Conference Championship Analysis- Week 12 Edition

For the fifth-straight year, I will be publishing weekly November columns analyzing the conference championship races.  Like my bowl bubble watch, there is not really a column like this on any other mainstream college football site.  Bold teams have already clinched their division or conference.  Italicized teams are my predicted champions of their respective conferences/divisions at this point in time.  This list is updated through all week 12 games.

ACC AtlanticFlorida State

ACC CoastalDuke (Thanks to an impressive win over the Canes, Duke is now in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal.  Wins over UNC and Wake Forest clinch the division for the Blue Devils, but a loss to the Heels would likely create a wild 5-way for the division championship!)

American- UCF (The Golden Knights will most likely have to lose their last two of their remaining games to not clinch the AAC.  The team with the best chance of challenging the Knights is probably Cincinnati, who sits in a tie for second and does not play UCF this season.) 

Big Ten Legends- Michigan State (Sparty just either needs a win at Northwestern or a Wisconsin win over Minnesota next weekend to clinch the division.)

Big Ten LeadersOhio State (The Buckeyes clinch the Leaders next Saturday with either a home win against Indiana or a Wisconsin loss to Minnesota.)

Big 12- Baylor (The Bears are the front runners, but Texas and Oklahoma State are both in contention and have upcoming matchups against Baylor.)

Pac-12 NorthOregon (The Ducks are back in the Pac-12 North driver’s seat as a result of the Trojans upset win over Stanford.  Now, Oregon needs to beat Arizona and Oregon State to seal the deal.)

Pac-12 SouthArizona State (The Pac-12 South championship comes down to a three-team battle between Arizona State, UCLA, and USC.  The Bruins have won this division every year it has existed, and once again they control their own destiny.  However, the Sun Devils can clinch the division title with a win at UCLA on Saturday, and even if ASU falls short there, a Southern Cal victory over the Bruins the following weekend would likely give the Pac-12 South to ASU.)

SEC East- South Carolina (After the Gamecocks’ heartbreaking loss at Tennessee, I told everyone I talked to that South Carolina still had a great chance of winning the SEC East.  No one believed me at the time but now look where we are!  A Missouri loss to either Ole Miss or Texas A & M sends the Gamecocks to Atlanta.)

SEC West- Alabama (If you said at the beginning of the season that Alabama would beat LSU and Texas A & M and still be in jeopardy of losing the SEC West, people would think you were crazy.  Well that’s exactly what has happened thanks to the meteoric rise of Auburn.  The Iron Bowl will be the de facto SEC West title game for the first time ever.)

C-USA EastEast Carolina (Barring a shocking upset of FIU over Marshall next Saturday, the day after Thanksgiving clash between ECU and Marshall will be a de facto C-USA East title game.  In the preseason, I predicted the Pirates to edge out the Herd in this division, so I might as well stick with that pick.)

C-USA WestNorth Texas (The Mean Green control their own destiny, but they do have two dangerous games left: vs. UTSA and at Tulsa.  A loss in either one of those contests will put Rice in first place.  Believe it or not, the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio also have a decent shot at getting to the C-USA Championship Game in their very first year in the league.)             

MAC EastBuffalo (Last year, this division possessed one of the most compelling Cinderella stories in all of college football thanks to Kent State’s surprise MAC East championship.  Now they are at it again, as the Bulls of Buffalo have come out of nowhere to take the lead in this division.  No matter what happens this week, the day after Thanksgiving clash between Buffalo and Bowling Green will be a de facto MAC East title game.)   

MAC WestNorthern Illinois (The Huskies can clinch the division this Wednesday night with a road victory over Toledo.  If the Rockets can pull the mild upset, we will likely see a three-way tie between NIU, Ball State, and Toledo.)

MWC MountainUtah State (Boise State controls its own destiny, but I am predicting the Broncos to lose a tough road game to San Diego State next Saturday, which would give the Aggies the opportunity clinch the division crown with home wins over Colorado State and Wyoming.)

MWC WestFresno State (The Bulldogs just need to win one of their remaining two games, against either New Mexico or San Jose State, to clinch the division title.)

Sun BeltUL-Lafayette (The Ragin’ Cajuns can clinch the conference crown with a home win against Monroe on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.)

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Bowl Bubble Watch- Week 12 Edition

The most comprehensive analysis of the college football bowl bubble is back!  For the fifth-straight year, I will be publishing weekly November columns analyzing which teams will get bowl bids and which will not.  Below, I have written a report for every team that has yet to be declared either bowl eligible or ineligible.  Each week this list will be updated and new odds will be provided for each team.  Please note that these odds only represent the chances that a particular team will get enough wins to be eligible to receive a bowl bid.  They do not represent the odds a team has for actually receiving a bid.  This discrepancy likely won’t affect the bowl chances of most major conference teams, but sometimes a 6-6 record won’t be enough to a get bid from a non-BCS conference.  The teams are ordered in descending order of likelihood that they will become bowl eligible.  As of now, there are 25 teams on the list with 11 predicted to attain bowl eligibility and 14 predicted to fall short.  As of now, I’m projecting there to be 76 bowl eligible teams for 2013 (see full stats at the bottom of this entry).  Keep in mind that there are a total of 70 bowl slots to be filled by 125 Division 1-A teams.

