave Wannstedt is squarely on the hot seat. If the Dolphins don't go deep in the playoffs, he's probably gone. Just getting to the playoffs may depend on what happens tonight. So may Wannstedt's very future."

Schaap: End of the line for Zim
Extra Point -- Jeremy Schaap (morning):
"His professional baseball career began in 1949. Barring a surprise offer of employment, that career ended in October. Few men have spent more time in a baseball uniform than Don Zimmer. A Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand, an original Met, he went on to manage the Red Sox and Cubs, baseball's most star-crossed teams. He spent the last eight seasons as Joe Torre's bench coach, helping the Yankees win six American League pennants and four World Series. Now Zimmer is sitting at home in Florida. Like so many other distinguished baseball men over the years, he's out of work because of a feud with George Steinbrenner. Zimmer spoke at length this week about Steinbrenner's pettiness and penchant for cruelty, which he said flared repeatedly last season. He said Steinbrenner hasn't even called him to say good-bye. One of the game's longest-serving and most-respected coaches, Don Zimmer deserves a better farewell."

Le Batard: Doubts removed
Extra Point -- Dan Le Batard (morning):
"Rasheed Wallace is -- how can I put this gently? -- an unprecedented idiot. He's one of those guys who should shut up, because it is better for people to merely think you are stupid than it is to open your mouth and remove all doubt. I'm not a curmudgeon hater of athletes -- I've been accused, in fact, of apologizing for their misbehavior too often -- but Wallace can't be excused. His latest diatribe -- that the white establishment exploits NBA players -- makes that behavior that gets him so many technical fouls seem sane by comparison. Wallace's Trail Blazers are the best example in all of sports of spoiled millionaires bloated with entitlement and unaware of consequences, and Wallace himself has helped turn Portland into the most laughable franchise in sports. He fancies himself great despite always underachieving and never, you know, winning anything. NBA players are exploited? Wallace makes $17 million a year. Doesn't earn it; makes it. We should all be exploited the way he is."
Extra Point -- Dan Davis (afternoon): "Sure it's a big deal, Andy Pettitte signing with Houston. A very big deal. Not because it damages the Yankees, not because it strengthens Houston, but because this man actually accepted $7˝ million less to satisfy the wishes of his family, and Pettitte is no dope. He wanted to pitch in Houston, too, and it is truly amazing in this day and age to see an individual weighing something other than bars of gold. By contrast, what sort of considerations were going into Kevin Brown's decision whether to accept or reject his trade to the Yankees? And do you suppose Gary Sheffield had checked out the school system before reneging on his handshake deal with Steinbrenner? Let's face it. In a time when selfish millionaires are commonplace, Andy Pettite provides a breath of fresh air. Gonna be a good Astro staff, too -- Pettitte, Oswalt, Robertson, Clemens. Oops, not yet on Clemens. Maybe next week. He's working out with Petttite. Has the same agents. Wants to pitch there. Next week."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "They'll award the Heisman Trophy tomorrow night in New York. Before I tell you who I voted for first, second and third, I should tell you the only rule I have is that I must see the player in person to vote for him. At No. 3 I put someone I saw just last week -- Darren Sproles of Kansas State. His 235-yard performance against Oklahoma's half-dozen All-Americans was as spectacular as it was stunning. At No. 2, Michigan running back Chris Perry. I watched two of his best games in person -- his 133-yard, four-touchdown performance against Notre Dame, and his 51 carries for 219 yards at Michigan State. My No. 1 vote went to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. I realize he's stumbling toward the trophy, but his gutty return from knee surgeries yielded 40 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions. That's Heisman worthy. The only problem he'll have in New York tomorrow is convincing the Yale Club to let in his parents from tiny Tuttle, Okla. You see, the Whites wanted to know if jeans would be OK to wear. You can see the Heisman presentation tomorrow night at 8 Eastern on ESPN.

"In case you didn't notice, the New England Patriots have passed the Kansas City Chiefs in the bid for the '1' seed in the AFC. The Patriots have it easy as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars. Just what a Florida team didn't want in December was video of all those fans throwing snow in the air on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will lick their wounds from last week's loss to Denver as they host the Detroit Lions. As for the other four berths in the AFC, it's way too early to put anything in concrete. The Colts, Ravens, Titans, Broncos, Dolphins and even the Bengals have a very real shot."

