December 9, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Seattle Mariners roll the dice with Robinson Cano: We’ve seen insane baseball deals before and one would think that with Alex Rodriguez’ contract turning into a disaster and Albert Pujols on the decline after signing his monster contract that Major League Baseball teams would finally learn a lesson. The Seattle Mariners, though, remained undeterred by those warning shots and promptly signed New York Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano to a ten-year $240 million deal. Cano’s a fine player and one of the best second basemen in all of baseball, but that’s a big, big number. To be fair, in 2013, he led all American League players at that position by a wide margin in home runs, RBI, and batting average. Cano’s obviously extremely valuable but the chances that this contract will turn into a mistake remain high. The infielder is still in his prime, but at 31, that won’t last long. It’s a scary thought what Cano will be doing five years from now at 36, but ten? He’ll be 41 when this deal is over and paying a player tens of millions of dollars past the age of 40 is borderline suicide.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols hasn't been as dominant since joining the Angels. How will Robinson Cano perform in Seattle?

New York Yankees to feature new look in 2014: Speaking of Cano, the New York Yankees will have a new look in 2014. Not only did they allow their second baseman to walk, but they also let Curtis Granderson sign with the New York Mets. That doesn’t mean the free-spending Yanks aren’t ready to make any moves in the offseason, though. New York first dropped a bombshell, signing Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Boston Red Sox to a seven-year deal worth $153 million. They also scooped up catcher Brian McCann and most recently, signed outfielder Carlos Beltran to a three-year $45 million deal. Those moves won’t guarantee success but if nothing else, New York will have a significantly different look in 2014.

Florida State and Auburn will square off for title: The Ohio State Buckeyes had their chance to play for the BCS Championship, but let it slip through their fingers in a 34-24 season-ending loss to Michigan State this weekend. That opened the door for the SEC Championship winner and Auburn routed Missouri in a 59-42 win to move into college football’s title game. There will be those that still favor Alabama over Auburn, but the Tigers certainly deserve to play for the championship after their wacky victory over the Crimson Tide. Auburn could present a stiff challenge but Florida State has just rolled over everyone they’ve faced this season – I’ll take the Seminoles in this one.

Steve Sarkisian becomes next USC football coach: The USC Trojans have their next football coach after hiring Steve Sarkiaian last week. The move raised some eyebrows to be certain as USC took a bit of a risk on this hire. Sarkisian does have major college football experience, having served the last five seasons as the head coach of the Washington Huskies, but didn’t have a ton of success there. To be fair, he did have four winning seasons in his five years there … but just barely. Three of those seasons, he was a modest 7-6 and his career 34-29 record hardly is much of an inspiration for a program with as much prestige as USC football. The hire may work out, but there’s no question the new coach has a lot to prove.

He’s back – Kobe returns in loss on Sunday: The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back over the weekend as Kobe Bryant returned to play his first game since his ACL injury. Bryant’s time was limited and he had only nine points in a loss to the 7-12 Toronto Raptors. The guard played 28 minutes and was clearly a bit rusty, shooting only 2-9 from the field and racking up a monster eight turnovers. You can expect some more rusty play out of him as well as limited minutes to start until he can get going.

Matt Prater hits record field goal: The Denver Broncos trailed the Tennessee Titans in the first half of their game on Sunday, but they recovered in part from an NFL-record field goal kicked by Matt Prater. Prater connected on a 64-yarder, breaking the league record of 63 yards held by four players. The feat is an amazing one to be sure, but don’t be surprised if the record falls in the near future. With kickers’ legs getting stronger, Prater’s record might not stand for long. After all, David Akers and Sebastian Janikowski, both kicked 63-yard field goals in each of the past two seasons and Prater’s kick on Sunday marked the third consecutive year that feat was achieved.

Gary Kubiak fired as Houston Texans’ coach: The Houston Texans have had a rocky year and as the season comes to a close, the franchise canned their head coach Gary Kubiak as a result. The move was understandable as the Texans not only had a subpar year, but a downright horrible one. The team was 2-11 at the time of Kubiak’s firing – good enough for worst in the league. When you factor in that Houston was 12-4 last season and reached the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the team clearly expected more and woefully disappointed this season. The Texans had a few problems in that quarterback Matt Schaub was injured and subsequently benched, and All-Pro running back Arian Foster was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. Still, to go from 12-4 to a 2-11 record (including 11 consecutive losses) is disastrous and it’s little surprise that someone had to pay the price.

