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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 21:
• The Patriots have given us a gift with Deflate-gate. But doctoring balls is nothing new, if you believe former Bucs QB Brad Johnson, who claims he bribed people to alter the balls before Super Bowl XXXVIII.
• An alternate narrative is emerging in the Robert Allenby case: that he passed out and hit his face on a rock.
• Watch Alex Ovechkin shatter a net-cam.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Waiters has looked more engaged defensively and more confident with his role and motions in the OKC offense. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant predicted an uptick in Waiters’ productivity, saying "we're going to make him feel wanted. I don't think he's felt that the last few years.”
Six games into his Thunder tenure, Waiters seems to be enjoying the extra affirmation and encouragement his new team offers him. Dion turned in an especially on-point performance in the Thunder’s recent 127-115 victory over the Golden State Warriors — OKC’s biggest win of the season. Waiters dropped 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting in the game, to go with four rebounds and three steals. He helped create a defensive swarm that held MVP frontrunner Steph Curry to one of his worst outings of the year.
After he scored 16 points in a win over the Orlando Magic the following night, he offered a pretty straight-forward as to why he’s a better, happier basketball player in a fresh uniform. Per Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman:
“Waiters was asked what he’s learned so far about where his shots will come from and how he fit into the offense.
“‘Listen,’ he said, ‘they give me the ball. Like, I touch the ball. Like, I actually, like, you know, touch the ball.’ [...]
“‘I’m able to feel the game out, knowing when to take the shot, when not to. Like I said, we got a great group of guys on this team who’s very unselfish and they want you to be successful. So I think I came into a great situation.’”
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.
The Pac-12 has moved up the ladder in college football’s conference hierarchy in recent years. With Oregon replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota and a loaded group of teams battling for the top spot in the South Division, the conference has even more intrigue in 2015. Can the Ducks win the conference once again? Or will Stanford or a team from the South win in the championship game for the first time?
Early North Division Rankings
2014 Record: 13-2 (8-1)
The biggest challenge of coach Mark Helfrich’s tenure at Oregon starts in 2015. Helfrich must find a replacement for quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner) Marcus Mariota this spring, and there’s not a proven option ready to take control of the Ducks’ high-powered attack. Could a transfer come into play as Mariota’s replacement? Regardless of which quarterback starts in 2015, the skill talent is among the best in the nation. Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman anchor a talented backfield, while the receiving corps returns Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington. After finding a replacement for Mariota, the biggest area of concern for Helfrich has to be the offensive line, which loses tackle Jake Fisher, guard Hamani Stevens and center Hroniss Grasu. The defense played better in the second half of the year under new coordinator Don Pellum. However, this unit must replace end Arik Armstead, linebacker Tony Washington and loses defensive backs Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB), Troy Hill (CB) and Erick Dargan (S).
2014 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
The bar has been raised in Palo Alto. Stanford won 46 games from 2010-13 and recorded four straight years of finishes of 11th or better in the last Associated Press poll. Despite the recent success, the Cardinal slipped to 8-5 in 2014. The defense continued to perform at a high level without coordinator Derek Mason, limiting opponents to 4.2 yards per play. Second-year coordinator Lance Anderson has work to do this spring, as Stanford must replace a handful of key standouts, including end Henry Anderson, tackle David Parry, linebackers A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters, safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Alex Carter. The offense had its share of ups and downs last season and averaged only 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 contests. Even though left tackle Andrus Peat and receiver Ty Montgomery must be replaced, Stanford should be optimistic about improvement. Running back Christian McCaffrey showed promise in limited snaps, and quarterback Kevin Hogan ended the year on a high note (14 of 20 for 189 yards and 2 TDs against Maryland).
2014 Record: 8-6 (4-5)
Chris Petersen’s first year wasn’t necessarily a disappointment, but the bar was set high in Seattle after he recorded a 92-12 mark at Boise State from 2006-13. Petersen will continue reshaping the program into the offseason, and the Huskies have a chance to play spoiler in the North with Oregon visiting Seattle in mid-October. Quarterback play has to improve for Petersen to elevate the program into division title contention. Cyler Miles threw for 17 touchdowns and completed 66.6 percent of his throws in his first year as the starter. But the Huskies need more from this position, especially after the offense generated only 36 passing plays (11th in the Pac-12) of 20 yards or more. Developing the talent at receiver is another offseason priority for Petersen, and the line loses four starters from a group that limited Pac-12 defenses to just 21 sacks. Revamping the trenches on defense is also a necessity after standouts Danny Shelton (NT) and Hau’oli Kikaha (DE/LB) expired their eligibility, and linebacker Shaq Thompson left early for the NFL. The secondary gave up 55 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014 but should take a step forward in 2015 with Budda Baker, John Ross and Sidney Jones returning.
2014 Record: 5-7 (3-6)
The Golden Bears were one of the most-improved teams in the Pac-12 this season. After a 1-11 mark in coach Sonny Dykes’ debut, California jumped to 5-7 in 2014 and lost four games by eight points or less. The next step for Dykes is to get the Golden Bears back into a bowl. And there’s a good shot of this team reaching that mark in 2015, as quarterback Jared Goff is one of the best in the Pac-12, and the receiving corps returns standouts in Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. Running back Daniel Lasco (1,115 yards in 2014) might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. Dykes needs his offense to score 35-40 points a week until the defense turns a corner under coordinator Art Kaufman. The Golden Bears allowed 44.1 points in Pac-12 contests last season and did not place a player on the All-Pac-12 team. The challenge of getting to a bowl in 2015 won’t be easy with a schedule that features crossover games against USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Utah. Also, California plays at Oregon and Stanford next year.
5. Oregon State
2014 Record: 5-7 (2-7)
Change is inevitable at every college program. For the first time since 2002 (Dennis Erickson), someone other than Mike Riley will roam the sidelines as Oregon State’s head coach. Gary Andersen was one of the top hires this offseason and comes to Corvallis after a 19-7 mark at Wisconsin from 2013-14. Andersen has four consecutive winning seasons as a head coach, but that streak will be in jeopardy in 2015. Oregon State loses quarterback Sean Mannion, and defensive standouts in linebacker D.J. Alexander, cornerback Steven Nelson, end Dylan Wynn, and safeties Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy. Running back Storm Woods and receivers Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin are a good place to start on offense, and the line – a source of concern in 2014 – should be better with all five starters back and a healthy Isaac Seumalo ready to contribute on the interior. Andersen’s background is on defense, and the hire of Kalani Sitake (Utah) should pay dividends for the Beavers.
6. Washington State
2014 Record: 3-9 (2-7)
The Cougars appeared to be trending in the right direction after a 6-7 mark and a bowl appearance in 2013. But an injury to quarterback Connor Halliday and a struggling defense prevented coach Mike Leach’s team from showing improvement in the win column. Washington State enters spring practice with several question marks, with the No. 1 priority starting at quarterback. Is Luke Falk the answer under center? Falk averaged 443.3 passing yards over the final four games but tossed six picks in his last two appearances. The return of Gabe Marks will soften the blow of losing No. 1 receiver Vince Mayle. New coordinator Alex Grinch inherits a defense that allowed 41.9 points in Pac-12 games and gave up 6.6 yards per play in league action. Grinch is already dealing with a few challenges this offseason, as linebacker Darryl Monroe transferred, cornerback Daquawn Brown was dismissed, and top lineman Xavier Cooper left for the NFL.
Listen to the New Head Coaches Extravaganza podcast:
Early South Division Rankings
2014 Record: 9-4 (6-3)
The Pac-12 South is one of the toughest divisions in the nation to predict next season. Each team has personnel concerns, but a case could be made for five programs to have a legitimate shot at the division in 2015. The recruiting rankings favor USC as the most talented team in the South next season, but depth is an issue with the program still digging out from NCAA sanctions. Quarterback Cody Kessler is back for his senior year after throwing 39 touchdowns in 2014. Kessler headlines an offense that should be explosive once again, provided replacements are found for receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen. The offensive line is slated to return all five starters from the Holiday Bowl, including freshman standouts Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao. With the loss of defensive end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and rush end J.R. Tavai, the biggest concerns for USC in 2015 are with its defense. The schedule sets up favorably for a run at the South Division title, as the Trojans host Stanford, Washington, Utah, Arizona and UCLA.
2. Arizona State
2014 Record: 10-3 (6-3)
The Sun Devils have 20 wins over the last two seasons, which is the best two-year mark for the program since a 20-4 stretch from 1996-97. Coach Todd Graham’s team should squarely be in the mix for the South Division title in 2015, especially with Oregon, Arizona and USC visiting Sun Devil Stadium. Quarterback Taylor Kelly must be replaced, but Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has proven capable in limited opportunities. Receiver Jaelen Strong and left tackle Jamil Douglas are key losses for the offense. However, the return of running back (and potential slot receiver) D.J. Foster will help the receiving corps, while Damario Richard and Kalen Ballage is a solid one-two punch at running back. Graham’s aggressiveness on defense paid off with 39 sacks and 98 tackles for a loss. This unit returns largely intact but loses All-Pac-12 safety Damarious Randall and end Marcus Hardison (10 sacks).