Smith: Firing lines
Extra Point -- Shelley Smith (morning):
"I've never been much of a Dan Reeves fan -- those deodorant commercials made me nauseous -- but I have been a Frank Solich fan. What I can't figure out is why either man got fired this season. All Solich did at Nebraska this year was win nine games and go 58-19 through six seasons, including shot at a national title in 2002. All Dan Reeves did was win 201 games in his career and three games this season when nobody thought they'd win one after losing quarterback Mike Vick, arguably the best athlete in the NFL. Owners and college athletic directors have become so desperate to win the big one right now that they have lost sight of the journey. Blame Bob Stoops for winning in his second season at Oklahoma and Jon Gruden for winning in his first season at Tampa Bay, but Stoops and Gruden didn't just happen into loser jobs with a bunch of mediocre athletes. Someone built the team before them. All they did was cherry-pick the titles and take the credit. And we thought there was no job security in the .com world. Who wants to coach? Who can afford to coach?"
Extra Point -- Linda Cohn (afternoon): "Sure going to feel strange, to say the least, for Dan Reeves come Sunday. For all but one of the last 39 years Reeves has been a part of the National Football League -- first as a player, then a player-coach, then an assistant coach and, finally in 1981, a head coach. It began in Denver for 12 years, another four seasons with the Giants and the last seven with the Atlanta Falcons. Wednesday the Falcons told Reeves he would not be back in 2004 despite a year left on his contract. Reeves chose to leave now instead of waiting until the end of this season -- a season that would have been different if Michael Vick didn't suffer a broken leg. While that was a bad break for the future Hall of Fame coach, Reeves still might not have been the right coach to groom and get the most out of what Michael Vick can bring to a football field. For that reason the move had to be made, but it will be a move that won't mean much unless the Falcons' next coach is the right one for Vick."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Philadelphia Eagles hold all the cards in the NFC. They hold the '1' seed right now as they head into Miami on Monday night. While Donovan McNabb deserves a ton of credit for holding up under unusual criticism this year, let's not overlook the return of two defenders who will only make this Eagle team even better. Brian Dawkins and Bobby Taylor are back from injury and form the strongest half of what seems to be an impenetrable secondary. Still, the Eagles have to keep winning to hold off the St. Louis Rams, who are home to play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Seattle is clinging to the last wild-card berth in the NFC playoffs, but dealing with St. Louis may be next to impossible. For one thing, the Rams are healthier than they've been any time this year, and the Seahawks can't win on the road. If the Eagles and Rams keep winning, they'll each get a bye and need only one home-field win in January to get to the NFC title game, and that's plenty to play for right now.

"Like the Eagles, Rams and Seahawks around them, Minnesota, Carolina and Dallas are playing to hold on to playoff berths. The Vikings play Sunday at Chicago, a game that might have been for the Central Division's upper hand if the Bears hadn't given ground last week at Green Bay. The Panthers get the easy game this week visiting Arizona. By the way, when is the news conference to introduce the next head coach of the Cardinals? Finally, the Cowboys visit rival Washington, who look to avenge a 21-14 loss at Texas Stadium. Some say this will be the game that determines whether Steve Spurrier comes back for a third season. Well, yes and no. I think 'The Ol' Ball Coach' will be back. He's not likely to walk out a complete bust, and if he beats the Cowboys this week after having taken down the Giants last Sunday, it'll be easier for Dan Snyder to tell his friends to back off."

