Usain Bolt will compete at the World Track and Field Championships starting Saturday, but because of the injuries and drug scandals that recently plagued his rivals in the sport, the all-star sprinter will likely walk away with three gold medals without much of a challenge.The recent doping scandals involving Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell have put a damper on the championships, one that Bolt can discredit with a peak performance. Bolt has consistently tested negative for banned substances.Bolt’s teammate, Yohan Blake, who is the defending world champion in the 100-meter had to withdraw from the world championships after a hamstring injury sidelined him for most of this season.Bolt’s most formidable challenger in the championship 100-meter may be American Justin Gatlin. Gatlin, who also has a history of doping, received the bronze medal in the 100-meter race at last year’s Olympic Games.The American sprinter anticipated a star-studded event and appeared surprised by the lack of sprinters in the 100-meter this year.“‘After the 2012 Olympics, I was telling people who weren’t into track and field, ‘Hold onto your popcorn because next year is going to be even more exciting. We’re going to have the same people,’ Gatlin said. ‘Never in a million years would I think it would end up like this. I still think it’s going to be exciting.’”The Track and Field World Championships are from Aug. 10 to Aug. 18. Usain Bolt will be running the 100- and 200 meter races and the 4 x 100-meter relay.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick may start on Sunday against the New York Giants.Vick participated in practice three straight days this week, and on Friday he will undergo a tough physical test to determine if he can play for the first time since hurting his leg on Oct. 6.“Gotta get out here and run,” Vick said Thursday. “Tomorrow’s not a walk-through day for me.”The evaluation will be a simple test.“Run 100 yards as fast as I can,” he said.QB Nick Foles has played for the Eagles since Vick’s injury, but he suffered a concussion last Sunday in a game against the Cowboys.Coach Chip Kelly said he and Vick have yet to talk about whether he will start or not. The coach said the determination will be made by Vick’s progress.“We’ll see where Mike is,” Kelly said. “Again it’s how do you respond?”
Perhaps more surprising than the fact that another defending champ fell was just how Germany managed to let its chance slip away. It peppered South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo with scoring attempts, out-shooting the Koreans 26-11 and holding possession for 70 percent of the match. According to ESPN’s expected goals model, we would predict that a team with Germany’s opportunities would net 2.9 goals — instead, it scored zero.It was the sixth-most expected goals that any team has had during this World Cup; the five teams above Germany averaged 3.6 actual goals per game. But Germany was unable to break through when even one goal potentially would have been enough to propel it to the next phase of the tournament. (South Korea’s late goals were essentially the product of Germany playing an all-out offensive strategy, knowing it needed to win outright because of Sweden’s lead over Mexico in the other group game happening at the same time.) According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Germany’s 2.9-goal shortfall was the worst in any World Cup match since 1966: Biggest upsets of the 2018 World CupFor match winners, according to pregame Soccer Power Index odds Jun. 22Nigeria2Iceland0343036 DateTeamScoreTeamScoreWinDrawLose DateTeamOpponentExpectedActualDiff. 7/19/1966ItalyNorth Korea1.90-1.9 6/25/2014FranceEcuador1.80-1.8 6/27/2018GermanySouth Korea2.90-2.9 6/17/2014BrazilMexico1.80-1.8 6/30/2014GermanyAlgeria4.52-2.5 Say goodbye to another defending World Cup champion: Germany, the team that won it all four years ago, is officially out of the 2018 tournament. Despite ultimately only needing a win over South Korea — the fourth-worst team in the field, according to our pre-tournament soccer power index ratings — to advance to the knockout round, the Germans were upended 2-0 on Wednesday in what was easily the biggest upset of the World Cup thus far. (Going into the match, our model only gave South Korea a 5 percent probability of winning.) Jun. 27South Korea2Germany05%14%81% Source: ESPN Stats & Info The World Cup’s most disappointing games since 1966Biggest single-match gaps between actual and expected goals, 1966-2018 6/14/1978PolandArgentina2.10-2.1 6/19/1974NetherlandsSweden2.00-2.0 Source: ESPN Stats & Info 6/18/2006CroatiaJapan2.00-2.0 6/18/2014SpainChile2.00-2.0 Expected Goals 7/1/2014SwitzerlandArgentina2.10-2.1 Jun. 25Saudi Arabia2Egypt1232849 The loss had a major ripple effect on the rest of the World Cup. With Germany — which we rated as the team most likely to make the Round of 16 going into the tournament (oops!) — on the sidelines, Brazil added 3.5 percentage points to its odds of winning the World Cup. That’s the most of any team — Brazil might have faced the Germans in the next round had they advanced — but England and Belgium were the next-biggest gainers (other than Sweden, which punched its ticket to the knockouts by beating Mexico) because of their own potential proximity to Germany in the bracket.Now there’s one fewer powerhouse for the top teams to contend with — and one more defending champion to toss onto the pile of recent disappointments.Jay Boice contributed research. UnderdogFavoriteWinner’s Pregame Probabilities
