Defending World Cup Champions Keep Flaming Out

Over the past half-decade or so, the Spanish national team put together one of the most impressive runs in the history of international soccer, winning a European Football Championship in 2008, a World Cup in 2010, and another Euro crown in 2012. But in this year’s World Cup, Spain went out with a whimper — routed by the Dutch in its opening match and failing to muster a single goal in a 2-0 loss to Chile.Just like that, Spain’s hopes of advancing beyond the group stage were dashed.Before the tournament began, our World Cup prediction model had Spain racking up 5.9 points in the Group B table. (In round-robin play, teams get three points for a win and one for a draw.) But after two losses, Spain is now likely to amass only 2.2 points, 3.7 fewer than expected — a huge shortfall.As strange as it sounds, though, this isn’t an uncommon fate for defending World Cup champions. Since the tournament shifted to its current three-points-for-a-win format in 1994, defending champs have come up short of pre-tournament predictions by an average of 2.3 points during the group stage, and only two incumbent champs — Germany in 1994 and Brazil in 2006 — actually exceeded expectations the years they defended their titles.To determine these shortfalls for years before 2014 (tournaments for which I don’t have FiveThirtyEight projection data), I turned to the pre-tournament Elo ratings. The Elo system is designed to produce probabilities of wins and losses for each team in a matchup based on the difference between the two teams’ ratings. Of course, the group stage of the World Cup also allows for draws. Elo treats draws as half a win for each team, but doesn’t provide a prediction for a tied outcome. So, I tapped into our FiveThirtyEight model to derive the probability of a draw based on the raw probability of a win if ties weren’t allowed.For example, in the opener of the 1994 World Cup, Germany (Elo: 1,971) faced Bolvia (Elo: 1,663). In a world without ties, the Elo formula tells us Germany’s 308-point Elo lead would produce a win 85.5 percent of the time, but the curve above also tells us that 15.6 percent of the time, such a matchup will end in a draw. Subtracting half of that number (7.8 percent, since ties count as half a win in Elo) from 85.5 percent, we get the corrected probability that Germany would win outright: 77.7 percent. (The Germans did end up winning, 1-0.)Doing this for every World Cup group-stage match from 1994 to 2010, we can generate a projection for the number of points each team would have been expected to accumulate in the standings table. We see that defending World Cup champions have usually fallen short, often in a major way:Only the 2006 Brazil side, which tore through the group stage undefeated, significantly outplayed expectations. The rest either played to them (Germany 1994), underperformed slightly but still advanced (Brazil 1998), or flamed out spectacularly (France 2002, Italy 2010 — and now Spain 2014).It’s not clear why this is happening. Is Elo overrating defending champions for some reason? Are these teams overburdened by the weight of expectations? Or is this just an unlucky streak in the small sample of six tournaments? Theories will abound, but one thing is for sure: When it comes to meeting pre-tournament expectations, it’s rarely paid to be a defending World Cup champion in recent years. read more

Mike Bantom Appointed New NBA Head of Referees

To replace U.S. Army General Ronald Johnson as the league’s senior vice president of referee operation, the NBA promoted former player Mike Bantom, a long-time league executive.Bantom will oversee the NBA’s officiating program, including the recruiting, training and development of all NBA officials. He will report to Joel Litvin, NBA President, League Operations and his new role will begin immediately.“Mike has been an invaluable part of the NBA for over 20 years and has excelled in leadership positions across both our domestic and international businesses,” league commissioner David Stern said. “That experience, together with his considerable accomplishments on the court and his respect in the basketball community, make Mike an outstanding choice to lead the NBA’s officiating program.”Bantom was promoted from his position as Senior Vice President of Player Development, a job he had held since 1999. His 20-plus years with the NBA also included stops with NBA Events and NBA Europe.Bantom, 60, averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists during a 9-year career that included stops with the Phoenix Suns,  Seattle SuperSonics, New York Nets, Indiana Pacers and Phildelphia 76ers during the 1970s and 1980s.While Bantom’s position isn’t particularly public, it is important. The conduct and performance of the referees he oversees are always hot topics.The unchecked outrage and conspiracy theories have cooled off a bit since the Tim Donaghy referee-gambling scandal first broke back in 2007, but the league will continue to find itself fighting a never-ending war for its credibility until error-free robots are invented to handle officiating duties.The league has made real progress over the last two seasons by undertaking efforts to increase transparency, setting up websites and even a Twitter account to explain calls, correct misconceptions and admit errors. Hopefully that progress continues under the new leadership. read more

Jerry Sandusky Transferred To State Prison

Jerry Sandusky, the convicted child sex abuser sentenced to no less than 30 years,  became a state prison inmate Tuesday with his transfer out of the Centre County jail, his home since he was convicted in June of child molestation.The 68-year-old former Penn State assistant coach arrived early in the morning at the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill, just outside Harrisburg, a state prison system spokeswoman said.He faces testing and evaluation that will take a week or more before he can be assigned a security risk level and sent to one of the state facilities as his “home” prison. At Camp Hill, experts will assess his mental state, physical health and education level, and determine whether he needs treatment.Sandusky was sentenced this month to 30 to 60 years for sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.There are about 6,800 sex offenders serving time in Pennsylvania’s prison system. The Corrections Department does not maintain special units for sex offenders, and there is no way to predict where he will be sent.Meanwhile, he maintains his innocence and had attorney file motions for a new trial.Sandusky’s lawyers made the filing at the courthouse in Bellefonte, where he was sentenced two weeks ago  after being convicted of abusing 10 boys, some on Penn State’s campus in State College.“The defendant submits the court’s sentence was excessive and tantamount . . . to a life sentence, which the defendant submits is in violation of his rights,” they wrote.The 31-page set of motions, technically not appeals because they were filed with the trial judge, cover a wide range of assertions, including insufficient evidence, improper use of hearsay testimony and improper rulings from the bench.More than a third of the document explores ways Sandusky claims the rapid pace of the case violated his right to due process of law, as he went from arrest to trial in just over seven months. His lawyers said they were swamped by documents from prosecutors and lacked time to interview possible witnesses and an expert and two assistants were not available at trial.The document said Judge John Cleland ruled improperly concerning the use of a computer-generated drawing of an accuser and issued incorrect jury instructions. It also raised issues about prosecutors’ closing argument, the vagueness of the charges, sequestration of jurors and the amount of restitution ordered. read more