Gomez: Hot seat season
Extra Point -- Pedro Gómez (morning):
"It's December, and that can only mean one thing: the football coaching carousel is in full stride. Already, new coaches have been named at several Division I universities with probably 10 more to follow. There may be at least half that many coming to the NFL, where coaches in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Oakland and the New York Giants are reportedly on the hot seat, and six others could also find themselves out of work by the time the playoffs begin. Why do coaches subject themselves to such a short-term job status? Simple -- ego. Each one believes he is the next Bear Bryant or Tom Landry. Even if they were, chances are they wouldn't be given the chance to get to that point. College boosters have no patience, and immediate success is the only thing that matters in the NFL. If Landry had been coaching today, it's doubtful he would have been allowed to go 18-46-4, as he did in his first five years to start his Hall of Fame coaching career."
Extra Point -- Jay Mariotti (afternoon): "I know what you're thinking: Reform is coming. When the Bowl Championship Series is harder to explain than crop circles, Michael Jackson's inner child and this whole Carrot Top thing, you figure the system has to be overhauled when the BCS contract expires after the 2005 season, right? Not so fast. Regardless of the chaos that ensues when USC, LSU and Oklahoma are thrown into a computer with a lunar eclipse, an Elvis sighting and a New York Times quotient that must involve Jayson Blair, there's no guarantee the system will change. For starters, ABC owns the system and feels no urgency to alter the status quo. A bigger obstacle involves university presidents, athletic directors and coaches, most of whom love their cozy relationship with the bowls and hide behind supposed concerns about academia. Never mind that the presidents say nothing about basketball players and academia during 'March Madness.' That's their story, and they're sticking to it, so anyone expecting a eight-team tournament or fifth-game scenario shouldn't hold his breath. Credibility starts with a 'C,' and the BCS has none, which leaves a whole lot of B.S."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "Everyone in college football was so concerned about who was going to play where after New Year's Day that one man and his coaching staff didn't get enough credit for the chaos that erupted over the weekend. We're talking about Bill Snyder and his coaches at Kansas State. They should be given an award as the staff of the year. They didn't just upset No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game. They dismantled the Sooners. K-State read Oklahoma's play-calling perfectly. The defensive line kept constant pressure on Jason White, who was virtually a sitting duck because of the two knee surgeries he's undergone in the last three years. Offensively, Snyder came back with slippery Darren Sproles, who hit six All-American defensive Sooners for 235 yards' worth of rushing offense. The message is this: There was nothing fluky about last weekend's ambush in Kansas City, a result that leads us to some other storylines in the Big 12. If Oklahoma was the biggest loser Saturday night in Kansas City, who was the second-biggest? No, not USC. The Trojans still get to play for a share of the national championship. No, it was Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns. They were ticketed for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, but instead, Kansas State is in, and the Longhorns are bound for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Oh, how vindicated did Frank Solich feel watching the Sooners fall? It was Nebraska's home-field loss to Kansas State that put a nail in Solich's coaching coffin in Lincoln. Meanwhile, Solich turned down a chance to coach at Army, and that's too bad, because I thought it would be a good fit. As for the Huskers, there's gossip that Steve Spurrier will move his office from D.C. to Nebraska. I can't see this one at all. I mean, did you ever try to play golf in Lincoln in late October or early March?"

Anderson: Blame the game
Extra Point -- John Anderson (morning):
"While you're blasting the BCS for souring the Sugar Bowl, save some blame -- a lot of it -- for the two BCS conferences that play championship games -- the Big 12 and the SEC. Without the bonus ballgame, LSU doesn't make it to New Orleans, and Oklahoma doesn't lose and have to answer critics who say its undeserving. After getting destroyed by K-State, Sooners coach Bob Stoops said he didn't think it was fair that some teams were laying it on the line for an extra 60 minutes while other teams were lounging at home. Wrong. It was your league that wanted the megabucks that came with a conference title game, and the risk is having a top team lose late and fall out of national championship contention or, in OU's case, get ripped for taking USC's spot. You'd think the Big 12 would learn; Nebraska got burned in '96, Kansas State in '98, 2001 was a three-school, BCS disaster. And now, sadly, the ACC wants to follow the Big 12-SEC lead -- tore up the Big East to do it. Shame, but the system won't undergo real change until the big checks stop."
Extra Point -- Dan Davis (afternoon): "The problem, it seems to me, is that many fans and media buttinskies seem to believe that when Team A is ranked ahead of Team B, and both win, it's impossible for Team A to have lost ground in that standing. But for heaven's sake, hasn't anybody paid any attention at all to why the BCS was created in the first place? Frankly, it seems to be working perfectly. It isn't as good as a playoff, but it is better than allowing writers, broadcasters, and coaches determine who's best. When Notre Dame stunk out Piety Hill on Saturday night, USC's victory over the Irish lost value -- as it should under this system. And with LSU pounding a very sound Georgia outfit at the same time, the die was cast. But I do have good news. Now, instead of one terrific bowl game, we have two, and obviously, if USC knocks off Michigan in the Rose Bowl -- no cinch at all -- we will have a split national championship. Ahhh, just like the old days."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "Will the real No. 1 team please stand up? It seems everybody who's anybody has one loss, and there's no clear-cut way right now to figure out who's the best. Folks, I'm not talking college football. It's basketball. Preseason No. 1 Connecticut loses to Georgia Tech one week; new No. 1 Kansas falls to Stanford the next. It's like the old line about holding your applause until everyone's been introduced, which brings us to tonight's Jimmy V Classic in New York. The marquee matchup is the late game featuring Arizona and Texas. Lute Olson promised he would let his Wildcats run this year, and that's no lie. Meanwhile, we know Rick Barnes can teach defense, so Arizona will be a perfect test for his Longhorns tonight. The first game features Illinois against Providence. While folks in the Big East will tell you the Friars could be a dark horse in a very tough conference, star guard Dee Brown of the Illini has something to prove after he went only 3-for-17 in last week's loss to Carolina. You can see both Jimmy V games starting tonight at 7 Eastern on ESPN.

