Archive for June, 2008

A couple of weeks after this year’s Rose Bowl, I wrote a long post lamenting the state of the teams that I root for, stating that “none of my teams are going to be playing any games of real meaning from now until the Illinois football team suits up to play Missouri on Labor Day weekend.” I also said this about the Bulls: “[A]s a Bulls fan, do I want this team to stretch to grab the seventh or eight seed in the Eastern Conference so that it can be shellacked by Boston or Detroit in the playoffs, or would I rather roll the dice and see if we can get O.J. Mayo or Derrick Rose in the United Center on a full-time basis next season? Call me crazy, but the latter option is more appealing to me at this point.”

Well, for for the second straight weekend, the White Sox are playing the Cubs with both teams being in first place. Granted, the sweep of the Sox by the Cubs last weekend emphasized the fact that the North Siders, I’ll admit begrudgingly, have the most consistent top-to-bottom team in baseball this season. The White Sox are just an all-or-nothing team – they’ll either bash in double digit runs powered by multiple home runs or have a complete power outage. Fortunately, the pitching staff (both the starting rotation and the bullpen) has kept the team in pretty much every game, but for narcissistic Sox fan base, it’s disheartening to watch a 6 1/2 game lead over Minnesota dissipate in the span of a few days. (I don’t hate the Twins in the same manner as the Packers, Pistons, or Hoosiers, but they might be the most annoying team that I could think of, if you know what I mean. The Twins don’t actually have David Eckstein on their team, yet it’s as if though they’re marching out nine clones of him every evening. As great as they are to fawning analysts, I always get a perverse delight when they’re squashed like a group of gnats later in the year.) Nevertheless, the White Sox are performing about a million times better than I could have ever expected by this point in the season, all the while Ozzie Guillen continues to spout off about the rats at Wrigley Field. With the teams on both sides of town performing so well (I just had suck it up and buy a few tickets to a Cubs game from a broker for a friend coming into town that wanted to see Wrigley – let’s just say that ticket resellers can tell me how my ass tastes), I’ve been steadily stocking up my basement with non-perishable goods, supplies of water and transistor radios just in case the previously unthinkable event that once occurred in 1906 comes to fruition.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have been the biggest winners of them all as they have officially taken Derrick Rose with the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft. As I’ve said before, I think he’s got the goods to be even better in the end than both Chris Paul and Deron Williams (and this is coming from someone who has a picture of Deron shooting the game-tying three from the 2005 NCAA Chicago Regional Final permanently ingrained as his laptop background), which translates to the Bulls finally having a legitimate superstar once again. I hate using too many superlatives, but I believe that we’re going to look at footage a decade from now of the Bulls winning the lottery last month and Derrick Rose heading up to the podium tonight and point to this time as one of the most important moments in Chicago sports history. The impact of superstars in the NBA can’t be underestimated, which the Bulls know better than anyone since they once had the biggest megastar of them all, and by all indications Rose is going to get to that level.

So, when this Labor Day weekend comes around, I’ll still be blanketed in orange when the Illini take on Mizzou in what will be the most important non-conference football game that Illinois has played since I went to school there. However, I have hopes that I’m also following a baseball pennant race on both sides of town along with anticipating the opening of Bulls training camp. As for the Bears… I’ll just stop pushing my luck right now.

(Images from Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com)

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I’m one of the fortunate souls that has had DirecTV for several years, so I personally was able to avoid the issues stemming from the spat between the Big Ten Network and Comcast (among others) over this past year. While the football offerings on BTN weren’t drastically different than the old ESPN Plus syndicated package, it was definitely a boon for college hoops junkies such as myself to be able to get midweek doubleheaders of basketball (particularly when I needed to watch something to take my mind off of the last Illini b-ball season). Unfortunately, many of my Big Ten fan brethren were stuck with cable and ended missing a large portion of their respective teams’ football and basketball seasons. Tom Izzo at one point called it a PR nightmare with all of the Big Ten fans not having access to games and he was right at that particular moment. Take it from me, for all of comparable stories about the NFL Network and MLB Extra Innings this past year, there is absolutely nothing that compares to the level of venom spewed when the fan of a major college sports program can’t watch a game due to television contract disputes. When you consider that the Big Ten arguably is the strongest and has the most passionate fans of the BCS conferences (I have a multitude of reasons as to why this is the case as compared to the SEC, but that’s another debate for another day), that could have been a pretty toxic mix for conference commissioner Jim Delany.