A Buyers And Sellers Guide To The MLB Trade Deadline

For most Major League Baseball teams, the trade deadline is a chance to step back and take stock of the franchise’s trajectory. Although only a small fraction of rumored deals actually end up happening, a team’s willingness to swap assets — as either a buyer or a seller — says a lot about where it is in the cycle between contending for a World Series and playing for the future.For a few teams, the choice has already been made. These are the clubs on the ends of the baseball spectrum: the bottom dwellers already committed to punting the present in order to stockpile young talent and the clear front-runners who can begin fine-tuning their playoff rosters in July.But the bulk of the league faces a fork in the road and doesn’t have the luxury of soul-searching with the trade deadline less than two weeks away. The decision to buy or sell is both critical — botched maneuvers can cripple a franchise for years — and further complicated by whether teams are getting a “rental” player (with an expiring contract) or someone who can help them for the next few years. But fear not, baseball general managers, we are here to help.A few years ago, my colleague Nate Silver and I developed a statistical framework for trade-deadline strategy: the Doyle Number (named for a certain pitcher the Detroit Tigers mortgaged their future to acquire at the 1987 deadline). Doyle represents the number of future wins a team should be willing to part with in exchange for adding an extra win of talent this season. So a Doyle of 1.00 means a team should be indifferent to buying or selling — a one-win improvement this year adds as much to its current World Series odds as a future win would add over the long term.1Specifically, its odds over the next six seasons. If its Doyle rises any higher, it should probably be buying (since wins this year are more valuable than future wins); any lower, and it should be selling.For example, the Cleveland Indians currently have a Doyle Number of 1.48. With a good (though not quite great) roster and decent (but not quite ironclad) division-series odds,2Doyle focuses on the division series rather than the wild-card playoff, because the latter’s single-elimination format truly is a crapshoot. they should probably be trying to add talent over the next few weeks to bolster their chances of returning to the World Series. Meanwhile, the New York Mets’ Doyle is 0.08; their injury-riddled talent base is mediocre, and they have very little shot at the division series, so they should be selling off anyone that isn’t nailed down.With those ground rules in place, here’s every team’s Doyle number as of July 16:3The only change I’ve made to the model for this season is that it now uses the future wins (per 162 games) implied by a team’s Elo rating to assess a team’s talent at the deadline, rather than its rest-of-season projected winning percentage from FanGraphs (which is slower to incorporate changes in a team’s play than Elo). Diamondbacks152084.641.83.31.0 Rays151583.535.72.50.9 Where each team stands at the deadlineTeams ranked by Doyle Number — how many future wins of talent a team should trade away to acquire 1 win this season Astros1591100.399.724.62.2 Talent is an estimate of a player’s current projected wins above replacement (WAR) per 162 games.Sources: RosterResource, Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Tangotiger Phillies143365.20.00.00.0 Blue Jays149478.84.30.20.1 TEAMDOYLEPLAYERPOSTALENTPLAYERTALENTDEADLINE INDEX Red Sox154489.869.28.31.6 The Doyle topples one of the most common perceptions of the deadline: The team most in need of a trade is the team that is one bat (or one arm) away from making a postseason run. By contrast, Doyle shows that the the teams who should be most willing to buy are the teams having the best seasons — not teams merely on the cusp of the playoffs. It’s a consequence of how random the MLB playoffs are: When even the best teams have long odds of winning, there’s practically no amount of talent a team can add that will cause its World Series probability to hit diminishing returns.This year, the top Doyle teams are the historically dominant Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros — and, to a lesser extent, the Indians, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. With the possible exception of Houston, each team has at least one position where it can substantially improve, and Doyle indicates they should focus on shoring up those weaknesses in preparation for a World Series run.More interesting, however, are the clubs near the threshold between buying and selling. These are teams for whom there is less of a clear-cut direction to take — but some decision must be made, since any direction would add more total future championships than merely standing pat. One archetype for that group is the unexpected contender: Think of the Milwaukee Brewers, who find themselves in first place in the National League Central division despite a relatively unimpressive collection of talent. Milwaukee’s 1.26 Doyle suggests it should lean toward buying, since an improved core will become much more valuable in the postseason.The opposite model might be that of Milwaukee’s division rival, the Chicago Cubs: an expected favorite to whom Doyle gives a disappointingly low World Series probability. The defending champs are having a well-documented down year, and although they’re talented enough to have decent title odds if they make the playoffs, that’s far from guaranteed no matter what deadline moves they make. As a result, their 0.66 Doyle suggests they should lean toward punting on this season.The Cubs, however, don’t seem willing to give up just yet, trading for starter Jose Quintana last week. They weren’t necessarily wrong to do it, either; it’s important to remember that the Doyle Numbers above mostly apply to rental players. After I tweaked the model to account for the remaining years on Quintana’s contract,4Specifically, I gave Chicago 3.2 wins above replacement of talent this season — Quintana’s current talent level, per Tom Tango’s WAR projection system — with an annual half-win decline over each of the next three seasons. Quintana’s total four-year contribution to Chicago’s talent level (9.8 WAR) was then subtracted, spread evenly over the three seasons after his contract expires. Chicago’s Doyle for this specific trade became 1.31 — meaning it was probably worth it to give up top prospects in exchange for improving its talent base over multiple seasons.Those are exactly the kinds of extenuating circumstances a team in Chicago’s current situation needs in order to justify buying instead of selling. Any team with a Doyle north of 0.60 or so could probably do a similar calculation, which means 11 clubs — the Dodgers, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox, Indians, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Rays, Cubs and Rockies — could reasonably call themselves buyers this season under the right circumstances.So we know who’s at the restaurant, and we know who’s on the menu — but what is everyone ordering? We can also use Doyle to build a trade deadline plan for each team, pairing them with players who fit a need and make sense given how realistic a club’s World Series chances are. For each of the 11 teams above, I gathered their current starters5The cutoff for pitchers was either the No. 4 slot in the rotation (for starters) or the setup man role (for relievers). and tracked how good each is this season, according to Tom Tango’s WARcel projections. I also pulled a list of deadline rental targets6So, expiring contracts only. from the excellent RosterResource.com, calculating their WAR talent as well. Multiplying a team’s Doyle Number by the difference in WAR talent between a rental target and its current starter at the same position, we came up with a “deadline index” that indicates how good of a match the player is for the team. After assigning duplicated targets to the team whose index for the player was highest, here are the best pairings between team needs and available players, according to Doyle: Red Sox1.6A. AvilaC+2.3C. Vazquez-0.24.0 Cubs0.7C. GomezLF+1.6K. Schwarber+0.01.1 Nationals155191.593.812.81.9 Royals149578.915.30.70.3 SELLERSELO RATINGEXP. WINS PER 162 GAMESDIV. SERIES ODDSWORLD SERIES ODDSDOYLE NUMBER Rangers152585.714.7%1.3%0.4 Pirates149679.25.50.30.1 Angels150280.45.20.30.1 Nationals1.9J. DysonLF+2.7C. Heisey-0.45.8 Expected wins are derived from the team’s current Elo rating.Source: FanGraphs Dodgers1598101.898.5%26.5%2.2 Cubs153587.822.02.30.7 Obviously, here are other layers of complexity involved in actually pulling off these deadline deals, including the quality of the trading team’s farm system, which of its existing players might return from injury before the playoffs, and the possibility of a contract extension with the player being acquired. But the general idea of Doyle is that it provides a flexible framework for trade-deadline decisions, based on how valuable it is to add or shed current talent with an eye on the future.Keep that in mind as we watch whatever deals unfold over the next couple of weeks. A team’s Doyle Number is a rough guideline, the starting point for thinking about trade possibilities. What happens after that is a combination of reading the market, picking the right moment to strike and then making endless phone calls until that forgettable middle reliever is finally yours.Check out our latest MLB predictions. SOLID BUYERSELO RATINGEXP. WINS PER 162 GAMESDIV. SERIES ODDSWORLD SERIES ODDSDOYLE NUMBER D-backs1.0C. GrandersonLF+2.0D. Descalso+0.02.0 Tigers148977.63.30.10.1 Mariners151383.19.30.60.3 Marlins149478.72.50.10.1 Athletics147875.21.30.00.0 CAUTIOUS BUYERSELO RATINGEXP. WINS PER 162 GAMESDIV. SERIES ODDSWORLD SERIES ODDSDOYLE NUMBER Reds146371.80.70.00.0 Padres144467.60.20.00.0 Astros2.2Y. DarvishSP+3.1M. Fiers+1.14.3 Yankees153186.934.13.30.9 Rockies0.6J. BruceRF+2.0G. Parra+0.21.1 Dodgers2.2A. ReedRP+1.9P. Baez+0.82.3 Indians154489.857.46.91.5 Indians1.5J.D. MartinezRF+2.4T. Naquin+0.33.1 White Sox146772.71.10.00.0 Cardinals150781.610.20.60.3 Orioles147474.33.10.10.1 Rays0.9C. MaybinLF+1.8S. Peterson+0.21.4 Braves147875.35.60.20.1 Brewers1.3Z. CozartSS+3.1O. Arcia+1.02.7 Doyle’s deadline shopping listThe top targets for each potential buyer based on deadline index, which is the difference in talent between an available ‘rental’ and the team’s current starter at his position, multiplied by the team’s Doyle Number Yankees0.9T. Frazier1B+2.3J. Choi+0.12.1 Rockies150480.927.71.50.6 TOP TARGETCURRENT STARTER FOR TARGET POSITION Giants147574.50.00.00.0 Mets150380.93.20.20.1 Twins147574.518.70.50.3 Brewers151282.864.2%4.3%1.3 read more