"How bizarre are the NBA standings right now? First, you have the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers, whose 11-10 record would be good enough right now to start them out at home in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That same 11-10 record, though, wouldn't even get them into the postseason out West. In fact, that very 11-10 record is only a half-game off where the San Antonio Spurs are. We're talking about the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs, the same San Antonio Spurs who find themselves in last place in the Midwest Division. Then there are the Lakers, who just keep rolling. They can't wait to tear into the Knicks tonight in Los Angeles. But you New York fans, take heart. Your Knicks may be only 7-11, but they're only four games out of first place."

Le Batard: Failure notification
Extra Point -- Dan Le Batard (morning):
"Cue the outrage. Never has it been louder in college football than it is today, where computers are being allowed to decide what scoreboards, players and coaches couldn't. Number 1 Oklahoma was beaten by four touchdowns by a Kansas State smurf rushing for 700 yards against the Sooners, but losing doesn't much matter in the present system. Oklahoma is going to play for the national championship anyway in this absurd system despite losing its most recent game by four touchdowns, because -- well, I don't know why. I don't understand these formulas or computers. I don't understand how Oklahoma's Charmin-soft schedule somehow works in its favor. I don't understand how humans can vote USC No. 1 in both major polls, and that No. 1 team can somehow be denied a spot in the national-championship game despite winning all its recent games by 950 touchdowns. The BCS has failed plenty the last few years but never more than it did this weekend."
Extra Point -- Trey Wingo (afternoon): "Please, let's stop the talk now. Sunday Peyton Manning put to rest the idea that he can't win a big game in the NFL. I don't know what you call a big game, but to me, playing on the road in a hostile environment and putting together a near-flawless game sure looks smells and tastes like a big game to me. And when the final gun had sounded, it was Peyton and the Colts that had the win, a season sweep and a clear path toward first place in the AFC South. The numbers on Sunday were classic Peyton -- 22-of-34, 228 and no picks -- but he did pick apart the Titans secondary, which, before the game, actually said they wanted to make Peyton throw the ball. Hey, guys, sometimes be careful what you ask for; you just might get it. Now Manning has his eyes set squarely on the playoffs and the one blemish still left on his résumé -- an '0-fer' in the playoffs. He can't really be called a great quarterback until he delivers in the postseason, but Sunday Manning delivered a big-game win. We'll just knock off these labels one at a time, I guess."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "We've said it before, long before yesterday's doomsday scenario played itself out in the BCS. If the top two teams are identical in both the coaches and media polls, the championship search need go no further. Instead, No. 1 is 'No. None' in the BCS. USC will not be playing for all the Nokias in the Sugar Bowl, but that doesn't necessarily mean LSU and Oklahoma are not deserving of having their chance. I'm not smart enough to say which team should be the odd team out. The logical way out of this mess would be to have the winner of the Sugar Bowl play the winner of the USC-Michigan Rose Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 24, eight nights before the Super Bowl, but this won't happen, and it's too bad. So let's waste our breath no further. We'll look at the four BCS matchups -- without the acrimony -- in a minute.

"Let's take the BCS one game at a time, beginning in Miami with the FedEx Orange Bowl. Miami and Florida State -- again. Even though the 'Canes beat the 'Noles 22-14 in October, it's FSU who's a one-point favorite here in Vegas. At the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State returns to the scene of last year's glory to face Kansas State. These are two teams that will each bring a ton of fans, so this could be the toughest ticket this side of New Orleans. As for the game, K-State is as hot a team as anyone right now, and the Buckeyes' resourcefulness will be put to the test. In Pasadena, how happy is the Tournament of Roses to welcome back the Big Ten and the Pac-10? Michigan shared a national title by winning this game six years ago, but the Wolverines usually have trouble playing out west, and the Trojans will be waiting for them. Finally, the Nokia Sugar Bowl features a ton of great athletes. LSU against Oklahoma promises to be a high-speed, high-octane game that pro scouts will be begging to see. There. We talked about four great attractions without mentioning the letters BCS. Let's face it; it's the games we come to see, not the polls."