At the end of the day, though, it appears that the Big Ten largely got what it demanded from Comcast, which was basic cable coverage within the Big Ten footprint and sports tier coverage everywhere else. While tons of people on Big Ten message boards exclaimed last year that they would have been willing to pay extra for the BTN, I completely understand and agree with why the network dug in its heels on the basic cable issue. The fundamental economics of the cable industry dictate that basic cable coverage is the road to riches (unless you’re HBO) and premium tiers aren’t really “premium” as much as they are a cable ghetto. ESPN is a financial powerhouse because it can charge in excess of $2.50 per subscriber for every single cable household in the country and the similar stories can be stated for the various regional sports networks within their respective metro areas. For the Big Ten to cave on this point would have invalidated the economic advantages of setting up the network in the first place.

What Comcast miscalculated here was that it kept comparing BTN to the NFL Network in terms of how much those channels were charging when it really was more akin to the YES Network situation in New York when the corpse of George Steinbrenner started it up . It’s all about critical mass squared – as in critical mass of viewers times critical mass of games. The NFLN only offers less than a half-season of games and they are still shown over-the-air in local markets for the applicable participating teams. There isn’t a critical mass of games that makes the NFLN particularly valuable to even diehard football fans (although I prefer their highlight shows exponentially over ESPN’s). As a result, although there is a critical mass of people that love the NFL over all other sports programs, the fervor from the general public to watch a limited schedule of NFLN games was pretty shallow. At this point, sports fans don’t believe that they’re missing anything yet with just eight weeks of games – I’m sure that the NFL understands this and you can count on a significant addition to the number of games on NFLN when the next league television contract is negotiated.

Compare the NFLN experience with the Steinbrenner clan’s true money-maker. When the YES Network, which carries the majority of New York Yankees games, first went on the air, it went into a year-long dispute with Cablevision over the subscriber rates. Thus, Yankees games were not shown in most New York City households for an entire season and the parties didn’t finalize a deal until moments prior to the subsequent opening day. Cablevision threw out many of the same arguments about YES as Comcast did with respect to BTN, such as the entire subscriber base shouldn’t be paying so much for a “niche” product and that it should be relegated to a sports tier. Go figure, though, that there happen to be a lot of Yankee fans that live in New York City and if they’re like me, pretty much the entire reason why they purchase cable in the first place is to watch sports. The Yankees had a critical mass of games to offer exclusively to a critical mass of fans. Likewise, the BTN exclusively showed at least a couple of football games for each conference member along with a truly full slate of basketball games. In every Big Ten state outside of Illinois (which is a center of alums from all of the Big Ten schools) and maybe Pennsylvania (Penn State football is behind the Steelers and Eagles, but ahead of everyone else), a Big Ten sports program is either the first or second most popular sports team (college or pro) in that state in an average year (i.e. Ohio State is the biggest sports draw in all of Ohio). So, the BTN had a critical mass of potential viewers who had quite the fervor to watch the critical mass of games that the network was offering. Comcast either eventually figured this out or at least admitted that no one was buying the NFLN comparison and had to stem the tide of Midwestern sports fans flocking to DirecTV and other providers offering the BTN.

Now that the BTN is getting the carriage that it has been seeking, don’t be surprised that the SEC will be right around the corner in setting up its own network (which has already been considered). The SEC will have the benefit of learning from the Big Ten’s travails and probably will be able to avoid the regional cable issues (if only because SEC fans have the passion of Big Ten fans coupled with ownership of a lot more guns), although it’s unlikely they could get a national basic deal that the BTN has with DirecTV since the television markets aren’t as large or affluent. The other BCS conferences will surely attempt to do the same over the next few years, but the revenue production for them will almost certainly be short of what the Big Ten and SEC could expect to make.