2014 Record: 10-4 (7-2)
The Wildcats are the defending Pac-12 South champions and should be in the mix for the conference title once again in 2015. Provided the line finds capable replacements for tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele and center Steven Gurrola, the offense could surpass last year’s 33.4 points per game average in Pac-12 contests. Quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson are back after standout freshman campaigns, and the receiving corps returns Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey, DaVonte’ Neal and Samajie Grant. While the offense is among the best in the league, the defense is still trying to find the right pieces under coordinator Jeff Casteel. Linebacker Scooby Wright is one of the nation’s top defensive players returning in 2015.
2014 Record: 10-3 (6-3)
The Bruins are picked No. 4 in our early pre-spring rankings, but that’s largely a byproduct of how loaded this division will be in 2015. And if you need anymore evidence, it’s very likely five teams from the South rank among the top 25 in most preseason polls. How high UCLA climbs in next year’s projections largely depends on its ability to replace quarterback Brett Hundley. Will true freshman Josh Rosen win the job over Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard? Replacing a standout quarterback is a huge question mark to overcome, but the Bruins can shield their new starter with a strong supporting cast. Running back Paul Perkins returns after recording 1,575 yards and nine scores, while seven players that caught at least 26 passes are back. Each level of the defense has losses to address, with the biggest coming in the linebacking corps with the departure of Eric Kendricks.
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-4)
It’s been an interesting offseason in Salt Lake City. There was reported friction between coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill after assistant coaches Dave Christensen (OC), Ilaisa Tuiaki (DL), and Kalani Sitake (DC) departed for other jobs. While the Utes have holes to fill on the coaching staff, this team will be a tough out for the rest of the Pac-12 next year. Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL, but the offense returns largely intact. Is Travis Wilson ready to take the next step in his development? Or will Kendal Thompson claim the job after recovering from a knee injury. Until the passing game stabilizes, the offense can lean on running back Devontae Booker (1,512 yards and 10 scores in 2014). Although Sitake will be missed as the team’s signal-caller, Utah’s defense shouldn’t change much with Whittingham’s background on defense. The Utes led the nation with 55 recorded sacks and held opponents to 24.9 points per game. End Nate Orchard, tackle Sese Ianu, safety Brian Blechen and cornerback Eric Rowe are the biggest losses on defense.
2014 Record: 2-10 (0-9)
The win column may not show it, but Mike MacIntyre has Colorado moving in the right direction. The Buffaloes have won six games under MacIntyre’s watch and are just 1-17 in Pac-12 games. However, Colorado lost four games by five points or less in 2014. The outlook for this team in 2015 has improved thanks to the development of quarterback Sefo Liufau, along with the return of Nelson Spruce to Boulder after he considered jumping early to the NFL. The defense allowed 7.1 yards per play in Pac-12 games and surrendered 43 points per contest in league matchups this season. That’s the bad news. On the positive sign, most of the defensive two-deep returns, and the line regains the services of Samson Kafovalu (missed 2014 due to personal reasons). Expect improvement from Colorado in 2015.
Being a future Hall of Famer does not guarantee a trip to the Super Bowl. In fact, many of the game’s greatest players never took the field with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. Here are some of the game’s best to have never made it to Super Sunday.
1. Barry Sanders, RB, DET (1989-98)
Playoff record: 1–5
Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)
After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.
2. Deacon Jones, DE (1961-74)
Playoff record: 0–2
Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)
The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins on three different teams — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.
3. Dick Butkus, LB (1965-73)
Playoff record: 0–0
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.
4. Gale Sayers, RB (1965-71)
Playoff record: 0–0
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.
5. Earl Campbell, RB (1978-85)
Playoff record: 3–3
Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers)
The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.
6. O.J. Simpson, RB (1969-79)
Playoff record: 0–1
Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)
Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.
7. Eric Dickerson, RB (1983-93)
Playoff record: 2–5
Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)
Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (2001-11)
Playoff record: 4–5
Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers)
Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing in a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer.
9. Tony Gonzalez, TE (1997-2013)
Playoff record: 1–6
Best team: 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)
It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. The massive comeback by the Niners would be the all-time great’s final playoff game.
10. Warren Moon, QB (1984-2000)
Playoff record: 3–7
Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs)
Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL Playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.
Add another line item to James Harden’s MVP resume. The Houston Rockets star scored 45 points against the Indiana Pacers last night, and did it with extreme efficiency. The Beard was 12-for-18 from the field, and 14-for-15 from the charity strike. Watch him run up his box-score digits:
The Rockets won the game 110-98, to improve to 29-13 on the season, good for fourth place in the loaded Western Conference.
"I think the way we came out, that's the way we should come out every single game," Harden said after the game. "We focused on defense and offensively making it easy for each other. They didn't gain any ground on us because we kept being consistent with what we did.”
It’s refreshing to see Harden take on such a bold, team-leading role in his sixth season as a pro. Last year, he looked emotionally pained as he adjusted to the pressures of being the best player on a title-contending team, when Dwight Howard came to town and elevated the Rockets’ competitive status. Harden’s defense demonstrably suffered as he took on extra heat from the limelight.
But now he’s on the short list of players you’d want to build a team around, and his coach Kevin McHale has noticed the transformation. "He's having a special year," McHale said after the victory over the Pacers. "A couple of those shots he made, there's nothing a defender can do.”
At 26.6 points per game, Harden is currently leading the league in scoring. More importantly, he’s become a member of some of the best defensive lineups in basketball — the Rockets have the second-most efficient defense in the sport, and they’re markedly more scary because of it.
Catch Harden and Houston as they look for revenge against the league-leading Golden State Warriors this Wednesday, at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN. Steph Curry and Co. dismantled the Rockets, 131-106, this past Saturday.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 20:
• In other weird golf news: Robert Allenby's story was slightly contradicted by a homeless woman. Kidnapping, random missing teeth — who said the golf beat was boring? And that doesn't even take into account Dustin Johnson's denial of cocaine addiction.
• The New York tabloids have their fun with deflate-gate. And in its own way, so does The Onion.
• Got a few hours to kill? Relive the top 100 college football games of 2014.
• Bill Self angry. Bill Self smash.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
That was before James became a coach-killer, Love lost his mojo, and the most hyped team of the decade got buried under a barrage of hysteria and dysfunction caused by unmet expectations.
Good thing for the Cavs: The season is long. Mediocrity in early January means little in a league where the stakes don’t rise until April, and Cleveland has swiftly improved after trading Dion Waiters, Lou Amundson and some draft picks for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
The new-look Cavaliers spanked one of their top conference rivals, the Chicago Bulls, last night. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving tallied 18 points and 12 assists as his team prevailed, 108-94. This one was a quick knockout, as the Cavs amassed a 14-point lead in the second quarter and never really looked back.
The Bulls, to their credit, are in a bad way. Losers of six of their last eight contests, they’re without 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, and starting small forward Mike Dunleavy. But what Cleveland did last night was a statement game nonetheless; they may not put together the perfect season, but they have more than enough talent to scare the rest of the sport.
The Cavs still have a lot of work to do if they’re to be championship contenders this spring. A three-game winning streak is nice (especially if two of the wins are against elite teams) but it doesn’t put you into the rare air of squads like the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks — who, combined, have less than half of Cleveland’s losses. With LeBron leading the way, though, such company seems inevitable these days.
— John Wilmes
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is one step away from yet another milestone in his career after notching career win No. 999 on Monday with a 79-65 win over Pittsburgh.
Entering the season, no coach in Division I men’s basketball had won more games than Krzyzewski, but the record will have a different meaning when Krzyzewski reaches win No. 1,000.
His first attempt at 1,000 career wins will come Sunday when Duke visits St. John’s.
Krzyzewski isn’t everyone’s favorite figure in the sport, that’s for certain. But every other coach in the men’s game will be chasing him to reach the 1,000-win mark, and only a few will be able to catch him.
Anyone can look up championships, Final Fours and All-Americans to go with Krzyzewski’s career win total. A few of the numbers tell a more interesting story. For the first decade of his career, Krzyzewski could have been dismissed as average and Duke as an also-ran in the ACC. By 2015, his career is the envy of every coach in college basketball.
Career games for Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski remains No. 2 on the list of career games coached in Division I. He’ll catch up to Mount St. Mary’s Jim Phelan (1,354 games from 1955-2003) sometime next season.
Career ACC wins for Krzyzewski. While Krzyzewski is chasing the 1,000 win milestone, he’s also chasing Dean Smith’s career record for ACC wins (422), a mark he will certainly break.
