MLS Rivalry Week. Conference tourneys. A leading Fight of the Year candidate in boxing, and a dominate performance by one of the UFC’s pound-for-pound best fighters. Without even speaking of Selection Sunday, we all know this is simply just an appetizer to the main course of what’s to come, as the best time of the year in sports is upon us in the coming weeks. But the last bite this weekend is a delectable one, ESPN’s newest “30 for 30” film, “Survive and Advance.”

Director and producer Jonathan Hock called in to talk again about his latest project. We discuss the film, the college basketball landscape, and his last ESPN film “Unguarded” about Fall River legend and former Boston Celtic player Chris Herren. “Survive and Advance” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Has anyone been so loved since Forrest Gump?

Aside from a lazy comparison by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg to being a “poor man’s Jimmer Fredette,” Nate Wolters had Matt Nortlander applying the lipstick and the love of nearly every other name on the national college basketball scene within the Twitterverse Tuesday night.

It’s easy to forget that in the lore of last season, where Scott Nagy’s team went and upset Washington and then ran the table in Sioux Falls, Wolters was still on the fringes of the national consciousness, only getting scattered respect heading into their eventual loss to Baylor in the field of 64. The narrative of this year’s college basketball season is now a well-known one: Every top contender has a dark passenger Dexter-style. For Louisville, it’s been an Russ Smith and his monopoly on Louisville’s offense. In Lawrence, point guard has been a love-hate relationship, though more love lately. Gonzaga swept St. Mary’s within its conference, but hasn’t dominated top competition like a top team in year’s past. It’s easy to see why, with the right matchup, they may be much trendier as an upset pick next Sunday and beyond.

Wolters, who had scored 26.8 ppg in his last six games against North Dakota State, was right on target with 27 points in the title game against the Bison.

While it was a great day to be wearing blue and yellow – both South Dakota State’s men’s and women’s teams are dancing – no one else will be happy leaving the Falls. Oakland has built high expectations for itself with multiple NCAA births recently, so a quarterfinal exit was bound to be disappointing. Already without Terell Parks, losing Ceola Clark III meant Western Illinois finished its semifinal loss to North Dakota State without its three best players (Obi Emegano) from last year’s Summit League Championship game.

And it was NDSU that avoided a similar fate. Head coach Saul Phillips said when Taylor Braun injured his foot he believed it could be an injury of the season-ending variety. No doubt Bison fans will be will be disappointed by falling short, but this is a nucleus that has been feared ever since point guard Lawrence Alexander was confirmed to be worthy of mentioning in the upper echelon of the league’s floor leaders.  It returns in its current form for next season, where you’d have to assume Phillips’ team is to be the favorite, no?

No matter how things look with hindsight, Oakland was included in a four-team tier of potential squads that could cut the nets down in Sioux Falls Arena this season. Despite the misfortunes against Fort Wayne to conclude this year’s campaign, Oakland will be firmly entrenched in the field of favorites when March of next year comes knocking. All major contributors but small forward and glue guy Drew Valentine return. Losing great programs to higher-profile leagues has been a trend since the Mid-Continent days, but next year sees the league add Denver, a team that just clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship. They lose just one senior, 6-foot-5 guard Chase Hallam (10 ppg) and boast a balanced group of scorers. Nebraska-Omaha (my personal favorite for sleeper next season) and South Dakota graduate just a combined three seniors, and that’s not to speak of Western Illinois or South Dakota State.

Assuming no one jumps ship – that would be foolish to do considering teams ditch their current leagues these days faster than Taylor Swift can write songs about ex-boyfriends – what this all means is the Summit League should wield a favorable handful of teams again next season. Perhaps it never becomes the Atlantic 10, a league where not just the top layer are delectable to the nation’s pundits or the RPI, but the landscape seems rich for another great season, doesn’t it?

