Yesterday could not have been a busier day in the sports world. Even though there were only nine professional games that actually meant something, the news came fast and furious. History was made in the MLB playoffs and a piece of college football history is riding off into the sunset. Let’s take a look at those top stories in today’s Daily Six Pack.
Good Night, Sweet Prince
The Head Ball Coach is retiring. Steve Spurrier is stepping down, effective immediately, at the University of South Carolina. Spurrier, who hinted at retirement before the season and then backed off because it caused a major ripple in the program’s recruiting, has decided that it is time to call it quits. The Gamecocks are in shambles on the field, the byproduct of significant losses of talent over the last three or four seasons.
Spurrier has always said that when his heart was no longer in it, he would retire. His heart is no longer in it. He rebuilt the South Carolina program into a juggernaut that had three consecutive 11-win seasons and churned out players like Jadeveon Clowney, Bruce Ellington, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, DeVonte Holloman, DJ Swearinger, Mike Davis, and, of course, Marcus Lattimore.
In recent days, Spurrier has seemed less interested about all of the behind the scenes work that goes into being a college football head coach. It’s not just about showing up on Saturdays. Being a college football head coach is incredibly demanding, especially on the recruiting trail. Spurrier is 70 years old. He loves to play golf. He’s earned the right to go out on his terms, as a former Heisman Trophy winner, and national championship winner. He played in the NFL and coached in the NFL. His list of accomplishments rivals any coach in the country.
Shawn Elliott will take over as the interim head coach. There are a lot of things that people will miss about Spurrier, but his give zero f----s, quote machine ways are what has made him so endearing to the college football world. Opposing fan bases hate him, but they respect him. South Carolina fans will be forever grateful for what he did for the program.
All kinds of names will be thrown around for what is a pretty good job in the SEC. The facilities are extremely nice and there’s a good talent base in the state and in surrounding states. It will be interesting to see if South Carolina goes the coordinator route or plucks a head coach from a smaller program.
It will be sad to see the HBC go, but it’s time. For him and for the South Carolina program.
Ring That Bell
The Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious going out to the West Coast for Monday Night Football in a game that showcased the team’s grit. Starting safety Will Allen left the game early, leaving the Black & Gold with a patchwork secondary. Ben Roethlisberger remains out with his knee injury and Mike Vick was awful in the first half of this game. And yet, the Steelers won.
Le’Veon Bell got the call as Mike Tomlin opted to go for six instead of kicking a game-tying field goal. The call worked out as Bell took a direct snap and barely crossed the plane for the game-winning score. Pittsburgh was outgained 406-349 and San Diego had the ball for seven minutes and 26 seconds longer than Pittsburgh. San Diego had 24 first downs to Pittsburgh’s 14.
The “walk-off” touchdown for the Steelers bumped them to 3-2 on the season. As glorious of a win as it was for Pittsburgh, it was just as much of a setback for the Chargers. They fell to 2-3 on the season. The AFC Wild Cards look completely wide open right now and that’s a game that the Chargers could ill afford to give away. Mike McCoy hasn’t had the same success in close games after the last two seasons that he had in his first season.
That closes the book on Week 5. Adam Burke and Cole Ryan will take a look at Week 6 on today’s episode of The Gridiron Gambling Report.
The Junior Circuit
Nothing has been decided in the American League because of Kansas City’s “Devil Magic” and Toronto’s unwillingness to go quietly. First, it was the Royals, who trailed by four in the eighth inning and put up a five-spot to take the lead in a game eerily reminiscent of last season’s AL Wild Card Game against Oakland. After 6.1 strong innings from Lance McCullers, the Houston bullpen completely imploded and a critical error on a possible double play ball by rookie phenom Carlos Correa fueled the inning.
The Royals were a team that had several dramatic wins during their World Series run last season and they have now forced Game 5 in Kansas City on Wednesday. Johnny Cueto, added to the team for moments like this, will take the ball against Collin McHugh, the Game 1 winner. How will a young team like the Astros respond to this adversity? They were six outs away from their first postseason series victory since 2005. Instead, they have to regroup for a winner-take-all game at raucous Kauffman Stadium.
In the other series, the Blue Jays have donned their hitting shoes. They picked up an 8-5 win over the Texas Rangers by bashing Derek Holland to the tune of six runs in two innings. Interestingly, the Blue Jays are going to give the ball to Marcus Stroman for Game 5 after using David Price for three relief innings in Game 4. RA Dickey went 4.2 quality innings and then John Gibbons opted to use Price, who didn’t pitch all that well. He also brought Price into a 7-1 game, which could end up being a major misstep. It would have been more understandable had he used Price in a close game. Instead, Price is unavailable for Wednesday’s game and the pressure falls on the second-year pitcher in Stroman.