Active coaches who have fewer career wins than Krzyzewski has ACC wins. Krzyzewski entered the season with 417 career ACC wins. That figure alone would put him at No. 40 on the total career wins list among active coaches. At the start of the season, Krzyzewski had more ACC wins than coaches like Jay Wright, Mark Few and Thad Matta had career wins.
Career wins for Philadelphia University’s Herb Magee. Krzyzewski won’t be the only NCAA men’s coach with 1,000 career wins for long. Magee at Division II Philadelphia actually started the season ahead of Krzyzewski on the career wins list at 985 victories. At 10-5 this season, Magee sits at 996-397 for his career.
Career wins record when Krzyzewski started coaching. Krzyzewski took his first head coaching job at Army at age 28. At that time, Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp was the career wins leader with 876 victories from 1931-72.
Career wins for former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. The Volunteers legend is the only collegiate basketball coach (for now) with 1,000 career wins.
ACC programs with fewer total wins than Krzyzewski. Two of Duke’s ACC foes have yet to hit the 1,000-win mark — Florida State (996) and Miami (827).
Years at Duke Krzyzewski coached before his first winning ACC record. Krzyzewski didn’t arrive at Duke as some kind of savior. He was unpopular during his first three seasons at Durham. Krzyzewski went 20-36 in the ACC before posting an 8-6 league record in 1984-85. He didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until his third season, when he went 7-7 in the league.
Final Four teams in the ACC during Krzyzewski’s first season. To get an idea of the hill Krzyzewski had to climb when he arrived at Duke, consider that Virginia and North Carolina both reached the Final Four in 1980-81. Virginia and Ralph Sampson lost in the national semifinal to a North Carolina team led by James Worthy and Sam Perkins. That Carolina team lost to Krzyzewski’s mentor, Bob Knight at Indiana. The coaching lineup in the eight-team ACC that year included Dean Smith at North Carolina, Jim Valvano at NC State, Lefty Driesell at Maryland and Terry Holland at Virginia.
Wins at Duke for the No. 2 coach on the Blue Devils’ all-time wins list. Eddie Cameron went 226-99 from 1929-44, but his name is just as synonymous with Duke as Krzyzewski’s.
Weeks Duke has been ranked since Krzyzewski took over. Duke has been ranked in 85.8 percent of AP polls since Krzyzewski started, even more remarkable considering Duke wasn’t ranked until Feb. 14 of his fourth season.
Krzyzewski’s record against former players and assistants. Eight former players and assistants have gone on to become college head coaches. Six of those are still active — Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Buffalo’s Bobby Hurley, Northwestern’s Chris Collins, Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. Quin Snyder, fired at Missouri in 2006, is the head coach for the Utah Jazz. Of all of them, only Brey has defeated his mentor, with a 79-77 win over Duke last season.
Football coaches at Duke since Krzyzewski began his tenure. Those eight coaches — Red Wilson, Steve Sloan, Steve Spurrier, Barry Wilson, Fred Goldsmith, Carl Franks, Ted Roof and David Cutcliffe — have a collective win percentage of 32.6 percent (130-270-2) and one ACC title since 1980.
Wins for Krzyzewski at Army from 1976-80. Krzyzewski remains fifth on Army’s all-time win list at 73-59 behind Leo Novak (126 wins, 1927-39), Bob Knight (102, 1966-71), Les Wothke (92, 1982-90) and Zach Spiker (79-89, 2010-present).
Krzyzewski’s record in his first 10 seasons. Krzyzewski posted an ordinary record during his first decade at Army and Duke, going 158-124. In his 11th season, Duke went 37-3 and reached the first Final Four of Krzyzewski’s career.
Schools with a winning record against Krzyzewski. Thanks to Krzyzewski’s time at Army, this is an interesting list. The 10 teams are: Arizona (5-3), Cal (2-1), Holy Cross (4-2), Iona (3-2), Kings College (1-0), Lafayette (4-1), Long Island (1-0), Louisville (4-2), Stanford (2-1) and Tennessee (2-1). Another interesting note: Duke defeated UConn and Wisconsin this season, allowing Krzyzewski to improve to .500 against both programs.
Wins for Krzyzewski over Maryland. Krzyzewski’s 55 wins over former ACC member Maryland are his most against any single opponent. That’s followed by: Georgia Tech (53), Clemson and Virginia (52 each) and NC State (51).
Wins for North Carolina over Krzyzewski. As one would expect, no program has handed Krzyzewski more losses than North Carolina. Krzyzewski still has the edge in wins at 40. The programs with the next most wins against Krzyzewski are Wake Forest and Maryland (24 each) and NC State (22).
Krzyzewski’s compensation in 2014, according to USA Today. That’s more than $1.5 million more paid out to Alabama’s Nick Saban. All to manage a roster of 12 players.
Games Krzyzewski has not coached at Duke since he was hired. While Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery, assistant Pete Gaudet, also his successor at Army, coached the final 19 games of 1994-95. Gaudet went 4-15 down the stretch for the only time since 1984 Duke missed the NCAA Tournament. The interim coach’s record is credited instead of Krzyzewski, allowing Coach K's career record look a little more pristine.
College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.
The Big 12 was the only power conference without a team in the college football playoff this season. However, that could easily change in 2015. Baylor and TCU are playoff contenders, while Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas should be in contention for a spot in preseason top 25 projections.
Early Big 12 Predictions and Rankings for 2015
2014 Record: 12-1 (8-1)
It’s a close call for the top spot in the Big 12 next season, but TCU edges Baylor in the pre-spring power rankings. The Horned Frogs have a proven option at quarterback (Trevone Boykin), while the Bears will be breaking in a new starter to replace Bryce Petty. And it certainly doesn’t hurt TCU’s chances of winning the division with the annual matchup with Baylor coming in Fort Worth this year. As usual in Fort Worth under coach Gary Patterson, defense should be a strength. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 by limiting opponents to 4.7 yards per play in 2014. TCU does have a few personnel losses to address, as tackle Chucky Hunter, linebacker Paul Dawson and defensive backs Sam Carter, Kevin White and Chris Hackett must be replaced.
2014 Record: 11-2 (8-1)
With at least 10 wins in three out of the last four seasons, it’s safe to say Baylor no longer rebuilds. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears simply reload and will be in the mix for at least a share of the conference title for the third consecutive year. Seth Russell, Chris Johnson, and true freshman Jarrett Stidham are expected to battle to replace quarterback Bryce Petty, but the supporting cast is among the best in the nation. Shock Linwood returns at running back after recording 1,252 yards and 16 scores in 2014, and three receivers – Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon – are back after each caught at least 40 passes and averaged 15 yards per reception last season. The offense was a big winner around the draft deadline, as left tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco for his senior year. Baylor is slated to return all five starters on its offensive line. The defense has room to improve after allowing 5.7 yards per play (conference-only games) in 2014. However, only two seniors are slated to depart, and end Shawn Oakman is back after recording 11 sacks last season.
2014 Record: 8-4 (5-4)
The Sooners were one of the biggest disappointments in the nation last season. Oklahoma was pegged as a playoff contender in most preseason predictions, but coach Bob Stoops’ team finished 8-5 and lost the last two games of the year. But there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley inherits a talented backfield, and a passing attack that is in need of an upgrade after the Sooners tossed only 13 scores in nine Big 12 games. Although Riley is an Air Raid disciple, Oklahoma needs to maximize its stable of running backs – Samaje Perine, Alex Ross, Keith Ford and Joe Mixon – until the quarterback situation is established. Trevor Knight couldn’t capitalize off his Sugar Bowl success and finished 2014 with just 14 touchdowns to 12 picks in 10 games. Knight will have a chance to reclaim the starting job, but he will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. Another concern for Riley is the departure of four starters on the line, including standout tackles Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball in need of repair. The defense had nine returning starters, yet allowed 5.6 yards per play, generated only 19 sacks in Big 12 play and gave up 29.2 points in conference-only matchups. Tackle Jordan Phillips and end Chuka Ndulue are big losses up front, but the linebacking corps returns intact, and Frank Shannon is back after a suspension. The secondary needs to cut down on its big plays allowed – 50 of 20 yards or more – in 2015.
4. Oklahoma State
2014 Record: 7-6 (4-5)
The Cowboys have momentum entering spring practice after a two-game winning streak to close out the 2014 season. Oklahoma State had massive personnel losses to overcome last year and returned just eight starters. The Cowboys used a win over rival Oklahoma to get bowl eligible and scored an impressive win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl. A big reason for optimism in Stillwater is the development of quarterback Mason Rudolph. The true freshman threw for 853 yards and six scores over the last three games and should benefit from the return of the top five statistical receivers from 2014. The offensive line has to play better after allowing 40 sacks last season. End Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson anchor a defense that should improve after giving up 5.9 yards per play in Big 12 games last year.
