January 9, 2014

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Bold Predictions for 2014

By: Joe Williams

In the NFL, 2013-2014 will be the season of redemption for Peyton Manning. He’s already set the NFL record for touchdown passes and passing yards (barely) in a single season. He’s going to win another MVP award and over the next month he will exercise the demons from his career. The first demon to hit the bricks will be the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have quietly been a thorn in Manning’s side for years now. In 2005, San Diego knocked off Manning’s 13-0 team. In 2007, San Diego beat Manning’s Colts in the Divisional round of the playoffs and in 2008, San Diego bounced the Colts in overtime of the Wild Card round. But in 2014 Manning will get revenge and send the Chargers packing from the Divisional playoffs. Next up will be Tom Brady and the Patriots. We all know the history here. They’ll get it on one more time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and Peyton’s Broncos will get payback for the loss they suffered in New England earlier this season. Then it will be Manning vs Drew Brees. A rematch of the Super Bowl four years ago when the New Orleans Saints beat Peyton Manning and the Colts. Manning will lead Denver to its first Super Bowl win since the 1998 season and will surprise everyone by pulling a John Elway and announcing his retirement. After all, what could he do for an encore?

Kevin Durant

Will Kevin Durant and the Thunder win the NBA Championship in 2014?

In the NBA, just Indiana and Miami will try to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Six other teams will be forced to play despite their best efforts to get into the draft lottery. In the Western Conference, two teams will finish over .500 but be left home watching the playoffs. Kevin Durant will carry the Thunder to more than 50 wins without his running mate Russell Westbrook for most of the season. He’ll win the MVP award, but lose in the playoffs to the L.A. Clippers. Chris Paul and company will reach the finals and knock-off the Indiana Pacers who finally get over the hump against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In college football, the BCS will be gone and a 4-team playoff will make its debut. But that’s about all that will change. The teams battling for those four spots will look an awful lot like the teams that fought for the top two spots this year. The final four will end up being Florida State, Oregon or Stanford, Alabama or Auburn and Ohio State or Michigan State. Some team from a smaller conference will make a run at going undefeated but won’t even sniff the playoff field. Fans will complain that its the same old thing.

In MLB, as usual some teams will disappoint and others will make a surprising run. The Angels, Yankees, Mariners, and Cardinals will miss out on the postseason. Tampa Bay, Texas, Pittsburgh and the Dodgers will be among the teams in the playoff field. It will be Detroit and Pittsburgh in the World Series with the Pirates celebrating a championship for the first time since 1979.

In college basketball, Syracuse, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Witchita State, Arizona are all currently perfect. One of them will reach the championship game (but it won’t be Witchita State who will be the last team to lose its first game). But that team will lose to a teat that gets hot at the right time. And that team will be Oklahoma State. On the women’s side, five teams (Connecticut, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Indiana) have all yet to lose a game. Two of them will meet in the national championship game and once again, Connecticut will be cutting down the nets.

In golf, Tiger Woods will break Sam Snead’s record for most wins in a career. But he won’t get that 15th major championship that he has been looking for for the last few years. Phil Mickelson will get one, but not the coveted U.S. Open that he wants so badly. Team USA will get the job done on foreign soil and bring back the Ryder Cup. And the playoffs will be very entertaining once again, but it won’t be a big name player that wins it all.

September 9, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Peyton Manning Kicks off NFL Season with Seven TDs: In case there were any growing concerns about the age of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, he removed those with a monster performance in Week 1. The future Hall of Famer dropped seven touchdown passes on the Baltimore Ravens defense en route to a 49-27 romp over the Super Bowl champions. Those seven scores tied an NFL record and Manning also threw for 462 yards in the game. He continues to prove that no matter the receiver, he’ll find ways to get him the ball. In tight end Julius Thomas and the newly-acquired Wes Welker, two of Manning’s three starting receivers were both first-year starters.

