ALABAMA VS. CLEMSON TALE OF THE TAPE...
BOB’s “BEST BET”: ALABAMA 28, CLEMSON 20
Was Alabama’s letdown against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoffs semifinals a blessing for the Crimson Side entering Monday night’s national championship game against Clemson? I think so.
Alabama rolled to a 28-0 lead over the Sooners after 17 minutes and took the pedal off the medal. The offense went into cruise control and the defense softened with a big lead. Too many Crimson Tide players were undisciplined in the second half and coach Nick Saban obviously was not completely pleased despite his team’s 45-34 victory.
I expect Alabama to be more focused all the way against 6-point underdog Clemson in Monday night’s National Championship Game (rank in parentheses among the 129 Division I teams):
Records – Alabama 14-0...Clemson 14-0. They’re the only undefeated major-college teams.
Scoring differential – Alabama +441 (668-227)...Clemson +439 (620-181)
Scoring offense – 47.7 points per game (2nd)...Clemson 44.3 points per game (4th)
Scoring defense – Alabama 16.2 pts allowed per game (5th)...Clemson 12.9 (1st)
Rushing offense – Alabama 202.0 yards per game (34th)...Clemson 256.3 yards per game (19th)
Yards per rush/rush TDs – Alabama 5.30/33 rush TDs...Clemson 6.68/47 rush TDs
Opposing yards/rush/rush TDs – Alabama 3.4/7...Clemson 2.4/8
Passing offense – Alabama 325.6 yards per game (6th)...Clemson 274.1 yards per game (24th)
TD passes/had INT/yards per ATT – Alabama 50/6/11.34...Clemson 34/8/6.06
First downs for/first downs allowed – Alabama 348-232 (+116)...Clemson 337/212 (+125)
Penalties/yards penalized per game – Alabama 5.79 for 52.57...Clemson 5.14 for 47.29
Sacks by/sacks allowed per game – Alabama 3.21/1.00...Clemson 3.71/1.21.
Bob’s “Best Bet”: I give Clemson a slight edge on defense and Alabama a slightly bigger edge on offense, mainly because Tua Tagovailoa is a battled-tested sophomore and backed up by veteran winner Jalen Hurts, while Clemson’s super-talented Trevor Lawrence is a freshman. This could be the difference. Alabama 33, Clemson 24.
NFL’s ELITE EIGHT TOURNAMENT HAS A FEW TEMPTING UNDERDOGS
Three of the four road teams and three of the favorites lost in last weekend’s NFL wild-card games.
Scoring was down compared to the wild regular season – the winning teams scored 16, 21, 23 and 24 points – and the four teams with the more-mobile quarterbacks all lost.
The Elite Eight survivors in this tournament figure to provide more surprises.
Here are the updated odds to win Super Bowl 53 (courtesy of OddsShark):
New Orleans Saints - 2.25-to-1 (home-field helps, but no thanks at these odds to go all the way)
Kansas City Chiefs – 4-to-1 (no bargain with a soft defense and minus RB Kareem Hunt)
Los Angeles Rams – 9-to-2 (fair price but did they peak too early?)
New England Patriots – 9-to-2 (no longer the team to beat but still dangerous)
Los Angeles Chargers -- -8-to-1 (very tempting at these odds; no glaring weakness)
Dallas Cowboys -- 14-to-1 (Cowpokes bettors have to like these odds)
Indianapolis Colts – 14-to-1 (very live long shot with Andrew Luck and underrated defense)
Philadelphia Eagles – 16-to-1 (you might not be sold on Nick Foles and he could not care less).
Early odds on this weekend’s Division-Round playoffs:
4:35 p.m. – Indianapolis at Kansas City (-6)
8:15 p.m. –Dallas at LA Rams (-7)
1:05 p.m. – LA Chargers at New England (-7)
4:40 p.m. – Philadelphia at New Orleans (-9).