In the meantime, all of the Big Ten fans out there that haven’t switched to the dish yet (even though I recommend doing so) won’t need to fill their time next winter with hockey games on Versus. Football and basketball will be back in those homes and that’s great for the conference’s schools and fans alike.

(Image from Koo’s Corner)

With the prospect of the Bulls becoming a favorite bandwagon team once again after they select the #1 pick in the NBA Draft later this month and coming across this Jim Caple column about the overexpansion of Red Sox Nation, I’ve decided to re-visit this post from a couple of years ago where I listed the top ten teams that people should not be allowed to root for unless they have a direct and concrete geographic (as in the location where people spent their formative childhood years), alumni (for college teams), or family (fandom that is passed down from a parent that qualifies under the two previous reasons) connection. Since then, I feel that I have become even more hardened in terms enforcing these standards and am much more suspect of those that cheer for teams outside of the aforementioned legitimate connections. (On the off-chance that I have a new reader out there, I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, so I’ve been a diehard Bears, Bulls, and White Sox fan since the moment I could comprehend what was on the television, while I went to college at Illinois, so I live and die with the Illini. I feel more than confident in stating that my fandom is pure without any shenanigans.) Much of this is based on the general d-baggery of Red Sox fans over the past few years that Caple refers to (Minneapolis Red Sox excluded, even though he is an admitted baseball bigamist, which is another matter) and the increasing focus that ESPN and other media outlets have on a select number of teams at the expense of others.

In re-reading my old post, I’m actually disappointed by how lenient I was on Dan Shanoff’s adoption of the Florida Gators, particularly in the wake of the fact that he wrote an expanded post regarding this subject on his own blog a few months ago. If anything, the fact that he disposed of his alma mater Northwestern, which is a Big Ten school, in favor of an SEC school that happens to be very successful in both football and basketball as a result of his wife is unconscionable on several levels. It might have been somewhat plausible if Shanoff hadn’t attended a non-BCS school (as bad as Northwestern might be outside of women’s lacrosse) so that he could have a rooting interest on football Saturdays, but that wasn’t the case here. At the same time, I’m fairly certain that he wouldn’t have adopted, say, fellow SEC member Vanderbilt with quite the same fervor if his wife was a member of the Commodore community. Shanoff’s piece is written well enough, but the substance behind it is opportunistic and shallow. Unfortunately, there seems to be a whole lot of other people out there that take the Shanoff approach to picking teams.

As I noted in my old post from a couple of years ago, what the sports world ought to have is a list of teams that a fan can’t cheer for unless he or she can unequivocally prove a geographic, alumni, or family connection. While the claim of fandom of any team anywhere without such a connection is a punishable offense, an illegitimate fan of a team on this particular list would have an enhanced penalty, such the suspension of his Man Card in the case of a male. To amend the approach that I previously took, this list should be set up in the same manner as the UN Security Council, with permanent members that will always be off-limits and other members that rotate on and off depending upon their success. The permanent members ought to include the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Cowboys, Lakers, Knicks, Notre Dame football, and Duke basketball. No matter how good or bad these teams might be in a given year, they carry such inordinate power and sway over sports and television executives that you need extra proof to avoid the bandwagon tag for any of these clubs at all times.