A few other parting thoughts:

  • I believe it was mentioned at some point on a broadcast this week, but there’s a good chance Oakland guard Travis Bader surpasses J.J. Redick next season as the all-time leading 3-point shooter in NCAA D-I. Considering OU’s style, it’s not hard to see why guys like Reggie Hamilton and Jonathan Jones have had eye-popping numbers. There was another pretty good 3-pointer assassin named Erik Kangas for the Golden Grizzlies not long ago, but another off-season should mean a stronger and more versatile Bader on offense. It’s hard to imagine anyone else outscoring him with Wolters and Gaines both gone.
  • That aside, if anyone has the potential to get buckets for another team like Bader, it could be UNO guard Justin Simmons. Still raw, but it’s hard not to be impressed by his athleticism. Simmons had 11 20-point outings this season, and I think next year he plays smarter and gets harder to stop.
  • As good as television coverage of the tournament gets, there’s always a bugaboo that plagues the exposure. It was far less egregious this year – a bungled graphic on ESPN listing the starting lineups had Taylor Braun as a freshman was one – but it would be nice to see things go smoothly. On the other hand, Midco Sports Network did a nice job otherwise. Smart questions were asked by sideline reporters, and hey, someone knew that SDSU wasn’t San Diego State, so that’s a plus. Here’s hoping were past those days, but in all seriousness, the coverage was enjoyable.
  • Time to make the yearly shout out to all the fans who supported the women’s sessions. Though I’m worried how filled the stands might be without a home team judging by the emptiness of Monday evening’s men’s tilt lacking an SDSU team (we’ll forgive the fans based on the extinction of offense), that hasn’t been the case and the record-setting attendance numbers have continued. As for the static location of Sioux Falls as the host, don’t be fooled: The home-court advantage matters. Moving the tournament around would be infinitely better in the aspect of fairness to non-Dakota schools. But it’s a great town with great hosts, which makes it awful hard to complain otherwise. I’d challenge fans to travel if at all possible, make the trek, then weigh an opinion.

Thanks to all the media, players, and coaches who made it another memorable conference season. Let the real run begin.

Let’s just divide the camps right away.

Those who had a good weekend: Michigan, Gonzaga, Tottenham, Ryan Kelly, the undersized (Mark Hunt), the old guard (Wanderlei Silva), vikings, restless Walking Dead fans. And Joe Flacco’s agent. Especially him.

You might still have a hangover if you care for the following: Arizona, Arsenal, Michigan State, Conference USA (sorry) and I know I mentioned Sparty, but Keith Appling.

Are we going over the cliff here with Michigan State’s pseudo-point guard? The Pershing product was the catalyst for State’s victory over Kansas in the early season, and he surely wasn’t to blame for their close loss to then-unranked Miami. This reason stretch though, it’s fair to say that he’s been somewhat out of form.

Consider over the last five games his numbers: 12-for-48 FGs (25 percent), 2-for-22 3FGs (nine percent), 19-for-28 FTs (68 percent), 13 assists, 14 turnovers (0.9 A/T ratio).

Basically, Appling needs to find his feet. And this happens, doesn’t it? Just a month ago Kansas head coach Bill Self essentially threw guard Elijah Johnson under the bus while the Jayhawks’ collective fan base threw it in reverse. Since, Johnson has had a 2-to-1 A/T ratio in his last five and combined with officials to give KU a spectacular win over Iowa State. This is a season where bad stretches are forgotten like last week’s No. 1 team in the AP poll. Let’s not forget Appling’s basketball DNA, though. It’s no secret that he’s undersized to play the off-guard but is going to give you headaches if you have aspirations of him fitting into the mold of running an elite team at the point. Denzel Washington Valentine was muted on Sunday, but you may remember he was actually quite effective playing the point in stretches when State tamed the Wolverines in East Lansing. Appling and Travis Trice both return next year, but for a player with such great IQ on the floor, it’s worth wondering if Tom Izzo should give him some run at the point more in the future.

