January 6, 2014

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Playoff thrillers: Fans were hoping for some watchable playoff games this weekend in the NFL and the league didn’t disappoint. Outside of the San Diego Chargers thrashing the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-10, pro football’s postseason games were all close. Saturday featured the Colts erasing a 28-point deficit against the Chiefs to come back for a 45-44 win. In addition, the Saints and 49ers both won on field goals as time expired in their games against the Eagles and Packers, respectively. The games were about as close as you could ask for and that surely amounted in a ratings bonanza for the league.

San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers had the most convincing win of the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

BCS Championship Game: Florida State takes on Auburn tonight in college football’s national championship game and while the potential for a good game is there, the Seminoles cruising to a comfortable win seems the more likely scenario. While Auburn has a loss and several close games, Florida State has beaten up on everyone they’ve played this season. Their closest margin of victory was by 14 points against Boston College and the fewest points the Seminoles have scored was 37 in a 30-point win against rival Florida. The team not only has the nation’s top ranked offense, but the No. 1 defense as well. I’ll take Florida State tonight, 41-24.

Texas picks Charlie Strong as head coach: Texas didn’t get their original target in Alabama coach Nick Saban, so over the weekend, they tabbed former Louisville coach Charlie Strong as their next leader after Mack Brown stepped down. Saban is widely considered as the top coach in college football but getting Strong isn’t a bad consolation prize. Strong took over a weak Cardinals program and won 37 games in four seasons there. Many will point to the fact that he piled up his wins in the Big East and the AAC, where Louisville competed this season, but Strong’s teams have fared well against other major BCS programs, too. The Cardinals crushed a good Miami team this year in their bowl game and beat third-ranked Florida last season in the Sugar Bowl.

Kobe to start All-Star Game?: Despite barely playing this season fighting injuries, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is still getting votes to start in the NBA’s All-Star Game. A lot of them. The future Hall of Famer has only played in six games this year, but is still one of the leading vote getters in the Western Conference and is on pace to be named as a starter by fans. The league has opened the door for this sort of thing by putting ballots into the fans’ hands, but this really is a perfect example of how the voting has gotten out of control. Guards such as Steph Curry and Damian Lillard are having huge seasons and should be rewarded instead of Bryant, who by his own admission, won’t likely be healthy enough in time to even play.

Lambeau Leap Fail: Green Bay Packers’ fullback John Kuhn scored a touchdown in the team’s playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Unfortunately, his Lambeau Leap left a lot to be desired. Yeah, um, that didn’t work at all.

Team USA Hockey selections: The USA Hockey team selections for the 2014 Olympics were made last week and as always, there were a few notable omissions. Two guys that didn’t make the cut, defenseman Jack Johnson and winger Bobby Ryan, were interesting. Johnson is regarded as a top defenseman and Ryan is one of the best goal scorers in the league. For whatever reason, though, the pair didn’t make the team. But while there’s a lot of noise about them being left out right now, expect that die down if Team USA can win a gold medal.

The blowout of blowouts: Southern University won a basketball game over Champion Baptist College, 116-12. No, that’s not a typo. Their 44-0 lead to start the game was an NCAA record. The ironic thing is that at 5-9, it’s not like Southern is a basketball powerhouse. Keep in mind that this is the same team that lost to Denver, Arkansas-Little Rock, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennessee State. Just how bad were things for Champion Baptist? Their starters were a combined 2-29 from the field and only two players on the team scored field goals. Guard Zach Hendricks was the star for the team … and he had four points. CBC had a chance to score more points, but was only 5-17 from the free throw line. The school was outrebounded 69-22, had 27 turnovers, and only recorded a single assist.

December 23, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Peyton Manning sets TD record: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has had a remarkable year and it continued on Sunday when he broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season. Manning threw for four scores in Denver’s win 37-13 win over the hapless Houston Texans this weekend. That gave him 51 for the season, breaking Tom Brady’s record of 50 from 2007.

