December 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Playoffs: The NFL Playoffs will begin next weekend and the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have both clinched home field advantage throughout in their respective conferences. Both teams are the likely favorites but neither can really be considered invincible. Even though each has lost only a single game at home all year, anything can happen in a one-game situation. Still, if I’m picking two teams to reach the Super Bowl, it’s Seattle and Denver.

Marshawn Lynch

The Seattle Seahawks are the #1 seed in the NFC.

Bill O’Brien/Texans Talk Contract: The Houston Texans have had a dismal season and have already fired head coach Gary Kubiak. Next up for the franchise could be Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. On Saturday, news broke that the two sides were already discussing a contract and if he leaves the school, it would be yet another blow to the Nittany Lions. With the program reeling a few seasons ago from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, O’Brien rescued Penn State to a degree and put together a couple of decent seasons. The school is still on probation for a couple of more years, but he has them headed in the right direction. The one thing in Penn State’s favor, however, is that the program is in far better shape than it was when O’Brien took over. There’s still work to be done, but landing a qualified head coach shouldn’t be too taxing this time around since Penn State is in a better situation.

LeBron James and Serena Williams AP Athletes of the Year: NBA star LeBron James and tennis great Serena Williams were named the Male and Female Athletes of the Year by the Associated Press for 2013. Both were clearly deserving as James helped his team to their second consecutive Finals win and Williams won 11 titles, including two majors this year.

Paul Blair Dies: Former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Paul Blair collapsed at a celebrity bowling event and died last week – he was 69. Blair played in six World Series, winning four of them with the O’s and New York Yankees. He was a reasonable hitter, but more known for his defense as he won eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder. Blair batted .250 and hit 134 home runs over his career, and was a two-time All-Star.

Andrew Bynum on way out in Cleveland: Just two years ago, Andrew Bynum was fresh off his best year in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. But after a trade to Philadelphia as part of a four-team deal that involved Dwight Howard, his career has taken a nosedive. Bynum missed all of the 2012-13 season and then signed with Cleveland this year, where he’s struggled to be a consistent player. So far this year, he had been averaging less than half of the points and rebounds he was in that final year in L.A. and on Saturday, the Cavs suspended him indefinitely for unknown reasons. It’s looking more and more like Bynum will soon be on the open market as the team may simply release him. At only 26, Bynum still has time to turn his career around if he wants to, but right now he’s a far cry from the player he was with the Lakers.

Soccer is fun: Hey look – a Turkish League soccer player managed to miss a goal despite being only few feet away and having an open net. No, really.

Russell Westbrook is Injured. Again.: Sadly, the Oklahoma City Thunder know this tune. Similar to the Derrick Rose symphony, this one ends in predictable disaster. The Thunder have again lost guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury and he’ll reportedly be out through the All-Star break after having surgery. At this point, OKC just can’t catch a break. They’ve got Kevin Durant, one of the league’s best players and with Westbrook, the team is clearly a contender for the title. Without him, though, as we saw in last year’s playoffs, they probably can’t even win the Western Conference. The good news is that the Thunder should get him back in plenty of time for the playoffs. The bad news? He’s got an injury history longer than the list of teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference. If you’re Oklahoma City, you just can’t feel good about him being healthy for the postseason.

Nnamdi Asomugha retires: In 2011, Nnamdi Asomugha was one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL and had just signed a five year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. A little more than two years later and the three-time Pro Bowler has officially announced his retirement. Asomugha’s decline is the perfect example of how quickly skills can diminish when playing in the NFL. The Eagles cut him, finding him to be a liability after two years, and he failed to stick with the San Francisco 49ers, playing in only a few games this year.

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.

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.

August 12, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Jason Dufner claims first golf major with PGA win: Jason Dufner secured his first major golf title with a win at the PGA championship this weekend. Dufner bogeyed the final two holes of the tournament but he still beat long-time veteran Jim Furyk by two shots to capture the trophy. Meanwhile, the event also ended the fifth consecutive season where Tiger Woods will finish without a major championship. Woods finished at +4, far behind the -14 pace set by Dufner. The chances are that Woods will eventually break through and win another major, but at 37, it’s just going to get harder from here on out.

Coaches’ preseason college football poll released: The AP Coaches’ preseason college football poll was released last week and to no surprise, Alabama was ranked as the nation’s top team heading into the season. The Crimson tide took home an overwhelming 58 of the 62 first-place votes while Ohio State (3) and Texas A&M (1) secured the others. According to the poll, we’ll also see continued SEC dominance, as five of the top ten teams were from that conference.

Alabama starts off the 2013 College Football season at #1.

NFL is back: The NFL kicked off this weekend with its first batch of preseason games. The defending champion Baltimore Ravens were impressive in a 44-16 romp over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it’s really hard to take too much away from any of these games considering the starters generally played only a series or two. The preseason games not only consist of second-stringers, but also many rookies and younger players that won’t ever suit up for a regular season game.

Lebron James called for jury duty: Jury duty includes everybody and that point was proved as Lebron James was summoned this past week. James showed up, but was not seated on a jury and was able to leave. Right, because the 6’7” All-Star in a courthouse hearing a case about a theft from a local store wouldn’t be at all distracting. I can sympathize with those that feel athletes shouldn’t be given special privileges, but sending him home was probably best in this situation to avoid an absolute fiasco.

The Redneck Olympic Games forced to change name: Yeah, I’ll just put this here.

Sidney Crosby avoids long DMV wait: In another case of celebrities finding ways out of awkward moments, Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby avoided a long stay at the DMV when he was there to renew his driver’s license. Crosby skated (see what I did there?) by due to a Pennsylvania rule allowing celebrities to move to the front of the line to not cause a disruption. While the rule makes perfect sense, there were some that complained about Crosby getting special treatment. Of course they did.

Michael Jordan still dunking: Not sure this is a huge surprise, but at 50, Michael Jordan can still dunk a basketball. The guard accomplished the feat at his annual Flight School as evidenced by the photo tweeted out from that camp’s account last week. It’s not quite as impressive as Julius Erving pulling it off recently at the age of 63 and doing it in a fantasy camp uncontested may not be the hardest thing in the world for what may be the greatest player of all time. But hey – how many 50-year olds can get up and just dunk when they want to?

Alex Rodriguez goes yard: Alex Rodriguez has hit over 600 home runs so another round-tripper typically would be no big deal. But the Yankee third baseman’s home run on Sunday was his first of the season after sitting out due to injury. It also comes on the heels of all of the suspensions from the Biogenesis scandal where a dozen other players were suspended. While others waived their right to appeal in order to strike a deal with baseball, A-Rod insisted on fighting the charges so that he can play immediately.

NCAA basketball will open in Asia: For the first time ever, Asia will be the host country of the college basketball season opener when Georgetown faces Oregon in a game overseas. The contest will be played at a U.S. Army base in South Korea.

July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.