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Keycode Featured News


You're out: MLB rule change is right move

03/02/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

New rules in Major League Baseball for the 2016 will bring player safety to the forefront by eliminating the "take out" slide. To that I say, it's about time.
Last season, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung-Ho Kang and Chicago Cubs shortstop Ruben Tejada were seriously injured on take out slides. MLB and the players union agreed that changing the rules was necessary to prevent more injuries like those suffered by Kang and Tejada. Players union executive director Tony Clark said the goal in amending the slide rule was to "enhance player safety, reduce incidents of injury, and do it in a way that respects and preserves bona fide hustle plays that are integral to the game".
Under the new rule, for a slide to break up a double play to be legal the runner will have to make a "bona fide attempt to reach and remain on base". Contact between the runner and the fielder is allowed, but the runner cannot change his path to the base to initiate contact or engage in a rolling block. All plays will be subject to video review and if the replay shows that the runner did not engage in a bona fide slide attempt, interference will be called and both the runner and the batter can be called out.

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So what exactly is a "bona fide slide"? According to the rule, it has four points. The runner must begin his slide before reaching the base. The runner is able to and tries to reach the base with his hand or foot. The runner is able to and tries to remain on the base after completion of the slide. And that the runner slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.
There is one other rule though as well that ties in with this. There will now be the capacity to review the "neighborhood play". The neighborhood play, for those of you not familiar with the name, is when an out is awarded at second base when the fielder is near the bag. Under the new rule, fielders will actually have to touch the bag to record the out. The reason for making this change, according to Chris Marinak of Major League Baseball, is because of frustration about the play due to inconsistency of how it was applied by the umpires. Marinak said he feels the net result between the two rule changes is positive when it comes to safety for middle infielders.
I agree 100% with both of these changes. While there can be some argument that an infielder actually having to touch the bag with a runner actually having to slide into the base could cause as much risk as removing the take out slide eliminates, I disagree. You're supposed to actually touch the base for there to be an out awarded. So forcing the middle infielders to touch the bag is in essence, enforcing the rules as they're supposed to be enforced. And if the middle infielder knows how the runner is required to slide, he'll be able to react and get himself out of danger.
With player safety taking the forefront in professional sports, and seeing how the NFL and the NHL have addressed the concussion issue, it's nice to see MLB take action here to eliminate a play before anyone else ends up losing a season, like Kang and Tejada did, or suffering something worse due to an injury caused by a take out slide. Kudos Major League Baseball, taking out the take out slide was the right thing to do.

Sky's limit: Just how good is Golden State?

02/26/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

They're 50 and 5. They've yet to lose at home through 24 home games so far this season. They'll be looking to win their second consecutive championship. They're on pace for the best record in NBA history and trying to surpass the 1995/1996 Chicago Bulls as the best team of all time. So how good is this year's Golden State Warriors?
Earlier this week, Golden State became the fastest team in NBA history to 50 games. That '95/'96 Bulls team won 50 of their first 56 games. The Bulls of that year have the best regular season record in NBA history as well, as they finished with a 72 and 10 regular season mark, en route to their 4th NBA Championship in 6 seasons. To win 73 games this season, the Warriors will have to go 23 and 4 in their remaining 27 games, which is looking like a real possibility.
Of course all of these regular season accolades will be meaningless if the Warriors come up short in the playoffs. But if history is the precedent set, Golden State is in good company. All 3 of the previous teams to start 50 and 7 or better (Chicago in 1995/96 and 1996/97, and Philadelphia in 1982/83) won the NBA title.

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But it's not just the team feats that are amazing, it's the individual feats as well. Those Bulls teams had Michael Jordan in his heyday, these Warriors have Stephen Curry. Curry needs just 27 three pointers the rest of the season to surpass the record of 286 that he set last season. Curry has also made at least one three pointer in 126 consecutive games. 2 more games with at least one three pointer and Curry will set the NBA record for most consecutive games with at least one three pointer. Curry is also pretty much guaranteed to win the league MVP this season as well.
The Warriors also have depth. The Warriors also play a team game that is second to none as their assist numbers are off the charts. They can shoot from anywhere and it isn't just Curry who hits the shots. They've been dominant in games against the other teams that are considered to be contenders. They're dominant rebounding on both the offensive and defensive glass. And defensively they're one of the top teams statistically in multiple categories. This Warriors team is about as close to perfect as a basketball team can be.
Sure there are still a lot of games left and this regular season still has a lot to be determined. And then there's the post season. And there's always a chance that injury or injuries could derail what's been an amazing run so far. But if everyone stays healthy and the Warriors keep doing what they've been doing, and they do seem to be better than they were last season, in a few months we may very well be saying: The 2015/2016 Golden State Warriors are the best NBA team of all time.

Chopping blocked: Why salary cap creates casualties you least expect

02/24/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Life in the NFL isn't always fair. One season you're the face of the franchise and the favorite of the fans. But after a season side tracked by injuries or a decrease in productivity accompanied by an increase in age, you're looking less like a hero and more like a salary cap casualty. Let's take a look at 5 of the biggest names in the NFL who were franchise players not too long ago, but will most likely be looking for a new team soon.
Before Odell Beckham Jr. became Eli Manning's top target with the New York Giants, there was Victor Cruz. Cruz salsa danced his way into the hearts of Giants fans just a few seasons ago. But serious injuries have kept him off the field since October of 2014. And it's looking likely that if Cruz is able to play in 2016, he'll be wearing a different uniform.
Not long ago he was the NFL's leading rusher. But injuries have kept Arian Foster off the field for parts of the past few seasons. Those injuries combined with a $9 million dollar cap hit make it look pretty realistic that Foster and the Houston Texans will be parting ways prior to kickoff of the 2016 season.

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After a stellar rookie season in 2012 where he was taken with the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft, it looked like the Washington Redskins had found a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III. After not playing in a single game in 2015, RG3's tenure with the Redskins appears to be over. The good news for the Redskins is they'll save $16 million dollars in salary cap space. The good news for Griffin is he'll get what seems to be a necessary fresh start somewhere else in 2016.
Prior to Rex Ryan's arrival in Buffalo, double digit sacks were synonymous with Mario Williams. But after recording only 5 sacks in Ryan's first season with the Bills, it looks like it will also be Williams last season in Buffalo. Cutting Williams would save the Bills nearly $13 million dollars in cap space as well.
In 2014 he caught 90 passes in Chicago. In 2015 he caught 53 passes. In 2016 it looks like Martellus Bennett will be catching passes for a different team since the Bears could save $5 million dollars in cap room by cutting Bennett.
Such is life in today's NFL. You're the talk of the town one season. And you're on your way out of town the next.

Open plan: Why 3 on 3 OT in NHL works

02/20/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

OK, I admit I was wrong. When the NHL announced they had changed the overtime format from 4 on 4 this season to 3 on 3, I was skeptical. Alright, I wasn't just skeptical, I thought it was an awful idea. How could taking a game that's played with 5 skaters per side in regulation and changing it to 3 skaters per side be a good way to decide the outcome of a game? That was my thinking.
The NHL's thinking was that something needed to change. The shootout had grown stale. 4 on 4 overtime was being played to too many stalemates that led to shootouts. How could you get the excitement back that the shootout originally created but decide a hockey game without penalty shots? Well after experimenting with it in the AHL, the NHL decided the 3 on 3 OT format was the way to go.
As a longtime hockey fan, and fan who thought the 4 on 4 overtime format wasn't very good, switching to the 3 on 3 approach certainly didn't appeal to me. It had the exact opposite effect on me. Changing the game to a video game format was definitely not the answer, or so I thought. But then I actually got to see 3 on 3 overtime. And it was exciting!

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Going 3 on 3 has so much open ice. It's one rush after another. Back and forth play. Goalies probably aren't fans of it because of the golden scoring chances the extra ice creates, but the goaltending play is just as fun to watch. Sparkling saves off of the great scoring chances just adds to the excitement. And it's accomplished what the NHL had hoped it would as well...it's reduced the number of shootouts and decided more game in the overtime format.
Look, I still don't like the fact the NHL is the only major sport that alters the format of it's game when it comes to overtime. You don't see the NFL go to 8 on 8 when a game goes to overtime. You don't see the shortstop removed for extra innings in MLB. And I don't like the fact that the NHL awards points to each team for being tied after regulation. But whether I want to admit it or not, I was wrong about 3 on 3 overtime. It's accomplished one thing that the NHL had been, and to a point still is, lacking. Excitement.
And whether you're an old school fan who has the same feelings about altering OT like I do, or if you're newer fan who loved the shootout. In this case, change has been made. And that change has been good. 3 on 3 overtime is exciting hockey.

Writers dogged: Should writers be held accountable for gossip stories?

02/20/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

I wrote here a few weeks ago about what would happen if the allegations in an Al Jazeera television report that Peyton Manning used HGH turned out to be true. But like everything else, there are two sides to the story. So what if it turns out that all of these allegations are false?
The report named Manning amongst other NFL players and other professional athletes. Now each of those athletes has the stigma of HGH or other performance enhancing or banned substances associated with their names. Each of these athletes will be under the microscope even if they deny the allegations, which all of those named have done. Even if these allegations are false, each of those named have to defend that they never used any type of banned substances.
So how is it fair that these guys were accused of something they claim not to do and now have to fight the accusations and defend their names, but the reporter gets away with the reporting? If you're a fan of professional sports, you've obviously heard of the allegations. But do you know who the Al Jazeera reporter behind the story is?

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The reporter's name is Deborah Davis. The main source of her information for the report was a former employee of the Indianapolis clinic who has admitted to falsifying information and dropping athletes names to fabricate the story. Two of the athletes named in the report, Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, have filed a defamation lawsuit against Al Jazeera.
So if the story is proven false, Al Jazeera will take the hit for running the report. They'll be the ones sued and have to pay for the wrong in any of the lawsuits that have been filed or will be filed. Al Jazeera television has also ceased operations in America. But what about Deborah Davis? What about the undercover reporter who secretly recorded Charlie Sly, the informant for the report? That would be Liam Collins, if you're looking for a name.
I understand why Al Jazeera should take the brunt of this. They were the ones who decided to run the story. They'll be the ones named in the lawsuits. They'll be the ones associated with this story and anything that comes out of it. But why aren't the reporters, Davis and Collins, being called out? They shouldn't get a free pass in all of this. It was their story. It was their sources. It was their work.
And that work, if proven to be false, put all of the athletes named in it into the position of having to defend themselves against something they weren't involved in. I think it's only fair that if a reporter is going to accuse someone of something, they should be held accountable for their actions too. If the athletes named in this report have to defend themselves against false allegations, the reporters responsible should held accountable for their reporting. Or lack of responsible reporting. Reporters should be held accountable for their actions when accusations lead to defamation. And if these reports are proven false, not just Al Jazeera, but Deborah Davis and Liam Collins should be held responsible too.

Hart felt: One of pro wrestling's good guys, Hart faces toughest opponent

02/17/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how strong you are or were. It doesn't matter if you're a regular guy or a former superstar who seemed to be larger than life. Cancer doesn't discriminate who it strikes, and that's the case here. Earlier this month, former WWE world champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart announced that he was battling prostrate cancer.
The 58 year old Hart underwent successful surgery this week in the first step on his road to recovery. Hart said that things are looking up and that he should be home to continue his recovery sometime in the next week. That's great news to hear that things are starting off solid for Hart, in what he has called the toughest battle of his life.
This isn't Hart's first fight in regards to his health following his 23 year professional wrestling career. Hart suffered a stroke in 2002 but battled back from that to make a return to the WWE and be inducted into the Hall of Fame as well. Now he faces an even tougher battle, but has vowed to beat cancer saying he "will never give up or give in, and will win this battle." Hart has also said that he hopes by opening up about being diagnosed with cancer that he can inspire others who are facing the same fight that he is. Hart discussed his diagnosis and the battle ahead of him in a heart felt Facebook post a few weeks ago.

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As a lifelong wrestling fan, I was kind of stunned to hear this news. I remember watching Bret Hart as a member of the Hart Foundation back in the '80's when I was a kid. I watched him launch his stellar singles career in the 1990's, first as an Intercontinental Champion then on to his 5 WWE championships. One thing I always respected and admired about Hart was his dedication to being what his monicker said, that he was "the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be". Hart was a student of the sport, born into professional wrestling in Calgary and trained by his legendary father Stu Hart. But he never used that to give him an advantage in his career. Hart earned his way by working hard and carving out his own career path throughout his time in both the WWE and WCW. But no matter where he was working or whether he was portraying a heel or face character, Hart let his work in the ring speak for him. The flashiest things about Hart were his ring attire, pink tights, sunglasses, and a leather jacket. But his character was never over the top. He was a technically sound wrestler, probably the best I remember, and that was what made him who he was as a performer.
Bret Hart was also one of the good guys of professional wrestling too. He's a family man and talked about the importance of his family in his Facebook message. He was loyal to the WWE and Vince McMahon during his career up until the "swerve" at the 1997 Survivor Series. And even after the bad blood that came with that, Hart was able to put that behind him and reconcile with McMahon and the WWE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and make a brief in ring return as well.
Here's hoping Bret Hart has one more win in him. Fight hard Hitman and beat this cancer.

Change looming: Is it time to reform MMA?

02/16/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This week, the MMA world suffered a loss when former UFC heavyweight Kevin Randleman died at the age of 44. The cause of death for Randleman was announced as heart failure.
This comes two months after 21 year old Yang Jian Bing died trying to make weight for his fight. Last year it wasn't a death, but it was Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver who severely beat his girlfriend. In the last 9 years, 3 fighters have died from injuries sustained during fights. A study in 2014 stated that 1/3 of all professional MMA fights result in a concussion for one of the fighters involved. So are these all signs that some type of reform needs to occur in professional MMA?
Fans of MMA love it for a reason. It's hard hitting. It's violent. There are brain throttling knock outs. It's bloody. It's tough and nasty and it's popularity is off the charts. But in today's world of CTE and concussions and brain trauma and other professional sports working to make their games safer, can something be done to reduce these risks in MMA?

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It's common sense that a person isn't meant to be repeatedly punched in the face or head. That being knocked out is going to have negative long term effects on human beings brain. It took years to link the damage repeated blows to the head in professional football caused for players after their careers were over. It's showing up more now in former NHL players, especially with a string of deaths of former players who made their careers as enforcers.
So if guys who were wearing helmets and engaging in maybe a 60 to 90 second fight on the ice are showing signs of CTE, what is happening to MMA fighters who are taking repeated blows to the head over 3 full rounds? Is the machismo of these guys in their late teens and early 20's overtaking the common sense that they may be mentally disabled or worse after their fighting careers are over?
Like I said above, MMA is popular because of the violence involved in it. It wouldn't have the same popularity if you had two guys going into the octagon wearing full head gear. So is there anything that can be done to make it safer? It's an issue that is going to have to be addressed soon. MMA is still in it's infancy. It has only gotten popular over the past 20 years. And the post career effects of professional cage fighting are just now starting to show. So is this just the tip of the iceberg?
MMA is a tough and dangerous game. The training regimen is brutal and takes its toll on the body. Fighters trying to make weight and fight in different classes takes its toll on the body. Being punched and kicked for a living takes its toll on the body. Repeated blows to the head obviously have long term effects.
I'm concerned that this is all just the start, and that the side effects of what an MMA career does to a person is just beginning to show.

Unreal McCoy: Why Bills star RB is just another NFL example gone bad

02/15/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

On the heels of the Super Bowl this is not the kind of news the NFL wanted to hear. LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills caught on video in the middle of a night club brawl with off duty Philadelphia police officers. But this wasn't just a bar fight, McCoy and his friends are seen on video assaulting the two officers, both of whom had to be hospitalized. Just when it seemed like the high profile off the field incidents in the NFL had come to a halt, ugliness like this has reared its head again.
No charges have been filed yet, but warrants for the arrest of McCoy and the others in his party that were involved in the incident are expected to come this week. He most likely will be charged with aggravated assault. But if you've seen the video or read the reports of the incident, this is much more serious than aggravated assault. McCoy and his friends beat down these two officers allegedly due to an argument over a bottle of champagne. The officers were punched, kicked, and stomped while on the ground. One of the officers sustained facial fractures, the other reportedly suffered a fractured skull. That's pretty serious stuff.
So how does the NFL deal with this? In all of the high profile cases recently, the NFL's discipline was a joke. The players union had any discipline the NFL dished out reduced. Anything that's gone to arbitration has been ruled in favor of the players union. So what is the NFL going to do this time if charges are field against McCoy and he's either found guilty or more than likely, reaches a plea deal?

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What comes out of this is going to be key in regards to how the NFL is viewed in regards to how it handles disciplining players who get in trouble. With changes that were made in regards to the player conduct policy, McCoy could be looking at a 6 game suspension. But he's also a player who has no prior suspensions or off field arrests. So any discipline dished out by the NFL would most likely be challenged by McCoy and the players union. And if recent history means anything, the penalty dished out would be reduced.
What if the Buffalo Bills release McCoy pending on the outcome of all of this? Unlike Ray Rice, who has yet to find work in the NFL since he was released by the Baltimore Ravens, McCoy is still an effective player who could benefit another NFL team. Would he be signed by someone else? Most likely he would because the talent level is still there.
You'd like to believe that if McCoy is charged and found guilty that he'll get the punishment he deserves and that the NFL will finally look like it's taking control in regards to player discipline. If McCoy is charged and found guilty the NFL needs to have any disciplinary action it takes to hold up this time. Otherwise the image of the NFL being full of thugs and criminals that has been shed recently, will be back in the public eye and will be back as a black eye on the NFL's face again.

My way: Is Newton's act tiresome or just being real

02/14/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Cam Newton was named the NFL's 2015 MVP. He passed for over 3,800 yards and threw 35 touchdowns. He rushed for over 600 more yards and scored another 10 TD's on the ground. He led the Carolina Panthers to the best regular season record in the NFL. And in the post season, he led the Panthers to their second Super Bowl appearance in the franchise's 20 year history. Then he fumbled in the Super Bowl.
Well not only did he fumble, he fumbled with the Panthers down by 6 points in the 4th quarter. And instead of going after the ball and diving on it, he just watched the ball on the ground before it was recovered by Denver's DeMarcus Ware at the Panthers 4 yard line. What was then a 16 to 10 Broncos lead became a 24 to 10 Broncos win after the turnover was turned into a touchdown plus a 2 point conversion.
So why didn't Cam Newton go after the football with some aggression? Newton's reply was that he didn't want to risk getting injured. That didn't go over so well with, well, just about anybody. Almost everyone from analysts, former and current players, and fans said there was no excuse for him not diving in to get that ball. The consensus opinion seems to be what was he thinking? This is the Super Bowl, you have to go in without hesitation and get that ball. Had the Panthers recovered, they would have still had a chance in the game. And for saying he didn't want to get injured as the reason he didn't go after the ball, well that went over about as well as Johnny Manziel's off the field antics have with the Cleveland Browns and the NFL.

