BERNIE BITS 

READING TIME, 5 MINUTES:

Ryan O’Reilly being chosen as the Blues’ new team captain is not only the most predictable and obvious thing ever — but it’s also the perfect choice. But is O’Reilly? really the “new” captain? In title, sure. But even though Alex Pietrangelo served as the captain for four seasons beginning in 2016, O’Reilly was the team’s spiritual captain as soon as he arrived in the trade from Buffalo on July 1, 2018. And this isn’t a knock on Pietrangelo, who matured into a fine captain … the only captain, as a matter o’ fact to win the Stanley Cup for the Blues. But O’Reilly is more suited for the role. He’s a born leader. Unlike the departed Pietrangelo, O’Reilly doesn’t have to grow into the job. 

Dec 10, 2019; Buffalo, NY, USA; St. Louis Blues center Ryan O’Reilly (90) against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

I realize that Mizzou’s football team was playing shorthanded. And the Tigers —  as Coach Eli Drinkwitz said — were worn down by constant Covid chaos and the related scramble to fill out a depth chart. But c’mon now … falling behind by 24 points and losing 51-32? Please. Missouri had a shot to go 6-4 and climb into a prestigious bowl game. Mississippi State had lost seven of its previous eight games and had scored only 58 total points over three games before facing Mizzou. I’m a fan of Coach Drink and his eye and talent for recruiting; I believe he’ll get the Tigers onto higher ground on a more consistent basis. I’m just disappointed in two consecutive losses (Georgia, MissState) by an average of 27 points. And concerned over Missouri getting pounded by opponents for an average of 49.3 points and 542 yards in its last three games. One priority for 2021: fix the defense. Mizzou allowed 40+ points in five of the 10 SEC games. MU gave up an average of 32.3 points per game in SEC play; that was highest average vs. the Tigers in a season since the program joined the SEC in 2012. 

The annual College Football Playoff reveal is absurdly boring, and the most anticlimactic event on the sports calendar. In the first six years of the four-team national playoffs,  either Alabama or Clemson won four of the six championships. Among the 12 teams that have played in the title game, Alabama (4) and Clemson (4) shoved their way through the semifinals to take eight of the 12 spots. Including Sunday’s not-so-suspenseful unveiling of the 2020 four-team playoff, 20 of the 28 invitations have been extended to Clemson (6), Alabama (6), Ohio State (4), Oklahoma (4) and Notre Dame (2). In the history of the CFB Playoffs, there’s been no room for Group of 5 teams. There’s rarely been room for the Pac 12. No Big 12 team has made it to the last four except Oklahoma. Ohio State is a frequent presence but only one other Big Ten team (Michigan State, once.) has been invited. 

If Clemson and Alabama each advance in the semifinal round and bully their way into the national championship game, it would be their fifth playoff clash in the past six seasons. In the first six years of the playoffs (through last season) Clemson and Alabama have tangled in three title games, and met in one semifinal matchup. 

As for this season’s “Familiar Four” … I think Notre Dame did enough to warrant the 4th seed behind Alabama (1), Clemson (2) and Ohio State (3). But for those of you protesting on behalf of No. 5 Texas A&M, or Group of 5 underdog Cincinnati — did you really think Cincinnati was going to be called in at the last minute after being snubbed and slapped around by the selection committee in recent weeks? The Group of 5 has as much chance of getting into this thing as an FCS team such as Kennesaw State, Montana State or Missouri State. And did you think the committee would tick off the broadcast-partner sugar daddy by slotting Alabama vs. Texas A&M in a rematch of Bama’s regular-season beatdown of the Aggies? Remember: this enterprise is a big business, and business concerns will be addressed, and accommodated — even if the system is becoming boring for the absence of any true-underdog charm, or upset-of-the-century dreaming. 

And even if the CFB playoff tournament is expanded to eight teams, don’t count on a Group of 5 team having a regular appearance in the field. Going to eight teams means a guaranteed second spot for the SEC, a more likely spot for a second Big 10 team in some years (same with the Big 12) — and perhaps more participation by the Pac 12. And an enlarged tournament would work well for Notre Dame if the Irish return to independent-team status next season. 

But if you want to fantasize, this is how this season’s eight-team format would look like if the NCAA adopted a system of including the five annual Power 5 teams plus three at-large berths. This is from Andy Staples (The Athletic) who used the current power rankings as ruled by the selection committee: 

— No. 8 Oregon at No. 1 Alabama

— No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 2 Clemson

— No. 6 Oklahoma at No. 3 Ohio State

— No. 5 Texas A&M at No. 4 Notre Dame

Of course, it’s possible that the committee would have bumped No. 8 Cincinnati in favor of No. 7 Florida … or adjusted the rankings to move No. 9 Georgia ahead of Cincinnati for at-large consideration.

On This Day In STL Pro Sports History: In 1985 the football Cardinals fired head coach Jim Hanifan after a messy 5-11 season that failed to come close to reaching lofty preseason expectations. Hanny was dismissed by team owner Bill Bidwill soon after a season-ending home loss to Washington. Bidwill and Hanifan genuinely remained good friends for the rest of their lives. Because of their friendship Bidwill once told me he wanted Hanifan to win more than any head coach that ever worked for him … in 1983, the Blues acquired Doug Wickenheiser, Greg Paslawski and Gilbert Delorme from Montreal in exchange for Perry Turnbull … on this day in 2006, rookie David Backes scored his first NHL goal, his first of 206 goals in 10 seasons with the Blues. 

Illinois picked Bret Bielema as its new football coach. I like it. Reasons: (1) He won big at Wisconsin before leaving for the jackpot contract offered by Arkansas; (2) he’s about as Midwestern as it gets, is familiar with the territory and the valuable recruiting trails; (3) he’s been around a long time but is still only 50 years old; (4) Bielema has a natural instinct for selling and he can charm and schmooze donors and fans and recruits and the recruits’ parents; (5) he wasn’t a cultural fit at Arkansas, took over a sunken program and still managed to post winning records in his middle three seasons in Fayetteville; (6) his preference for rugged football is the easier and comfortable way to get a foundation built at Illinois. 

Happy Birthday To You: Andy Van Slyke is 60. In four seasons (1983-86) with the Cardinals “Slick” displayed his emerging all-around talent. The center fielder bloomed after being traded to Pittsburgh in the deal for catcher Tony Pena. In eight seasons as a Pirate, Van Slyke made three All-Star teams, won nine gold gloves, won two silver slugger awards, and played on three postseason teams … notable MLB closer Tom Henke is 63. After a successful career in Toronto, Henke pitched for the Cardinals in his final season (1995). He saved 36 games and was voted to the NL All-Star team… and the late Joaquin Andujar was born on this day in 1952. The volatile righthanded starter went 68-53 in five eventful seasons (1981-85) for the Cardinals. In 1982, Andujar went 15-10 and helped the Cardinals win the World Series championship. He was a two-time 20-game winner (1984 and ‘85), won three postseason games, and was named to two All-Star teams. Andujar died in 2015 at the age of 62. 

AS OTHERS SEE US: 

St. Louisan Matthew Tkachuk, age 23, came in at No. 16 on ESPN’s “Best 25 Under 25” list at ESPN.  “Like Brad Marchand, Tkachuk is a throwback to those NHL pests of days gone by who could agitate you with a critical goal just as easily as they could tick you off with their antics,” ESPN wrote. “Tkachuk has 235 points and 302 penalty minutes in his first four seasons in the NHL, and he is a puck possession monster. His value to the Calgary Flames is considerable: He led the team with 12.4 goals scored above average.”

Thanks for reading The Bits…

–Bernie