The best thing to happen to the Washington Nationals this offseason might be Bryce Harper turning down the $300 million contract offered by the club at the end of the season. Rather than allocating vast resources to one free agent superstar, the Nationals made smaller moves to shore up their weak spots, signing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin on Tuesday to bolster their rotation and adding two catchers earlier in the offseason.It wasn’t clear if the Nationals would be able to compete without Harper. But according to some forecasts, they are already better without him. They have improved themselves in a National League East where every team — save for the Miami Marlins — seems intent on trying to dramatically improve this offseason.After the Nationals finished 82-80 last season, FanGraphs projects them as the sixth-best team in the majors at the moment — the best team in the division — with a 91-71 forecasted record. While it’s unclear whether the Nationals still want to compete for Harper, they don’t need him to improve over last season.Baseball is a weak-link sport, meaning that the quality of the minor contributors on a team is more important than in a sport like basketball, where star power is paramount. Baseball, by rule and nature, spreads around opportunity more uniformly. A slugger hits only once every turn through a lineup, an ace pitcher pitches once every five days. The same is true for the light-hitting starting shortstop and the back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. While it’s possible to win with a stars-and-scrubs approach, that’s inherently riskier, given that one injury can derail a club’s entire season. That’s one reason that a successful MLB team rarely allocates more than 16 percent of its payroll to one player.With this in mind, the most efficient way to improve may be to strengthen the weakest links of a roster, not to target brand-name stars as saviors. A team can improve itself quickly and often more efficiently by bringing the most underperforming areas of its roster closer to, or exceeding, average production. It’s an idea the NEIFI analytics company attempted to quantify. (NEIFI co-founder Adam Guttridge was hired by the Mets to lead their data-science department.)While Corbin wasn’t cheap — he signed a six-year, $140 million contract — he upgrades what was a top-heavy Nationals staff that had question marks after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Perhaps the Corbin signing was made possible by payroll flexibility coming from the club moving away from resigning Harper. Corbin could provide a similar production bump as Harper for a lesser cost. With his 3.5 forecasted WAR, Corbin projects as a 2.8-WAR upgrade over the Nats’ incumbent fifth-best starting pitching option, Joe Ross. (The Nationals project to receive 2.7 WAR from right fielders without Harper. Harper projects to produce 4.9 WAR in 2019.)But even before signing Corbin, the Nationals had cheaply and significantly improved upon their weakest link.The Nationals’ catchers have been among the most ineffective positional groups in recent seasons. Since 2015, the club ranks 27th in catcher wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. That mark doesn’t even include catcher framing metrics, in which the Nationals were also one of the worst teams in 2017 (-10.7 framing runs) and below-average last season (-4.5 framing runs), as reported by Baseball Prospectus. And according to weighted runs created plus, a measure of offensive ability that adjusts for park and run-scoring environments,1100 is league average. Nationals catchers were 27th in the majors, with a wRC+ mark of only 64.2All catchers combined for a wRC+ of 84 in 2018.So it makes sense that the Nationals made upgrading their catcher group a priority in acquiring Yan Gomes in a trade with the Cleveland Indians last week and signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million deal in mid-November.At a time when catcher is the weakest offensive position in baseball (84 wRC+), Suzuki and Gomes are average performers compared with all hitters but virtual stars compared with the rest of the catching field. Suzuki posted a 108 wRC+ with the Braves last season (and a 127 mark in 2017). Gomes had a 101 wRC+ in Cleveland (on top of a 92 career mark). The players represent a major upgrade over Matt Wieters, who entered the past two seasons as the club’s primary catcher. Gomes, who will likely be the starter, is an above-average defender for his career.Consider the upgrade Gomes and Suzuki would have provided over the past two seasons. Nationals catchers combined for 0.5 WAR IN 640 plate appearances last year, according to FanGraphs. Gomes and Suzuki combined for 4.2 WAR (3.3 WAR when adjusted for 640 plate appearances). In 2017, Nationals catchers produced an MLB-worst -1.2 WAR. In 692 plate appearances in 2017, Gomez and Suzuki combined for 4.3 WAR. Catcher depth is key as the position requires more off days and the risk of injury is higher.For comparison, Harper has averaged 3.8 WAR over the past three seasons.Harper has superstar upside, but he could require a record contract commitment — and the Nationals have an outfield loaded with talent in Adam Eaton and young stars Juan Soto and Victor Robles.