THESE AMERKS ARE ROAD WARRIORS
The Rochester Americans have a healthy 22-12-2-0 record (46 of 72 possible points) so far this AHL season. Interestingly, they’ve been better on the road than at home:
Home – 12-8-0-0 for 24 of 40 possible points; outscoring opponents 65-50 (+5)
Away – 10-4-2-0; 20 of 32 possible points; outscoring opponents 52-45 (+7).
The Amerk have been particularly efficient on the road on the power play. In fact, they lead the 31-team league:
Away – 29.7 percent (19-for-64; allowed 0 short-handed goals
Home – 14.5 percent, 26th in the AHL (11-for-76); allowed 3 short-handed goals.
Rochester ranks 26th in penalty killing 78.6 (125-for-159) and 20th in penalty minutes (444).
The Amerks host the Toronto Marlies Friday, 7:05 p.m., and play at the Marlies Saturday, 4 p.m.
Veteran Zach Redmond continues to lead AHL defensemen with 16 goals.
CAN THE KNIGHTHAWKS BOUNCE BACK?
There is no way to sugarcoat last Saturday night’s 13-4 Rochester Knighthawks loss at the Buffalo Bandits before 12,480 at KeyBank Center. It must have been a long ride home for the K-hawks faithful who drove to the game.
The Bandits are loaded on offense, including Shawn Evans, Corey Small, Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne, Thomas Hoggarth and Jordan Thurston. Rochester probably has the edge in defensemen, but the defection of goaltender Matt Vinc from the K-hawks to Buffalo offsets that advantage.
Making the playoffs is no sure thing for these lame-duck Halifax-bound K-hawks. Four of the six Eastern Conference teams will qualify for the National Lacrosse League playoffs and the expansion Philadelphia Wings last week added 2018 NLL goal-scoring leader Kevin Crowley from New England for two future first-round draft picks.
The K-Hawks play at the San Diego Seals – no pushovers – Saturday and at the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush January 19. The next home game for Ro0chester will be Saturday, January 26, 8 p.n., against the Buffalo Bandits in Matt Vinc’s “homecoming.” He had 55 saves in last Saturday’s 13-4 romp over the K-hawks.
BEST HOPE FOR SYRACUSE IS 3-POINT SHOOTING IMPROVEMENT
The Syracuse men’s basketball team began the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of this season’s schedule with a timely 72-62 victory Saturday at Notre Dame. SU was favored by 1 ½ points.
The Orange are 10-4 with 17 games remaining on the regular-season schedule. All are against ACC opponents. 10-7 the rest of the way might be good enough to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
SU’s weaknesses include poor shooting, rebounding and a lack of depth and strength at the center position. The Orange outrebounded Notre Dame 46-39 and shot better than usual: 41.2 field goal percentage and 41.4 percent (12-for-29) from three-point range.
SU’s big men aren’t going to get taller or better, so the main hope for SU is to improve significantly from three-point range and run more for easy scores.
Here’s how SU’s players have shot from three-point range this season. They’re all capable of better – we think:
Tyus Battle 16-for-49
Buddy Boeheim – 8-for-37
Oshae Brissett 18-for-60
Jalen Carey 4-for-16
Marek Dolezaj 4-for-8 (should he shoot more?)
Frank Howard 11-for-44
Elijah Hughes 36-for-99
Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe – 0-for-0 (wee’d settle for a few more dunks, right?).
GREAT LAUNCH FOR THE LANCERS
The kickoff for the latest resurrection of the Rochester Lancers, indoor variety, could not have gone better: a cozy new home at the revitalized Dome in Henrietta; two capacity crowds; a fun family-oriented atmosphere; classy performer Austin Gorgio doing his singing thing; prominent national soccer writer Michael Lewis in attendance; two victories to start the season, 7-3 over the Detroit Waza Flo and 17-7 over the Cincinnati Swerve.
It was good to see the passion and hard work of founder/owner Lancers Dancers daughters, front office workaholic Kayla Klark Kent and all the others behind the scenes who were rewarded for their time and efforts.
How good are the Lancers? Who knows? At this point, who cares? After seeing so many Rochester pro teams bite the dust in recent years, it is great to see a team off to such a hot start.