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But is it fair to judge Newton's season on that one play? Is it fair to say the season was a failure because the Super Bowl was lost? Is it fair to say Newton's reaction, or lack there of, on the fumble is the reason why the Panthers lost? No it isn't. Look, Cam Newton's actions after the Super Bowl and the way he handled himself showed a lack of maturity on his part. But the fumble wasn't the reason Carolina lost the Super Bowl.
Denver was the better team. They came out with a better game plan. They executed that game plan better than Carolina executed theirs. One play didn't decide that game. What if Newton did recover the fumble and Carolina was able to punt it instead of losing the ball on their 4 yard line? And then Denver returned the punt for a touchdown. Or deep into Panthers territory and kicked a field goal to make it a two score game. The game would still be over and nobody would be talking about the fumble.
But what if Newton did go after the fumble, recovered it, and got hurt? Not just hurt, but seriously hurt. Do you think Carolina would sniff another Super Bowl in the years to come without Cam Newton? He practically was Super Man at some points of the season, as he carried the Panthers offense in several games and brought them back when their defense couldn't hold leads.
Question his maturity if you want. Question his decision as well. But don't judge Cam Newton's season on that one play. He deserves better than that.

Oh Manning: What would happen to Peyton's legacy if he used HGH

02/13/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Everybody loves Peyton Manning, right? If you're a football fan, you respect what he's done on the field. Whether you're a football fan or not, you have to admit his commercials are pretty entertaining. Off the field he has the reputation of being a class act who does things the right way and is a family man. But what if the allegations that Manning used illegal human growth hormone turn out to be true? Does that change everything?
If you're not aware of the allegations, a report by Al Jazeera TV in December alleged that Manning amongst other professional athletes used HGH from an Indianapolis clinic. The allegations stated that a pharmacist named Charlie Sly prescribed and shipped HGH to Manning's home and addressed it to his wife. Manning and all of the other athletes named in the Al Jazeera report denied the allegations. Two of the athletes named in the case filed lawsuits against Al Jazeera for libel. Sly himself recanted the information that he provided to Al Jazeera saying that he made most of it up.
So on the surface, it looks like a story that was fabricated and fiction. But Manning also hired a law firm to do a secret investigation into Charlie Sly. An investigation that sent two men, claiming to be law enforcement agents, that were working on behalf of the law firm went to Sly's parents house in Indiana to interrogate him. This resulted in Sly's parents calling 911. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was also hired by Manning as a crisis management consultant.

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Now is that just the natural reaction from Manning's camp to false allegations? Or is having two men who showed up at Sly's parents house at night claiming to be law enforcement when they actually weren't, and being the only one of the named athletes to hire a crisis management consultant an admission of guilt?
Besides the undercover story which uses Sly's comments as the only basis of it's story, there is no fact or proof that any of the allegations in the story are true. Well unless you count the fact that Manning's forehead seems to have expanded to the size of Frankenstein's compared with pictures from his college days.
Now while it doesn't look that way, what if it turns out down the line that the allegations were true? What if Manning did indeed use HGH in his comeback from neck surgery in 2011? Does that take away from his legacy? Does that mean everything he accomplished in Denver should have an asterisk next to it? Would that tarnish his image and potential to work in the NFL at a different level such as a general manager in the future?
I like Peyton Manning. I respect him as a player. He's one of the guys who had a long and sterling career with no off the field issues or scandals. I respect him as a family man. And as a fan of professional sports, I hope he retires a champion and that these allegations are false.
But if they turn out to be true, does that change everything about Peyton Manning?

Manziel up: Why Johnny Football flops hard but NFL is all about second chances

02/04/16 by Rennie Detore

It's official: Johnny Football is a flop.
His time with the Cleveland Browns was a mixture of off the field antics and disappointing play, with only a glimmer of hope that flashed briefly here and there but without any real consistency.
Furthermore, his time spent off the field is what garnered headlines, and even the hapless and hopeless Cleveland Browns have had enough as rumors have circulated that Manziel is going to be cut after the Super Bowl.

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But the NFL hardly is opposed to cast offs and rejects of the Manziel ilk not being able to find a home somewhere and find solace or a second chance in another city that might find the "project" that is Manziel intriguing enough to take a flyer on him at a minimal cost.
The truth is Manziel does have talent. He's just stupid. He makes bad decisions, and he's treating his time in the NFL as a playground of sorts, a reason to show that his college attitude wasn't about being frustrated for not getting paid, for example, but rather that he's a young, immature person who can't handle one iota of fame and especially fortune.
I watched Manziel play in a game against the then red hot Kansas City Chiefs at the tail end of the 2015 season. He showed poise, he made good throws (but missed a few) and actually had his team on the cusp of knocking off the best team in football at that time.
But Manziel and his misses might make him expendable to the NFL, but you'd be hard pressed to believe that another team isn't going to say "sure, what's it going to hurt" in relationship to another go around with Manziel.
Tim Tebow may have been the worst NFL quarterback mechanically in the history of the game, but he was afforded opportunities based on his mettle, toughness and wanting to be an NFL quarterback. Manziel acts like the NFL is blessed to have him, and he's using his time (which ultimately could be very short) to act like a child in a man's game.
Yes, Manziel will be on a roster next year, but whether he makes it out of training camp or on the active roster is up to him. If Johnny Football wants to play, then play. Otherwise, get out of the league for good. You don't belong here.

All Star Shame: Why John Scott NHL All Star Game saga is ridiculous

01/29/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

First he was in. Then he was out. Now he's in again. That's the story of John Scott's inclusion in this year's NHL All Star Game.
If you're not familiar with the story, Scott, who has 5 career NHL goals, was selected as a captain via fan vote for this year's NHL All Star game when he was a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Scott has made a career of being an enforcer, skill and scoring are not his calling card. Especially with this year's all star game being a 3 on 3 "tournament". And having Scott as part of that skills showcase didn't sit well with the NHL.
The league, and the Coyotes asked that Scott relinquish his spot in the game. He declined and decided he wanted to play. So he was traded by the Coyotes to Montreal, where he was immediately assigned to the AHL. The thought being that since he was moved out of the Western Conference, and then out of the NHL, he would be ineligible for the All Star Game.

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So the feel good story of Scott being selected to the game was over, and left the NHL looking like pretty big jerks. But what started as a joke and took off on the internet, was also rectified that way as well. Scott was selected by fan vote online and through social media, and it caught on. Whether it was a joke or not, fans voted Scott as a captain in the game. The NHL, or so the theory seemed to be, wasn't pleased with that action. So they may or may not have had the Coyotes, which the league owned for a several seasons, "trade" Scott to a team that really had no use for him on their roster. That turned into a bigger embarrassment for he NHL as the backlash against Scott being ineligible for the game blew up via the internet and social media just like his initial selection did.
So the NHL decided to allow Scott to remain an All Star, and he will play in Nashville this weekend. The real joke of this is that the NHL decided that it's joke of an All Star game was enough of a reason to have a player, who is a man with a family, uprooted and sent across North America to protect the integrity of the NHL All Star game. A game that has been meaningless for over a decade. That's an All Star Shame.

Har balked: Why former 49ers and current Michigan coach was right all along

01/27/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh parted ways. It was written here that the 49ers organization was making a big mistake letting Harbaugh go. A year later, it sure looks like Jim Harbaugh was right and the 49ers were dead wrong.
Harbaugh led the 49ers to 3 NFC Championships and 1 Super Bowl appearance in his tenure as head coach. In the 8 seasons prior to his arrival, San Francisco was a down franchise that had zero playoff appearances from 2003 through 2010. Harbaugh turned the 49ers into a contender and perennial playoff team during his time as coach. But 2 years after leading the franchise to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1995, Harbaugh was pushed out as coach.
Life after Harbaugh wasn't so sweet for the 49ers this past season. The team went 5 and 11. Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree left via free agency before the season started. Vernon Davis was traded during the season. Colin Kaepernick completely fell apart. The former Pro Bowl quarterback was a shell of himself without his former coach. The same quarterback who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl was benched by mid season and on IR to finish it. Many felt that Kaepernick's demise was because Harbaugh allowed him to play his game which led to Kaepernick's on field success.

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Oh, and the man the 49ers replaced Harbaugh with, Jim Tomsula, was fired after just one season. He's been replaced by Chip Kelly, who despite having a winning overall record, was fired in Philadelphia. Kelly, who's personnel decisions and inability to manage players infuriated management, is now taking over as coach where management couldn't co-exist with a proven winner like Harbaugh.
Harbaugh led the University of Michigan in his first season to a 10 and 3 record. The Wolverines finished ranked #11 in the country and crushed Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Word out of Ann Arbor is that Michigan should be better next season than they were this year and that the future is even brighter. Harbaugh was a stud college coach at Stanford and one of the rare college coaches who found instant success in the NFL.
The book isn't completely written yet, but the first chapter belongs to Harbaugh. And it's looking more and more like in the long run, the 49ers are going to be wrong. And Jim Harbaugh is going to be right.

Coach spoken: Why new coach isn't always the answer

01/26/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Seven teams will have new coaches heading into the 2016. Some new hires were surprises. Others look to be more solid. As we head into the final two weekends of the 2015 NFL season, lets look ahead to next season's new coaches.
Philadelphia Eagles: Doug Pederson
The Eagles were the first team to say goodbye to their coach in 2015. Kelly's replacement is former Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Pederson, ironically, coached under former Eagles head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City for the past three seasons. The knocks against Pederson are that he had never interviewed for an NFL head coaching position before and that he didn't handle the play calling duties in Kansas City.

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Tennessee Titans: Mike Mularky
Mularkey took over as head coach after the Titans started the season 1 and 7. They went 2 and 6 the rest of the way with Mularky under the headsets. Mularky has previous head coaching experience and perhaps the Titans brass feels that with a full season to work with, he's the man to turn around what's been a down franchise recently.
Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase
At age 37, Gase will be the youngest coach in the NFL next season. Gase takes over for the Dolphins after being the offensive coordinator in Chicago. But Gase has limited experience, and the Bears record wasn't exactly stellar during his tenure in the Windy City.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dirk Koetter
After 2 years, the Buccaneers had enough of Lovie Smith and decided they thought enough of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to promote him to the head coaching position. Koetter is not one of the young hires though, he'll be 57 when the season starts.
Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson
Jackson makes the treck from Cincinnati to Cleveland, where after serving as the Bengals offensive coordinator he'll take over the reigns of the Browns. The negative here, well it's the Browns, who seem to turn over coaches as often as they do starting quarterbacks. Jackson will be Cleveland's 8th head coach since the franchises return to the NFL in 1999.
New York Giants: Ben McAdoo
At age 38, McAdoo is another young up and comer in the NFL's coaching ranks. Despite the success Tom Coughlin had in New York, Giants management felt it was time for a change. McAdoo takes over as head coach after serving two seasons as the Giants offensive coordinator. QB Eli Manning is also comfortable with McAdoo, which is part of the reason he was hired as the Giants didn't want to change their entire system around the veteran quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly
After being fired in Philadelphia, Kelly will take over as the 3rd head coach in as many seasons in San Francisco. Kelly had a winning record as head coach of the Eagles, but his player personnel decisions and questions about his ability to manage NFL players led to his ouster in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how Kelly mixes with 49ers management as well, who's falling out with Jim Harbaugh led to the former coaches dismissal.

Same old story: Manning versus Brady yet again but do you care?

01/21/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So here we go again. The NFL just has to love this. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots versus Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos with the winner going on to the Super Bowl. What a story for the AFC Championship game, right? You couldn't ask for a better script right football fans? Or are you just plain sick of all the hype of Brady versus Manning?
Well here's the thing, a lot of it is hype. Brady and Manning have faced off 17 times in their careers, but only 4 of those meetings have come in the post season. I know it seems like they've played against each other in the playoffs about 100 times the way this matchup draws so much attention, but really, they've only met in the playoffs 4 times.
Just like the previous 4 times they've met in the post season though, the winner will go on to the Super Bowl. Brady's Patriots beat Manning's Colts in 2004 and 2005 en route to Super Bowl wins. Manning got revenge with an AFC Championship game win in 2007 en route to a Colts Super Bowl title, and he led the Broncos past New England in 2014 before falling to Seattle in the Super Bowl.

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Just for the record, the head to head matchup between these two has been owned by Brady. Brady's Patriots have met Manning led Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos teams 16 times, with Brady winning 11 of those matchups. The two have put up similar statistics going head to head, with Brady passing for 4,013 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in their 16 meetings. Manning has thrown for 4,809 yards with 33 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Brady's teams have outscored Manning's 479 to 372 in those match ups.
Brady has had more success as well. He has led the Patriots to 6 Super Bowls, winning 4 of them. Manning has been to the Super Bowl 3 times, twice with the Colts and once with the Broncos, winning 1 championship. This will be their 4th AFC Championship Game meeting, with Manning holding a 2 to 1 edge there
Is there too much overhype for these two? Are fans tired of it? Well there are two things that can be done if you feel that way. The first is that another team, maybe the team that you cheer for, could knock Denver or New England off. If someone else beats Brady or Manning, there wouldn't be any talk about them meeting for a shot at the Super Bowl, it would be about another QB or another team.
The other option is to just sit back and enjoy it because it's coming to an end soon. This very well may be the last time Brady and Manning face each other in the playoffs. It looks more and more like Peyton Manning's career is coming to an end, likely after this season. So why not enjoy the story line? Does Manning have one more win left in so he has a chance to play in the big game one more time with the opportunity to go out on top? Or will Brady beat Manning one last time and send him into retirement with Manning's last game being a loss to the Brady led Patriots?
Me, I'm going to sit back and enjoy what looks to be the final round of Brady versus Manning. And if this is the last meeting, I hope it exceeds the hype and ends with the story line of Manning winning and going on to win the Super Bowl so one of the NFL's all time greats has the perfect ending he deserves.

Harsh reality: Sad demise of Phillips leaves more questions than answers

01/18/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

He was a two time national champion in college. He was a first round NFL draft pick. And he died at the age of 40 in prison. So what led to the downward spiral and ultimate demise of Lawrence Phillips?
For Phillips, his problems started long before the NFL. He grew up in foster homes in California before becoming a football star in high school. His play in high school led him to getting a scholarship to Nebraska. Phillips helped lead Nebraska to back to back National Championships before being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 1996 draft. But off the field issues that plagued Phillips at Nebraska led to him washing out of professional football. Phillips played 2 seasons in St. Louis, before moving onto Miami for 2 games in 1997. He played in San Francisco in 1999 before falling out of the NFL for good.
Phillips had plenty of off the field issues while at Nebraska. Assault, vandalism, and allegedly taking money from a sports agent all were associated with him. Phillips was also arrested for assaulting his then girlfriend in 1995. Trouble stayed with him into the NFL. In his less than 2 seasons in St. Louis, Phillips spent 23 days in jail. That led to him being released by the Rams. The Dolphins let him go after 2 games after he was charged with assaulting a woman. Questions about his work ethic and clashing with coaches led to his end in San Francisco.

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After football things got worse for Phillips. He was serving a 31 year sentence in prison when he died. He had been sentenced for 2 separate domestic abuse incidents and felony assault with a deadly weapon in a separate incident where Phillips drove his car into three people. While in prison he was charged with choking a cell mate to death.
Although all of this paints an awful picture of Phillips, there's another part to this story. While in prison, Phillips seemed to become reformed. He wrote letters to former coaches. He mentioned the conditions in prison. He said he had issues with gang members. He had asked not to have a cellmate who had a gang history. The cell mate his allegedly killed was a former gang member. Phillips was found dead after a judge determined there was enough evidence to send Phillips to trial in the death of his cell mate.
But family members don't believe Phillips killed himself. They said his spirits were high in the days leading up to his death despite the circumstances. In letters he sent out, Phillips said he felt prison staff was targeting him. His family has also agreed to have his brain examined for CTE.
Obviously this story isn't finished being told yet. But the story of so much potential and such a sad ending is one that hopefully isn't repeated. If anything, hopefully the sad story of Lawrence Phillips can be used to help any young athletes with off field issues to straighten themselves out while they still have a chance and before it's too late.

Divide and conquer: NFL Divisional round reeks of championship pedigree among teams

01/16/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The elite eight that is the NFL playoffs are set and the matches are nothing short of intriguing and spectacular as far as how the teams have been paired. Lots of rematches and offense and defense chatter comes to the table.
#2 New England vs #5 Kansas City Saturday at 4:35pm

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Who's in and who's out? That's the question hanging over this matchup between the 12 and 5 Chiefs and the 12 and 4 Patriots. For New England, Julian Edelman, who's been out since November 15th with a broken foot, is expected to play. But Rob Gronkowski, who's been dealing with a knee injury that's kept him out of practice this week, may not be able to go. For Kansas City, leading receiver Jeremy Maclin, who left last week's playoff win over Houston with a high ankle sprain, remains questionable. Linebacker Justin Houston, who just returned to the Chiefs lineup last week, is also a game time decision. Kansas City is looking for it's 11th straight victory, after starting the season 1 and 5. New England is hoping to avoid it's first 3 game losing streak since 2002. After starting the season winning their first 10 games, the Patriots lost 4 of their final 6. This is the first ever post season meeting between these teams. The Patriots have won the past 5 games played in New England, but the Chiefs won last year's meeting 41 to 14
#6 Pittsburgh at #1 Denver Sunday at 4:40pm
Round two between Pittsburgh and Denver will have one team considerably healthier than the first round, while the other team will be without two key play makers, and will have a third playing hurt. Leading rusher DeAngelo Wiliams will miss his second straight playoff game for the Steelers after sustaining a foot injury in the regular season finale. It was announced Friday that Antonio Brown will also miss the game due to a concussion sustained in last week's Wild Card win over Cincinnati. And Ben Roethisberger remains questionable due to a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Bengals game, although Roethisberger did return to practice on for the Steelers. Brown caught 16 passes against the Broncos in the Steelers regular season win, but he did so against a Denver secondary without T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, and Omar Bolden. All three will play in this game. Peyton Manning will also be under center for Denver for this one, Brock Osweiler quarterbacked the Broncos in the 34 to 27 loss to Pittsburgh on December 20th. Manning returned in the Broncos season finale to help the team defeat San Diego to clinch the top seed in the AFC. The Broncos have won 8 of the past 11 games against Pittsburgh in Denver, including the last playoff game in 2012
#2 Arizona vs #5 Green Bay Saturday at 8:15pm
Three weeks ago, these teams met in Week 16 of the regular season. While Arizona would like the result to repeat itself, Green Bay is hoping to forget the outcome, which was a 38 to 8 Cardinals win. Arizona recorded 9 sacks and held the Packers to 178 yards in total offense in the blowout. The Packers looked a lot better in last week's 35 to 18 Wild Card round win over #3 seed Washington, with Green Bay outscoring the Redskins 35 to 7 after spotting them an 11 to 0 first quarter lead. In Arizona's regular season win over the Packers, the Cardinals were led by running back David Johnson's 127 yards rushing, while Michael Floyd had 6 catches for 111 yards. Carson Palmer passed for 265 yards and 2 TD's as well. Both teams will be without some key players as well. On defense, Arizona will be without staring LB Alex Okafor and DT Cory Redding. Green Bay will be without WR Davante Adams. The Cardinals are 4 and 0 in playoff games played in Arizona, including a 51 to 45 win over Green Bay in their most recent playoff meeting in 2009.
#6 Seattle at #1 Carolina Sunday at 1pm
For the second time in two years, these teams will face off in the playoffs. Last year, Seattle defeated Carolina 31 to 17. But in the most recent meeting between these teams in Week 6, it was the Panthers who knocked off the Seahawks 27 to 23. It looked like Seattle wouldn't be here at all after trailing Minnesota 9 to 0 going into the 4th quarter of last week's Wild Card round matchup. Then after battling back to take a 10 to 9 lead, it looked less likely when the Vikings were lining up for a game winning 27 yard field goal, only to watch Blair Walsh miss it. More good news for Seattle is that Marshawn Lynch is listed as probable for this week's game. Lynch hasn't played since Week 10. The news on the injury front is good for Carolina as well, as leading rusher Jonathan Stweart and leading receiver Ted Ginn Jr. are both expected to return to the lineup. Starting safety Kurt Coleman will also be back for the Panthers. Carolina has won 11 straight home games, while Seattle is looking for it's consecutive road win.