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2014 Record: 6-7 (5-4)
Charlie Strong will get Texas back in contention for the Big 12 title. But don’t expect a conference championship in 2015 or even significant improvement in the win column. Texas won three out of its final five games but had a dismal showing in the Texas Bowl and was soundly defeated by TCU (48-10) in late November. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes needs to make a big jump in performance for the Longhorns to finish in the top half of the Big 12, and top receivers Jaxon Shipley and John Harris must be replaced. Until Swoopes is ready to shoulder more of the offense, this team can lean on running back Johnathan Gray and five starters on the line. The arrival of Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford paid immediate dividends for the defense. Texas held opponents to just 4.7 yards per play and only 23.4 points per game in Big 12 action. Each level of the defense has a key player to replace, but the biggest and most significant loss is tackle Malcom Brown.
6. Kansas State
2014 Record: 9-4 (7-2)
It’s tough to pick against Bill Snyder, but the Wildcats are losing a handful of key contributors from their 2014 team. Quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett are the biggest departures on offense. Waters passed for 22 scores and 3,501 yards in 2014, while Lockett was one of the nation’s top receivers (106 catches, 1,515 yards). Replacing both players will be a challenge, and the offense has to find more consistency in its ground attack next year. While the skill talent needs to be stocked and a quarterback must be found, the offensive line returns four starters, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair. The personnel losses extend to the defense. End Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans have expired their eligibility. Mueller is the biggest loss out of that trio, but K-State’s front seven should benefit from the emergence of linebacker Elijah Lee and the return of tackle Travis Britz.
7. West Virginia
2014 Record: 7-6 (5-4)
Coach Dana Holgorsen entered 2014 on the hot seat after a 4-8 finish in 2013. But the Mountaineers rebounded, finishing with a 7-6 record and a winning mark (5-4) in Big 12 play for the first time since joining the conference. Skyler Howard showed promise in limited action (8 TDs, 0 INTs), but needs to raise his completion percentage (50.9). In addition to getting Howard acclimated to the starting role, the receiving corps must replace Kevin White and Mario Alford, while standout guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski have expired their eligibility. The strength of the offense should be at running back, as Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Andrew Buie return after combining for 1,742 yards. Under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson, West Virginia’s defense cut its yards per play allowed from 5.9 to 5.4 and held opponents to 27.6 points per game (sixth in the Big 12). The Mountaineers should take another step forward on defense next year, as the secondary returns three standouts in cornerback Daryl Worley and safeties Dravon Henry and Karl Joseph. Pass-rush specialist Shaq Riddick, defensive end Brandon Golson and linebacker Wes Tonkery are the biggest losses on defense.
8. Texas Tech
2014 Record: 4-8 (2-7)
Since starting the 2013 season 7-0, Texas Tech is just 5-13 over its last 18 games. But the Red Raiders are a good candidate to rebound back to a bowl in 2014, as most of the team’s starting core returns, and new coordinator David Gibbs should bring stability to a defense that has struggled in recent years. Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes will battle to earn the starting nod under center for 2015, with Mahomes (averaged 439.7 total yards over last three games) likely holding an edge for the No. 1 spot. Mahomes isn’t hurting for skill talent, as DeAndre Washington (RB), Jakeem Grant (WR) and standout left tackle Le’Raven Clark are back. Gibbs’ defenses at Houston had a knack for forcing turnovers, and the Red Raiders need better discipline and takeaways after recording a -13 margin in 2014. Texas Tech allowed 41.3 points per game last season, and it’s clear Gibbs has a lot of work to do in the spring to generate improvement from the defense in 2015.
9. Iowa State
2014 Record: 2-10 (0-9)
Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs among Power 5 programs. The Cyclones are 5-19 over the last two seasons and went winless in Big 12 play in 2014 for the first time since 2008. Getting back to a bowl will be a challenge for coach Paul Rhoads, as Iowa State loses a handful of key seniors. The offense should be better under the second year of coordinator Mark Mangino, and the passing attack will benefit from a healthy Quenton Bundrage at receiver. In addition to Bundrage’s return, the coaching staff has to be pleased with the development of receiver Allen Lazard (45 catches as a true freshman in 2014). The defense allowed 6.8 yards per play in Big 12-only contests last season. But there’s optimism in Ames for improvement, as only two starting seniors depart – Jared Brackens (LB/S) and Cory Morrissey (DE). Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya should be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors next year.
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-8)
New coach David Beaty is known for his recruiting ties to the state of Texas, and his previous experience at Kansas (2008-09 and 2011) should benefit the program. But the first-year coach is going to need some time to restock the roster and get the Jayhawks in contention for bowl games. This team played better after Charlie Weis was fired, and interim coach Clint Bowen remains on staff as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator. Both sides of the ball have major question marks entering spring practice. Quarterback Michael Cummings and running back Corey Avery are two pieces for the offense to build around next season, but the receiving corps lost its top three options. All-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney has expired his eligibility, and Bowen must find a replacement for rush end Michael Reynolds, and three starters in the secondary.
These can be dark times for the college football fan: The end of the college football season is a little more than a week old, spring practice is overrated and signing day is only for the truly hardcore.
Time to start thinking about what we’re really looking forward to when it comes to college football: Week 1 of 2015.
Many teams are playing their traditional warm up games in the first week of the season, but thanks to the proliferation of neutral site games, Week 1 of the college football season looks a bit like bowl season.
Games in Arlington, Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville dot the first week of the 2015 calendar, but there are plenty of campus site games awaiting us at the end of August.
Here’s what you’ll be pining for during those long summer months.
The first posting of this story inadvertently omitted Arizona State-Texas A&M. As a result, we now give you 11 games to await in Week 1.
|1||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
Heisman finalists Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon are gone. So is Alabama quarterback Blake Sims. New eras begin with Jake Coker and Corey Clement.
|2||Sept. 5||South Bend, Ind.|
Texas will spend all offseason figuring out what went wrong with its offense. Notre Dame needs to pick a quarterback.
Bobby Petrino returns to Atlanta against a team where he served as offensive coordinator (and at one point hoped to be coach). Auburn’s offense vs. Louisville’s defense will be a nice matchup.
|4||Sept. 7||Blacksburg, Va.|
The Buckeyes will look to atone for their only loss of 2014, but we’ll all be wondering who plays quarterback.
Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen are familiar names ready to be season-long starting quarterbacks. Allen will face a veteran Sun Devils’ defense while Bercovici draws John Chavis’ debut as A&M coordinator.
|6||Sept. 5||Minneapolis, Minn.|
TCU-Minnesota turned out to be an important matchup in Year One of the playoff era and could be again as the Horned Frogs will be a preseason top-four team.
|7||Sept. 3||Salt Lake City|
Item No. 1 on the Jim Harbaugh checklist: Beat Utah. Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke couldn’t do it, and they faced the Utes in Ann Arbor.
|8||Sept. 3||Boise, Idaho|
Chris Petersen makes his return to Boise State after a year at Washington. Bryan Harsin, with a 12-2 season, a Mountain West title and a Fiesta Bowl win, is doing just fine, thank you.
|9||Sept. 5||Lincoln, Neb.|
The Mike Riley era gets an early test with BYU coming to town. And, hey, Taysom Hill will be back at quarterback for the Cougars.
Two teams that finished a combined 13-13 and couldn’t defend at all last season both need to show signs of immediate improvement.
A bowl rout and a young team has Tennessee fans optimistic for the first time in several years, but the Volunteers aren’t good enough yet to sleepwalk through a mathcup with Bowling Green.
History says the New England Patriots might want to save some of Sunday’s good fortune for the Super Bowl against the Seahawks.
New England’s 45-7 rout of Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game Sunday was the biggest blowout in a conference title game since the 2000 season and one of the biggest of the last 30 years.
What could that mean for the Super Bowl? Four of the last five teams to win an AFC or NFL championship game in blowout fashion ended up losing in the Super Bowl.
But as great teams from San Francisco and Chicago in the 1980s can vouch, that kind of momentum can carry over into the Super Bowl.
Here’s a look at the biggest AFC/NFC title game blowouts since 1984 and how the winners fared in the Super Bowl.
2014: New England 45, Indianapolis 7
Patriots’ Super Bowl result: TBD
This was New England’s biggest AFC title win by far but not a huge surprise given the opponent; it marked the Pats sixth straight win over the Colts. And the average score of the last four — all since Andrew Luck joined the Colts — is 47-18.
2006: Chicago 39, New Orleans 14
Bears’ Super Bowl result: Lost to Indianapolis, 29-17.
This was actually a two-point game in the third quarter (16-14) before a Bears safety and three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Chicago used a familiar script, wearing down New Orleans (46 rushes for 196 yards) and taking advantage of turnovers (three fumbles, one interception).