Schaap: Feats of Clay
Extra Point -- Jeremy Schaap (morning):
"Forty years ago this winter, a 22-year-old fighter from Louisville shook up the world by winning the world heavyweight championship from Charles 'Sonny' Liston. After absorbing six rounds' worth of the younger, quicker man's punishment, Liston refused to answer the bell for the seventh. The champ quit, lamely insisting that his shoulder had been damaged to the point that he could not go on. And so Cassius Marcellus Clay became the new champion. Soon he would become Muhammad Ali, and 40 years later he is still one of the most famous people on Planet Earth. Tonight in Miami, in the same arena where he upset Liston four decades ago, Ali will be toasted and celebrated, and a new book about him will be unveiled -- a book that weighs 75 pounds and costs $3,000. There's never been a bigger book, which is fitting, because there have been few bigger people."

Fowler: Croom's chances
Extra Point -- Chris Fowler (morning):
"Like everybody else, I applaud Mississippi State for the hire of Sylvester Croom. It's a great day for that school and the SEC. His hiring alone was a victory, but now the other question: How many victories will he pile up on the sidelines at Starkville? Well, I've heard some people say it's a dead-end job. 'You can't win there. Why take it?' Wrong. They may never be one of the 'haves' of the SEC -- State's budget can't match Florida's or Tennessee's or Alabama's -- but they do have one thing going for them down there: They're surrounded by a lot of top-flight, high-school recruits. Now there's no historical evidence that African-Americans will flock to a team coached by an African-American. It just hasn't happened yet. Ty Willingham is struggling at Notre Dame to attract recruits, but I think that Sylvester Croom can connect with a lot of players in rural Mississippi, and he's got some very good recruiters around him on that staff. Will he win big quickly? I have no idea, but I think he'll give it a great chance, and certainly, a lot of folks will be pulling for him. "
Extra Point -- Linda Cohn (afternoon): "When I first read the story, I couldn't believe it. I wondered how in the world can this be taking place. Heck, its almost 2004. The story I am referring to? The FBI is investigating hate mail sent to black players in the NFL and to high-profile blacks in their respective communities. The NFL's security department sent out a memo last month alerting teams that all the threatening letters came from the same person and were postmarked Cleveland; Youngstown, Ohio; and Erie, Penn. According to the police report, the mother of suspended Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett received a racially charged death threat addressed to her son. The typed message was from 'OSU cheerleaders' and said that black men should stay away from white women. It included other racial remarks too disturbing to be mentioned here. How one degenerate could be allowed to distribute hate through the mail is terrifying. Let's just hope it comes to an end sooner than later."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Kansas City (afternoon): "Now let me get this straight. If Oklahoma beats Kansas State in tomorrow's Big 12 Championship at Arrowhead Stadium, it plays for all the Nokias in the Sugar Bowl, and if Oklahoma loses, it plays for all the Nokias in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners have built up enough of a cushion with their 12-and-0 regular season to virtually assure them of a spot in next month's national championship game. So aside from the conference championship, what's really at stake here tomorrow? For one, there's the matter of the Big 12's second berth in a BCS bowl game. If Kansas State were to pull off the upset tomorrow, then the Wildcats would knock Texas out of a big bowl payday. So are we just talking blue sky here for K-State? We'll examine that question in a minute.

"Oklahoma's 12-0 record may have blinded you from a pertinent fact going into tomorrow's Big 12 title game. Each time Bob Stoops has faced Kansas State, the Wildcats have been very competitive. Start in 2000, when the Wildcats lost by 10 at home. Then there was the rematch in the conference title game that same season. The Sooners won by only three on their way to preserve what turned out to be a perfect, national championship season. The very next year, the Sooners were home and squeaked out a one-point victory over K-State. Folks, I did two Wildcat games this year, and it was very clear to me Bill Snyder's new coaching staff made a world of progress meshing with him the second time I saw them. In fact, that 38-9 victory over Nebraska cost Frank Solich his job. But tomorrow's game may just boil down to two words: Ell Roberson. If he's good, then he'll keep the Wildcats in this one, but he can't beat the Sooners by himself. No one can. You'll see the Big 12 Championship live tomorrow at 8 Eastern on ABC."

