December 17, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Mack Brown Resigns – Crazy week in Texas with football coach Mack Brown stepping down from his post with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation has been the subject of speculation for a few years now as many fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s record lately. After nine consecutive seasons with at least ten wins, Texas hasn’t achieved that mark in the past four years. Brown hasn’t been terrible, mind you, guiding the Longhorns to three winning seasons in those four years. But the team hasn’t competed for a national championship in some time and the program hasn’t been as good as it was last decade under him. Alabama’s Nick Saban seemed to be a potential replacement for Brown, but he recently announced he’s staying put with the Crimson Tide.

Kobe Bryant Struggles in Return – The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back this week as Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury sustained last season – but things haven’t gone quite as they hoped. The team got off to a 1-3 start since Bryant’s return with their only win a three-point victory over the Charlotte Bobcats under their belts. The Mamba isn’t helping things, either. In the four games he’s played, Bryant is scoring only 13.5 points a game. Helping to fill the point guard role in Steve Nash’s absence, the good news is that he is averaging a career-high seven assists per contest. But Bryant is also averaging a career-worst 6.3 turnovers and is clearly still dealing with a high amount of rust.

Jamaal Charles has Record Day … as a Receiver – Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles had some kind of day in the team’s 56-31 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Charles is one of the league’s best rushers, but he did his damage on Sunday through the air, racking up 195 receiving yards on eight catches. He added five big touchdowns and had 220 total yards on the day. According to ESPN, he had the third biggest receiving day for a running back since the 1970 merger and his five scores tied a franchise record. Needless to say, Charles surely won leagues for many of his fantasy football owners that reached their league’s championship games.

Roy Halladay Retires – Former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay retired last week at the age of 36. Halladay, as recently as two seasons ago, was still one of baseball’s best pitchers. In his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, the pitcher had perhaps his best season ever with a 19-6 record and career-bests with 220 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. The past two seasons for Halladay, though, have been forgettable and last year, he suffered one of his worst professional seasons going 4-5 with a whopping 6.82 ERA. The next question will inevitably be if he will get into the Hall of Fame. His credentials are reasonable with a career 3.38 ERA and more than 2,100 strikeouts, but his relatively low total of 203 wins will hurt him. That’s unfortunate because playing for some pretty bad Toronto Blue Jays teams for the bulk of his career, Halladay would certainly have had more wins with a better franchise. Still, that number will be difficult to overcome since most of the other starters currently in the Hall have more victories.

Snowball Fight Ends with Oregon Player Suspended – The Oregon Ducks’ football team apparently organized a snowball fight with fans and, well, things got out of control. A player was even suspended for the team’s upcoming bowl game. Well, then.

RGIII Benched … Redskins Lose Anyway – The Washington Redskins benched their star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he’s been inconsistent all year long following his recovery from his ACL injury. Kirk Cousins got the start for Washington on Sunday, but the team still lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26. The team was competitive and Cousins did some good things in throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also struggled a little with two interceptions and failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion near the end of the contest. Cousins is an interesting quarterback who has a future in this league, but the team is still better off with Griffin if he can return to the form he showed in 2012. Benching him was the right move and if the Skins are wise, they’ll do the same for the rest of the season and allow him to get healthy for next year.

Jameis Winston wins Heisman – In the long and storied history of the Heisman trophy, a freshman didn’t win the award until last season when Johnny Manziel took home the prize. That opened the door for others and for the second consecutive season, a first-year player has won the honor. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been nothing short of spectacular for the Seminoles and he clearly deserved to win it, leading Florida State to an undefeated season as they head into the national championship game next month.

Skiing … Not Just for the MountainsSkiers are taking over Detroit’s abandoned buildings. No, really.

