Monday, January 9, 2012

BCS Championship: LSU wins, covers spread

When tonight’s BCS National Championship game is history and when LSU is walks off the field victorious, for me to pick up one last win in my entry in a college post-season bowl pool and a self-fashioned contest with Sports Illustrated, the Tigers must have scored at least a safety more than the Crimson Tide, the two-point version of the safety not the one-pointer.

A one-point safety, you may ask? Yes, but more on that later.

Tonight, the college football season is reduced to one game. It’s the second-coming this year of LSU and Alabama on the gridiron. I cannot win my bet with Sports Illustrated but finishing only one game back would be good for me. There’s not really a bet with SI, no monetary exchange on the line, no pride for one to gain on the other. It’s my own simple contest in the guessing game of choosing bowl winners this year. After 34 preliminary post-season games, the chooser—Andy Staples—at SI has 24 wins and 10 losses, and I’m at 22-12. The difference in our selections: the Sports Illustrated tally is based on picking a winner; mine is from picking a winner using a point spread.

My guessing started when I received the annual email from a friend of my brother-in-law. The guy is an acquaintance to me but we’ve known each other for several years, through my wife’s brother. I’m not sure how long he has organized this contest or how many entries he receives but he donates 50 percent of the $5.00 entry fee to a charity. The remainder is paid to the top four finishers, and he returns the admission charge to the person who places last. I presume with a 22-12 record at this point, last place is out of the question.

Over the years I’ve done rather well in the annual college basketball tournament bracket guessing games, but I’ve never scratched picking bowl winners. Usually, after a handful of games, I’ve lost interest in the bowl pool and just watched the games for my love of college football. This year, I made it a contest within a contest, competing against Sports Illustrated’s selections of the bowl winners as announced in its December 19, 2011 edition. (My brother-in-law is not as interested. “I tossed both of my entries into the trash a long time ago,” he said recently.)

So, here’s how it worked: In the mid-December print edition (also on line), Staples previewed the first 34 bowl games with a short paragraph which ended with his score prediction. For instance, in the first game, the 2:00 p.m. December 17 New Mexico Bowl, Staples picked Temple 28, Wyoming 17. The spread on my brother-in-law’s friend’s contest was Wyoming plus 6.5 points. So, when I added the points in the pool to the points in SI, I came up with a final score of Temple 28, Wyoming 23.5. I picked Temple. Final score: Temple 35, Wyoming 15. Victory for me in game one. Victory for Staples and SI as well. Both 1-0 out of the gate.

Competing in a pool with point spreads is tough. You find yourself cheering for a team to win but not by many. In the Music City Bowl, I had Wake Forest plus 6.5 points. But the desire for the Deacons to win outright was not in me, for some reason. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Baptist Church and always think of Wake Forest as Hell-Fire-and-Damnation, or maybe it’s because the Deacons beat my NC State this year. When Mississippi State missed an extra point, I was thrilled. Final score: Mississippi State 23, Wake Forest 17. I won by half a point. SI won by picking MSU outright. And so it went.

SI picked Clemson; I had West Virginia plus 3.5 points. Final: WVA 70, Tigers 36. I also had Oklahoma State giving 3.5 points to Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma State won 41-38. SI picked OSU. For what it’s worth, without the point spread, just picking winners, I’m 23-11, but with the point spread, my record is 22-12.

The only game SI didn’t pick in mid-December was the LSU-Alabama BCS National Championship game. I had to place my bets before the first of the 35 bowl games was played. At that time, the line was Alabama plus 1.5 points. My pick is LSU. That was December  16th. Sports Illustrated just recently used eight pages of its publication to tell us why Alabama will win 13-10. Of course, just to pull within one game of Staples and maybe to place in the money in my brother’s-in-law friend’s bowl pool, LSU wins tonight by at least a safety.

Oh yeah, the one-point safety explanation: If you’re familiar with football in the simplest of ways, you know there’s a two-point safety scored for the defense when a player with the ball on offense is tackled in its own end zone. Example: Quarterback fades back to pass and is tackled in the end zone, two points for the defense.

However, there are two ways—one way for the offense and one way for the defense—to score one-point safeties. It can happen when a team is trying to score an extra point, either a one- or two-point attempt. The offense’s kick is blocked and a member of the defense picks up the ball and voluntarily back-tracks into the end zone and is tackled. The team trying the PAT kick gets one point. Same if the offense is trying to run or pass for two and the ball is fumbled or intercepted outside the end zone and the player on defense, recovering or intercepting, back tracks into the end zone and is tackled. Offense gets one point. According to Wikipedia, this actually happened in 2004 in a game between Texas A&M and Texas. That’s one point for the offense.

The other way for a one-point safety is for the defense. The PAT—kick or run or pass—is blocked, fumbled, or intercepted, and the defense advances the ball the entire length of the field to get the PAT score itself, but the player fumbles near the goal line. A member of the offense (which tried the PAT) recovers the ball outside the end zone and runs into that end zone and is tackled. The defense is awarded a point. In other words, the offense scores a touchdown; the defense gets a safety; the score is 6-1. This has never happened. (By the way, if I’ve wrongly interpreted the one-point safety, please correct me in the comments section below.)

We’ve seen a lot of good games, high scoring and low scoring, in college football this year so seeing a one-point safety by the offense or defense is not out of the question, but hopefully it will not happen tonight, especially if it helps Alabama cover the 1.5 points. Go LSU! Win and cover that spread!

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