What If Wednesday: College Football Playoff

The prayers of college football fans everywhere have now been answered. Beginning in 2014, an annual four-team playoff will determine college football’s national champion. The playoff is a drastic improvement over the controversial BCS system, but what if it had been agreed upon a decade earlier? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Playoff Picture

Using the final AP Poll of the regular season, we have predicted the playoff pictures of the past ten years:

2002 Semifinals: 1 Miami vs 4 Georgia     2 Ohio St. vs 3 Iowa

Final: 1 Miami vs 2 Ohio St.

Outcome: The playoff produces a similar result, but controversy is raised over the exclusion of the Pac-10 champion USC Trojans.

2003 Semifinals: 1 Oklahoma vs 4 Michigan     2 USC vs 3 LSU

Final: 1 Oklahoma vs 2 USC Trojans

Outcome: After a marquee semifinal matchup, USC’s potent offense emerges victorious, eliminating 2003’s split national title.

2004 Semifinals: 1 USC vs 4 California     2 Oklahoma vs 3 Auburn

Final: 1 USC  vs 3 Auburn

Outcome: The undefeated Auburn Tigers earn the postseason opportunity they rightfully deserved, but controversy is raised over the exclusion of undefeated Utah.

2005 Semifinals: 1 USC vs 4 Ohio St.     2 Texas vs 3 Penn St.

Final: 1 USC vs 2 Texas

Outcome: Fans are rewarded as the playoff still produces the decade’s most memorable title game.

2006 Semifinals: 1 Ohio St. vs 4 LSU     2 Florids vs 3 Michigan

Final: 1 Ohio St. vs 2 Florida

Outcome: The Chris Leak-led Gators dominate the Buckeyes to give Urban Meyer his first national title.

2007 Semifinals: 1 Ohio St. vs 4 Georgia     2 LSU vs 3 Oklahoma

Final: 1 Ohio St. vs 2 LSU

Outcome: With only one one-loss team, the committee faces difficult decisions to round out the top four, but LSU ultimately emerges victorious.

2008 Semifinals: 1 Oklahoma vs 4 Alabama     2 Florida vs 3 Texas

Final: 1 Oklahoma vs 2 Florida

Outcome: Tebow leads Florida over Oklahoma for his second national title, but undefeated Utah is snubbed yet again.

2009 Semifinals: 1 Alabama vs 4 Cincinnati     2 Texas vs 3 TCU 

Final: 1 Alabama vs 2 Texas

Outcome: Alabama emerges victorious, and TCU becomes the first mid-major to qualify, but the committee struggles to decide between five undefeated squads and one-loss Florida.

2010 Semifinals: 1 Auburn vs 4 Wisconsin     2 Oregon vs 3 TCU

Final: 1 Auburn vs 3 TCU

Outcome: With one year’s experience behind them, TCU makes a run to the finals before falling to Cam Newton’s Auburn Tigers.

2011 Semifinals: 1 Alabama vs 4 Oregon     2 LSU vs 3 Oklahoma St.

Final: 1 Alabama  vs 2 LSU

Outcome: In their third encounter this season, Alabama knocks off LSU to become the SEC’s sixth straight national champ.

* Photos Courtesy of The Smoking Section, CBS Sports, Zimbio, Arizona Foothills Magazine

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: Magic’s Retirement

In a surprise November 7, 1991 announcement, Lakers great Magic Johnson publicly announced his positive test for HIV and his intentions to retire. At the age of thirty-one, Magic ended his career with several quality seasons left in him, but what if he had opted to remain in the league? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Lakers Contend

After Magic’s exit, the Lakers suffered a severe decline. In 1990-91, Johnson’s final season, Los Angeles went 58-24, finished third in the West, and earned an NBA Finals birth, but after Magic’s surprise announcement, the Lakers fell to 43-39, finished eighth in the West, and met a quick first-round playoff exit. Los Angeles struggled to make the playoffs en route to their worst season since 1975.

Th Lakers sorely missed Magic on the court. His 19.4 points, 12.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds were crucial to the team’s 1990-91 success, and without him, Los Angeles failed to produce offensively. Had Johnson continued, his mere presence would have revitalized the lineup and kept L.A. a contender for years to come.