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning broke the NFL single-season passing TD record on Sunday.

And … he’s gone. Again.: Kobe Bryant made his return for the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of weeks ago and while he wasn’t exactly playing at an All-Star level, the hope was that he’d return there with some games under his belt. Yeah, so much for that. The Mamba injured his knee after returning from the devastating ACL injury and will now miss six more weeks. The Lakers just can’t seem to catch a break and while there’s talk about shutting him down, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. The Lakers are a .500 team right now, but if they can make a significant move or two in advance of the NBA trade deadline and get Steve Nash back from injury, who knows where things could end up? Plus, do you want to be the person to tell Kobe he can’t play again this season?

Southern Illinois coach goes off: Southern Illinois basketball coach Barry Hinson made headlines last week for his legendary rant after his team’s loss to Murray State. Hinson’s a colorful guy, but this rant that included calling his player’s mama’s boys, saying one of his guards is ‘awful’, and mentioning that his wife could outdo the horrific 2-11 shooting of his big men in the game was one of the best ever. If you’ve not yet seen it, Merry Christmas.

Tony Romo Christmas Card: So, yeah – Tony Romo has a Christmas card with his kid struggling to eat a hot dog. Yeah, I’m not making this up.

Return of Jesus Shuttleworth: The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets apparently aren’t all that thrilled with their current jerseys. The two teams are going the street ball route and will be wearing nicknames on the backs of their jerseys in a couple of upcoming games. Ray Allen is expected to don the name J. Shuttleworth on his for his iconic movie role as Jesus Shuttleworth in Spike Lee’s ‘He Got Game’ movie from the 1990s. I’m all for having fun in pro sports, but nicknames? Really? Someone needs to remind these teams that they’re in the NBA – the highest level of professional basketball. This isn’t some crazy minor league stunt, it’s the National Basketball Association. What’s next – allowing players to suit up in warmups or t-shirts for games?

Football at Fenway: Notre Dame has played in their fair share of sports venues, but they’ll soon be able to add Fenway Park to that list. The Fighting Irish will take on Boston College in 2015 at the home of the Red Sox as part of their Shamrock Series.

Christian Laettner jersey up for auction: Christian Laettner went onto a pretty nice career in the NBA, but he’ll always be most remembered for his college career and, more specifically, his game-winning shot against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Laettner’s shot lifted Duke to an overtime win and eventually, a national championship. His jersey from that game is now set to hit the streets via an auction from Lelands. If you want it, though, expect to pay a pretty penny for it with the reserve set at a cool $100,000.

Kevin Youklis heads to Japan: Former Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youklis has decided to play another season of baseball … but in Japan. Youklis is no longer the All-Star player he once was and is in serious decline. Last season, he batted only .219 with two home runs in 28 games. Still, that was enough to get him a $4 million deal with the defending Japan Series champions, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

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.

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.

December 3, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

No. 1 Alabama stunned by Auburn: The BCS title picture just got a little more interesting with Alabama’s shocking loss to Auburn on Saturday. The way the Crimson Tide were defeated was also noteworthy as they had a missed field goal attempt in the game’s final seconds returned 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown. The loss now knocks them out of the SEC title game and could set up a Florida State-Ohio State National Championship. But despite the fact that Auburn has a loss while Ohio State remains unbeaten still might give the Tigers a chance to play for the title. Voters will have a difficult decision on their hands when they consider a less-impressive Buckeyes team vs. a one-loss SEC squad if Auburn manages to win their conference title game. Stay tuned.

Auburn Tigers

Auburn fans celebrated a victory over #1 Alabama on Saturday.

Jason Kidd in Cup-Gate: Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd thought he made a shrewd move late in a game last week against the Los Angeles Lakers. Wanting to rally his team without using a timeout, Kidd held a drink and with one of his players walking towards him, seemed to utter the words ‘hit me’ as the player bumped into him, spilling the drink and forcing an official time out. Kidd used the extra time to rally his troops but their comeback fell short anyway. Afterwards Kidd denied the plot, but later relented and virtually admitted his guilt. For his part, he was fined $50,000 by the league and it was just a bad move on Kidd’s part all around. He said he wanted to help his team win, but blatantly cheating isn’t something that will win him a lot of friends.