Eli Manning Is Profoundly Mediocre

We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆  Join the squad. Subscribe Among that group, Eli Manning ranks either last, or ahead of only Testaverde,1In Testaverde’s defense, he spent nearly a decade toiling away on some bad Buccaneers and Browns teams. in nearly every season-indexed rate stat: completion rate, yards per attempt, interception rate, passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt, net yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt.But Manning is not just terrible at being great — he regularly tests the lower boundaries of even being good. He has finished among the top 10 in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating just four times out of the 11 seasons for which QBR has been calculated; his average rank is a middling 16th. He has finished among the top 10 in passer rating just once in 12 starting campaigns, finishing an average of 18th. From 2004, when Manning entered the league, through Week 1 of 2017, he was in the bottom half of both season-indexed passer rating and season-indexed adjusted net yards per attempt2PFR’s Advanced Passing table contextualizes passing rate stats by indexing them to the league average over three seasons with the given season in the middle. 100 is average, higher is better. See the PFR Glossary for details. (among quarterbacks with at least 50 starts): Even after Eli Manning’s 200 consecutive regular-season NFL starts, quantifying his career is difficult.Manning is in his 14th season, and nearly every one has felt like a crossroads. Which quarterback would show up for the Giants: the one capable of winning two Super Bowl MVPs — or the one capable of leading the NFL in interceptions for three seasons?The answer was probably somewhere in between. Manning has been reliably, and historically, mediocre.Only 10 quarterbacks in NFL history have started at least 200 games, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, and the list is a who’s who of all-time legends: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Warren Moon and John Elway. And Eli Manning. And, OK, Vinny Testaverde — but still.Save Eli Manning and Testaverde, all have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or are virtually certain to be.What to expect from the Lions vs. Giants The truth is, the NFL’s eighth all-time leading passer has produced like a below-average starter across his entire career. That average contains some really low points, like his miserable 27-interception 2013 season, when he finished 35th in passer rating in a league with just 32 teams.But that is as close as Manning has come to truly poor play. That reliability — that no matter how much he teases us with flashes of greatness, he at least definitely won’t be bad — has prompted the Giants to lean on him for more than a decade. What’s more, he’s rewarded that trust: Tonight, Manning will make his 212th consecutive start, the longest active Ironman streak in the NFL — and third-longest in the history of the league.Above all, that may be Manning’s greatest skill: just being there. Since he took the starting quarterback job away from Kurt Warner in November 2004, the Giants have not had to worry about the position, allowing the team to devote resources and draft picks to other areas. By comparison, the Giants’ roommates, the Jets, have started 15 quarterbacks in this span. The Cleveland Browns have started 23.But considering that Eli will turn 37 in January, how much longer can the Giants expect this to last? Quarterbacks seldom hang on to starting jobs beyond age 35. Then again, elite quarterbacks have blown past this expiration date — especially in recent years. Brady and Brees combine for 78 years of life, and together, they threw for more than 800 passing yards when they faced off on Sunday. Favre, Moon and Eli’s brother Peyton all played some of their most efficient football very near the end of their starting career. So maybe Eli Manning will soon reach a never-before-seen level of performance?But even his best passing performance, in 2011, still couldn’t match up with the best of his peers’. He threw for 501 more yards than he ever had before or ever has since, but 543 fewer than Brees that season. Manning gained an impressive average of 8.4 yards per attempt, but Aaron Rodgers gained an average of 9.2. Manning’s passer rating in 2011, 92.9, was worlds away from the NFL-record 122.5 that Rodgers posted that season.Even if Manning finds another level sometime soon, he’ll still be several levels shy of Brady, Brees and Rodgers’ best.In some ways, Manning is a throwback: A high-risk, high-reward passer who is rarely efficient but sometimes makes big plays in big moments. A Joe Namath in an era when offensive innovations have made the average NFL quarterback better than Roger Staubach.3Hall of Famer Roger Staubach’s career average completion rate (57 percent), TD/INT ratio (1.4:1) and passer rating (83.4) were all below 2016 NFL team passing averages (63.0 percent, 1.9:1, 87.6). All newsletters But this is why advanced statistics exist: to help isolate a player’s performance from that of his teammates’ (hello, defensive lines and David Tyree) and to compare his performances against those of his peers. That analysts at major outlets were still citing rings and wins to claim that Eli is better than Peyton as late as 2013 is proof that we still need to look deeper.A handful of high-leverage highlights can’t outweigh hundreds of games’ worth of mediocre play, not when we’re trying to pick the best of the best. But then, Eli Manning has never been one of the best.No, the most prolifically mediocre quarterback in NFL history is in a class all by himself.Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

