Sports: College Football Saturday Two Games Four Teams 8-0

Today there are two big games in college football, with four teams having the same record of 8 wins and 0 losses.  The games have completely different significance when deciding the final four in the College Football Playoffs. The first game will see Penn St. playing the University of Minnesota, one of the surprise teams of the year.   The second game will see perennial powers LSU and Alabama facing off in Tuscaloosa. All four teams are undefeated and untied at 8-0.  Of the two games, the Penn State vs. Minnesota game is the much more significant.  The team that loses, will be virtually eliminated from the football playoffs, whether they like it or not. If Penn St. loses today, but wins the rest of the their games and beats Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship Game,  they would still need some losses from other teams to get into the final four.  The same thing can be said for Minnesota.   On the other hand the only way the Alabama-LSU game becomes this significant is if the game happens to be a blow out.  As long as the game is reasonably close and the losing team runs the table they will get into the four team playoff.  The loser of this game may have  a better chance of getting into the playoffs, because they do not have to worry about losing the SEC championship game.   Such is the goofiness of college football, that everyone seems to accept. It is fine to decide which 4 teams make the  play offs, based on subjective decisions, made by people behind close doors.

The BCS system was a far superior system to pick teams to make a playoff. It had to be tweaked once, and the BCS system had only one flaw.  It was  allowed to pick only two teams. When the NCAA finally decided on a four team playoff , they fouled it all up by going to a committee to pick the four teams.   The committee usually gets praise for their selections, but the No 1 team has never won in 5 tries.   The number 4 team has won twice.   Seven of the ten semi final games have not been all that close with 4 being real blow outs.  Let’s face it, most of time the committee has not picked the right 4 teams, and have not ranked them very well. The committee doesn’t need tweaked, it needs to be dissolved.  We should go back to the BCS system to pick the teams.  What would even be better would be to go to an 8 team playoff.  People feel that this is too many games for college players to play, and I agree completely.  The simple solution is to take away one regular season game.  Every one of these football powers plays at least one game against a very small school, that they blow away.  The excuse is that these schools reap the benefits of the gate receipts, at these large sold out stadiums.  Let them share in the much greater revenue of the quarter final games of a college football playoff,  and avoid the pounding they take playing one of these games.  Have the five conference champions and the top 3 teams in a BCS ranking system that are not conference champions be the 8 teams in the play offs.  A system that would make two games, where all four teams are 8-0, equally significant.

Golf: Wrist Cock, Part III

It’s hard to believe, but the last time I wrote about the wrists in the golf swing was December of 2015 The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer.  Since that time, I still feel the same, that the  wrists are  the most misunderstood aspect of the golf swing.  I have changed my mind on what the golfer should do, in regards to the position of the club face at the top of the swing.  Back in 2015, I said just let the wrists do what they are going to do, and don’t worry about.  But after doing some experimenting, on what the wrists do in my own golf swing,  I think I can come up with some recommendations on what to do, depending on your clubhead position at the top of the golf swing.  But first lets briefly review what the wrists can do and why this is so confusing to the golfer.

Rather than to get into such terms as supination and pronation, and other wristy terms, lets just take a look at the thumb, when you grip the club.  Just grip the club with one hand, either one is fine, and put your thumb straight down the shaft.  Now by just moving your wrists, you can make your thumb do six things.    You can move your thumb straight up and down.  You can turn your thumb to the left and to the right.  Finally you can roll your thumb to look at the right side of your thumb, and then the left side of your thumb.  These are very distinct moves.  The problem is, that the wrists can do any of these moves partially and some fully during the golf swing.  This results in the clubface being in various positions at top of swing.  None of these positions are wrong.  First let’s look at the two extreme positions.   The clubface is closed or you will hear the term shut faced at the top.  It’s easy to tell this position. At the top of the swing the club face is pointed to the sky.  The two best examples of this position are Dustin Johnson and Brooke Henderson.    Then there is the clubface that is open at the top of the swing.  This position will see the toe of the club pointed to the ground.  This position you can see in the swings of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and in today’s game Webb Simpson.  In modern professional golf, most players will use the  shut faced or closed position. The open position is the least popular today.   You will see many positions in between, with some players  being square at the top of the swing. You would think this would be ideal, but certainly these players are not dominating the tour.  It really doesn’t matter what they are doing, as long as you know what you are doing at the top of the swing. You should also know the basic shot pattern that your position tends to create. Then you need to decide if you  should  make a conscious change.