Other thoughts on the game? Not all blame should be placed on Appling, as Derrick Nix was less than spectacular. Penn State and late game-fadeaway 3s aside, Trey Burke seems under-appreciated at times. If I could promise Burke he’d go unscathed through his senior year, I’d absolutely advise him to return and coax back anyone else with aspirations of departing. Ingrain yourself into the history of the program. I know he’s going to make money with that rookie contract, I just wonder with his size how good Burke can be at the next level.

Along with Burke, incredible set of performances by some of the best in the sport this weekend: The MC2 (McDermott, McLemore), Welcome Back Kelly, and Otto Porter Jr. Attention, Joe Dumars: You’ve emptied out the small forward position at this team of any future starters. You need one. This guy would fit pretty darn good. If things went chalk today, Detroit would pick No. 9 in the NBA Draft. Unless Porter utterly falls off the wagon for the rest of March, I can’t imagine Porter will last until then. He’s not going to be a star but I think he’s a long-term starter in the league, and a perfect compliment to that team.

Lots of other quick hits:

  • Qatar, minority owner, United Arab Emirates, anyone: I’m all for FIFA’s Fair Play, but what a rough go it is being an Arsenal fan this year, and that’s not to speak of Sunday’s defeat in the North London Derby at WHL. This squad needs saving and an opening of the pocket book for some help this summer, as until the Manchester City-types decide to adopt to a more-reasonable spending model, the second-tier of great teams will even be left behind. Can Gareth Bale carry Tottenham to glory for another two months of Premier League action? Fair to wonder now if he’s been the best player of the season, let alone February. He’s becoming a “Price of Admission” athlete in the sport, much like Neymar and Ronaldo and such. 
  • More on Oakland at a later date, but a disappointing end to them for the regular season being swept by Fort Wayne. Not often will Travis Bader shoot so poorly from outside, but time to acknowledge the ‘Dons as a legit sleeper as Sioux Falls looms this weekend. Big ups to Western Illinois, also. I’ll probably have a Summit-only piece coming up in a few days.
  • Speaking of bad, a real mixed bag in the weekend of combat sports. Boxing? Flat-out thumbs down. Evgeny Gradovich upset IBF Featherweight champ Billy Dib, but not even 50 Cent could save it from being an atrocity. The scoring of a split decision would only be an ominous foreshadowing of scoring to come for Saturday’s UFC on Fuel set in Japan, where some cards from judges were unforgettable in the worst way, but none more mind-numbing than Diego Sanchez’s split-decision victory over Takanori Gomi. Oh, by the way, Sanchez missed weight for the fight as well, leading to it being fought at a catch of 158 lbs. Thankfully, those who stayed awake were rewarded by highlight finishes in the last two fights from Mark Hunt and the legend Wanderlei Silva. Where each of them goes next will be interesting in terms of matchmaking from the UFC brass.

    Many casual fans joked of the height discrepancy between Mark Hunt and Steven Struve prior to their bout Saturday in Japan, until Hunt proved to be a giant killer late in the fight.

  • No one’s made more NFL noise lately as of Monday afternoon than the Chiefs, who are retaining the services of WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, and at least in the short term T Brandon Albert, who was tagged in hopes of a longer deal being inked. It means that with the addition of QB Alex Smith, the team should again become, one would assume, one of the most-improved teams in the off-season. I expect in terms of wins and losses, they should join the Lions as two teams who you’d expect to make a push in the right direction again in 2013. How will re-signing Albert effect the two teams? Well, it could open the door for the Chiefs front office to consider Lions’ target CB Dee Milliner with the No. 1 pick instead of someone like LT Luke Joeckel, but I think trading down now becomes a very enticing option. I mentioned on Twitter that doing so and still weighing the prospect of drafting QB Geno Smith if the price is right has to still be in the cards.
  • Some non-sports banter: This week’s The Walking Dead episode was a real treat. The acting was spectacular, from Lennie James reprising his role as a broken man in Morgan, to the prolific on-screen chemistry between Carl and Michonne, who both figure to step forward in prominence with some emotional growth in “Clear.” Rick sorting out his own mental issues through Morgan played out well, and the melancholy and nostalgia both hearkened the episode back to the quality of the show’s first season. That Scott Gimple penned the epsiode, the series’ showrunner for the fourth season after the departure of Glenn Mazzara, seems a good of a sign as any considering the last couple episodes were lacking in sensibility and gusto.