 

Good Side of the Bowl Bubble: Teams closing in on bowl bids (11):

North Carolina– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: vs. Old Dominion, vs. Duke; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 98% (previous odds: 49%)

Rutgers– Record: 5-4; Remaining Schedule: at UCF, at UConn, vs. USF; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 91% (previous odds: 95%)

Colorado State– Record: 6-5 (needs 7 wins); Remaining Schedule: at Utah State, vs. Air Force; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 74% (previous odds: 51%)

Syracuse– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: vs. Pitt, vs. BC; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 64% (previous odds: 69%)

UTSA– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: at North Texas, vs. Louisiana Tech; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 61% (previous odds: 61%)

UNLV– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: at Air Force, vs. San Diego State; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 58% (previous odds: 58%)

Central Michigan– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: at Western Michigan, vs. UMass, vs. Eastern Michigan; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 57% (previous odds: 47%)

UL-Monroe– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: at South Alabama, vs. UL-Lafayette; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 54% (previous odds: 54%)

Troy– Record: 5-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Texas State; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 53% (previous odds: 55%)

Florida Atlantic– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. New Mexico State, vs. FIU; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 52% (previous odds: 48%)

San Jose State– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: vs. Navy, vs. Fresno State; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 51% (previous odds: 70%)

 

Bad Side of the Bowl Bubble: Teams who will likely be home for the holidays (14):

Pittsburgh– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: at Syracuse, vs. Miami (FL); Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 49% (previous odds: 65%)

Washington State– Record: 5-5; Remaining Schedule: vs. Utah, at Washington; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 48% (previous odds: 21%)

Tennessee– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Vandy, at Kentucky; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 46% (previous odds: 46%)

Utah– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: at Washington State, vs. Colorado; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 44% (previous odds: 45%)

Mississippi State– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: at Arkansas, vs. Ole Miss; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 37% (previous odds: 40%)

SMU– Record: 4-5; Remaining Schedule: at USF, at Houston, vs. UCF; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 24% (previous odds: 15%)

Wake Forest– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Duke, at Vandy; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 23% (previous odds: 23%)

Northwestern– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Michigan State, at Illinois; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 21% (previous odds: 44%)

Louisiana Tech– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Tulsa, at UTSA; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 20% (previous odds: 31%)

Wyoming– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Hawaii, at Utah State; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 19% (previous odds: 20%)

Florida– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. Georgia Southern, vs. FSU; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 18% (previous odd: 33%)

South Alabama– Record: 3-6; Remaining Schedule: vs. UL-Monroe, at Georgia State, vs. UL-Lafayette; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 16% (previous odds: 37%)

Memphis– Record: 3-6; Remaining Schedule:, at Louisville, vs. Temple, at UConn; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 9% (previous odds: 4%)

Indiana– Record: 4-6; Remaining Schedule: at Ohio State, vs. Purdue; Odds of Bowl Eligibility: 3% (previous odds: 5%)

 

Already Bowl Eligible (58):  UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati, Houston, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Duke, Miami (FL), Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Michigan State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, East Carolina, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, Tulane, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Ohio, Ball State, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Fresno State, Utah State, Boise State, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, Southern California, Arizona, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A & M, LSU, Ole Miss, UL-Lafayette, Texas State, Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt (previous odds: 90%), Boston College (previous odds: 85%), Kansas State (previous odds: 80%), Navy (previous odds: 82%), Maryland (previous odds: 86%), Arkansas State (previous odds: 75%), San Diego State (previous odds: 77%)

Already Ineligible for a Bowl Game (29):  Penn State*, UConn, Temple, Virginia, Kansas, Iowa State, Purdue, UAB, FIU, Southern Miss, Tulsa, UTEP, Army, Idaho, New Mexico State, Akron, UMass, Kent State, Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Nevada, Hawaii, Air Force, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia State, West Virginia (previous odds: 59%), Illinois (previous odds: 2%), NC State (previous odds: 22%), TCU (previous odds: 16%), New Mexico (previous odds: 1%), South Florida (previous odds: 1%)

 

Current Stats:

Already Bowl Eligible: 65

Predicted to be Bowl Eligible: 11 (76)

Already Ineligible for a Bowl Game: 35

Predicted not to become Bowl Eligible: 14 (49)

 

Ranking of Favorite Teams- NFL

The ordering of my favorite NFL teams:

1.  Patriots– They were my randomly selected favorite team during my childhood, and I’ve stuck with them when they’ve been good, when they’ve been bad, when they’ve been lovable, and when they’ve been hateable.

2.  Bengals– They were sort of the home team during my childhood years when I lived in Kentucky.  They’ve also never won the big one.

3  Saints– The ultimate lovable loser, who will undoubtedly be the subject of a movie about their 2009-10 season.

4.  Cardinals– Another underdog who is easy to root for.  Not to mention Phoenix is a great city.

5.  Titans– I guess I better put my wife’s favorite team somewhere in the top 10.

6  Browns– I know I shouldn’t have two rivals like Cincy and Cleveland both in the top 10 but both are great annual underdog stories.

7.  Seahawks

8. Lions

9.  Falcons

10. Colts

11. Texans

12. Jaguars

13. Chargers

14. Raiders– Best logo and best fans in the game.

15. Cowboys

16. Bills

17. Jets

18. Rams

19. Bears

20. Broncos

21. Vikings

22. Buccaneers

23. 49ers

24. Chiefs

25. Redskins- I was a Cowboys fan during the Jimmy Johnson era, so naturally I didn’t like their archrival.

26. Dolphins- Didn’t like Dan Marino

27. Ravens

28. Packers- I don’t like Favre, so my animosity with this team began in the 90’s

29. Eagles- Worst fans in the world.

30. Giants- Don’t really like the Mannings, plus they beat my Patriots in two different Super Bowls.

31.  Panthers– The acquisition of Scam Newton dropped this team from my second favorite to second most hated.  See my least favorite sportsmen entry below to find out why.

32. Steelers- The Penguins are actually one of my favorite hockey teams, so I’m definitely hot and cold when it comes to Pittsburgh teams.  Honestly, I just didn’t really like the Bradshaw era in the 70’s, and I’ve carried my animosity with me to this day.  The Steelers are my favorite of my least favorite teams if that’s any consolation.

Ranking of Favorite Teams- College Football

Here is the ranking of my favorite Division 1-A college football teams.  They are divided by conference/division ordered from my favorite to least favorite.

SEC (It’s home to some of my most hated teams but also 4 out of 5 of my favorites.)