The first modern great golfer with the closed clubface at the top was Arnold Palmer.  He did this because it helped him to keep from hooking, and most  of the shut faced players today, are faders of the golf ball.  Even though the club face is closed at the top of the swing, as the club starts down the wrists will rotate the club head in a clockwise fashion, delaying the release of the wrists, which prevents  the toe of the club head turning over resulting in a hook.  Despite being shut faced at the top, Palmer, because of his strength in the hands and wrists still hooked the ball. The shut faced position  helped him to keep from duck hooking.  Hogan had an extremely weak grip combined with being open at top, was his way of obtaining a full release of the wrists without worrying  about hooking the ball.   Sam Snead,  also had big strong hands and wrists, but a beautiful graceful swing, had no trouble drawing the ball from the open at the top club position.  So what is the recreational golfer to do?  The first thing to do, is to determine what is your natural wrist action in the golf swing.  Through video, or just stopping  and looking  at the top of your backswing, determine what is your club face position at the top.  Face pointing to the sky you are closed.  Toe of the clubhead pointing down to the ground, the face is opened.  Somewhere in between you are getting closer to square but try and determine if you are closer to open or shut faced.  It may be perfectly square.  If you are closed at the top, and hitting relatively straight shots, maybe with a little fade or draw, then you need to do nothing.   But if you are closed at the top and hitting a lot of shots to the right and slicing like crazy then maybe you better square up or go open at the top.  This is unnatural for you, so how do you do it.  At the start of your backswing, feel a distinct rolling of the wrists so that you feel that the right palm is facing the sky as your hands reach hip high.  This will easily get your club face in the open position at the top of the swing.  Now on the downswing the toe of the clubhead will begin to rotate in a counter clockwise direction which will help you draw the ball or hit it fairly straight, with a nice full release.  As you get use to this position at top of the swing, then you may not have to rotate the wrists so early in the backswing, but whatever works is fine.   If you are already an open at the top player and you are hitting everything pretty straight or with a slight draw or fade then you don’t want to change a thing.  But if you are open at top and hitting a bunch of duck hooks to the left, then you might want to try to get  closed at the top of the swing.  In order to do this you will need to rotate your wrists in the early part of the swing so you feel your right palm is pointing to the ground at the hip high junction of the swing.  Once you get the feel of your new position then you may not need to do such a distinct move at the start of the swing.   If you find you are somewhere in between but having a hooking or slicing problem then follow the above instructions accordingly. Get shut faced to help a hook and get open to help a slice.

What about doing this for the type of shot you want to play or the situation you are in.  This is what I am doing at the moment.  If trouble is on the left or I want something straight or with a little fade, then I will go shut faced which is more my natural swing. I will go shut faced if I want to take something off an iron shot.   If the trouble is on the right then I will go with an open face at the top. If I want to draw the ball and get a little more power then I will go to the open face position at the top. Since the moves of the wrists are infinite, the possibilities of what you can do with golf ball is infinite.  But in order to get all this benefit to your game you must use your wrists first, and then know what your natural position is at the top of the swing, and go from there.  Good luck, and here is to lower scores.