Ram bam: Just like that, the Rams are headed back to Los Angeles

01/15/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

On Christmas Eve 1994 Los Angeles lost not one, but two NFL teams as the Raiders moved to Oakland and the Rams packed their bags for St. Louis. Now 21 years later, professional football is heading back to LA as NFL owners approved the Rams relocating back. It's an exciting time for football fans in Los Angeles, for the Rams ownership group, and for the NFL and the rest of it's owners. But it's a difficult time for fans in St. Louis, as for the second time, they're watching their NFL team leave town.
From a financial standpoint, the NFL couldn't keep using Los Angeles as a decoy market. Anytime a team needed a new stadium or some type of public funding, the potential of that team moving to LA always came up. But the revenue the NFL was losing by not having a team in Los Angeles was real. It's the second largest market in the United States. On top of that, the other revenue outside of football and the media market is huge. The naming rights for the new proposed stadium in Inglewood is expected to be the highest amount ever paid for stadium naming rights. The stadium is expected to be a huge draw for concerts, international soccer matches, college bowl games, and other events. It's a place to host future Super Bowls and all that comes with that. There's even talk of creating a West wing of the NFL Hall of Fame on the campus of the new LA stadium. All of that revenue potential is far more than anything that could've been generated in St. Louis.
Owners voted 30 to 2 to approve the Rams move immediately. The new Inglewood facility won't be open until 2019, so the Rams will play their first 3 seasons at the LA Coliseum. The approval of this plan eliminates the plan that would've had the Chargers move from San Diego and the Raiders move from Oakland to share a new facility in Carson, California. There is still a chance the Chargers will move to LA and share the Inglewood facility with the Rams. If they choose to stay in San Diego, the Raiders will have the choice to move to LA and share the facility. Raiders ownership has rescinded their application to move and are reportedly looking into new stadium options to keep the team in Oakland.

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But while it's an exciting time for Los Angeles and the NFL fans there, it's a sad time in St. Louis for their fans, the city itself, and their leaders. St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said the NFL ignored the facts by allowing the relocation to happen. Slay said the league ignored the loyalty of St. Louis fans who supported the team through up and down years, and ignored a $1.1 billion dollar plan to build a new facility for the Rams along the city's riverfront. And just like when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988, St. Louis will be without a professional football team again. And since this is the first time the NFL has relocated a franchise since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, and since there are no plans for expansion anytime soon, there is a slim to none chance the NFL will be back there ever again.
In the end though, Rams owner Stan Kroenke said the opportunity to take the team to Los Angeles was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In the end loyalty and sentiment didn't matter. In the end, the NFL and it's owners did what they always seem to do. They followed the money.

Game changer: Suspensions take away from NFL playoff spotlight

01/14/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So here we are looking ahead to this weekends NFL playoff matchups. But instead of the major topic of discussion regarding the NFL being what's ahead, it remains what happened last weekend in the Wild Card round matchup between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. And the way that game ended and the discussion surrounding it remains a black eye on the National Football League.
Now instead of looking ahead to the matchup with the Broncos, the Steelers are wondering if Antonio Brown is going to be able to play. Of course Brown was the victim of a head shot at the hands of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Brown is still in the NFL's concussion protocol, it's uncertain if he'll be cleared to play against Denver. For the hit, Burfict was suspended for the first 3 games of next season.
That suspension is a joke. The NFL had a chance to make a statement regarding dirty play, intent to injure, cheap shots, and player safety. Instead the league missed the mark. Completely missed the mark. One of its top players may not be able to play this weekend because of a cheap, head hunting, unnecessary hit. Not just Steelers fans, but fans of football may not get to see probably the NFL's best wide receiver and one of it's most dynamic players play because of Vontaze Burfict.

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Look, if Burfict was a player with no history of dirty play, then a lesser punishment would be just. But this is a guy with a history of being a dirty play. Especially recently. Google his name and dirty play, and watch for yourself. This was the NFL's chance to make a statement. To let it be known this kind of thing won't be tolerated. Instead, Burfict got off easy.
If the NFL was serious about protecting players and getting this kind of play out of the game, Burfict should've been suspended 8 games. That would've shown everyone the league is serious. It would've made an example of a player who has gone out of his way to try and injure opposing players. It would've gotten the media talking about what the NFL Is doing going forward instead of talking about the ridiculousness of what happened in front of a global audience in a playoff game
This isn't just to say Vontaze Burfict was wrong. All of the coaches on the field in the final moments of the game were wrong. The officials not being able to keep things under control for the second time in a Pittsburgh/Cincinnati game were wrong. Adam Jones losing control of his emotions and costing the Bengals was wrong. The Bengals fans throwing objects at an injured Ben Roethlisberger while he was being carted off the field were wrong.
But none of those things can be changed now. What could've been changed was how the NFL reacted to and addressed the actions of Vontaze Burfict. Instead, they dropped the ball. And that was more wrong than anything else that happened last weekend.

David and Goliath: Can Clemson knock off powerhouse and proven Alabama?

01/11/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

And then there were two. Alabama and Clemson will square off in the second ever NCAA Football Playoff Championship game. Both teams were very impressive in their bowl wins, with #1 Clemson beating #4 Oklahoma 37 to 17. #2 Alabama looked even more impressive, as they thumped #3 Michigan State 38 to 0 on New Years Eve. So lets take a look at how these teams stack up against each other in the final game of the 2015/16 college football season
Clemson averages 38.5 points per game and gives up an average of 20.2 points against. Alabama is averaging 38.1 points per game and gives up an average of 14.4 points against. The Tigers average 511 yards per game on offense while surrendering 296 yards against. The Crimson Tide average 453 yards per game offensively while allowing 258 yards on defense
Clemson is led by QB Deshaun Watson, who's passed for 3,512 yards and thrown 30 TD passes. His top target has been Artavis Scott, who has 80 catches for 805 yards and 5 scores. The Tigers ground game is led by RB Wayne Gallman, who's rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 TD's.

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Alabama is led by QB Jake Coker, who's thrown for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns. His go to guy has been Calvin Ridley, who's caught 75 passes for 893 yards and 5 TD's. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry leads the ground attack with 1,986 yards and 23 scores
Alabama and head coach Nick Saban will be looking for their 4th championship in 7 seasons, with Saban looking to gain his 5th national championship. The Crimson Tide were dominant in their win over Michigan State, holding the Spartans to just 239 total yards. Coker passed for 286 yards in the win, while Ridley had 8 catches for 138 yards and 2 TD's. Henry only had 75 yards rushing, but still scored twice in the win. Alabama also had a punt return for a touchdown and recorded 4 quarterback sacks.
Clemson is trying to become the first ever team in college football to go 15 and 0 under head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney played for Alabama and was a part of the Crimson Tide's 1992 championship team. In their win over Oklahoma, the Tigers put up 530 yards in total offense against the Sooners, led by Watson, who accounted for 322 yards in total offense. Gallman rushed for 150 yards and 2 TD's. Defensively, Clemson recorded 5 sacks and 2 interceptions in the win
These teams last met in the 2008 regular season, with Alabama winning 34 to 10.

Super Bowl bluff: Why having a franchise QB isn't always a deal breaker

01/10/16 by Rennie Detore

Analysts that call themselves experts in all things National Football League or even the local radio show host who's had his fair share of interviews with players and coaches will argue that the only path to an NFL Super Bowl championship is through the arm of what would be considered an elite NFL quarterback.
When you look at the history of the NFL and the champions that have taken home the Lombardi Trophy, you don't always have any sort of guarantee that having a quarterback of that ilk means you'll be cashing in on championship hardware as a result.
Plenty of journeymen quarterbacks have pioneered and orchestrated runs to the Super Bowl, but they were hardly predicted on their arms exclusively.

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Most NFL quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring relied on another aspect of the team as a whole as the main piece of the puzzle, the entity that ultimately brought them the success the team is in the midst of experiencing.
Take for instance, the Baltimore Ravens on 1999 and 2000; their defense was lights out, with the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in their prime, and that unit is the reason why the Ravens claimed the title. The quarterback for the Ravens at that time was Trent Dilfer, whose tasks was to not so much win games but rather not lose them.
The ultimate compliment for quarterbacks like Dilfer is referring to them as a "game manager," they don't go out there and put the team on their shoulders, but rather don't make mistakes that give the game away.
The Ravens ran the ball and played defense, so Dilfer did his job well.
You also can look at the Redskins team in 1987, and the quarterback was hardly a household name. Doug Williams won't be in the Hall of Fame any time soon, but his Redskins team showed up to play and won hands down against the then winless Super Bowl Denver Broncos. Williams did an outstanding job in the game itself and really played above his ability, almost as if he channeled his counterpart in that game, John Elway. While Elway struggled, Williams played out of his mind. He threw four touchdowns and over 300 yards passing, which isn't too shabby from a guy who only started two games up until that point.
Williams and Dilfer are just two of more than just a handful of quarterbacks whose names aren't Elway, Montana, Brady, Manning and Favre. The quarterback position certainly is by far the most important one on the team; they get the most attention when you win and lose, but while having one is nice, you can't always depend on that arm and pedigree to produce a title.

Card players: Do or die hits as Wild Card weekend ensues

01/09/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The playoffs are finally here. After 17 weeks of regular season, the final 12 teams of 2015 remain. Only 2 will get to the Super Bowl, and the road there starts with Wild Card weekend. Let's take a look at the opening of the 2K15 playoffs.
Kansas City at Houston Saturday at 4:20pm
The Chiefs come in 11 and 5 and the 2nd place team out of the AFC West. The Texans are the AFC South division champions and come in with a record of 9 and 7. Both teams started off the season not looking much like playoff teams. Kansas City started off 2015 1 and 5 before winning their past 10 games. Houston was 2 and 5 before winning 7 of their final 9 games and 3 in a row coming into the playoffs. Both teams have pressed on to the playoffs without their star running back as well. The Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to a season ending injury in Week 5, while the Texans lost Arian Foster for the season in Week 7. Kansas City is led by QB Alex Smith, who's passed for 3,486 yards and 20 TD's. Charcandrick West stepped in for Charles at running back, rushing for 634 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Jeremy Maclin has 87 catches for 1,088 yards and 8 TD's. Houston is led by QB Brian Hoyer, who's thrown for 2,606 yards and 19 touchdowns. Alfred Blue has rushed for 698 yards and 2 TD's in Foster's absence. DeAndre Hopkins has 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 scores. On defense, the Texans J.J. Watt led the NFL with 17.5 sacks. For Kansas City, All Pro Justin Houston will be back after missing the past 5 games due to a knee injury. These teams met in the season opener, with Kansas City winning 27 to 20. Kansas City has lost their past 7 playoff games and are looking for their first playoff win in 22 years.

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Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Saturday at 8:15pm
Round 3 between the 10 and 6 Steelers and 12 and 4 Bengals will pit teams with significant losses at key positions. Cincinnati will be without starting QB Andy Dalton, who was injured when these teams met last. In his place, A.J. McCarron will make his first playoff start. Pittsburgh will be without RB DeAngelo Williams, who took over as the Steelers starter after LeVeon Bell was lost for the season in the first meeting between these teams. In Williams place, Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint are expected to split the carries. The Bengals will still have to deal with the duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has passed for 3,938 yards and 21 touchdowns, while Brown has caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 TD's. McCarron will look to A.J. Green, who has 86 catches for 1,297 yards and 10 scores. These teams split during the regular season with the visiting team winning both times. Cincinnati has lost their past 7 playoff games and are looking for their first playoff win in 25 years. Pittsburgh has also won 4 of the past 5 games against the Bengals and the last 2 meetings in Cincinnati.
Seattle at Minnesota Sunday at 1pm
The 11 and 5 Vikings are the NFC North champions. The 10 and 6 Seahawks finished 2nd in the NFC West and are one of the NFL's hottest teams. Seattle won 8 of their last 10 games, but Minnesota has won their past 3 games as well. These teams met in Minnesota in Week 13 with Seattle dominating the Vikings en route to a 38 to 7 win. The Seahawks outgained the Vikings in total yards 433 to 125, outrushed the Vikings 173 to 31, and held the NFL's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson to just 18 yards. Seattle boasts the NFL's top rushing defense, and will try to slow Peterson for a second time. Peterson has rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Teddy Bridgewater has passed for 3,231 yards and 14 TD's. Rookie WR Stefon Diggs has caught 52 passes for 740 yards and 4 scores. Seattle will be without RB Marshawn Lynch, but will still have Thomas Rawls, who's rushed for 830 yards and 4 TD's. The Seahawks have been paced offensively by QB Russell Wilson, who's thrown for 4,024 yards and 34 touhdowns. His top target has been Doug Baldwin, who has 78 catches for 1,089 yards and 14 scores.
Green Bay at Washington Sunday at 4:30pm
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2015 playoff field are the 9 and 7 Washington Redskins, who won the NFC East. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 2015 playoff field is the Green Bay Packers, who after starting 6 and 0, finished 10 and 6 while conceding the NFC North to Minnesota. The Redskins playoff run has been led by the play of Kirk Cousins, who's passed for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns. His counter part on the Packers, Aaron Rodgers, cooled off down the stretch, but still passed for 3.821 yards and 31 TD's. The top targets on each team has been TE Jordan Reed for the Redskins, who's caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 scores. For the Packers it's been WR James Jones, who has 50 catches for 890 yards and 8 TD's. The ground games have been paced by Eddie Lacy for Green Bay, who's rushed for 758 yards and 3 TDs, and Alfred Morris for Washington, who has 751 yards rushing and 1 score. Washington is looking for their first playoff win in 10 years. If the Redskins beat Green Bay, it will be their first win of the season over a team with a better than .500 record. The Packers have won 5 of the past 6 meetings between these teams, most recently in 2013. But this is the first playoff meeting between these teams since 1972, when Washington won 16 to 3.

Shame game: Why all star voting in NHL this year is laughable

01/08/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Alex Ovechkin. John Tavares. Evgeni Malkin. Steven Stamkos. Patrick Kane. Jamie Benn. Jonathan Quick. Those are some of the names on this year's NHL All-Star roster. Oh, and John Scott.
Yes, that John Scott. If you're a real hockey fan you know who I'm talking about. If not, this John Scott has played all of 11 games for a total of under 70 minutes of hockey so far this season. Sidney Crosby is not in this year's NHL All-Star Game. John Scott is. A guy who has been considered the face of the NHL over the past 10 years will not be a part of the All Star game. Henrik Sedin will not be in the All-Star Game. But Scott, a guy who has spent parts of this season in the AHL and more time as a healthy scratch than on the ice, will be there. Yes, Stanley Cup winning goaltender Corey Crawford isn't an All-Star, but a guy who's scored 5 goals in 285 career games is. Really? Yes, really.
This is nothing against John Scott. For one, he's 6'8" and 270 pounds, and has made most of his living in the NHL as an enforcer. Not exactly someone I'd want to have a problem with. And with fighting dying off in the NHL, and with the days of the enforcer coming to an end, good for John Scott.

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Even more fitting for a man of Scott's physical stature, this year's NHL All-Star Game is going to be a 3 on 3 format. There will be 4 divisional teams facing off in two, 20 minute games. The winners will then play for the "championship" in a third 20 minute game. What? Exactly.
But the problem here is with the fan voting. Scott's nomination came through the fan vote. Twitter and the internet caught wind of the campaign to get Scott into the game, it picked up steam, and an all star he is now. The All Star game concept, not just in the NHL, but in all professional sports, has become a mockery of what it once was. Nobody cares about these "exhibitions" any more. Most sports fans think of the All Star Games as a joke This fan vote definitely adds to the punch line.
So the former All Star game has been replaced with a skills competition of some sort with a team that will be captained by a career goon. Dear NHL, do us real hockey fans a favor. As a matter of fact, be the trail blazer for all of the other professional sports to follow. And stop having the all star game after this season to put an end to this all star shame.

Changing of guard: Not surprisingly, NFL coaches get ax on Black Monday

01/06/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The Monday following the NFL regular season has become known as "Black Monday" since it is the day where the rumors of coaches on the hot seat become coaches being fired. This year, three coaches met their demise on Black Monday, while a fourth was terminated the week before the season ended. Let's take a look at the open jobs as of right now.
The Philadelphia Eagles were the first team to say goodbye to their coach, and they didn't bother waiting until the offseason. The Eagles let coach Chip Kelly go the week before their season finale. Despite back to back 10 win seasons and a 26 and 21 overall record, Kelly was sent packing a season after trading LeSean McCoy, signing DeMarco Murray, cutting DeSean Jackson, allowing Jeremy Maclin to leave via free agency, and trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford. Kelly's offense wasn't in sync at all this season, and perhaps him being given control of player personnel was too much for Kelly to be able to handle.
After 12 seasons and 2 Super Bowl wins, the Tom Coughlin era came to an end in New York. Originally it was thought Coughlin would retire, but instead he decided to resign as Giants head coach. Injuries and blown 4th quarter leads were the undoing of the Giants this season, and ultimately, the undoing of Coughlin as head coach. Coughlin though has not ruled out coaching again elsewhere next season.

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One season was enough for management in San Francisco to decide that Jim Tomsula wasn't the right fit as head coach. Tomsula finished 5 and 11 after taking over for Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers were not even close to the team they'd been under Harbaugh. The offensive cornerstones from the Harbaugh era are no more either as Michael Crabtree left via free agency prior to the season, Vernon Davis was traded to Denver, and Colin Kaepernick's time in San Francisco looks to be done as well.
Instead of Black Monday, maybe it should be called Orange and Brown Monday. Because after another unsuccessful season, the Cleveland Browns have decided to blow things up again. Head coach Mike Pettine and General Manger Ray Farmer were both fired after two seasons. Maybe one of these days Browns ownership will realize you can't change the blue print every couple of seasons if you expect to be successful in the NFL? That might explain why their starting quarterback to playoff appearance ratio since returning to the league in 1999 is at 25 to 1.
There are still jobs open in Miami and Tennessee as well, where interim coaches Dan Campbell and Mike Mularkey will have the opportunity to take over on a permanent basis. The biggest surprise may be that Chuck Pagano signed a four year contract extension in Indianapolis despite rumors that he would be let go.
There are still other coaches on the hot seat and other rumored changes that could be in the works. So it's safe to say, this years coaching carousel is more than likely just beginning to turn.

Saban grace: Why Alabama coach, for all his faults, is irreplaceable

01/02/16 by Rennie Detore

First, let me get this out of the way. I don't care for Nick Saban.
I never really paid attention to Saban's career until he hit the NFL and joined the Miami Dolphins. Saban was out of his element and bombed in the NFL, which is nothing new for college coaches (most of them) that can't hack it with their cheerleader, hard nosed approach that college kids gobble up and NFL players turn the other way.
Saban made waves when he basically left the Dolphins for Alabama and didn't really bother to tell his Dolphins' players and instead squirmed his way out of town for the job he currently holds at the moment.