Basketball Hall of Fame Inducts 12: The Basketball Hall of Fame inducted 12 players and sports personalities this weekend and the class was headlined by NBA stars Gary Payton and Bernard King, and coaches Rick Pitino and Jerry Tarkanian. All have a right to be thankful, but Tark’s induction came right on time. Now 83 and battling health issues, it was good to see the former UNLV coach get in.

Serena Williams wins fifth U.S. Open: Add another trophy to Serena Williams’ ridiculously crowded mantle as the tennis star won her fifth U.S. Open, defeating second-ranked player Victoria Azarenka this past weekend, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1. The win didn’t come easy as Azarenka staved off Williams’ serves as she went for the match in the second set. However, Serena was too dominant and claimed her 17th major title. Catching Steffi Graf’s record of 22 looked distant not too long ago, but with four majors in the past two years, it’s back up for discussion. Five more majors is still a lot to win and the odds are against her at the age of 32. But if there’s any player that can do it, it’s probably Serena.

Pirates fans can celebrate a winning season for the first time in 20 years!

Hey, Look – 81 Wins: For the first time in two decades, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have at least a .500 record after the team won their 81st game last week. The streak, the longest in major North American sports finally comes to an end and the Pirates now turn their attention to the postseason where they should be at least a Wild Card team. Finishing .500 is generally not something teams celebrate, but regardless of what Pittsburgh does in the playoffs, its fans will be glad the streak has ended.

Tim Tebow Reportedly Unwilling to Change Positions: SI’s Peter King reported last week that quarterback Tim Tebow is not willing to change positions to stay in the league. Tebow’s in a bit of a tough spot with this, actually. If he continues denying teams the opportunity to bring him in as a wide receiver, tight end, or other position, he may not get another option to play quarterback. Even if he changes that stance later, would teams be put off by his initial refusal? Quite possibly. As I said last week, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Tebow. He’s too young to quit playing football and while others are forced out of the game soon after college, Tebow has shown some ability that will be intriguing to another team down the line. He may have to relent on his ‘quarterback only’ stance, but my guess is he’ll be back in some capacity.

Hi, this is Ryan Braun: Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun took an interesting approach to his recent suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. While many players shy away from attention after being busted, Braun has instead stepped to the forefront. Last week, Braun took his apology straight to the fans, telephoning season ticket holders to say what he did was wrong. Whether Braun himself hatched the idea or whether it came from a smart PR person, the move is a borderline brilliant. While Braun will likely get his share of angry tirades from some fans, he’ll also help win some of them back. The fact is that Braun is still a fairly young player that should be around the game for many more years. While older players could fade away into the background, Braun is still going to be playing baseball for a significant amount of time.

So … the Lasagna Invite is an actual race: No, really.

Canucks to Retire Pavel Bure’s Number: Former NHL star Pavel Bure will have his number retired by the Vancouver Canucks. He didn’t play his entire career there, suiting up for the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers as well, but was with the franchise for seven of his eleven seasons. The Russian Rocket had two 60-goal seasons with the Canucks and finished his career with 437 goals. His 342 assists also helped him to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

NCAA Transfer Rules Could Change: The NCAA currently allows players to transfer to another school on a scholarship, providing their current school approves it. Technically, players are allowed to transfer wherever they want, but their current school can dictate if they are allowed to take a scholarship in their first season – otherwise, they have to pay their own way. However, the rule could be altered soon and allow players to transfer anywhere they want without approval from their former college. The rules are complicated here, but that’s probably the right move. Coaches often are able to break their contracts and leave for other opportunities with any other program they want and players should be able to do the same.

September 3, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Clemson-Georgia highlights big college football opening weekend: The college football season is finally underway and no matchup was bigger than Clemson vs. Georgia. In a game pitting top ten teams, the Tigers edged the Bulldogs, 38-35. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is off to a great start in his campaign to win the Heisman. He had five touchdowns in the big victory and as long as the Tigers stay on course this year, that will go a long way with voters.

