White Sox

Could there be a split national championship?

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Could there be a split national championship?

From Comcast SportsNetGLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Oklahoma State has its chance to be in the national-championship conversation. All the Cowboys need now is a little help from Alabama. Surviving a missed field goal at the end of regulation and getting a big kick of its own in overtime, No. 3 Oklahoma State opened the door for the chance at a split national championship with a wildly entertaining 41-38 win over No. 4 Stanford on Monday night. "There is nothing we can do from here," said Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who tied the Fiesta Bowl record with three touchdown catches. "I do think we do have the best team in the nation." Oklahoma State (12-1) kept pace with Andrew Luck and the high-scoring Cardinal, getting huge performances from its two stars, Brandon Weeden and Blackmon, in their final college game. Weeden threw for 399 yards and the three touchdowns to Blackmon, who announced he's leaving for the NFL after catching eight passes for 186 yards. All that and the Cowboys' fortunes came down to two legs, those of Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson and their own Jordan Sharp. Williamson couldn't come through. The redshirt freshman missed a 35-yard field goal wide left as time expired in regulation and another from 43 yards to open overtime. Given a chip shot after Weeden hit Colton Chelf on a 24-yard pass -- initially ruled a touchdown but overturned on review -- Sharp came through, sending his 22-yard field goal through the uprights and the Cowboys charging onto the field. Should Alabama knock off top-ranked LSU in next week's BCS championship game, Oklahoma State will be right there, ready to stake its claim at being No. 1 in The Associated Press poll. "We feel like we could beat anyone in the country," Chelf said. Stanford (11-2) had its chances. The Cardinal had 590 yards of offense -- nearly 200 more than Oklahoma State -- got another stellar game from Luck before he heads to the NFL, and ran over Oklahoma State's defense behind Stepfan Taylor. They just couldn't finish it off. Luck calmly led Stanford 63 yards over the final 2:35 of regulation to set up a chance at winning its second BCS bowl game in two years. Instead, Williamson missed in regulation, again in overtime and was left sobbing in front of his locker while his coaches and teammates tried to shoulder some of the blame. "In the end, we lost, and I'm as much to blame as anyone," Luck said. Taylor ran for 177 yards and a pair of scores. Luck was his usual steady self, hitting 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. The Cardinal held Oklahoma State to 15 yards rushing on 13 carries and didn't give up the lead until the final play. Still, it wasn't enough, the Cardinal's hopes sailing wide left off the right foot of Williamson, who missed three field goals after missing three all season. "There's an old saying that adversity reveals character -- and that's not just for him, that's for all of us," Stanford coach David Shaw said. The Fiesta Bowl needed a pick-me-up game after the year it had. Last year's game was a dud on pretty much all accounts. Connecticut had trouble filling its allotment of tickets and keeping up with Oklahoma, the 48-20 rout leading to a big dip in the ratings. Not long after that, the bowl got tangled in controversy, nearly losing its BCS status following financial improprieties that were uncovered and led to the firing of executive director John Junker. This matchup figured to be the ticket to match the golden jackets worn by Fiesta Bowl officials. Oklahoma State has an electrifying offense -- second in scoring, third in total yards -- run by the 28-year-old Weeden and featuring Blackmon, the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner. The Cowboys also came in with a chip on their shoulders, believing they should have gotten a shot at the BCS title game instead of it being a rematch of the field-goal-kicking Game of the Century earlier this season between Alabama and LSU. Finishing a tantalizingly close .0086 behind the Crimson Tide in the BCS standings, Oklahoma State had plenty to prove, with booster T. Boone Pickens saying the Cowboys should get first-place votes in The Associated Press poll with a Fiesta win and a loss by LSU in the title game. Across the field was Stanford, another one-loss team that could have a legitimate beef with the BCS system. The Cardinal lost to eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon and crushed nearly everyone else with an offense that was top-15 in scoring and yardage. Stanford also has Luck, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and all-but-certain No. 1 overall NFL pick, complemented by a powerful running game that's as good as any. The Fiesta Bowl had a pretty good lead-in, too: Oregon's wild, 45-38 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Stanford had the advantage early, piling up 225 yards while going up 14-0 early in the second quarter on Luck's 53-yard touchdown pass to Ty Montgomery and Jeremy Stewart ran for a 24-yard score. With its offense stranded in the desert early, Oklahoma State got back in it quickly thanks to Blackmon. The junior caught his first pass by splitting the middle of Stanford's defense for a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, then showed off his power on the next, brushing off a defender like a jacket over his shoulder before racing for a 67-yard touchdown that tied it 14-all. Two big catches, 110 yards and the offensive show was on. Taylor scored on a 4-yard run and the Cowboys answered, tying it 21-all at halftime on Weeden's first career rushing touchdown, an ugly-but-effective 2-yarder. Luck hit Zach Ertz on a 6-yard touchdown pass to open the third quarter and, after the teams traded field goals, Weeden found Blackmon on a 17-yard crossing pass that tied the game at 31. Taylor put Stanford up 38-31 with 4 minutes left, ducking behind Stanford's massive offensive line for a 1-yard touchdown. Oklahoma State answered quickly, moving 67 yards in less than two minutes to tie it on Joseph Randle's 4-yard touchdown run. The Cowboys left too much time for Luck, but Stanford's luck ran out when Williamson couldn't come through in regulation and again in overtime. Oklahoma State celebrated what they thought was a touchdown by Chelf in overtime, then did it for real after the replay and Sharp's kick. "Our team rallied. Every time we got down, they just found a way to come back," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, who dedicated the victory to the four people who died in the Nov. 17 plane crash that killed Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna. And now the Cowboys can watch the national title game with a rooting interest, ready to stake their claim should the cards fall right.