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As the Alabama coach, Saban is pure gold. He's easily and arguably one of the greatest current college coaches and perhaps will be remembered as one of the best of all time. Saban is know for being hard to work with, a great motivator but also a huge pain to deal with as far as the players and the assistant coaches. He doesn't except being average or mediocre, and his players are NFL caliber the moment they declare for the draft.
He's won National Championships, bowl games and his consistency at the helm in Alabama has the school as the top in the nation and winning has become commonplace as a result of the type of coach Saban is.
He makes as much (and more) than some NFL coaches, so he had no reason to leave a job that is his for as long as he wants it.
As a person, Saban is a jerk, but his job isn't to be nice. His job is to win.
And no one in the college ranks is better than him.
So he'll continue to recruit the best classes, turn freshman into NFL millionaires and win and then win some more, while the school reaps the financial benefits of having a football team that is a BCS or bust type program.
All of this is thanks to Nick Saban, a guy that is so very easy to hate but you have to respect what he's been able to accomplish as part of his career as a college coach. The way he left the NFL was hardly one for the ages or something that will give him an open door policy to return to the professional ranks.
But why would he even care to do so? He's got his cushy gig, making millions and has the very best high school players at his beckon call. But that doesn't mean he doesn't work hard, and win.
Bama is a beautiful place to be. And they have Saban to thank for all of it.

Crunch time: Top four teams square off in much anticipated playoff series

12/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Finally, it's here. New Years Eve has arrived and it's time for the College Football Playoff semi finals. The winners will meet for the National Championship on January 11th. After two weeks of bowl games, the most exciting matchups that college football fans have been waiting all season for is here. Let's take a look at these two semi final match ups.
Orange Bowl: #1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma 12/31 at 4 pm
While Clemson is the top ranked team in the land, it's the fourth seeded Sooners who are surprisingly the favorites in this game. The Tigers come in with a perfect 13 and 0 record, while Oklahoma comes in at 11 and 1. Clemson averages 38.5 points and 511 yards per game offensively. On defense, the Tigers allow an average of 20.2 points and 296 yards per game. Oklahoma averages 45.8 points and 5433 yards per game on offense. The Sooners allow an average of 20.8 points and 351 yards per game defensively.

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Clemson is led offensively by QB Deshaun Watson, who's passed for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions. His top target has been Artavis Scott, who has 84 catches for 805 yards and 5 TD's. The Tigers ground game is led by Wayne Gallman, who's rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 scores so far this season.
On offense, Oklahoma is led by QB Baker Mayfield, who's thrown for 3,389 yards and 35 TD's against just 5 interceptions. His go to guy is Sterling Shephard, who has 79 catches for 1,201 yards and 11 scores. Samaje Perine leads the Sooners rushing attack with 1,291 yards and 15 TD's.
These teams met in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, with Clemson winning 40 to 6. This will be the 5th meeting all time between these schools with each having won a pair.
Cotton Bowl: #2 Alabama vs #3 Michigan State 12/31 at 8 pm
Both of these teams come in with 12 and 1 records. Alabama averages 34.1 points and 423 yards per game offensively. On defense, the Crimson Tide allow an average of 14.4 points and 258 yards per game. On offense, Michigan State averages 32.1 points and 397 yards per game. Defensively, the Spartans give up an average of 20.5 points and 343 yards per game.
Alabama is led offensively by QB Jake Coker, who's passed for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing 8 interceptions. His top target has been Calvin Ridley, who's caught 75 passes for 893 yards and 5 scores. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry leads the ground attack with 1,986 yards and 23 TD's.
On offense, Michigan State is led by QB Connor Cook. Cook has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns versus just 5 interceptions. His go to guy has been Aaron Burbridge, who has 80 catches for 1,219 yards and 7 scores. The Spartans ground game is led by L.J. Scott, who's rushed for 691 yards and 11 TD's.
Michigan State is looking to become the first Big 10 school to win 5 consecutive bowl games. The Crimson Tide are a rather large favorite to win according to the odds makers.

Down year: Auburn looks to salvage season and finish above 500

12/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The march to the National Title game continues with more bowl games to finish out 2015 and head into the BCS portion of our games. Don't be fooled, however, into thinking these games aren't going to pack some serious punch with shoot outs and ground games battling defenses that are NFL caliber. Here's total slate of games:
Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs Memphis 12/30 at 12 pm
This battle of the Tigers has Memphis coming in at 9 and 3 overall from the American Athletic Conference, while Auburn comes in 6 and 6 from the SEC. Auburn will have to slow down a high powered Memphis offense that averages 42.7 points and 510.4 yards per game. Auburn is giving up an average of nearly 422 yards per game, which ranks 90th in the NCAA. Memphis is led by QB Paxton Lynch, who's thrown for 3,670 yards and 28 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. His top target has been Mose Frazier, who has 66 catches for 750 yards and 4 TD's. Auburn will lead on their ground attack, led by the duo of Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson, who have combined for nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. After winning their first 8 games, Memphis went 1 and 3 in their final four games, while Auburn lost 4 of their final 6 games. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1976.

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Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs North Carolina State 12/30 at 3:30 pm
It's a battle of the SEC versus the ACC as 8 and 4 Mississippi State takes on 8 and 4 North Carolina State. On paper it looks to be a pretty even matchup, as the Bulldogs come in averaging 33 points and 451 yards per game, while the Wolf Pack average 33.7 points and 412 yards per game. Both teams come in having dropped 2 of their last 3 regular season games as well. The Bulldogs are led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who's passed for 3,413 yards and 25 TD's against 4 interceptions. Prescott also leads the team in rushing with 541 yards and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns. Fred Ross has been his go to guy, catching 81 passes for 933 yards and 4 scores. The Wolf Pack is led by QB Jacoby Brissett, who's thrown for 2,448 yards and 19 TD's and just 4 interceptions. Brissett has also rushed for 303 yards and 5 scores. TE Jaylen Samuels led the team with 64 catches for 599 yards and 14 TD's. These teams last met in the 1995 Peach Bowl, which North Carolina State won.
Music City Bowl: Louisville vs Texas A&M 12/30 at 7 pm
This is another matchup of the ACC versus the SEC, as the 7 and 5 Cardinals take on the 8 and 4 Aggies in what looks to be another even game. Louisville averages 28.8 points per game, while Texas A&M averages 28.3. The Cardinals average 406 yards per game, while the Aggies average 423. Texas A&M though will be without their top two quarterbacks, as both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have left the program, forcing little used Jake Hubenak to start this bowl game. The Aggies will have RB Tra Carson, who's rushed for 1,059 yards and 6 touchdowns. Louisville is led by dual threat QB Lamar Jackson, who's passed for 1,613 yards and 10 touchdowns, while rushing for 734 yards and 9 scores. Texas A&M has won all 3 meetings between these schools, including the most recent in 1994.
Holiday Bowl: #25 USC vs #23 Wisconsin 12/30 at 10pm
The Trojans come out of the PAC 12 with an 8 and 5 record, while the Badgers represent the Big 10 and come in 9 and 3. USC has lots of weapons on offense, starting with quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler has passed for 3,315 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing 6 interceptions. WR Juju Smith Schuster has 85 catches for 1,389 yards and 10 TD's. The running back tandem of Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis have combined for 1,815 yards and 13 touchdowns. They'll face a tough Wisconsin defense that gives up just 13.1 points per game, which is tops in the nation. The Badgers also rank 3rd in the country in total defense, 4th in rushing defense, and 6th against the pass. Wisconsin is led offensively by QB Joel Stave, who's thrown for 2,470 yards and 10 TD's. His top target has been Alex Erickson, who has 72 catches for 924 yards and 3 touchdowns. This will be the first meeting between these schools since 1966. USC has won all 6 of the all time meetings.

Rush job: LSU puts hopes of bowl victory on back, legs of star RB

12/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Bowl season begins to heat up as more of the ranked teams start to square off against others of that same ilk in match ups that are highly anticipated and leading into the BCS series as 2015 turns into 2016. Today's games feature an array of teams that boast high powered offenses, stout defenses or overall, well balanced attacks on both sides of the ball.
Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs California 12/29 at 2 pm
This will be a game of contrasting offensive styles as the aerial attack of the 7 and 5 Bears meets the ground assault of the 8 and 5 Falcons. California is led by quarterback Jared Goff, who's thrown for 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns so far this season. Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, and Trevor Davis have combined for 2,049 yards receiving and 18 TD's for the Bears. Air Force brings in the 2nd best rushing offense in college football, averaging 322 yards per game. The Falcons are led by Jacobi Owens, who's rushed for 1,009 yards and 6 touchdowns. QB Karson Roberts has thrown for 1,446 yards and 9 TD's while rushing for 674 yards and 9 more scores. After starting 5 and 0, California went 2 and 5 in their final 7 games. Air Force comes in having dropped their past 2 games. California has won 6 of the 8 eight all time meetings between these programs, including the most recent meeting, a 42 to 36 win in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl.

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Citrus Bowl: #10 North Carolina vs #17 Baylor 12/29 at 5:30 pm
Points should be a plenty in this matchup between the 11 and 2 Tar Heels and the 9 and 3 Bears. Baylor averages 48 points per game and 605 yards per game while North Carolina averages 41 points per game and 487 yards per contest. North Carolina is led by Marquise Williams, who's passed for 2,829 yards and 21 touchdowns. RB Elijah Hood has rushed for 1,345 yards and 17 TD's. For Baylor it's more of who won't be playing. The Bears will be without their top two quarterbacks (Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham), their starting running back (Shock Linwood), and their leading receiver (Corey Coleman), due to injuries. The Tar Heels won 4 of their final 5 games, while Baylor dropped 3 of their last 4 games.
Arizona Bowl: Colorado State vs Nevada 12/29 at 7:30pm
Due to the lack of bowl eligible teams, two Mountain West Conference rivals will collide in this matchup as the 7 and 5 Rams meet the 6 and 6 Wolf Pack. Nevada is led by QB Tyler Stewart, who's passed for 2,065 yards and 17 touchdowns. On the ground, the Wolf Pack is led by James Butler, who's rushed for 1,156 yards and 8 TD's. Colorado State is led offensively by QB Nick Stevens, who's thrown for 2,369 yards and 21 touchdowns. His top target has been Rashard Higgins, who has 66 catches for 933 yards and 8 TD's. These teams didn't meet in MWC play this season, but Colorado State won last years meeting 31 to 24 and has won 11 of the 13 all time meetings between these schools.
Texas Bowl: #20 LSU vs Texas Tech 12/29 at 9pm
Plenty of offensive weapons will be on display in this matchup of the 8 and 3 Tigers from the SEC and the 7 and 5 Red Raiders of the Big 12. LSU is led by RB Leonard Fournette, who's rushed for 1,741 yards and 18 touchdowns. He'll be facing a Texas Tech defense that allows 272 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 3rd worst in college football. The Red Raiders can get it done on offense however. Texas Tech ranked 2nd in the nation in points per game, total yards per game, and passing yards per game. The Red Raiders are led by QB Patrick Mahomes, who's thrown for 4,283 yards and 32 touchdowns. His go to guy has been Jakeem Grant, who has 80 catches for 1,143 yards and 7 TD's. On the ground Texas Tech is led by RB DeAndre Washington, who's rushed for 1,455 yards and 14 scores. LSU lost 3 of their final 4 games coming in, while Texas Tech has won their last 2 games. The Red Raiders have won their past 4 bowl games, while the Tigers have lost 3 of their past 4 post season games. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1957.

Swan song: College football standouts say so long in today's bowl games

12/28/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Two games start the 2nd week of college football bowl season. The Military Bowl will mark the final collegiate game of Navy standout Keenan Reynolds. While Minnesota will try to make it a perfect 3 and 0 this year for team's with sub .500 records in bowl games. Let's take a look at Monday's matchups.
Military Bowl #21 Navy vs Pittsburgh 2:30pm
At 10 and 2, Navy is a win away from a school record in wins. At 8 and 4, Pitt is trying to win 9 games for the first time since 2009. To do so, the Panthers will have to find a way to slow down Keenan Reynolds, who is wrapping up his storied college playing career in this one. Reynolds has put up over 2,300 yards in total offense this season, rushing for 1,229 yards and 21 touchdowns, while passing for 1,077 yards and 7 more scores. Reynolds is the all time NCAA leader in rushing touchdowns with 85, and he needs 81 yards rushing to pass former Michigan QB Denard Robinson as the all time leader in yards rushing at the quarterback position. Pitt is led by the tandem of QB Nate Peterman and RB Quadree Ollison. Peterman has thrown for 2,150 yards and 19 TD's, while Ollison has rushed for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Tyler Boyd led the ACC with 85 catches for 873 yards and 6 scores. Navy averages 319 yards rushing per game, while the Panthers are allowing just 126 yards rushing per game. After starting the season 6 and 1, Pitt went 2 and 3 down the stretch in the regular season. These teams last met in 2013, with Navy winning 24 to 21 on a last second field goal.

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Quick Lane Bowl Minnesota vs Central Michigan 5pm
Three teams made bowl games this season at 5 and 7. The first two, San Jose State and Nebraska, were victorious in their bowl games. The third is Minnesota, who will be looking to make it 3 for 3 for the sub .500 bowl teams. Central Michigan comes out of the Mid American Conference with a record of 7 and 5, and will be trying to help the MAC finish over .500 in bowl games this season (MAC is 2 and 2 so far). The Chippewas are led by QB Cooper Rush, who's passed for 3,703 yards and 25 touchdowns. His top target has been Jesse Kroll, who has 59 catches for 856 yards and 4 TD's. The Golden Gophers are led by QB Mitch Leidner, who's thrown for 2,478 yards and 13 scores. The Minnesota ground game was paced by the tandem of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, who combined for 1,240 yards rushing and 9 TD's. The Chippewas won 5 of their final 6 games, while the Golden Gophers lost 4 of their last 5. Central Michigan is looking for their first 8 win season since 2009, while Minnesota is looking for their first bowl win since 2004. The Golden Gophers have dropped their previous 7 bowl games.

Sid has slid: Why is Crosby slumping so badly?

12/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What's wrong with Sidney Crosby this season?
Well first things first, he's dealing with an injury right now that kept him out of the lineup for Monday night's game against Columbus. The injury was identified as occurring in Saturday's loss to Carolina. But Crosby's scoring struggles started long before this past weekend.
Crosby has played 32 games so far this season for Pittsburgh. He has 6 goals, 16 assists, and 22 points. Those numbers rank him as 146th in the NHL in goal scoring, 46th in assists, and 77th in total points. Not exactly Crosby like numbers for a guy who's averaged more than a point per game in his career. So why is Crosby in such a funk?

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There have been quite a few theories thrown out. Some have said Crosby is injured and was hurt prior to the Carolina game. He dealt with a nagging wrist injury last season that many felt contributed to his decline in points scored last season. Crosby finished 2nd in the NHL with 84 points last season, 3 points behind Jamie Benn. I'd say the decline last season had a lot more to do with the lack of scoring in the NHL than any injury Crosby may have been suffering from.
Some have said Crosby's numbers are down because the Penguins played a more defensive game to start the season. But Mike Johnston was fired as head coach last week, and Mike Sullivan has replaced him. Crosby had 3 assists in the 4 games he's played with Sullivan as head coach. The Penguins also didn't have much time to practice with their new coach due to their schedule. Maybe Crosby's numbers will increase once Sullivan's system is in place and the team gets used to playing it?
Another thing that's been tossed around in the Pittsburgh media is that Crosby just doesn't have it anymore. That with 10 seasons behind him, the wear and tear of playing against top defense pairings and checking lines have taken their toll on his body. That Crosby is worn out and will never recapture the player he was. That he's never fully recovered from the concussion he sustained in 2011 that kept him out of the Penguins lineup for large portions of 2 seasons. I don't think that's the case with Crosby's funk so far in 2015.
Even more ridiculous though is the rumor that Crosby is at odds with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. That's why it seems he's not putting the effort forward he has in the past. That he's coasting at times and taking shifts off. That Crosby doesn't care right now and it may be time for the Penguins to explore trading him. I disagree with the feud rumors and that Crosby isn't trying. I'm a Pittsburgh fan and a big hockey fan. Crosby to Tampa Bay for Steven Stamkos? I can't say that's not an intriguing idea if only for the fact it would be a rare superstar for superstar trade that would reshape both franchises, but I don't see it happening.
I think Crosby is just in a slump. A very long slump. But because it's Sidney Crosby, this is unheard of and there has to be something more than that. There has to be an injury or something rumor worthy going on that's causing this slump. I think it's a combination of things. One being the defensive style the Penguins played under Mike Johnston. Two being that scoring in the NHL is down again, and the league doesn't seem to be interested in doing anything to increase goal scoring. Three being that Crosby's passes have been off. His passing percentage is down considerably this year, and his passing percentage is usually one of the best in the league. Connecting on passes in high percentage scoring areas equals a lot of assists that Crosby doesn't have right now. And believe it or not, Crosby may be lacking confidence right now. Even with all of his accolades and being one of the best players on the planet, Crosby is human. And when you're in a slump it starts to wear on your confidence as a player no matter who you are.
So what's wrong with Sidney Crosby? He's in a slump, that's all there is to it. Let's see how things go under Mike Sullivan and at least wait until the end of the season before writing Crosby off as past his prime. Something tells me that this slump will end, but Sidney Crosby is far from done this season.

Supreme similarities: Bowl teams take to field as mirror images of one another

12/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Today's bowl matches feature teams that will face off with plenty of things in common, whether that's a world class offense or rushing attacks that won't necessarily go head to head but will battle for supremacy with every juke, cut back or huge hole up the middle of the offensive line. Here's a look at today's games:
Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs Western Michigan 12/24 at 12pm
Two very similar teams will meet in this matchup of Conference USA's Blue Raiders and the Mid American Conference's Broncos. Both teams come in with 7 and 5 records. Both teams are close in average points scored, as Middle Tennessee State averages 34.3 points per game while Western Michigan averages 35.3. The Broncos average 480.6 yards per game while the Blue Raiders average 458.7. Both teams also have an outstanding quarterback and receiver tandem. Middle Tennessee State is led QB Brent Stockstill, who's thrown for 3,678 yards and 27 TD's versus 8 interceptions. WR Richie James has caught 100 passes for 1,220 yards and 6 scores. Western Michigan's Zach Terrell has passed for 3,225 yards and 27 TD's against 8 interceptions. WR Daniel Braverman has 103 catches for 1,266 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively the numbers are pretty even as well, with Middle Tennessee State giving up 25.1 points per game on average while Western Michigan allows 28.1. The Blue Raiders allow an average of 247 yards against the pass and 141.3 yards rushing yards per game. The Broncos give up 224.8 yards passing and 186.6 yards passing. Middle Tennessee State has won their past 4 games coming into this one, while Western Michigan lost 2 of their last 3 games.