The Patriots are the perfect example of a non-permanent member – a decade ago, they were the NFL equivalent of the Clippers and weren’t anywhere on that national sports radar, but have since become such a dominant franchise that anyone who has started cheering for them outside of the Boston area since Tom Brady arrived should be cut off immediately. However, once they are no longer an upper-tier team, they will likely be removed from the list because the interest in that franchise doesn’t carry the same widespread bandwagon inelasticity of, say, the Red Sox or Cowboys. On a related point, the Bulls were at the top of the list back in the 1990s as probably having the most bandwagon fans of any team in sports history, but they receded out of the national sports consciousness quickly after Michael Jordan retired for the second time. If likely draft pick Derrick Rose becomes as good as I believe he will be, then the Bulls will get right back onto the non-permanent member list with all of the national television appearances that go along with it. Anyway, the current non-permanent members outside of the Patriots include the Celtics (this year’s NBA Finals will have the largest concentration of bandwagon fans in any sport since MJ and Magic faced off in the ’91 Bulls-Lakers series), Cavaliers (simply for the presence of LeBron James), Colts, New York Giants, USC football, UCLA basketball, Florida football and basketball, and Ohio State football and basketball. (While a number of these teams might seem like possible permanent members and the reason why they’re listed here is that there’s a bit extra blowhardedness from the media about these teams in contrast to others, I’ve observed in recent years that when these teams did not perform well, the national news coverage of them declined in commiserate fashion. In contrast, look at the ridiculous volume of ink that was spilled on the horrid Notre Dame football team last season and the drama that surrounded the Lakers before they turned it around this year. That’s the difference between permanent members and non-permanent members – it’s how much you hear about them when they’re terrible.)

Please feel free to add your own suggestions to the permanent and non-permanent lists, along with any defenses that you may have if you cheer for a team that falls outside of a geographic, alumni, or family connection (although such defenses will likely fall on deaf ears on this end unless you fall into the “I grew up in a metro area without an MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL team”, “I didn’t go to a BCS school”, “I grew up in a place like Nebraska or Kentucky where everyone cheers for the flagship university regardless of whether they or their parents went to school there”, “I was an Army/Navy/Air Force/Shawn Kemp brat that moved every couple of years”, or “my formerly favorite team moved cities so I picked a different one” exceptions).

(Images from Boston Dirt Dogs and LakersTopBuzz)

The ABC/ESPN hype machine has gotten the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals matchup that it has been craving since the day it took away the league television contract from NBC six years ago. (The worst thing about the network move was that the glorious John Tesh theme song was mothballed in favor of a rotation of music “stars” that has gotten progressively worse over the years, culminating in the horrific current opening that stars Tim McGraw and Def Leppard. For as much as the ESPN empire bashes us over the head with pop culture references, they seem to have confused the highly urbanized NBA audience with a group of carnies from Decatur. This might also be planting the seeds of another sick ploy by the television conglomerate to jam NASCAR cross-promotions down our throats.) I’ll be honest with you – I’ve been craving this matchup, too. It’s not that I have any personal affinity for either of these teams, but I couldn’t take another NBA Finals involving the Pistons (unequivocally my least favorite pro sports franchise after the Packers) and the Spurs (a team that I know I ought to like as a pure basketball fan, but they annoy me in an irrational manner). Plus, as a sports fan in general, I’ve come to appreciate the rekindling of storied rivalries at the highest level since people can’t bank on it anymore with increased parity in all of the sports leagues. Back when I was a little kid, the Celtics and Lakers playing in the NBA Finals was considered a common occurrence, so the fact that it has been 21 years since they last met for the championship (a series that I remember clearly) is the latest in a long line of historical moments that have reminded me that I’m not really young anymore. What’s unique about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is that it isn’t based on geography or conference/division affiliation like almost every other sports rivalry, such as the general New York vs. Boston/Philadelphia or Chicago vs. Detroit/Green Bay/St. Louis matchups (note that Cowboys-Redskins is still a divisional rivalry), but instead on excellence where they have met on the final stage with incredible frequency for a three decade stretch of time. The closest comparison might be Notre Dame-USC, but even then, they have only played one game where the teams were ranked #1 and #2 (this occurred in 1988, which was the last time the Irish won a national championship).

Of course, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird aren’t going to have much effect on this series. I was very excited about the prospect of the Celtics-Lakers matchup at the beginning of the NBA Playoffs, but over the past few weeks, it’s been looking more and more like this series can’t possibly live up to the hype. Hopefully, I’m wrong and this will push out to seven games, since that would be a transcendent sports moment. However, the Lakers look dominant right now and they disposed of the Spurs (who I think would beat the Celtics head-to-head) in five. There’s little indication that L.A. wouldn’t be able to dispose of Boston in the same number of games, so I’ll avoid the typical conservative commentator prediction of a six-game series and say that the Lakers will win 4-1 (I foresee a split of the first 2 games in Boston and then the Lakers rattling off 3 straight at the Staples Center).

