The final selection of the College Football Committee for the sport's first playoff games made up for the confusion of the past several weeks. No longer will we have to listen to the TCU-Baylor debate... No longer wonder if FSU will suffer despite another undefeated season, and finally, we can agree the best four teams will be playing each other on New Year's day.

Oregon vs. FSU will be the first game in Pasadena, CA and Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl will follow to determine the top two teams to play for the championship on January 12th in Dallas, Texas.

However, there are still a couple back-burner questions to be answered. Is this the year that the BIG 12 finally invites a couple more schools into the conference and therefore, have a legitimate conference championship game?

Both TCU and Baylor suffered in the final CFP selection. Both schools declared themselves as conference champions but the selection committee was not impressed. Baylor did finally benefit from their win over TCU earlier in the year, as the committee finally righted that wrong as they erroneously ranked TCU ahead of Baylor for weeks.

Which schools would join the BIG 12 in 2015? Rice, Houston, Boise State? Overall, there are about a dozen universities who could add quality football programs to the conference. The BIG 12 lost the right to host a conference title game after several programs deserted to create the new PAC12 and SEC a couple years ago.

What has taken the BIG 12 commissioner so long to grow the conference?  Now, that TCU and Baylor lost a chance to play in the College Football Championship game; perhaps, their commissioner will finally acquire teams necessary to host a conference championship game.



 
 
As another sport's year winds down, there were many headlines displayed on television's screens throughout the world.  In January, the Florida State Seminoles won the last BCS Championship of college football. And of course, the Seattle Seahawks surprised nearly everyone by delivering a decisive beat-down to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in February. March Madness frantically ended in April as the Huskies of UCONN defeated several more talented basketball teams to win the basketball tournament.

In the summertime, we witnessed the perseverance of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and the over-whelming talent of Germany in the World Cup. And the Kings of Los Angeles won another Stanley Cup. In October, the San Francisco Giants entered the MLB post-season as a wild-card team and departed with the Commissioner's Trophy. But, were any of these team accomplishments the best sports stories of 2014? Not even close...

And popular individual sports, such as golf, tennis, and boxing, all had their share of great story lines throughout the year. Sorry, but none of these headlines even come close to the single, best, sport's story of 2014.

The best sports story of 2014 belongs at the very first game of the current NCAA basketball season, which began last week in Ohio. It was a Division III women's basketball game between Hiram College and Mount St. Joseph, which had to be moved several times to accommodate ever-growing ticket sales. It was ultimately played at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Lauren Hill, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph, was recently diagnosed with DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), a rare type of brain cancer, which normally affects young children. Most diagnosed patients only have a few months or a few weeks to live. Lauren, who just began college, simply wanted to play "one game; one college game" before the inoperable cancer ends her life. Over the past few weeks, she tried to practice with her team, but was often too tired after treatments. She showed up at practice anyways. Sometimes, she chose to watch her teammates play instead of resting in bed. Often, she would sit courtside and lean upon family , friends, and teammates, due to weakness from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Other times, she willfully forced herself to run down the court a few times with her teammates.

Mount St. Joseph's first game was initially scheduled for November 15 at Hiram. But, because Lauren will not be able to play basketball much longer, the schools moved the date of the game and to a location closer to Lauren's family and friends. After several different venues, it was played at the Cintas Center at Xavier, which holds over 10,000 fans. It sold out in less than 30 minutes.

Currently, she can only play basketball for very brief periods of time without rest. However, Lauren Hill scored the very first basket of this NCAA basketball season and the last of this game, which Mount St. Joseph won, 66-55.

There are thousands of people responsible for making the best sport's story of 2014 happen. Many of whom will not be on ESPN, but a few, who will. Lauren Hill's courage and determination will always be remembered. And special thanks to the Hiram College women's basketball team who enabled a dream-come-true to be fulfilled. Ultimately, this type of sportsmanship is what's sports, and life, is really about.







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Lauren Hill; photo from LAYUP 4 LAUREN/FACEBOOK
 
 
The 2014 Major League Baseball season ended on Wednesday night in Kansas City, Missouri as the San Francisco Giants won the World Series against the Royals. Series MVP Madison Bumgarner dominated Games 1, 5, and 7.
Not surprisingly, both managers announced earlier that all pitchers would be made available for this game. Giants starter Tim Hudson only lasted until the second inning and Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie departed with one out in the fourth. However, the Giants only utilized 3 pitchers while the Royals used 4 in a game ultimately dominated by Bumgarner. His possible appearance in Game 7 led pre-game talk for two days. He actually entered in the 5th inning with the Giants leading 3-2 and never allowed the Royals a chance to get back into the game. 