Davis: 'Fraud' responds
Extra Point -- Rece Davis (morning):
"The Chiefs can win the AFC West by beating the Broncos Sunday. The war of words is on. K.C.'s Eddie Kennison ripped Mike Shanahan, saying they were going to put something on the Bronco coach's behind. There's a history here. Kennison quit the Broncos hours before a game a couple of years ago, tried to come back and Shanahan released him. Kennison went off because a Denver columnist called the Chiefs 'frauds.' Reminded that it wasn't Shanahan or a Bronco that dissed them, Kennison then asked why the K.C. writers didn't go kick the Denver writers' butts. Have you ever seen two media guys going for the last free hot dog in the press box? They'll put your eye out with a Bic pen for free grub. That scrap would be more understandable than Kennison's beef. He's the one who said he wanted to quit, so Shanahan didn't give him a pass isn't the coach's problem. Of course, stopping Kennison from getting passes Sunday will also be Shanahan's chief problem."
Extra Point -- Chris McKendry (afternoon): "It's the holiday season, a time for peace and joy in the world, and if we're really good, maybe Santa can deliver some offense to the sports world. Talk about believing in miracles. The NHL averages five goals per game; three fewer goals are scored per game now than in 1981-82. Wayne Gretzky racked up 212 points himself that season. Just one decade ago Teemu Selanne led the NHL with 72 goals in a season. Last year he lead the league in goals scored with 50. NHL players blame the defensive systems in place as do their NBA counterparts. Average field-goal percentage in the NBA is a dismal 43 percent, and points per game have reached a new low, just 92 points per game. This Sunday night Michael Vick starts against the Panthers. Last year he led Atlanta to two wins over Carolina by a combined score of 71-0. This season? Yup, Carolina has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Ho, ho, hum."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "There was a time tonight's Mid-American Conference Championship game might have determined who would have carried the underdog banner in front of the BCS, but a funny thing happened to undefeated Northern Illinois on its way to courthouses and Congress to get its day in the New Year's sun. It lost not once but twice, which means you will not be seeing the Huskies tonight. Instead, Bowling Green will be hosting Miami of Ohio. It's a chance for the homestanding Falcons to avenge their only conference loss -- a 33-10 defeat last month at Miami. It won't be easy, though, against Miami quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He's only a junior, but smart money says he'll be making big money this time next year as somebody's first-round draft choice in the NFL. His counterpart is Josh Harris, an athletic quarterback who is rewriting the Bowling Green record book. The most important stat Harris brings to tonight's game is a 14-0 record in games he's started at home. You can see Miami of Ohio at Bowling Green tonight at 7 Eastern on ESPN2.

"Conventional wisdom says that win or lose against Kansas State, Oklahoma is playing in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. It also says USC may have to sweat out the computers a little, but the Trojans should get the other berth by beating Oregon State at home Saturday. The only problem they may face this weekend is complacency. Their only loss this year came when they sleepwalked their way through a game at Cal the week after a bye. Then again, this same Trojan team responded to its last bye with a 45-to-nothing trashing of Arizona. In fact, in each of its last six games, USC has scored at least 43 points. Contrast that to a Beaver team still reeling from its Civil War loss at Oregon two weeks ago. Folks, don't expect the Trojans to have too many problems this weekend."