Kobe Bryant continues to play out of his mind (the yahoo portion of the Bulls fan base that didn’t want to give up guys like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and/or Luol Deng for this guy last fall continue to look horrible) and will clearly be the best player on the floor (which you could say no matter who the Lakers are playing). I love Kevin Garnett as one of my favorite athletes that hasn’t played for a Chicago team or the Illini (although he’s a native Chicagoan), but he can’t necessarily take over a game the way Kobe can. At the end of the day, Paul Pierce is going to be the one that needs to match Kobe shot-for-shot while the rest of the Celtics have to hold down Pau Gasol and the balance of the torrid Lakers offense – that’s going to be a whole lot tougher than the one-man-LeBron-show that took Boston to the brink of elimination or the Pistons club that could only utilize Chauncey Billups in limited fashion.

At the same time, the Lakers have a monster coaching advantage in Phil Jackson over Doc Rivers. For the Phil-haters out there, particularly from Boston, that discount his accomplishments since his championships came with the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen Bulls and the Kobe/Shaq Lakers, I would like to point out that Red Auerbach never won a championship without Bill Russell in an era when power forwards rarely cracked 5’10”. I’m not sure why this never gets mentioned. Granted, I’m a bit biased here since I grew up as a Bulls fanatic and Phil was at the helm of the teams that provided me with probably the most memorable sports moments of my life. However, he should always deserve credit for getting the max out of that franchise in the 1990s. As much as I love Mike Ditka (to the point where I have this autographed photo in my basement), the ’85 Bears ended up being the ultimate one-hit wonder in sports history instead of the becoming the first championship team in a dynasty that should have lasted for the rest of the 1980s (Bill Walsh’s 49ers teams ended up filling that space) due to a lot of internal squabbling and personality clashes (many of which were caused by Ditka himself, much less the case of him not being able to solve them). In contrast, the ‘90s Bulls were able to achieve success even when they had a murder’s row of Godzilla-sized egos – MJ was a cold-hearted competitor to the extreme, Scottie was always a Toni Kukoc-last-shot-play from snapping, most of the rest of the team was perpetually at odds with Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause about their contracts, and there was that slightly-off personality known as Dennis Rodman during the second three-peat. The fact that Phil put those guys into line for six championships (along with three more rings with Lakers teams that were nearly as ego-filled) is a testament to his ability to coach in the modern NBA.

Meanwhile, Phil’s well-known soft skills in managing personalities and digging into players’ psyches are complemented by what I believe is an underrated substantive skill: I don’t know of a basketball coach at any level that has ever managed rotations of players better than Phil. Phil would often take MJ out of regular season games relatively early, yet the Bulls rarely collapsed because he got key bench players substantive playing team with Scottie Pippen running the second unit. This paid off massively in the postseason since (a) MJ was always healthy because he wasn’t unnecessarily put through max minutes early in the season and (b) the bench players often came up huge as a result of not just being in there at garbage time, which is why reserves such as John Paxson, Bobby Hansen and Steve Kerr live on in Chicago sports lore with key baskets in championship clinching games. Phil has done the same thing with the Lakers by regularly removing Kobe early and giving the second unit quality minutes with Lamar Odom running the offense. That means that Kobe and the rest of the starters are fresher (and already younger) than an older tapped-to-the-brink Celtics team and Luke Son-of-a-Bastard Walton or someone else of that nature will be primed to make a number of clutch shots in the series when Kobe is double or triple teamed. On the other side of the floor, Doc Rivers is acknowledged to have one of the most inconsistent rotations in the NBA (guys will play 30 minutes one game and then get DNPs for two weeks straight), which is a severe disadvantage when the Celtics are much more banged-up and can’t really depend on their stars to go 48 minutes every night.