What is MASL 2? It is a semi-pro “development league” for the Major Arena Soccer League.
MASL 2 has 15 teams in three way far-apart divisions:
Eastern Division – Rochester Lancers...Chicago Mustangs...Cincinnati Swerve...Muskegon Risers...Detroit Waza Flo
Mountain Division – Juarez Cuervos...Colorado Rumble...Colorado Inferno FC...New Mexico Elite...New Mexico Runners
Pacific Division – Stockton Rush...Las Vegas Knights...San Diego Sockers 2...Ontario Fury II...Arizona Lightning.
The Lancers will [lay a 12-game schedule, six home and six away, all versus Eastern Division opponents.
Will the popularity of the new-look Lancers be sustainable? Let’s hope so.
The Lancers play at Muskegon Friday and at Detroit Saturday. They return to the Dome February 1 against the Chicago Mustangs (4-1, outscoring opponents 39-25) and February 2 against Detroit.
James Harden (Houston Rockets) leads the NBA in scoring (33.7 points per game), field-goal attempts per game (22.5), three-point FG attempts per game (12.4) and foul shots attempted per game (10.9). He ranks 90th in field-goal percentage and 41st in three-point FG percentage.
Bob Burrow, a member of the 1956-57 Rochester Royals – the final season before Les and Jack Harrison moved their NBA team to Cincinnati, Ohio -- died last Thursday at age 83 in Franklin, Tennessee. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound son of a lumberjack was an All-American at the University of Kentucky, where he set a school season record of 17.7 rebounds per game. His No. 50 jersey hangs from the rafters at Rupp Arena. He was a first-round pick of the Royals in 1956 and averaged 6.0 points in 67 games backing up Maurice Stokes. After that season, he was traded to Minneapolis and played 16 games with the Lakers before retiring.
Brighton High School product Dave Sarachan, who spent 14 months as manager (head coach) of the U.S. men’s national soccer team (3-4-5 record), is the new coach of North Carolina FC in the United Soccer League. He’s 64.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Monday, January 7
Lamar Jackson 22...Ozzie Albies 22...Jordan Bell 24...Jholys Chacin 31...Lewsi Hamilton 34....Jon Lester 35...Edwin Encarnacion 36...Natalie Gulbis 36...Francisco Rodriguez 37...Alfonso Soriano 43...Richard Zednik 43...Eric Gagne 45....Bobby Engram 45...Todd Day 49...Amerks Hall of Famer Scott Metcalfe 52...Ron Rivera 57...Brian Baldinger 59...Terry Miller 63...Ross Grimsley 69. Nicolas Cage 55, Rand Paul 56, Katie Couric 62 and Kenny Loggins 71 are invited to the birthday party.
Tuesday, January 8
Isaiah Crowell 26...Jaron Brown 29...Jeff Francouer 35...Jeff Francis 38...Rachel Nichols 39...Carl Pavano 43...Donald Brashear 47....Billy Joe Hobert 48...Darryl Williams 49...Mike Liut 63...Bruce Sutter 66. Kimk Jong-un 36 is not invited to the birthday party. Three fairly significant people were born on this date: Elvis Presley died in 1977 at age 42; David Bowie died in 2016 at age 69; Stephen Hawking died in 2018 at age 76.
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
92 years ago (1927), the Harlem Globetrotters played their first game, in Hinckley, Illinois...83 years ago (1936), tennis stars Helen Moody and Howard Kinsley volleyed 2.,001 times in 1 hour, 18 minutes...58 years ago (1961), Detroit beat Cleveland 17-16 in the first NFL Playoff Bowl (for second-place teams; it was not a real good idea)...56 years ago (1963), Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell fired coach Paul Brown...47 years ago (1972), the Los Angeles Lakers won their NBA-record 33rd straight game...34 years ago (1985), Lou Brock and Hoyt Wilhelm were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame...27 years ago (1992), Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame...6 years ago (2013), Abby Wambach won the FIFA Ballon d’Or as the best female soccer player in the world.