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Playoff teams need to earn their spots

Baseball's set up for a stirring conclusion to the regular season, but the drama could be magnified if division winners had to satisfy minimum requirements before being qualified for the playoffs. It's absurd that the San Diego Padres could make the postseason with a losing record while toiling in the worst division in baseball.

Division winners should have to finish no worse than .500 to secure an automatic playoff berth. Otherwise, the spot goes to the next-best team in the wild-card chase. The NFL ought to do likewise.

* Why all the concern over J.P. Losman being pulled for a series? I think the coaches just wanted to see if the problem was the quarterback or a poorly conceived offensive game plan. And now we know that the quarterback wasn't the half of it.

* Drew Bledsoe still has game left when given time to throw, which he's receiving in Dallas, where the running backs are adept at picking up the blitz. If Willis McGahee did his job, there'd have been no safety Sunday. Then again, it remains a mystery why the Bills were running a veritable rookie QB out of the shotgun in a precarious situation against a defense that was having its way.

* I still can't believe Thomas Vanek fell to the Sabres at fifth overall after the show he put on in the 2003 Frozen Four. It didn't seem possible after Central Scouting rated him third among prospects.

* Why is it that football teams have 25 seconds to field personnel and get off a play while major league pitchers have eternity to throw the darn ball? It's ridiculous. I've cooked dinner during 1-2-3 half innings this season, and I'm not talking Easy Mac.

* Last week Tennessee played No. 5 Florida. This week the Vols get No. 3 LSU. After a "bye" week against Mississippi, it's on to No. 7 Georgia and No. 20 Alabama. That's not a schedule. It's a death sentence. And I don't care how improved the ACC is. It's still not on par with the SEC.

* Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski could ascend to the lead pack in the Heisman race when the Rockets play at Fresno State on national television Tuesday night. Of course, he'll be routinely dismissed as a mid-major player facing average competition when it gets down to the voting. After all, it's not like the Mid-American Conference has produced any decent quarterbacks, other than Ben Roethlisberger. And Chad Pennington. And Byron Leftwich. And Charlie Frye, the rookie from Akron just promoted to Trent Dilfer's backup in Cleveland. When will Heisman voters finally get over the bias against mid-majors? Fourteen of the NFL's opening day starting QBs hail from a conference outside the BCS crowd.

* Ohio University fans were envisioning an instant turnaround when Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, beat Pitt in his debut with the Bobcats. Truth is, Ohio's scored a mere one offensive touchdown this season, that near the end of a blowout loss to Northwestern. Still, the 'Cats remain one TD up on UB.

* Speaking of the Bulls, why is a program so desperate to get its footing insistent on scheduling schools it lags so far behind? Playing Big East teams is a demoralizing waste of time at this stage of the game.

* Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro could succeed where predecessor John Hart failed despite twice the budget and 10 times the star power. He just might win a World Series, in part for having emphasized what Hart neglected -- pitching. But I still like the Cardinals.

* I see USC's record run atop the polls ending with its Oct. 10 visit to South Bend. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis has two weeks to prepare for that game, which will mark the third time in four starts the Trojans play a ranked team on the road.

* Is Joe Torre safe yet?

* Michelle Wie's set to turn pro as soon as $10 million in endorsement deals are finalized. Somewhere, Morgan Pressel fumes.


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