April 1, 2014

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

An Unlikely Final Four: After another crazy weekend of college basketball, an unlikely Final Four is finally set. Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, is there and the lone non-surprise. But Kentucky topped higher seeds Louisville and Michigan, UConn upset Iowa State and Michigan State, and Wisconsin beat No. 1 seed Arizona. Of the four teams standing, only Florida was a popular Final Four pick and this year is one of the best examples of what March Madness is really all about. By the way, I’ll take the Gators.

Florida Gators Basketball

Will Florida, the overall #1 seed, win the NCAA Tournament?

Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Form Union: Northwestern’s football players scored a historic victory when a court ruled that they have the right to create a union. We’re likely still a long way from anything significant happening on this, but in essence, it could open up the door for college athletes to earn money as employees. While the win holds some significance, I still find it difficult to believe athletes can get paid with things remaining the same in the NCAA. There are really too many hurdles with this – for example, who gets paid … the football players or all of a university’s athletes? How much do they earn? What about football programs that don’t earn boatloads of money? To me, the best solution always has been to allow high school athletes to go straight into the NFL Draft if they desire. The league could create a de facto minor league system, similar to the NBA’s Development League. For players that are good enough to be selected in the draft and want to earn money right away, that’s their ticket. For the others that wouldn’t be selected, they still have the option of playing in college for a scholarship.

Philadelphia 76ers Win: Typically a regular-season NBA win against a bad team isn’t big enough to garner much attention, but all eyes were on Philly after they defeated the Detroit Pistons over the weekend, 123-98. The Sixers had lost 26 straight games, tying an NBA record with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the dubious distinction. Philadelphia’s last win was a one-point victory over the Boston Celtics on January 29th.

Bowling for Records: A man nearly bowled a perfect game … backwards.

Mike Montgomery Retires from Cal: The head coach of Cal’s men’s basketball team is stepping down after a long career. Mike Montgomery gained fame from his 18-year run at Stanford, leading the team to numerous NCAA Tournament Appearances and a Final Four. After leaving that job for a brief NBA stint, Montgomery returned to the college ranks at Cal for six years. He led the Bears to six NCAA Tournament appearances, but couldn’t get the team past the third round. With a 21-14 record this season, Montgomery led Cal to the NIT, where they were eliminated last week by SMU.

Andrew Wiggins Declares for NBA Draft: Kansas freshman basketball star Andrew Wiggins suffered a disappointing loss when his Jayhawks were bounced early in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Stanford. Now, the phenom is ready for the next step and declared himself available for this year’s NBA Draft. Wiggins didn’t have a good game in that finale against the Cardinal and while he had some duds this season, they were few and far between. He averaged 17.4 points and six rebounds per game, and was a Second Team All-American, making the decision a no-brainer.

Mark Sanchez Photobomb: Quarterback Mark Sanchez signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and then was promptly photobombed. By a photo.

Maurice Jones-Drew to Raiders: Longtime Jacksonville Jaguars running back will continue his NFL career after being let go by the franchise. MJD heads to the Oakland Raiders on a three-year deal and should give running back Darren McFadden some much-needed competition for the starting job. Jones-Drew rushed for a career-best 1,606 yards in 2011, but became expendable when he had an injury-prone 2012 and lackluster 2013, rushing for a combined 1,217 yards in both seasons. Over those two years, he only found the end zone six times on the ground and last year, really struggled with a meager 3.4 yards per carry average – a career worst. As bad as Jones-Drew has been lately, though, there’s still a fighter’s chance that he wins the starting job. McFadden has been a career underachiever, and only once reached the 1,000-yard mark. Over the past two years, he’s averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and might even be the underdog against the older Jones-Drew.