(A warning to clubs pursuing Harper and Manny Machado: Of the five highest-paid players in MLB history, three — Alex Rodriguez three years into his deal, Giancarlo Stanton three years into his deal and Robinson Cano five years into deal — were eventually traded to New York clubs, and the other two, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, are nearly untradeable.)The Nationals are paying Suzuki a relatively modest $4 million in 2019, and Gomes is owed a club-friendly $7 million. In other words, the Nationals are paying a relative bargain if Gomes and Suzuki upgrade the position by 3 or more WAR, roughly what Harper has brought to the outfield in recent years. Without Harper, they had payroll flexibility to improve elsewhere.For every win above replacement, a player on the open market in 2017 could be expected to receive more than $10 million. By that measure, the Nationals have done well. With Corbin and the catcher upgrades, they project to have improved by 6 WAR at a cost of $34.3 million in 2019 when combining Gomes and Suzuki’s salaries with Corbin’s.The Nats are not the only NL East team to have filled voids.Josh Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million deal with the Braves after averaging 3.2 WAR per season the past two years. The defending NL East champs elected to take on short-term risk to seek reward in adding the talented but injury-prone Donaldson. With the addition, the Braves strengthened one of their few weak links and now project to be average or better at every position except left field.The Phillies had too many weak links last season, ranking 22nd or worse in six position groups according to Baseball-Reference.com: shortstop, second base, third base, left field, center field and right field. They addressed arguably their weakest link entering 2019, shortstop — ranking 30th in WAR last year — in landing Jean Segura from the rebuilding Seattle Mariners.Segura averaged 4 WAR the past three seasons, according to FanGraphs, and is signed to a club-friendly five-year, $70 million deal through 2022, with a club option for 2023. (The Phillies also shed the contract of Carlos Santana in the deal and added bullpen arms Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.) Segura is a borderline star. The Phillies have cash to fill other voids, and they need to do just that to beat their 78 projected wins. They could use that cash on either Harper or Machado, both of whom have reportedly been in their sights.As the for the Mets, new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been in search of brand-name star talent. In Cano, the Mets added a well-known star. But Cano does not directly address the Mets’ weaknesses. Second base tied with left field as the Mets’ most productive position group last season. Jeff McNeil had projected to be the club’s most valuable position player (3.0 WAR) — just shy of Cano (3.4 WAR projection), according to FanGraphs projections.3To make room for Cano, McNeil can play third, where Todd Frazier is penciled in, and perhaps other corner positions. Cano also played 88 innings at first base last season in Seattle.While Cano has aged well, he did turn 36 in October. He’s going to decline at some point. After receiving cash contributions from the Mariners, Van Wagenen — a former agent with no front office experience — gave a deal to Cano that amounts to a five-year, $60 million contract. Cano and elite reliever Edwin Diaz — who will upgrade a need area — cost the Mets dollars and two top 100 overall prospects in their No. 3 (Jarred Kelenic) and No. 4 ranked prospects (Justin Dunn) in the trade.The Mets ranked 20th or worse in the majors in production at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base and in their bullpen last season. The Mets didn’t need a star second baseman. They needed to strengthen their weakest links.
Although the Eastern Conference finals are still tied at two games apiece, we’re already looking ahead to the NBA Finals. In the video above, FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wonders which team would be a tougher matchup for the Warriors: the Bucks or the Raptors.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Longest playoff-opening winning streaks in NBA history YEARTEAMWINNING STREAKAVG. OPPONENT ELO 2012Spurs101602 2001Lakers111653 POINTS PER GAME MARGIN Another Cleveland playoff game, another hopelessly one-sided rout. With a 108-89 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, LeBron James and the Cavaliers kept their perfect 2016 playoff record intact, piling up a 10th consecutive win, and it looks like nothing will stand in Cleveland’s path to the NBA Finals. Where does this run rank among historical playoff starts?It’s near the top. The Cavs’ 10-game streak is tied for the third-longest to start the playoffs.1The longest playoff win streak, period, belongs to the 1999 San Antonio Spurs, who won 12 straight games. One way to quantify the impressiveness of those streaks is to use Elo ratings to judge the competition. The Cavs’ opponents have had an average rating of 1572 — lower than that of comparable teams like the 1989 Los Angeles Lakers (who were swept in the NBA Finals) and the 2012 San Antonio Spurs (who went on to lose four straight games to the Oklahoma City Thunder). And it leaves them far short of the 2001 Lakers, who went 15-1 en route to the championship. YEARTEAMWINSLOSSESRAWADJUSTED 2010Celtics103+6.2+14.4 1989Lakers111573 1982Lakers91558 1996Bulls91+14.3+16.9 Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2000Trail Blazers83+7.0+14.7 1986Celtics91+13.2+17.1 2001Lakers90+11.3+17.9 2009Cavaliers81499 1992Trail Blazers92+10.6+15.2 2005Heat81518 2014Spurs104+9.5+18.3 2010Magic81578 1950Lakers81550 2016Cavaliers100+13.4+19.8 Adjustments are for schedule strength and championship leverageSource: Basketball-Reference.com 2016Cavaliers101572 2009Nuggets93+13.4+15.6 2008Lakers102+8.8+14.2 Most dominant playoff starts since 1984 (through first two games of conference finals) But you can only beat the teams you play, and the Cavs haven’t just beaten them 10 straight times — they’ve made the Eastern Conference look like a high school tournament, embarrassing opponents in huge blowouts.In the playoffs thus far, Cleveland is winning by an average margin of 13.4 points per game, fourth-highest among conference finalists since 1984 (through two games of the third round). And they rise even higher after adjusting for strength of schedule and the championship leverage of each game. Because the Cavs have beaten better teams by more points in the games that have mattered most — to the extent any game can really be considered pressure-packed when you sweep every series — Cleveland’s adjusted margin of victory in these playoffs is 19.8 points, giving them the most dominant start to the playoffs since 1984. The next-best performance by this measure came in 2014, when the Spurs eventually beat LeBron in the NBA Finals. Perhaps those Spurs also illustrate a shortcoming in this metric — they did lose four games by the time they were two games into the conference finals — but they got three of the losses out of the way early in the playoffs, when the games have comparatively less effect on the championship. And they won by an average of 18 points a game from Game 7 of the first round on through our cutoff.Either way, between the two measures, we can strike a balance between only crediting a team’s wins and giving it a bonus for the margins by which it crushed opponents. And by that standard, the current Cavs’ run is only rivaled by the hot start of those fabled 2001 Lakers.So can the Cavs keep it going? Well, they’re still a long shot to go undefeated in the playoffs and cap off the long-unattainable Fo’ Fo’ Fo’ Fo’. Our model gives the Cavs just a 29 percent chance of winning the next two games and sweeping the Raptors (which would be the first Fo’ Fo’ Fo’ ever, since the first round only went to seven-game series in 2003) and a 1-in-80 chance of going 16-0. Still, that’s up from about 1-in-5,000 before the playoffs started; the Cavs’ title chances have also risen from 8 percent before the playoffs to 30 percent now.Those daunting championship odds owe a lot to Cleveland’s potential NBA Finals opponents. Unlike the ’01 Lakers, who got to face the relatively weak Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland will have to power through either Golden State or Oklahoma City, whichever of the two wins the most stacked conference final in recent history. As dominant as the Cavs have been, the real work is yet to come.Carl Bialik contributed to this article.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
2013 NLDSBraves265 2016 NLDSNationals465 2017 NLCSCubs264% SERIESOPPONENTGAME NO.OPPONENT’S HIGHEST WIN PROB. 2014 NLDSCardinals484 2015 NLDSMets279 2017 NLDSDiamondbacks272 Between 2013 and 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers won 369 regular-season ballgames (second-most in baseball) and played the second-most playoff games (30) of any MLB team. They advanced to the National League Championship Series twice, each time coming within a couple of wins of securing the franchise’s first pennant since 1988. But L.A. also had a knack for throwing away winnable games, losses that crippled any chance of postseason success. Whether they were falling short despite starting one of the best pitchers in the game or otherwise finding ways to lose, the Dodgers would show clear championship potential and then promptly bungle it.This year, however, Los Angeles has turned that narrative on its head. The Dodgers had MLB’s best regular-season record, and once again they’ve found themselves against teams with on-paper upset potential in the form of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. They’ve even found themselves trailing early on multiple occasions. And yet, L.A. has been the one storming back and winning at the expense of another team’s misery.Maybe these Dodgers really are different after all.During that 2013-16 period, the Dodgers lost nine playoff games during which they had at least a 60 percent chance of winning at some point, according to The Baseball Gauge — including five in which they had at least a 75 percent win probability. On the other side of the ledger, they won only six games in which they had at least a 60 percent chance of losing, and three with at least a 75 percent chance of losing. In other words, L.A. excelled at botching games from ahead and struggled to win from behind. This postseason, however, the Dodgers have three comebacks from win probabilities below 40 percent, including two against the Cubs to start the NLCS. And they didn’t let up with huge leads against the D-Backs in the Division Series — the kinds of games they ought to win but haven’t always in the past.Facing the defending champs, the Dodgers have been the ones performing heroics at the plate — in Game 2, Justin Turner cranked L.A.’s first