This Could Be The Biggest AlabamaAuburn Matchup Ever

Georgia32.2-1.9+2.82.2 SatGeorgia Tech165423.7Georgia212219.4 Ohio State27.8+3.2-4.83.8 RKSEASONALABAMAAUBURNALABAMAAUBURNCOMBINED So with 62.4 percentage points of total CFP probability on the line — in terms of how much the game projects to swing our model’s odds across every team in the country — Alabama-Auburn is easily the most important game remaining in the regular season: 10199314✓22198120041992 32016✓3012246819902204 SatOklahoma217787.3West Virginia173416.5 FriPittsburgh150015.6Miami221614.8 Auburn21.0%-20.6+31.0+/-24.7 Clemson70.0-1.7+2.62.1 82011✓4214218718642013 Oklahoma58.1+1.2-1.91.5 SatFlorida166142.5Florida State16744.0 And the stakes of this particular Iron Bowl could scarcely be higher. Not only will the winner go to the SEC title game as West division champ,2Either Alabama will have an 8-0 conference record or the teams will be tied at 7-1 in conference games and Auburn would have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Crimson Tide. but the outcome will also have a big influence on who ultimately makes the College Football Playoff.According to the FiveThirtyEight CFP prediction model, Alabama and Auburn are two of the eight remaining teams in the country with at least a 20 percent probability of making the CFP. If Bama wins, that would bump the Tide’s playoff odds from 67 percent to 84 percent; if they lose, that number falls to 42 percent (meaning ’Bama might well miss the CFP for the first time). The stakes are even higher for Auburn: If the Tigers prevail, their odds will rise from 21 percent to 52 percent, but a loss would effectively eliminate them from the CFP race. And the ripple effects extend beyond the SEC, as seven other teams figure to see their playoff probabilities shift by at least 1.5 percentage points depending on what happens on the Plains. USC9.5+1.6-2.41.9 As of Nov. 20, 2017. Includes teams where the average swing is at least +/- 0.5 percentage points 12017??237421612262 Alabama66.9+16.6-25.120.0 TEAMCURRENT CFP CHANCEBAMA WINSAUB WINSCFP SWING SCOREELO RATING 61994✓2114208921082098 72015✓2913239017642030 How the Iron Bowl could change the playoff pictureSwings in each team’s chances of making the College Football Playoff depending on who wins the Alabama-Auburn game SatWashington196176.5Washington St.19128.5 DAYSCHOOLELO RATINGWIN PROB.SCHOOLELO RATINGTOTAL SWING SatAuburn216139.9%Alabama2374+/-62.4 2201328✓34234920962215 Miami51.1-1.6+2.41.9 The most important games of Week 13According to total swing in all teams’ likelihood of making the College Football Playoff based on the game’s outcome 52014✓5544230019752125 Elo ratings are scaled so that an average team has a rating of 1500. SatStanford200444.3Notre Dame199710.4 SatSouth Carolina189118.6Clemson219214.5 CHANGE IN CFP CHANCES IF … SatMinnesota156513.2Wisconsin216512.0 SatMichigan187225.7Ohio State199225.5 4201027✓28215622102182 9198920✓30205119451996 On paper, this year’s Iron Bowl looks like the best in yearsHighest combined Elo ratings (according to their harmonic mean) for Alabama-Auburn matchups, 1988-2017 Week 13 in college football — aka rivalry week — promises to be one of the most chaotic of the year, with dozens of teams playing hatred-filled games that will have major College Football Playoff implications. No. 2 Clemson travels to face in-state rival South Carolina; No. 7 Georgia hits the road for its annual meeting with Georgia Tech; and No. 9 Ohio State heads to the Big House to face “That Team Up North.” But of all those high-intensity games, it’s the one between Alabama and Auburn that has the most riding on it.The Iron Bowl has given fans some of the most spectacular college football moments in recent memory, including “The Drive” in 2009, when Greg McElroy drove Alabama back to a 26-21 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium via a touchdown with less than 90 seconds left. Or “The Camback” in 2010, when Auburn, led by Cam Newton, stormed back from 24 points down in Tuscaloosa to stay undefeated (they’d eventually go on to win the National Championship). And most famously, there was the “Kick Six” in 2013, when Alabama took a 57-yard field goal attempt with one second remaining, but the ball fell short, and Auburn’s Chris Davis ran it back 109 yards to win the game.But this Saturday’s Iron Bowl could top all of those others, given its importance and the sheer quality of this year’s Tide and Tigers squads. For starters, these two teams are the best they’ve been in decades. We can measure how strong a given matchup is using our Elo ratings, which assign each team a score based on their quality at any given moment. And currently, Alabama boasts the No. 1 Elo in the country (what else is new?) while Auburn ranks sixth. If we combine those Elo ratings using their harmonic mean — which allows us to look for matchups where both teams have high ratings — we find that this year’s Iron Bowl features the greatest combination of Alabama and Auburn squads since at least 19881Our Elo Ratings for college football only go back that far.: TCU11.0+1.8-2.72.1 Notre Dame1.1+0.4-0.70.5 HOME TEAMAWAY TEAM In terms of ridiculous, heart-stopping finishes, it would be hard for Saturday’s game to top the 2013 edition, which ranked second in terms of combined Elo ratings, so don’t hold your breath for another miraculous kick six. But even though we don’t know how it will end, this Iron Bowl is set up to be special. The teams are at their best, the winner will likely go to the College Football Playoff while the loser will likely stay home, and the game’s outcome could help throw the rest of the country into chaos. The Alabama-Auburn rivalry is legendary and the game would still be tense even if both teams were 2-9 — but with the road to the national championship passing squarely through Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, this season’s edition should be one for the ages.Check out our latest college football predictions.CORRECTION (Nov. 22, 9:30 a.m.): A previous version of the third table in this story reversed the home and away teams for several games: Auburn-Alabama, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh-Miami, South Carolina-Clemson, and Stanford-Notre Dame. The table has been updated. read more

