2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Learned

At the end of the year, it’s always interesting to look back at all that has happened in the world of sports over the last 12 months. 2008 brought us a host of compelling sports stories, including the culmination of the Patriots’ (unsuccessful) quest for perfection, a Bejing Olympics that featured incredible accomplishments by the likes of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and the Redeem Team, and, of course, Brett Favre’s unretirement, which managed to hold the sports news cycle hostage for a solid month or more.

As is our tradition, we’ve once again broken our Year End Sports Review into three sections. The first is “What We Learned,” a list that’s packed with a number of impressive feats. And when there are feats, inevitably there are also failures.

Don’t miss the other two parts: “What We Already Knew” and “What We Think Might Happen.”

The New England Patriots weren’t so perfect after all.

After rolling through the 2007 regular season unscathed, the Patriots entered the 2008 Super Bowl as overwhelming favorites to roll over the pesky, but seemingly inferior New York Giants. The Pats were just one win away from staking their claim as the best football team in NFL history. But thanks to a dominating Giants’ defensive line, an improbable catch by David Tyree, and a virtually mistake-free performance by Eli Manning, the unbeatable New England Patriots were beat. It’ll go down as one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, and considering Tom Brady’s season-ending injury in 2008 cost the Pats a chance for redemption, it seems that many have forgotten how New England stood just one win away from perfection. – Anthony Stalter

Michael Phelps is part fish.

Eight gold medals in one Olympiad? No problem. Michael Phelps made the seemingly impossible look (relatively) easy en route to one of the most – if not the most – impressive Olympic performances ever. Phelps had to swim all four strokes, compete in both sprint and endurance races, and deal with the constant media attention and pressure that came along with his quest. Sure, NBC turned up the hype, but what Phelps accomplished is simply incredible. – John Paulsen

Usain Bolt is part cheetah.

First, Usain Bolt made Jamaica proud by setting a new world record (9.69) in the 100-meter sprint. Then, he broke the 12 year-old 200-meter world record with a time of 19.30 seconds. He showboated during the first race but cleaned up his act to win the second race in a professional manner. Some even say that Usain Bolt – not Michael Phelps – was the biggest story to come out of the Bejing Olympics. – JP

The Big 12 has the best quarterbacks in the nation.

The Big 12 housed some of the best quarterbacks in all of college football in 2008. Texas’s Colt McCoy, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell were all considered Heisman candidates at least at one point during the season, while McCoy and Bradford are still in the running. Amazingly, Bradford and McCoy aren’t done; both will return in 2008. And although they don’t receive as much attention as the top signal callers in the conference, Kansas’s Todd Reesing and Baylor’s Robert Griffin certainly turned heads this year as well. In fact, the highly versatile Griffin is only a freshman and could make the Bears a very dangerous team for years to come. – AS

Read the rest after the jump...

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College Football Championship Weekend Primer

Nick SabanSEC Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida, 4:00 PM ET CBS
This is going to be an absolute battle and I for one think that this is going to be extremely close throughout. Ironically, even though ‘Bama is the top team in the nation, many college football purists have been clamoring for weeks that Florida is the true No. 1. It’s hard to argue that point with the way the Gators have destroyed opponents by a 414 to 97 margin since losing to Ole’ Miss on the last Saturday in September. Still, the Crimson Tide have one of the most disruptive defensives lines in the nation and while the Florida offense is incredibly explosive, defense will win this game in the end. If ‘Bama can get to Tim Tebow and disrupt the flow of the Gator offense, the Tide might be able to rely on Glen Coffee and their ground game to grab victory, finish the season undefeated and secure a spot in the national championship. A win won’t be as easy to come by as it was last week against Auburn, however, as the Gators boast one of the fastest defenses in the country. Oddsmakers have made Florida a 9.5-point favorite but ‘Bama has a great shot to win outright. If we’re making predictions, I say the Gators win, but don’t cover.

ACC Championship: No. 17 Boston College vs. No. 25 Virginia Tech, 1:00 PM ET, ABC
Ah the ACC…the red-headed step child of the 2008 Championship Weekend. Ten of the 12 teams in this conference finished with a 5-3 or 4-4 record and arguably the best team in the ACC (Georgia Tech) won’t even play for a title due to a tough loss to Virginia back in September. But despite the allure of the SEC and Big 12 championship games, this matchup pits two of the best defenses in the nation against each other as VA Tech ranks sixth nationally and BC is eighth. The Hokies held opponents to only 268 yards or less in six of their 12 games while offensively, BC has totaled 244 yards or less in four of its last six games. In their first meeting this year, VA Tech returned two interceptions for touchdowns, while BC scored on a punt return to edge the Hokies 28-23. Defense is going to win this game and VA Tech has a small edge in that department, but the Eagles have been very opportunistic this season, forcing a remarkable 16 turnovers in their last five games. Oddsmakers have made this game a pick ’em and while it’s hard to back a struggling Hokies’ offense, defense wins this game and I say VA Tech is your ACC Champion at the end of the day.

