BY MICHAEL QUIRK
Making bold predictions in the world of sports in the age of the internet is essentially entrapping yourself to a future admonishment by Freezing Cold Takes. I can only imagine how dumb this blog would have looked a year ago today, as I predict the White Sox to make noise in the AL Central or something instead of March Madness will be cancelled, The Masters will be played in November, and Rudy Gobert would shift the American sports landscape. If anyone would have predicted those, today we would be strapping cinderblocks on their feet and dumping them in a pond in Salem.
My lack of fear of sounding like an idiot has me undeterred, however. In the terribly-written words for Rich Eisen discussing Sonny Weaver’s draft day maneuvers, I am going to go with my gut on these.
The first major award given out in 2021 will be the Heisman Trophy. In years past, a quarterback or running back tends to take this award by the horns. LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, and Alabama’s Derrick Henry has made this an easy award to give out. Such is not the case this year as we are down to four finalists: quarterbacks Kyle Trask, Trevor Lawrence, and Mac Jones, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith. With Trask losing two of his three games against top teams this year and Lawrence missing a pair of games, I think this comes down to the Alabama guys, Jones and his favorite target, Smith.
I am going with Smith in an almost runaway. A receiver has not won the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991, but a receiver had also never won the AP Player of the Year in its 22 years of existence until Smith won it this past week. Smith received 114 first place votes, beating the runner-up Jones with 67. The AP award is a good indicator as of late regarding the Heisman voting as 17 of the 22 winners of the award also went on to win the Heisman. Smith deserves it, and Smith walks away with it.
As far as the NFL goes, give me Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay to take it home. Russell Wilson was the early leader but fell an absolute cliff. Patrick Mahomes is having a terrific year, too, but I think he may start to fall into the category of Lebron James in the NBA where he could theoretically win it every year, but voters tire of it. Josh Allen may have a shot given how he’s evolved this year, but I like Rodgers for it. He has put up absolutely insane numbers by way of accuracy, touchdowns-to-interceptions, and winning football games. Put some respect on my man’s name and lock in your Rodgers rate.
As far as the other sports, give me Anthony Davis in the NBA, Mike Trout in the AL, Fernando Tatis Jr. in the NL, Cade Cunningham for the Naismith, and some Canadian guy in the NHL.
College Football: Alabama. I mean come on. They arguably have the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line, and defensive-minded coach in the country. They are favored as of this writing by almost three touchdowns against Notre Dame and I think I would have taken them at five. Clemson, Ohio State, and Notre Dame are fine, but that is a unit coming at you from Tuscaloosa.
NFL: Chiefs. Like Alabama, what else are you supposed to do here? The Steelers have a 40-year-old quarterback who is playing like an 80-year-old quarterbacks, the Packers lost their left tackle and have question marks on defense, the Saints have been inconsistent on offense, and the Seahawks on defense. I suppose the Bills are a significant threat given how they have played as of late, but the Chiefs have been there before and I just don’t see how you can bet against that offense.
NBA: Bucks. Do I think the Bucks got significantly better this year as opposed to last? No, I don’t. Do I think the defending champion Lakers did? Yes, absolutely. So does that make this make any sense at all? No, not really.
Giannis Antetlotsofconsonantsandvowels has been an elite player for a few years but there was always that looming question of will he leave the land of cheese and cholesterol for warmer locales, namely Miami? That was answered in December when he signed an extension to stay in dairy country. Then, that aforementioned team from Miami, got absolutely blown out at home by the Bucks a few months after the Heat demolished Milwaukee in the playoffs. I think that was a message game, and it was received loud and clear. The Bucks take the title.
College basketball: Gonzaga looks good. I don’t honestly pay much attention to college basketball until the first Duke-UNC game of the year. Zags coach and certifiable Greg Germann-doppleganger Mark Few has gotten so close over the years and I think he finally gets it done in 2021.
NHL: I don’t know, the Lightning or something.
MLB: The hot pick is the Padres after their acquisitions, or maybe the Dodgers. I am going to ride with the Atlanta Braves for maybe my boldest champion prediction. Atlanta has the bats to compete, with reigning MVP Freddie Freeman leading the way. Now, they will have the arms, too, with a big three of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson. Without Soroka, they were one win away from a trip to the World Series. It will go through LA again this season, but the Braves beat the Dodgers then take the World Series.
Rapid-fire Grab Bag
- James Harden traded from Rockets to Nuggets for package that includes Michael Porter, Jr. So many NBA fans are disillusioned into thinking their players are more valuable than they are, and keep forgetting that in order to get something you also have to give something. Porter has had an excellent year for Denver despite the Nuggets starting just 1-3. A big-three of Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Harden is too tantalizing.
- We have at least one First Take headline entitled, “Are the Padres bad for baseball?” There are few things old white guys hate more than gloating on the baseball field. The Padres are going to do that all year long and finally make baseball millennial and Gen-Z friendly. It will be a conversation for a week or two in the summer. This actually doesn’t feel that bold.
- Urban Meyer is coaching football in 2021. This is more like it. Meyer flirted with both USC and Texas, two prominent programs with sitting head coaches. Neither school looks to be a fit, and Meyer has the right to be extremely picky. The only way I see him back in college is if Brian Kelly leaves South Bend for Austin and Meyer takes over for the Irish or maybe if Dabo Swinney follows Lawrence or Deshaun Watson to the NFL. NFL jobs are very interesting to competitive people like Meyer, and he would want to go into a place he would have say in personnel, and places like Houston, Atlanta, and Detroit all have veteran quarterbacks and vacant head coach and GM spots.
- Lane Kiffin will sign a top 10 class for Ole Miss. Kiffin is renowned as one of the elite recruiters in America, and has a staff featuring a few others such as Chris Partridge and DJ Durkin. The Rebels currently have one open spot on the staff with at least one or two more expected. They showed a fun brand of football both on- and off-the-field, and will now be able to host recruits on campus again. Giving Kiffin the keys to a town like Oxford is dangerous on the recruiting trail.
- People on Twitter get weirder and weirder about athlete’s seemingly-prodigal offspring. Charlie Woods, Arch Manning, Bronnie James, and the list goes on and on. The aforementioned recruiting is uncomfortable in its own right, given that hoards of people fawn over where a 17-year-old decides to go to school. It’s even weirder as Tennessee and Nebraska fans take to Twitter to contact these teenagers they don’t know. The hype trains for these kids, among others, will be out-of-control in 2021.
- We have full football stadiums in at least half of the country this fall. Following the vaccine rollouts, herd immunity, and looking at the eye of economic ramifications from back-to-back years of limited spectators and town visitors. I am not saying whether or not this is right or wrong, so please don’t come into my Twitter mentions on this, just can’t imagine it happening again.
- On a similar note, I think in 2021 we start to see the NCAA continue to crumble. The clock was set by California and Florida regarding paying players for the name, image, and likeness, and the NCAA has put itself into a compromising situation lately. They were neutered by the FBI and still have not acted on the infracting schools, there have been no punishments dealt for schools like Baylor and LSU, selective investigations that start on little more than “I mean come on,” and the model is becoming increasingly archaic. Power Five football schools need the NCAA a lot less than the NCAA needs them, and I think that becomes more abundantly clear by the day.
So there you have it, a series of predictions that are bound to go awry. Hopefully our collective actions, mindset, and fortune can change for the better in 2021. I look forward to looking like a jackass as the calendar turns to 2022 as we remember the NBA-champion Suns and College Gameday analyst Urban Meyer. Eat your hoppin’ Johns, nurse your hangover, and enjoy the turning of the page.