February 4, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Baltimore Ravens hang on to win Super Bowl over San Francisco 49ers, 34-31: What looked to be a dud of a game early finally became interesting with the help of … a power outage. Down 28-6, the San Francisco 49ers rallied to score 17 consecutive points. The comeback came up short, though, after the two teams traded touchdowns.  Baltimore added a field goal with about four minutes left in the game and after driving nearly the length of the field, the Niners were stopped inside the 10-yard line. Baltimore got the ball back and wisely took a safety with only a few seconds remaining to provide the final score.

49ers fans will focus on the non-call of what appeared to be pass interference in the end zone on that final drive, but the Ravens’ defense should be lauded for coming up big twice in the fourth quarter. In addition to the aforementioned stand, the D stopped a two-point conversion attempt by the 49ers that could have tied the game (and would have meant they would have only needed a field goal on that final drive). The Ravens allowed 31 points, but stopped San Francisco when it mattered.

Seven elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lost a bit in all of the Super Bowl hoopla were the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections. Coach Bill Parcells and players Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, and Larry Allen will all be inducted later this year. In addition, senior selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson were elected as well. All were deserving, but if you’re looking for a snub, that would be former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis ranks sixth on the all-time NFL rushing list, but still couldn’t find a way into the Hall despite eight 1,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowls, and a Super Bowl victory. He should eventually get in, but it has to be a bit disappointing that it didn’t happen this year.

Dwyane Wade tries to convince Lebron James to participate in All-Star weekend activities: The NBA has been fighting a losing battle in trying to add more excitement to their All-Star weekend. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the league’s biggest stars generally no longer take part in the slam dunk championship or three-point shootout. Gone are the days when players such as Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Larry Bird were participating, but one guy wants to change that: Dwyane Wade. Wade has been pushing for teammate Lebron James to suit up for the slam dunk and three-point contests this year. While LBJ has reportedly said he’s not interested in dunking, we could see him in the three-point shootout. I’d be all for it, to be honest. If there’s one thing that will draw more eyeballs, it’s the participation by the game’s best players. I don’t think the league should try to force its stars to join in, but the players should want to do it. The weekend is all about the fans and if there’s any way to reward them, it’s by doing more than sitting on the sidelines.

Adrian Peterson wins NFL’s MVP award: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, beating out Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning. You can make a strong case for Manning, who came back strongly after an injury kept him out last year. But Peterson is the right choice in my opinion. Not only did he carry the Vikings on his back to the playoffs this year, but he nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record for most rushing yards in a season. Others have challenged the mark, but Peterson came the closest falling only nine yards short. Manning had one of his best seasons ever and for one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s really saying something. But Peterson had less to work with if you look at it objectively. The Vikings passing attack was one of the worst in the NFL and the team won only three games last year when he suffered an injury. Meanwhile, Manning had a solid rushing attack and also took over a team that won a game in the playoffs last year. In other seasons, Manning could be an easy pick. But this year, the award belongs to Peterson.

Yankees may try to void Alex Rodriguez contract: As his career winds down, Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez has found himself in a number of controversies. The latest came last week when he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. That’s nothing new as Rodriguez previously admitted to such use earlier in his career, but he has maintained that he has not done so recently. But because of the new allegations, the Yankees may be looking to void A-Rod’s expensive contract in the hopes of saving some money. That likely wouldn’t be the case if Rodriguez was in the prime of his career, but with his numbers in a steady decline, it makes sense that New York would want out of his hefty deal. Stay tuned.

Caltech ends historic streak: Chances are you’ve probably never heard of the California Institute of Technology if you live outside of the state. But their baseball team snapped a historic 228-game losing streak last week, winning their first game in nearly a decade, 9-7 over Pacifica. Even more shocking is that the school has had several other unbelievable recent streaks of futility. The men’s basketball team lost 310 straight games until winning in 2011 and the women’s volleyball team also lost 56 in a row at one point before a victory in 2012. Congratulations, I guess?

December 4, 2012

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Bowl Season Observations

By: Joe Williams

College football’s regular season games have been played, the bowl selections have been made and now all there is to do is wait…for 2014. In two years we will finally get the college football playoff we’ve been waiting for. Until then, we are stuck with the BCS system that, every year, is filled with controversy.