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Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs Cincinnati 12/24 at 8pm
The 10 and 3 Aztecs come in as the champions of the Mountain West Conference, while the 7 and 5 Bearcats represent the American Athletic Conference. This game will be a matchup of a strong rushing offense in San Diego State versus Cincinnati's passing attack. The Aztecs average 235 yards per game on the ground, while the Bearcats average 373 yards through the air. However Cincinnati will be without starting quarterback Gunner Kiel, who passed for 2,777 and 19 touchdowns. In his place under center will be Hayden Moore, who will be looking to Shaq Washington, who has 88 catches for 971 yards and 6 TD's. The Bearcats will have to stop the ground game, in particular Donnel Pumphrey, who rushed for 1,554 yards and 16 touchdowns. Cincinnati has a slight edge in scoring, averaging 36.1 points per game versus the Aztecs 31.4. But San Diego State has a significant edge on the defensive side of the ball, ranking in the top 10 nationally in three categories. The Aztecs rank 5th in total defense, 6th in rushing defense, and 10th in scoring defense. They'll face a Cincinnati offense that's averaging 559.4 yards per game. But defensively the Bearcats allow 30.3 points per game on average and 414.7 yards per game as well. San Diego State comes in riding a 9 game winning streak, while Cincinnati won 2 of their final 3 games.

Offensive juggernauts: Holiday bowl games loaded with teams that can score

12/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

8 more teams go bowling in the 4 games leading up to Christmas. Let's take a look at the next wave of matchups as the first week of bowl games continue.
Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs Northern Illinois 12/23 at 4:30pm
The Mountain West meets the MAC as 8 and 4 Boise State takes on 8 and 4 Northern Illinois. Scoring isn't a problem for these teams as the Broncos average 37.8 points per game while the Huskies average 33 points per game. Boise State also averages 489 yards per game, while Northern Illinois averages 427 yards per game. Both teams also feature strong running games. Northern Illinois' Joel Bouagnon led the MAC in rushing with 1,269 yards while scoring 18 touchdowns. Jeremy McNichols leads the way for Boise State with 1,244 yards and 18 TD's as well. The Broncos are solid at quarterback as well with Brett Rypien, who passed for 2,973 yards and 17 scores. QB for Northern Illinois is a lot less stable since it's unsure who is going to be starting under center. Starter Drew Hare suffered an Achilles injury November 30th, then backup Ryan Graham sustained a leg injury in the Huskies season finale. That would leave true freshman Tommy Fielder who played in Northern Illinois final two games. Boise State has won 5 of their past 6 bowl games, while Northern Illinois has dropped their past 3.

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GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green vs Georgia Southern 12/23 at 8pm
It will be a contrast in offensive styles in this matchup of the 10 and 3 champs of the MAC in Bowling Green and 8 and 4 Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference, For the Falcons, they get it done offensively through the air. QB Matt Johnson has thrown for 4,700 yards and 43 TD's with Roger Lewis catching 82 passes for 1,476 yards and 14 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Georgia Southern is all about the ground and pound offense. The Eagles led the nation in rushing yards 4,267 but passed for just 742 yards, which is the lowest total in college football. Georgia Southern's rushing attack is anchored by Matt Breida, who's rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 TD's. Bowling Green features a pretty good back of their own in Travis Greene, who's ran for 1,219 yards and 14 TD's. Both teams will also be led by interim coaches in this one. Dino Babers left Bowling Green to take the job at Syracuse, while Georgia Southern lost Willie Fritz to Tulane.

Bowling over: Warm weather highlights competitive slate

12/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

College bowl season continues with 3 more games to start the week. Miami Beach, Boca Raton, and Boise will be the "tropical" destinations for the games. Well 2 out of 3 destinations ain't bad I guess? Let's take a look at the games.
#25 Western Kentucky vs South Florida Miami Beach Bowl 12/21/15 at 2:30pm
Two hot teams will meet in this matchup of Conference USA versus the American Athletic Conference as 11 and 2 Western Kentucky battles 8 and 4 South Florida. The Hilltoppers won 10 of their final 11 games, while the Bulls come in having won 7 of their final 8. This game also pits former Western Kentucky quarterback and head coach Willie Taggert against his alma mater, where he coached from 2010 through 2012. Both teams can put points on the board, as Western Kentucky ranks 4th in college football in scoring averaging 44.2 points per game. The Hilltoppers also average 365.4 yards per game passing, which is 3rd most in the nation. South Florida averages 33.5 points per game and features a rushing attack that averages nearly 243 yards per game on the ground. Western Kentucky's passing attack is led by the MVP of Conference USA, QB Brandon Doughty. Doughty led the NCAA with 45 touchdown passes to go with 4,594 yards passing. His top target has been WR Taywon Taylor, who has 79 catches for 1,363 yards and 17 TD's. The Bulls rushing attack is led by RB Marlon Mack, who's rushed for 1,273 yards and 8 scores. QB Quinton Flowers is a dual threat who's rushed for 883 yards and 10 TD's, while throwing for 2,023 yards and 21 touchdown passes. South Florida has won 4 of the 6 all time meetings between these schools.

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Akron vs Utah State Idaho Potato Bowl 12/22/15 at 3:30pm
It's the MAC against the Mountain West as 7 and 5 Akron takes on 6 and 6 Utah State. While offense has been the headline of some of the other bowl games, both of these teams are highlighted by their defenses. The Zips rank 3rd best in the nation allowing just 89.8 yards rushing per game. The Aggies ranked 14th in college football in pass defense, allowing 180.4 yards against per game. Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson provides the Zips with a dual threat as he passed for 2,034 yards and 16 TD's while rushing for 553 yards and 3 scores. The Zips are playing in their first bowl game since 2005 and are looking for the first bowl win in school history. This is Utah State's 3rd appearance in this bowl game in the past 5 seasons, and the Aggies will be looking for their 4th consecutive bowl win. This will also be the first meeting ever between these two schools on the gridiron.
#24 Temple vs Toledo Boca Raton Bowl 12/22/15 at 7pm
The 10 and 3 Owls represent the American Athletic Conference and will be facing a team from their former conference, the MAC, when they take on the 9 and 2 Rockets. Toledo will have a new head coach for this game, as Jason Candle takes over for Matt Campbell who's moving on to coach Iowa State. Both teams are strong on the ground and have solid quarterback play as well. Toledo's ground game is led by the combo of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson, who have rushed for 1,764 yards and 17 combined scores. Through the air the Rockets are led by quarterback Phillip Ely, who's passed for 2,680 yards and 21 touchdowns. For Temple, quarterback P.J. Walker has thrown for 2,737 yards and 19 TD's. The ground attack is paced by Jahad Thomas, who's 1,257 yards and 17 scores. Toledo is in a bowl game for the 5th time in the past 6 seasons, while Temple is back in the post season for the first time since 2011. Temple is also looking to finish ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1979. The Rockets have won 7 of the 10 all time meetings between these schools.

Division of power: Why Week 13 is make or break for teams

12/20/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Week 13 game in the NFL have a lot on the line. Division title's still hang in the balance, as well as playoff positioning and the league's only undefeated team trying to stay unbeaten. Let's take a look at the top matchups for this week.
Houston at Indianapolis Sunday at 1pm
First place in the AFC South is on the line in this matchup as both teams come in with records of 6 and 7. Both teams will also be relying on backup quarterbacks to try and lead them into sole possession of first place in the division. T. J. Yates will be under center for the Texans, as Brian Hoyer will be out after sustaining a concussion in last week's loss to New England. Matt Hasselbeck is expected to start for the Colts in place of Andrew Luck, but Hasselbeck is banged up too. Third string QB Charlie Whitehurst may be forced into action for Indianapolis as Hasselbeck is dealing with a rib injury. The Colts won the first meeting of the season 27 to 20 in Week 5 with Hasselbeck throwing 2 touchdowns. The Texans De'Andre Hopkins had a big game as well, catching 11 passes for 169 yards. Indianapolis has been outscored 96 to 26 in back to back losses to Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. Houston has also dropped their past two games after winning their previous four to get them back into the division title hunt. The Colts have won the past 6 meetings between these teams and Houston has never won in Indianapolis since joining the NFL in 2002.

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Carolina at NY Giants Sunday at 1pm
The Panthers are looking at improving to 14 and 0 while the Giants, at 6 and 7, are trying to win the NFC East. The Giants snapped a three game losing streak last week with a win over Miami, while the Panthers have scored 30 or more points in each of their past four games. With a win Carolina can clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs with a win and an Arizona loss to Philadelphia. The Panthers will be without RB Jonathan Stewart, who suffered a foot injury in last week's win over Atlanta. Both defenses are strong when it comes to forcing turnovers, Carolina leads the league with 33 while the Giants are second with 25. But New York's defense ranks 2nd worst in the NFL, giving up an average of 425 yards per game. The Giants have twice beaten teams that were 13 and 0 in their history, knocking off Denver in 1998 and New England in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season. Carolina won the last meeting between these teams two seasons ago by the score of 38 to 0.
Denver at Pittsburgh Sunday at 4:25pm
The AFC West leading Broncos come in at 10 and 3 and are trying to stay near the top of the AFC. Denver is tied for 2nd in the conference with Cincinnati right now, one game behind New England for the top mark in the conference. The 8 and 5 Steelers, who still have an outside shot at the AFC North, are trying to keep themselves in the AFC playoff mix where they are tied with Kansas City and the New York Jets. The Broncos are 6 and 1 on the road so far in 2015, while the Steelers are 5 and 2 at home. Both teams bring in strong run defenses, as Denver is allowing just 84.3 yards per game. Pittsburgh is right behind them, giving up an average of 88.3 yards per game, but the Steelers rank 31st in the NFL against the pass. The Broncos defense is allowing a league best 17.3 points per game, while the Steelers have scored 30 or more points in each of their past 5 games. Denver also ranks tops in the league in sacks and total defense. Peyton Manning will miss his 5th consecutive game, so Brock Osweiler will try to win for the 4th time in five starts and rebound from last week's loss to Oakland. Two 1,000 yard receivers will meet in this game as well. Denver's Demaryius Thomas has caught 88 passes for 1,067 yards and 3 TD's, while Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has 100 catches for 1,397 yards and 7 scores. Denver has had the edge in this series, winning 12 of the past 17 meetings.
Arizona at Philadelphia Sunday at 8:30pm
At 11 and 2, the Cardinals hold a three game lead over Seattle in the NFC West. At 6 and 7, the Eagles remain tied with New York and Washington for first place in the NFC East. Arizona has won 7 games in a row and can clinch the NFC West and a 1st round bye with a win and a Green Bay loss. They can clinch the division title with a Seahawks loss to Cleveland as well. Philadelphia still controls their own destiny, if the Eagles win out they'll win the East title. The Cardinals are 6 and 1 on the road this season, while Philadelphia is 3 and 3 at home. Carson Palmer is in the MVP race for Arizona, having passed for 4,003 yards and 31 TD's, both of which are 2nd in the NFL. His top target has been Larry Fitzgerald, who's caught 96 passes for 1,088 yards and 7 touchdowns. Palmer and Fitzgerald lead a Cardinals offense that's averaging 427.5 yards per game. They'll face an Eagles defense that's allowing 401.8 yards per game. Arizona won the last meeting between these teams 24 to 20 last season. The Cardinals are looking to win the NFC West for the first time since 2009.

Going bowling: College football bowl games start with bang

12/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Forty one bowl games are on the college football slate this year. The first five games kickoff Saturday, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the start of "Bowl Season".
New Mexico vs Arizona New Mexico Bowl Saturday at 2pm
Bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque as 6 and 6 Arizona meets 7 and 5 New Mexico. The Lobos are in a bowl game for the first time since 2007 while the Wildcats come in having lost 5 of their final 6 regular season games. Arizona averages 36.8 points per game and 494.3 yards per game. Their offense is led by quarterback Anu Solomon, who has passed for 2,338 yards and 18 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. But Solomon, who suffered a concussion on November 14th and sat out the Wildcats regular season finale, remains questionable for this bowl game. New Mexico is led by QB Lamar Jordan, who has thrown for 935 yards this season while rushing for nearly 700 more. This game is being played at New Mexico's home stadium, where the Lobos were 5 and 2 during the regular season. Arizona is 2 and 4 on the road in 2015.

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BYU vs #22 Utah Las Vegas Bowl Saturday at 3:30pm
This matchup of 9 and 3 teams also pits former conference and current in state rivals against each other. Statistically, these teams match up evenly. BYU averages 34.2 points per game while Utah averages 30.4, and both teams give up an average of 21.8 points per game. BYU averages 428 yards per game while Utah averages 376.8. The Cougars give up an average of 358.1 yards per game, while the Utes give up an average of 365.2. These schools have met 95 times, with Utah winning 57 times, BYU winning 34, and there being 4 ties as well. But this will be the first time these schools have ever met in a bowl game. This will be the 10th meeting in the past 11 years between these schools, with Utah having won the past 4 games and 6 of the last 9. This will also be the final game for Bronco Mendenhall as BYU's head coach as Mendenhall will be taking over as head coach at Virginia as head coach next season.
Appalachian State vs Ohio Camellia Bowl Saturday at 5:30pm
Appalachian State comes in at 10 and 2 as the 2nd place team out of the Sun Belt Conference. Ohio comes in from the MAC with a record of 8 and 4. Both teams come into this bowl game having won their final 3 regular season games . The Mountaineers feature a strong rushing attack led by RB Marcus Cox, who's rushed for 1,261 yards and scored 8 TD's. QB Taylor Lamb passed for 2,263 yards and 29 touchdowns, which were the most in the Sun Belt. The Bobcats are led offensively by QB Derrius Vick, who passed for 1,809 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running backs A.J. Ouellette and Daz'Mond Patterson combined for 1,139 yards and 14 TD's. This is the second year for Appalachian State playing on the FBS level. This is also the first ever meeting between these schools on the gridiron.
Georgia State vs San Jose State Cure Bowl Saturday at 7pm
This is a matchup of the Mountain West Conference's Spartans versus the Sun Belt Conference's Panthers. At 5 and 7, San Jose State is one of three teams in bowl games this year with sub .500 records. After starting 2015 at 2 and 6, Georgia State hauled off 4 straight wins to make their first bowl appearance in school history. The Panthers are led by quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who's passed for 4,160 yards and 26 touchdowns. WR Penny Hart has been his top target, catching 71 passes for 1,095 yards and 8 TD's. It will be an intriguing matchup, as the Spartans give up just under 154 yards passing per game, which is 2nd best in the nation. Offensively, San Jose State is led by Tyler Ervin, who rushed for 1,469 yards and scored 13 TD's. QB Kenny Potter has thrown for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns. San Jose State has won their past 3 bowl games.
Arkansas State vs Louisiana Tech New Orleans Bowl Saturday at 9pm
Arkansas State comes in as the Sun Belt Conference champions, posting a record of 9 and 3. Louisiana Tech is representing Conference USA, and comes in with a mark of 8 and 4. The Bulldogs are led by QB Jeff Driskel, who's passed for 3,575 yards and 24 touchdowns so far this season. Trent Taylor has been his go to guy, catching 89 passes for 1,133 yards and 8 TD's. Kenneth Dixon leads the Bulldogs ground attack, having rushed for 968 yards and 17 touchdowns. Dixon has 83 career scores, which is second most all time behind Navy's Keenan Reynolds. Arkansas State is led by QB Fredi Knighten, who's thrown for 1,698 yards and 19 touchdowns. RB Michael Gordon has rushed for 1,055 yards while scoring 9 TD's. The Red Wolves also boast a defense that led the NCAA with 34 forced turnovers. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1998, a game Louisiana Tech won 69 to 21. The Bulldogs lead the all time series between these former Southland and Big West Conference rivals, with a mark of 25 and 12.

Parity problem: Why NFL and its average teams take toll on fans

12/18/15 by Rennie Detore

The biggest selling point with the NFL and the subsequent salary cap that keeps hiring and firing, signing and selling, keeping and parting ways with players interesting is that every team has a chance, and that parity is what makes the league so excited.
While you can't argue that on any given Sunday, well, you know the rest, but is parity really the perfect scenario the NFL wants you to believe it to be?
Take the 2015 season, for instance.

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The NFL has a slew of average teams. Actually, they're quite bad. Two divisions: the NFC East and the AFC South might send a division winner to the playoffs with a losing record. Wrapping your brain around that as an NFL fan is difficult considering that the postseason is supposed to be reserved for a team that is elite.
What we have now though most of the league is listless.
You have teams at the moment with losing records that are not only vying for a division, but a whole host of mediocre teams at or just below the .500 mark that are trying to secure a Wild Card spot in the post season.
The result are games that are played weekly that simply have no drive or interest among fans. A slew of friends getting together to watch Direct TV Sunday Ticket (which gives you access to every game, every week) is more about the conversation than the games on television. Unless you're a fantasy football guru that wants to watch random, ridiculously boring games on a weekly basis to keep track of your fantasy team, you have no reason to care about the NFL in 2015.
Sure, you have a few standpoint teams, but most of it is devoid of excitement and a slew of games that do little to engage the fan base. The NFL Sunday Ticket point is a valid one since you can watch all the games, but it's almost the "500 channels and nothing is one" mantra that plagued satellite television in its infancy stages. You have a full schedule of games during the week, but is anyone getting excited to watch the Giants, Redskins, Eagle or Cowboys fight for a division when everyone is under .500 and the Cowboys are 4 and 9, yet still can make a division title run? 
Didn't think so.
This isn't to suggest the NFL product is poor or in danger of not being cared for but the masses, but if you are trying to argue that the games on television are well played or interesting for any other reason than its' the NFL and its on television, then you've fumbled that argument and aren't anywhere near recovering that point of view.

Major plus: Why minor league hockey is great night of entertainment

12/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's safe to say I'm a die hard hockey fan. I'm a Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holder. I recorded and watched every game played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. I sacrifice sleep every spring to stay up and watch the Western Conference playoff games, even when those games go to 3 overtimes, which equals 2am on the East Coast. So yeah, I love hockey. But the past two seasons of the NHL has made it hard for even us die hards to enjoy hockey.
So recently I took a trip to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in an ECHL game. For those not familiar with the former East Coast Hockey League, it's the equivalent to Class AA baseball. Wheeling is the home of the Nailers, who are the Penguins "AA" farm team. And I have to say, minor league hockey brings back the fun of going to a game live and in person.
First of all, the game I went to featured 8 goals scored, which is practically unheard of in today's NHL. Not to mention the two in game fights, which were the same number of fights the Penguins have had total this season. Of course, fighting is frowned upon in the NHL anymore (it seems goal scoring is too), but there are a lot of other things that made the experience great as well.

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Fun promotions are a big part of minor league hockey. The night I went was meet the Hanson Brothers, who's fame from the movie Slap Shot will never die amongst hockey fans worldwide. Google "best minor league hockey promo nights" and you'll find an array of crazy themed events designed to draw fans to the games. That uniqueness is part of the beauty of minor league hockey that you won't find in the professional ranks, which in Pittsburgh at least, has become a stuffy, corporate environment on game nights.
Of course another great thing about minor league hockey, at least for those of us over the age of 21, is cheap beer. It's funny how the same sized cup of the same brand of brew costs less than half as much at a minor league game than it does for an NHL game. It's not just beer you can get on the cheap either. You can actually take a family of four, get hot dogs, nachos, drinks and a souvenir (if it wasn't a give away night already), and not have to worry about taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for it.
But the best thing in my opinion is just the overall atmosphere. The fans are in to the games. You're close to the action in a smaller arena. The players are accessible for autographs after the games. And it's just fun. It's fun to be there. It's fun to be a fan and cheer. It's fun to just soak in the experience. Yeah, the skill level isn't as high. And the game is noticeably slower than the NHL version. But the fact that it's fun, is the most important thing.
And as a hockey fan, I long for the day when watching the NHL or attending a Penguins game will be as much fun as it used to be.