SEC East

1.  South Carolina-My father’s alma mater and home to the most loyal fans in all of college football. 

2.  Kentucky- They were the team I grew up with.

3.  Vanderbilt- My parents actually met here during Grad School.

4.  Missouri

5.  Florida

6.  Georgia

7.  Tennessee

SEC West

1.  Ole Miss- Bad stadium.  Alright coach.  Great nickname.  Amazing tailgate.

2.  Alabama-My mother’s alma mater and home to some of the best fans in college football.

3.  Mississippi State

4.  Texas A & M

5.  LSU

6.  Arkansas

7.  Auburn

  —————————

 Pac-12 (Fun teams, fun football, fun nicknames.)

Pac-12 North

1.  Washington State- Since Leach holds a prominent spot on my favorite sportsmen of all-time list then clearly the team he coaches is going to be ranked high on this list.

2.  Oregon State

3.  Stanford

4.  Oregon

5.  California

6.  Washington

Pac-12 South

1.  Arizona State – It seems like this is the one conference everyone kinda has a random team they cheer for.  Mine are the Devils because of their miraculous Rose Bowl run in 1996.

2.  Utah

3.  Colorado

4.  Arizona

5.  UCLA

6.  Southern California

———————–

American Athletic (Conference is so bad.  It’s hard not to like them.)

1.  Rutgers

2.  South Florida

3.  Temple

4.  SMU

5.  Houston

6.  Memphis

7.  Connecticut

8.  Cincinnati

9.  UCF

10.  Louisville

  ————–

Big 12 (Don’t like many of the teams, but the games are always entertaining)

1.  Baylor.

2.  Texas Tech

3.  Oklahoma State

4.  Kansas State

5.  Iowa State

6.  Kansas

7.  TCU

8.  West Virginia

9.  Texas

10.  Oklahoma

—————————————–

ACC (Other than Wake there is just not much to like here.)

ACC Atlantic

1.  Wake Forest- O Mother So Dear!

2.  Syracuse

3.  Maryland

4.  Boston College

5.  NC State

6.  Florida State

7.  Clemson

ACC Coastal

1.  Virginia

2.  Georgia Tech

3.  Duke

4.  North Carolina

5.  Pittsburgh

6.  Virginia Tech

7.  Miami-FL

——————————————

Big 10 (I don’t really have anything against the conference other than the fact they play boring, barely watchable football)

Legends Division

1.  Northwestern 

2.  Minnesota

3.  Michigan

4.  Michigan State

5.  Iowa 

6.  Nebraska

Leaders Division

1.  Indiana

2.  Illinois

3.  Purdue

4.  Penn State

5.  Wisconsin

6.  Ohio State

———————————–

Independents

1.  Army

2.  Navy

3.  Idaho

4.  New Mexico State

5.  Brigham Young

6.  Notre Dame- I don’t hate them as much as a lot of college football fans do, but I don’t like them either.

———————————

Other 1-A Conferences (Favorites and Least Favorites)

Mountain West- Favorite: Boise State, Least Favorite: Nevada

Conference USA– Favorite: East Carolina, Least Favorite: Marshall 

Sun Belt– Favorite: Western Kentucky, Least Favorite: Troy 

MAC– Favorite: Ball State, Least Favorite: Bowling Green

Ranking of Favorite College Basketball Teams

While at a Super Bowl Party in 2010, I was asked by a fellow guest if I was a Saints fan or if I was just cheering for them tonight. I responded that because of my love for the city as well as great underdog stories, they were definitely my third favorite team in the league. The guest then laughed and said “Third favorite? Do you have a ranking of all the teams?”. I actually don’t have such a list, but after thinking about it for a minute, I decided that I definitely should. Such a list would prevent me from “bandwagon jumping” and overstating my fanhood for certain teams in the midst of good seasons. It should be noted, however, that any rankings of this nature are subject to change depending on a team’s acquisition and disposal of certain players and coaches, as well as for any Cinderella and underdog storylines that emerge. Based on these considerations, I will now publish my favoritism rankings for all NFL, NHL, college basketball, and college football teams (yes, the college rankings definitely change depending on the sport). The reason there is no NBA or MLB rankings is that I don’t have a favorite team in either sport, and you can’t exactly make a list if there is nothing to put at the top. Also, I’d like challenge other fans to make similar lists, as they will likely help you better understand yourself as a sports fan and why you gravitate to certain types of teams. Furthermore, these rankings will hopefully help you understand any fan bias that unintentionally comes out in my columns.

While compiling my college basketball list, I realized that with over 300 different teams in Division 1 it would be impossible to differentiate all of them. I mean does anyone without a special connection have a preference between Eastern Washington and Quinnipiac? Because of this, I decided just to list my favorite team and least favorite team from each of the conferences. Here are the results:

America East– Favorite: Maine, Least Favorite: Binghamton

American– Favorite: South Florida, Least Favorite: UConn

Atlantic 10– Favorite: George Mason, Least Favorite: UMass

ACC- Favorite: Wake Forest, Least Favorite: Duke

Atlantic Sun– Favorite: USC Upstate, Least Favorite: East Tennessee State

Big 12– Favorite: Texas Tech, Least Favorite: Kansas

Big East– Favorite: Butler, Least Favorite: Marquette

Big Sky– Favorite: Northern Arizona, Least Favorite: Weber State

Big South– Favorite: High Point, Least Favorite: Radford

Big Ten– Favorite: Northwestern, Least Favorite: Indiana

Big West– Favorite: UC Irvine, Least Favorite: Cal State Fullerton

Colonial– Favorite: UNC-Wilmington, Least Favorite: Hofstra

C-USA– Favorite: Charlotte, Least Favorite: Marshall

Independents– Favorite: Winston-Salem State, Least Favorite: NJIT

Horizon– Favorite: Youngstown State, Least Favorite: Cleveland State

Ivy– Favorite: Princeton, Least Favorite: Dartmouth

Metro Atlantic– Favorite: Rider, Least Favorite: Manhattan

MAC- Favorite: Buffalo, Least Favorite: Miami-OH

MEAC– Favorite: North Carolina A&T, Least Favorite: Morgan State

Missouri Valley– Favorite: Evansville, Least Favorite: Missouri State

Mountain West– Favorite: Boise State, Least Favorite: Fresno State

Northeast– Favorite: Mount St. Mary’s, Least Favorite: Robert Morris

Ohio Valley– Favorite: Jacksonville State, Least Favorite: Austin Peay

Pac-12– Favorite: Arizona State, Least Favorite: UCLA

Patriot– Favorite: Army, Least Favorite: Holy Cross

SEC– Favorite: Kentucky, Least Favorite: Florida

Southern– Favorite: Elon, Least Favorite: Chattanooga

Southland– Favorite: Texas-San Antonio, Least Favorite: McNeese State

SWAC– Favorite: Prairie View, Least Favorite: Texas Southern

Summit– Favorite: South Dakota State, Least Favorite: IUPUI

Sun Belt– Favorite: Western Kentucky, Least Favorite: Arkansas-Little Rock

West Coast– Favorite: Gonzaga, Least Favorite: Saint Mary’s

WAC– Favorite: Grand Canyon, Least Favorite: Cal State Bakersfield

Also, keep in mind that as the ultimate sports sentimentalist, so I love the mid-major conferences. Therefore, I will still probably be cheering for my least favorite teams from some of the little conferences if they go dancing in March.

My Least Favorite Sportsmen of All-Time

The first thing you need to know about these rankings are that they are purely subjective. I am not trying to objectively evaluate how much an athlete is hated by the general sports population. Instead, I am simply providing my rankings and analysis for the players and sports figures I personally dislike the most. Also, please note that the title of this entry is my “least favorite sports figures of all-time” not “least favorite athlete”. The reason for this discrepancy is that I wanted this list to include announcers, columnist, owners, and coaches who cannot be considered athletes but still play a major role in how a game is played and/or analyzed. Sometimes it’s the people who don’t directly decide the outcome of a game who are the easiest for me to fall in love with. Moreover, you will see on this list that there is a disproportionate focus on athletes from individual sports. The reason for that is simple: when I watch team sports, I tend to focus on the teams involved and not really build a particular amount of affection (or hatred) towards a particular player. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but with individual sports, I feel that it is a lot easier to build a strong bond with the athletes competing. Furthermore, unlike most of the lists I have published in the past, this one is written in ascending order to preserve the suspense in my countdown to # 1.

30. Joe Lunardi (aka Joey Brackets)- Just like with my “favorite sports figures” list I am starting things off with a non-athlete. First of all, “Joey Brackets” does seem like a nice enough guy, so unlike most people on the list, his ranking here has more to do with the way he is treated than anything he’s actually done wrong. What I mean by that is that anyone that legitimately follows college basketball can do what he does and do it better, yet ESPN acts like his “Bracketology” is the word of the Lord and that only his opinion matters. It’s a convincing rouse that the network has somewhat successfully brainwashed into fans’ head. You will never hear about how accurate Joey’s bracket was after Selection Sunday because they don’t really want you to know that he’s actually not very good at his job. Don’t believe me? Check out how he has compared to other bracketologists including myself over the years (http://bracketproject.50webs.com/rankings.html). The bottom line is that I just don’t like the guy because he gets paid a ton of money to do something that I do for fun, and I am better at it than him. Jealousy? Maybe a little…

29. Kobe Bryant- You probably noticed from my “favorite sports figures” list that some of the greatest athletes of all-time are also some of my favorite athletes. My problem is with the guys who are undeservedly compared to those greats. These are the “posers” of sports who are often time very good but just don’t belong in the discussion of “greatest ever”. Kobe is a perfect example of that, as he has achieved great NBA success but has no business being compared to Jordan or anybody else in the all-time NBA top 5.

28. Brett Favre– I never liked the Green Bay Packers, so Favre was always a player who I held a somewhat unfavorable opinion towards. However, he would not be on this list if it wasn’t for the annoying “fake retirements” that we have had to endure for the last 5 years of his career.

27. Tiger Woods– I really liked Tiger when he was an amateur and when he first turned professional. However, I have liked him less and less ever since he won that first Masters in 1997, and it really doesn’t have that much to do with his sex scandal. Tiger’s become increasingly arrogant and obnoxious, and I hate how all golf coverage revolves around him regardless of how he’s playing. It’s become so ridiculous that every time the guy hits one good shot, commentators and pundits start screaming “Tiger is back!!!” The whole thing just reeks of desperation.

26. Terry Bradshaw– Bradshaw played before my time, but he’s an extremely obnoxious announcer and the Steelers are my least favorite NFL franchise.

25. Isiah Thomas– Thomas played like a thug and then acted even worse we he single-handedly ran an entire professional basketball league, the CBA, into the ground. It’s nothing but poetic justice that he got fired at lowly Florida International at the end of this season and then replaced by Rick Pitino’s 29-year old son.

24. Tonya Harding– Obvious choice for this list. One of the great villains in sports history.

23. Venus Williams– Never liked either of the Williams sisters. Don’t like how they play the game or how they act on and off the court.

22. Serena Williams– See comment above. Serena gets the slight edge over Venus on this list because she’s been a little more successful and a little more obnoxious throughout her career.

21. Mark May– I’m not sure how much of his ESPN persona is an act and how much of it is his true personality, but this now popular t-shirt says it all (http://www.juanelway.com/girl-wears-mark-may-is-a-douche-t-shirt/).

20. Michael Vick– Vick’s pattern of behavior throughout his career seems to indicate that he’s just a bad human being.

19. Lebron James– You don’t have to be a Cleveland fan to notice a traitor when you see one. It’s pretty pathetic that the greatest player in the league had to go align himself with two other top 10 NBA players, and they still struggle to win championships.