Mike Tomlin in Trip-Gate: Last week was a rough one for head coaches and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was part of another controversy. In a heated game with the rival Baltimore Ravens, Tomlin stepped out onto the white out of bounds line in an attempt to slow down Jacoby Jones, who was running for a possible touchdown. Tomlin’s move seemed to work as Jones was definitely distracted to a degree and eventually caught and tackled. The point of whether Jones was going to be caught from behind can certainly be debated, but isn’t really the point here. Coaches are instructed to remain behind the thick white out of bounds line and not only did Tomlin pass the boundary by several feet, but he was practically onto the field of play. As of this weekend, the NFL was reviewing Tomlin’s move and deciding whether to penalize him. There’s really no way that Tomlin shouldn’t be disciplined here if the league is serious. His intent was pretty clear to most and even if the league doesn’t believe the intent was there, he simply has no business being that close to the field. A trip on Jones there could quite easily cause an injury and the league needs to send a statement that interfering in games as a coach is unacceptable.

Ping pong, anyone?: A $20,000 ping pong table? Yeah, there will be a huge market for that, right?

Hall of Fame nominees: A list of candidates up for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame included first-timers Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine. All three should get in, but Maddux may be the only surefire inductee next year. Thomas hit a whopping 521 home runs and was a two-time MVP, but many voters put off by the steroid era look at power numbers as being wildly inflated. Even though his name wasn’t linked to the scandal, it may (unfairly) cost Thomas some votes. But the guess is that all three will get in – even if it doesn’t happen this year. Other newcomers include Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, and Moises Alou. Mussina is an intriguing name, but he fell considerably short of 300 wins despite playing much of his career for the New York Yankees and his ERA of 3.68, even in the American League, isn’t terribly impressive when compared to Hall of Famers.

Kobe return potentially this week: The Los Angeles Lakers got some good news last week with word that Kobe Bryant is progressing nicely from his ACL injury. Things are going so well, in fact, that Bryant could return on Friday for L.A.’s game against Sacramento if he practices well this week. Things could be looking up for the Lakers, who have managed to stay afloat without Bryant and were 9-8 heading into this weekend. What the franchise shouldn’t do, though, is force him back too soon. Los Angeles has been wildly inconsistent this season, but playing well enough to be in the playoff hunt. They’ll need a healthy Bryant to make any kind of run in the postseason and that can only happen if he’s given the time he needs to fully recover. The issue here is going to be forcing Bryant to remain on the bench as the star probably wants to play as soon as he can. But the Lakers need to remember that he’s an investment (especially in light of his new contract) and not allow him to play until he’s completely readly.

Ohio State removes ‘M’ from campus: Preparing for their big annual rivalry game with the Michigan Wolverines, the Ohio State Buckeyes made a curious move when they decided to remove the letter ‘M’ from various locations around campus by covering it up with tape. Further, John Kasich, the state Governor, also encouraged people statewide to avoid using the letter per ESPN. The rivalry is one of the biggest in all of football, but really? Removing M’s from basic signs such as ‘bathroom’ or ‘gymnasium’ just seems a bit … silly.

Come Home, Lebron: A campaign to bring Lebron James back to Cleveland was led by a fan group recently. The fans distributed t-shirts, hoping to catch the attention of James, who was in town playing with his current team, the Miami Heat. James will be a free agent at the end of this year but Cleveland fans shouldn’t hold their breath for his return. He’ll be able to play for any team in the NBA and if James’ desire is to win championships, Cleveland will need at least one more key player in addition to him and star guard Kyrie Irving. And with a slew of offers to come from some of the marquee teams in the league, a return to Cleveland just doesn’t seem all that likely next year.