You Dont Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated

Christie Aschwanden’s new book, “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery,” is available this week. In it, she examines the latest recovery trends among athletes — including Tom Brady’s infrared pajamas, Sue Bird’s coffee naps and Michael Phelps’s “cupping” ritual. She also tests some of the most controversial methods herself, including cryochambers, float tanks and infrared saunas. Below, we’re publishing an excerpt of the book’s chapter on what science really tells us about what we should drink after we work out. Hydrate Till You DrownExercise scientist and physician Tim Noakes was a believer in the dangers of dehydration until two separate experiences left him questioning what he thought he knew.First, Noakes was involved in a study examining participants in a four-day canoe race. During a particularly rough day, one of the paddlers lost all of his drinking water when it washed overboard as he went through some breakers. Despite having canoed about 50 kilometers without drinking, the paddler’s body temperature hadn’t become elevated, as the dehydration theory would have predicted. “We weighed him, and he’d lost about eight or nine pounds, but his body temperature was normal and I thought, oh my gosh — body weight loss has nothing to do with body temperature,” Noakes says. This was a lightbulb moment, because conventional wisdom held that one of the reasons that dehydration was (supposedly) so dangerous was that it put people at risk for heatstroke, and this finding contradicted that assumption.The canoe study prompted Noakes to reconsider the idea that maintaining full hydration was essential to staving off heatstroke. Then, in 1981, a runner wrote to Noakes describing a strange experience she’d had at that year’s Comrades Marathon — a famous 90-kilometer ultramarathon in South Africa. It was the first time that the event had provided drink stations every mile of the 56-mile course, he says, and the runner wrote to say that she’d begun feeling really strange about three-quarters of the way through the race. Her husband pulled her off the course and delivered her to the medics. The first responders assumed she was dehydrated and gave her two liters of intravenous fluid, after which she lost consciousness. She had a seizure on the way to the emergency room.At the hospital, doctors discovered that her blood sodium concentration was dangerously low. The ultimate diagnosis was a medical condition called “water intoxication” or hyponatremia — too little sodium in the blood. Contrary to what the medical crew at the race had assumed, the runner wasn’t dehydrated— she was overhydrated. She’d drunk so much fluid that her blood sodium had become dangerously diluted. Low blood sodium causes cells in the body to swell, and when it happens in the brain, the results can be deadly.Noakes has built a reputation as a loud contrarian on a variety of issues. He is perhaps most famous for his theories about exercise fatigue and has made a career out of pushing against conventional scientific wisdom, some say to his own detriment.5In 2017, the Health Professions Council of South Africa cleared him of a charge of professional misconduct that had been brought by the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, which had complained about advice he’d given on Twitter telling a mother to feed her baby a low-carb, high-fat diet — an eating plan that’s the subject of his latest crusade. So it’s not surprising that he was one of the first and loudest voices on overhydration (the guy wrote a whole book about it).Yet Noakes is far from alone in worrying that the rush to prevent dehydration may have put exercisers at risk of the far more serious condition of water intoxication. In 1986, a research group published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association describing the experience of a medical student and a physician who’d become stuporous and disoriented during an ultramarathon. The men were diagnosed with hyponatremia, and they concluded that they’d developed the condition by drinking too much.There’s never been a case of a runner dying of dehydration on a marathon course, but since 1993, at least five marathoners have died from hyponatremia they developed during a race.6This 2005 Noakes paper describes four deaths, and since then, there’s been at least one more, at the London Marathon in 2007. At the 2002 Boston Marathon, researchers from Harvard Medical School took blood samples from 488 marathoners after the finish. The samples showed that 13 percent of the runners had diagnosable hyponatremia, and three had critical cases of the condition. German researchers similarly took blood samples from more than a thousand finishers of the Ironman European Championship over multiple years and found that 10.6 percent of them had hyponatremia. Most of the instances were mild, but nearly 2 percent of the finishers had severe or critical cases. Although the findings indicate that hyponatremia is still a rare condition, what makes them especially concerning is that the early symptoms of hyponatremia are very easily confused with those of dehydration — weakness, headache, nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness.The problem with this model of hydration is that it overlooks basic physiology.How did hyponatremia become an affliction of athletes? In retrospect, it may come down to an error of shifted priorities. In the wake of Gatorade’s massive success, sports drink makers turned to science to promote their products, and researchers focused on things that were easy to measure — body temperature and sweat losses. Based on an idea that dehydration must be a risk factor for heatstroke, attention moved to replenishing fluid loss.The problem with this model of hydration is that it overlooks basic physiology. It turns out, your body is highly adapted to cope with losing multiple liters of fluid, especially during exercise. When you exercise, you lose fluid and salts through sweat, and that translates into a small change in what’s called your “plasma osmolality” — the concentration of salts and other soluble compounds in your blood. You need enough fluid and electrolytes in your blood for your cells to function properly, and this balance is tightly regulated by a feedback loop, says Kelly Anne Hyndman, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and leading expert on kidney physiology.When you sweat, your brain senses the corresponding rise in plasma osmolality and directs the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which prods the kidneys to activate aquaporins, which are like tiny straws that poke into the kidneys to draw water back into the blood. “It’s a pathway to conserve water,” Hyndman says. As your body reabsorbs water, your plasma osmolality returns to normal, your brain senses the change, and it shuts down ADH. This feedback loop is finely tuned to keep plasma osmolality in a safe range. Even a tiny drop in electrolytes will activate this system to keep your fluid balance in check. “People always worry they’re going to be dehydrated when the reality is, it’s much easier to over- hydrate because our bodies are so good at conserving water,” Hyndman says. “Being a little dehydrated is not a bad thing. Our bodies can handle it.”Athletes who develop hyponatremia during exercise usually get there by drinking too much because they’ve been conditioned to think they need to drink beyond thirst, says Tamara Hew- Butler, a professor of exercise science at Oakland University and the lead author of several papers on hyponatremia. Even if you don’t drink anything (which she does not recommend), your blood sodium levels will rise in response to sweat losses, and as a result, your body will shift fluid into the blood to maintain your fluid balance, Hew-Butler says.The same feedback loop that calls in the aquaporins also activates your thirst. “You don’t have to drink above thirst — you’ll be fine!” she says. Just as sleepiness is your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to sleep, thirst is how your body ensures that you seek fluids when you need them. No one tells you to sleep before you’re tired, and unless you’re in a situation where you can’t drink for a prolonged period, there’s no sense in drinking before you feel thirsty either. Your body is a finely tuned machine that that is capable of adapting to changing conditions, and it’s not usually necessary to try to outsmart it.You can also forget those pee charts that look like paint swatches for urine, and ignore anyone who says that yellow pee is a sign that you need to drink more water. If you think about hydration from the standpoint of what’s going on inside your body, it’s easy to see why urine hue isn’t helpful. The color of your pee is essentially just a measure of how concentrated your urine is. If it contains more waste than water, it looks dark, and if it’s mostly water, it’s light or almost clear. But that’s not what’s