In Super Bowl XLI, the script was flipped on the Bears. The Colts ran it 42 times for 191 yards, held the ball for more than 38 minutes and forced five Chicago turnovers to give Peyton Manning his only championship.
2005: Seattle 34, Carolina 14
Seahawks’ Super Bowl result: Lost to Pittsburgh, 21-10.
This one was never in doubt as Seattle was up 17-0 one play into the second quarter and never let the Panthers into the game. The Seahawks rushed 51 times for 190 yards (132 by Shaun Alexander) and held the ball for almost 42 minutes.
The officials became the story of Super Bowl XL as Seattle fans still wonder what could have been if not for a questionable holding call that turned first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1 into first-and-20 at the 29 in a 14-10 game.
2000: N.Y. Giants 41, Minnesota 0
Giants’ Super Bowl result: Lost to Baltimore, 34-7.
The Giants scored two touchdowns in the first 2:07 and never looked back in one of the most dominating postseason performances ever. Kerry Collins threw for 381 yards and five TDs as New York outgained Minnesota 518-114. The Vikings had the ball for less than 18 minutes, which will happen when you turn it over five times and pick up only nine first downs.
It all came crashing down for Collins and the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. They did not score an offensive touchdown against the Ravens’ dominant defense, avoiding a shutout only thanks to a kickoff return score. New York gained just 152 yards and turned the ball over five times in the loss.
1991: Washington 41, Detroit 10
Redskins’ Super Bowl result: Beat Buffalo, 37-24.
Washington forced turnovers on Detroit’s first two possessions but led just 17-10 at halftime. The second half was all Redskins as Mark Rypien threw two touchdowns and Darrell Green returned an interception for another score. Barry Sanders carried just 11 times for 44 yards for the Lions, who have not won a playoff game since.
Despite the smaller margin, Washington’s win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XVI got out of hand much more quickly thanks in part to five Buffalo turnovers. The Redskins led 24-0 and 37-10 before two late touchdowns set the final.
1990: Buffalo 51, L.A. Raiders 3
Bills’ Super Bowl result: Lost to N.Y. Giants, 20-19.
This one was over early as Buffalo led 21-3 after one quarter on its way to an NFL playoff record 41 points in the first half. Jim Kelly threw for 300 yards, and Thurman Thomas racked up 138 of the Bills’ 202 yards rushing. Buffalo forced seven turnovers, including five Jay Schroeder interceptions.
Buffalo’s no-huddle offense watched most of Super Bowl XXV from the sidelines as the Giants rushed for 172 yards and held the ball for more than 40 minutes. Still, thanks in large part to Thomas’ 190 yards from scrimmage, the game wasn’t decided until Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds to play.
1989: San Francisco 30, L.A. Rams 3
49ers’ Super Bowl result: Beat Denver, 55-10.
The 27-point win in the NFC title game was actually the closest contest among the 49ers’ three postseason wins. After routing Minnesota (41-13), San Francisco avenged one of its two regular season losses by reeling off 30 unanswered points after falling behind 3-0 to the Rams. Joe Montana completed 26 of 30 passes for 262 yards, and the defense intercepted Jim Everett three times.
Montana earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXIV as he threw five touchdowns in a 55-10 rout of Denver. The 49ers led 27-3 and the half and stretched the lead to 41-3 at one point. The defense held John Elway to 10-of-26 passing for 108 yards and two interceptions in handing him his third Super Bowl loss.
1988: San Francisco 28, Chicago 3
49ers’ Super Bowl result: Beat Cincinnati, 20-16.
Chicago got this far on the strength of a top-five defense and a top-five running game. When Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice twice for touchdowns early, the Bears had little hope of digging out of that hole. Rice finished with 133 yards receiving, and he was just warming up.
In Super Bowl XXIII, Rice earned MVP honors with 11 catches for 215 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 13. Cincinnati took a 16-13 lead, but Montana hit John Taylor for the winning score with 34 seconds left.
1985: Chicago 24, L.A. Rams 0
Bears’ Super Bowl result: Beat New England, 46-10
The only suspense in this one was whether or not Dieter Brock and the Rams’ 26th-ranked offense could score on the Bears. They couldn’t, and Chicago had its second shutout in as many weeks. Linebacker Wilbur Marshall’s 52-yard interception return TD was the finishing touch.
The Bears actually fell behind New England, 3-0, in Super Bowl XX, but the Pats would not score again until the fourth quarter when it was 44-3. Chicago’s defense forced six turnovers, the sixth time it forced at least five on the season.
1984: San Francisco 23, Chicago 0
49ers’ Super Bowl result: Beat Miami, 38-16.
The 49ers were second in the league in scoring, but the defense held the Bears in check until the offense got going after a 6-0 first half. San Francisco held Chicago to 37 net passing yards on the day as it sacked Steve Fuller nine times, including two each by Fred Dean, Michael Carter and Gary Johnson.
The Niners offense was more than ready for a Super Bowl matchup with the only team that out-scored it in the regular season. Joe Montana threw for 331 yards and three scores, and San Francisco rushed for 211 yards to hand Miami a 38-16 defeat in Dan Marino’s only Super Bowl.
-By John Gworek
The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and the 72-hour window for players to remove their name is gone.
The NFL has released the official list of players declaring for the draft on Monday, as 84 players are set to depart college for the next level.
These 10 players were granted eligibility for the 2015 NFL Draft since they have graduated:
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Zach D’Orazio, WR, Akron
Charles Gaines, DB, Louisville
Dee Hart, RB, Colorado State
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Nigel King, WR, Kansas
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Donovan Smith, T, Penn State
Tacoi Sumler, WR, Appalachian State
These 74 players were granted eligibility as underclassmen:
Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California
Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Kwon Alexander, LB, Louisiana State
Javorius Allen, RB, Southern California
Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
Alex Carter, DB, Stanford
B.J. Catalon, RB, Texas Christian
Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
Jalen Collins, DB, Louisiana State
Landon Collins, DB, Alabama
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State
Christian Covington, DT, Rice
DaVaris Daniels, WR, Notre Dame
Ronald Darby, DB, Florida State
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Lorenzo Doss, DB, Tulane
Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
Durell Eskridge, DB, Syracuse
George Farmer, WR, Southern California
Max Flores, LB, Northern Colorado
Ereck Flowers, T, Miami
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
Jacoby Glenn, DB, Central Florida
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Chris Hackett, DB, Texas Christian
Eli Harold, DE, Virginia
Chris Harper, WR, California
Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky
Gerod Holliman, DB, Louisville
D.J. Humphries, T, Florida
Danielle Hunter, DE, Louisiana State
David Irving, DT, Iowa State
Jesse James, TE, Penn State
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Matt Jones, RB, Florida
Tyler Kroft, TE, Rutgers
Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Patrick Miller, T, Auburn
Tyler Moore, G, Florida
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Mississippi
Andrus Peat, T, Stanford
Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida
Marcus Peters, DB, Washington
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas
Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson
Jaquel Pitts, WR, Trinity International
Jeremiah Poutasi, T, Utah
Darien Rankin, LB, North Carolina
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
James Sample, DB, Louisville
Jean Sifrin, TE, Massachusetts
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Max Valles, LB, Virginia
Easton Wahlstrom, LS, Arizona State
Trae Waynes, DB, Michigan State
Leonard Williams, DE, Southern California
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
P.J. Williams, DB, Florida State
Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the middle of a season quite unlike any they’ve had, since moving from Seattle in 2008.
Burdened with title expectations for the third year in a row — a premature Finals appearance in 2012 will do that to you — OKC started the year with a litany of crucial injuries, limping to a 5-13 record without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Now, the championship hopefuls have a deadly sprint before them just to get into the playoffs. The Western Conference is just that good; at 20-20, the Thunder are currently three games behind the Phoenix Suns for the eigth and final conference postseason slot.
If the past two games are any indication, though, then the Thunder are trending in the right direction. OKC handled the Golden State Warriors, the best team in basketball, 127-115 on Friday night, behind a triple-double from Westbrook. And last night, they nearly set a record for the current season by dropping a whopping 79 points in the first half against the Orlando Magic.
Part of the success in their recent play is the emergence of Dion Waiters, a recent acquisition via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over the past two contests, the feast-or-famine Waiters is shooting 60 percent from the floor, thriving and confident in the free-roaming Oklahoma offense. He’s also been a surprising source of defensive steel, grabbing five steals over the weekend.
If the Thunder want a chance at our hearts again this Spring, they’ll have to keep it up. Phoenix is for real, and stealing the Suns' spot will likely require a 50-win season, at the minimum. That means OKC has to play .710 ball to give themselves a chance. It’s a tall order, but they look like they’re on the way to fulfilling it.
— John Wilmes
If the theme of last week was Duke and Kentucky getting a dose of reality, this weekend was a chance for both to re-establish themselves as national favorites.
