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BEST FINAL TOUCH

Times staff writer Tom Jones looks at the best and worst in a weekend of televised sports.

ABC had a fun little closing to Saturday night's Penn State-Ohio State game, celebrating Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions' 81-year-old coach, with a musical montage of his career highlights. JoePa's team is now 9-0 and should have a clear path to an undefeated regular season after surviving its toughest test of the season in Columbus, Ohio.

The question now is whether yet another Paterno team will get shut out of the national title game despite being undefeated. If Texas and Alabama go undefeated, including victories in conference championship games, it's hard to imagine Penn State would leapfrog either team in the rankings. Though that would be disappointing for Penn State fans, this season has proved once again that any outsiders who think Paterno should've retired need to worry about their own programs, because Penn State and Paterno are just fine.

Worst scheduling

Major League Baseball and Fox deserve whatever they get as far as lousy ratings for this World Series, and future ones, because of these 8:30 p.m. start times. Sooner or later, all these late starts - and even later endings - are going to create a generation of fans who don't have a passion for the game because they never get to see what are considered the sport's best games.

This isn't even about Game 3, which never should've been started at 10 p.m. It's about the other games, which aren't ending until 11:30 p.m. or midnight, and often later. How many kids are staying up to watch? Heck, how many adults are staying up that late?

Perhaps those in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia are staying up to watch and hitting the snooze button the next day. But what about the rest of the country? You think kids in Chicago, New York, Boston and everywhere east of the Mississippi are up at midnight on a Monday?

As far as Game 3's 10 p.m. start time and 1:47 a.m. ending, what a joke. It was a great game - exciting and dramatic - and who was watching besides Rays and Phillies fans? He didn't mean for it to come out like it did, but during Fox's coverage of the Steelers-Giants game Sunday, even Fox analyst Troy Aikman admitted he didn't see the end of the game. Can you imagine someone missing the Super Bowl because it was on too late at night?

That would never happen. The NFL would never allow it.

Best point

There's plenty of buzz that the NFL eventually will go from a 16-game season to an 18-game one. Bad idea, says NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth, who made a great point on Showtime's Inside the NFL.

"No one who ever played in a 16-game schedule would ever advocate going to 18 games,'' Collinsworth said. "You're going to end up with nothing but backup players playing in the playoffs."

Best praise

Even though Alabama is undefeated, plenty still believe in the Gators.

CBS's Aaron Taylor said, "Without question, right now Florida looks like the most complete team and has clearly established themselves as the team to be beat in the SEC.''

Best list

Fox NFL Sunday analysts Howie Long and Michael Strahan listed their top 11 defensive players in the league this season. No Bucs, but a good list:

1. DeMarcus Ware LB, Cowboys, above.

2. Troy Polamalu S, Steelers.

3. James Harrison LB, Steelers.

4. Albert Haynesworth DT, Titans.

5. Antoine Winfield CB, Vikings.

6. Ray Lewis LB, Ravens.

7. Charles Woodson CB, Packers.

8. Aaron Kampman DE, Packers.

9. Kevin Williams DT, Vikings.

10. Mario Williams DE, Texans.

11. Lance Briggs LB, Bears.

Best feature

Like most weeks, ESPN's Outside the Lines had the most interesting piece of the weekend. Sunday, it was an interview with Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin and video of when she was the starting point guard on the girls high school basketball team that won the 1982 Alaska state championship.

Most awkward moment

Fox's Pam Oliver had a brain cramp during the Steelers-Giants game when, while doing a sideline report, she flat out forgot what she was going to say. (Maybe writing it down would've helped.) But give her credit for looking at the camera and admitting her mind just went blank. A few minutes went by, and she came back, made a joke and continued with her report. Oliver gets a pass on this one because she had the best interview of the weekend as she grilled Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, right, on Fox NFL Sunday. You know it's a good interview when the first question is, "Is your team a mess?'' Jones' answer: "Mess is not the word. It's so close; it's an offside penalty here, it's bad timing of a penalty there. It's missed assignments here, but mess, I think, is real strong."

Worst effort

The Lightning might be fortunate that the Rays are in the World Series, or perhaps more of Tampa Bay would know that it looks awful. Other than goalie Mike Smith, the Lightning looks even worse than it did last season. Maybe all the new players need time to jell. Maybe the defense needs just a little more seasoning. And maybe Vinny Lecavalier needs a bit more time for his shoulder to heal. (He just doesn't look right, does he?) But what was bad about Saturday night's 3-0 loss to San Jose was a lack of effort, which should not be happening seven games into the season. "They didn't have that urgency in the first 40 minutes, and that's something they need to do on a more consistent basis in order to have success,'' Lightning analyst Bobby "Chief'' Taylor said on the broadcast.

Best Mitch Albom line, Part I

"I always thought baseball should be played in sunshine. I just didn't mean sunrise.''

The Detroit Free Press columnist, on ESPN's Sports Reporters, talking about Game 3 of the World Series ending at 1:47 Sunday morning

Best Mitch Albom line, Part II

"We cannot sit on this panel and write off Tampa Bay. We've done it too many times. So have an awful lot of people. I'm not giving up on this team until the final out of the final game of the World Series. They've got the right temperament. ... There is nothing for them to prove, in my mind.''

Albom, talking about the Rays on ESPN's Sports Reporters

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