Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Can you feel it? It's almost here. The absolute best time of the year to be a sports fan is just around the corner, and I personally welcome it with all the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. There's simply nothing else like it in the sports fan's calendar. Let's take a look at what's coming up in the next couple of months.

First of all, college football begins in just 11 days. As a die-hard University of Georgia Bulldogs fan, and a general fan of the SEC, I look forward to this time of year as much if not more so than even Cincinnati Reds Opening Day. The preseason polls (which I despise, but that's a topic for another post on another day) have UGA firmly entrenched in the top 10, along with several other SEC representatives. SEC haters (and USC and Oklahoma lovers) will say what they wish to say, but it seems that the national title will again have to go through the mighty Southeastern Conference. Can they make it seven straight? I can't wait to find out.

Secondly, the National Football League's regular season is also about to start. I'm a lifelong Cincinnati Bengals fan (insert your own Mike Brown joke here), and after last season's emergence of quarterback Andy Dalton and All-World wide receiver A.J, Green (a UGA product, by the way), things look bright in the Queen City's football future for the first time in years. The Bengals have a very tough schedule this season, but if Dalton doesn't take a step backward in his development, and Mike Zimmer's defense can elevate their play, look for the Bengals to make some noise in the division this year. Pittsburgh has injuries to deal with on offense, including QB Ben Roethlisberger's torn rotator cuff and Rashard Mendenhall's reconstructed ACL, along with a new offensive coordinator in former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Linebacker James Harrison is now a question mark on defense after recent knee surgery, and safety Troy Polamalu, while one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the game, is always prone to an injury or two of his own simply because of the way he throws his body around. Baltimore is doing nothing but getting older. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are bound for the Hall of Fame, but at this rate they'll both be eligible for Social Security before they retire from the NFL. Age eventually catches up with everyone, and the Ravens are no different.

But sports seasons are also winding down and getting ready to determine their respective champions during this incredible time of year. The Major League Baseball playoffs are not far off, and my beloved Cincinnati Reds are once again in the driver's seat in the NL Central. Forget their lead in the standings at the moment and simply do the math. The prevailing opinion among most baseball experts at the beginning of the year was that it would take about 93 wins to take the NL Central crown. With the Reds' current record, they can play sub-.500 baseball for the rest of the season (which I don't see happening) and STILL eclipse that number. Their closest purusers, the Pirates and Cardinals, would both have to play at least eight games ABOVE .500 to get there. Couple this with the fact that former MVP and arguably the best hitter in the league Joey Votto will be returning to the lineup soon from knee surgery, and the Reds future looks very bright indeed. There's nothing qute like October baseball in Cincinnati. I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup is also about to begin in just a few weeks. With five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. firmly in the mix for the title, the ten-week Chase will be an interesting watch this season. Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, will certainly bring more eyes to TV screens and more rear ends to seats at the Chase races this year if he can manage to stay as consistent as he's been this season. But as Tony Stewart showed last year, and Jimmie Johnson has also proven in the past, you have to be better that consistent in the Chase. You have to win races. Junior finally broke back into the win column this year, but it will be very interesting to see if he and crew chief Steve LeTarte can find a way to win when the pressure is at its highest. We shall see.

So there you have it. Just a few reasons why this is truly the most wonderful time of the year to be a sports fan in America. I hope you're looking forward to it as much as I am, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you. Blessings to all, and don't forget, there's nothing like the view from the cheap seats!

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