Oklahoma SoonersBig 12 Championship: No. 20 Missouri vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 8:00 PM ET ABC
Regardless of whether or not you think Texas should be playing MIZZOU this weekend, this is the matchup that the BCS produced so live with it. The Tigers essentially have a small edge with the game being played at Arrowhead Stadium, but they better hope for bad weather to slow down Sam Bradford and OU’s explosive offense. While Chase Daniel and the MIZZOU have taken a backseat to OU, Texas and Texas Tech over the past couple weeks, the Tiger offense is still dangerous and posses a threat to Oklahoma and a defense that was absolutely shredded by Oklahoma State last weekend. Still, this game will come down to whether or not MIZZOU has enough defense to slow down Bradford, DeMarco Murray and a host of talented Sooner receivers. No opponent has even come close to containing Bradford. TCU’s and Texas were the only two teams to hold OU to under 40 points this season and the Sooners have scored 60-plus points in their last four contests. Oddsmakers have made OU a 17-point favorite and while it’s tempting to thing Daniel will keep the game close, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Other Notable Games:

No. 5 USC at UCLA, 4:30 PM ET ABC
The last time the Trojans traveled to Pasadena, they were upset 13-9. Ironically that was also the same year Oregon State beat USC in Corvallis. And who beat USC earlier this year in Corvallis? Hmm…

Navy at Army, 12:00 PM ET CBS
The most underrated rivalry in college football will once again be on display this week in Philadelphia.

No. 12 Ball State vs. Buffalo, 8:00 PM ET ESPN2
This game might not get the attention of the other title games, but the MAC has produced some quality NFL-caliber players over the years, including Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington and Randy Moss. And this game features one more: Ball State QB Nate Davis.

Will MIZZOU play whipping boys in Big 12 Championship?

Chase DanielThey might have finished the 2008 season with a winning record for the second time in a decade, but by all accounts this year has been a major letdown for a Kansas team coming off a fantastic 2007 campaign. But with their 40-37 win over rival Missouri on Sunday, the Jayhawks have plenty to smile about.

KU quarterback Todd Reesing actually out dueled Heisman candidate Chase Daniel, throwing for 375 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Daniel was equally impressive, throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns, but it was Reesing who found Kerry Meier with 27 seconds remaining in the game to propel the Jayhawks to victory.

I realize the Tigers didn’t necessarily need this game – they were going to appear in the Big 12 Championship with a win or a loss – but how flat did they look in the first half? They were playing a Kansas team that had struggled mightily against top competition this year, but they just appeared to want it more. This is supposed to be a major rivalry and while the game was exciting in the second half, the Tigers were surprisingly uninterested.

You hate to assume anything in college football (or draw conclusions from one game), but it’s easy to think that either Texas or Oklahoma would roll all over MIZZOU in the Big 12 Championship Game. Kind of ironic to think that the best conference this year in college football might produce a dud for its championship game.

Week 9 College Football Primer

Top 25 vs. Top 25
Zac RobinsonNo. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 1 Texas, 3:30 PM ET ABC
Colt McCoy and the Longhorns are the talk of college football right now, and rightfully so with the way they destroyed Chase Daniel and Missouri last Saturday. But Zac Robinson and the Cowboys are playing as well as anyone right now and this is a huge opportunity for them to prove that they can hang with the big boys. Robinson is completing nearly 70% of his passes and has 14 touchdowns on the year to just four interceptions. But for OK State to pull off the upset, the Cowboy defense will have to be aggressive in getting after McCoy, who completed 29 of his 32 passes last week in the rout over MIZZOU. Mack Brown won’t let his team take their foot off the pedal, but this is UT’s third straight tough Big 12 matchup in as many weeks and the Cowboys won’t be any pushovers.

No. 3 Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State
The Nittany Lions are red hot and destroying everything in their path. The switch the spread offense has been a great success for PSU’s offense and QB Daryll Clark, who ranks 18th in the nation in pass efficiency. Clark will certainly have his work cut out for him this Saturday going against a veteran OSU defense, although the Lions can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the trenches. They also have protected Clark incredibly well this season, which has allowed for big plays in the passing game. For the Buckeyes offensively, frosh QB Terrelle Pryor is the real deal and really stepped up his game last week against Michigan State after struggling to make plays in previous weeks. PSU is allowing more than a half-yard less per carry than OSU’s stingy defense, so it might be tough sledding for Heisman candidate Beanie Wells. Either way, expect a battle at the “Horseshoe” this weekend in matchup of the best the Big Ten has to offer.