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

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AP

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

SAN DIEGO — At the GM meetings last month in Arizona, White Sox vice president Kenny Williams teased that the team was going to do more business than usual.

We found out later that the White Sox met with Yasmani Grandal while out in the desert. And when the free-agent catcher got the richest deal in club history the following week, it was a sign the White Sox were serious about their intent to be aggressive and make some big splashes this winter ahead of a possible transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020.

The Grandal signing earned nothing short of rave reviews, but there’s still an awful lot on the to-do list for general manager Rick Hahn and his front office as the Winter Meetings get going here in Southern California. The White Sox have designs on adding a pair of starting pitchers to their rotation and landing an everyday right fielder. An everyday-type DH could also be in the cards, though Grandal’s arrival has at least provided a more realistic internal option in the form of a multi-player rotation. Bullpen help is never turned away.

Much of that could be addressed this week, with ample opportunities to cross those items off the list, even if in less headline-grabbing style. You’ll remember back to last year’s Winter Meetings, when the White Sox filled a hole in their rotation by trading for Ivan Nova.

But with no disrespect to Mr. Nova, most fans are waiting for a much bigger splash.

It’s what the White Sox tried to get done before they flew out to the West Coast. Just last week they reportedly made the highest bid in the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes, only for the 29-year-old free agent to take less money to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cries of “here we go again” from the fan base — still stinging from the way things played out with Manny Machado a winter ago — were quickly quelled by the financial details, and it sure seems there aren’t any more excuses for anyone to stick to the old talking point that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend. Wheeler’s deal, had he accepted it, would have broken Grandal’s weeks-old record for the most expensive contract in club history.

So will someone else actually take the White Sox money this week?

Certainly the possibilities are out there. Still searching for starting pitching, the White Sox could turn to Madison Bumgarner, who they’ve been connected to since Wheeler’s decision. The 30-year-old three-time World Series champ could play a Jon Lester type role in a different Chicago rebuild. Though plenty have expressed concerns over what effect his 1,948.1 combined regular-season and postseason innings will have moving forward. There are reasons to be skeptical, just as there are reasons to be optimistic.

