Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: New rule ensures 3 NASCAR champs

Even if the Chicago Bears don't win the Super Bowl this year, they should not be allowed to win the Big Ten Conference.

The Kansas City Royals should not be able to ease their disappointment in the AL Central by capturing the Carolina League crown.

And NASCAR drivers who compete at the highest level of their sport should not be poaching championships from those at the lower levels, either.

This all seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? Well, it took a while, but it appears NASCAR finally agrees.

According to a story posted on on Monday night, drivers in the organization's three national series will have to decide this year which championship they're going to chase. No longer will double-dippers such as Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards (among others) be able to contend for Sprint Cup and Nationwide titles at the same time.

They'll still be able to compete in the lower-level events. While an ideal world would have only up-and-comers drivers in the Nationwide Series, the Cup guys sell tickets and add spice to the races, so it's understandable that NASCAR would let them run. At least now there's some delineation between the circuits -- and a guarantee of three different champions every year.

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While neither announcement came as a surprise, it's hard not to wonder what might have been had Ryan Williams or Darren Evans elected to stay at Virginia Tech for another season.

Like a lot of running backs, both seemed to get better as their carries mounted in a game. And carries would have been plentiful next season, with David Wilson the lone proven tailback returning.

All that praise the coaching staff heaped on fourth-stringer Tony Gregory this season? We're about to find out if it's legit.

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So what did the bowl season teach us? For one thing, the Big East might not have been as bad as many of us thought.

True, the league had no elite teams, as evidenced by champion UConn getting destroyed 48-20 by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Big East's overall mark of 4-2 was tied for the second-best winning percentage of the bowl season and included victories over Clemson, Kentucky and Kansas State.

As "Ken" noted on the blog Tuesday morning, the SEC's strength lies almost exclusively in the West Division. While the overall SEC record was 5-5, the West won four of its five matchups, taking down the Pac-10 champ (Oregon), the Big Ten co-champ (Michigan State), the Big 12 South co-champ (Texas A&M) and a team that won nothing of significance this year but still has name recognition (Michigan).

Nevada's victory over Boston College on Sunday denied the ACC (4-5) a winning bowl record. The good news for the league is that three teams (No. 17 Florida State, No. 23 Maryland and No. 25 N.C. State) secured a spot in the final Associated Press poll with their victories. The Hokies finished at No. 16.

Despite its New Year's Day bludgeoning, the Big Ten finished 3-5 to notch the same record as the Big 12 and stay out of the cellar. That ignominious position belongs to Conference USA (2-4).

And the best record: Who else? The Mountain West (4-1).

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Congratulations to hokie 24, a reader in Christiansburg who won the inaugural bowl picking contest on the blog. His prize is a $50 gift card to I'm assuming this will not cause a sudden spike in purchases of Wahoo gear on the site.

For the record, this year's bowl guide finished 17-16-2 against the spread after a very slow start. That's the third year in a row it's had a winning record, but as our short-term investors out there know, the juice makes this year's effort a slight monetary loser.

I'll make it up to you with the Super Bowl pick, which is on a three-year winning streak against the spread.

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