Acceptance of HIV

Since his retirement, Magic has become an HIV/AIDS advocate. The Magic Johnson Foundation has “worked to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities.” While spreading awareness, Johnson has increased societal acceptance of those afflicted with the disease, but had Magic been able to continue in the NBA, he would have further shown the capabilities of those inflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Birth of a Rivalry

By the time of Johnson’s sudden announcement, the Magic-Bird era had come to a close, and with a 1991 NBA Finals victory over L.A., Michael Jordan established Chicago as the league’s best. The three soon united as part of the “Dream Team” for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A rising star, Jordan had largely viewed the tournament as the final hoorah for the two NBA greats, and with their exits, the league was his.

Jordan went on to win six titles in the decade, cementing his status as the NBA’s all-time greatest. Had Magic remained in the league, however, that may have not been the case. In his final season, Johnson proved his ability to contend. With a few slight tweaks, Magic’s Lakers would find themselves poised to take on Jordan’s burgeoning Bulls, creating a rivalry for the ages.

* Photos Courtesy of LA TimesIndianLacrosse.com

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: The Decision

On July 8, 2010, LeBron James shifted the power balance of the NBA with six words — “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” James’ drew stark criticism for his decision, but what if he had chosen to stay with his hometown Cavaliers? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Power Shift in the Eastern Conference

LeBron’s decision not only impacted the Cavaliers. It changed the landscape of the entire Eastern Conference. Here is a look at the updated NBA standings and playoff picture:

Reality                                              What If

1. Chicago                                        1. Chicago

2. Miami                                            2. Cleveland

3. Indiana                                          3. Indiana

4. Boston                                          4. Boston

5. Atlanta                                           5. Miami

6. Orlando                                         6. Atlanta

7. New York                                      7. Orlando

8. Philadelphia                                  8. New York

First Round:

Chicago vs New York    Boston vs Miami                                                            Cleveland  vs Orlando   Indiana vs Atlanta 

Eastern Conference Semifinals:

New York vs Boston      Cleveland vs Indiana

Eastern Conference Finals:

Cleveland vs Boston

LeBron’s Legacy

Criticism of LeBron was widespread. Cleveland fans compared his betrayal to that of Art Modell, who infamously relocated the Browns to Baltimore. Former NBA players carried similar sentiments regarding his decision. Michael Jordan remarked that the idea of teaming up with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird never crossed his mind. As he put it, “I wanted to defeat those guys.” Jordan added that “…things are different [now]. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today.”

James may never be in the same class as Jordan, but had LeBron opted to stay with the Cavaliers, he likely would have avoided becoming one of the industry’s most detested stars. James’ talents and leadership would have boded well for Cleveland’s success. The Cavs would have remained title contenders for years to come and turned LeBron from an Art Modell-like villain to Jim Brown-like hero.

* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, Zimbio, Walker Sports

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: Mayweather-Pacquiao

Viewed as the premier fighters of their generation, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have yet to square off in the ring. When negotiations begin, they seem to break down soon thereafter, preventing what is sure to be a fight for the ages, but what if they managed to put their differences aside and finally give sports fans what they have always desired? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could be in this week’s edition of What If.

Return of Boxing

Over the past decade, professional boxing has faced a steady and continued decline. As competition by UFC in the Pay-Per-View market increases, boxing’s viewership is carried by a select group of prominent fighters. Among them stand Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, two top-tier boxers who reel in millions annually while spreading the sport’s notoriety. Tremendous public demand for a bout between the two has emerged as their success continues to spread, but they have yet to enter the ring. If Mayweather and Pacquiao went toe-to-toe, it would generate enormous publicity for the sport. Experts predict the fight would shatter Pay-Per-View records and play an important role in boxing’s resurgence.

Legacy of Pacquiao

Long regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the sport, Manny is the only eight-division world champion in history. His versatility and resilience helped the Filipino legend garner the Boxing Writers Association of America’s honor of “Fighter of the Decade.” With a career record of 54-3-2, Pacquiao has nothing left to do to cement his legacy. Historically speaking, little can be done to affect his career positively or negatively. After losing three of his last four, Muhammad Ali still is remembered as history’s greatest fighter, so dropping a few matches to lesser opponents will not alter are remembrance of Pacquiao’s long storied career.

