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Dealing With Wisconsin's Bleak First Saturday in December & More Angst In The Life of an Ardent Fan

The undefeated Wisconsin Badgers football team went down on Saturday night Dec 3 to an inspired Ohio State Buckeyes team, 27-21. It marked the third time in four years that the Badgers had lost the Big Ten championship game.

The odds-makers who favored the Buckeyes by 6 or 6.5 points had it right. Wisconsin had not played any team as tough and swift as Ohio State all season. The Buckeyes scored three touchdowns on plays over 50 yards in the first half, tying the number of big plays the vaunted Wisconsin defense had allowed in their 12 previous games.

Though the 21-10 halftime deficit proved too much to overcome, the second half was thrilling and almost classic - if only Wisconsin had mounted a serious threat late in the game to save their unblemished season.

But all game the stout Ohio State defense throttled Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s sensational freshman running back, holding him to just 41 yards in 15 carries, far below his season average. Ohio State's freshman star running back J.K.Dobbins was much more productive and was voted game MVP.

Badger sophomore southpaw quarterback Alex Hornibrook played nobly but didn’t have the arm strength or enough game-breaking receivers to pull off the comeback. His counterpart J.T. Barrett, one week removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, played a savvy game and did just enough with his arm and his challenged legs to lead his team to victory - despite two interceptions including a pick-6 by Badger linebacker Andrew van Ginkel that kept Wisconsin in the game during the first half..

Kudos to the outstanding punting on both sides. I’m a great believer in field position in football and Drue Chrisman of Ohio State boomed his punts deep into Badger territory and kept them high enough to prevent any return yardage. The Badgers' Anthony Lotti for Wisconsin also punted very effectively.

Despite the Buckeyes' victory to claim the Big Ten championship, it was left out of football's Final Four. One-loss Alabama got the fourth seed and will have a rematch with defending champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semi-final on New Year's Day. Oklahoma will meet Georgia in the Rose Bowl in the second semi-final.

Ohio State will meet USC in Dallas' Cotton Bowl and Wisconsin plays in Miami's Orange Bowl for the first time on Dec 30 against home team Miami which slumped badly at the end of the year after being undefeated.

Ohio State's 31-point loss to Iowa on the road was held against the Buckeyes and their 16-point loss at home to Oklahoma early in the season didn't help. But the bruising Big Ten plays nine conference games whereas Alabama's vaunted SEC only play eight and pad their schedule with cupcakes like Mercer.

(Alabama didn't even play for the SEC championship losing to Auburn on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So they are a very dubious selection to the Final Four despite coach Nick Saban's protestations of their excellence.)

To add to the bad Saturday for the Badgers, earlier in the day the Big Ten opened its basketball season with Ohio State trouncing Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home court, 78-53. The Buckeyes led by 23 at the half and opened up a 35-point lead at one point in the second half. Wisconsin falls to 3-5 overall. The loss of four starters from last year's solid tournament team looks more and more ominous.

As if there weren’t enough sadness for an ardent fan of his alma maters, Columbia blew a 10-point lead in the second half and lost at Albany 86-82. The Lions fall to 1-6 on the season, all road games. They finally open their home season against Quinnipiac from New Haven CT this Monday Dec 4. Maybe home cooking will make the difference.

A final shout-out in 2017 is in order for Columbia’s football team that finished with its best record in 21 years, 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League good for a second place tie with Dartmouth. Except for its 23-6 loss to eventual champion Yale in New Haven - the Elis’ first outright title since 1980 - the Lions proved they could play with anybody.

Great kudos to the 32 seniors who stuck it out after their winless freshman season under ousted coach Pete Mangurian. The arrival of proven Ivy League winner Al Bagnoli from Penn has made a great difference. Now as Bagnoli has said so wisely, the key will be to stay up there as a perennial contender every year.

Graduation losses will be significant - quarterback Anders Hill, running back Jim Schroer, and punter Parker Thome among them. (Thome BTW is a distant cousin of baseball's possible next Hall of Famer Jim Thome).

But Bagnoli and his recruiting staff seem to building what Earl Weaver and Yogi Berra used to call "deep depth." The prior punters for the Lions are taking advantage of a fourth year of eligibility by punting for top Division I schools - Cameron Nizialek's leg will be on display when Georgia plays Oklahoma and Matthew Nanton will be kicking for Kentucky in the Music City Bowl against Northwestern.

That’s all for now, dear blog readers. Next time there will be real Hot Stove League baseball news and hopefully more informed speculation to write about as baseball’s annual winter meetings convene in Orlando FLA in mid-December. Until then always remember: “Take it easy but take it!”
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My Awards for 2015: Coping with the No-Baseball Blues #5

Winter has arrived though New Yorkers are disbelieving. Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day will set record highs in the high 60s-even low 70s.
Unfortunately, it is rainy and we may miss out on both a white Christmas and
a sunny golden Christmas.

But be of good cheer – the days will slowly get longer and longer. Come mid-February “pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training,” still the greatest sentence in the English language. Even with the insane amount of money being thrown at players of fair-to-middling talent.

The Orioles are getting resigned to lose streaky slugger/good athlete Chris Davis to free agency. The team took off the table a reported offer of over $150 million for six or seven years. No other team has stepped forward in the bidding, but agent Scott Boras is rightly convinced that some panicked owner will step forward to up the ante for Davis. Without a salary cap or some kind of legal collusion, the salaries will keep going up in the off-season paradise (for players and agents) of free agency.

I was recently asked by Robin Valetutto, personable host of the Saturday noontime “Sports Angel” talk show on KVCE 1160 AM Radio in Dallas, Texas, for my sports highs and lows of calendar 2015.

Let me begin by disagreeing with Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year. Not that the tennis star didn’t have a fine year but it ended with a loss in the U.S. Open semi-finals. That would blemish her year for me.

If I had a vote on the matter, I would have given the nod to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Oakland-based basketball juggernaut win the NBA title in June over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors started this 2015-16 season with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak.

My close second would have been golfer Jordan Spieth, who at age 23 won the Masters and the U.S. Open in sequence in 2015. He also came very close to winning the British Open. He is from an athletic and so far happily grounded family that includes his younger brother Steven, a guard-forward starter for Brown University’s basketball team in Providence, Rhode Island.

I also tip my cap to the Kansas City Royals for their aggressive style of baseball that resulted in their first World Series title since 1985 and the second overall in their history dating back only to 1969.

I don’t think many teams can duplicate their combination of speed and opportunism – honed by a patient intelligent farm system - but it is fun to watch a team hustling all the time and ready to pounce on an opponent’s weakness.

As for lows, I think Seattle's Russell Wilson trying a pass on second down near New England's goal line at the end of February's Super Bowl has to be the biggest boner.

I am happy though that Wilson, the former college QB for North Carolina State's Wolfpack and the Wisconsin Badgers, has the Seahawks ready to make it a run at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

A runner-up for gaffe has to be Michigan's punting rugby-style when even a no-gain run would have virtually assured a Wolverines victory over arch-rival Michigan State.

But kudos to the Spartans who are enjoying great years in football and basketball and former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins has the Redskins on the verge of the NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile Bo Ryan's abrupt resignation as Badger basketball coach has left Wisconsin faithful wondering about the future of the program. More on this subject next month as we'll see if under Ryan's desired successor Greg Gard the Badgers can remain respectable in the Big Ten race.

That’s all for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and back to you by the second week of January.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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