 

As a quick plug, don’t forget to keep up with Punched Out Radio, 4 p.m. ET on WXOU. Co-host Chris Ingram and I had Oakland men’s basketball asst. coach Darren Sorenson on last week in what was some great banter. Look forward to some more great guests this week and every Friday.

Maybe you’ve heard that offense in college basketball has been trending down lately.

That’s the peculiar thing about college, though: You’re often living in a bubble. The news is dictated differently, usually by word of mouth.  Stories you’d sometimes of caught wind of from your parents that bares mentioning goes unnoticed.

So forgive us Summit League folks. Bubble talk isn’t normally our game, but this time, we’re inside and must have missed the memo.

First, there’s the numbers, which state that the conference is right on par with the rest of Division-I, hovering around 68.1 points per game. Considering that two of its members in North Dakota State and Western Illinois rank in the bottom four of 347 teams in adjusted tempo (via kenpom.com), it seems the numbers could be lower.

And yet, isn’t this is an aesthetically-driven issue? In that regard, things have gone swimmingly. Thanks to national writers like CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander, Nate Wolters permeated the high-major conference talk and landed on the radar of college hoops aficionados, and that was before last Thursday’s tour de force in Fort Wayne. Also, consider that if you average the points per game of North Dakota State and Western Illinois coupled with those of South Dakota State and Oakland, you get 69.1.

Nate Wolters’ 53 points in Fort Wayne became tops of any Division-I player this season, even Travis Bader’s previous high of 47.

Which appropriately leads to a meeting at the pass of four teams. Just a week ago, it appeared as if only three teams would be making a serious expedition to glory in Sioux Falls, but an unexpected twist of a tweaked rotation and disciplined play has added another climber in Oakland.

Injuries coupled with strong runs of form have prompted opinions contrary to the standings. Factoring in the standings, the rest of the schedule and factors in play at the conference tourney, here’s a guess at the hierarchy of teams best positioned to rep the Summit in the Big Dance:

1. South Dakota State – The team that garnered all but one of the first-place votes in the preseason poll still leads the pack. Like the Bison, they sit one-half game behind Western Illinois, but several factors work in their favor. You could argue that having Wolters is the foremost advantage in a league where all the contending teams are thriving at the point. The Jackrabbits have also put the stretch of playing the other three contending teams on the road behind them, and were the only team to beat the Leathernecks in their own yard. Then there’s the crowd factor in Sioux Falls, where SDSU is always the home team regardless of jersey colors. The road goes through the boys from Brookings.

2. Oakland – One of the two tougher teams to position, but the temperature is hot. Despite being two games behind Western Illinois, all other significant obstacles seem behind Greg Kampe’s group. They split the series even with the other contenders, with all three home victories against the other significant others coming in their past five games, all triumphs.

So what makes the Grizz next best? It seems the kinks have been ironed out at the ideal time. Dante Williams has seen double-digit playing time in five of Oakland’s last six, but hadn’t that amount of run previously since Dec. 1 at Western Michigan. Clearly, though, the transfer from Providence is the x-factor. After watching two memorable floor generals sewn from differing threads in Johnathon Jones and Reggie Hamilton come through, Duke Mondy was clearly underwhelming early in the season, making critical errors with his ball-handling and displaying uneven shooting performances. With Ryan Bass moving into the starting lineup and Mondy to the bench, he’s been a revolution. OU’s last loss, an uncharacteristic blowout at home versus South Dakota, they turned the ball over 18 times. In the winning streak since, Oakland’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been 1.92, which would easily surpass D-I leader Notre Dame over the full season (1.67).