The one thing Manny does lack is a win against the decade’s other top-notch fighter. At this point in his career, Pacquiao has little to lose. A fight against Mayweather is a win-win scenario. A loss can be chalked up to age, and a win elevates Manny to an elite class of boxing’s all-time greats.

Legacy of Mayweather

Also looked upon as one of the sport’s best pound-for pound-boxers, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. possesses one mark that Pacquiao does not — an undefeated record. In 43 contests, Mayweather has 26 KOs, zero draws, and zero losses. He has built his career upon perfection, and his legacy hinges on it. Thus far, he has been unwilling to risk that perfection on a bout with Pacquiao.

He accuses the Filipino legend of using performance-enhancing drugs, and because of this, Floyd will not risk his health on a fight. Many have criticized Mayweather for ducking a fight with Pacquiao, including former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who remarked, “If they never fight, it won’t be Pacquiao’s fault. Every time they came round to fighting Mayweather put his excuses in.” To which Mayweather responds, “This is how the world is, you get writers saying, ‘Floyd is scared.’ No, Floyd cares about his family. Floyd is smart.”

If Mayweather were to fight Pacquiao, it would prove his fearlessness as a fighter. He would silence the doubters while proving his tenacity. A loss may tarnish his perfect record, but a win would remove the asterisk surrounding his career and establish him as the generation’s greatest boxer.

* Photos Courtesy of All Sports Everything, HBO, The Inquistr

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: Matt Barkley Went Pro

On December 22, 2011, USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley announced his intentions to return for his senior season. A sure top-five pick, Barkley’s return sets up a promising 2012 campaign for the Trojans, and he still remains the projected top prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft, but what if he had opted to forgo his senior season? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Top Five Shakeup

Matt Barkley’s entrance would add a third elite QB prospect to an already deep quarterback class. The Colts would be left to decide between Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III. All three prospects provide their own unique skill sets and would leave analysts scrambling to assemble an accurate mock draft. Here is ours:

1. QB Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)

The Colts find it hard to choose anyone other than the prospect dubbed the best since Manning.

2. QB Matt Barkley (Washington Redskins via St. Louis Rams)

Washington still trades up to the two slot but opts for a more traditional quarterback in Barkley.

3. QB Robert Griffin III (Cleveland Browns via Minnesota Vikings)

The Vikings auction their pick off to the highest bidder, and the Browns’ two first-round picks are difficult to overlook.

4. OT Matt Khalil (Minnesota Vikings via Cleveland Browns)

The Vikings pick up an extra first-round pick and still get their man.

5. RB Trent Richardson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

With RG3 heading to Cleveland, the Alabama star finds a home in Tampa.

Resurgence of the Browns

Unwilling to shell out three first-round picks, Cleveland lost out in their pursuit of Robert Griffin III, but with Matt Barkley’s arrival, the Browns would receive the franchise quarterback they have long coveted. The Heisman winner’s presence would make an instant impact in Cleveland. His playmaking ability and star status would revitalize the Browns and give fans the franchise star they have long deserved.

USC Plummets

In 2012, Matt Barkley’s return positions himself as Heisman frontrunner and leaves the Trojans poised to contend for a Pac-12 and BCS title. His connection with All-American wide receiver Robert Woods spells trouble to opposing defenses and will land both in the top five in next year’s draft. Had Barkley chosen not to return, his loss combined with the loss of offensive tackle Matt Khalil would have proven too difficult to overcome and likely have knocked the Trojans out of title contention.

