Halloween Frights and Flights

The New York Mets and Minnesota Gophers had frightening nights on Saturday. The only thing more frustrating than being a Mets or Gophers fan on Sunday morning would have to be if you have some sort of allegiance toward Duke University because what happened to the Blue Devils on Halloween is several levels of hell worse than “frightening.”

Sport-Jack-O-LanternsAfter scoring a touchdown to pull ahead of the Miami Hurricanes with just seconds left in the game, Duke kicked off and eight laterals later, Miami crossed the goal line to snatch the win from the Blue Devils. Sure, you could say one of the Miami players’ knee was on the ground when he contributed his lateral and, yes, there appeared to be at least one block in the back, but, hey, it’s Duke and we all hate Duke, so who cares? Right? (Not that many of us love Miami, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

(Late edit: The ACC announced Sunday morning that the entire officiating crew, including the replay official, that worked the Duke-Miami game has been suspended for two games.)

So let’s move on to Saturday Shenanigans that at least some of us care about.

The Mets stare into the abyss

Daniel Murphy’s life has been interesting the past two weeks, hasn’t it?

You remember Murphy. He’s the guy that set a new Major League record for consecutive playoff games with a home run, jacking dingers in six straight postseason games while almost single-handedly providing the necessary offensive punch to propel the New York Mets in to the World Series.

Murphy has not had a good Fall Classic, however. Not only has he thudded back to earth with his bat against Kansas City pitching, but on Saturday he chose the worst time possible to perform his Bill Buckner imitation and allow a slow ground ball to get beneath his glove. The Royals tied the game on Murphy’s error and went on to score two more runs in the same inning, ultimately beating the Mets 5-3 and taking a 3-1 lead in the Series.

Aside from Murphy’s “oops” and a few other defensive faux pas by his teammates, the most intriguing thing about Saturday’s game was New York manager Terry Collins’ bullpen management. (Or is that mismanagement?)

Collins inexplicably chose to use his closer, Jeurys Familia, in Friday night’s blowout win over the Royals in Game 3.

The few pitches he threw in the game Friday certainly weren’t enough to keep him from being effective 24 hours later and you can’t blame Familia for Murphy’s booted grounder. After all, the reliever got the ground ball you would have wanted him to get if you are a Mets fan.

But I had two thoughts about this situation that still make me wonder whether using Familia on Friday may end up costing the Mets the Series and perhaps may have cost them Game 4.

The first thought is relatively obvious. If Collins ends up needing Familia again on Sunday night, he’ll be making not his second, but his third straight appearance. Yes, his number of pitches on Friday were minimal, but you have to take into account the pitches thrown to warm up in addition to those that actually count.

If Familia is called on to close out Game 5 and blows another save, Collins is going to get a lot of heat for how he handled his top bullpen asset, and it will be warranted.

Even if you feel Familia was not too tired to pitch effectively Saturday after throwing on Friday or even that he actually threw perfectly fine (and those are both perfectly valid views, I believe), that’s not really the point.

You see, the Royals had a couple runners on base already when Familia entered the game in the eighth inning because Collins elected to have Tyler Clippard start that inning on the mound for the Mets.

If Familia had not pitched on Friday, would Collins have called on his closer to begin the eighth inning, instead of Clippard? If so, would the Royals have had the same scoring opportunity?

We’ll never know, of course. But the question of whether Collins chose Clippard, rather than Familia, to begin the eighth is a perfectly fair question to pose.

If that was a factor, then the decision on Friday has quite possibly already cost the Mets one game. And if the fact that Familia would be working three consecutive nights affects how Collins uses his closer on Sunday, as well, that would just add to the magnitude of the blunder.

The Gophers’ brainfart

I didn’t see a lot of the Minnesota-Michigan football game Saturday night because I was primarily focused on the World Series game, but from the bits and pieces I saw, it looked to me like Minnesota outplayed the Wolverines most of the game and deserved a win.

And then the final 19 seconds of the game happened.