18. Sammy Sosa– I really liked Sammy early in his career, especially during his magical 66 home run season from 1998. However, the steroid era turned me off to baseball and I still haven’t forgiven its biggest culprits: Sosa, McGwire, and Barry Bonds.

17. Rece Davis– One of the most outspoken BCS Elitists at ESPN.

16. Pete Sampras– Now we enter my nice guy section of the list. By most accounts, the guys ranked 15-16 on this list are upstanding and successful individuals that would serve as ideal role models for your children. However, I don’t like either guy because they were/are arch rivals of mine. Growing up Andre Agassi was my favorite athlete (see that list below), so naturally Pete was the enemy. Sampras also annoyingly precipitates the stereotype of the ultra-boring tennis player.

15. Mike Kryzewski– I’d probably like Coach K if he coached any other team besides Duke. Just like I might like Kim Jong Il if he wasn’t a crazy dictator. Instead, Kryzewski is the leader of the most evil program in sports history, which is why he qualifies for my top 15 least favorite sports figures. Overall, I tend to dislike Duke’s players and fans more than their coach which is why you will see multiple Dookies ranked higher on this list.

14. Vijay Singh– One of my favorite golf moments of all-time came when a heckler yelled out to Vijay at the U.S. Open after he hit a bunker shot to within 6 inches, “I think Annika would have put that one in.” It really says something about a sport when one of its stars wants to prevent women from competing against men because he’s worried about getting beat. Vijay is just the ultimate pompous and arrogant golfer.

13. Mark McGwire– See athlete # 18. The difference between McGwire and Sosa though is that McGwire parlayed his cheating into perjury on Capitol Hill.

12. Rafael Nadal– I hated this guy from the moment he burst out on the scene at the 2004 French Open. Capri pants have no place in men’s tennis…

11. David Stern– The worst league commissioner of all-time. As you may have noticed throughout this list, undeserved arrogance is a main theme of sports figures who I do not like. Stern is unjustly credited with rebuilding the NBA in the 1980s, when all he really did is ride the coattails of his two superstars, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Now that Stern has firm control of his league he can do things like throw Bird under the bus for making the overtly obvious point that the NBA is a black man’s game. Stern is the ultimate example of the Napoleon complex run afoul.

10. Bobby Petrino– The least of this guy’s crimes is coaching several teams who I don’t particular like (see Louisville and Arkansas). The more egregious crime is of course his constant betrayal of every program and athletic director he’s ever worked for (not to mention his family. The scandal from the past few weeks is sweet poetic justice for this slimeball…

9. Rick Dutrow– You remember this guy? He was the ridiculously obnoxious trainer for the Triple Crown contender Big Brown. I could expound more about him but Pat Forde (who appears on my list of favorite sports figures of all-time) does it better (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=forde_pat&id=3431608&sportCat=horse ).

8. Barry Bonds– Bonds is the face of baseball’s steroid era and just an extremely unlikeable guy, which is why he ranks as my least favorite baseball player of all-time.

7. O.J. Simpson– No comment needed here…

6. Bill Hancock– Some of you might not recognize the name, but Hancock is the figurehead of the most evil organization on the planet, the BCS.

5. J.J. Redick– One of the easiest basketball players to hate in the modern era. Redick is the epitome of all that is wrong with Duke basketball: arrogant, thuggish, and elitist.

4. Lance Armstrong– One of the world’s biggest frauds. This outspoken atheist is so arrogant that he attributes his survival of cancer to his toughness and work ethic. In fact, he’s basically used his cancer as a way to feed his ego and make money. The only reason people even knows that he’s a cancer survivor is that he used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times. Sometimes a story is just too good to be true and Lance Armstrong’s triumphant return to cycling is a great example of that. Cancer doesn’t just cause an average cyclist to become the greatest of all-time. Don’t give me that crap about it gave him a more cycling-friendly physique. There were definitely other forces at play here, and we all know what those were.

3. Craig James– One of the dirtiest and most bigoted sports figures of all-time. This guy just seems to end up on the wrong end of every storyline/issue. First of all, while Rece Davis and other college football pundits subtly express their hate for non-BCS schools, James outright discriminates against them like a Klan member in 1960’s Mississippi. Not only does he consistently bash Boise State and other non-AQ teams on the air but his AP rankings of them have been beyond absurd (http://thebiglead.com/index.php/2011/11/29/craig-james-is-not-a-boise-state-broncos-fan/ ). Pretty ridiculous for a guy who actually played at a non-AQ school himself in SMU. Of course, that brings me right into the second black mark on James’ resume in that he was one of the biggest stars of the scandal-ridden SMU program from the 1980’s that ended up receiving the death penalty for continuously paying players. Those two demerits would probably be enough to get him pretty high on this list, but there’s even more to hate with this guy. Two years ago, James led the campaign that got the legendary Mike Leach fired at Texas Tech when James used his position at ESPN to overdramatize a story about Leach putting his sissy son in a utility closet. I mean is there anyone in the world as petty and vindictive as Craig James? Fortunately for myself and the rest of mankind, James announced last fall that he is leaving his perch as college football analyst to run for senate in Texas. Now he can claim the title as my least favorite Republican politician in the country. Everybody can have at least one guy in their own party they despise, right?

2. Scam Newton– The 2009 college football season was one of the most heartbreaking times of my life, and Scam is the major reason why. That year setup perfect for me with South Carolina, my second favorite football team, set to become the Cinderella champion of the SEC, and Boise State and/or TCU set to become the first mid-major ever to play in a BCS title game. Unfortunately, a thuggish preacher’s son came out of nowhere though to put an end to all my hopes and dreams. Scam, as he has been appropriately dubbed, cheated on tests, stole a computer, lied to police, lied to the NCAA, and then used his dad as part of a pay for play scheme at least two different schools. Somehow, Scam was deemed eligible by the NCAA and allowed to lead Auburn to asterisk-ridden SEC and national championships. A lot of friends of mine have forgiven him and now cheer for him since became a member of the local Carolina Panthers. I will not do so. Instead, the Panthers have gone from one of my top 5 favorite pro franchise to one of my top 5 least favorites all because of the despicable human being named Scam.