If the White Sox don’t want to play at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market — they haven’t been heavily linked to either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg — then Bumgarner is the biggest free-agent pitching splash out there. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel are in a similar strata of this free-agent market, but perhaps neither would generate quite as much buzz as arguably the greatest pitcher in World Series history.

The White Sox could also get splashy in their quest to fill the vacancy in right field. Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are the two biggest names on the free-agent outfield market, and either would slot into the middle of the White Sox order. Neither would make for an ideal defensive selection, considering Castellanos’ ugly defensive stats in right field (which might exaggerate that reputation) and the fact that Ozuna is a left fielder who didn’t play a lick of right during his two years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both, however, could make a big offensive impact. Ozuna had a ludicrously good season playing for the Miami Marlins in 2017, while the White Sox are plenty familiar with what Castellanos can do after he bludgeoned them in recent seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox could potentially go off the board and chase someone outside of their stated positional needs, Hahn leaving everything on the table when he discussed his offseason approach at length last month. But neither paying a huge sum for Anthony Rendon nor coughing up prospects for Mookie Betts seems too likely at the moment. The fun thing about the Winter Meetings, though, is what seems likely or unlikely can change in an instant.

Speaking of trades, while Hahn signaled the White Sox have little interest in dealing their prized prospects for short-term gain, that market could provide opportunities for heretofore unmentioned splashes. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest in the biggest names being speculated about — Betts, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, etc. — but they’ve reportedly been chatting with the Los Angeles Dodgers about Joc Pederson. After supposedly trying and failing to get him in a trade last winter, his arrival on the South Side would probably be splashy enough, considering he had a career year at the dish in 2019 that included 36 home runs.

After last year’s Machado and Bryce Harper bonanzas, expectations have been raised. After the collective breakout of so many of the White Sox core players in 2019, expectations have been raised. The White Sox seem to have the ingredients to make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020. Money allocated for free agents is one of those ingredients. While there’s more than one way to build a championship roster, including leaning heavily on the wealth of young talent already in the White Sox possession, those raised expectations have fans craving a splash.

So will the White Sox cannonball into the Pacific Ocean this week? Stay tuned.

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Bears' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

Bears' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

The Bears did their part to keep hope alive for a playoff berth in Week 14, defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night and moving to 7-6 on the season. Unfortunately, they didn't get the help they needed around the league to enter Week 15's game against the Green Bay Packers with legitimate post-season juice.

The Minnesota Vikings, who currently hold the final NFC wild card that the Bears are chasing, handled their business against the Detroit Lions with their 20-7 victory in a game that was never close. Now 9-4, the Vikings' have a two-game lead over the Bears with one head-to-head matchup remaining in Week 17. Chicago needs to defeat Minnesota in the season finale and hope the Vikings lose one of their other two remaining games against the Chargers and Packers. Otherwise, it's on to 2020.

The bigger blow to the Bears' playoff hopes came in Los Angeles, where the Rams moved to 8-5 with their 28-12 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. This was a game Chicago needed the Rams to lose, considering they hold the head-to-head tie-breaker and play only one more game on their schedule that seems like a likely loss (49ers in Week 16). Los Angeles' other two games are against the struggling Cowboys and lowly Cardinals, and if they win both and end the year with the same record as the Bears, they'll have the advantage because of Chicago's loss in Week 11.

So what does all this mean? Week 14's results have the Bears' chances to make the playoffs at just 2%, according to FiveThirtyEight.  Essentially, nothing's changed, even after a win. Football Insiders is a little more optimistic; they have Chicago's chances at 4.4%.

Sunday's game against the Packers has meaning. The Bears are still alive, and a victory in Green Bay coupled with some upset losses by the Vikings and Rams could change the playoff picture quite a bit. If both Minnesota and Los Angeles lose, Chicago's playoff chances jump to 14%, per the New York Times' playoff predictor.

One game at a time. It's a mantra that's worked for the Bears over the last month of the season, and one they'll continue to preach until there's nothing left to play for.

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