The Rangers will have ace Cole Hamels on the mound. Hamels is a big underdog because of Toronto’s season-long success against left-handed pitching. Hamels was supposed to pitch in these types of games for the Rangers down the road, not this season, but they’ll have another opportunity to move on to the ALCS when Wednesday’s first pitch is thrown.
The Senior Circuit
The Cubs made postseason history by hitting six home runs as they bailed out ace Jake Arrieta, who was uncharacteristically ineffective on Monday night. Chicago won by an 8-6 count, pushing the Cardinals to the brink of elimination. It could happen on Tuesday when John Lackey takes the mound against Jason Hammel. Michael Wacha struggled once again as St. Louis’s worst fears are being realized. Lance Lynn didn’t even make the St. Louis rotation and Wacha, who had a terrible month of September, seems to be hurt in some way. Every Cardinals pitcher gave up a run and four of the five gave up a home run.
Arrieta had sharp stuff, with nine strikeouts in 5.2 innings, but he gave up four runs on five hits. The Cubs bullpen slammed the door as the offense worked to put some insurance up on the board. They put insurance on the board in thunderous fashion with six home runs, including the first career postseason bomb from Kris Bryant.
The Cardinals are fortunate to have Lackey on the hill on Tuesday because he is their most trusted starter at this point. He was terrific in Game 1, using his veteran knowhow to shut down the Chicago bats. Can he duplicate that with his team’s backs against the wall? The Cardinals also have an advantage because Jason Hammel will go for the Cubs. Hammel has not been the same since he hurt his hamstring around the All-Star Break and Joe Maddon hasn’t trusted him to work deep in many games since then. With Jon Lester ready to go in Game 5, Kyle Hendricks could be first out of the bullpen for the Cubs if Hammel runs into trouble.
The New York Mets emphatically blew out the Los Angeles Dodgers to take a 2-1 series lead. The Dodgers scored three runs off of Matt Harvey in the second inning, but it was 10-3 before the Dodgers scored another run. Curtis Granderson drove in five runs from the leadoff spot and Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run dinger off of Alex Wood in the fourth inning to effectively put the game away. The Mets jumped all over lefties Brett Anderson and Alex Wood for 10 runs on 11 hits in five innings.
In total, 344 pitches were thrown in the 13-7 game on Monday night and it’s a quick turnaround for Tuesday’s game between Clayton Kershaw and Steven Matz. The Mets could have used Jacob deGrom to try and avoid returning to Los Angeles, but they were adamant about not pushing their young starters into short rest. So it will be Matz, who has battled a back issue lately. Kershaw, who was pretty strong in Game 1, has some critics (amazingly) to silence in this start.
A Sark Reality
The situation at the other USC, the University of Southern California, has taken a major turn. Steve Sarkisian, asked to take a leave of absence on Sunday, was fired on Monday. Reportedly, more negative news about Sark’s behavior is coming down the pike and USC AD Pat Haden decided it was best to just nip things in the bud as best he could. Sark has entered a rehab facility, which is about the only silver lining about this whole thing.
A lot of names are being thrown around about the USC job, but they need to make sure that they do more due diligence this time around. Athletic director Pat Haden should be fired as well, but it remains to be seen if the school will do that. Current Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is the most popular name that keeps coming up. With some big jobs open, like South Carolina, USC, potentially Tennessee, and some smaller-scale jobs like Illinois, we are approaching that time of year where smaller schools give raises to their head coaches to try and keep them in the program.
Looking at this week’s game, USC is up to a seven-point underdog against Notre Dame. Is it time to play USC? Tune in to Adam Burke and Kyle Hunter on the College Football Podcast to find out.
A Landmark Day
I missed this on Monday with so much to cover, but it’s definitely worth mentioning here. The NWHL, the National Women’s Hockey League, made its debut on Sunday. There are four teams in the league – the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, and the New York Riveters. Comprised of current and former Olympians and the top women’s college players from the United States, Canada, and around the world, this is the first attempt at a professional hockey league for women in the United States.
Games are generally played on Sunday and the average salary for the players in the league is around $15,000. Despite what you may think about women’s sports, this is a really incredible venture. There are a lot of girls that play hockey around the world with no place to play after college. This league has given them that opportunity. Hopefully it has a lot of success.
Join us every weekday for the Daily Six Pack, covering six of the top stories from the sports world.