Johnny Manziel suspended … sort of: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, caught up in an autograph scandal this summer, was disciplined by the NCAA. Sort of. The quarterback reportedly signed autographs for money but the NCAA had no proof and so they suspended the star – for one half of the team’s recent game against Rice. Without Manziel, Rice was competitive with Texas A&M, trailing only 28-21 at the half. But the Aggies pulled away in the second half and ultimately won big, 52-31. The real story, though, was the suspension. If Manziel clearly did something wrong, more than a half-game suspension surely was warranted. However, if there was truly no proof against him, then why suspend the quarterback at all? Confusion continues to reign supreme in college athletics.

When will we see Tim Tebow back on an NFL sideline?

Tim Tebow cut by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a big splash in free agency, signing quarterback Tim Tebow. The honeymoon didn’t last long, though, as Tebow struggled in the preseason and was ultimately cut by the team. The appropriate question is who will be next to take in the quarterback? Tebow surely will get another shot in the NFL and it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Vince Young cut by Packers: After the Green Bay Packers cut backup quarterback Graham Harrell, the job looked like Vince Young’s to lose – heck, I even said as much last week. That won’t be the case, though, as Young was also cut in a bit of a surprise move. His play in the team’s most recent preseason game against Kansas City likely didn’t help. In a blowout loss, Young was only 14-30 in passing for 144 yards and fumbled twice. The quarterback’s departure really leaves Green Bay’s quarterback situation up in the air. With the cut of Young, B.J. Coleman, the team’s practice squad quarterback, is the only remaining option. The Packers will surely sign another player before the season begins and one report said Jimmy Claussen could be their next target.

Pittsburgh Pirates make moves before waiver trade deadline: The Pittsburgh Pirates frustrated some fans by not making any big moves at baseball’s trade deadline last month. That didn’t mean that the team was content going forward and last week, they made a few moves adding veterans Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau via trades. All three players cleared waivers and the Bucs gave up little in return in a few minor leaguers and reserve outfielder Alex Presley. None of the added players can really be considered superstars at this point, but all fill big needs for the team. Byrd’s 22 home runs are a significant improvement over what the Pirates were getting out of their other rightfielders. After a slow start, Morneau hit nine home runs last month and will be an upgrade over the platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez at first base. Buck gives the Pirates a veteran presence behind the plate to back up starter Russell Martin.

Football on unicycles: Seriously, why not.

Tracy McGrady retires from NBA: Only days after Allen Iverson announced his retirement from the NBA, former All-Star Tracy McGrady did the same. T-Mac never won a championship in the league but was one of the premier scorers at the height of his career. McGrady’s ability to get into the Hall of Fame will be an interesting discussion. When it comes to that, however, failing to go deep into the postseason may be the thing that keeps him on the outside looking in. However, what’s not up for debate is that averaging 20 points over the course of his career, McGrady was one of the league’s best scorers.

FCS strikes again: The FCS, formerly I-AA, has struck again as Eastern Washington knocked off ranked Oregon State over the weekend, 49-46. We’ve seen this act before and West Virginia nearly lost this weekend to FCS foe William & Mary, so the win by Eastern Washington wasn’t a complete surprise. But it’s clear that the divide between the FBS and FCS teams isn’t nearly as great as it once was. At some point, FBS teams will start avoiding them on their schedule altogether since the reward of a win isn’t nearly as great as the harm caused by a defeat.

August 1, 2013

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MLB Contenders Post Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

Now that the dust on settled on the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, we can focus our attention on the true contenders. It’s now August, this is the time where the cream rises to the top. MLB GM’s believing that this is their year have spent the last couple of weeks trying to feverishly hammer out deals to put their team on top when it’s all said and done. As baseball fans we now get to sit back and watch the drama unfold. The next two months will be pure entertainment as every division except the NL East is up for grabs.

So, what is to be expected down the stretch? Who were the real winners at the deadline?

AL East: Per the usual, the AL East will be one of the most interesting races until the end. The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are all in contention.