Sports: College Football, Super Teams Not Conferences

The college football season is in full swing, and the game never seemed better.  The college game is exciting, and the 4 team play off system seems to be working out ok. When the play off system was about to supplant the BCS system, the powers to be in college football tried to create  4 super conferences, with the math being fairly simple.  If the conferences were super then the 4 conference champions would most likely make the college football playoffs and make it fairly easy for the selection committee, who would now determine which teams would make the playoffs.  But the big 12 would have nothing to do with it and even though they suffered some big losses with teams leaving the conference, they weathered the storm, adding some teams and the conference seems to be pretty healthy for the moment.  However, it sets up this problem of 5 Major conferences. and 4 playoff spots.  So far the scenario of 5 undefeated conference champions. with one missing the play offs has not happened, but there has been plenty of controversy when selecting the 4 playoff teams. While the super conferences did not materialize, it seems that super teams in college football have.  There are over 100 college football teams that are eligible for the playoffs.  There is however, a very distinct line between these teams.  You can divide college football into four groups.   The Super Teams, The Use to Be’s, The Up and Comers, and the Have Nots.

First, the Super Teams.   Alabama has been in all 5 playoffs and looks like it is headed for a 6th.  Clemson has been in 4 and again looks like it is headed for a 5th.  The other contenders this year are Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Penn State, Oregon and Utah.  I would put Utah in the Up and Comers group for now.  Other Super Teams with only a slight chances of making the playoffs are Notre Dame, Michigan, and  Auburn. The list is not a big one.   I define a Super Team as a team that year after year has a legitimate chance of making the playoffs.   Since the BCS started only Michigan and Penn State have not been in the playoffs or a BCS final.  The list has only 11 teams.  Let’s move on to the Use to Be teams, which is the group that at one time would have been considered super teams, but now the programs are on hard times, with no light at the end of the tunnel. This list includes, Florida St., Miami, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan St, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma St., UCLA and USC.  These are programs that during the late nineties and the first 10 to 15 years of this century had some really good runs, of 3 to 5years  losing only 3 to 5 games during the span.   Tennessee was a BCS champion. Michigan St. and Florida St. made the playoffs and Florida St.  was a BCS Champion and runner-up  Miami won and lost a BCS championship game.   In the last 2.5 seasons all of these teams have lost at least 12 games. Arkansas, Tennessee, and UCLA have lost over 20 games.  There have been stretches where it took these teams 4 to 5 years to lose 20 or more games. There does not seem to any resurgence happening anytime soon. This leads us to the Up and Comers, and this list is the smallest.  They are Washington, Utah, Wisconsin and Florida. Washington was in the 2017 play offs and was in contention the last 2 years, but having an off year this year.   Florida at one time looked like it might make the list of the Use to Be’s but they seemed to on the way up.   They were a big time power under Urban Myer, then fell on some hard times but unlike the other Use to Be’s they seem to be having a resurgence.  The other two teams would have been considered the Have Nots but in recent years have made it to championship games and could be on the verge of making the playoffs. That leaves the Have Nots which make up the rest of college football.  These are teams that have not smelled the playoffs and probably never will.

What does all this mean?   The NCAA wanted to develop these so called power conferences and was hoping to keep the number to 4.  It did not work but what developed instead is the super teams.   Even when you throw in some teams that have potential to develop into super powers,  the list only contains  15 teams.   With two thirds of  the college football season completed there are only about 6 teams with a real shot at making the playoffs.  There is still a lot football to be played and upsets do happen, but it looks like  Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, and Oklahoma, have the inside edge with Oregon ready to step in, if chaos happens.  There are 12 teams in the Use to Be group and I think their problems are tied to the Super Team outbreak.   If you want a chance to be on a National Championship team then you had better go to one of the 15 teams.  Playing pro football may not even be the no. 1 consideration  for recruits, considering what the pro game can do to your brain.  Even playing in the playoffs however, I think enhances  a player’s draft status.  How he performs in the playoff environment does not go unnoticed.  In the long run, on the national scene, I think this will help college football to even greater heights and appeal.   As a general rule dynasties have made a sport more popular.  This also makes the surprise team an even bigger surprise and story.  It will be interesting to see if any of the Use to BE  programs can make a comeback. In my view they won’t.  So if you like the teams that are winning big in college football right now, you should be happy for a long time, because change is not on the horizon.

