Cubs

Alabama-LSU sequel for all the marbles

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Alabama-LSU sequel for all the marbles

From Comcast SportsNet
By Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press

If you like sequels, the BCS has a championship game for you: Alabama-LSU II.

The Crimson Tide edged Oklahoma State in the final round of voting Sunday and will play the top-ranked Tigers in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

Undefeated LSU is the only team to beat Alabama this season, and the head BCS official sees a rematch as a perfectly good title game.

Absolutely, if theyre 1 and 2, and they are in all the polls released today, executive director Bill Hancock said.

Still, its not exactly a game the public was clamoring forat least outside of Southeastern Conference territory. And it will do nothing to quiet critics of the Bowl Championship Series or calls for a college football playoff.

Like it or not, the system has ensured that the SEChome to both schools will run its streak of BCS championships to six in a row.

Alabama has one of those and will be making its second BCS title game appearance in the last three seasons. The Crimson Tide claims 13 national championships overall and is one of the most decorated programs in the land. Its won seven AP titles since the wire service started its poll in 1936.

LSU will be seeking its third BCS championship since 2003 at the Superdome the site of its first two.

Tide coach Nick Saban won that title for LSU in 03. Current Tigers coach Les Miles matched his predecessor in 2007, winning a championship with a team that lost two games.

These talented Tigers, led by dynamic defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, have rarely even trailed against a schedule that included Oregon and West Virginia.

This team loves the big stage, Miles said.

Alabama, with its top-rated defense and Heisman Trophy contender Trent Richardson, was the only team to stay within 13 points of the Tigers this season.

The Cowboys made a late surge by beating Oklahoma 44-10 on Saturday night, and closed the gap on Alabama in the polls. But it was not enough to avoid the first title game rematch in the 14-year history of the BCS.

The Tigers (13-0) beat the Tide 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.

This could be a totally different type of game, Saban said. Theres so many good players on both sides of the ball for both teams.

Theres so much opportunity for this game to play out completely different and have a completely different flavor than the first game.

Alabama (11-1) finished second in both the Harris and coaches polls by a wide enough margin to overcome Oklahoma States lead in the computer ratings.

The Cowboys (11-1), champions of the Big 12, will play in the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford from the Pac-12.

We cant control it, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden said. But I know we had a heck of a year and we beat really good football teams in this conference and were conference champions, so we did everything that we could.

The other BCS matchups are:

Michigan vs. Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl;

Clemson vs. West Virginia in the Orange Bowl;

Oregon vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

For the first time since the 2005 season, none of the big-money games will feature a BCS buster such as Boise State, TCU or Houston, which had a chance but lost Saturday in the Conference USA championship to Southern Mississippi. The Cougars will play Penn State, which dropped to the Ticket City Bowl in Dallas following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that has overshadowed the Nittany Lions season.

As the power-brokers in college football begin to plot how top-tier bowls will be set up in the future, flaws in the current system were once again being exposed this season.

Oklahoma State and Alabama, two teams with perfectly good arguments to play for a national championship, wound up fighting over one spot, with subjective voters and mysterious computer ratingsthe formulas of which are not even publicly knowndoing the choosing.

Alabama won out and Oklahoma State, with one of the most potent offenses in the country, got its first BCS appearance as a consolation prize.

We wanted the opportunity to settle the debate that has gone all year about the offense in the Big 12 and the defense in the SEC, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said on ESPN.

The Tide and Tigers played a hard-hitting defensive slog billed as the Game of the Century. And it was exciting in the way Notre Dame and Armys scoreless tie was exciting in the 1946 version of the Game of the Century.

The game was barely over when talk of rematch started, pro and con.

Oklahoma State was in position to keep it from happening. The Cowboys were undefeated and second in the BCS standings heading into a Friday night game at Iowa State, a day after Oklahoma State womens basketball coach Kurt Budke and an assistant coach were killed in a plane crash.

The Cowboys lost 37-31 in double OT to the so-so Cyclones (6-6), missing a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation by inches.

With no other undefeated teams left from the major conferences, Alabama returned to No. 2 and the debate grew more heated.

Ultimately, Oklahoma State couldnt overcome that one loss.

Now Saban and Miles, who have been tussling for supremacy in the SEC West on the field and the recruiting trail, will square off for the ultimate prize.

And dont dare suggest to either of them that its for anything less.

I think whoever wins the game should be viewed as the national champion, Saban said, echoing Miles sentiment. Rather than rehash the system we should do research on what would make the system better in the future.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.