important. What you really want to know is what’s going on in your blood, and your urine can’t tell you that. Dark pee might mean that you’re running low on fluid, but it could also mean that your kidneys are keeping your plasma osmolality in check by conserving water. Very light or clear urine just means that you’ve drunk more water than your body needs, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, especially right before an athletic event.Because of the way the body adapts to fluid loss, the common advice to drink a lot in advance of a big event like a marathon may actually backfire. If you drink a bunch of excess water leading up to a competition, you prime your body to become less adept at holding on to precious fluids, says Mark Knepper, chief of the Epithelial Systems Biology Laboratory at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When you’re very hydrated, your body doesn’t need to activate many aquaporins, and over time, it reduces the number in reserve, meaning that you’ll have fewer of these water straws at the ready when you need them.Yet everywhere I look, it seems that people are telling me to drink more water. In his best- selling 2017 book, “The TB12 Method,” New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady presents his magic hydration formula — drink at least one-half of your body weight in ounces of water every day. “At 225 pounds, that means I should be drinking 112 ounces a day, minimum,” he writes. (Brady also contends that “the more hydrated I am, the less likely I am to get sunburned,” a claim disputed by scientists.) If our bodies are so good at adapting to moderate fluid loss and letting us know when we need to drink, why are there still so many messages out there urging us to drink before we feel thirsty?An obvious explanation for this is that most of what we hear about hydration comes from companies and researchers with a vested interest in making it all seem complex and highly scientific. The current guidelines from the ACSM and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have been updated to warn about hyponatremia, but they still promote the ideas that thirst is a poor indicator of hydration and that more than a 2 percent body weight loss should be avoided. The ACSM, NSCA and NATA all receive funding from sports drink makers, as do some of their members. If staying hydrated were as simple as just drinking to thirst, you wouldn’t need expert advice or scientifically formulated products like Gatorade.From a biological perspective, it’s hard to imagine that the human body is so delicate that it can’t function properly without scientists (or football stars) swooping in with calculators to tell us how to keep it running properly. “You have to trust your body,” Knepper says. Humans have evolved to survive exercising without chugging water or sports drink on some rigid schedule. “You get clues about what you need if you listen to your own body,” he says. “You don’t have to know chemistry to survive.”After examining the science, I can’t help thinking we’ve made hydration unduly complicated. I take my dog running with me most of the time, and I’ve never measured the color of her pee or forced her to drink (as if I could). I make sure she has regular access to water, but she doesn’t always take it. At times, she won’t drink at all during a long run, and on those occasions, she always goes straight to her water dish when we get home and slurps until she’s satisfied. I’ve never had to give her an emergency IV for low fluid levels. If drinking to thirst is good enough for her, it’s probably good enough for me too. CLARA KIRKPATRICK The Limited Science Behind Hydration AdviceSports doctors were also urging athletes to drink. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a professional organization of sports science experts (which receives financial support from Gatorade), put out a consensus statement in 1996 recommending that “during exercise, athletes should start drinking early and at regular intervals in an attempt to consume fluids at a rate sufficient to replace all the water lost through sweating (i.e., body weight loss), or consume the maximal amount that can be tolerated.” The message coming from experts was that athletes needed to replace the fluids they lost during exercise lest their performance and health suffer.In the wake of all this promotion, sports drinks have become a multimillion-dollar business. But when a team of medical researchers trained in the evaluation of scientific findings had a look at the research underpinning the boom in sports drinks, they reached a startling conclusion. “As it turns out, if you apply evidence-based methods, 40 years of sports drinks research does not seemingly add up to much,” Carl Heneghan and his colleagues at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine wrote in a 2012 analysis published in the British medical journal BMJ. When Heneghan’s team gathered and examined all of the available evidence on sports drinks (it even consulted sports drink manufacturers to ask them for their supporting studies, though not all complied), they found what amounted to a bunch of preliminary or inconclusive evidence packaged as more definitive proof.The first, almost universal, problem among these studies was that they were too small to produce meaningful results. “Small studies are known to be systematically biased toward the effectiveness of the interventions they are testing,” Heneghan and his colleagues wrote. Out of the 106 studies they analyzed, only one had more than 100 subjects, and the second-largest study used only 53 people. The median sample size? Nine.“Worryingly, most performance tests used to assess sports drinks have never been validated.”Another common shortcoming was that the studies were often designed in a way that almost assured that they’d find a benefit from sports drinks. Deborah Cohen, an investigations editor at the BMJ who was involved in the project and wrote a summary of the findings, recalls a study in which volunteers who fasted overnight were divided into two groups, one whose members were given a sports drink containing water, salts and sugar and another whose members received water. “People who were given the sports drink fared better,” she says. “Well, no shit.” If you haven’t had any food in 12 hours and then you get a bit of sugar, of course you’ll perform better than the people still running on empty. But to say that this means the sports drink is superior to whatever a normal person would consume leading up to or during exercise just isn’t generalizable, she says. “Who starves themselves overnight and then goes to perform some exercise?” And yet the BMJ investigation found that this type of study design is surprisingly common among tests of nutritional products.Some of the dazzling powers that sports drinks display in the studies touted by their makers may be nothing more than the placebo effect. When people volunteer for a study to test a new sports drink, they come to it with an expectation that the product will have some performance benefit. Studies use a placebo group to factor out such effects, but a placebo only controls for these expectations when it’s indistinguishable from the real deal. So it’s telling, Cohen says, that studies using plain water for the control group found that the sports drink had positive effects, while the ones that used taste-matched placebos didn’t.The BMJ analysis also concluded that many of the measures made in these studies may not matter for real-world performance. “Worryingly, most performance tests used to assess sports drinks have never been validated,” Heneghan and his colleagues write, and some of them are known to produce highly variable results that may not be reproducible.Heneghan and his team concluded that claims about sports drinks rely on small studies with comparison groups that favor the products being studied, a lack of rigorous blinding so that participants were likely nudged to perform better while taking in the sports drinks, and measurements of effectiveness that might not be meaningful in real life. Add to that statistical sleights of hand that inflate the benefits of the drinks (for instance, one study increased the benefit of carbohydrate drinks from 3 percent to 33 percent by excluding a segment of the test from the analysis), and sports drinks don’t come out looking so impressive.When Heneghan’s and Cohen’s reports came out, some sports science experts blasted it as unnecessarily rigid, because they set their standards based on the conventions of clinical medicine rather than sports science, where, for instance, small sample sizes are common. Which standards and methods should be used for assessing evidence is an important debate that is gaining attention within the sports science community. In the meantime, the emphasis on hydration has created another problem to address. In the early 1990s, Gatorade ran a television commercial featuring Michael Jordan called “Be Like Mike.” It