CLEVELAND: The sports world is buzzing, and I have opinions

By RICK CLEVELAND,

Opinions are like noses. Everyone's got them. Here are a few of mine...

• Three years later, the move of the MHSAA high school football state championship site from Jackson's Veterans Memorial Stadium to the college campuses has been a huge success. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss – in that order – have done a remarkable job hosting the events, which is set for Hattiesburg again next December.

My one fear was that the locations would put North State teams at a disadvantage in Hattiesburg and South State teams at a disadvantage in Oxford and Starkville. Never mind...

This year, the champions: Class 6A Horn Lake, 5A West Point, 4A Louisville, 3A Water Valley, and 2A Scott Central were all from the North. Class 1A champion Nanih Waiya is from South Mississippi, in classification only – a 135-mile drive south to Hattiesburg.

All the teams in the immediate Hattiesburg area – Oak Grove, West Jones, Poplarville, Taylorsville and Seminary – lost in the championship games, despite short bus trips. So much for geographic advantage.

As is almost always the case: The championship games were chock-full of drama and emotion. West Point's 27-12 victory over West Jones was the most lopsided of the six games and all were one-score games in the fourth quarter. Great stuff, as always...

• Yes, I think the selection committee got the four teams right for the college football playoffs – only because they get to pick only four. The two semifinal matchups – Alabama vs. Oklahoma and Notre Dame vs. Clemson – are as good as you can do under the current system.

However, there's not a dime's worth of difference among Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia – and wouldn't be fun for UCF – winners of 25 straight games – to actually get a chance to prove on the field they belong – or not – in the playoffs?

Why not expand to eight teams and play the first round games at the campus sites? This year, I'd have No. 1 Alabama hosting No. 8 Washington, No. 2 Clemson hosting No. 7 UCF, No. 3 Notre Dame hosting No. 6 Ohio State, and No. 4 Oklahoma hosting No. 5 Georgia. Then, we'd move to the traditional bowl sites for the semifinals and finals. (I think you'd still get Georgia vs. Alabama in the finals.)

It just makes too much sense.

• The playoff-bound New Orleans Saints dropped a game behind the Los Angeles Rams in the all-important race for home-field advantage in the National Football Conference of the NFL. Home field is especially important to the Saints, who play in the Mercedes Superdome, a hell-hole for visiting opponents.

The schedule slightly favors the Rams down the stretch. The Rams have road games with Chicago (8-4) and Arizona (3-9) and home games with Philadelphia (5-6) and San Francisco (2-10). The Saints have road games with Tampa Bay (5-7) and Carolina (6-6) and home games with Pittsburgh (7-4-1) and Carolina (6-6). Rams' opponents have won 18 games. Saints' foes have won 24.

The Thanksgiving night loss to the Cowboys could prove costly to the Saints in more ways than the standings. The Cowboys gave Saints opponents a blueprint for how to manage a game against the Saints: a patient, eat-the-clock, run-the-ball-and-short-pass offense and a defense that features a strong rush up the middle and in Drew Brees' face. Of course, not every team can achieve that on either side of the ball. And not every team has Dak Prescott, who was brilliant against the Saints.

• Reviews of the recent Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods, made-for-TV golf challenge were far less than stellar. Apparently, the $9 million, winner-take-all purse wasn't enough to make it compelling.

Of course, it wasn't. That's because they were playing for other people's money. How much pressure is there on Mickelson, who is worth a reported $440 million, and Woods, who is worth more than $750 million, when they are playing for $9 million somebody else put up.

So here's what you do: You get Tiger to put up $20 million and Phil to put up $20 million and then tee it up. I'd watch it then. They'd sweat a lot more than they'd smile, too.

Contact syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.