October 21, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

World Series – The World Series is set as the St. Louis Cardinals will face the Boston Red Sox for the right to the hoist the championship trophy. Each team won their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers, respectively, in six games. The name of the game in the playoffs is pitching and both teams have gotten plenty of it. Three of Boston’s four wins against Detroit came with the Tigers scoring three runs or less. The Cardinals have been just as stingy on the mound, giving up a total of 13 runs in six games against the Dodgers, tossing two shutouts in the process. The same mantra is repeated every postseason, but the team that pitches the best usually wins.

Will the Cardinals celebrate another World Series championship this season?

Florida State topples Clemson in top five matchupFlorida State-Clemson was supposed to be one of the best games of the season. A matchup of two top five teams, however, turned into a rout early on. The No. 5 Seminoles walloped the No. 3 Tigers 51-14 and proved they are worthy of the national championship talk that’s starting to surround them. Unbeaten Florida State enters this week’s poll as the new No. 3 team in the nation behind only undefeated Alabama and Oregon. For Florida State, it was again the Jameis Winston show. The freshman quarterback threw for 444 yards and had three touchdowns in the game and as the season continues, it will be harder to ignore the Heisman attention he’s beginning to garner across the country.

Lebron wants the NFL – In a Q&A session with fans via Twitter, Miami Heat forward Lebron James declared he wants to play in at least one NFL game. James played football in high school and there’s always been talk about his ability to play in the league due to his freakish size. Playing one game, though, won’t cut it and you can bet that if he did get the shot, the opposing team would do whatever they could to make his life miserable. No athlete wants someone making a mockery of their sport and by playing in only one game, that’s exactly what Lebron would be doing. If he wants to take a Michael Jordan-sized cut and try to make a full-time move to the NFL, more power to him. To try to suit up once just to prove to the world that he can play the sport, though, would be another bad PR move.

Bum Phillips dies – Former NFL head coach Bum Phillips passed away this week at the age of 90. Phillips coached the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints in his career, leading the Oilers to two AFC Championship games. Phillips’ legacy lives on in the NFL with his son Wade, a former head coach, and the current Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.

Kentucky tops first preseason college hoops poll – The USA Today Coaches Poll was released last week and the Kentucky Wildcats will begin the season ranked No. 1. A year after winning the national championship, the Wildcats struggled mightily last season, missing the NCAAs and winding up in the NIT.  This is the first time in the history of the poll that a team that finished the prior season unranked catapulted up to the top spot. But Kentucky reloaded with one of the best recruiting classes … of all time. The Wildcats brought in five players in ESPN’s list of top ten recruits so it should come as little surprise that much is expected of the team this year. John Calipari has a young team on his hands, but has already proved he can win with teams dominated by youth as he did two years ago.

Michael Crabtree preparing for returnSan Francisco 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree is hoping to play as soon as November after his ACL surgery in May. For the Niners, the move can’t possibly come any sooner. San Francisco’s passing attack ranks as one of the worst in the NFL (31st heading into this weekend) with fewer than 200 yards per game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had some up and down games from free agent receiver Anquan Boldin, but has largely suffered without his favorite target last season. The 49ers will also get back Mario Manningham soon as well after his ACL tear, but Crabtree is the player San Francisco misses most from last season’s Super Bowl team.

Martin Biron retires – Goaltender Martin Biron has decided to call it quits after 16 seasons in the NHL. Waived by the New York Rangers last week, Biron did not report to his AHL assignment and didn’t draw much interest from around the league. He largely has been a quality goalie over his career, but struggled wildly this season, giving up a whopping nine goals on only 38 shots for a disastrous 76% save percentage.

Grambling football protests conditions – Players from Grambling’s football program sat out this week as the university was forced to cancel its game against Jackson State. Players complained of not only long bus rides, but mold and mildew on equipment and in facilities, as well as having to pay for their own Gatorade at practices out of their own pockets. Players released a letter as well as photos of some of the conditions and, well, the players have a pretty good point, it would appear. The players also weren’t happy with the dismissal of former coach Doug Williams. Losing a coach is one thing, but unsanitary conditions are quite another. Where this ends up is anybody’s guess.

April 25, 2013

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

It’s that time of year and all the cool kids are doing NFL mock drafts. I gave in to the peer pressure so here is my attempt to get a couple of Thursday’s 32 picks right.

In 2012, we knew who the first QB taken, and first overall pick, would be before the NFL Draft started. Those answers aren't as clear this year.

1 Kansas City Chiefs: There’s a new coach in town. Andy Reid has got himself a new quarterback. Now he’ll get someone to protect that quarterback.

The pick: Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M

2 Jacksonville Jaguars: When you are picking second, you can’t afford to miss on your pick. The Jags will wait for round two or three to get a quarterback and look to improve the worst pass rush in the league.

The pick: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

3 Oakland Raiders: With Matt Flynn in the fold, the Raiders can hope he becomes the franchise guy and look to fill a gaping hole on the defensive line. It’s a choice between Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd.

The pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

4 Philadelphia Eagles: This is where we find out if new coach Chip Kelly wants to groom Geno Smith for the future or protect Michael Vick for the present. One thing we know about Kelly is that he loves speed.

The pick: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

5 Detroit Lions: For the Lions to compete in the NFC North, they are going to have to beat Green Bay. That means getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.

The pick: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

6 Cleveland Browns: Championship teams have to be great on one side of the ball. In Cleveland, that’s not going to be the offense until Weeden proves he is the right guy or they find someone else. Adding free agents Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves and the top cornerback in the draft gives the defense a chance to be really good.

The pick: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

7 Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals offensive line was awful last year and if Fisher is still on the board, they won’t waste any time turning their card in.

The pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

8 Buffalo Bills: Here’s another team with a new quarterback. Buffalo follows suit and picks up some protection for Kevin Kolb.

The pick: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

9 New York Jets: The defense just took a major hit by trading Revis to Tampa Bay. If the pass coverage gets worse, the pass rush better improve.

The pick: Barkevlous Mingo, DL, LSU

10 Tennessee Titans: The Titans brought in Andy Levitre to fill the hole at one guard spot. Filling the hole on the other side would make life much easier for Jake Locker and Chris Johnson.

The pick: Johathan Cooper, G, North Carolina

11 San Diego Chargers: San Diego has got to get Phillip Rivers back on track. His 47 turnovers and 79 sacks over the last two seasons are way too many for this team to win.

The pick: Lane Johnson, T, Oklahoma

12 Miami Dolphins: Cornerback duo Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are gone and the Dolphins still have to face Tom Brady twice a year. They need another corner.

The pick: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida St.

13 New York Jets: The secondary still needs help and this is the pick the Jets got in the Revis trade. But they don’t care when one of the best players on the board falls into their laps.

The pick: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

14 Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Cam Newton is going to need more weapons to keep up with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

The pick: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

15 New Orleans Saints: Getting Sean Payton back will help the offense so this pick should be used on the defense. With several options to choose from, the Saints take the best defender left on their board.

The pick: Bjoern Werner, DL, Florida St.

16 St. Louis Rams: With two big needs to fill and two first round picks, the Rams must decide between a safety and wide receiver.

The pick: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

17 Pittsburgh Steelers: James Harrison is in Cincinnati and Mike Wallace took his talents to South Beach. One will be replaced with this pick.

The pick: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

18 Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones just invested $100 million in Tony Romo. It’s safe to assume he’s going to want to protect that investment.

The pick: D.J. Fluker, OL, Alabama

19 New York Giants: When the Giants are great, they are putting pressure on the quarterback. And they like to draft pass rushers.

The pick: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

20 Chicago Bears: The Bears need help at linebacker with Brian Urlacher now gone. They’ll get it here, but it’s not who you think.

The pick: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas St.

21 Cincinnati Bengals: There aren’t a lot of holes in this roster. The biggest one is probably at safety. Not anymore.

The pic: Eric Reid, S, LSU

22 St. Louis: They’ve already picked up a safety. Now it’s time to get a receiver to fill the void left by Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola.

The pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

23 Minnesota Vikings: Percy Harvin is out and Greg Jennings is in. But the Vikings could still use one more guy to help take the weight off of Adrian Peterson.

The pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

24 Indianapolis Colts: Protection for Andrew Luck, a replacement for Dwight Freeney, or maybe the first running back off the board?

The pick: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA

25 Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler are in this division. Better get another defensive back.

The pick: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

26 Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers would love someone he could hand off to that would keep the defense guessing. First running back comes off the board here.

The pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

27 Houston Texans: Andre Johnson needs a tag team partner and Matt Schaub won’t complain about having another weapon either.

The pick: Keenan Allen, WR, California

28 Denver Broncos: The defensive line needed reinforcements even before the Dumervil debacle. One falls into John Elway’s lap on draft day.

The pick: Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri

29 New England Patriots: If the Pats make this pick it’s got to be a receiver or someone to cover a receiver.

The pick: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise St.

30 Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez decided to give it one more shot which means this is the perfect time to draft his replacement and let him learn from a Hall-of-Famer.

The pick: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

31 San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use another safety after losing Dashon Goldson in free agency.

The pick: Matt Elam, S, Florida

32 Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis is retired and Dannell Ellerbe is in Miami so they probably take a linebacker here.

The pick: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU

January 11, 2013

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Weekend Watch List

By: Tyler Vespa

Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.

With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:

1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)

The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior.  Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73

Michigan State, a perennial Big Ten power, fell earlier this season to Minnesota.

8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)

Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall.  Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63

2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)

There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish.  Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.

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.