1. Christian Laettner– Scam may have ruined my 2009 college football season, but this guy right here ruined my entire childhood. At the age of 6 and ½ I started becoming a sports fan, and on March 28, 1992 I sat down with my parents and their friends to watch a game from start to finish for the very first-time. The local team, Kentucky, was set to play the national juggernaut, Duke, in the East Regional Finals. I knew enough about basketball to follow what was going on, and I soon became enthralled in this epic battle of basketball titans. I could tell you everything that happened that night. The Greatest Game Ever, as it has been called, is one of the earliest vivid memories of my life. I remember jumping around after Sean Woods hit the bank shot with 2.1 seconds left and then talking with my parents and their friends about how we were going to drive around town to celebrate as soon as the final 2.1 seconds elapsed. Then, the shot happened…. the ultimate elitist thug who embodies everything wrong with Duke basketball hit the most unforgettable shot in basketball history. That shot, that game, that moment changed my life in so many ways. First of all, it automatically established Duke basketball as my least favorite sports team of all-time. More importantly, however, it lit the fire behind my intense and sometimes unhealthy passion for sports. I realized, through the ups and downs of that game, how much the outcome of a sporting event can affect a person, a family, and a community’s happiness and well-being. We had friends who went into deep bouts of depression. And believe it or not, my dad, to this day, will not watch a close game involving a team he likes on TV because of how this one ended. That game was the ultimate clash of good vs. evil and on March 28, 1992, evil stepped on a defenseless player’s chest without getting ejected, hit all 20 shots he took from the field, and then hit a spectacular buzzer beater to put an end to the careers of Kentucky’s most popular senior class of all-time. I recently read Gene Wojechowski’s excellent book The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball, and one of the most interesting tidbits in it is that Laettner wore # 32 in tribute to the athlete he grew up idolizing. And who was that athlete you might ask? A football player by the name of O.J. Simpson. That really does explain a lot…

My Favorite Sportsmen of All-Time

The first thing you need to know about these rankings are that they are purely subjective. I am not trying to objectively evaluate how well an athlete is liked by the general sports population. Instead, I am simply providing my rankings and analysis for the players and sportsmen I personally like the most. Also, please note that the time of this entry is my “favorite sportsmen of all-time” not “favorite athletes”. The reason for this discrepancy is that I wanted this list to include announcers, columnist, owners, and coaches who cannot be considered athletes but still play a major role in how a game is played and/or analyzed. Sometimes it’s the people who don’t directly decide the outcome of a game who are the easiest for me to fall in love with. Moreover, you will see on this list that there is a disproportionate focus on athletes from individual sports. The reason for that is simple: when I watch team sports, I tend to focus on the teams involved and not really build a particular amount of affection (or hatred) towards a particular player. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but with individual sports, I feel that it is a lot easier to build a strong bond with the athletes competing. Furthermore, unlike most of the lists I have published in the past, this one is written in ascending order to preserve the suspense in my countdown to # 1. I hope you enjoy the list, and please note that the corresponding column breaking down my “most hated sportsmen of all-time” will be published on this blog tomorrow.

50. Dan Wetzel– Starting out with a “non-athlete” that many pro sports fans probably haven’t ever heard of. Wetzel is a Yahoo college sports columnist, who wrote the ground-breaking book Death to the BCS. He is on this list because he, like myself, is one of the most passionate college football playoff advocates around. You will also find out later that Wetzel is not the only Yahoo sports columnist to crack these rankings.

49. Mark Cuban– I really like unique characters in sports and there may be no one quite as unique as Mr. Cuban.

48. Bonnie Blair– Blair was favorite Olympian as a child, who sent me an autographed picture in response to my fan mail in 1994. Bonnie is the only female athlete on this list who is not a tennis player.

47. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.- I don’t like him as much as his dad (see # 31 on this list), but “Little E” is my favorite active NASCAR driver.

46. Steve Spurrier– He is the most successful head coach of my second favorite college football team, and unlike a lot of people I actually liked him way back when he coached at Florida as well. Just an entertaining character who can flat-out coach.

45. Dustin Johnson– One of the few star athletes from my home state of South Carolina and one of the few golfers in the world who actually looks like an athlete. Johnson is currently my favorite active golfer, which is why his major championship choke jobs have really been especially heartbreaking for me.

44. Martina Navratilova– Besides being the only athlete on this list who I had to double-check the spelling of their name, Martina revolutionized women’s tennis around the world. She became a favorite of mine throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, when she continued to win at the professional level into her later 30’s and 40’s. In fact, she ended her career in 2006 with a remarkable U.S. Open mixed doubles championship at the age of 50.

43. Ted Williams– One of the great “tell it like is” characters in sports history. One of my favorite athletes of the early-to-mid 20th century.

42. Ricky Williams– Here’s another star athlete named Williams who like Ted is really a unique personality is his sport. That’s about the end of the similarities though between Ted Williams and Ricky Williams As you can see though, I really like unique sports characters who give the game personality and life. Ricky may be the first and only true Rastafarian football player of the modern day. It also helps that the best ESPN 30 for 30 in the entire series chronicles Williams’ adult life in vivid detail (see Run Ricky Run).

41. Randolph Childress– The first of two athletes from my beloved alma mater, Wake Forest, to make my rankings. Childress’ epic performance in the 1995 ACC Tournament might be the school’s greatest basketball moment of all-time. The other Wake athlete will be coming up shortly.

40. Caroline Wozniacki– My closest foreign relatives live in Denmark, so I grew up cheering for the Danes in many international sporting events. Wozniacki is the country’s first real international sports superstar, so she’s naturally become of my favorite athletes in the world. If only she could win a grand slam at some point…

39. Brian Piccolo– Still an icon at Wake Forest thanks to the movie “Brian’s Song” and the tragic way his life ended.

38. “Pistol” Pete Maravich– We are now entering the nickname portion of the list as four of the next five sportsmen featured all possess iconic nicknames. “Pistol Pete” has to be one of the most entertaining basketball players of all-time.

37. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson– I gained a deep-seated respect and admiration for “Shoeless Joe” in 10th grade when I wrote a paper in my English class about how Jackson and athlete # 21 on this list (see below) deserve to admitted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

36. Lou Holtz (aka Dr. Lou)- Holtz initiated the South Carolina football rebuilding process when he took over as coach in 1999 and laid the building blocks for the school’s current success. His self-deprecating humor has made him one of the most entertaining and likable coaches/analysts in all of sports.

35. Joe “Willie” Namath– I am a guy who loves picking bold upsets, and Namath made the world’s most famous and successful upset prognostication when he guaranteed the Jets would upset the Colts in Super Bowl III.

34. Marquis Grissom– Yeah I know this particular entry may seem pretty random, as I bet several readers out there have no idea who this guy is. But keep in mind that I grew up as a Montreal Expos fan, and Grissom was my favorite player on those early 90’s Expos squads.

33. Paul “Bear” Bryant- Few sportsmen have ever become as closely associated with an article of clothing as the Bear has with the houndstooth hat. In addition, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the all-time classic “tough as nails” coaches and players out there (see #’s 21, 18, 15, 8, 4, and 3 on this list), and the Bear is typically regarded to be the toughest football coach of all-time. My mother also attended the University of Alabama, so I have historically been a Bama football fan.

32. Monica Seles– Sometimes you can’t really explain why you like an athlete, and I’m going to play that card right now. Most people preferred Graf to Seles in the early 90’s, but I always was a fan of Monica.

31. Dale Earnhardt– I am not a big NASCAR fan, but as a kid who grew up in the 1990’s, it was neat to bear witness to three athletes during that era becoming the most successful in their sport’s respective histories. Michael Jordan was one; Wayne Gretzky was another; and the third was Dale Earnhardt. Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are the only athletes since then who have even approached the status of greatest of all-time, and neither of them are nearly as likable as these three 90’s icons. Earnhardt’s tragic death has added even more mystique to his legendary career.

30. Chris Petersen– The Boise State Broncos represent all that is right in the world of sports, and Coach Peterson is the ultimate reason for that.

29. Jim Nantz– We are now entering the sports announcing segment of the list. Nantz and sportsmen # 28 (see below) are the two most legendary voices of our generation.

28. Bob Costas– See comment above. I’m giving Costas the slight edge on Nantz just because of his witty humor.

27. Tim Couch– Couch is also a sports announcer now, but he’s on this list because of his college football heroics. I realize he was a complete NFL bust, but he was the lone football icon of my Kentucky childhood. Couch and Shaun Alexander are also the two biggest superstars I saw play in high school.

26. Wayne Gretzky– I always find it compelling when a player becomes the greatest all-time in the history of his sport without being naturally gifted at it. Gretzky is the ultimate example of this phenomenon. He wasn’t big and was never extremely fast. Gretzky just played the game perfectly. He also possesses one of my favorite stats in sports history. We all know that The Great One is the all-time leader in goals, but did you know that if he had not scored a single goal in the NHL, he would still be the all-time points leader based on his assists alone. Unbelievable! It’s hard to argue that anyone has such a dominant hold as the greatest in the history of the sport as Gretzky does in hockey. I’m pretty sure when we all pass away, “The Great One” will still be considered the greatest hockey player ever.

25. Grindstone– The first of three non-humans to make this list. As a natural born Kentuckian, horse racing is a passion of mine and Grindstone is the first Derby winner I picked correctly.

24. John Daly– As long as a controversial character possesses a bit of charm, then I usually find him easy to like. That is definitely a trend you find throughout this list including Mr. Daly.

23. Red Drew– He’s the only famous sportsmen in my family, so I have to include the former Mississippi and Alabama coach on the top half of this list. Coach Drew is my wife’s great-grandfather.

22. Bill Rafferty– Jim Nantz and Bob Costas may be the best sports announcers of our generation, but Rafferty is certainly the best analyst. He’s funny, smart, and always full of memorable one-liners ranging from “onions” to “send it in Jerome”!

21. Pete Rose– As stated above in entry # 37, I wrote a great argumentative paper on why Rose and Jackson belong in the baseball hall of fame. On top of being an amazing player, Rose played the game harder than anybody before or since.

20. Street Sense– Grindstone may have been my first derby winner, but Street Sense was the first derby horse I actually won money off of.

19. Greg Norman– The Shark choked away many, many major championships throughout his career, but he still managed to win a couple of British Opens along the way. He was just an extremely likable figure who played the game with unmatched courage and flair.

18. Mike Tyson– Iron Mike is probably the most controversial of any athlete on my list, but I have always viewed him as somewhat of a tragic hero. He’s a guy whose life has been a remarkable roller coaster ride, but he has survived it all and come out better because of it.

17. Maria Sharapova– The first tennis player on this list, Martina Navratilova, revolutionized women’s tennis by making it legitimate. Thirty years later, Maria came along and revolutionized it again by making it glamorous and sexy. Together, their influence is the main reason why tennis is the only sport where the women’s game is as popular as the man’s.

16. Keith Jackson– The greatest sports announcer of all-time, pure and simple. He’s everything you look for in a broadcaster: smart, witty, and sharp with a powerful deep tone to his voice. He was an idol of mine during my childhood years when I desired to become a sports announcer.

15. Bob Knight– Most Kentucky fans despise Bob Knight, but I love the man and everything he stands for. Sure, he had a horrible temper but he was an open and honest humanitarian who revolutionized the game in so many ways. No coach has ever been tougher, no coach has ever been funnier, and no coach has ever been smarter.