Sports: World Series Wrap Up

The World Series came to an end last night, as the Washington Nationals pulled off their second big upset in this post season, winning the Series 4 games to 3 over the Houston Astros.  On the way to becoming world champions, the Nationals knocked off two of the so called super teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the aforementioned Astros.  Since the middle of May, the Nationals matched these teams victory for victory.  The fact that they were able to take it all the way, should not be all that surprising.  After the sixth game  MLB Network was describing this series as  epic  trying to increase the hype, and to obscure the fact that this World Series was anything but epic.  This is not to take anything away from the Washington Nationals great victory, and a nice win for the National League.  In fact, this may have been one of the most deserving victories in a long time.  The Nationals played better than the Astros in every phase.  The best way to describe this series was odd.   Let me count the ways.

The visitors won every game.   That has not happened before in any 7 game series in any sport.   How about this betting parlay, The Nationals would score 3 runs in 3 home games and win the World Series.  There are no wilder and raucous fans than the fans at the World Series, especially a Game 7.  After every game that wild and delirious fan base went home sad.  The last World Series to be clinched at home was in  2013 by the Boston Red Sox.  Home field has seemed to have lost it’s advantage in baseball, and it’s hard to say why, but this was an extreme example.  Other than Game 1 the games were not very close.  The only games in doubt after the 7th inning were 1 and 7, and that quickly changed in game 7 as the Nats added on in the 8th and 9th, with the Astros not threatening in the bottom of either inning. This series was odd but not very tense or exciting.  The smallest margin of victory in each game was 1,9,3,7,6,5, and 4.  But despite these lopsided margins in the games, the overall stats of the series, shall we say , was oddly close.   Try this on for size.   Both teams hit 11 home runs.  Both teams walked 27 times.  Both teams had the exact ERA of 4.39.  The Nats scored 33 runs and the Astros 30 runs.  The Astros had a slight edge in OPS .794 to .739.  The Astros had the slight edge in Whip 1.34 to 1.50.    Every time it seemed that a team was going take the series by the throat and win, they fell flat on their face.  After game 2 it looked like the Nats had the potential to sweep the series but then the bats went dead the next 3 games.  Going into game 6 it looked like the Astros had righted the ship, ready to win their second championship in three years, but instead the ship sank. Finally the interference call at first base and the reviewing of a non reviewable play in game 6. What more can you say.   It was an odd World Series.

Why did the Nationals win.  It boiled down to two things.  Garrit Cole picked the wrong day to be human.  The ace of the decade,  who had not lost a game since mid May, just had an off day for him.  It was by far the key win of series.  The big names for the Nationals performed and the big names for the Astros did not.    Verlander continued to have problems in the World Series. Strasberg was the Series MVP.    Rendon and Soto  had a combined OPS of just over .2000, while Altuve and Bregman’s OPS was just over .1500. The Nationals simply out played the Astros when it counted the most.   I don’t think managerial strategy and decision making played a big role in the outcome.  But I am going to nitpick and second guess at the same time.  Houston manager  A. J. Hinch seemed to have no confidence in Zack Greinke.   Taking him out in the 7th after only 80 pitches seemed a little premature considering he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.   I know about all the reasoning behind the third time through the line up and this is the age of great bullpens, but this is Zack Greinke and he seemed to be getting out of trouble just fine in this post season.  If the outcome had been the same, then he would have been criticize for leaving him.  I said this was nitpicking and I think the eventual outcome would have been the same, because the Astros bats went dead.   Congrats to the Nats. It’s nice to see the World Series trophy back where it belongs, in the National League.