UMass Leaving MAC: Conference realignment and expansion in college football has slowed dramatically in the past year. It isn’t over completely, though, as UMass will be leaving the MAC – their home for football. The Minutemen currently play many of their sports in the Atlantic 10 and were offered full conference membership by the MAC. However, they declined and the conference asked them to look for a new football home after the 2015 season. With teams like Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan finding success in recent years, the MAC is becoming a stronger football league. Still, the Atlantic 10 is rising too quickly in basketball to leave right now and the Minutemen basketball program is much farther along than the football program, which just leapt to the FBS in 2012. It may be difficult finding a new football home, but the option to remain as an Independent exists.

June 19, 2013

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NFL Quarterbacks Facing the Most Pressure in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

As the summer heats up so do the predictions for the 2013 NFL season. Quarterbacks make the NFL world go round and no one in professional sports faces more scrutiny.

Cam Newton will start the 2013 NFL season on the hot seat.

With only 16 games on the schedule, there’s no time to be “off.” The grueling NFL schedule doesn’t allow it—one bad game could be the difference between the playoffs and NFL futility. Unfortunately it’s the quarterback that takes the brunt of the blame. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.

Nothing is different this time around as the following quarterbacks face the most pressure heading into the 2013 NFL season.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Let’s get this out of the way now—Mark Sanchez is facing the most pressure of any athlete in the world this year.

Now with rookie quarterback Geno Smith waiting for his chance, Sanchez has no room for error. Playing in New York, it’s no surprise Sanchez faces an uphill battle.

The bottom line is that Sanchez must lead his team to playoffs and win at least one playoff contest. We shall see.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton is light years beyond most NFL quarterbacks after two complete seasons in the league. He has turned the “Bungles” back into the Bengals. He has led his team to the back-to-back playoff appearances, but he has yet to win.

In fact, he has not looked good in the playoffs, he looks predetermined every time he drops back to throw.

So, how does he fix this? Dalton has to look confident from Week 1. The Bengals are one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NFL and there’s reason to believe that Dalton is the man—but now is the time leave it all on the field.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, nope—it was Russell Wilson who was the 2012 rookie quarterback who stole the show. Don’t get confused, Luck and RG3 were phenomenal, but Wilson was as good if not better.

Now, Wilson must avoid the sophomore slump and lead the Seahawks to the top of the charts. There’s a great NFL debate going on right now and many say that the Seahawks are the league’s best team. That puts plenty of pressure on Wilson.

Wise beyond his years, Wilson is mature enough to handle the heat of the NFL media.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford came within 33 yards of eclipsing 5,000-plus yards for the second straight season last year.

So why does he face so much pressure in 2013?

Because his team, the Detroit Lions went 4-12 in 2012 and looked downright pitiful, that’s why. While it certainly isn’t all Stafford’s fault, as the focal point of the franchise, he is the one fan’s and media turn to for answers.

So, less is more for Stafford heading into the new season, except in the win column. True Lions fans know that if their quarterback throws the ball less than the NFL-record 727 times, that’s a good thing. That means the defense isn’t allowing the opposition to score at ease. That also means the Lions have a balanced offense.

Another downtrodden year for the Lions and it may be time to find a new front office and start over again.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Is it just me, or does Cam Newton seem like an afterthought right now? Let’s not forget about him, as the quarterback won’t disappoint this season.

After a stellar rookie season in 2011, Newton returned from space and was grounded in 2012, but his numbers weren’t that far off from his Rookie of the Year campaign. The Panthers, however, struggled last year.

Newton is devoted to his team and to prove that he’s one of the best. The pressure is astounding, but he’ll be up to the challenge. Expect nothing less than brilliance from Newton this season.

April 29, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Draft: The popular NFL Draft was held over the weekend and it was, as usual, a big attraction. The true popularity of the league was on display as millions and millions tuned in over the three-day event. The NFL not only has the most popular on-field product in American sports, but has managed to nearly turn its draft into a national holiday. One of the big surprises was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith falling to the second round. Smith, once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick fell and fell … and fell. But when it was all said and done, he landed in a pretty good spot with the New York Jets. Starter Mark Sanchez has fallen out of favor for a couple of years now and backup Tim Tebow is rumored to be released. Smith should have a chance to not only play in 2013, but win the starting job.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise.