3. Western Illinois
4. North Dakota State – Both their fates seemed tied together, with a great deal resting on Thursday’s tilt between the two teams.

Assuming the Jackrabbits defeat Western Illinois at home (not unfair after winning on the road) and Oakland avoids any upsets with them, the two will finish 13-3 and 12-4, respectively. Of course, that’s no guarantee, but the gap between the best and the rest has been fairly discernible.

It just seems fate has dealt North Dakota State a cruel hand (or foot?) with the Taylor Braun injury that struck in January. Home or away, it’s unclear whether or not the Bison have the firepower to dispatch of the league’s best without NDSU’s leading scorer. They’ve failed to beat the other three contenders without him, and I think his ability on the wing is the difference between the two team’s firepower.

I see a win for Western Illinois allowing them to finish at 13-3, and a lesser head-to-head record with SDSU would leave them the No. 2 seed. Similarly, though Oakland and North Dakota State potentially finish 12-4, the Bison seem more likely to also come up short H2H with a higher-seeded team in WIU, meaning they get slotted to No. 4.

A prediction: Taylor Braun’s bill of health will truly be a looming factor headed into Sioux Falls. With him, a victory similar to the one they squeezed out in Fargo this season is possible. Meanwhile, Oakland is playing perhaps the best basketball in the conference. If the seeding plays out as prognosticated, I foresee another scoring epic battle between Wolters and Oakland’s Travis Bader in the tourney final.

If it’s how the fates align, it’s safe to assume the offense will be alive and well when everyone’s looking inside the bubble.

ESPN’s BracketBusters have been a bit of a conundrum for Summit League teams and coaches.

On one hand, it’s undoubtedly a great spotlight for a league that receives little fanfare on the major networks until March comes around, or a dominant player (Nate Wolters) or performance (Travis Bader) permeates the national consciousness of college basketball’s mainstream. On the other, it contorts practices, schedules and times to be less than ideal for a conference that features a greater amount of travel and the wear and tear that comes about with it.

Regardless, the conference as a whole seems to have benefited once again this year, grabbing two prime time games on consecutive nights, as is mentioned below.

Known games and opponents are as follows (times listed are ET):

Bowling Green at IPFW
Cleveland State at Western Illinois
North Dakota at Nebraska-Omaha
North Dakota State @ Akron (2/22, 7 p.m. on ESPN2)
Oakland vs. Morehead State
South Dakota at Montana State (2/23, 2 p.m.)
South Dakota State at Murray State (2/23, 8 p.m. on ESPN2)
UMKC at Tennessee Tech
Wisconsin-Milwaukee at IUPUI (2/23, 3 p.m.)

A breakdown of opponents by conference: Big Sky Conference (2), Horizon League (2), MAC (2), Ohio Valley Conference (3).

In case you were wondering, a few of last year’s Summit League departees are also in  this year’s BracketBusters: Weber St travels to Oral Roberts (Southland), and Cal State-Northridge plays at Southern Utah (Big Sky).

Remember when your parents and teachers said not to stare into the sun when you’re a little kid? How it’ll damage your eyes? It begs the question: How many other senses are damaged, aside from your eyes, if you stare at ESPN’s “First Take” for too long?

I’m glad that Bun B likes Jemele Hill, and don’t get me wrong, Rob Parker getting the boot is one small step for sportskind. But what is this panel of wrong? Jemele, Suh over Barry? WRONG. Skip, you were a high school baller extraordinaire? WRONG. And what’s it say about Herm Edwards to be surrounded by…this?

Progress.