Should Oklahoma have made a BCS bowl?

This year, the BCS has delivered the most disappointing and uninteresting lineup of games since the BCS system began. The Rose Bowl has a team that has already lost five times this year in Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl has a team that was never in the BCS discussion until there was one day left in the season and has the experts complaining that they don’t deserve to be in the game in Northern Illinios. In the Sugar Bowl we have a team that benefited by not having to play in its conference championship game in Florida taking on a team that has lost two of three and has not faced a ranked opponent all season in Louisville. And of course the BCS Championship Game will feature possibly the two most hated teams in college football (Notre Dame and Alabama) so many fans won’t even know who to root for. The only bright spot is the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon against Kansas State should be a good one.

Why is everyone getting so bent out of shape about Northern Illinois reaching the BCS anyway? So Oklahoma doesn’t get in this year. So what? The Sooners have played in the BCS eight times. I’d rather see some new blood get a chance. It’s not like the Sooners are left out of a national championship shot. Has everyone forgotten what happened when Boise State (2007 and 2010) and Utah (2005 and 2009) were in the BCS and people thought they shouldn’t be? I’m not saying Northern Illinois will beat Florida State. But they qualified for the game. If Oklahoma was so worried about playing in a BCS game it should have performed better against Notre Dame or Kansas State.

What happens if Alabama beats Notre Dame, leaving Ohio State as the only undefeated team? I don’t think it will happen and I don’t think it should happen (because the Buckeyes are not bowl eligible), but what are the chances that Ohio State could end up No. 1 in the AP and we have a split national championship? Talk about college football controversy.

If we have learned anything about college football and the people who run it over the years, it is that the most important thing is money. That is why I am surprised that we are still able to find out who will be playing in what bowl game before the actual BCS selection show is on TV. Why haven’t they come up with a selection show similar to the NFL draft where we have representatives from each bowl game coming up to the podium and announcing the team they have selected to play in each game. We would have teams all around the country gathered around the phone waiting for a call. I would have loved to see a split screen of the reactions from Oklahoma and Northern Illinois when the match-ups were made official. That would get higher ratings then having somebody from ESPN telling us what we have already known for days.

There are 35 games still to play. I’ve got no interest in most of them (East Carolina vs Louisana-Lafayette and Duke vs Cincinnati for example), and only one game means anything. Fortunately, we will go through this just one more time.

May 10, 2012

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Does the NFL Undervalue Centers?

By: Jesse

Lost in all of the hype and debate about which NFL prospect is the next Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, is which prospects could become Pro-Bowlers on the interior of the offensive line (or at least Pro Bowl caliber, if there is no Pro Bowl).  This year’s Draft showed how lightly NFL teams value interior lineman, specifically centers.  Peter Konz, the #1 rated center according to many draft sites, fell all the way to the Atlanta Falcons at #55.  But when you look at teams that have been successful over the last decade, they all have had very good, if not elite, centers.

THE PATRIOTS – DAN KOPPEN

Dan Koppen started 119 games from 2003-2010 for the Patriots.  He was injured early in 2011.  During his tenure as the Patriots center, New England won two Super Bowls and started another season 19-0.  Koppen may not be as important to the team’s success as Tom Brady or Bill Belichick, but he has been an important cog on the offensive line for a long time.

THE COLTS – JEFF SATURDAY

Saturday started 188 games for the Colts from 1999-2011.  Anyone who thinks that the Colts’ offense is completely run by Peyton Manning has never seen Saturday argue with him on the sidelines.  Saturday was out there for all of those years calling protections and identifying linebackers for the Colts’ offensive line.  He is a major reason that Peyton Manning started every game for 13 years in a row.  It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Jeff Saturday can make in Green Bay now that he has signed with the Packers.