Russell Westbrook out for NBA Playoffs: The Oklahoma City Thunder caught an unbelievably tough break when starting guard Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in Game 2. He suffered a tear in his knee and will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on Saturday. Westbrook is often the subject of criticism for his questionable shot selection, but he still averages 23 points a game. And his seven assists and five rebounds per game make him one of the more complete point guards in the league. Once considered a team that could knock off the Miami Heat for their first NBA title, I’m not even sure OKC makes it out of the western conference now.

College football sets playoff system: College football and the BCS announced their plan for the new playoff system set to begin in 2015. Six bowl games will rotate sharing semifinal games – The Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Chick-fil-A, and Cotton. Each year, two of those bowls will host the semifinal games while the other four will hold significant BCS-type games. The first title game in 2015 will be held in Cowboys Stadium. The real winner in all of this? The fans. Not only will there be a four-team playoff, but there will be two additional big time games. Currently, there are the four major bowl games and the BCS Championship. But now, there will be a total of seven major matchups. And in addition, the two semifinal games and the remaining four contests will be held during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Two tripleheaders over the holiday should give you plenty of reasons not to leave your couch.

Rick Pitino gets tattoo: Yes, this is real news … just go with it. Rick Pitino promised his Louisville Cardinals team he’d man up and get a tattoo if they could win the National Championship. That happened and Pitino didn’t back down. Here’s a picture of it. Not great, but not horrible, I suppose. And props to the coach for not going with a small one-inch tattoo on his ankle or something.

Aaron Rodgers signs new deal with Green Bay Packers: In a move that could keep their star quarterback in a Packers’ uniform for the rest of his career, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise. If he plays out that contract, he would remain in Green Bay for the next seven seasons, through 2019. That would keep him in a Packers jersey until he’s 38. He could play longer, of course, but if nothing else, the bulk of his playing career should be in Green Bay.

UNLV plans Jerry Tarkanian statue: The Las Vegas Sun reported that UNLV is planning a statue for former head basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian, recently elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the school have been on the outs for a while with the relationship mending a bit in recent years. And the coach had long been targeted by the NCAA for a variety of issues involving his teams. But wherever you come out on Tark, the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability as a head coach. He won more than 80% of his games and led UNLV to the 1990 National Championship.

April 25, 2013

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New York Jets Face a Make-or-Break Draft

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL Draft is set for April 25 in New York City and the New York Jets face the most pressure. There are certain teams in sports who are constantly surrounded with drama. Right now, the Jets are the “It” team in this category.

Yes, it’s easy to argue against that point because they play on the world’s largest stage, but the Jets are really good at being a three-ring circus right now. Things undoubtedly started to escalate last offseason when the team signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a hefty contract extension. That was it–Sanchez was the “Sanchize” quarterback. His contract is worth $58.25 million over five years and a guaranteed $20 million in 2012-13. He was now the guy.

The New York Jets and Mark Sanchez face a make-or-break season in 2013.

Wait.

Then the team traded for Tim Tebow just a few short weeks later.

Hundreds of hours of media speculation later and Tebow attempted a whopping eight throws last season.

The Jets finished a dismal 6-10 in 2012 and were outscored by 94 points.

What now? How does the franchise reinstall faith in their faithful? How do they repair stability from top to bottom? How do they turn their situation into something positive?

Well, the team made a bold move last and traded cornerstone cornerback Darrelle Revis last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although sidelined in 2012 with an ACL injury, the Bucs rolled the dice and gave the Jets the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Yes, Revis is as good as they get, but it’s a bit less drama for the Jets. It’s a start.

Now holding the No. 9 and No. 13 pick in the first round, it’s time for the Jets to start gaining some traction. It’s time for some positive attention.

Face it, they’re vested to both head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Sanchez for 2013, they’ve made their bed and they will sleep in it.

Now, they must make the right moves in the draft to deflect all the negativity.