This is damaging to your six senses. Yes, common sense included. It’s so bad that sometimes Bayless looks right. Like when Herm and Hill Inc. talked Friday about how Tim Tebow needs to be a team player and adapt to the NFL YOU MUST BE THIS KIND OF QB TO RIDE philosophy. Were those two hiding in the Rob Parker Fallout Bunker© this whole season, not watching all these rookie quarterbacks have offenses completely tailored to them? Newsflash, Herm: Coaches want to keep coaching, and general managers want to stay in their jobs, too. NFL teams are adapting to the strengths of their quarterbacks right out the gate, and have stopped trying to put a square peg into a circle.

Parents, family, friends: Tell your friends to look away. This is just one shining example. Repeated viewing has long-lasting effects.

What a great week for college hoops. Wednesday night saw a handful of ranked teams trailing or struggling. We saw a majority of them bare the chinks in their armor (Note to Illinois: Still too many 3s), and the underdog teams showed why they’re underdogs (Seton Hall, too many TOs against a ball-hawking Louisville). I continue to be impressed with New Mexico,who’ve only lost to two high-caliber mid-major squads in South Dakota State and Saint Louis. The biggest takeaway, though?

Ben McLemore, Alpha Dog.

Maybe Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is the Player of the Week, but McLemore owned the night, and the bank. Perfect from deep and the line, McL tore it up to the tune of 33 points, including the glass triple to tie the game with a second left against Iowa State, and the Jayhawks slammed the door shut in overtime. Only two of his points came in OT, so the stats weren’t heavily padded. He even added two blocks for good measure.

Call me a biased Kansas fan, but has anyone seen their stock rise more in the sport this season? Remember, the knock on McLemore after being redshirted due to high-school academic records was that he didn’t have the genes to carry a team in clutch time like his former AAU teammate Bradley Beal. Let’s all just collectively admit how wrong we were. Barring a monumental collapse, there’s little chance he slides out of the top five in next year’s NBA Draft, and could go as high as third. I’m willing to bet McLemore’s emergence as a void now fully filled for the Jayhawks and Arizona’s Thursday night loss to Oregon bumps Kansas to a No. 1 seed in the next edition of Bracketology.

Last week’s picks were good ones. All favorites, but went 3-0 regardless. Here’s a trio for this weekend:

Seattle 24, Atlanta 20 – The Seahawks have had a stingy defense all season, but this one will be a tough test. They’ll want to limit Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers when he’s in, keeping those two at a minimum in short-yardage situations. The larger task at hand for Seattle’s premium corners will be their matchups, and you have to think one big play at the least is possible in front of a roaring home crowd. Will losing kicker Steven Hauschka be an underrated factor for Seattle? He hasn’t missed one yet all season, so if a long opportunity arises, how much faith will Pete Carroll put in newly signed Ryan Longwell? Still, Lynch should gash Atlanta on the ground as teams have done before this. I think that’s the difference in what’s a much easier game to pick on the NFC side this week.

New England 34, Houston 17 – I said last week each team’s QB in the Cincy-Houston contest would make a complete head-shaking play. Heck, Andy Dalton would have had another costly one in the books if Kareem Jackson had held onto an INT. But if you think the Texans can survive mistakes like the one Matt Schaub gifted to Leon Hall early last week against the Patriots? In the playoffs? Notta. But I’m giving the Texans some props, right? The last meeting yielded a 28-point differential in favor of the Pats. But we know that Houston is a team that makes its living running the ball. They’ll fall behind and be forced to go for broke too early and too often in Foxboro.

Arsenal 1, Manchester City 1 – This is a bold prediction, seriously. These two squads have played with the  utmost aesthetic displeasure in the eyes of many fans as of late, with only five total goals scored between the teams in their last five games at Emirates. The visitors will be missing a number of their finest. The Toure Twins, Yaya and Kolo, are both gone to the Africa Cup of Nations. Sergio Aguero (hamstring) and Samir Nasri (suspension) are both missing. Following the misstep against Swansea (was it one, after disposing of Chelsea?), Arsenal would likely suffice for the sole point, but perhaps Arsene Wenger’s XI will push knowing that City is at its weakest. I’ll gander that an excellent long strike or free kick nets one for the Gunners, while Carlos Tevez or Edin Dzeko slip past Arsenal’s central defense for one in another deadlock.