Bumgarner's performance is considered one of the best in World Series history.  He is only 25 years old and has been a part of the Giants three World Series wins in the last five years. Many baseball analysts debated the long term affect of Bumgarner throwing so many pitches this entire season. Would his overuse result in a career cut short? Only time will tell; however, having three championships is something many players will never experience, regardless of how long their career lasts. Congratulations to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants!


 
 
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(Photo) AT&T park by dannymac15_1999
The San Francisco Giants take Game 5 Sunday night and enjoy a one game lead in the best of seven. They have now defeated Royals ace James Shields twice in this World Series. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner shut down the Royals again and has pitched well this entire post season, but will likely be unavailable to pitch in Game 6 or 7, if necessary. Bumgarner threw 117 pitches over nine innings of shut-out baseball in Game 5. However, Giants manager, Bruce Bochy , may attempt to pitch him in Game 7, even on short rest, as it will be the last game of the season. But Kansas City must win Game 6 for that decision to come into play.

The Royals will send young, fast-baller Yordano Ventura against Giant's veteran pitcher Jake Peavy on Tuesday evening in Kansas City. These are the same pitchers which faced off in Game 2, which Kansas City won 7-2. Ventura's fast ball was recorded at over 100 mph during last week's game. Jake Peavy's MLB debut was with the Padres in 2002 and he has pitched in 338 regular season games, while Ventura is just completing his first full MLB season with only 34 total starts in the regular season.

The Royals desperately need the two major skills they used earlier this post-season in order to win the final two games; base speed and timely hitting. Royals manager Ned Yost has complained repeatedly about the grounds crew at AT&T park in San Francisco. Apparently, they added more water to the infield dirt to slow down the Royals base runners in Games 3, 4, and 5. In fact, many players complained of the mud stuck in their cleats during games this week. This strategy has worked well as the Royals stolen bases declined significantly while the team played in San Francisco. But notice how Ned Yost failed to comment on the missing "timely hitting" factor on behalf of the Royals. They will definitely need both in order to win Games 6 and 7 and return to their 1985 glory days.







 
 
The Los Angeles Angels ended their 2014 baseball season in Kansas City yesterday. Although 2014 was a great year for the Angels, it ended quite abruptly against the Royals. With the most regular-season wins of any MLB team, the Angels were favored to reach the World Series this year. The Royals ended that favoritism...

Winning the AL West this season was a milestone for the Angels, something only accomplished recently by the Rangers and A's. And although suffering  major injuries to their starting pitching rotation, the Angels were somehow still able to extend the first two games of the Divisional Series into extra innings. Unfortunately, the Angels potent offense was nearly non-existent and they lost the first two games in Anaheim and game three in KC yesterday.

The Royals have been playing terrific baseball over the last several weeks of the season and carried that momentum into the playoffs. They now travel to Baltimore with an opportunity to play in the World Series on the line.

Overall, it was a great regular season for the Angels. True, losing in the first round of the playoffs is disappointing, but the Royals played better baseball and earned their trip to the AL Championship round. Ultimately, the Angels should be quality contenders again next season and the team really only needs to improve their starting pitching this winter.

"Wait 'til next year" is now on the minds of baseball fans in Southern California...





 
 
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Photo: beyond dreams, wikispaces
Derek Jeter and the N.Y. Yankees visit Fenway Park this weekend. The Boston crowd will send Jeter off to retirement in the proper way for one of the greatest players we'll ever see. Ticket prices for Sunday's games sky-rocketed the day Jeter announced his retirement as sport fans reviewed the 2014 MLB schedule and quickly purchased Red Sox - Yankees tickets with this added gift.

Red Sox fans are not well-known for displaying support to Yankees players; however, they gave Yankee closer Mariano Rivera a standing ovation last season. Surely, Fenway's goodbye to Jeter will serve two purposes. Appreciation for all the superior performance Jeter achieved through the years as well as a relief celebration that the Yankees will no longer have their "Captain". The Yankees roster has now dwindled significantly as the team failed to make the playoffs two years in a row and they have as many questions as the Red Sox have concerning next season.

It was great that Jeter was able to avoid the A-Rod circus for his last season. That fiasco would have diminished Jeter's farewell season. In fact, the biggest surprise concerning his retirement media coverage was Keith Olbermann's classless commentary. One would think the television host would show Jeter in a favorable light, considering his show is based in New York, and Jeter is Mr. New York. Jeter's performance stands well on its own. And Oblermann has a history of crazy out-bursts from time to time; however, this one will probably drive away many late night viewers.