MORE EXAMPLES

Maurkice Pouncey, David Haas, and Scott Wells have all been on Super Bowl teams in the past two seasons.  The Steelers went against the grain and drafted Pouncey 16th overall in 2010.  He has more than lived up to the selection by earning a selection to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.  Scott Wells went from the Packers’ 7th round draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft to the starting center in Super Bowl XLV and a Pro Bowler in 2011.  He recently signed a contract with the Rams.  Before the 2011 season, David Haas left the 49ers and signed with the Giants in free agency.  The Giants had not made the playoffs in two years, but won the Super Bowl last year with Haas manning the pivot.  The list does not end there.  The Bears’ Super Bowl run in 2006 featured team captain and perennial Pro Bowl Center Olin Kreutz.  The Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl team had Shaun O’Hara, who made three Pro Bowl teams and one All-Pro Team.

Does Fathead undervalue centers too? The only center on Fathead.com is Nick Mangold.

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Poor play at center can bring a team down as well.  Would the Cowboys have had better records in recent years if they had gotten more consistent play from center Andre Gurode?  Gurode, at times, struggled with shotgun snaps, and, on a few occasions, had multiple bad snaps in the same game.  The Cowboys chose not to resign him following the 2010 season, and, while he signed with Baltimore for the 2011 season, he started only five games for the Ravens.

Recent history has shown that the most successful teams in the league have to-of-the-line centers.  A poor center can bring down an otherwise talented football team.  So why do NFL teams seem to overlook this position in the draft?  It is one of the greatest mysteries in pro football.

February 13, 2012

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Ricky Williams Retires – What Could Have Been

By: Anson Whaley

When then New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka traded his entire slate of draft picks in 1999 to move up to acquire Ricky Williams, he was highly criticized. Williams had come off of an amazing career with the Texas Longhorns, but gambling an entire draft on a single player was a monumental risk – so risky that it had never been done before in the history of the league. Ditka put all of his eggs into one basket and it’s safe to say that while Williams rushed for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons in New Orleans, he provided a relatively small return for an entire draft’s worth of selections. The Saints ended up trading Williams away in 2002 to the Miami Dolphins for (drum roll) … more draft picks.

The bizarre thing is that even after a fairly long NFL career, it’s difficult to gauge just how good he was. His 10,009 career yards rank 26th all-time, yet he had only five career 1,000-yard seasons.  10,000 yards is an amazing accomplishment and made Williams a great rusher, but he will be remembered by most as someone who could have done even more.

In 2000, his second NFL season, Williams missed six games due to injury, but still finished with 1,000 yards. Then after racking up nearly 4,500 rushing yards over the next three years, Williams abruptly retired in 2004. He returned in 2005, but shared time with a young Ronnie Brown, and in 2006, he was suspended for the entire season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Williams returned again in 2007, but playing in his first game, he was injured and missed the remainder of the season. Williams played in 2008 – 2010 without missing a game, but he again spilt time with the younger Brown. Last season, he served as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens behind star Ray Rice.

The Dolphins drafted Ronnie Brown to add stability and the "wildcat" to their running game.

When you add it all up, Williams missed about 3 ½ years of playing time. He averaged nearly 1,200 yards per season from 1999 – 2005, so factoring in that rate of production, Williams lost approximately 4,000 yards in all. When you add those yards to his career, a good picture is painted as to just how good he could have been.

With 14,000 career yards, he vaults all the way into fifth place on the all-time rushing list behind only Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Curtis Martin. Just as important, if Williams had been a steady force in the backfield, the Dolphins probably don’t draft Ronnie Brown. Instead of sharing the rushing duties in much of his career in Miami, Williams could have had the bulk of the carries to himself and accumulated even more yards as a feature back.

Now, while all this projecting is fun, the important thing to remember is that it certainly is no guarantee of what Williams would have accomplished. Even if he had been able to stay on the field, there’s still no telling how things would have played out.

The bottom line is that we’ll never know if Williams might have challenged Emmitt Smith’s NFL record of 18,355 yards. But if things had turned out a little better, he may have given it a shot – and Mike Ditka would have had the last laugh.