featured slam dunks by Jordan interspersed with footage of kids shooting hoops and, of course, Jordan and other happy people drinking Gatorade.Stuart Phillips remembers that ad campaign well. As an aspiring athlete, he, too, wanted to be like Mike. “Michael Jordan drank Gatorade, so I drank Gatorade,” Phillips says. Despite guzzling the sports drink, Phillips never did make it to the pros, but instead grew up to become the director of the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise, and Health Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The Jordan ad taught him a lesson about the power of marketing, though: “If you can get an endorsement from an athlete that everybody recognizes, then who needs science?”Scientific facts don’t sell products; stories do. Jordan was already a basketball superstar by the time Gatorade came calling, and the public was eager to experience something of his greatness. Enter Gatorade — Michael Jordan drank it, and young Stuart Phillips could too. To drink Gatorade wasn’t just to mimic a sports hero, it was to imagine a causal relationship — Jordan drank Gatorade and then made all those slam dunks, so the one must have had something to do with the other.Psychologists call such thinking the “illusion of causality,” and it’s so powerful that it has spawned an entire genre of advertising — the celebrity endorsement. No one would care that a pro athlete uses a particular product if it didn’t somehow appear that the item played some role in that star’s success. The Irish have a saying, “An umbrella accompanies the rain but rarely causes it.” The same could be said of product endorsements and athletic greatness. Still, our minds are quick to connect the dots in the wrong direction.The age of the athlete-endorsed sports drink began on a Florida football field in the mid-1960s. Back then, most coaches and athletes didn’t give much thought to fluid replacement during practice or competition. In some instances, athletes were even counseled to avoid drinking close to a workout lest they upset their stomach. But in 1965, a University of Florida football coach came to Dr. Robert Cade and his team of university doctors1There are conflicting accounts of exactly what question sparked the research that led to Gatorade and who it was that asked. An official history published on the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention’s website says that “Gatorade was the result of an offhand question posed in 1965 by former University of Florida linebacker Dwayne Douglas to Dr. J Robert Cade, a professor of renal medicine. ‘Why don’t football players ever urinate during a game?’” According to a history of Gatorade published on the company’s website in 2017, “In early summer of 1965, a University of Florida assistant coach sat down with a team of university physicians and asked them to determine why so many of his players were being affected by heat and heat related illnesses.” Both sources say that the researchers involved in developing the drink were Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Dana Shires, Dr. H. James Free and Dr. Alejandro de Quesada. complaining that his players were “wilting” in the heat. (He also wondered why his players never urinated during games.) After some investigation, Cade and his colleagues concluded that two factors were causing the players to fall victim to the heat — they weren’t replenishing the fluids and salts they were sweating out, nor were they restoring the carbohydrates their bodies were burning for fuel.In a stroke of genius, Gatorade turned the drink’s sodium, phosphorus and potassium into “electrolytes,” which is simply the scientific term for molecules that produce ions when dissolved in water.Cade figured that he could solve the problem by helping players replace those lost resources, so he stirred together some sodium, sugar and monopotassium phosphate with water to create a drink soon dubbed Gatorade, after the University of Florida’s nickname: the Gators. Legend has it, the drink turned the struggling Gators football team around. It finished the season with a winning record, and in 1967, the team won the Orange Bowl for the first time in school history. Other teams took notice of the newfangled beverage, and in 1967, Cade and the University of Florida signed an agreement with canned goods company Stokely-Van Camp to produce Gatorade commercially.2This history is outlined in Darren Rovell’s book, “First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.” Orders for the drink poured in.What followed was a national campaign to sell the public on the idea that exercise caused dehydration, the cure was Gatorade’s specially developed drink, and this tonic was critical for sports performance — it was created by a doctor and tested in studies, after all. One of the brand’s early print advertisements boasted that Gatorade was absorbed 12 times faster than water (a claim walked back in 1970,3According to Darren Rovell’s book, “First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.”. after Ohio State team doctor Robert J. Murphy challenged it at a meeting of the American Medical Association).In a stroke of genius, Gatorade turned the drink’s sodium, phosphorus and potassium into a special selling point by rebranding these ordinary salts with their scientific name — “electrolytes,” which is simply the scientific term for molecules that produce ions when dissolved in water. Your body maintains some reserves of these vital ions that it can tap into as needed to keep your body’s fluid and salt balance in check. We do lose electrolytes through sweat, but even when you exercise continuously for many hours, you will simply correct any losses via your normal appetite and hunger mechanisms. (You’ve already experienced this if you’ve ever had a hankering for a salty snack.) One small study of cyclists and triathletes found that it didn’t really matter whether they drank plain water, a sports drink or a milk-based beverage after an hour of hard exercise. As long as they drank some liquids along with a meal, they restored their fluid levels just fine.Gatorade may not have been the first to use this term, but they’re the ones that landed electrolytes in the public lexicon. In 1985, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute was founded to promote the study of hydration and nutrition for athletes, research that also happened to make for great marketing. Conveniently, the studies that came from the GSSI could be used to support the product’s claims. A 1990 magazine ad read: “We test Gatorade in laboratories. We test it at major universities, with sports science experts, on sophisticated scientific equipment with names that are longer than this sentence. What does it prove? Gatorade works.”4According to Darren Rovell’s book, “First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.”Rovell’s book.Early advertisements presented thirst as the problem that Gatorade was designed to solve, but as the GSSI’s research program progressed, the emphasis moved to a more clinical concept of hydration and the notion that thirst was not a good indicator of whether an exerciser was drinking enough. “Unfortunately, there is no clear physiological signal that dehydration is occurring, and most athletes are oblivious to the subtle effects of dehydration (thirst, growing fatigue, irritability, inability to mentally focus, hyperthermia),” wrote GSSI co-founder Bob Murray in one report. Instead, athletes were advised to drink according to scientific formulas. A Gatorade ad that ran in Northwest Runner in 2001 depicted the glistening torso of a runner with the race number 40 pinned to her shorts and the words, “Research shows your body needs at least 40 oz. of fluid every hour or your performance could suffer.” That’s the equivalent of five 8-ounce glasses of liquid, which means that a runner finishing a marathon in a fast three hours would need to drink 15 glasses of fluid along the way. Gulp.Gatorade wasn’t alone in promoting the benefits of drinking before, during and after exercise. Other sports drink manufacturers, such as the drug company GlaxoSmithKline (Lucozade Sport), also pointed to science when marketing its products. Lucozade, for example, established a “sports science academy” to promote its drink. Together, these campaigns fostered the idea that exercise depletes your fluids and electrolytes (which, remember, is just a fancy name for salts) and that special measures are required to make things right again.It was no longer sufficient to simply drink some water and eat a meal after exercising. The idea these marketing campaigns fostered was that physical activity created extraordinary nutritional needs and that these specially formulated beverages were the best way to meet them. This was science speaking. Reprinted from “GOOD TO GO: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery” by Christie Aschwanden. Copyright © 2019 by Christie Aschwanden. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. read more