Like I’ve said before, the basketball fan in me hopes that I’m wrong and that this becomes an NBA Finals that lives up to the hype. However, the basketball analyst in me believes that this will be a pretty easy stretch for a significantly superior Lakers team.

(Image from Sportslifer’s Weblog)

There are a whole lot of issues going on in the Chicago sports world that I’ll be getting to soon, including the Bulls apparently settling on Doug Collins Strikes Back as coach (I’ve been jumping the gun on Bulls coaches posts, so I’m holding off until there’s an actual press conference) and the baseball teams on both sides of town holding onto first place in their respective divisions, but I’ve got to get my thoughts down on the state of Lost in the wake of Thursday night’s season finale. Lost is certainly one of those television shows where you really can’t be a casual viewer – you’re either completely into it such that life stops when you watch the show every week or you’re completely out of it and can’t reasonably hope to ever get into it without investing about 100 hours in watching DVD boxed sets. Of course, as the New York Times pointed out last week, even the most diehard fans don’t know WTF is going on. I’ve attempted watching a couple of episodes with my wife, who hasn’t been a regular viewer, and it was impossible for me to explain what was going on in every scene since the backstories and character development have been so complex (which is why I love the show in the first place). With her being the inquisitive type in the first place, the shared watching was a frustrating experience to say the least. So, if you don’t watch Lost, you can just skip this post since I’m not going to bother even attempting to explain who everyone and what everything is – you either know it or you don’t (or even better, check out the invaluable Lostpedia). What’s interesting is that everything that I’m about to write will probably look like a laundry list of ridiculous “Jump the Shark” moments to a non-fan, but will make perfect sense to a Lost fan in terms of the pace and progression of the show.  Regardless, Lost fans have been treated to probably the best overall season since the debut year, even if the season finale didn’t provide a game changing shocker in the manner of last year. I just can’t believe that I have to wait eight months for the show to start up again, so here are my thoughts, theories, and questions on the major characters and storylines that we can debate in the meantime:

John Locke (AKA Jeremy Bentham) – It’s interesting that the character with the moniker of a famous British philosopher ended up taking up the name of another British philosopher for reasons not yet revealed (although the logical explanation is that Locke would need to change his name off the island to cover up the fact that he’s a survivor of Flight 815 outside of the Oceanic Six). The “big reveal” at the end of the show that Locke was the body in the casket was not a shocker, but it’s a very nice touch that the real-life Bentham actually had his body preserved at University College in London which the public can still see on display – a not-so-subtle tie-in to the fact that in the closing dialogue, Ben has instructed Jack that they need to take Locke’s body back to the island. Despite the important reveal, though, this episode raised a whole lot more questions about Locke as opposed to providing answers. Locke has apparently replaced Ben as the leader of the Others, yet Locke (under the Benthem alias) leaves the island at some point later on to inform the Oceanic Six that awful events have been occurring and they need to return from home. What exactly has been happening under the Locke “regime”, for the lack of a better description, that has been so horrible? How did he leave the island and is he now banished in the same manner as Ben? If the Others are supposed to follow all of Locke’s directions, as Ben suggested would happen, why would there be any issues at all? What did Locke tell all of the Oceanic Six back in the real world? Why did he visit Walt in addition to the Oceanic Six? How did Locke die? If Locke’s dead body is transported back to the island, will he be resurrected? I’ll address some of these issues later, but overall, all of these questions are extremely open-ended (which means setting forth any theories at this point are really just shots in the dark) and will likely serve as the main focus of the show for its final two seasons.

Jin and Sun – The first rule of any movie or television show is that a character isn’t dead until you see a body.  So, people can talk all they want about how the size of the explosion on the freighter would have taken Jin down even if he had jumped off in time (or the fact that Jin was due to get knocked off as a result of the Lost DUI Curse), but c’mon everyone – if there’s anything that Lost fans should understand is that death is often a temporary state.  Besides, Daniel Faraday’s boat (which I’ll address momentarily) is perfectly positioned to pick up a floating Jin.