Race to Finish: Abundance of wild card teams makes NFL playoff race exciting

12/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So many teams, so few spots. That is the charge for a slew of teams on the bubble as it relates to the NFL playoffs. Most of the divisions seem locked up but Sunday's games have teams taking aim at staying in the crowded playoff picture with so many sub par and around .500 records.
Let's take a look at the games of the week:
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Sunday at 1pm

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With a win, the Bengals will clinch the AFC North title. The Bengals also have the top record in the AFC at 10 and 2, tied with New England and Denver, but owning a better conference mark. A win for Cincinnati would go a long way towards home field in the playoffs as well. At 7 and 5, the Steelers are looking for a win to stay in the AFC playoff race. Cincinnati won the first meeting 16 to 10, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in the win. The Bengals trailed 10 to 6 before scoring the last 10 points of the game in the final 3 minutes of regulation. The Steelers lost running back LeVeon Bell to a season ending injury in that previous meeting, which ramped up the bad blood between these two division rivals. Cincinnati boasts the NFL's top scoring defense, giving up an average of 16.3 points per game. Pittsburgh has won 8 of the past 11 meetings between these teams and 20 of the past 25 games played in Cincinnati.
Buffalo at Philadelphia Sunday at 1pm
The 5 and 7 Eagles remain in the hunt for the NFC East title. The 6 and 6 Bills are battling to stay in the AFC playoff race. But the story here is the return of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who was traded to the Bills in the offseason. While Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly has said he has great respect for McCoy, the bitterness from McCoy is evident. McCoy said this week he wouldn't shake Kelly's hand before or after the game. While McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing in 2013, has found success in Buffalo, his replacement in Philadelphia has not. DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing last season, has struggled. Those struggles have led to what looks like a rift developing between Murray and Kelly, with Murray reportedly going to team management and ownership about his role. McCoy will be facing a Philadelphia defense that ranks 27th in the NFL against the run. After being blown out in back to back losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Eagles shocked New England last week with 3 scores coming from their defense and special teams. Philadelphia is tied for 2nd in the league in takeaways with 23. These teams last met in 2011, with Buffalo winning 31 to 24. However the Eagles won the last meeting in Philadelphia back in 2007.
Atlanta at Carolina Sunday at 1pm
Both of these teams started the season at 5 and 0. Since then, the Panthers are 7 and 0 and remain the only undefeated team in the NFL. Atlanta has gone 1 and 6 since, and are trying to remain in the NFC playoff chase. With a win, the Panthers will secure a 1st round bye in the playoffs. Atlanta needs a win to keep pace with Seattle for the final playoff spot, which the Seahawks hold with a 7 and 5 record. The Panthers lead the NFL in forced turnovers with 29, and are 3rd in the league in total defense. Carolina has won 5 of the past 6 meetings between these teams, including a 34 to 3 trouncing in their last meeting in Week 17 of last season. That win secured the NFC South title for the Panthers and kept the Falcons out of the playoffs. To prevent that from happening again, the Falcons will have to slow down the leading candidate for the league MVP in Carolina's Cam Newton. Newton has passed for nearly 2,800 yards and thrown 25 touchdowns, while rushing for 476 yards and 7 more TD's. Since 1970, 66 of the 72 teams to start 5 and 0 have made the playoffs and none have finished with a sub .500 record.
New England at Houston Sunday at 8:30pm
After starting the season 10 and 0, the Patriots have lost their past two games. The last being a stunning home loss to Philadelphia last week. After starting the season 2 and 5, Houston had won 4 in a row prior to last week's loss to Buffalo. While the Patriots have a firm lock on the AFC East race, the Texans are tied with Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South, but that loss to the Bills puts them on the outside looking in as far as the AFC wild card race goes. Injuries are the big story for these two teams. WR Julian Edelman remains out for the Patriots, while TE Rob Gronkowski is questionable with a knee injury sustained two weeks ago. Texans DE J.J. Watt broke his hand in practice this week, but said he'll be playing in this one and that the injury shouldn't set him back any. New England hasn't lost 3 games in a row since 2002. The Patriots have also won 5 of the 6 all time meetings between these teams.

Super duper: Why Dupuis was NHL's best unsung player

12/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Unless you're a really big fan of the NHL or a Pittsburgh Penguins fan like I am, you may not have heard that Pascal Dupuis decided to retire this week at the age of 36. Unless you're a real hockey fan or a Penguins fan, you're probably saying "who"? But that anonymousness was part of what made Pascal Dupuis the player that he was.
Undrafted out of the QMJHL, Dupuis was signed by Minnesota prior to the Wild's inaugural season. After a year in the minors, Dupuis burst onto the NHL scene, scoring 15 goals his first season with the Wild in 2002/03, then netting 20 goals the following season. He played for the Wild until the 2006/07 season and scored at least 10 goals each season before being traded to the New York Rangers. He was traded from the Rangers to Atlanta in the same season, and would be traded again the following year.
With Pittsburgh in the hunt as a Stanley Cup contender in 2008, the Penguins traded for Marian Hossa, who was the top target at that season's trading deadline. Dupuis was thrown in as part of the trade from Atlanta, but proved to be much more than just a throw in for the Penguins. Dupuis would play six seasons for the Penguins, and then parts of 3 others due to injuries. Dupuis would play in 452 regular season games for the Penguins over those 9 seasons and in 77 playoff games, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. For his career in the NHL, Dupuis played in 871 games over 15 seasons, netting 190 career goals and 409 total points. Dupuis also led the NHL in plus/minus in 2013 , finishing the season at +31.

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Dupuis announced his retirement this week due to complications from blood clots, which ended his season last year. But despite not being a high profile player, his impact was felt in Pittsburgh. Dupuis was versatile enough to play on the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby to the helping to grind it out on the 4th line. He could play on the power play, but was one of the Penguins top penalty killers during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Dupuis was known for his speed and strong skating, his energy on and off the ice, and for being a model teammate who worked hard but kept things light with his personality. Many former teammates had tweeted that Dupuis was the best teammate they ever had and all admired his work ethic, dedication, and love for the game.
Dupuis was faced with the difficult decision of retiring mid season. He didn't go out the way he had hoped it would go. All athletes want to go out like Jerome Bettis or Ray Lewis did, winning a championship and retiring on top. Dupuis had to retire mid season, after working so hard to get back to playing the past two seasons. The complications from the blood clots wouldn't go away. Dupuis has a wife and four children and had to make the decision for them. He made the right choice, family and being a husband and father are more important than any sport, no matter much Pascal Dupuis loved the game.
With that being said, as a fan I'd like to say thank you to Pascal Dupuis for the memories he gave me and lots of other Penguins fans. Thank you for being a class act both on and off the ice and for being a guy you were proud to have wearing your team's sweater. Enjoy retirement and being able to focus on your family now. We'll miss you in Pittsburgh "Duper".

Where's Johnny? How Manziel's misbehavior is punishing teammates too

12/08/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Back to back losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati are commonplace for the Cleveland Browns. But how the Browns have done it the past two weeks is even hard for the most hardcore of Cleveland fans to stomach. It's not so much that they lost, but that they lost without the guy who is supposed to be their starting quarterback and QB of the future. Which leads to the question of: Where is Johnny Manziel? And what should the Browns do with him now?
First there was the Baltimore loss two weeks ago. Losing on a last second blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. That hurt. But watching Johnny Manziel stay on the sideline when starter Josh McCown was injured and replaced by Austin Davis hurts worse. Davis starting and the Browns lackluster performance in this week's 37 to 3 loss to Cincinnati hurts pretty bad as well. For those of you counting, Davis makes it 24 different players to start at quarterback for the Browns since returning to the NFL in 1999.
But the reason Davis was playing was because Johnny Manziel was acting a fool again and benched. After a solid performance against Pittsburgh, Manziel was named the Browns starter for the Ravens game. But in between the Steelers game and the Baltimore game, there was a bye week. And in that time off, Manziel was caught partying again, on video yet again. This after Manziel had entered a treatment facility in the offseason. After he had worked on being a better teammate. And after he had earned the chance to start by playing well. All of that was put aside because Johnny Football would rather be Johnny Party instead of the Browns starting quarterback.

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That forced the Browns to demote him to being the 3rd string QB for the Ravens game. A game the Browns very well may have won had Manziel started, or at least played. Then there was the debacle this weekend against the Bengals. Not saying that Manziel playing would've altered a 34 point loss, but it would've had to have been better with him starting. Browns head coach Mike Pettine had no choice but to bench Manziel, and he couldn't go back on his word even if it would've given the team a better chance to win. So Manziel's antics not only punished him, they punished his teammates as well. The same teammates who's trust he was starting to earn again.
So what do the Browns do with Manziel now? Let him go or trade him and it's another wasted first round draft pick and another joke associated with the Cleveland quarterback situation. Give him another chance and hope he's learned his lesson? But what if he hasn't? It's a tough spot for the Browns to be in right now, so the best they can do is take it one week at a time.
It's been reported that Manziel will be back under center as the Browns starter this coming week against San Francisco. Here's some advice Johnny...don't screw it up this time.

Wood chipper: Why Tiger needs to take permanent vacation from golf

12/03/15 by Rennie Detore

No one is going to argue or lament the legacy of Tiger Woods. He's arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time and an iconic legend in all of sports, reaching far beyond golf with his popularity.
But much like all the greats, their time on top of the world and their sport can't last forever.
It's time for Tiger to admit as much and walk away for good from the sport he helped reinvigorate as the face of the PGA.

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Woods' meteoric rise to the top of golf's rankings was nothing short of amazing. He was young, talented and accounted for an entirely new audience of golf fans that would migrate to the television to watch Woods play.
His career has been stellar, but the last few years have been Woods' trying to reclaim what once was the No. 1 game in the world. Woods spent close to 700 weeks as the top golfer in the world, and the latest incarnation of Woods is beaten, injured and hardly seems like he has any life left or gas in the proverbial tank.
A recent interview with Woods was disheartening and sad; the quote most of the country took from it was that he said he "has nothing to look forward to" after he went through yet another surgical procedure.
Woods has no shame in saying he's done. What is shameful is that he's trying to hang on and recapture what is long gone: his game, his desire and any chance of winning or even being competitive. The longer he stays on, the worse it becomes. His legacy is safe, but if he continues shoot like he's never seen a golf course or look totally lost on courses that he once manipulated like Eddie Van Halen on a guitar solo, he'll start to be remembered more for the sports athlete that didn't know when to leave.
Not every athlete gets to leave their respective sport on top. Woods seems like he's trying to leave his on the bottom, as he is now ranked 400th on the tour. His name still draws to some degree but for all the wrong reasons.
The Tiger Woods of old would put fans in the stands because he was so good at what he did, the best in the world and totally dominate with every swing and every putt he lined up. Fans clamoring to see Woods are watching an epic fall from grace.
The only way Tiger picks himself back up is to retire and reclaim his name, his brand and anything else to make it easier for fans to forget this version and remember the one that changed golf forever.

Holiday tradition: Sports and Thanksgiving always go hand in hand

11/26/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What is it about Thanksgiving and sports that just mixes so well together? Everybody has holiday traditions, and in a lot of cases sports is a part of them, especially on turkey day.
For me, the sports tradition starts the night before Thanksgiving. I'm from Pittsburgh, and my tradition starts with hockey on Thanksgiving Eve. For as far back as I can remember, the Pittsburgh Penguins game the night before turkey day has been tradition. I remember being a kid in the 1980s and listening to the Penguins games on the radio. Yes, there was a time before not just smart phones and internet, but a time where every game wasn't on television. So I'd listen with my brother in the basement to the voice of Mike Lange bringing the game action to us over the radio. I don't remember the year exactly, I want to say it was 1987 or 1988, when the Pens battled back from a 4 to 0 deficit to beat Quebec 6 to 4. Yes, back in that time before smart phones and the internet there was an NHL team in Quebec City too.
That's the first year I remember the Thanksgiving Eve game being a part of my holiday tradition. But for some reason, as I think back right now, I can remember who the Pens have played the night before Thanksgiving going back the past 15 years without much effort. Something about that game is just special. It's more special now that I'm a season ticket holder and usually get to go to the game. Maybe it's the time spent with friends either at the game or watching it somewhere. Or it's knowing that the day after is Thanksgiving. But something about that combination just makes it special.

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And of course there is the tradition of Thanksgiving Day and football. Now that I'm closer to 40, that tradition is watching the now full day of NFL football with family and friends. But back in my teens and 20's, it was the excitement of playing football on Thanksgiving that was tradition. As I mentioned, I'm from Western Pennsylvania, which is a football hotbed. I remember getting excited the week leading up to Thanksgiving for our annual turkey day game, which we called the "Toilet Bowl", because the winning team got a gold painted toilet seat to keep until the next year. Something about getting up early and playing tackle football with friends then going home to family for Thanksgiving dinner was just something special. In my 20's we gave up the tackling for flag football, but it still was tradition to get together and play. No matter what the weather was like. No matter how late we were out the night before. We still got together on Thanksgiving morning to play football, then go home and enjoy the day with family and friends. I played football on other days or weekends, my Mom made a big family dinner every Sunday too. But something about football and Thanksgiving just made it more special.
If your holiday tradition incorporates sports and Thanksgiving, you know where I'm coming from. So whatever your tradition is, may you enjoy it and have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. And most importantly enjoy the "3 F's" of Thanksgiving...food, football, and family.

Turkey daze: Thanksgiving is all about football, but these games leave lot to be desired

11/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Turkey. Pumpkin pie. Family. And football. It's a Thanksgiving tradition, and this year the NFL serves up a 3 course meal with 6 NFC teams in action. Three are trying to salvage their seasons, one is trying to stay undefeated, and 2 more meet in a key NFC North matchup. So here's a look at this year's NFL Thanksgiving Day games.
Philadelphia at Detroit 12:30pm
Two teams trending in different directions meet in this Thanksgiving kickoff. The Lions come in having won their past two games, after having dropped 7 of their first 8. The Eagles have lost 3 of their past 4 games, and if there was a most disappointing team category through the first 12 weeks of the season, the 4 and 6 Eagles would be it after high pre season expectations. But even though they're below .500, Philadelphia is just 1 game out of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles are hoping Sam Bradford will be cleared to play, as the Eagles have dropped back to back games in his absence. They also are hoping their run defense will show up. Tampa Bay gouged the Eagles for 283 yards on the ground in last week's loss, and Philadelphia has allowed an opposing running back to rush for over 100 yards in 3 of their past 4 games. The Lions may be the remedy they need, as Detroit is averaging an NFL worst 71.1 yards per game rushing. Detroit is has won 35 times, lost 38, and tied twice on turkey day. Philadelphia is a perfect 6 and 0 all time on Thanksgiving. The Eagles have also won 7 of the past 8 meetings between these teams.

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Carolina at Dallas 4:30pm
At 10 and 0, Carolina is one of the last two undefeated teams left in the NFL. With Tony Romo under center, the Cowboys are undefeated as well. Dallas is 3 and 0 in games Romo has started, but went 0 and 7 when he was out of the lineup. Despite their record, the Cowboys are still just 2 games out of first place in the NFC East. Romo and the Cowboys will have a stiff challenge in front of them against the Panthers defense, which is one of the best in the NFL. Carolina leads the league in takeaways, is 3rd in sacks, and ranks in the top 5 in scoring and total defense as well. Defensive end Charles Johnson is also expected to make his season debut for the Panthers after being activated from short term IR. The Cowboys defense will be the next to try to stop Cam Newton, who is having an MVP worthy season so far in 2015. Newton has thrown for 2,283 yards and 20 TD's this season while rushing for 6 more. This game also marks the first meeting between controversial defensive lineman Greg Hardy and his former team in Carolina. The Cowboys have won the past 9 meetings between these teams, including 4 in a row in Dallas.
Chicago at Green Bay 8:30pm
After a big division win over Minnesota last weekend, the Packers tied the Vikings for first place in the NFC North. At 4 and 6 and after a disappointing home loss to Denver, the Bears are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. The good news for the Bears is starting RB Matt Forte and starting WR Alshon Jeffery are expected to play after both missed last week's loss.. Rookie Jeremy Langford has stepped up in Forte's absence, rushing for 170 yards and scoring 5 TD's over the past 3 games. Eddie Lacy returned for the Packers in the win over the Vikings, rushing for 100 yards for the first time this season. He'll face a Chicago defense that's worst in the NFL, allowing 123.7 yards per game on average. The Bears will also have to slow down Aaron Rodgers, who's passed for 2,482 yards and 23 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions, which is tied for lowest in the NFL. This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these teams, with Green Bay winning the first game back in Week 1 by the score of 31 to 23. Rodgers threw 3 TD passes in the win, while Forte rushed for 141 yards in a losing effort. Green Bay will retire Brett Favre's jersey and induct him into their Hall of Fame at halftime of the game.

After further review: How NFL rules are interpreted still inane process

11/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A catch in football should be simple to understand, right? The ball lands in a players hands, and it's a catch, it's that easy. Well not in the NFL. In today's NFL world of replay, coaches challenges, booth reviews, and over analyzing plays, a catch is no longer just a catch. And fans, analysts, players, and coaches seem to have no idea what exactly the rules are.
Let's look at the sideline catch first. It used to be if a player gets two feet in bounds and has possession of the ball, it's a catch. But it's not that easy to understand anymore. Because a shin or knee in bounds equals two feet. Well usually. That's where the interpretation part comes in. And it seems the interpretation varies depending on who the on field officials and who the booth judges are. Because one shin, knee, butt, etc. hasn't always equaled two feet. But in some cases it has. Which adds to the confusion of players, coaches, fans, analysts, etc.
Then there is the act of a player controlling the ball, especially in the end zone. Last week, Odell Beckham Jr. caught what looked to be a touchdown pass against New England. Beckham caught the ball, and got two feet down in the end zone before the ball was knocked out of his hands. According to what most think the rule is when it comes to the end zone, as long as a player has possession and the ball breaks the plain of the goal line, it's a touchdown. Beckham had possession, was in the end zone, and the play should end at that point. But it didn't in this case. Because the officials said Beckham didn't have control of the ball since it got knocked out of his hands. But he caught the ball and touched both feet in bounds in the end zone. Once the ball breaks the plain of the goal line the play is over and it's a touchdown, right? Think of a player diving towards the pylon and losing the ball after it already crosses the goal line. That's ruled a touchdown. So what's the difference in Beckham's case?

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Then there is the most confusing rule, the act of making a football move to determine if a catch is incomplete, complete, or complete and a fumble. This is the rule that seems to even confuse the refs. I've always thought the rule was control the ball and take two steps and its a catch. Or if you do that and have it knocked out of your hands by the defense, it's a fumble. But again, that isn't always the case, depending on how the rules are interpreted and who is interpreting them.
Dear NFL, please simplify this. Everybody agrees that replay has made the game better. But the over analysis of these close plays have led to mass confusion when it comes to the NFL's rules. Let's get back to when football was played and decided on the field. When a catch was a catch and a fumble was a fumble. You know, simpler times. Back before we couldn't interpret what the NFL's rules interpretations are.

