The Benchwarmer: Questions abound at the beginning of the year

About eight years ago, one of the big box stores put out a commercial for back to school. In it, a father was singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” referring to when his kids are finally out of his way and in school. My own father happened to love this commercial and to this day will spend August singing the song over and over, much to my chagrin. However, if you think about it, August really is one of the best times of the year for athletics and sports fans.

Football is back and this year there is no worry about the effect a lockout will have on the players. All summer we have been treated to full training camps-position battles and preseason. The Cutler-to-Marshall marriage, among other things, have Chicagoans whispering “championship contender” to fellow fans. Fantasy studs like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles will look to bounce back from torn ACLs. Mike Vick will be looking to take the ‘Dream Team’ to the next level after last year’s disappointment. Will the Jaguars actually be able to get a win if Maurice Jones Drew refuses to play? Fans are dreaming of championships, be it their team hoisting the Lombardi or personally winning this year’s fantasy football league (I’m in four leagues already. Studying? What’s that?).

Basketball is right around the corner as well. While this is looking like a rough year for the Bulls with no Rose, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is frightened by the prospect of the impending Miami-L.A. final. Should that happen, I will be rooting, for the first time, in FAVOR of LeBron James over Dwight Howard for ring number two. I’d much rather have a rematch between the Thunder and Heat so I can root for Kevin Durant. How will the Brooklyn Nets fare against their new-city-rival New York Knicks? Will some of the Celtics move into a retirement home before they actually retire from the game?

On the ice, the Blackhawks will look to have another playoff team that possibly could make another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. This is assuming, of course, that Marian Hossa is still able to think straight after getting blasted by Raffi Torres in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Will the season even happen with all the whispers of a lockout? How many hits is Sidney Crosby away from a permanent stint in the concussion wing of Pittsburg General Hospital?  Will the Red Wings fall completely apart without their longtime leader Nikulas Lidstrom?

What? Can’t a guy dream?

In baseball, we currently are in the midst of the Hunt for White-Soxtober. Over the next few weeks, South-siders will be on the edge of their seats wondering if, in fact, the Sox can hold off the Tigers to claim a division title and avoiding the dreaded ‘one game playoff’ that awaits the two wild card winners from each league. For the Cubs, the season was over before April was, but Theo Epstein already has made major roster moves to clear the board and rebuild a seemingly-hopeless franchise. Who knows? Maybe there’s a chance for a title on the North Side sometime in the next century? No division in Major League Baseball has one runaway winner as we pass the three-quarter turn of the season. Anyone who follows baseball knows how intense a pennant race can be. Just look at last season’s heroic collapses by the Braves and the ‘other Sox’ and you’ll know that at this time of the year, anything can happen. If the Nationals shut down Stephen Strausburg, will it spell their doom when the playoffs hit?  How bad will the Astros be?

College football is also back and fans everywhere are rejoicing over the death of the BCS system and anxiously awaiting the much-anticipated four-team playoff in 2014. This season is looking like it will be intense. Will the BCS find a way to fit every team in the SEC into the top 25 before it is put to death? Does any other conference actually have a chance? And how much WILL Michigan beat Alabama in their week one matchup September 1st?

This brings us to Loyola. Loyola athletics are looking in a positive direction. Men’s soccer will be just as good as last year, if not better. Teams like women’s soccer and softball will be a year older and more experienced. The men’s golf team will be looking to follow up their conference championship with another. Will the men’s volleyball team continue to be one of the most successful teams at Loyola? Or is a new team ready to steal the crown away? Is Cully Payne the answer to the embarrassing season men’s basketball endured last year? For more, see the Loyola Athletic preview on page 19.

In the next few months, we will be treated to watch all of these storylines play themselves out. So give a gift and sing a merry tune, because it is the most wonderful time of the year!

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