Of course, the more important key to the storyline is that Sun believes that Jin is dead and that is going to drive her character for the rest of the series.  There’s plenty of speculation of why Sun approached Charles Widmore in the finale – some blogs have advanced the notion that she might be trying to double cross him.  However, I believe that everything that Sun is doing post-island is to avenge her husband’s death, which started with the hostile takeover of her father’s company and has led to a possible alliance with Widmore.  Sun made the point to Widmore that they have “common interests”.  By the end of the episode, we found out that Locke visited to all of the Oceanic Six, which means that there is a great possibility that he informed her of the circumstances around Jin’s death – namely, that Ben killed Keamy with the knowledge that it would end up blowing up the freighter with the heart rate monitor/bomb signal.  (On a side note, Keamy is probably the only character on the entire series so far that was an unequivocal villain.  All of the other characters have been so complex, particularly Ben, where you think they might be bad but you don’t know whether they have been acting  noble intentions.  However, the producers made Keamy so ruthless that it was over-the-top at times – that was a bit disappointing since he was a fairly prominent character this season.)  In turn, Sun would be moved to blame Ben for Jin’s death.  At the same time, Ben had stated in prior episodes that he would go after Widmore’s daughter, Penny.  If Ben ended up being successful in taking Penny out (via Sayid), then that would mean that there is a great “common interest” between Widmore and Sun with respect to taking Ben down.

Michael – An exception the the aforementioned dead body rule is if the image of Christian Shephard appears to say “you can go now” after you’ve had several unsuccessful suicide attempts in prior episodes, you’re permanently relegated to dead-person vision status on Lost.  Plus, actor Harold Perrineau is apparently upset with his character’s demise, so there isn’t a debate on whether Michael has been eliminated (as opposed to Jin).

Jack/Kate/Sawyer/Possibly Juliet Love Quadrangle – Well, we now know why Kate feels so indebted to Sawyer with him jumping out of the helicopter and all.  Of course, I foresee a Sawyer/Juliet romance on the newly moved island, which may ironically be used by the lovelorn Jack to get Kate to ultimately go back to the island.

Daniel Faraday’s Boat – My feeling is that Daniel’s boat is still floating in the middle of the ocean and didn’t go along for the ride along with the newly-moved island.  This gives him the opportunity to pick up a still-alive Jin.  Also, I think Faraday is going to be a (if not the) key guy to help the Oceanic Six find the island again since he seems to know more about the island’s scientific properties (particularly the “wrinkle in time” portion) than any character so far.  Of course, this depends on whether he’s going to go back to the real world right away or if he’ll look for the island again right away (which would be a tough notion considering his boat has no food or water).  Regardless, I think Daniel and his island-bound colleagues Miles and Charlotte are going to be important Desmond-esque figures for the last two seasons with their special physical and spiritual connections to the island (Frank, on the other hand, is likely going to have a minor role from this point forward, if he has any role at all, since his reason to go to the island seemed to be more of a fact-finding mission stemming from him having been the scheduled pilot of Oceanic Flight 815 before he called in sick).

Ben – By moving the island, is he really banished as he claimed?  I don’t think this is the usual line of B.S. from Ben since he seemed incredulous toward Jacob (whoever that might be) when he turned the frozen donkey wheel to move the island.  So, it looks like Ben is back in the real world looking for the island just like Widmore and (presumably and eventually) the Oceanic Six.  What still hasn’t been revealed in a flashback, though, is how Ben came to lead the Others in the first place.  It’s apparent that he’s “special”, but how early did Dr. Richard Alpert peg this?  We’ll see how this plays out.

There are plenty of other issues that I haven’t even touched upon.  Was Charlotte born on the island? How does Miles apparently communicate with the dead and read minds? How is the Aaron storyline going to play out as a child that was born on the island? Are the time travel properties of the island the reason why women that get pregnant on the island end up dying?  It’s brutal that it won’t be until Super Bowl-time next year before any of these items will be addressed.  I’ll be ready and waiting, though.

(Image from Pioneer Local)