Chase downs: Playoff teams jockey for divisions, wild cards

11/22/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A battle for first place in the NFC North, a interconference matchup between two of the top teams in the league, and an AFC East clash that could knock one of the two remaining unbeaten teams from their perch highlight Week 11 in the NFL. Let's take a look at this week's top three games.
Green Bay at Minnesota Sunday at 4:25pm
First place in the NFC North will be on the line here, but surprisingly it's the Packers who are trailing. After winning their first 6 games of the season, the Packers have lost their last 3 games, scoring only 55 points in the process. Meanwhile the Vikings have won their past 5 games after starting the season at 2 and 2. Green Bay comes in having lost to Detroit at home last week, the first time the Lions won at Lambeau Field since 1991. Aaron Rodgers has been beaten up during the Packers losing streak as well, having been sacked 11 times in the past 3 games. That matches the total number of sacks the Packers had given up through their first 6 games. But Rodgers and the Packers have had the Vikings number, winning 10 of the past 11 meetings. Green Bay's struggles on offense won't get any easier this week as they'll face a Minnesota defense that's allowing an NFL best 17.1 points per game. The Packers defense will have a stern test on their hands as well as they try to slow down Adrian Peterson, who's coming off of a 200 yard rushing performance versus Oakland last week. Peterson has averaged 144 yards rushing per game in the Vikings past three contests. The Packers swept the series between these teams last season, winning 24 to 21 at Minnesota. Green Bay hasn't lost 4 games in a row since 2008, while the Vikings haven't won 6 in a row since 2009.

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Cincinnati at Arizona Sunday at 8:30pm
The 8 and 1 Bengals tasted defeat for the first time last week, now they'll have to turn around on a short week to face the 7 and 2 Cardinals who come in having won their past 3 games. Cincinnati remains undefeated on the road this season, winning all four games away from home, while Arizona has won 3 of their 4 home games. Cincinnati comes in off of an ugly loss against Houston on Monday night, where they failed to score a touchdown while putting up a season low 256 yards in total offense. The Cardinals offense has been soaring this season, scoring the second most points in the NFL just behind New England. They've put up 73 total points in their past two games, including last weeks 39 to 32 road win over Seattle. The Cardinals have put up over 400 yards in total offense in each of their past four games as well. Scoring has been tough against the Bengals this season, as they feature the NFL's best scoring defense, allowing just 16.9 points per game. Cincinnati won the last meeting between these teams, 23 to 16 in 2011.
Buffalo at New England Monday at 8:30pm
And then there were two...New England remains one of two undefeated teams along with Carolina left in the NFL. The 9 and 0 Patriots are also a perfect 5 and 0 at home so far this season as well. The Bills come in at 5 and 4 overall, and have won 3 of 4 on the road this season. Buffalo comes in off of back to back division wins over Miami and the NY Jets. New England comes in off of their closest win of the season, 27 to 26 over the NY Giants, where the Patriots kicked the game winning field goal in the games final seconds. Tom Brady has passed for an NFL best 3.043 yards and thrown 24 TD's against just 3 interceptions. But he'll be without one of his favorite targets, as WR Julian Edelman was lost for the remainder of the regular season after breaking his foot last week. Edelman's injury comes a week after New England lost starting RB Dion Lewis to a season ending injury as well. The Patriots are looking to start the season 10 and 0 for the first time since 2007, when they finished the regular season 16 and 0. New England won the first meeting of the season between these teams at Buffalo, 40 to 32 on September 20th. Brady passed for a season high 466 yards and 3 TD's in the win. Edelman had 11 catches for 97 yards and 2 scores, while Rob Gronkowski had 113 yards receiving and a touchdown as well. Tyrod Taylor passed for 242 yards and 3 TD's for Buffalo in the loss, and also rushed for another touchdown. New England has won 27 of the past 30 meetings between these teams, but Buffalo won last year's game in New England, which is the last time the Patriots lost.

Bucking the system: Ohio State looks to extend win streak

11/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

#9 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State Saturday at 3:30pm
The Buckeyes are perfect through 10 games so far this season, and are riding a 23 game winning streak coming into this one against 9 and 1 Michigan State. Ranked 3rd in the CFP, Ohio State controls their own destiny, as victories this week and against Michigan next week will secure their spot in the Big 10 Championship. The Buckeyes offense literally runs behind Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for 1,425 yards and 16 TD's this season. Elliott has also rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his past 15 games. While there has been controversy over who the starting quarterback for Ohio State should be, either Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett, there is no controversy who's under center for the Spartans. Connor Cook has thrown for 2.482 yards and 18 TD's, with his favorite target being Aaron Burnbridge, who has caught 65 passes for 1,021 yards and 6scores. Both teams bring in strong defenses as well, with Ohio State allowing just 13.8 points per game on average. The Buckeyes also are giving up only 171.6 yards per game passing, and 126.8 yards per game on the ground. Michigan State has a strong run defense as well, allowing an average of just 121 yards per game. Ohio State won last years meeting 49 to 37 at Michigan State. But the Spartans handed the Buckeyes their last conference loss in the 2013 Big 10 Championship.

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#15 LSU at #22 Mississippi Saturday at 3:30pm
After starting the season with 7 straight wins, LSU has dropped their past two games to Alabama and Arkansas, being outscored 61 to 30 in the process. 7 and 3 Ole Miss has had a week to recover after their 53 to 52 overtime loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Each of these teams have a major offensive weapon the opposing defense will have to contend with. The Rebels have the top passing offense in the SEC, led by quarterback Chad Kelly, who's passed for conference best 3,224 yards to go with 23 TD passes. LSU is led by Leonard Fournette, who leads college football with 1,643 yards rushing to go with 17 touchdowns. Fournett though has been held in check the past two weeks, gaining just 122 yards rushing total in both games. Both Kelly and Fournette made their marks in last years meeting, a 10 to 7 LSU win. Fournette rushed for 113 yards in the Tigers victory, while Kelly passed for 368 yards for the Rebels. Ole Miss still has an outside chance at winning the SEC West, as the Rebels have to win this week and then next week against Mississippi State, and hope Auburn can beat Alabama.
#24 USC at #23 Oregon Saturday at 3:30pm
Both of these teams have identical 7 and 3 overall records and 5 and 2 conference marks. Both come in hot as well, with each team having won their past 4 games as well. Both of these teams also still have a shot at the PAC 12 title game as well. USC is tied with Utah for first place in the South, and with a win against the Ducks and then against UCLA next week, will get them into the championship game. Oregon has to win this one and next week against Oregon State, then hope Stanford falls to California for the Ducks to gain the North crown. USC is led by the tandem of QB Cody Kessler and WR JuJu Smith Shuster. Kessler has passed for 2,715 yards and 23 TD's, with Smith Shuster hauling in 63 of Kessler's passes for a PAC 12 leading 1,160 yards and 10 touchdowns. Oregon has been resurgent on offense with the return of QB Vernon Adams, who has thrown 12 TD passes in the Ducks past four games. Royce Freeman has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Ducks past 6 games. Freeman has rushed 1,392 yards and 10 TD's on the season. These teams have split their past 2 meetings, with Oregon winning the last time they met 65 to 31 in 2012. USC won the last meeting between these teams at Oregon, 38 to 35 in 2011.
#10 Baylor at #4 Oklahoma State Saturday at 7:30pm
Baylor's dreams of being in the College Football Playoff took a hit last week when they fell to Oklahoma, 44 to 34. Now the 8 and 1 Bears will try to spoil Oklahoma State's chances, as they visit the 10 and 0 Cowboys. Baylor still has a shot at being Big 12 champions, but they have to win out against Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas and hope that Oklahoma falls in one of their final two games. Baylor averages 54.8 points per game and a whopping 638 yards per game. The Bears are averaging over 292 yards per game on the ground as well. Oklahoma State averages 43.6 points per game and 497.6 yards per game. Baylor has struggled playing at Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys have averaged 53 points per game in their 8 home wins in the past 15 years over the Bears. Oklahoma State has won 11 straight home games against Baylor as well. To extend that winning streak, the Cowboys will have to find a way to slow down the Bears main weapons on the ground and through the air. RB Shock Linwood has rushed for 1,149 yards and 9 TD's, while WR Corey Coleman has 1,229 yards receiving to go with his college football leading 20 touchdowns. Oklahoma State is led by QB Mason Rudolph, who has thrown for 3,161 yards and 18 TD's. Baylor won last year's meeting at home by the score of 49 to 28.

He's a Connor: Losing McDavid big blow to NHL

11/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In what has been a season lacking of scoring and excitement so far, the loss of Connor McDavid to long term injury has been the biggest blow the NHL has absorbed so far in 2015. Not only is McDavid a highly touted rookie. Not only is he already the face of the Edmonton Oilers franchise. McDavid is more and his loss hurts the league more because McDavid is considered to be a once in a generation talent.
McDavid has been compared to Sidney Crosby. He could be the guy who eventually takes Crosby's place as the face of the NHL. The only difference is Crosby played his entire rookie season and was able to record 100 points. McDavid won't do that. Even if he was healthy, McDavid most likely wouldn't reach the century mark in points because today's NHL is content having their leading scorer register 87 total points (see: Benn, Jamie), but that's a story for another time. But that also makes McDavid's injury hurt that much worse.
The NHL needs all of the offensive players it can have on the ice. It needs stories about a players potential and how many points he may put up. It needs something to take away from the constant media outpouring of articles and sports talk about why the NHL is a joke with it's lack of scoring, inability to enforce it's own rules, goalie equipment that's too big, nets that are too small, etc. etc.

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This year could have been Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel as the new face of the NHL. Just like 10 years ago when it was Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. And the worst part of it is the way McDavid was injured. Crashing into the end boards with two Philadelphia Flyers players which fractured his clavicle. Some have said that the play was a dirty play by those Flyers. Some have stretched it as far as saying the Flyers intended to injure McDavid. McDavid has refused to comment on the play.
No matter of whether it was intentional or not, the fact of the matter is it could've been prevented. If the NHL would just get over itself and make the changes necessary to make the game better for players and for fans. The rink needs to be bigger, first of all. The type of injury McDavid sustained would be reduced if the NHL used the Olympic sized rink. But it also could've been prevented if the NHL would actually enforce it's own rules. When the league took a tough stance on preventing concussions, the penalties for boarding and hitting a player from behind were plentiful and of the major penalty variety. Now, guys are getting away with pushing players into the boards while they're in dangerous positions it seems more and more. Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta was injured this week when he was pushed from behind and crashed into the open door on the visiting players bench. No penalty was called on the play.
If the NHL wants to protect it's young stars, it needs to start enforcing it's own rules. Any push into the boards is an automatic major penalty. No referees discretion. No trying to decide what warrants a major versus what warrants a minor penalty. Automatic. No questions asked. Push a guy into the boards when he's in a vulnerable position and it's a 5 minute penalty, no questions asked. It's worked in the NFL in greatly reducing head to head contact and hitting receivers that are deemed to be "defenseless".
What's it going to take for the NHL to make these changes? Losing a great talent to a serious injury Too late NHL, it's already happened to Connor McDavid. Now fix it before it happens again.

Separation anxiety: Parity running rampant as Week 10 arrives

11/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In a word, the NFL is "average." A few teams remain unbeaten but no one seems overly dominant in a season that a little further than halfway is marred with a lot of 500 ball clubs and playoff positioning and even division winners that are below that 500 mark. Week 10 has a few games with a lot of playoff and division potential in mind.
Minnesota at Oakland 4:05pm Sunday
At 6 and 2, Minnesota has tied Green Bay for first place in the NFC North. At 4 and 4, the Raiders remain in contention for an AFC wild card and still have an outside shot at catching Denver for the top spot in the AFC West. The biggest story of the week for Vikings fans was would QB Teddy Bridgewater be able to play after being knocked out of last week's game and diagnosed with a concussion. Bridgewater has been cleared to play, which is a big boost for Minnesota. The biggest concern for Raiders fans was would RB Latavius Murray be able to play after he also suffered a concussion in last week's loss. Murray practiced this week and should be good to go as well. Oakland's secondary, which was shredded by Pittsburgh last week for 597 yards, should get a boost as well as safety Nate Allen is expected to play for the first time since the season opener. Oakland is 5 and 1 all time against Minnesota at home and have also won 5 of their past 7 home games.

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New England at NY Giants 4:25pm Sunday
At 8 and 0, the Patriots are one of three undefeated teams left in the NFL. At 5 and 4, the Giants hold a 1/2 game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East. Ironically, when the Patriots went 17 and 0 in 2007, they beat the Giants in the regular season. But it was the Giants who would end New England's perfect season in the Super Bowl. New England is averaging an NFL best 34.5 points per game, while Tom Brady leads the league with 22 touchdown passes. That doesn't bode well for a Giants defense that is allowing 429.4 yards per game, which is the second worst mark in the NFL. New York will also be without starting defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, who suffered a season ending injury last week. But the Patriots ground game will take a hit, as they'll be without RB Dion Lewis, who was lost for the season last week. The Giants have won the past 3 meetings between these teams, with two of those wins coming in Super Bowls. They last met in the regular season in 2011, a 24 to 20 Giants win that ended New England's 31 game home winning streak.
Arizona at Seattle 8:30pm Sunday
Both of these teams come into this key NFC West matchup on 2 game winning streaks. The 4 and 4 Seahawks need a victory to keep pace with the 6 and 2 Cardinals for the division lead. Seattle swept both games last season, but in both games Arizona was without starting QB Carson Palmer. The Seahawks outscored the Cardinals 54 to 9 in those two wins last season. Palmer leads the NFC this season with 20 TD passes. His opponent under center, Russell Wilson, has an amazing 28 and 3 career record at home as a starting quarterback. Palmer though is 12 and 2 over the past two seasons for Arizona. The last time that Palmer played at Seattle, the Cardinals won 17 to 10 despite the fact that Palmer threw 4 interceptions. The Seahawks have only allowed 362 total yards and 15 points in their past two games, wins over San Francisco and Dallas. But the Cardinals are second in the NFL in scoring, averaging 32.9 points per game. Seattle is allowing 98.5 yards per game rushing, and will be tasked with trying to slow down Chris Johnson, who has rushed for 100 or more yards in 4 of the Cardinals past 6 games.

Rank stakes: Top teams jockey for playoff position

11/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Three games this week feature Top 25 teams going head to head. Those games plus a big matchup in the PAC 12 headline this week's college football preview.
#2 Alabama at #17 Mississippi State Saturday at 3:30pm
Both of these teams come into this SEC matchup hot, with the 8 and 1 Crimson Tide having won their past 6 games while the 7 and 2 Bulldogs have won four in a row. Alabama controls their own destiny to the SEC Championship, with just 2 conference games left against the Bulldogs and Auburn, 2 wins will get the Crimson Tide their birth in the title game. Beating Mississippi State will require the Alabama defense to contain one of the most dynamic players in college football in the Bulldogs Dak Prescott. Prescott has passed for 2,351 yards and 18 TD's while throwing just 1 interception. Prescott also leads Mississippi State in rushing with 418 yards and 7 scores. The Bulldogs defense will have their hands full with Alabama's Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 1,254 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. Alabama won last year's contest, knocking off the then top ranked Bulldogs by the score of 25 to 20.

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#21 Memphis at #24 Houston Saturday at 7pm
The scoreboard may need some extra lights for this American Athletic Conference contest between the 8 and 1 Tigers and the 9 and 0 Cougars. Memphis averages 44.8 points per game, while Houston averages 44.4. The Tigers average 547 yards per game in total offense, while the Cougars average 525. Houston is hoping to be in contention for a New Years Day bowl birth, while Memphis is hoping to rebound from last week's disappointing 45 to 20 loss to Navy. Tiger's QB Paxton Lynch has thrown for 3,014 yards and 19 TD's against just 2 interceptions. Lynch will be facing a Houston defense that leads college football with 25 takeaways. Memphis has won 8 straight road games, but hasn't beaten Houston in 10 years, with the Tigers last win against the Cougars coming on October 15th, 2005. This game marks the first ever matchup between two ranked AAC teams.
Oregon at #7 Stanford Saturday at 7:30pm
After starting the season with a loss at Northwestern, Stanford has won their 8 games since. The 6 and 3 Ducks come in having won their past three games, after having lost 2 of their previous 3. Oregon has put up some impressive offensive numbers this season, averaging 42.2 points per game while putting up 543 yards per game on average. But they also surrender a lot as well, giving up an average of 37.2 points per game and 543 yards of total offense on average. They'll be tested by Stanford's Christian McCaffery, who's 241.6 yards per game average is the best in college football. The winner of this game has won the PAC 12 title each of the past five seasons. Oregon won last year's meeting 45 to 16 at home, but Stanford has lost only 5 of their past 50 home games.
#12 Oklahoma at #6 Baylor Saturday at 8pm
The Big 12 has been known for it's gaudy offensive stats, and both of these teams have helped to inflate those numbers. Baylor averages 57.4 points per game, while Oklahoma averages 46.3. The Bears average 665.6 yards per game, while the Sooners average 549.3. Baylor will be looking to improve to 9 and 0 and to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt. 8 and 1 Oklahoma has won their past 4 games coming into this one, and if they can win out against Baylor, TCU, and rival Oklahoma State, they could stake their claim to a spot in the CFP as well. The Sooners have scored 50 or more points in each of those 4 wins. Baylor has won the past two meetings between these two schools though, by a combined score of 89 to 26.

Forcing change: Why Missouri football could spark changes in other sports

11/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned just days after members of the school's football team went on strike and said they would not participate in practice or play in this weekend's game unless Wolfe stepped down. The reasoning for the players deciding to strike, if you will, was because many on campus felt Wolfe poorly handled a series of troubling racial incidents on campus.
So with the backing of their coaches, the players boycotted practicing and said they would not play this weekend's game versus BYU that was scheduled to be held at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Had the team not played, it would've cost the university over one million dollars.
But this isn't about the money. It isn't about racism. This isn't about sports. This could go far beyond that. See, these are college football players. They're considered to be amateur athletes, even though they make billions of dollars per year for their respective universities and for the NCAA. They took a risk, and could've suffered major consequences. They could've lost their scholarships, They could've been replaced by walk on players. They have no union representation. But they stood up for what they believed was right and got the desired result.

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So let's take this beyond the University of Missouri football team now. Let's look at this as a catalyst that could be something so much greater. Let's think about what would happen if NFL players would take this approach.
With the recent photos of Greg Hardy's ex girlfriend surfacing, showing the damage he inflicted on her in a domestic violence incident Hardy was arrested and charged for, a lot of backlash came towards the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, and Greg Hardy himself. But this time, instead of the usual Roger Goodell bashing, the finger started to point in another direction. It pointed towards the NFL players union.
See unlike the football players at Missouri, the NFL players do have a union. A very strong union. The NFLPA. A union that has shown it's much stronger than the NFL commissioners office time and time again. One of those shows of strength was having Greg Hardy's 10 game suspension for his role in that incident reduced to 4 games.
So what if? What if NFL players decided to follow the lead of the Missouri football team? Two members of the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line spoke out against Hardy after the game versus the Cowboys this past weekend. What if those players decided they wouldn't play against Dallas unless Hardy was deactivated? What if a player like William Gay of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost his mother to domestic violence, decided to take a stand and rallied his teammates? What if the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team said they wouldn't play unless Greg Hardy wasn't allowed to?
It may sound far fetched, but it's more realistic than a lot may think. You cant start a fire without a spark. The Missouri football team provided that spark. They showed the real power lies within the players. So what if some players in the NFL followed that lead and stood up against domestic violence? Maybe then we would finally see the change that so many want to see in regards to the NFL.