Both went on the road Saturday and delivered lopsided wins. Duke’s win, though, has to be considered the more important of the two. The Blue Devils faced an NCAA-caliber opponent and threw out its defensive gameplan for an 11-point.
Kentucky never lost last week, but as John Calipari noted, overtime games count as losses for this team. Overtime would not be necessary as Kentucky twice won in routs this week over Missouri and on the road against postseason contender Alabama.
Arizona’s only trip into the national consciousness in recent games was a loss to Oregon State, but the Wildcats too re-established their Pac-12 bona fides with an impressive performance against its only true challenger in the league.
Kansas only wishes it could say the same as Iowa State ran all over the Jayhawks to open the window on perhaps a non-Jayhawk team winning the Big 12.
That only scratches the surface of what we learned this weekend in college basketball, here’s what else we learned during the college basketball weekend.
1. Duke’s switch to zone ends slump
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t be on the verge of 1,000 wins if he weren’t willing to adjust on the fly. He already has a lineup led by three freshmen, and now he’s playing a zone defense. If a Duke team playing zone seems like desperation, it was. But it was also necessary. After giving up 87 points (NC State) and 90 points (Miami) to two teams with attacking guards, Duke abandoned its trademark man-to-man defense for a zone — at least for one game. The switch neutralized Louisville’s penetrating guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier and forced the Cardinals to take a bunch of jumpers, their biggest weakness. Louisville shot 4-of-25 from long range in a game that was rarely in doubt, and Duke cruised to a 63–52 win. Only Presbyterian (44 points) scored fewer against Duke this season.
2. Arizona isn’t stepping aside in the Pac-12 yet
With Utah obliterating its first four Pac-12 opponents and Arizona slipping up against Oregon State, the Wildcats’ status as Pac-12 favorite seemed up for grabs. Arizona reaffirmed its place in the league in resounding fashion with a 69–51 win over the Utes on Saturday. Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell played one of the best games of his career, scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting with six assists. Most impressive was Arizona’s offensive performance against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Only three teams have averaged better than one point per possession against Utah this season and none better than Arizona’s 1.2.
3. Iowa State’s offense is mighty scary
Those who complain the college game is too slow and too low scoring should root for Iowa State. The Cyclones’ offensive game was on full display against the Big 12’s best Saturday night. Iowa State defeated Kansas 86–81 in Ames in a game that might open the window for a team not named Kansas to win the league. Iowa State destroyed Kansas in transition all night, outscoring KU 21–10 on the fast break. Iowa State wore out Kansas to such a degree that Bill Self had to burn his final timeout with 6:26 to go when Iowa State stretched its lead to 14. Point guard Monte Morris ran the offense in expert fashion (10 assists, two turnovers) and was one six Cyclones to score in double figures.
4. Virginia can survive an off game
Now is the time of year when the top teams are starting to be tested in conference play. Undefeated Virginia is not immune. The Cavaliers were down by five in the second half against Boston College, a team that hasn’t won an ACC game this season. Moreover, guard Justin Anderson, arguably the Cavaliers’ top player, was 0-for-8 from the field. But Virginia — like it did a week earlier against Notre Dame — played well when it mattered the most and pulled away for a 66–51 win.
5. Kentucky is fine
After back-to-back overtime challenges against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Kentucky is back to being a dominating force again. The Wildcats clobbered Missouri and Alabama by a combined score of 156–85 last week, but the more meaningful result was against the Crimson Tide on the road. Kentucky did to Alabama what it did to so many opponents in November and December. The Wildcats shot 15-of-29 from 2-point range — they were a combined 23-of-76 against the Rebels and Aggies — and the Kentucky bench outscored the starters 37–33. Dakari Johnson, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis all scored in double figures off the bench. No starter scored more than nine.
6. Texas discovers its edge again
Can we believe again in Texas? After back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Longhorns lacked a top-50 win since defeating UConn on Nov. 30. Texas rectified that with a 77–50 rout of surprising West Virginia. The Longhorns’ frontcourt rediscovered its toughness, with Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner combining for 51 points. Texas had some trouble against WVU’s press, turning the ball over 19 times, but Rick Barnes has to be pleased that his team won with such ease.
7. Florida is flirting with the NIT
At this point it’s easy to forget Florida was a preseason top-10 team and viewed as a potential challenger to Kentucky in the SEC. If the Gators don’t figure things out, they’re going to play in the NIT for the first time since 2009. Florida lost at Georgia, 73–61, on Saturday afternoon, its seventh defeat of the season. The last time Florida had seven losses before February was 1997-98, Billy Donovan’s second season in Gainesville. Granted, Florida played a brutal non-conference schedule, and the Gators are replacing a core of players that reached four consecutive Elite Eights, but this team is just average at best. The Gators turned the ball over 19 times against Georgia and let the Bulldogs shoot 56.1 percent from the field.
8. LSU is underachieving ... again
LSU should be pushing for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009. Instead, the Tigers are racking up puzzling losses. The Tigers have two players in DraftExpress’ top 100 prospects (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey). Only Kentucky has more in the SEC. Yet LSU has already lost to Old Dominion, Clemson and Missouri, and on Saturday the Tigers coughed up a 13-point second half lead at home to Texas A&M. The Tigers are far too talented to struggle with middle-of-the-pack SEC teams in Baton Rouge.
9. Syracuse is in real trouble...
Even with freshman Chris McCullough (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) Syracuse was a four-loss team that scraped by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. In their second game without McCullough, Syracuse lost 66-53 to Clemson. Syracuse’s already-thin bench was non-existent against the Tigers, playing a total of 13 minutes and contributing and 0-of-6 line from the field. Syracuse is 13-5 now, but that mark is going to take a major hit down stretch when Syracuse plays Duke and Pittsburgh twice, plus North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and NC State. Right now, it’s tough to see Syracuse getting enough quality wins to get into the NCAA Tournament.
10. ...And so is Michigan
Losing to NJIT and Eastern Michigan in a span of four days in December is now the second worst thing to happen to Michigan this season. The Wolverines lost their best player, Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season to a broken foot Saturday. LeVert was leading Michigan in scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounds (4.9 rpg), assists (3.7 apg) and steals (1.8 spg). The Wolverines sit at 4–2 in the Big Ten and have to wonder how many wins are left on the schedule with LeVert sidelined.
• Is it time to acknowledge Louisville’s ceiling? The Cardinals are 4-3 against the KenPom top 100, but those three losses are to Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. None of the wins (Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana and Western Kentucky) were against top 20 teams.
• Maryland isn’t going anywhere. The Terrapins announced their arrival in the Big Ten with a season sweep of Michigan State, first with a double overtime win in East Lansing and then a 75-59 win Saturday in College Park. Maryland still needs to prove it can perform consistently on the road in the Big Ten — one of the Terps’ two losses this season is to Illinois without Rayvonte Rice in Champaign — but Mark Turgeon’s team remains one of the major surprises of the season.
• Seven ranked teams in the Big 12, but unranked Kansas State (4-1) has a half-game lead in standings.
• The underrated Buddy Hield pulled Oklahoma out of its two-game funk in convincing fashion. The junior was 10-of-10 from the field (including four 3-pointers) for 27 points in an 82-65 rout of Oklahoma State.
• Notre Dame center Zach Auguste returned from a brief academic-related absence, but it hardly seemed to matter in a 75-70 win over Miami. Auguste played only nine minutes as Notre Dame went with a small lineup against the Hurricanes. Notre Dame hit seven of its final 12 3-point attempts after starting 2-of-16 from long range.
• Poor Luke Fischer. The Marquette center shoots nearly 77 percent from the field but missed an easy one that would have put the Eagles up late against Xavier. The Musketeers completed a wild comeback to beat Marquette 62-58, but let’s acknowledge the job Steve Wojciechowski has done in his first season. Marquette won’t go to the Tournament, but they’re fare more competitive than expected.
• Ohio State goes as freshman D’Angelo Russell goes. He scored 27 points in a 76-67 loss to Iowa, but it took him 22 shots from the field to get there. Russell is averaging 23.3 points per game and 54.8 percent shooting in Ohio State’s three Big Ten wins and 17.7 points per game and 32.1 percent shooting in Ohio State’s three conference losses.
• Frank Haith picked the right time to get out of Missouri and the right time to land at Tulsa. His junior-laden team is 5-0 in the American after defeated UConn and USF last week. If the Golden Hurricane can beat Memphis on Wednesday, the Golden Hurricane could be 10-0 in the league when it faces SMU on Feb. 7.
• Speaking of SMU, the Mustangs keep rolling despite allegations of academic improprieties from the NCAA. SMU defeated East Carolina 77-54 in its first game without Keith Frazier. SMU won’t face another top-100 team until Feb. 5 against Cincinnati.