The Rays were the quiet, only acquiring left reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox. Crain is currently on the DL, but has electric stuff out of the bullpen. This was a low-risk, high-reward kind of deal for the Rays—if Crain returns healthy they win, if he doesn’t, the compensation towards the White Sox will be next to nothing.

The Baltimore Orioles proved to their fan base that they plan on winning now and forever. They traded for starting pitchers Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros along with reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers. Nice work from the Orioles front office.

While the Orioles made plenty of noise, the Boston Sox stole the show in the division. The acquisition of pitcher Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox made headlines as the Red Sox appear to be legit. They also picked up left-handed reliever Matt Thornton from the White Sox. For a team that lost 93 games in 2012, they have certainly changed their course. The Bo Sox have Boston buzzing at the moment.

AL Central: This division is a two horse race that won’t be settled until the final days of the season. The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are the two best teams in the Central and only got better at the deadline. Both teams picked up necessary relief help with Marc Rzepczynski headed to Cleveland from the St. Louis Cardinals and Jose Veras to Detroit from the Houston Astros.

In the end, it was the Tigers who made out best though. They were involved in the trade with the Sox, both White and Red, that sent the aforementioned Peavy to Beantown, shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and young prospect Avasail Garcia to Chicago, along with others.

The Tigers need a shortstop with the suspension of Jhonny Peralta seeming imminent. Peralta, who is involved in the Biogenesis mess, is also a free agent as the end of the season, so picking up the talented 23-year-old Iglesias now is a stroke of genius.

While the Tigers will benefit the most now in the division, the White Sox may have gotten the best player out of the deal. Garcia has star written all over him, but with a crowded outfield in Detroit, it was a price that had to be paid.

Regarding the race in the Central, neither the Tigers nor Indians will quit. As of August 1, they’re two of the hottest teams in all of baseball. The two teams face each other seven more times in 2013 with the last game on September 1.  Both teams won at the deadline, but who will win the division?

AL West: Still in disbelief that the Oakland A’s are truly good? Don’t be, this team is for real, but did the division leader do enough? They swapped a minor leaguer for infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to shore up their defense. Where they swung and missed is in the pitching department. For decades the A’s were sellers at the deadline and this year, when they needed it most they couldn’t land a prized trade target to take the hill.

This means their rival the Texas Rangers were the true winners in the division at the deadline. They got starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs and seem to be in a groove right now. True, the A’s are still the team to beat, but the Rangers won’t go away. Now that the A’s seem to have crosshairs on their back, can they hold onto the West?

NL East: No contest here—the Atlanta Braves have a double-digit game lead in the division and the small and subtle acquisition of reliever Scott Downs from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim only made them better. Overall, the NL East has been a dud this season. Maybe 2014 will bring more competition. The Braves will skate into the playoffs.

NL Central: Baseball’s best division had an interesting trade deadline this time around. While the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were heavy sellers, and for good reason, the top three teams were rather stagnant. This is a very peculiar situation, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds were all quiet. The Pirates, who currently lead the division tried but could not land a big-name right fielder. The Cardinals didn’t make a splash and the Reds needed a viable two-hole hitter to bolster their lineup but did next to nothing. Content with what they have, all teams are now on board with their current rosters. This was disappointing on all accounts. If a winner had to be chosen, it would have to be the Cards, who seem to always find a way to win.

NL West: Let’s not forget about the NL West—there’s no west coast bias here, but the deadline proved that only the Los Angeles Dodgers are the real thing. They snatched up coveted pitcher Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins and had the luxury of signing charismatic reliever Brian Wilson. Since rookie Yasiel Puig was called up earlier in the year the team has been on fire. In just 50 games Puig is batting .364 as of August 1—most importantly he’s instilled some swagger in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

The Dodgers payroll may be bigger than many small countries’ annual GDP, but they are now looking like they are worth every penny. Move over Hollywood, the Dodgers are now the big stars in town.

June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.