postseason walkoff home run since Kirk Gibson’s iconic blast 29 years earlier (to the day). And the Cubs have made the head-scratching managerial decisions (Joe Maddon brought past-his-prime starter John Lackey into the ninth inning instead of closer Wade Davis). The Dodgers won even though Clayton Kershaw didn’t have his best stuff, a situation that has doomed them in playoffs past. They look every bit the part of the dominating club we saw at midseason, when they were clear World Series favorites.There’s still time for Chicago to mount a comeback of its own, of course. The Cubs were down 2-1 to the Dodgers last year, with only about a 30 percent chance of winning the series; right now, that probability is about 20 percent. But it would require one of the biggest LCS comebacks of the past couple decades, against a Dodgers team that might finally have all the pieces in place to escape its history of playoff disappointment. SERIESOPPONENTGAME NO.DODGERS’ HIGHEST WIN PROB. 2013 NLDSBraves478 2015 NLDSMets384 The Dodgers don’t choke anymorePostseason wins and losses by the Los Angeles Dodgers that featured big comebacks or collapses, 2013-17 2016 NLDSNationals279 Dodger comebacks (wins) … A big comeback or collapse is defined as games where the eventual loser had at least a 60% chance of winning at any point during the game.Source: The Baseball Gauge 2013 NLDSBraves373 2015 NLDSMets575 2014 NLDSCardinals198 2015 NLDSMets162 2013 NLCSCardinals568 2016 NLDSNationals367% 2013 NLCSCardinals174 2016 NLDSNationals577 2017 NLCSCubs175 … and Dodger collapses (losses)
Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB An archetype in absurdityItemized Absurdity Points for the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O’Brady’s (Rutgers 45, UCF 24) Bad teams1409 combined Elo3 CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) Bad teams1430 combined Elo3 Total Absurdity Score17 “Presented by”0 Bad teams1485 combined Elo3 Bad teams1589 combined Elo2 Name length27 characters2 Defunct company0 Total Absurdity Score12 Obscure/local company+2 Obscure/local company+2 Name length26 characters2 High scoring56.48 total points2 17 points: Makers Wanted Bahamas BowlItemized Absurdity Points for Toledo vs. FIU (Dec. 21) “Presented by”0 Name length30 characters3 CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) Bad teams1766 combined Elo2 Name length26 characters2 Sponsor industryFoods2 Base total13 Obscure/local company+2 Defunct company0 Finally, we arrive at No. 1 in our ranking, the first 17-point bowl in our sample — the brand-new Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. What it lacks in length (only 26 characters), it makes up for with bad teams (neither Toledo nor Florida International cracks a 1450 Elo rating), a nearly 70-point over/under according to Jeff Sagarin’s projections, a former sponsor list that includes Popeye’s (fast-food chicken!!!) and a ridiculous backstory that involves a town in Illinois spending taxpayer money to sponsor a college football game staged in the Bahamas in order to drum up business for the largest contiguous industrial park in North America. (“Makers Wanted” is a slogan that, this press release informs us, “serves as a call-to-action for Elk Grove Village’s thriving community and the thousands of businesses that are based there.”)It’s a fittingly absurd way to end our list of the most absurd bowl games of 2018. Enjoy the holidays and the bowl season, and don’t forget to spend time with friends and family between the football-watching. I look forward to what even greater absurdities next year’s bowls can bring to us in 2019.Old-School favorite from this tier:7Choosing from among 16-pointers, since the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl is the only 17-pointer in our data. BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl 14 points: Cheribundi Boca Raton BowlItemized Absurdity Points for UAB vs. Northern Illinois (Dec. 18) Sponsor industryRestaurants2 Sponsor industryRestaurants2 Defunct company0 Somehow, this bowl changed its name from the “St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O’Brady’s” and got even more absurd. In fact, in his story at SB Nation, Kirk makes a very compelling case that “Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl” is the single most ridiculous name in bowl history. In our accounting, it also ranks highly, if not No. 1, thanks to a strong combination of almost all of the factors we hand out credit for. The only reason it doesn’t rise further is a lack of bonuses; I debated listing Bad Boy Mowers as an “obscure company,” since they don’t have a Wikipedia page, but they’ve been around since 1998 and have about 500 employees. Either way, the bigger fix for a future version of our model might be a better way to quantify the inherent absurdity of the word “Gasparilla.” As mentioned earlier, this bowl’s absurdity calling-card is a sponsorship that applies to an extremely small slice of the people who will be watching it on TV. But the name is also really long (42 characters), and the Holiday Bowl isn’t too far removed from having a for-profit college as its primary sponsor, either.Old-school favorite from this tier: Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl Dot-com bubble0 12 points: San Diego County Credit Union Holiday BowlItemized Absurdity Points for Northwestern vs. Utah (Dec. 31) Name length42 characters3 Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) Sponsor