Sorry if I seem a little tired this morning ... I was up late being the most insufferable person on the entire internet thanks to the United States upsetting Canada in the World Juniors gold medal game (more on that in a bit 😏.) The good news is that, while tired, I'm in a lovely mood this morning because AMERICA IS THE BEST HOCKEY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!!!
I feel like we've officially shaken off the new year's rust by now, so let's keep cruising. We've got plenty of stuff to get to this morning so let's just dive right in. No time like the present!
📰 What you need to know
1. DeVonta Smith becomes first WR to win Heisman in 29 years 🏈
The illustrious and exclusive Heisman Trophy club gained one more member last night: Alabama's DeVonta Smith. It's always an incredible accomplishment to win the Heisman, but it's especially impressive when the award goes to a player that isn't a quarterback or running back (27 of the last 28 Heisman winners were QB or RB.) It's a rarity to see a wide receiver take home the award, so Smith joins some very elite company:
- He's the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard did it in 1991, and he's just the fourth WR ever to win the award
- Smith had 105 catches for 1641 yards (15.6 yards per reception) and 20 touchdowns in 12 games for the Crimson Tide this year (he also had a rushing TD and a punt return TD)
- Smith beat out Heisman finalists Trevor Lawrence (second), Mac Jones (third) and Kyle Trask (fourth)
The number of elite wide receivers that have come out of Alabama over the past couple of years is absolutely absurd. Both Smith and Jaylen Waddle are expected to go in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, and that would give Bama FOUR receivers taken in the first round in the past couple of years (Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy went in the first round last year.) Tuscaloosa is turning into a WR factory, but only Smith can claim the distinction of being a Heisman-winner -- and that's eternal glory right there.
2. Pete Prisco's final NFL Power Rankings 🏈
If you've been paying close attention this year, you'll know that I NEVER turn down an opportunity to poke fun at my colleague Pete Prisco. Whenever he swings and misses with a big NFL prediction, I jump all over him and give him hell because 1) it's important to keep Pete humble, and 2) the hate only makes him stronger.
That being said, I have to give Prisco some credit ... in retrospect, he kind of nailed his power rankings ahead of Week 1. His initial rankings held up quite well, as eight of the top 10 teams leading up to Week 1 have gone on to make the playoffs. Oh, and his top two teams in the first set of rankings? The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers -- aka the top seeds in each conference.
Of course, he didn't nail everything -- he had the 49ers and Eagles in the top 10, and he didn't give enough respect to the Titans, Rams, Browns or Washington Football Team out of the gate. But nobody's perfect, right?
Now, enough of his initial rankings. Let's get a look at how he ranks the 14 remaining teams as we head into the playoffs:
You can find Prisco's entire set of final rankings (and his analysis) right here. Hopefully next season he screws up more so I can keep dunking on him at will.
3. USA stuns Canada for World Juniors gold 🥇
For all the trash talk and bravado I brought into the World Junior Championship gold medal game last night, I really didn't think that the United States was going to beat Canada. Sure, anything can happen in hockey -- especially when it's a do-or-die scenario -- but Team Canada was absolutely stacked and they'd been dominating through the entire tournament. In six games leading up to Tuesday night, they outscored opponents 41-4 and went without giving up an even-strength goal.
But lo and behold, Team USA delivered an incredible performance last night and wound up taking the 2-0 win, securing their fifth World Juniors gold. Here are some key reasons USA won the big game last night:
- They seized early momentum: Canada made it a habit of scoring early and often in this tournament, and they didn't trail for a single second leading up to the gold medal game. They put the pressure on USA early but the Americans withstood the heat and eventually jumped out to a lead in the first period. That planted a seed of doubt and left Canada on their heels
- One-and-done opportunities: The Canadians clearly weren't at their best on Tuesday night, but the Americans also deserve a lot of credit for how effectively they were able to take away time and space defensively. Team USA didn't play a perfect defensive game but they did do a good job at limiting Canada's second-level attack, getting sticks and bodies in lanes and cleaning up loose pucks in the defensive end. Canada wasn't really able to sustain pressure for long periods of time and wear the U.S. down
- Spencer Knight was brilliant: The player of the game last night was United States goaltender Spencer Knight, and not simply because he had a clean sheet. He's one of the best goaltending prospects in the world but his tournament got off to a shaky start and some questioned whether he'd be able to rise to the occasion against Canada. He did that and then some on Tuesday, stopping all 34 shots he faced
As crazy as it sounds, the United States has now won their last FOUR gold medal matchups against Canada at the WJC. This one might be the sweetest of them all, considering how talented this Canadian roster was. USA Hockey is do or die, baby.
4. Do the White Sox have the best roster in the American League? ⚾
It's only Jan. 6th, so you probably weren't expected a take on which American League team is currently the best on paper. But guess what? I'm here to keep you on your toes. Our Mike Axisa put together a column yesterday ranking the American League's top teams in terms of roster construction, and the Chicago White Sox are leading the pack:
- Cream of the crop: White Sox
- Contenders with glaring needs: Astros, Blue Jays, Twins, Yankees
- Small-market contenders cutting back: Athletics, Indians, Rays
- Talented rosters with major flaws: Angels, Red Sox
- Rebuilders: Mariners, Orioles, Rangers, Royals, Tigers
You can find Axisa's analysis and reasoning for his placements here, but it's important to remember that it's still only January and this offseason has been moving rather slow. While we don't exactly know when the 2021 MLB season will begin, it's fair to assume that market activity will pick up once we get closer to Opening Day. Teams that still have work to do will have an opportunity to address their needs via free agency and trades.
In any case, it snowed here yesterday so I think that's enough baseball talk for today.
📝 Odds & Ends
- COVID-19 issues at Ohio State have led to discussions about possibly postponing the CFP National Championship
- Alex Smith's old leg brace was made into a sick football trophy
- Michael Jordan was awarded $46,000 for 'emotional damages' following a lawsuit against a Chinese sportswear company
📺 What to watch today
🏀 Celtics vs. Heat, 7:30 p.m. | MIA -2.5 | TV: ESPN
🏀 Seton Hall vs. No. 7 Creighton, 9 p.m. | CREIGH -5.5 | TV: FS1
🏀 Clippers vs. Warriors, 10 p.m. | GSW +5 | TV: ESPN
📝 Top scores from last night
The Nets halted their slide thanks to 29 points from Kyrie Irving.
💵 Winning wagers: BKN +158, Over (225.5)
DJ Stewart scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and Mississippi State overcame a 12-point halftime deficit.
💵 Winning wagers: MISS ST +104, Over (134.5)