After replay determined that the pass originally ruled to be what would have been the winning touchdown for the Gophers had actually ended a half-yard short of the goal line, Minnesota had 19 seconds and one time-out to manage to get that final 18 inches of fake turf.

The clock started as soon as the ball was deemed by the officials to be ready for play.

After reading postgame quotes and seeing video of interim coach Claeys’ meeting with the media, it’s still unclear to me whether nobody on the field or on the sideline for Minnesota knew that clock was ticking or whether they knew and didn’t care. Regardless, at least half of their remaining time expired before the Gophers got off one snap.

As a result, Minnesota ran one play before facing the decision of whether to kick a game-tying field goal with just two seconds on the clock, to send the game in to overtime, or run one final play and go for the win.

Claeys elected the latter and, while I don’t personally fault that particular decision, I’m sure plenty of others do.

In any event, whether you believe the final 19 seconds reflected panic, miscommunication or simple ineptitude, the results didn’t do anything to help Claeys’ case for removing the “interim” label on his coaching position with the Gophers. There’s absolutely no reason Minnesota shouldn’t have had time to run at least three plays, and possibly four, in those final 19 seconds. That wouldn’t have made victory certain, but I think four plays would give you approximately twice as good a chance of scoring as two plays did.

The Perfect Iowa Hawkeyes

Perfect! As in, 8-0 record.

A lot has been made about Iowa’s “soft” schedule and I’m not going to argue that the Hawkeyes have been beating top-tier teams this season. There are reasons I did not renew my Iowa season tickets this year and one of those reasons was that I didn’t feel the home schedule was worth the time or money necessary to go to seven games at Kinnick Stadium.

The non-conference schedule that Iowa typically puts together leaves something to be desired, as a fan. They play Iowa State every year. They schedule one other major conference opponent. The other two non-conference games are almost always cupcakes. This year, that included Texas State and Illinois State, a couple of squads typical of teams the Hawkeyes usually bring in to take a beating for a payday.

If it turns out that Iowa runs the table, finds a way to upset the B1G’s East Division champion in the conference championship game, and still ends up on the outside of the NCAA playoff bracket, so be it. The football program can do nothing other than learn the same lesson their men’s hoops program learned a couple years ago: schedule stronger opponents or expect to be left out of the dance.

That said…

The first College Football Playoff rankings are due to be released this Tuesday and if what we’re told is true – that these weekly rankings are based on what teams have accomplished against the strength of the schedule they’ve played to this point, not the strength of the teams that remain on their schedule – then Iowa should be ranked ahead of defending national champion Ohio State.

This season, Iowa defeated Pitt at home and both Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road, en route to their 8-0 record.

Here are the teams that Ohio State has vanquished so far:

@ Virginia Tech (4-5, 6th of 7 teams in ACC, Coastal Division)

Hawaii (2-7, 6th of 6 teams in Mountain West, West Division)

Northern Illinois (5-3, 4th of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

Western Michigan (5-3, 2nd of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

@ Indiana (4-4, 0-4 in B1G games)

Maryland (2-6, 0-4 in B1G games)

Penn State (7-2, 4-1 in B1G games)

@ Rutgers (3-5, 1-4 in B1G games)

Both Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) are arguably as strong as Penn State, the one respectable conference win so far for the Buckeyes and Pitt has proven stronger than any non-conference foe on Ohio State’s schedule.

Indeed, all of that is about to change. OSU should have no problem with Minnesota and Illinois the next two weeks, but finishes up with Michigan State and Michigan. But at the time the College Football Playoff committee announces their first rankings this Tuesday, Iowa will have the better resume of the two.

In fact, if you look at Michigan State’s schedule, you’ll find a similar story. Their big win, so far, was over an Oregon team that is no longer ranked among the top 25 teams in college football.

The story could be very different by December, but it will be interesting to see what the playoff committee’s view will be on Tuesday. Nobody in the Big Ten should be in the top 4 teams of the country at this point.