14. Tom Brady– As some of you know, my two favorite teams growing up were the Montreal Expos and New England Patriots. Both teams were awful at the time, but one went on to become a great sports dynasty while the other got shipped off to Washington D.C. The Patriot’s first Super Bowl victory was one of the greatest sports moments of my life, and Brady was the guy who led them there.

13. Jimmer Fredette– I have been a massive Jimmer fan ever since he went out and dropped 45 on San Diego State early in his senior year. He is truly one of the most dominant, unique, and entertaining college basketball players of the past 25 years. The Sacramento Kings have even become my favorite NBA team ever since they drafted him; however, I am not sure how well he is going to fit in there long term.

12. Chris Fowler– Fowler may not be the greatest sports announcer/studio host of all-time, but he is definitely my all-time favorite. My attachment to him began in the early 1990’s when I started watching College Gameday long before it became the national sensation it is today. He doesn’t get a chance to offer his opinions much, but when he does, it’s always spot on. I have particularly loved his consistent support and advocacy for mid-major teams like Boise State and TCU, who are frequently bashed by other college football analysts on the network. What really sets Fowler apart though is his work in the game of tennis. My favorite sports are college football, college basketball, and professional tennis in that order, and Fowler has become one of the top dogs in both sports # 1 and 3.

11. Jack Nicklaus– The Golden Bear was before my time, but there’s a lot to like about Jack. He’s humble, tough, and honest, which are three qualities not often found in golfers. He was also the author of the one of the greatest Cinderella stories in sports history, which is a tough role for someone considered “the greatest of all-time” to assume. His remarkable comeback victory in the 1986 Masters at the age of 45 is simply stuff of legend. Don’t let the pundits fool you…Tiger has a long way to go before he passes Jack as the greatest golfer of all-time.

10. Tim Henman– You can probably tell from this list that I am a huge tennis fan, and Wimbledon is by far my favorite tennis tournament each year. The thing I love most about the tourney is not the grass or the tradition but is Great Britain’s obsession with having one of their own finally hoist the championship trophy. In fact, seeing a Brit win Wimbledon is one of the four sporting goals of my life. Henman was the one who lit that passion inside of me when he made his remarkable runs to the Wimbledon quarterfinals/semifinals every year except one between 1996 and 2004. He was not the most exciting character in the game, but it was always fun to see him use his old school serve and volley game to knock off much bigger and stronger players every year

9. Pat Forde– It may surprise some of you that a sports columnist could be ranked this high on my list, but Pat Forde is my favorite sportswriter of all-time. He’s funny, informative, insightful, and most importantly I agree with 99.9% of the views he expresses. In fact, in my 10+ years of religiously reading Forde’s columns there have only been a handful of issues I have disagreed with him about and the only one I can think of off-hand is his support of the all-SEC BCS title game this season. Whether it’s bashing the BCS, supporting Boise State, or ripping Rick Dutrow, Pat Forde has always been the wisest and wittiest talking head in the world of sports.

8. Mike Leach– There’s so much I love about this man and the life he’s lived. Like I said before, I have a deep-seated admiration for colorful and unconventional characters in the world of sports, and Leach is definitely a character both on and off the field. His pass-happy offense has revolutionized modern college football and his witty humor and love for pirates has always entertained the masses. Only Bob Knight possesses a similar combination of wit, unconventionality intelligence, and toughness, but because Mike Leach is a lawyer like me, I’ll give him the edge and name him as my favorite coach of all-time.

7. Babe Ruth– I hate the Yankees and don’t really like the Red Sox either, but I still absolutely love George Herman Ruth. He’s the Paul Bunyan of sports in that his accomplishments have probably been embellished over the years, but the statistics he posted are so extraordinary that it makes all of the stories told him about him believable. Yes, this guy actually did hit more home runs than all but one Major League team in 1920. And yes this guy is an all-time top 50 pitcher to go along with his amazing slugging accolades. There will never be another baseball player as good as Babe Ruth…ever.

6. Secretariat– The most underrated athlete of all-time, pure and simple. People had forgotten just how good this guy was, and it took a recent Diane Lane move to remind people. His performance in the 1973 Belmont Stakes is the most spine-tingling, awe-inspiring moment in sports history…ever.

5. Andre Agassi– My passion for tennis originated with none other than Andre Agassi. He was the first real unique and likable character that the sport ever saw, and his 1999 French Open victory ranks as one of my favorite sports moments of all-time.

4. Larry Bird– He’s provided inspiration for slow, white, vertically challenged set shooters like myself for over thirty years now. Yeah I realize that it definitely helps to be 6’9” but no one worked harder than Bird and his accomplishments in both college at Indiana State and in the NBA are truly extraordinary.

3. Muhammad Ali– This may seem like a puzzling selection on my part, since I strongly disagree his political and religious ideologies. But Ali is from my home state, he invented trash-talking, and he provided the world with some of the greatest moments and events in sports history. Like I have said throughout this column. I love controversial sports characters who possess a certain degree of likability, and Ali certainly has to rank at the top of that list.

2. Andy Murray– Murray is without a doubt my favorite current athlete in the world today. His inclusion on this list has much to do with my # 10 favorite athlete of all-time Tim Henman. Tiger Tim gave the British public hope that one of their own could finally win Wimbledon, but Murray was the one who followed through with the 2013 Wimbledon Championship. Aside from being the guy who ended the country’s 76 year men’s championship drought, I love Murray’s attitude, personality, and the way he plays the game. His style is actually most similar to mine as any top player in my generation. He’s a beacon of consistency who likes to hit lobs, junk balls, and big first serves. His weaknesses are also similar to mine: second serves and playing down to his competition.

1. Michael Jordan– He’s the ultimate sports hero of my generation, pure and simple. They will be telling MJ stories for the next 90 years, just like they have been telling Babe Ruth stories for the last 90. His statistics aren’t nearly as impressive as other all-time greatest like Nicklaus, Ruth, and Gretzky, but his sheer refusal to lose big games makes him the greatest competitor to ever live.