• The fun stat line of the week: Louisiana Tech’s Alex Hamilton scored 30 points, largely because he hit 20 free throws on 23 attempts in a 75-68 win over Middle Tennessee.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 19:
• Miss Lebanon caught grief for posing with Miss Israel (pictured). Let's keep politics out of the pure, unspoiled world of beauty pageants, shall we?
• Brandon Bostick is this morning's Packers scapegoat, but I put that loss on Mike McCarthy. As are many others.
• Deflate-gate: So did the Patriots cheat again? And if so, why?
• Superagent Drew Rosenhaus was involved in a domestic incident in which his wife called the cops on him.
• Michael Bennett went for a spin on a bicycle after the Seahawks' win.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Marbury has reached such heights of fame and glory in the Far East that he’s now starred in a musical there about his tumultuous life. He’s also led his Beijing Ducks to two championships. For all the strife and drama of his career at home, Marbury has been an icon of the sport and an unmitigated success abroad.
Not without great trauma behind him, though. Through a recent interview for an upcoming HBO special, Marbury revealed that he was suicidal just before he left the NBA. "I wanted to die," he said. ”I wanted to kill myself some days. I did. ... It wasn't about basketball. It started to become about me. Because I was that depressed and I was that sick.”
The No. 4 overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, Marbury bounced around after a promising start alongside Kevin Garnett with the Minnesota Timberwolves, playing for five different teams before departing the league in 2009. While he’s often acted as a parable for how little elite talent accomplishes when accompanied by poor decision-making, perhaps the story on Marbury switches now; in his new confession, we see that he’s a central figure in a tragedy about undue pressure.
Marbury seems comfortable with his new life in China, though, and content to leave his past behind him. "To be told that you're a loser, that you can't win and that you can't do this and you can't do that," Marbury said about looking back at his NBA career. "...then to come some place without speaking the language with the cultural barriers, to be able to accomplish that — that goal was, is beyond anything. ... I left one place where they was basically hating me. And I come to another place where they love me? I'm like, 'Why would I want to go back to a place where they hate me?' I mean, that makes no sense to me."
— John Wilmes
A sitting head coach naming a new coordinator is generally a sign of something very good or very bad.
On the good side, a coach has to replace a coordinator who has done a good enough job to get his own head coaching gig or move into a more high-profile (and more lucrative) position.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer finds himself in this category, losing offensive coordinator Tom Herman to Houston. Same with Georgia coach Mark Richt, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Baylor coach Art Briles who lost coordinators to head coaching jobs.
On the bad side, a coordinator change is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong on one side of the ball (Auburn, North Carolina, Oklahoma) or a sign of some kind of internal strife (LSU, Utah).
Either way, a number of programs had to make coordinator changes even if they didn’t make major coaching changes.
Out: Jim Chaney, hired as Pittsburgh defensive coordinator
No matter the new coordinator, Arkansas’ offensive identity is well-established under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks probably won’t stray much from an offense centered around a road-grading offensive line and run game. What will be missed, though, is Chaney’s deep experience in the SEC and NFL.
In: Will Muschamp, Florida head coach
Out: Ellis Johnson, fired
Auburn’s defense has been in need of an upgrade for a while. The Tigers haven’t allowed fewer than five yards per play since 2008. Muschamp’s 3-4 will deliver in a major way. For all of his struggles at Florida, defense was not one of them. The Gators finished fifth or better in the SEC in fewest yards per play each season during his tenure. In three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns ranked either first or second in the Big 12 in that category.
In: Kendal Briles, promoted
Out: Philip Montgomery, hired as Tulsa head coach
Art Briles replaced a coach who spent more than a decade at his side as offensive coordinator with his son. Kendal Briles has spent seven years on Baylor’s staff. He’s led Baylor’s productive receiver group and was the consensus Big 12 recruiter of the year in 2014. His first game as offensive coordinator resulted in 552 yards against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
In: Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, promoted
Out: Chad Morris, hired as SMU head coach
The Tigers are riding an unprecedented era of success with 42 wins the last four seasons. Morris’ up-tempo offense certainly has been a major component of that. Scott and Elliott are both internal hires who were in the Swinney system from the start (Scott has been on the staff the entire time; Elliott briefly left before returning four years ago).
In: Brian Schotteneheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator
Out: Mike Bobo, hired as Colorado State head coach
Coordinators who run a traditional pro-style offense are in short supply these days, but even considering that, Georgia’s hire feels like a reach. Schottenheimer hasn’t coached in college since 2000. And as offensive coordinator with the Jets and Chargers, his ranked 20th or worse in total offense seven times in nine seasons and never higher than 11th.
In: Shannon Dawson, West Virginia offensive coordinator
Out: Neal Brown, hired as Troy head coach
Kentucky hires another coordinator from the Air Raid school, this time Dana Holgorsen’s coordinator at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were a little more balanced than one would expect (52 percent of their plays were on the ground), but they still managed to be one of 21 teams to top the 1,000-play threshold.
In: Kevin Steele, Alabama linebackers coach
Out: John Chavis, hired as Texas A&M defensive coordinator
LSU lost its well-respected SEC coordinator to a division rival and replaced him with Steele, who went 9-36 as as head coach at Baylor, was squeezed out of a coordinator position at Alabama and was fired at Clemson. Good thing LSU added Ed Orgeron, too, or else Tigers fans would be really unimpressed. Steele and Orgeron recruit like madmen, so LSU will continue to have great players on defense.
Michigan State defense
In: Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted
Out: Pat Narduzzi, hired as Pittsburgh head coach
With Narduzzi leaving for Pittsburgh, Mark Dantonio couldn’t hold onto his prized defensive coordinator any longer. Dantonio kept leadership in house, promoting Barnett from defensive backs coach and Tressel from linebackers coach. Barnett, a Michigan State alum considered a rising star in the profession, gets the assistant head coach title. The scheme probably won’t change with Barnett and Tressel firmly entrenched in Dantonio’s program, but Michigan State loses a bit of intensity with Narduzzi moving on.
Mississippi State defense
In: Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator
Out: Geoff Collins, hired as Florida defensive coordinator
Diaz’s career comes full circle as he returns to Mississippi State. Diaz was considered a rising star after one season in Starkville in 2010, but after a humbling tenure at Texas in which he was fired midseason in 2013, Diaz rebuilt his resume at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were second in Conference USA in total defense and led the league in rush defense and tackles for a loss.
In: Barry Odom, Memphis defensive coordinator
Out: Dave Steckel, hired as Missouri State head coach
Dave Steckel left after 13 years on the Mizzou staff, leaving Gary Pinkel to make the rare outside hire. Odom, though, isn’t totally new to the program. He played at Missouri and was on the staff in one capacity or another form 2003-11. Odom’s defense was a major cog in the turnaround at Memphis as the Tigers ranked in the top three in Conference USA/the American in total defense in each of his three seasons. In the three years prior, Memphis ranked 11th or 12th in Conference USA in that category.
North Carolina defense
In: Gene Chizik, former Auburn head coach
Out: Vic Koenning, fired
Chizik returns to coaching after two years out of the game since he was fired at Auburn. Before his up-and-down career as a head coach at Iowa State and Auburn, he was a well-respected defensive coordinator who coached three Thorpe Award winners at Texas and Auburn at one point. North Carolina, which allowed 40 points six times last season, needs a turnaround in a major way.
Ohio State offense
In: Ed Warinner, promoted
Out: Tom Herman, hired as Houston head coach
Herman’s days on the Ohio State staff were clearly numbered as he quickly became a head coaching candidate. Ohio State promoted from within with Warinner, who was responsible for a major turnaround on the offensive line in the last three seasons. Ohio State also added former Nebraska assistant Tim Beck to serve as co-coordinator.
In: Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator
Out: Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, fired
Firing the quarterback who won him his national championship must have been a tough decision for Bob Stoops, but the decision was necessary. In Lincoln Riley, a former Texas Tech assistant, Oklahoma goes back to the Air Raid concepts that helped Heupel lead the Sooners to the 2000 title. The OU offense had been cutting edge early in Stoops' tenure, but it has stagnated since Sam Bradford left.
Texas A&M defense
In: John Chavis, LSU defense
Out: Mark Snyder, fired
The Aggies’ hire of Chavis is brilliant for a couple of reasons. First, Texas A&M gets a good defense coordinator whom players love. Second, the Aggies strike a blow to a team whose defense (until 2014) had A&M’s number. Chavis had become frustrated with the lack of production of the LSU offense, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He won’t have the same frustrations in College Station.
Texas Tech defense
In: David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator
Out: Matt Wallerstedt, fired
This is not something that happens often: Gibbs worked for a head coach who was fired at Houston and moved into a better job. Here’s why: His defenses had 30 takeaways in 2014 (11th nationally) and 42 in 2013 (first). Texas Tech had 15 and 19 takeaways those same two seasons, respectively.