Scott: In Croom hiring aftermath
Extra Point -- Stuart Scott (morning):
"Some 40 years ago military personnel was needed to integrate schools in Mississippi. Four decades later Mississippi State becomes the first SEC school to trust its football program to an African-American. Progress? Yeah. Late? Yeah, but no point in crying about how long it took, even though it took too long. No point in wailing about how Alabama should've hired Croom after the Mike Price fiasco, even though they should have. The task now: Go from 5 of 117 Division I-A football coaches being black to 6 of 117, then 15, then get to the point where we don't count anymore. Get to the point where Sylvester Croom being named head coach is simply about whether can he win with his talent. That's the end goal. The here and now should absolutely be about the significance of the hire. Rush Limbaugh was dead wrong to say Donovan McNabb was overrated because he's black, but far too many African-American coaches have been underrated because they are. It's one small brick that Croom has knocked down. Let's knock down some more."
Extra Point -- Jay Mariotti (afternoon): "Now here's progress, I thought. Mississippi State University, smack in the bosom of the Deep South, makes Sylvester Croom the first African-American football coach in Southeastern Conference history. Way down yonder where Trent Lott lurks and Confederate symbolism is seen in the state flag, a school exhibits the courage to hire Croom after Alabama took the cowardly way out. Too bad a look at the bigger picture finds numbers that are numbingly pathetic. Of the 117 Division I-A programs, Croom becomes only the fifth black head coach. This after a three-year period in which only three blacks were hired for 53 openings. Before we declare social progress much less a seismic shift in attitudes, let's see what happens at Nebraska and other high-profile programs with vacancies. There is no end to racism, I'm afraid, especially in subtle forms. The other day in Chicago a running back named Brock Forsey gained 134 yards for the Bears. Rather than praise a rookie from Boise State, two columnists dwelled on the performance of the 'white' running back. Progress? One step forward, two steps back."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "Bet you never thought the Philadelphia Eagles would be sharing the best record in the NFC right now. Aren't these the same Eagles who began the year with losses to Tampa Bay and New England at home? The same Eagles who had to endure early criticism of Donovan McNabb even while their prized quarterback went through an early-season slump? Philadelphia is on a seven-game winning streak going into Sunday's home game with Dallas. Talk about a pivotal game. If the Cowboys win, they tie the Eagles for first in the NFC East, and with a sweep of their two games, 'Tuna' and Co. would hold the tiebreaker. If the Eagles win, then they'd hold a two-game division lead with three games to go. Folks, you have to give Andy Reid credit. Whatever he did in that bye week that followed the Eagles' 0-2 start is clearly working. Many have pointed to Brian Westbrook's game-winning punt return against the Giants as the turning point in Philly's season, but given Reid's track record the past three seasons, this rebound was inevitable. Win or lose Sunday, the Eagles are a team that is headed deep into the playoffs.

"It's the division no one wants to win. Minnesota did not look much like a first-place team at Saint Louis, and just when you think 'The Pack' is back, it lays an egg in Detroit. Hey, maybe the Chicago Bears are the best team in the division right now. Hey, don't laugh. They beat the Broncos in Denver two weeks ago, then they manhandled the Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday. This weekend the Bears are in Green Bay, hoping to avenge a Monday night loss that christened the new Soldier Field. If a rejuvenated Kordell Stewart and Chicago should pull off the upset this weekend, and if the Vikings can't find a way to hold serve at home against Seattle, then the Bears would be only one game out of first with Minnesota visiting Chicago a week from Sunday. Dare to dream, but this is a sports team from Chicago."

Le Batard: Age of excellence
Extra Point -- Dan Le Batard (morning):
"Where are all those people now? You know the ones. The ones who wondered aloud if it was possible to have too many good players on your team. Who wondered if the Lakers would have enough basketballs and shots and glory to go around? The Lakers began the week with the best record in basketball. They're beating everyone at home by 600 points, including a Pacers team that entered L.A.'s home 14-2. L.A. is completely overwhelming, unfair, outrageous. The surprise isn't that they're 14-3. The surprise is that they've somehow lost three times. They're capable of getting matchup advantages all over the floor, even when Shaq is out or Kobe isn't right. We should all age the way Karl Malone does. Gary Payton remains the league's best, pure point guard, even though people have been trying to give the title to a Jason Kidd who can't shoot straight for years. There may be clouds up ahead, of course -- nothing can derail a good thing like a trial of the century -- but for now there is only clarity. The Lakers are going to turn this season into an afterthought once they learn how to actually play together."
Extra Point -- Dan Davis (afternoon): "Here's a question for baseball fans in Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay: Why bother? You have no shot at making the postseason. It's still a game, you say, played between the lines, and anything can happen? Get real. Money talks, and you know what walks. The mercenaries in Boston and New York will once again be way too strong for the rest of the AL East. The two powerhouses are changing their cast of characters, and with an unlimited supply of money they will again be unbeatable by the other three teams unfortunate enough to be in their division. And it is not going to change. Postseason baseball in Camden Yards, SkyDome, Tropicana Field? Forget it for as long as Boston and New York can spend their brains out. In Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa and, frankly, in most American League towns, you'd be better off supporting the arts or, heaven help me, soccer. Investing in your local nine emotionally or financially is a great big waste, and you probably know it."
SportsBeat -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "I know these things can sneak up on us, but have you noticed what's going on in the NBA these days? In the West, you won't find too many surprises. The Lakers and Kings are dominating the Pacific Division, and unless a Chris Webber injury or Kobe Bryant's trials and tribulations get in the way, we may see them collide sometime around Memorial Day. I know. Dallas may beg to differ, and so may San Antonio, although the Spurs look vulnerable. The champs are struggling just to stay above .500, and given the strength that still lies out West, that would not be good enough to get to the playoffs. If you haven't checked out the Eastern Conference standings in the NBA, you may be surprised to know the team leading the pack is not the New Jersey Nets. In fact, the two-time defending conference champs aren't even playing .500 ball right now. Then again, .500 ball is all you need to play to hold the lead in the Atlantic Division. At 9-9, the Philadelphia 76ers are in first place going into tonight's home game with Toronto. The leader of the conference pack right now is in the other division. The Indiana Pacers are doing a good job keeping up with the Lakers in the battle for best record in the league. Just when you thought a coaching change on the eve of training camp would cause problems, Rick Carlisle is doing for the Pacers what he used to do for Detroit. Gee, all this talk about the East, and we haven't even brought up LeBron James yet. Not that LeBron isn't doing his part for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Going into tonight's game against Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets, James is the Cavaliers' leading scorer, averaging 17˝ points a game. Still, he can't turn this team around by himself. He may yet be a star in this league, but LeBron James is not even close to being the next Magic Johnson."