Playoff bound: Top teams take center stage today

11/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The first weekend after the college football playoff rankings features all 4 teams in action. Two of them will face off, while another will face a Top 20 opponent as well. Let's preview what the first four of the 2015 college football playoff race have in store this weekend.
#3 Ohio State vs Minnesota Saturday at 8pm
Cardale Jones returns under center and will try to lead the Buckeyes to a 9 and 0 record against 4 and 4 Minnesota. J.T. Barrett, who had taken over at quarterback, is suspended for this game. So Jones returns as the starter, with former QB turned WR Braxton Miller as the backup. Besides who's at quarterback and trying to slow down Miller wherever he plays at, the Golden Gophers will also have to deal with RB Ezekiel Elliott, who will be looking for his 14th straight 100 yard game. This will be Tracey Claeys second game as Minnesota head coach. Claeys took over under the headset when Jerry Kill retired two weeks ago. Ohio State has dominated the series versus Minnesota, winning the past 9 meetings.

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#1 Clemson vs #16 Florida State Saturday at 3:30pm
The first top team in this year's CFP has a tough task on their hands in their first week at the top of the rankings. The 8 and 0 Tigers were a surprise selection as the top team in the land to some, but they can secure a spot in the ACC Championship with a win over the 7 and 1 Seminoles. Florida State is hoping QB Everett Golson and RB Dalvin Cook will be available, as both sat out last week's win over Syracuse due to injury. Deshaun Watson leads the Tigers in off of a 383 yard, 5 passing touchdowns performance against North Carolina State last week. Clemson has won 11 consecutive games dating back to last season. The last time these teams played at Clemson, the Seminoles blew the Tigers out by the score of 51 to 14 in 2013.
#2 LSU at #4 Alabama Saturday at 8pm
Two of the top running backs in college football will square off in this SEC clash pitting the 7 and 0 Tigers against the 7 and 1 Crimson Tide. LSU's Leonard Fournette comes in having rushed with 1,352 yards and 15 TD's, while Alabama's Derrick Henry has 1,044 yards on the ground and 14 scores. For the 7th time in the past 10 years, these teams come into their annual clash with both teams ranked in the Top 10. Both teams also come into this game off of a bye week. 4 of the last 10 games between them have gone to overtime as well. Alabama has won the past four meetings, including last year's 20 to 13 win that went to, you guessed it, overtime.

Tough Ending: Kill's emotional decision to retire was right move

11/06/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

With the announcement of the first four teams for the Bowl Championship Series and the debacle of officiating in the ending of the Miami vs Duke game dominating the headlines of college football, maybe you missed this story. Coaches come and go in NCAA football, speaking of Miami it just happened there prior to the Duke game. But Jerry Kill leaving the University of Minnesota was different from most coaching departures. It was emotional. It was obviously a very difficult decision. But it was also the right move.
Jerry Kill had worked his way up the coaching ladder through such places as Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, and Southern Illinois universities before getting a chance to coach a Division One program. After 14 years in the sub divisions, Kill was named head coach at Northern Illinois in 2008. Kill led the Huskies to bowl games in all 3 of his seasons as coach, his most successful being his final season in 2010, where NIU went 10 and 3.
Kill would leave Northern Illinois to take the head coaching job at Minnesota of the Big 10 Conference. His team struggled his first season, going 3 and 9, but the on field losses weren't Kill's biggest issue. Kill first started to have health issues due to seizures. The team improved the following season, winning 6 games and becoming bowl eligible. In 2013, the Gophers started the season winning 4 of their first 5 games, but Kill had to take a leave of absence due to the seizures he suffered. He watched the rest of the season from the press box, before returning to the field in 2014. Minnesota finished 8 and 5, matching their record from the season before. Kill was also named the Big 10 Coach of the Year for 2014 as well. But the seizures came back this season, and Kill was forced to announce his retirement last week

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By resigning, Kill walked away from $10 million dollars in salary due from his contract which ran through 2019. Instead he received an $800,000 buyout. Kill worked as an assistant coach then a head coach at lower level programs for 28 years to finally get his big break at Minnesota, but he never got to enjoy it due to his health issues. He called his decision to retire the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life and the toughest thing he had to deal with besides the death of his father.
But it was some advice from Kill's late father that helped him to walk away. His father told him "that no matter how much money you make, you give everything you've got and don't cheat the person who's paying you". While that was sound advice, there is more than just that.
It was a hard decision. It took a lot to walk away from that dream job and the millions of dollars. But it was the right decision. Jerry Kill realized that there is a lot more important than football and money. Kill realized how precious time on earth is and that his wife and kids are more important than all of that other stuff. As Kill himself said at his farewell press conference "if you ain't around to spend all that money, what difference does it make"?

Grave digging: Brown was one of football's greatest characters of the 1990s

11/05/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Gilbert Brown: He was a fan favorite in Green Bay for many reasons. Partially because at 350 pounds, fans couldn't miss him on the field. Partially because of his "Grave Digger" nickname, which he gained for his post tackle or sack celebration dance. Partially because he really did have it his way at Burger King, having his own burger named after him. But also partially because of his success on the field as a member of the Packers, helping the team win their first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years after the 1996 season.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Brown was all state in football his senior year. Believe it or not, he also lettered in track as a member of his high school's shot put team. Brown was a fairly sought after defensive lineman following high school, recruited to the University of Michigan by legendary head coach Bo Schembechler. However Brown wanted to get away from the inner city and decided to play his college football at the University of Kansas, which really wasn't known for football. Prior to Brown's arrival in 1989, the Jayhawks football team had won 5 games total over their previous 3 seasons. During Brown's senior year, Kansas won their first Bowl Game in 31 years when the Jayhawks won the 1992 Aloha Bowl.
Brown actually wasn't drafted by Green Bay, he was selected by Minnesota in the 3rd round of the 1993 NFL draft. Brown was cut by the Vikings in part because of his weight, he came into camp weighing 355lbs. But the Packers signed him, and would be the only NFL team Brown played a regular season game for. Despite having the 1994 and 1995 seasons cut short due to injury, Brown came into his own in 1996. Playing on a defensive line with Reggie White, Santana Dotson, and Sean Jones, Brown and the Packers allowed an NFL record low 19 touchdowns that season. Green Bay would also go on to win Super Bowl XXI, the Packers first championship since Super Bowl II.

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Brown would play for the Packers from 1993 through 1999, then after sitting out the 2000 season, would play from 2001 through 2003 in Green Bay as well. Brown was best known for his Grave Digger celebration dance, which earned him the nickname. He also had a burger named after him at Burger King, the "Gilbert Burger", which was a triple Whopper with extra everything, just no pickles. It was the burger Brown would order regularly during the 1996 Super Bowl season
After his NFL career, Brown spent some time as a coach in both arena football and in the Lingerie Football League. He's also co owner of the Milwaukee Mile race track and has his own foundation which has supported breast cancer, inner city youth, and the Make A Wish Foundation. He was selected as a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2008.
Oh, and he still has a burger named after him as well. A local sports bar in Green Bay features the Grave Digger Burger, which weighs 93 ounces (5 & 3/4lbs)in honor of Brown's former number, #93, with the Packers.

Contractually obligated: Time to change NFL cutting away from end of games

11/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

You just finished watching your home NFL team play at 1pm. You've been watching the score of another game and see the score is still tied with time remaining after your team's game is over. CBS or Fox cuts to that game. One team is driving for the game winning score. And then it cuts back to the studio where you're told that "due to contractual obligations" they have to leave live coverage of that game.
So instead of actually watching the exciting ending of that game that's going down to the wire, you can watch the studio hosts talk about what's going on. Yeah, that's right. Instead of being able to actually watch the end of the game, you get to watch the studio hosts give you a play by play of what they're watching in the game you just were, but you can't actually watch it because of these "contractual obligations".
I understand the obligation to show the game of the team designated to that television market. If you live in Pittsburgh and the Steelers play at 4pm, you're getting switched to that game. And that's understandable since that is the team's market and local advertising is directed to the home team's game. It's also per NFL policy that no other game can compete with a sold out home game in a team's designated home market. Even if you're in a fringe market that doesn't have a team, for example Los Angeles is designated as San Diego's home market, you get switched to that team's game. Again, I can understand the reasoning for that based on what was stated above.

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But why is it that when your home team's game or the game in your market ends, these obligations prevent you from watching the end of another game? How is it a good idea to cut away from the end of a game between non home market teams? Because contractual obligations require that a designated national or regional game on the opposite network doesn't have another game running against it? If it's the only other game televised in the local market, fans are going to switch to it upon the finish of the game they were watching. Why does the NFL feel that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's pre game banter and some lame sideline interview with a coach who isn't really interested in giving that pre game interview is necessary to be seen by everybody?
I think it's time the NFL gets with the times on this. Cutting away from games because of these outdated contractual obligations is ridiculous. Especially since NFL Red Zone and NFL Sunday Ticket are available everywhere. Obviously the NFL wants to sell those products. So they would want more viewers to watch on them. Which means as soon as the NFL cuts away from a game due to contractual obligations, what do you think anyone with Red Zone or Sunday Ticket are doing? They're switching to the end of the game they were watching.
So since technology and programming pretty much guarantees that anyone watching a game where contractual obligations prevent viewers from seeing the end of it, don't you think the NFL should be obligated to get their outdated obligations updated?

Title town: Games starting to shape up bowl, title game pictures

10/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Georgia at #11 Florida 3:30pm
This matchup could determine who ends up in the SEC Championship Game as the representative of the Eastern Division. The Gators come in 4 and 1 in the conference (6 and 1 overall) while the Bulldogs come in 3 and 2 in the SEC (5 and 2 overall). For Georgia to have a realistic chance at making it to the title game, they'll need a win in this one. Both teams come in off of a bye week, and had differing results in their last games. Florida lost a tough game against #LSU by the score of 35 to 28, while Georgia gutted out a 9 to 6 win over Missouri. That win for the Bulldogs came one week after star RB Nick Chubb was lost for the season to injury. Faton Bauta will start at quarterback for Georgia, taking over for Greyson Lambert who has struggled in the Bulldogs past 3 games, which they lost 2 of. Florida rushed for 418 yards in winning last years matchup 38 to 20.

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#3 Clemson at NC State 3:30pm
The 7 and 0 Tigers have climbed into the ranks of the top four teams in the nation, and will try to stay perfect this season against the 5 and 2 Wolfpack. Clemson comes in having handed Miami their worst defeat in school history, winning 58 to 0. NC State broke a 2 game losing streak with a 35 to 17 win over Wake Forest. The Tigers won last years meeting 41 to 0, and have won 35 straight games over unranked opponents. Their last loss to an non ranked foe was against NC State back in 2011. NC State hasn't won against a ranked team since 2012 and are 0 and 9 all time against ranked teams with 7 and 0 or better records.
#9 Notre Dame at #21 Temple 8pm
One of the biggest surprises in college football this season have been the Owls, who come into this game a perfect 7 and 0 on the season, which is the best start in Temple history. The Owls are also ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1979. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia will be sold out for this marquee matchup against the 6 and 1 Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has struggled on defense in 2015, ranking 50th in the nation in total defense. The Irish gave up 590 yards to USC in their last game two weeks ago, a 41 to 31 win. Temple's offense however is far from explosive. The Owls rank 108th in total offense, but their defense has been strong. Temple ranks in the top 5 in college football in average points allowed and interceptions. Notre Dame is 1 and 1 on the road so far this season, while Temple is 3 and 0 at home. One note of interest that may spook Temple...Notre Dame is 15 and 0 all time in games played on Halloween.
#8 Stanford at Washington State 10:30pm
The 6 and 1 Cardinal will try to get one step closer to securing a birth in the PAC 12 Championship when they visit the 5 and 2 Cougars. Stanford leads the North Division with a 5 and 0 record in the conference, while Washington State comes in at 3 and 2 in PAC 12 play. Stanford has won their past 6 games after starting the season with a loss to Northwestern. The Cardinal have scored 40 or more points in 4 of their 5 conference wins as well. Washington State has won their past 3 games, scoring 45 or more points in each of those victories. Stanford will be looking for their 8th straight win over Washington State, with the Cougars last win over the Cardinal coming in 2007.

Road warriors: Clemson looks to stay unbeaten with second road test of season

10/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

#6 Clemson at Miami 12pm
The undefeated Tigers will take to the road for only the second time this season when they travel to 4 and 2 Miami in this ACC clash. On paper these teams have very similar offensive numbers. Clemson averages 35.2 points per game while Miami averages 33.7. The Tigers average 448.5 yards per game, while the Hurricanes average 443.8. After dropping back to back road games, the Hurricanes rebounded with a 30 to 20 home win over Virginia Tech last week. Clemson's only road game so far this season was a 20 to 17 win over Louisville on September 17th, but the Tigers have been strong away from home recently, winning 17 of their past 21 games away from home. These teams last met in Miami in 2009 with Clemson winning 40 to 37.

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#17 Oklahoma at Texas Tech 3:30pm
The 5 and 1 Sooners will hit the road in this one to take on the 5 and 2 Red Raiders. This game will pit one of the Big 12's best defenses against one of the top offenses in the country. Texas Tech averages 623.7 yards per game in total offense and 427.6 yards passing per game, both of which rank 2nd best in the NCAA. The Red Raiders 49.4 points per game is the 3rd highest in the nation. Oklahoma is tops in the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, and interceptions. The Sooners are 2nd in the conference in sacks as well. Defensively though, Texas Tech has struggled. The Red Raiders have the 122nd ranked passing defensive in the NCAA, giving up an average of 553.6 yards per game. They haven't been much better against the run either, allowing an average of 263.9 yards against per game. It was the ground game that did in Texas Tech in last year's matchup, as the Sooners rushed for 384 yards. Samaje Perine led the way for Oklahoma with 213 yards rushing and 3 TD's in the 42 to 30 win.
Tennessee at #8 Alabama 3:30pm
The 6 and 1 Crimson Tide come into this SEC matchup on a roll, having won their past 4 games since losing to Mississippi on September 19th. Coming in at 3 and 3, Tennessee had lost back to back games to Arkansas and Florida by a combined 5 points, but rebounded with a 38 to 31 upset win over #19 Georgia two weeks ago. Offensively these teams are very close on average. Tennessee averages 37.2 points per game while Alabama averages 35.6 points per game. The Volunteers average 434.7 yards per game, while the Crimson Tide 430.1 yards per game. Alabama has dominated Tennessee recently, winning the past 8 meetings by an average of 23.5 points. The Volunteers have struggled on the road against ranked teams as well, losing 22 straight games at ranked opponents.
#15 Texas A&M at #24 Mississippi 7pm
Offense will be on display in this SEC matchup of Top 25 teams. The 5 and 2 Rebels come in averaging 43.6 points per game and 521 yards per game, while the 5 and 1 Aggies come in averaging 36.5 points per game and 453 yards per game. And both teams defenses are giving up lots of yards as well, with Texas A&M surrendering 378.3 yards per game while Mississippi gives up an average of 359.4 yards against. Both teams are coming in off of losses as well. The Aggies fell to Alabama last week, while Mississippi was upset by Memphis. Though Texas A&M has played away from home, this will be their first actual road game, where the Aggies have struggled recently, losing 4 of their past 6 SEC road games. Ole Miss won last years meeting 35 to 20, marking the Rebels first ever in against Texas A&M.

Uniformed ridiculousness: Why the NFL's uniform policy needs some change

10/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What do you do when you're the most popular sports brand on the planet? Well if you're the NFL, for some reason you keep doing things that seem to be dumber and dumber each time they come out. As if the Deflate Gate saga wasn't enough, the NFL's most recent publicity takes it's ridiculousness to a new level. It seems the NFL frowns upon players wearing anything as a tribute to a lost loved one.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward was fined for wearing the words "Iron Head" on his eye black as a tribute to his late father, Craig "Iron Head" Heyward. Of course, his dad was an NFL running back given that nickname for his bruising style of running. Craig Heyward also died of cancer before he was 40 years old. Cam was fined for wearing the eye black, but decided he would wear it again last week. But now he'll wear it no more. Heyward released a statement in which he said after meeting with NFL officials, he's decided not to wear it anymore. Heyward stated he doesn't want to be a distraction to his team and that while he appreciates the outpouring of support, he never wanted this gesture to bring this much attention to him. Instead of fighting the NFL, Heyward formed a partnership with EyeBlack.com that will donate 50% of all Iron Head designated eye black sales to Heyward's charitable foundation.
Way to go NFL, you really made your point there. You made Cam Heyward out to be an upstanding player who obviously cares about more than just being a football player. You made sure he didn't cross that uniform policy line, how dare he think he could write on his own eye black? Yup, you definitely made you point NFL. Especially since, you know, guys like Greg Hardy are representing your league in other cities.

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I understand the need for some type of a uniform policy. If the NFL has a partnership with Reebok to make their jersey's and a player who has his own endorsement deal with Nike decides to wear Nike branded products, well that would be a problem. But I'm not sure why DeAngelo Williams request to wear pink socks and wrist bands to honor his mother who died from breast cancer is a problem?
I mentioned being dumber and dumber above, so speaking of Dumb and Dumber, I think this quote from the iconic movie kind of fits the NFL's recent uniform policy crack down. "Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this".

SOS: Same old stuff from NHL and its officials

10/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you're a hockey fan, there's nothing like the start of a new season. No matter where you're at, the excitement of a new season is everywhere. Whether you're in Chicago where the defending Stanley Cup champions reside, or in Edmonton or Buffalo, where the hope of young talent and fresh start will equal better days ahead. So far it's been the same that the start of every season is. Fans are packing most arenas. Games are being carried and watched both nationally and locally by mostly large audiences. And the officiating is an absolute joke.
The league made changes to better the game in the off season in areas that needed change or improvement. The feeling was that too many games were going to shootout, and that the shootout itself had lost it's popularity with fans. So they adjusted the overtime format to include a 3 on 3 portion to increase the number of games decided before the shootout itself. It also gives players a lot of room on the ice to show off their skills without being obstructed.
With missed calls on offsides and goaltender interference affecting the outcomes of games in the 2015 playoffs, the league instituted it's first ever coaches challenge. Under the premise, a team's coach can challenge the ruling on an offsides play by the opposition that leads to a goal, but is missed on the ice. He can also challenge a goal scored that was the result of goaltender interference, or challenge a call on the ice that interfering with the goalie that wasn't actually interference led to a goal being disallowed.

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So if the NHL is willing to make these changes to better the game, why not change the way the games are actually called? When is the NHL going to realize that to be taken seriously as a major sport, something has to change with the way the games are officiated on the ice? Case in point, I live in Pittsburgh, so obviously I'm a Penguins fan. I have already seen multiple penalties that should've been called against opposing players obstructing or holding Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not called. And this isn't just happening in Pittsburgh. These guys are the NHL's best players. They're the best talent on the ice, they have great offensive skills to display, and they're the guys the fans pay to see or watch on TV. But because the NHL doesn't require their officials to actually enforce their own rules, these guys are being limited in what they can do.
Here's another example. Penguins rookie forward Sergei Plotnikov, who came over from the KHL, gets blatantly tripped in one game and cross checked from behind in another. The explanation the television announcer gives for why a penalty wasn't called in either case. Because Plotnikov is a younger