industryLocal marketing4 Sponsor industryFinancial services0 Bad teams1609 combined Elo2 Obscure/local company+2 Obscure/local company+2 Dot-com bubble0 Many sponsors3 in 5 years3 High scoring51.61 total points2 BonusesPoints (0-4) “Presented by”+1 “Presented by”0 Base total10 High scoring46.24 total points2 BonusesPoints (0-4) Name length48 characters4 Base total13 Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB Defunct company0 Base total11 The Boca Raton Bowl is a relatively new entry on the list of postseason games and is in its second year of sponsorship with Cheribundi. What is Cheribundi, you ask? According to Wikipedia, it is a “company which sells a functional brand of cherry juice beverages,” and it used to be called CherryPharm. The “CherryPharm Boca Raton Bowl” might have been even more absurd than the actual name, but in either case, we have a game with truly bad teams (UAB and Northern Illinois), sponsored by a weird sector of the food industry, in a nonprestigious bowl played a full week before Christmas. That’s basically the kind of bowl our rating system was made for.Old-school favorite from this tier: California Raisin Bowl Many sponsors3 in 5 years3 Adding all of those up for each game, we can arrive at a total Absurdity Score that reflects just how silly a game is. Here’s an example from 2009 — the St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O’Brady’s — one of the most absurd bowls in history: “Presented by”0 Many sponsors3 in 5 years3 Defunct company0 Sponsor industryHeavy equipment2 Dot-com bubble0 CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB Many sponsors2 in 5 years2 As I’ve written before, I love college football’s bowl season. Sure, there are probably too many of these goofy exhibition games, and nowadays star players sometimes skip them entirely. But there’s still something nostalgic and fun about sitting down around the holidays and binge-watching football games between obscure teams you wouldn’t have watched otherwise. It wouldn’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s without going from zero knowledge about, say, Memphis’s offense to becoming a full-fledged expert in a matter of hours.And, of course, there’s also the ridiculousness of bowl-game names. If you want a hilarious trip down college-football memory lane, read Jason Kirk’s excellent SB Nation story ranking the silliest bowl names of all time. For me, nothing beats the fact that there have been actual bowls named after weed eaters and tart cherry drinks.In honor of the bowl season’s sheer absurdity, I decided to put a FiveThirtyEight spin on lists like the one Kirk assembled. For each game going back to 1985 — the dark days right before the dawn of rampant corporate bowl-naming rights — I developed a scoring system that awards “Absurdity Points” based on the following criteria:Name length. All else being equal, longer bowl names are more ridiculous. So while short, snappy names like the unsponsored 1995 Sun Bowl (eight characters) earn zero Absurdity Points, mouthfuls such as the “Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl presented by Bridgestone” (55 characters) get you near the 4-point maximum.Bad teams. Bowls were originally reserved for the best teams in the country, as a reward for an outstanding season (on top of being a way for warm-weather towns to drum up winter tourism from Northern fans). But the expansion of the bowls has significantly lowered the bar for how good a team needs to be to go bowling. So for our purposes,1Using the harmonic mean of the two teams’ Elo ratings as gauge of matchup quality. the national title game earns zero Absurdity Points as a rule, while a game like the 2017 Cure Bowl — between 6-5 Georgia State and 6-6 Western Kentucky — roughly gets the maximum of 4 Absurdity Points.High scoring. Another element of bowl ridiculousness is the sheer lack of defense being played. Although there is an argument that fewer points in a bowl between two bad teams is also absurd, we’re sticking to the idea that insane shootouts such as the 2001 GMAC Bowl (Marshall 64, East Carolina 61, in double-OT) are worthy of 4 Absurdity Points based on the total points scored. (Note that for 2018 bowls, I used the projected over/under on the game via Jeff Sagarin’s predictions.)Frequent sponsorship changes. Few things make a bowl look less prestigious than switching sponsors on a near-yearly basis. So I tracked how many different companies sponsored a bowl over the previous five years (including the year in question) and handed out Absurdity Points accordingly. Stable bowls like the Orange Bowl — sponsored by Capital One since 2014 — get zero points, while the Cactus, er, Cheez-it Bowl gets nearly the maximum of 4 points for going through four different sponsorship situations2Including not having an official sponsor in 2017. in five years.Sponsorship industry. We’re getting into even more subjective territory at this stage, but some industries are simply more absurd as bowl sponsors than others. Insurance companies are boring. So are other financial institutions (with the exception of housing loan companies before 2009). Those all get low marks. Restaurants get more points, particularly if they involve fast food and/or fried chicken, and so do weird retailers. And a multi-level marketing firm that sells dietary supplements and is sometimes accused of being a “pyramid scheme”? That’s worthy of 4 Absurdity