This Years Boston Marathon Was Sloooooowww

For more than 20 years, the first man and woman across the Boston Marathon finish line have almost always been athletes from Kenya or Ethiopia. But it was an American woman and a Japanese man who won this year’s open divisions. Desiree Linden was the first American woman to win since 1985, finishing in 2:39:54, the slowest winning time since 1978. The men’s field was similarly sluggish — Yuki Kawauchi’s winning time of 2:15:58 was the slowest since 1976.One likely reason for the unusually slow finishes? Runners faced heavy rain, headwinds and the coldest marathon temperatures in 30 years. Kawauchi was loving the cold, though. “For me, these are the best conditions possible,” he told reporters after the race. read more

Ohio State bullpen blows 40 lead to Iowa at Big Ten tournament

OSU junior catcher Jalen Washington (2) swings at a ball during a game against Bethune-Cookman at Bill Davis Stadium on April 1. Credit: Nathan Rubinstein | Lantern photographerAfter being postponed the night before, the fourth-seeded Ohio State baseball team took the field against the No. 8 seed Iowa Hawkeyes trying to move two games closer to a Big Ten championship.Greg Beals’ team had been riding high coming into Friday winning 13 of its last 15 games. Senior starting pitcher John Havird retired Hawkeye after Hawkeye while the offense dug in and capitalized on nearly every presented opportunity. OSU tacked on two runs in the sixth, and sophomore right fielder Tre’ Gantt singled to straight-away center in the top of the ninth to pad the cushion for OSU, extending the lead to 4-0 over Iowa.However, the smooth-sailing through eight and one-half innings quickly capsized the Buckeyes in the bottom half of the ninth.After receiving eight scoreless innings from senior starter John Havird, OSU called upon sophomore reliever Seth Kinker to finish the game. Kinker, who entered the day with an ERA of 1.33, struggled right out of the gate as he faced the top of the Iowa order.The Hawkeyes strung together four consecutive hits to lead off the inning to cut the deficit to 4-1. Kinker forced senior catcher Daniel Moriel to ground into a double play which did allow one extra run to score. Sophomore first baseman Austin Guzzo singled up the middle to drive in a run and draw Iowa within one. With a runner on first and the score now 4-3, the Buckeyes called on senior left-handed reliever Michael Horejsei to come in and get the final out of the game. The first batter he faced, senior pinch-hitter Jimmy Frankos, was hit by a pitch, putting the winning run on first base. Redshirt sophomore closer Yianni Pavlopoulos was the third reliever of the inning brought in to try and nail down this game. With runners on first and second, Pavlopoulos surrendered a single to redshirt junior Devin Pickett that tied the game up at four.Following a scoreless tenth inning from the Buckeyes, Iowa would load the bases on the strength of a four-pitch walk, a fielder’s choice bunt, and a hit-by-pitch. With a 1-1 count, junior infielder Mason McCoy singled to right center field to send the Hawkeyes home as winners, 5-4 in extras.For many, this harkened back to the demoralizing loss in the first round of last year’s Big Ten tournament with OSU pitted against Iowa. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, then OSU’s senior closer Trace Dempsey walked a batter and surrendered a walk-off two-run home run to Iowa’s senior infielder Nick Day. OSU was eliminated from the tournament on the next day against No. 6 seed Indiana.Against Iowa, John Havird gave up only two hits with no walks and four strikeouts in eight scoreless frames while Iowa senior starting pitcher Tyler Peyton struck out five and issued no walks over seven innings of five hit, three run baseball. Peyton struck out five and walked none, but hit two batters with pitches. Neither starter factored into the decision.The Buckeyes will hope to stave off elimination and continue their run in this year’s Big Ten tournament where they will take on the fifth-seeded Michigan Wolverines at 10 p.m. on Friday. OSU defeated the Wolverines 8-3 on Wednesday night. read more

Dotting the i Pat Elfleins legacy as a Buckeye

OSU coach Urban Meyer hugs OSU redshirt senior center Pat Elflein before the Buckeyes’ 30-27 win over Michigan. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorAt the conclusion of the 2015 Ohio State football season, coach Urban Meyer saw a seemingly endless line of players leaving the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility, in effect, ending their Buckeye careers. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, defensive lineman Joey Bosa and linebacker Darron Lee highlighted nine early departures from the program. However, the line ended with Pat Elflein.The redshirt senior returned for his final season of eligibility and converted to center from his guard position. Redshirt junior OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett said it wasn’t a surprise to him seeing Elflein come back to the Scarlet and Gray when he had the possibility of being a high draft pick.“One of the biggest things that means the most to me is how much he cared,” Barrett said on Monday before the Michigan game. “Not about me, but the guys. That’s why he came back is to be with us. I think that’s selfless and not a lot of people come around like that.”Last Saturday against Michigan, in perhaps his biggest game as a Buckeye, Elflein ran out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium for the last time. He handed his mother, Lisa Elflein, a rose and greeted the rest of his family with tears coming from his eyes.Elflein predicted on the Monday before the game that it was going to be an emotional day for him, not knowing that his team would pull off a 30-27 double-overtime win over the Wolverines in one of the most memorable games in the history of the program.“I’ll never forget that, Senior Day,” Elflein said. “That was the craziest this place has been ever since I’ve been here. That was the ultimate … it was an electric atmosphere.”OSU trailed for much of the game before the offense took control in overtime. After junior H-back Curtis Samuel’s game-winning touchdown that propelled OSU to a dramatic victory, Elflein was one of the first players to hug Samuel in the end zone. The redshirt senior from Pickerington, Ohio, then went over to the section where his family was sitting. He pulled his mother, Lisa; sister, Heather Elflein; brother, Matt Elflein; and grandfather, Rich Elflein, onto the field to celebrate a rare fifth win over Michigan as a member of the Buckeyes.“That was just amazing,” Pat Elflein said. “My grandpa was here and he hasn’t been here in awhile … it was just very exciting.”Pat Elflein has been a starter on the OSU offensive line for three seasons. He’s been the vocal leader on the unit all of the 2016 season along with the only other returning starter on the unit known as “The Slobs,” redshirt junior guard Billy Price.On Saturday, after the game, Price recalled the last touchdown in a way that meant a lot to his teammate. Price ran into the end zone, joined his teammates, hugged Samuel, then embraced his fellow lineman.“To send Pat out on a senior season like this — he’s got five pairs of gold pants,” Price said. “There are very few people to do that.”Gold pants are given to every member of an OSU team that beats Michigan.Pat Elflein’s first time playing in the rivalry was in 2013 when he entered for Marcus Hall, who was ejected from the game. Then, he became another member of the lineage of Pickerington natives to play in “The Game.” One of his best friends from high school, Michigan tight end Jake Butt, ended his career 0-4 versus OSU. Pat Elflein understood at the time how special it was to win another game against his team’s bitter rival, but the significance of just how great the 2016 edition of “The Game” was for the program’s history and his legacy did not immediately register for the redshirt senior.“It’s an indescribable feeling to beat that team five teams and do it the we did today,” he said. “I can’t thank my teammates enough for sending the seniors out the right way. Now we get to play for it all.”Pat Elflein’s confidence in getting another shot at a national championship will be determined on Sunday during the College Football Playoff selection show. read more