Escondido, CA

Of Rocky, State, Tiger, Ohtani, Hoops and a bit more

As always, there never seems to be a dull moment or a dearth of issues to discuss when it comes to the world of sports.

So with space and time at a premium, let’s have at it.

Rocky and Chip

Lucky for San Diego State that its accomplished coach Rocky Long isn’t ten years younger because if he were, the Aztec head honcho would have been a viable and attractive candidate for more than a few of the high-profile jobs that became available in the immediate aftermath of the college football regular season.

Having guided SDSU to a new plateau of achievement and visibility with 32 wins over the past three years, Long has clearly established himself as an upper echelon coach who knows how to successfully run a program and produce consistent results. The only thing that’s precluding him from getting serious consideration from heavyweight/marquee schools has to be his age of 67 years. No other reason or explanation makes any sense.

Not that Long, who seems to have truly found his niche with the Aztecs, would entertain leaving America’s Finest City even if he were years younger. But the fact remains that if his birth certificate read different, Rocky would have been a hot commodity receiving plenty of calls from schools desperate to find a proven winner.

And speaking of the Aztecs, they’ll find themselves in Fort Worth, Texas on December 23 as participants in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl against a suddenly resurgent Army (8-3) team that has bested Temple and Duke among others. Black Knight coach Jeff Monken has done a remarkable job of resurrecting the gridiron culture at West Point and his squad leads the nation in rushing at 368.1 yards per game. But SDSU has a superlative ballcarrier of its own in the prolific Rashaad Penny who has rushed for a staggering 2,027 yards and 19 touchdowns. When factoring in Penny’s potency on the ground and a State defense that can be stingy, look for the Aztecs to eventually create a bit of separation and win by double digits.

It’s hard to argue excessively with the final four teams (Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alabama) selected to compete for the national championship but leaving out both the Big Ten titlist Ohio State and Pac-12 top dog USC has created some understandable waves. In this writer’s opinion, two-loss conference champs can make just as compelling a case as does a one-loss team like the Crimson Tide that wasn’t good enough to capture an SEC title. This bone of contention will certainly rage on but this fact can’t be denied – ‘Bama seems aided by a built-in bias and invariably will get the benefit of the doubt.

It will come as a shock to many if UCLA’s hiring of Chip Kelly doesn’t prove to be a home-run. Kelly was a world-beater at Oregon and given the vast resources that will be available to him in Westwood, it ain’t hyperbole to state that the sky could be the limit for the Bruins in the foreseeable future. Right now USC is riding relatively high but make no mistake that the real battle for L.A. has now been joined. Kelly is not the type to allow the Trojans to continue to rule the roost.

Another Woods Comeback?

When the subject concerns comebacks, only the self-absorbed Brett Favre appears to have made as many of them as Tiger Woods. But to be fair, Favre’s repeated returns seemed born of extreme egotism and a tiresome need for attention while Woods’s have been primarily precipitated by injury and health issues.

Tiger’s latest venture back into competitive golf took place last week at the Hero World Challenge on a course in the Bahamas. Though in some circles they try to sell this event as something of significance, in truth it amounts to nothing more than a glorified exhibition considering its very limited field.

So as it relates to Woods, can you really glean anything of substance from his performance which culminated in a tie for ninth place?  Well, perhaps a little bit here and there but in the big picture, absolutely not.

Yes, Woods managed to get through all four rounds apparently pain free. And he did generate some buzz when he opened up with scores of 69 and 68 on the first two days of play. However, he slipped so badly on Saturday (75) that not even a final round 68 could get him anywhere near the eventual winner Rickie Fowler, whose 18-under par total was 10 shots better than what Woods carded.

Sure it was a positive though small step in the right direction but anyone suggesting it was more than that doesn’t know a wedge from a flagstick. This was hardly the most competitive of environments and the public will have to wait to see how Woods holds up in a regulation tournament as well as over the long haul to come to any meaningful conclusions. Is it possible that Tiger still has a win or two left in his quiver and might even pull out an unexpected Slam victory like Jack Nicklaus did late in his career? Sure that could happen but Woods’s burning ambition to eclipse Nicklaus’s total of 18 Majors is way too far out of reach. That’s become a fairy tale that just isn’t going to happen.

Lonzo’s Struggles

In some respects, Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball can indeed ball but on balance he has been an underachiever if not somewhat of a disappointment. Though the former Bruin star has done a solid job when it comes to rebounding (6.9 RPG) and facilitating (7 APG), his shooting from the floor (31%), behind the arc (25%) and at the free throw line (50%) has been abysmally bad and in many ways is overshadowing much of the good he’s doing. Armed with a flawed and funky delivery that not even his overbearing father Lavar could love, Ball is so inaccurate that the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight wouldn’t tolerate his presence.

It’s still way too early to suggest that Ball won’t get it together and fix his errant shot but as of now, he hardly resembles the standout rookie that the Lakers envisioned him being. And Lavar’s ludicrous claim that Lonzo is actually better than the Warriors’ nonpareil Steph Curry might rate as the biggest joke in the history of hoops if not sports

The Local Scene

On the local basketball scene, the prep team that’s gotten off to the quickest start is Paul Baldwin’s Escondido Cougars. Traveling up the coast to take part in the Morro Bay Tournament, the Cougs lost only one of four games contested in just three days. The Cougs took care of Templeton (Templeton, CA.), East Bakersfield and Pioneer Valley (Santa Maria) before finally falling in the championship game to Central (Fresno) by a 76-54 count.

Padres are on the List

And finally, on the baseball front, Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani has reduced the number of major league clubs he will consider joining to just seven and intriguingly, the rebuilding Padres are among that list.  Ohtani, a heat dispensing right-hander who can also double as a power- hitting lefty, obviously has a West Coast preference since the Dodgers, Giants, Angels and Mariners are also among his teams of choice. At this stage, it’s difficult to get a real feel for where this is headed although logic suggests that San Diego must still be considered a long shot to ultimately land Ohtani’s services. But the fact that the Pads remain in the hunt and have at least an outside chance is enough to get local fans hyped with hope. Being able to bring Ohtani onboard has the potential to be a signing that could well change the course of Padre history.

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