Jeter has often said his dream after baseball is to own an MLB team someday, although he quickly added that he could never be a part of the Red Sox organization! That's the spirit, Jeter; a fine Yankee at heart would never admit a yearning to join Red Sox Nation. Anyways, thanks for all the memories and for displaying consistent quality leadership when it was needed so much in professional sports! A class act, for sure...

 
 
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Photo (Richard Hicks)
The 2014 College Football season is underway and the Oregon Ducks earned their first big win of their championship campaign.

Michigan State scored 20 straight points and was leading the Ducks early in the 3rd quarter. The 7th ranked Spartans showed the sports nation how developed their offense has become since playing in the Rose Bowl last season. They now have a potent offense to match their historic terrific defense. QB Connor Cook progressed significantly and is certainly the best QB in the BIG 10 and one of the best in college football. Michigan State definitely has a great chance of repeating as the BIG 10 Champions.

Oregon won the game by scoring three touchdowns in five minutes after halftime. QB Marcus Mariota threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns at Autzen Stadium. He is one of the front runners for the Heisman trophy after returning to Oregon instead of turning pro after last season. He also ran for a valuable first down on a touchdown drive that increased the Duck's lead early in the 4th quarter. The Oregon defense also looked improved over last year's team, but a bigger sample size in required to see if they have a championship quality defense this season.

The Ducks host the 2-0 Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday and then travel to Washington State to play the Cougars.




 
 
All-time Angel great Jim Fregosi was honored at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night. His extended family walked to the mound prior to first pitch and received a standing ovation. Jim Fregosi was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 1960  and made his MLB debut at SS in September of '61.

During his Angels career, Jim Fregosi earned multiple All-Star selections and won the Gold Glove award in 1967. Jim Fregosi hit for the cycle twice as a Angel. He also held many team records before later playing for several other teams towards the end of his career. He still holds the team's record for triples. After retirement, Jim Fregosi came back to Anaheim as the team's manager and led the team to its first ever AL West division title in 1979.

His #11 is one of six Angels players to have his number retired and was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in May 1989.

 
 

The exciting Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers ended on Thursday night. The Dodgers displayed a resilient team effort and won three of four games. The team's stadiums are less than an hour drive from each other, depending upon LA traffic, of course! And the Freeway Series provided a spark within the city during the other-wise slow, dog days of August.

The biggest surprising pitcher of the entire series was certainly Dan Haren's performance at Angels Stadium on Wednesday. Additionally, Kenley Jansen's relief performance was so dominant in the game that the Dodger's August and September run towards the playoffs is now putting all NL teams on notice. Adding an effective Haren with Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu makes the Dodgers starting pitching rotation very formable for all NL opponents.

And although the Dodgers won the series, the Angels are still within striking distance of the AL west division leading Oakland A's. The A's currently maintain the league's best regular season won-lost record and MLB scheduling seems well thought out as the A's and Angels will play several series over the final two months of the regular season. The winner of these series will likely win the division, but the loser should still be able to secure a wild-card.

The Dodgers are currently leading the NL west by several games over the arch-rival San Francisco Giants and the division title may eventually be decided by the teams head-to-head games later this season. As the city's 11 million residents are indeed blessed by both teams experiencing outstanding seasons; and the promise of both Los Angeles teams playing deep into the playoffs has the city's baseball fans enjoying one of the best MLB seasons for the local teams, in recent memory.

 
 
The heat will continue in southern California as the MLB AL west pennant race is the hottest in baseball as the A's and Angels will be battling each other for first place. The A's currently have the best record of all teams and the Angels are right on their tail. There is no rest for the A's and they are busy making block-buster moves during the trade season.

Today they traded for Red Sox ace John Lester and now have a frightening starting rotation, perhaps even the best in baseball. A's management are doing all they can to support the players by acquiring the best talent for a playoff run in August and September. Will it be enough to overcome the Angels and then, most likely, the Tigers in a playoff round?

The Angels made their ball club noise awhile back when the signed Pujols and Hamilton and will only go as far as their current roster will take them. The Mariners are also a strong third team in the AL west and may surprise everyone in the post-season. Tickets sales are hot now in Anaheim and the A's are visiting the Angels for a four game series during the last week in August. Add in another four game series with the LA Dodgers and the Angels are bound to have an exciting month ahead of them! Baseball is a hot ticket in Los Angeles as the Angels and Dodgers are both playing great ball.