Meditation

Even though there are hundreds of books and apps on Meditation, many of them do not go into the breathing method to use when meditating. There are two kinds of breathing.  The first type is chest or tension breathing.  This seems like the “normal” way to breath.   When you inhale your chest expands and on the exhale your chest contracts.  If you pay attention to this, you will see that this breathing does create tension.  The second kind of breathing is abdominal or relaxation breathing.  When you inhale, your belly does the expanding and when you exhale the belly contracts.  Pay attention to this type of breathing, and you will see it is more relaxing.

The best way to experience relaxation breathing is to lay flat on your back on a hard surface, like the floor, and place your hands over your belly button.   Just try to relax a little bit, and then start to breath.  You will see that in this position, it is almost impossible to breath, except to allow your abdomen to expand on the inhale, and then it will naturally contract on the exhale.  You will also find that your breathing is deeper and fuller.  Even though you are laying on a hard surface,  as you continue to breath this way, your body will become more relaxed.  Just continue to take nice deep belly breaths, and you will begin to experience true relaxation of the various parts of your body.  Then start to concentrate on each section of your body. It does not make any difference whether you start at your feet, and work your way up to the top of your head, or the other way around.  I like to start at the feet.  Relax your feet, ankles, calves, knees, and thighs.  Then once you feel like your lower extremities are totally relaxed, then start with your hands, wrists, forearms, elbows and upper arms. Once the upper extremities are totally relaxed, then work on the trunk beginning with the lower back and upper buttocks.  Work your way up the mid back and the upper back and shoulders.  Once that is relaxed, then relax the neck, lower jaw, cheeks, the eyes, forehead, and finally, the top of the head.  Once you have the entire body in a relaxed state, try and maintain that for 5 minutes. This will get  you about half way through a good meditation.    Then it’s time to explore your inner self.

There are many ways of doing this.  You can just try and go inside yourself.   You can create an inner sanctuary or a relaxation  place.  This could be a lake, the ocean, or a mountain and river scene. But think of a place that will enhance  this relaxed state that you are in.  A place where you have felt relaxed in the past.   Getting to your inner self can be quite rewarding but also scary, as you may finds things that you may not like about yourself.  This is a very personal journey, and there is no right or wrong way to do it.  It may take many meditations and months to begin to get inside yourself, and see what makes you really tic.  It will still be up to you, to go in a different direction or continue along the same path you have always gone.   There is no right or wrong here, either.  You just become aware of the things that have enabled you to be where you are now, and you then decide if you should change, or continue down the same path.  The biggest thing you become aware of is, you are exactly where you want to be, right now, even though it may not seem like this is what you want.  You are totally in charge of your life, if you really want to be.  Sometimes, and I have experienced this,  you really don’t want to be in charge.  Simply, it is  much easier to look outward and blame, rather than looking inward and accepting responsibility.  Good luck.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow, with the Houston Astros hosting the Washington Nationals.  Since the middle of May,  they have been the two best teams in baseball.  The Astros go into the series as heavy favorites.  This is the biggest odds differential since the 2007 series, when the Red Sox were big favorites over the Colorado Rockies.  That series went according to plan, as the Red Sox swept the Rockies in 4 games.  The Rockies were red hot going into that series having an unbelievable finish to the season going 21 and 8 and sweeping both the division series and N.L.C.S. going 7 and 0.  The oddsmakers knew something, making the Red Sox big time favorites, and they came through just as predicted.   This Series has a similar feel, with the Nationals coming off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and upsetting the favorite L. A. Dodgers in the division series.  Yet again, the Astros are considered the overwhelming favorite.  Will the oddsmakers be right again?  I am not too sure.  There are some things in the Nationals favor, that says this should be a tight well played series, that will go 6 to 7 games.