No. 7 Georgia at No. 13 LSU, 3:30 PM ET CBS
This is a huge game for UGA after clawing back into the top 10 last week. LSU is coming off a solid come-from-behind win over South Carolina last week and still has plenty to prove themselves after Florida ran roughshod over them two weeks ago. UGA’s inexperienced offensive line has been an issue at times this year, so QB Matthew Stafford must get the ball out of his hands quickly against a stout Tiger pass rush. And even though Heisman candidate Knowshon Moreno gets a lot more pub, LSU RB Charles Scott is rushing for over six yards a carry. The Tigers are a staggering 41-4 in Tiger Stadium since 2002, which doesn’t bode well for the road ‘Dogs.

Graham HarrellNo. 8 Texas Tech at No. 23 Kansas, 12:00 PM ESPN
The Red Raiders have flirted with disaster the past couple of weeks, even though Heisman candidate Graham Harrell continues to play beyond impressive. Still, Tech is off to its best start in 32 years and will get to test its mettle against the upper-echelon of Big 12 foes over the next four games. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, were drubbed by Oklahoma last week and just haven’t looked sharp in over a month. They have sorely missed Brandon McAnderson in the backfield, but they could be due for a game in which they put it all together. Could this be the prime upset of the weekend?

Upset Watch:
Michigan State at Michigan, 3:30 PM ET
The Wolverines have been absolutely brutal this year, but this is a game they win. The Spartans were crushed by Ohio State last week in a game that they were trying to use as a measuring stick to see how good they were. This is a huge letdown game for them and Rich Rodriguez is desperate not to lose to his in-state rival and save at least a little face in his first year at Big Blue.

College Football Week 8 Primer

Top 25 vs. Top 25

Colt McCoyNo. 11 Missouri at No. 1 Texas, 8:00 PM ET
For their first game after being crowned number one in the land, surely the Longhorns would rather face a Big 12 cupcake than a pissed off Tigers team reeling from suffering their first loss of the season. But at least Colt McCoy and Co. don’t have to worry about suffering a letdown after their thrilling win over top rival Oklahoma last weekend. Speaking of McCoy, he’s been nearly perfect this season, completing 79.4% of his passes and compiling 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He’ll get the chance to light up a suspect MIZZOU defense, although don’t expect Heisman candidate Chase Daniel to have back to back bad games, especially against a UT defensive unit that was destroyed by Sam Bradford and the Sooners. Remarkably, Daniel and the Tigers have scored in 23 of 24 quarters this season. Oddsmakers have made MIZZOU a 7-point underdog.

No. 16 Kansas at No. 4 Oklahoma, 3:30 PM ET
Despite walking away with victories, the Jayhawks have not played very sharp the past two weeks. In their 12-1 campaign last season, KU didn’t have to face the powerhouse programs of the Big 12, but they’re not as fortunate this year. Neither team is running the ball as well as they would like, but the Sooners will be looking to make a statement after losing to Texas last week. If sophomore QB Sam Bradford could hang 35 points on the Longhorns, imagine what he’ll do to the Jayhawks. Still, Kansas isn’t a pushover and is looking to make a statement in the polls as well.

No. 22 Vanderbilt at No. 10 Georgia, 12:30 PM ET
One might assume that since the Commodores suffered a crushing blow last week to Mississippi that they’d roll over and play dead this week in Athens. But Vandy has enough speed and athleticism to contain UGA’s explosive offense and they should be able to keep things close. The hard part will be containing QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno for four quarters, however. And if the ‘Dores can’t come up with a turnover or two, the Dogs should pull away in the end. Still, expect a bounce back week for Vandy, who could expose a young UGA secondary ranked 11th in the SEC.

Javon Ringer
No. 12 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State, 3:30 PM ET
It’ll be interesting to see if the Spartans can catch the Buckeyes looking ahead to their date next week with No. 3 Penn State. OSU has had a tough time moving anywhere in the rankings since being blown out by USC in mid-September, but they could use the next two weeks to make a huge statement to voters. MSU is playing awfully well right now, especially on offense where QB Brian Hoyer has provided balance with the dynamic running style of Javon Ringer. Since making a splash against Troy, Buckeye freshman QB Terrelle Pryor has leveled off in recent weeks, throwing for just 104 yards per game and one touchdown in his last three outings. RB Beanie Wells also seems to still be suffering lingering effects from an early-season toe injury as he rushed for only 94 yards on 22 carries last week against Purdue. Next Saturday’s PSU-OSU matchup should be great, but Sparty isn’t going to be a pushover this week in East Lansing.

Upset Watch:No. 9 BYU at TCU, Thursday, October 16
The Cougars arguably get their first test of the season against a Horned Frogs team that has already faced the likes of Oklahoma. TCU’s defense will provide a challenge BYU QB Max Hall and the high-powered Cougar passing attack and even though he’s a backup, Frog’s QB Marcus Jackson has led the team to back-to-back wins. TCU is also incredibly tough to beat in Fort Worth, so beware a major upset on Thursday night. (Of course the last time I suggested that BYU could be upset, they beat UCLA 59-0.)

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