Le Batard: The great escape
Extra Point -- Dan Le Batard (morning):
"Murmurs now have Alex Rodríguez joining the Red Sox and 'No-mah' being shipped off to Anaheim. How do you feel about this? The moneyed, enormous gulf separating athletes from the people who cheer them -- a gulf almost literally paid with gold -- makes 'A-Rod' a symbol for greed, still, even though he has been a polished and remarkable ambassador for his sport. His biggest crime has been making money, so I'm wondering if sports fans will embrace seeing 'A-Rod' playing for an obvious contender or begrudge him for getting the best of both worlds -- the absurd money and the winning. Should he continue suffering in Texas, because that's the bed he chose? Do you feel he should remain a very wealthy loser? His job was to lift Texas from the sewage, and he was paid handsomely for it, but he failed, and now it looks like very soon he'll get to escape with his money anyway."
Extra Point -- Trey Wingo (afternoon): "Trust me when I tell you this: You really shouldn't trust us. Let's go through a brief recap, shall we? Before the calendar struck Dec. 1, the top 4 teams in the USA Today/ESPN college basketball poll all went down to defeat. One would be an accident. Two would be a coincidence. Three would be a trend. But four? Four? That's simply proof that if we all knew who would win all the time, we'd be in Vegas, smoking Cubans and handing out 'C' notes on The Strip. And that's sort of the point, isn't it? Preseason and early-season polls are nice, they're good conversation starters, but they hold as much water as those ridiculous guarantees that players tend to make from time to time. Ask yourself this question: In the last week of November 2002, how did Syracuse look? Pretty bad. Oh, by the way, they did go on to win the national championship last season. UConn, Duke, Arizona, Michigan State -- they could all be there in the end. Then again, so could about 20 teams that haven't even hit the radar yet. It's what makes college basketball the joy to watch that it is."
Extra Point -- Brent Musburger from Las Vegas, Nev. (afternoon): "Oklahoma fans probably feel completely safe buying non-refundable airplane tickets to New Orleans for the night of Jan. 4. Win or lose Saturday against Kansas State, the Sooners appear ticketed for a spot in the national championship game to play for all the Nokias in the Sugar Bowl. And all those fears USC wouldn't get there even with a win this weekend over Oregon State appear to be dying down. The Tigers' chances to get to New Orleans lie first with Oregon State pulling off the upset in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon before they even kick off in Atlanta. OK, that was simple, right? Just wait 'til we get to the politics of the rest of the BCS in a minute.

"Let's put the Sugar Bowl aside for a moment and consider the other three BCS bowl games. By winning the Big East, Miami figures to go to the Orange Bowl and a rematch with Ohio State. But not so fast, my friends. The Buckeyes wouldn't mind a rematch, but not in the Hurricanes' back yard. Then there's the tale of the Rose Bowl, which will be out of sorts if it endures a third straight year without a Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup. In other words, the Tournament of Roses does not want either Florida State or LSU. It would settle for a matchup of Texas and Michigan, which would offer some sex appeal since the two teams have never met on the football field. Who goes where could boil down to the Orange Bowl taking everybody off the hook by matching Florida State against LSU, leaving the Fiesta Bowl to host Ohio State and Miami once again. There, we've solved everything. Except for one thing: What happens if Kansas State beats Oklahoma? That couldn't happen, could it?"