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Michael McDowell celebrates after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Weekend winners

Michael McDowell. Super-speedway racing 101: Stay close until the end because anything can happen. Anything. So running third behind much more recognizable names like Logano and Keselowski running 1-2, McDowell made his move and went from third to victory lane at the Daytona 500. (And the 500 is the number of miles covered, not the number of hours it felt like the rain-delayed, wreck-delayed race took.)

UCF. Hey, the mid-major power is looking to replace Josh Heupel with Gus Malzahn. I was ready for Gus to go at Auburn, but I think it would be a great hire for the Knights. Will he take it? I don't know. But Malzahn is a pretty down to Earth dude and a good dude, and if he does — and considering the $20-plus-million buyout he got from Auburn — he could win there and be content there. And that could mean some stability for a Group of Five school that has become all-too-familiar with being a Power Five coach incubator.

Steve Sarkisian. The new Texas coach made a splash  this weekend by landing five-star QB commit Maalik Murphy of the 2022 class. Whether Sarkisian wins big at the big-time program remains to be seen, but keeping in-state elite prospects like Murphy — who picked the Longhorns over Sarkisian's former employees and former boss, Mr. Nick Saban — is the most important first step.

Kamaru Usman. Hey, MMA might as well be Eastern Yugoslavian poetry in terms of my knowledge of it, but the reigning welterweight champ is crushing all comers and is moving his name up the list of all-time greats.

Brooklyn Nets. Gang, I know the NBA is not a huge talking point around these parts, but I have found myself watching way more NBA than college hoops this year. Who knew right? That said, the Nets have three of the top 15-or-so dudes in the league and if they find a way to coexist — and they sure looked the part Saturday night in primetime — Durant, Irving, and Harden are going to be hard to handle — and harder to root for — come playoff time.

Daniel Berger. Making eagle on the 72nd hole to win a tournament at Pebble Beach is stuff everyone who has ever put a peg in the ground has dreamed about. Berger lived the dream Sunday.

 

Weekend losers

The Lakers. No, it has nothing to do with Sunday's loss to the Nuggets. (Side question: When was the last time 40 percent of the All-NBA first team were white dudes? Because Luka Doni and Nikola Jokic are the truth. Side answer to the side question: Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were first team All-NBA in 2006-07. That was the last of three straight seasons in which Nash and Dirk were first-team picks. Before those former MVPs, the previous time was 1986-87 when Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were first-teasers. Those are the only four times since 1980. This year should be the fifth.) The Lakers will be holding their collective breath today as Anthony Davis, who has been in and out of the lineup, was rushed back into the lineup and hurt his leg. The fears are an Achilles' and Davis will have an MRI today. Without Davis, the Lakers have zero shot to get out of the inexplicably deep Western Conference, no matter how well LeBron is playing.

The GOP. The state of affairs in the Republican Party are, in a word, messy. Because moving beyond everything Trump — his presidency, his second impeachment trial (part two failed too), his Twitter and all of it — there becomes a clear path to failure linked to The Donald. It's hard to see a Trumpian candidate winning a national race. And the way a lot of national GOP names you know appear to believe that you can't win the GOP nomination without kowtowing to the MAGA mob. That's a lose-lose formula friends.  

Urban Meyer. Hey, dude can coach his whistle off and has won — and won big — at every stop, but how did no one in the Jaguars building not raise a hand and ask, "Uh, you really think hiring the guy that was too racist for Iowa is a good idea to lead young Black men?" Side question: What's the sentence for using the N-bomb? I think Morgan Wallen's case study will be very interesting, because there are a lot of folks in Nashville throwing a lot of bombs Morgan's way. Morgan released a heartfelt apology over the weekend — see more here — so it weill be interesting to see how long his exile lasts. Side question on the side question: Wallen was dropped by his label and country music now treats his name and his music like Voldemort. This was to be expected in a lot of ways. But he has also been removed from awards shows in categories in which he was nominated. Is that last one fair? Discuss.

Tennessee hoops. Rick Barnes' Vols are too deep and too talented to be this inconsistent. And moreover, the conversations— from outside and inside the program — that this team is mentally soft are incredibly troubling as we speed toward March.
 

 

March madness

I wrote last week how I believe the NCAA tournament will be the least watched since Bird-Magic made the Madness cool.

Even though I got some blow-back on social media for this assertion over the weekend from some college hoops junkies who contend the online betting options will fill the void left by the lack of office pools. I contend that more betting options will only appeal to those familiar with them, and the millions who fill out brackets are not headed to DraftKings or FanDuel rather than filling out a sheet, which was more about office community than gambling anyway.

Moreover, I stand by that considering the factors of the diminished bracket and the fact that Loyola and Gonzaga are a heckuva lot better than Duke and Kentucky heading into the tournament. Especially looking back six weeks ago and realizing that college football got arguably its two biggest brands this side of Notre Dame in a title game with first-round QBs and all these betting options and the TV numbers were down 30 percent.

Yes, UK beat Auburn by cutting the head off of the Tigers offense and maximizing Sharife Cooper's shortcoming of being short. But the Wildcats are 6-13 and will need to win the SEC tournament to dance.

Which leads us to a couple of talking points:

First, did you see that the NCAA has allowed conferences to make a decision if the regular-season or tournament winner gets the automatic bid. Conferences have until Feb. 26 to decide.

You have to believe all the major conferences — leagues in which some of the power players are currently on the outside looking in — will go with the traditional conference champ as the automatic qualifier. And the NCAA needs UK and Duke and maybe even Michigan State get hot and make a run.

Next, look at the names atop the top 16 released over the weekend. There are some really good teams, but how many really head-turning programs are among those pegged as top-four seeds over the weekend?
   
 

This and that

— Count me surprised this was not a bigger story, and maybe it still will become a talking point. Bluefield College, an NAIA school, forfeited a game last week after its players refused to adhere to the university president's demand that they quit kneeling for the national anthem. The president suspended multiple players for dismissing his directive to stand for the pregame anthem. Here's more, and you get the feeling that there will be more chatter about this story around the corner.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the latest news from a very crowded Tennessee platform in the transfer portal as kicker Brent Cimaglia is headed to Georgia Tech.

— Side question: Is there any topic — especially now that the impeachment trial has been closed — being beaten to death like the QB carousel right now on national media?

 

Today's question

Weekend winners and losers. Go.

Multiple choice Monday starts here: What sporting event got your most attention in this first weekend after the NFL ended?

As for today, Feb. 15, let's review.

Chris Farley would have been 57 today. Dude has been dead for 23-plus years.
YouTube was launched on this day in 2005.

Also, Sunday was 30th anniversary of the Silence of the Lambs. So there's that. We've done the Rushmore of scary movies, and I know a lot of folks who view SotL as that. I view it more as scary/thriller, if that makes sense.
Rushmore of suspense/thrillers, and yes, this is kind of an uncertain approach so fire away some nominees. (Example: I think Jaws applies. Psycho feels more like a horror movie.)

Go.

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