So, who do they take?

New GM John Idzik needs to make a good first impression to the fans, who want nothing more than a return to relevance. Believe it or not, Revis was a good move.

Depending on which style of players are left on the board when their time come the Jets may be best off trading down.

Think of the St. Louis Rams in 2012 when they traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins for who turned out to be Robert Griffin III. While the Redskins got the best of the deal in year one, the Rams got four picks, including three first-round choices in return.

True, the Jets don’t have a No. 2 overall pick, rather Nos. 9 and 13. Also, there is not a RG3 caliber player in this year’s draft. But, if the team were to trade down for both picks they could get potentially four to six picks for the future.

If nothing is sticking out like a sore thumb, be conservative and trade down. If someone can’t be passed on, consider him a steal.

It’s time to think big picture for the Jets. There is no quick fix. Whichever path they choose to travel, little-by-little they can rebuild.

Radio City Music Hall will be filled with crazed Jets fans screaming J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the team’s decisions. Only after his announcement s will the hometown fans announce their verdict.

The future of the franchise lies in the balance of the first round. Jets fans, keep your fingers crossed.

April 15, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Adam Scott wins first Masters in dramatic fashion: Golf’s biggest event was front and center this weekend and there were plenty of theatrics. First, there was 14-year old Tianlang Guan taking the world by storm by not only making the cut, but finishing as the youngest low amateur in the history of the tournament. Then, there was Tiger-gate, when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop that caused many to question if he should remain in the event. Finally, Adam Scott walked away with his first ever Masters win after defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff with a birdie on the second hole. Say what you will about golf, but there are few things in the world of sports that can compare to Sunday at the Masters.

How far can the Lakers go without Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant tears Achilles tendon – out for season: The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled all season with a star-studded lineup, but they may have been dealt a death blow last week. Star guard Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of this season. So how did the Lakers respond to losing their best player? By promptly beating what could be the best team in the Western Conference – the San Antonio Spurs. Los Angeles’ win on Sunday proved there is still life within the team. While the backcourt is in shambles (especially with Steve Nash who has missed several games), the frontcourt can still be one of the best in the league with center Dwight Howard and forwards Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and Antawn Jamison. The Lakers may have a more difficult time keeping up with the younger Oklahoma City Thunder, but you’ve got to give them a fighting chance against the Spurs if they meet in the playoffs.

Louisville defeated Michigan for the NCAA championship: A week later and it seems like old news by now, but the Louisville Cardinals won their first title under Rick Pitino with an 82-76 win over the Michigan Wolverines last Monday. Pitino became the first coach to win NCAA championships with two different teams. The Cardinals went on a tear late in the season and became the trendy pick to win the title. Nearly as important as winning the championship was that they allowed folks like me to finish respectably in their bracket pools despite a plethora of other questionable picks.

Jeff Garcia to New York Jets – ditch Tim Tebow: Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia had some interesting comments about young quarterback Tim Tebow in a USA Today interview. Speaking about Tebow, Garcia said he just brings distraction and that having him on the Jets doesn’t add anything positive. He then went on to say that starting quarterback Mark Sanchez’ main competition will come from aging veteran David Garrard or little-used Greg McElroy. I won’t totally disagree with Garcia that Tebow is a major distraction, but I’m not so sure he still can’t contribute to the team if used effectively. I’m not of the opinion that he’s an ideal starting quarterback, but there are certain packages where he can be used infrequently and make plays with his legs. Is that more valuable than what Garrard or McElroy can add? Unless one of them unseats Sanchez or plays considerably as a backup, I’d say yes.

Wrigley Field to get updated look: The Chicago Cubs announced that historic Wrigley Field will get some upgrades as part of a $500 million renovation. That will include the Field’s first electronic video board. Typically I hate stuff like this, but sometimes upgrades are needed to remain competitive. And as long as there’s no plan to make sweeping changes to one of the most recognizable stadiums in baseball, it’s hard to complain too loudly.