Points.Bonus points. There are also a few specific ways to gain bonus Absurdity Points on the field. Any bowl whose name (or sponsoring company) contained “.com,” “.net,” etc. received the dot-com bubble bonus of 3 points. Faux-classy bowls that are “presented by” a sponsor (or tack on the word “Classic”) get an extra bonus of 1 point. For historical bowls, now-defunct sponsoring companies are worth a bonus of 3 points.3Partial credit is available here, since sometimes a brand like Jeep-Eagle can be discontinued while its parent company lives on. And finally, a bonus of up to 2 points can be awarded for any sponsor that is niche or regional for a nationally televised bowl game (think the San Diego County Credit Union, which sponsors the Holiday Bowl4Held at their eponymous stadium. despite being applicable only to persons living or working in San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties in California).5This is mainly based on national reach — for instance, if a company has a presence in 20 or fewer states, it will probably generate this bonus. Other factors to consider include a company’s annual revenue and its total number of employees. Dot-com bubble0 Many sponsors3 in 5 years3 BonusesPoints (0-4) BonusesPoints (0-4) 13 points: Walk-On’s Independence BowlItemized Absurdity Points for Temple vs. Duke (Dec. 27) 13 points: Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla BowlItemized Absurdity Points for Marshall vs. South Florida (Dec. 20) Obscure/local company0 Total Absurdity Score13 “Presented by”0 Base total12 CategoryEntryPoints (0-4) BonusesPoints (0-4) That bowl had a lot going for it. First, it gets the maximum of 4 points for the 48-character name — one of the longest in our database — plus 3 points for the 69 total points scored in the game. It also picks up solid grades for its mediocre teams, sponsorship turnover and company industry. (At base, restaurants are worth 2 Absurdity Points — not the most, but not the least either.) Plus, it gets a 1-point bonus for using the “presented by” tag and 2 more for being sponsored by the relatively obscure Beef O’Brady’s — a chain of sports pubs in the Southeastern U.S. with locations in only 19 states. Add it up, and the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O’Brady’s earned a total of 16 Absurdity Points.That’s pretty high — but this season has a bowl that scores even higher. Before we get there, though, let’s run down the entire 2018 field in reverse order of silliness, grouped by total Absurdity Points:5 pointsGoodyear Cotton Bowl ClassicCapital One Orange BowlAllstate Sugar BowlHyundai Sun BowlThese games earn marks about as low as you’ll see in the modern bowlscape. They all boast relatively short, catchy names; they generally feature good teams; and they don’t project for crazy scoring totals. Not even the pretentious “Classic” tacked on to the Cotton Bowl can boost its absurdity quotient by much. It’s like these bowls aren’t even trying to be ridiculous.Old-school favorite from this tier: Nokia Sugar Bowl6 pointsNew Era Pinstripe BowlValero Alamo BowlOutback BowlBelk BowlThe 6-pointers have potential but also flaws. “Belk Bowl” sounds kinda funny — and gets a bonus for the local nature of its department-store sponsor (Belk is in only 16 states) — but is undone by its alliterative plainness. The Outback Bowl has an anthropomorphic bloomin’ onion mascot, but it actually features decent, defensive-minded teams. (Ew.) And nothing about the Pinstripe Bowl really stands out in any category. I may as well just watch this old Alamo Bowl from 1998 with Drew Brees.Old-school favorite from this tier: Jeep-Eagle Aloha Bowl7 pointsR+L Carriers New Orleans BowlAutoZone Liberty BowlQuick Lane BowlRedbox BowlAt a glance, “R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl” has the makings of a promising candidate. Its name is relatively long — nothing that a stray “presented by” couldn’t draw out even further — and its teams (Appalachian State and Middle Tennessee State) are appropriately mediocre. But the shipping industry isn’t absurd at all, and like most of the other 7-pointers, it fails to pick up any bonuses. Up your game, New Orleans Bowl, and try again next year.Old-school favorite from this tier: Insight.com Bowl8 pointsRose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern MutualFranklin American Mortgage Music City BowlChick-fil-A Peach BowlAutoNation Cure BowlThe Rose Bowl’s name is ridiculously long (47 characters) and it gets a “presented by” bonus, too. But sadly, Ohio State and Washington are too good to help the Granddaddy of Them All rack up too many Absurdity Points. (The Music City Bowl also gets big points on length — 42 characters — though not much else.) Likewise, the Peach Bowl squanders its 3-point fast-food-chicken industry score6Why 4 points out of a possible 4 for fast-food chicken, specifically? Um, why not? with a good matchup (Florida vs. Michigan), and the Cure Bowl’s punchy name ruins any advantages drawn from its industry (a car dealership!) and crappy teams (sorry, Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane). Ultimately, this is the last of the relatively normal bowl-name groupings.Old-school favorite from this tier: Micron PC Bowl9 pointsLockheed Martin Armed Forces BowlRaycom Media Camellia BowlFamous Idaho Potato BowlTaxSlayer Gator BowlVRBO Citrus BowlSoFi Hawaii BowlDXL Frisco BowlNew Mexico BowlSome highlights from the 9-pointers: The Frisco Bowl is sponsored by DXL, a men’s big and tall apparel retailer (which is definitely worth 3 Absurdity Points). The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl gets a residual dot-com bubble bonus for being sponsored by TaxSlayer.com. The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is an overly long name, while Raycom Media is a very local Southern broadcasting company. VRBO is an absurd-looking acronym for a vacation-rental marketplace (and is the Citrus Bowl’s third sponsor in five years). The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is a huge mismatch (and is named for a potato-farming advocacy group). Still, none of these games really pulls together high marks in multiple categories, and that’s what keeps them from moving up the list.Old-school favorite from this tier: Culligan Holiday Bowl10 pointsMilitary Bowl presented by Northrop GrummanMitsubishi Motors Las Vegas BowlNova Home Loans Arizona BowlServpro First Responder BowlPlayStation Fiesta BowlAfter the 19 consecutive seasons it spent as the “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl” (which had a great ring to it) ended in 2014, the Fiesta Bowl is once again getting back to some measure of stability with Sony’s PlayStation as title sponsor for the third year in a row. That’s bad news for its Absurdity Score: Back in the heady days of fly-by-night obstacle-race BattleFrog’s 2016 sponsorship, the Fiesta graded out as a 16, a ridiculously high score for a prestige bowl. Now it simply ranks among a solid group that also includes the Las Vegas Bowl — now on its fourth different sponsorship situation in five years — and the Servpro First Responder Bowl, which used to be the perennial 16-point candidate (fast-food chicken!) Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.Old-school favorite from this tier: Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl11 pointsAcademy Sports + Outdoors Texas BowlJared Birmingham BowlDollar General BowlCamping World BowlCheez-It BowlNow this set of bowl names is nice and silly. There are points for funny products (Cheez-It snacks!), bad matchups (hello, Troy vs. Buffalo) and plenty of recent sponsor-switching. The Dollar General Bowl is somehow an upgrade on its former incarnation, the GoDaddy.com Bowl — which stopped existing in 2016 — but that should not obscure the fact that there is a Dollar General Bowl. (And Troy always seems to be in it.) Throw in a bunch of “who is Jared Birmingham?” jokes, and we’ve got a good tier right beneath the Top 5.Old-school favorite from this tier: galleryfurniture.com Bowl BonusesPoints (0-4) Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB Dot-com bubble0 High scoring68.77 total points3 Dot-com bubble0 Many sponsors3 in 5 years3 Base total15 Defunct company0 As for the Independence Bowl, the current “Walk-On’s” variation is just the latest in a fine tradition of ludicrous names. For instance, this is also the game that brought us the “AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl,” the “Duck Commander Independence Bowl” and the fabled “Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl” — still probably the ur-example of a laughable bowl sponsorship from the 1990s. For its part, Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar is a local Louisiana-based sports bar chain co-owned by Brees, who long since left his Builders Square Alamo Bowl days behind to quarterback the New Orleans Saints.Old-school favorite from this tier: Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl High scoring41.43 total points2 High scoring69 total points3 Points are awarded on a 0-4 scale where 0 is least absurd and 4 is most.Source: Sports-Reference.com/CFB Total absurdity score:16 Total Absurdity Score14 Total Absurdity Score13
Ohio State’s women’s lacrosse team rebounded from its season-opening loss with a 16-7 victory over American University.Coach Sue Stimmel said that she was happy about the play of her team’s defense. Before American was able to find the back of the net, the Eagles were down 4-0. “Our offense started off slow and sloppy but then picked up,” Stimmel said.The offense did step up, securing a 10-1 advantage in the first half. In this near-flawless session, the Buckeyes scored more goals than American attempted shots.“We came out strong. After the loss last week we knew we had to play strong,” sophomore Gabby Capuzzi said. Six different Buckeyes scored goals in the first half, including Capuzzi with two.OSU flexed its muscles at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, scoring eight consecutive goals.“In the second half, we tried to get some different people in and got out of rhythm,” Stimmel said. With an 11-goal lead the Buckeyes started to substitute. Stimmel was able to allot 26 different players some time on the field.However, with the giant lead sophomore Alayna Markwordt said the team, “stooped down” to American’s level, but picked up the pace again. In the second half, both teams scored six goals.This lack of intensity with a big lead, Markwordt said, is something the team needs to work on. Whether it was a lack of intensity or mixing different lineups, OSU didn’t play as well in the second half. Along with only scoring six goals, the Buckeyes also only had three more shots on goal.With American stepping up its game, Stimmel inserted the starters back in the game. OSU takes its 1-1 record to Cal-Berkeley on Friday and Stanford on Sunday.