King Kaufman's Sports Daily

College football's national champion is revealed at last! Plus: A sleeper in Seattle? And: No one mentions it, but O.J. Simpson still had the best rushing season ever.

By Salon Staff
January 8, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)
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I'm still getting letters about the whole college football national championship thing, with some readers arguing that USC was the clear No. 1, others saying LSU won the agreed-upon playoff system and still others happy to split the title between the two schools.

I decided to try to settle it once and for all. My first thought was to look at common opponents, but that was no help. The only opponent USC and LSU had in common was Auburn, which both routed, the Trojans by 23 points and the Tigers by 24. Hmm, this was going to be more vexing than I thought. But don't worry. I figured it out.


LSU got beat by Florida, which got beat by Tennessee, which got beat by Auburn. You'll remember from the previous paragraph that Auburn got beat by USC. And what was the only team to beat USC?

California, my alma mater and your national champion.

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Is Seattle poised to make a run? [PERMALINK]

I wonder if the Sonics are a sleeper team in the NBA Western Conference.

I'm not thinking that way because they came from 23 points down to beat the Trail Blazers Monday night, though of course if the Sonics take off they'll no doubt talk about Monday's game as a catalyst, especially in light of coach Nate McMillan talking about big changes before the game and making a rousing speech at halftime.


You'll recall my theory that individual or even small groups of "regular-season" games in the NBA are meaningless, but what I like to call the preseason does take on some significance in the long view. In other words, the Sonics coming from 23 down to beat anyone is a random event. Their doing it again the next night would be a coincidence. But if they did it 25 times, that would mean something, though I have no idea what.

I'm thinking good things about the Sonics' future partly because they have Ray Allen back, and after Monday's win they were 5-2 since his return.


But I also happened to notice that the Sonics are nearly alone among Western Conference teams in not beating the snot out of the much weaker Eastern Conference. The way to win the West is to stay above .500 within the conference and dominate against the East. Through Monday night, only the Kings, at 13-6, were way above water against the West. The Lakers were 11-7, the Midwest Division-leading Spurs 11-9, the Timberwolves 9-8. But those teams, the top four in the West, whomp on the East: The Kings and Lakers were 10-2, the Spurs 12-2, the T-Wolves 12-3.

The Sonics, like the Lakers, were a solid 11-7 against the Western Conference, better than everyone except the Kings. But Seattle was 6-8 against the East. Everyone else in the West except the Suns, who lose everywhere, has a winning interconference record. The Sonics have already played all four of their games against the Nets and Pacers, the two Eastern Conference division leaders. They've played at Detroit, where they won, and they still have to play the Pistons at home and two games against the Hornets. That's it for what could reasonably be considered quality Eastern teams.

If the Sonics had put up a more typical Western Conference record against the East so far -- say, 11-3 -- they'd be in the mix for the Pacific Division lead and a top-four conference ranking, meaning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, they're tied with the Jazz for the last playoff spot.


But maybe things are looking up. First of all, there's Allen. But they also get to play more than two-thirds of their games in the West from here on out. If their current pattern holds, they should move up. Maybe I'm being wowed by a statistical anomaly caused by small sample size. As always, we shall see.

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Hate to say it, but O.J.'s still the man [PERMALINK]

In the days after Jamal Lewis fell just short of Eric Dickerson's NFL single-season rushing record in the last regular-season game, I saw probably a dozen references to Lewis becoming the fifth back in history to go over 2,000 yards in a season. The topic was almost always accompanied by a list of the five men and their totals:

Eric Dickerson, 2,105 (in 1984)
Jamal Lewis, 2,066 (2003)
Barry Sanders, 2,053 (1997)
Terrell Davis, 2,008 (1998)
O.J. Simpson, 2,003 (1973)

What hardly anyone ever mentions is that only Simpson went over 2,000 yards in a 14-game season, the rest compiling their totals in 16 games. Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, quoted by the Associated Press, is the only person I've heard acknowledge this fact. Measuring by yards per game, the totals for the 2,000-yard rushers look like this:


Simpson, 143.1
Dickerson, 131.6
Lewis, 129.1
Sanders, 128.3
Davis, 125.5

It's not even close. To match Simpson's 1973 season, a back today would have to gain 2,290 yards, 185 more than record-holder Dickerson gained and 224 more than Lewis did. Based on yards per game, Simpson in '73 was about 10 percent better than Lewis in '03.

To be fair, it should be noted that teams rushed a lot more in the old days than they do now. The '73 Bills led the league with 3,088 rushing yards, while this year's Ravens led the league with 2,669. But that shouldn't diminish Simpson's feat any more than Dan Marino's touchdown-pass record should be diminished because it was set in a passing era.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's OK for the NFL to ignore length of season in the record books so as not to have asterisks all over the place, but reporters and broadcasters talking about records should at least acknowledge once in a while that no one has ever matched Simpson's 1973 season. It's no fun at all to talk about Simpson because he killed two people and got away with it, but the fact is he hasn't been caught on the field either.


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