* Photos Courtesy of CBS Sports, Waiting for Next Year, Inside So Cal

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: David Stern’s Veto

In a three-team blockbuster NBA trade, longtime Hornets point guard Chris Paul was set to leave New Orleans to don purple and gold. Hornets GM Dell Demps successfully dealt a disgruntled superstar to the Lakers in return for quality talent from both Los Angeles and Houston. All three parties were benefited, that was, until commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal for “basketball reasons” while acting as owner of the league-operated Hornets. Instead, New Orleans was relegated to trading Chris Paul to the Clippers. Stern’s actions drew heavy criticism, but what if he had chosen differently? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Lob City Loses Out

After David Stern nixed New Orleans’ original deal, Chris Paul still found his way to Los Angeles but not in the manner expected. Four days after the Lakers and Hornets agreed to terms, New Orleans sent Chris Paul to LA’s “other” team. The Clippers experienced an instant upgrade at the point guard position. Paul provided a spark plug on offense and his instant connection with power forward Blake Griffin kept the Staples Center electric while helping the Clippers win their first playoff series since 2005. Stern’s decision not only resurrected Los Angeles’ weaker franchise, it finally gave fans a reason to cheer.

Improved Lakers

What benefited one Staples Center resident, hurt the other. After agreeing to terms with New Orleans, the Lakers had filled their team’s biggest hole. They dealt away size for youth and speed at the point guard position, but after David Stern’s news broke, the Lakers had to turn to 37-year-old Derek Fisher to start. Fisher underwhelmed and Los Angeles was left searching for a way to fill the void. At the trade deadline, GM Mitch Kupchak received Ramon Sessions from Cleveland in an attempt to help increase production. Sessions fit well in coach Mike Brown’s system, but his defensive inadequacies were exploited early and often. Paul would have provided the Lakers superior offensive skill, but most importantly, his NBA All-Defensive talent would have matched up well against Russell Westbrook and the West’s other top-tier point guards, allowing the Lakers to make a deeper postseason run.

Odom’s Opportunity

After the Paul deal fell through, the Lakers’ sixth-man Lamar Odom was left in limbo. Then on December 11, Los Angeles brashly dealt Odom to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. Uncertainty and a shortened offseason hurt Lamar. He struggled to mesh with the Mavericks and never truly found a place in their system. After putting up career-low numbers, Odom parted ways with the Mavs on April 9. Had the original Paul deal not fell through, Odom would have found himself at the center of New Orleans’ young core of talent. His veteran leadership would have meshed well with the Hornets raw talent and ultimately benefited both New Orleans and himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Photos Courtesy of Hoop Smack, Zimbio, Real Clear Sports

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

What If Wednesday: The Colts Drafted Ryan Leaf

With the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. He was followed by standout Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. Manning became an All-Pro, Super Bowl champion, and future hall of famer. Leaf, on the other hand, struggled in four NFL seasons and has recently been charged with felony drug possession.  The Colts’ front office made the right decision, but what if they opted for Leaf instead? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.

Failure in Indianapolis

Lack of production from the quarterback position crippled the Colts in 1997. In order to succeed, NFL offenses require instinctive and well-displined signal callers. Ryan Leaf posseses neither of these qualities. His rookie season was filled with poor performances and off-the-field problems. After four NFL seasons, Leaf left the NFL with a career quarterback rating of 50.0 and more than double as many interceptions as touchdowns. Leaf’s inabilty to succed would do little to improve upon the Colts’ 3-13 record in 1997.

A Dynamic Duo

After drafting LaDainian Tomlinson with the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, the Chargers would have paired two of the decade’s most explosive offensive players in one of history’s most dynamic pairings. No defense at the time was equipped to handle two first-ballot hall of famers. The Manning-Tomlinson combo would create mismatches, open recievers, and better the Chargers all over the field.

A Lombardi Trophy in San Diego

Without Manning, San Diego still manged to develop the pieces necessary to contend for a title. The Chargers’  playoff runs reached their furthest in 2008 when they fell to New England 21-12 in the AFC Championship Game. The addition of Peyton to the roster would provide an instant upgrade at the quarterback position and have helped the Chargers to get over the hump and make a Super Bowl. Their dynamic offense and game-changing defense would have at some point culminated into a long-awaited championship in San Diego.

Eli’s Relocation

In 2004, the Chargers drafted Eli Manning first overall before dealing him to the Giants for Phillip Rivers and three other picks. Had Peyton fallen to the Chargers in 1998, they would not have been in position to draft the Ole Miss star atop the ’04 draft. Instead Eli would have landed with a quarterback-needy team. In a role reversal, the Colts may have been in position to draft him, changing the face of pro football forever.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Any other What If Wednesday suggestions? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Sports Illustrated, Wikipedia, NFL