You never know  how a team is going to perform from series to series in the playoffs but so far the Astros are just not hitting.  They have four players with an OPS under 600.  Alex Bregman has walked a lot out of respect but is hitting only .257 with one home run.  You have to wonder if Washington will challenge him more.  One reason the Astros beat the Yankees is that they hit worse.  Even the bullpen game did not produce a lot of runs between these so called offensive juggernauts.  I am not to sure a team can get hitting healthy against the Nationals starting rotation.   The Nationals have a good DH line up for a National league team.  Howie Kendrick seems like the perfect DH and the Nationals will be better defensively for the games in Houston.  The Nationals starting rotation stacks up well against the Houston big three.   If  Anabel Sanchez can continue to pitch the way he has, then it is certainly deeper.  For whatever reason the Astros seem to make things hard on themselves.  When they won in 2017, both the N.LC.S. with the Yankees and the World Series against the Dodgers  were hard fought and went 7 games.   As great as this  team always looks on paper, you could argue that if they had not acquired Justin Verlander on August 31st at 11:59 pm, they would not have been World Champions.

Will the Astros prevail?  Yes, I think they will, but just barely.  They have 2 advantages.  One is Garrit Cole.  He is has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, not just for this post season, but for about the last 5 months. There are not too many sure things in life, but he looks like he will continue to be excellent  for the next 7 days.  There is more pressure on the Nationals starting pitchers to perform because of the weak bullpen of the Nationals. This could finally take its toll.  Even the bullpen members that have performed reasonably well, like Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could easily wilt under the pressure. There is no question, the Achilleas heel of the Nationals is that darn bullpen, and  you have to wonder if they can manage to get through one more series against a quality opponent.   There is one interesting strategy situation  that might determine the final outcome.  Is Houston going to go with the 3 man rotation, with the starters then going on short rest, or will game 4 be a bullpen game again.   In my view, as good as the three starters for Houston are, trying to pitch them on short rest could be the big mistake of the Series. Cole has never pitched on short rest and the one time they did it with Verlander it was a failure.  Of course if they win the first 3 games it won’t make any difference.   However if Houston decides to go with that 3 man rotation, then I am really liking the Nationals.  Can’t wait to see what happens as another fall classic begins.

Sports: Baseball The Championship Series

We start the baseball championship series tonight with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Washington Nationals.  On the American League side we have the two so called super powers, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees beginning tomorrow night.  Both the Cardinals and the Nationals are the surprise teams. The Nationals pulled the shocker by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games and sending the defending National League champs home very very early.  What did we learn from these division round games?

We learned that Dodger manager Dave Roberts, still cannot manage in the post season.  Trying to get 2 innings out of Joe Kelly was just what the doctor ordered for the Nationals and they took advantage in the 10th inning by scoring 4 runs.  You are eliminated from the playoffs with your best reliever looking through a fence.  They just gave Roberts a nice extension so here is what I propose.   As soon as the regular season ends just send Dave Roberts home and let Brian Kenny manage the team during the playoffs.  I am sure he would do it for nothing, so no extra expense for the Dodgers.   We learned that Garrit Cole  is just starting his post season resume, which could develop into one of the best of all time.  We will just have to wait and see.  One thing for sure, the Astros would have been the other super power to fall if it were not for Cole.  What a pitching performance in his last 2 games.  We learned that the Cardinals still have some of that post season magic left. From little bloops, to playing small ball better than anybody, the Cards may become the shocker of them all.

I am not a prognosticator, but there are some things that I do know will happen.  The winner of the Houston-New York series will be heavy favorites to win the World Series. If the Yankees do not go to and win the World Series, there will be  massive  fan disappointment  and backlash.   Both series should be extremely entertaining and fun to watch.  How super are the two super powers of the American League.  I am not too sure they are all that super. My view is both teams beat up on a lot of bad teams that are in the American League. The media mentions this from time to time, but mostly glosses over this point.  I admit, the most amazing of the two teams are the Yankees, who ran away with the Eastern Division, despite having more injuries than you would think possible.  I think the Astros and the Yankees are very good teams but I do not think that either one of them would have won 100 games if they played in the more balanced National League. I still feel the best team in baseball is gone. The Los Angeles Dodgers  needed a post season manager.  Maybe they will get one next year.  As they say on the airplane, it’s now time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.  The semi-finals are ready to begin.