Top picks for the DVR if you’re out on the town this weekend. We’re going five deep with playoff football:

1. NFL Playoffs – Baltimore @ Denver (Saturday, 4:30 ET, CBS)
2. NFL Playoffs – Green Bay @ San Fransisco (Saturday, 8 ET, FOX)
3. CBB – Minnesota @ Indiana (Saturday, Noon, Big Ten Network) – 
My top college hoops game of the weekend. More interesting than Duke (@ NC State) and Michigan (@ Ohio State), who I think both take care of business.

It’s worth considering the notion that Kansas City’s waistline can’t expand any further to make room for more fat coach jokes, particularly during the holiday season.

Mark Mangino, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and now Andy Reid. Let the laughs begin, right?

Fact is, no one’s been laughing during a period of time where only another team down I-70, the St. Louis Rams, has been mired in as much mediocrity. How did things get so bad, a transition from beloved characters (Dick Vermeil, Will Shields) to comic book-esque villains like foul-mouthed Todd Haley and Scott Pioli?

So perhaps it’s someone who’s dealt with it himself who can dig one of the NFL’s more storied franchises in the Chiefs out of tragedy. Somewhat like the team Reid left, and another team picking in the top five of this year’s NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions, the Chiefs have cornerstones to build around with upward trajectory in sight. Jamaal Charles is a speed back who figures to fit appropriately into Reid’s history of speed backs with the potential to catch a vast number of balls out of the backfield. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are Pro Bowl pieces in the front seven, and Eric Berry is around to fill the playmaker role ala Brian Dawkins at safety.

Though many said the same about Pioli previously, it’s a fine grab by Clark Hunt and the Chiefs, giving them a guy who instills a greater level of confidence than Herm Edwards did at the helm. Reid has his quirks (pass first) and flaws (a bit gadget-play obsessed), but he at least temporarily clears the dark shroud that’s grown increasingly opaque this past season. Now, the rest of the NFL figures to wonder how Reid and his yet-to-be-named GM will handle the first pick in the draft.

Speaking of, a few quick picks for this weekend:

  • Seattle 24, Washington 17 – Chances are the Rookie of the Year award is decided in this one. Here’s the tantalizer in Russell Wilson indicators for this game: Do you go buy Wilson’s unimpressive away split (9/8 TD-INT ratio), or believe that he’s not the same QB he was in the season’s first half? There’s no doubt that CenturyLink Field serves as a distinct advantage for the Seahawks. A few factors play into this pick: Brandon Browner returns from his four-game suspension, returning the secondary to full strength, and KR Leon Washington gives the Seahawks the advantage in the third phase. 
  • Houston 23, Cincinnati 20 – Both teams seem to be going in opposite directions, but I don’t think they’ve crossed each other at the pass just yet. The Bengals have feasted on a number of weak teams in the second half, and Andy Dalton seems to make too many critical mistakes at the worst times, and for a quarterback who works best when he has plenty of time, that may prove problematic with J.J. Watt coming full throttle. Both quarterbacks might make a mistake that has their fan base face-palming, but I think a clock-eating drive and a game that sees Houston lean on the run game allows the Texans to win this one on a late field goal.
  • Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma 27 – A conservative prediction, this one could get uglier. Johnny Manziel is the chic story in Friday night’s game, but the Aggies will really punish Oklahoma on the ground. Texas A&M has plenty of motivation, and Manziel erased doubt that he can deliver against a top-notch defense when they put Alabama to rest.

If you’re out or watching otherwise, I recommend you save space on your DVR for a few other contests this weekend:

  1. CBB – Ohio State @ Illinois (Saturday, 2:15 ET, Big Ten Network)
  2. CBB – Georgetown @ Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 ET, ESPN3)
  3. Serie A, AS Roma @Napoli (Delayed, Sunday, 9:00 ET, beIN Sport)