Utah offense and defense
Out: Dave Christensen and Kalani Sitake
The circumstances of Utah’s staff changes are far more interesting than the names involved. Neither coordinator left for positions far and away better than the ones they have. Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake took the same position at Oregon State, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left to become offensive line coach at Texas A&M. Losing Sitake, Utah’s best recruiter and leader of a solid defense, is a major blow.
Vanderbilt offense and defense
In: Andy Ludwig, Wisconsin offensive coordinator
Out: Karl Dorrell and David Kotulski, fired
Second-year coach Derek Mason had to do something as Vanderbilt slid into irrelevance at an astonishing rate. Dorrell was an odd fit from the start, and Vanderbilt’s rotating cast at quarterback did him no favors. Ludwig has not been a fan favorite at some of his previous stops, and there have been many (he’s been OC at Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, Cal, San Diego State and Wisconsin since 1998). He may have taken so many lumps that he deserves the “underrated” tag. Meanwhile, Mason will call his own defense, a role in which he thrived at Stanford.
In: Alex Grinch, Missouri safeties coach
Out: Mike Breske, fired
Mike Leach adds another former Missouri assistant with Grinch joining former Tigers receivers coach Dave Yost in Pullman. Washington State was one of the Pac-12’s biggest disappointments, following a bowl season in 2013 with a 3-9 record and the No. 97 defense in the country. Grinch is a first-time coordinator who has paid his dues at Wyoming and New Hampshire before Mizzou.
Out: Shannon Dawson, hired as Kentucky offensive coordinator
There’s a reason Dawson left from West Virginia to take the same position at Kentucky: Dana Holgorsen calls his own plays, so it’s tough for a coach to establish his own reputation as an offensive coordinator with the Mountaineers.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its list of 15 semifinalists last week – a list that will be whittled to 10 on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl and then to what likely will be the five-member Class of 2015. It is a long, difficult process even to get from the semifinals to enshrinement.
It’s especially tough since a good case can be made for all 15 on the semifinal list.
It should be hard, though. In fact, making it to Canton should be the hardest thing in football, an honor reserved for the best of the best – the truly immortals of the game. It may hurt to finish sixth in this group, but it’s not a dishonor. All 15 are among the greatest of the great, even though only five can get in every year.
This year’s 15 include Morten Andersen, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Marvin Harrison, Jimmy Johnson, John Lynch, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Will Shields, and Kurt Warner.
Here are the five that would have my vote.
His wait has been among the most excruciating because he always seems to be the “next” guy after the class is announced. He’s in his 11th year of eligibility and sixth year as a finalist. This year the five-time Pro Bowler and five-time Super Bowl champion should be clearly one of the best defenders on the list. His acerbic personality may have cost him votes. So have recent ballots that have included pass-rushing linemen like Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan. But his 100.5 sacks, plus all those championship rings, should be enough.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, he was the dominant left tackle of his era, which included some incredibly high-powered Rams teams. He was nicknamed “The Pancake Man” at Ohio State and left so many defensive linemen on their backs he helped popularize the term “pancake block.” When he went No. 1 overall in the 1997 draft it was the first time an offensive lineman was taken in that spot in 29 years. And he lived up to it for 13 years.
He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time first-team All-Pro, which should be more than enough to get him in on his first ballot. For a decade – and really beyond – he was the face of the Chargers’ franchise and as dangerous and active a linebacker as there was in the game. He was 34 when the Chargers traded him away, but he still managed to play parts of seven more seasons and become a key player – and captain – on the New England Patriots’ 2007 Super Bowl team that finished 18-1.
Sacks aren’t everything, but Greene finished with 160 of them, third most al-time. The players who ranked first (Bruce Smith), second (Reggie White) and fourth (Chris Doleman) are all already Hall of Famers. Greene had at least 10 sacks in 10 seasons. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s Team of the '90s. He’s been blocked in recent years by high-octane pass rushers like Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, and the feeling that Haley is overdue could block him again this year. But he’s deserving of an eventual nod.
Realistically, he probably won’t make it and just getting into the list of finalists was a triumph. But as you watch the NFL in this era, with all the high-powered passing attacks and all those quarterbacks and receivers racking up ridiculous amounts of yards, it’s hard not to think of where it all started – with the “Air Coryell” offenses of the late '70s and '80s. His Chargers teams, with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, were innovative and explosive. They constantly led the league in passing. They never made the Super Bowl, but in both 1980 and '81 they threw their way to the AFC championship game. He influenced a generation of coaches and changed the game into the aerial assault that it is today. That seems to me to be a huge part of the definition of what makes someone worthy of the Hall of Fame.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
A year ago, Duke’s first trip in school history to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse created an instant classic.
The same may be true of the Blue Devils’ first trip to Louisville in more than 30 years.
On Jan. 2, 1982, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was 93-77 in his career. He lost No. 78 with a 99-61 defeat to a Denny Crum-led Cardinals team that would finish the season in the Final Four.
Krzyzewski returns to a new arena in Louisville and with 997 career wins. If not for the Blue Devils’ two-game losing streak, this could have been the game when Krzyzewski could hit 1,000 wins.
Although that milestone will have to wait, this is a can’t-miss game.
There is no shortage of star power in this contest, starting with the coaches and the All-Americans on both sides in Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell. But what this meeting comes down to is Duke’s ability to handle Louisville’s constant pressure defense and balanced scoring attack, all while trying to improve on their own defensive effort. That is quite the handful for Coach K’s young squad that is in the midst of its biggest speed bump of the season.
Duke at Louisville
Site: KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky.
Time: Noon Eastern
[Related: The top 10 games fo the basketball weekend]
What’s on the line for Duke?
After losing back-to-back games to NC State in Raleigh and Miami at Cameron Indoor, the Blue Devils are searching for a defensive identity. In those two losses, Duke surrendered 87 and 90 points, mixed with lackluster offensive performances from the backcourt. The Blue Devils are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2007 when they dropped four in a row en route to a first round loss to VCU in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke needs a momentum swing in a major way. After Louisville, the Blue Devils face Pittsburgh in Durham (Jan. 19) before heading to New York City to play at St. John’s (Jan. 25), at No.12 Notre Dame (Jan. 28) and at No. 2 Virginia (Jan. 31).
What’s on the line for Louisville?
Louisville’s best win so far is against a streaky Indiana team on a neutral floor that couldn’t match up with the the Cards’ front line. After a crushing loss to North Carolina and Marcus Paige’s beautiful utilization of the backboard, Louisville still needs a signature win.
The Cardinals’ only other loss came on their home floor to Kentucky. Count on Pitino’s team to do what his teams do best — play bully defense, rebound and score in transition.
The Cards aren’t the most suave offensive team, ranking 179th in team field goal percentage (43.5percent), 285th in three-point percentage (30.4%) and 192nd in assists (12.5 per game). What Louisville lacks in terms of scoring efficiency, the Cardinals make up for in balance in their starting five. Four of the five Cardinals starters average double figures in points per game, led by sophomore guard Terry Rozier (17.4 pointers per game) and All-America forward Montrezl Harrell (15.4 points per game).
With the tough loss to UNC still fresh in the Cards’ minds, look for them to protect home court valiantly against a struggling Duke team.
You’ll tune into watch: Montrezl Harrell vs. Jahlil Okafor
Just like their two respective teams as a whole, All-Americas Montrezl Harrell and Jahlil Okafor’s games are stark opposites. Harrell is Louisville’s ignition. At a long 6-foot-8, Harrell isn’t afraid to get in an opponent’s face, but he is much more than flash and talk. Harrell runs the floor like a wing and has even been known to step behind the arc to let one fly from deep.
Generally, Harrell is the most athletic player on the floor, using his athleticism to grab almost nine rebounds a game, and a major reason why the Cardinals are one the best rebounding and shot-blocking teams in the nation.
Even though Okafor is a freshman, his interior footwork and touch around the rim is NBA ready. Shooting well over 60 percent from the field (66.8 percent) as a 19 year old is astounding, but be assured that Harrell will make the youngster work for his shots in the paint, likely bodying the 6-11 Okafor off of the block and into uncomfortable jump shots.
This All-American matchup is worth the price of admission alone.
Pivotal Player: Duke’s Tyus Jones
Recently the freshman point guard has hardly been visible, having failed to score at least 10 points in any the past five games. Luckily for Duke, Jones has saved his best performances for the Blue Devils’ biggest games against Michigan State (17 points, four assists), at Wisconsin (22 points, six rebounds, four assists) and against UConn on a neutral floor (21 points, six rebounds, three assists).
Jones will definitely need to score points for Duke to win, but he could be just as impactful on the glass and by not turning the ball over, giving Louisville easy fast-break chances.
Biggest Question: What gives first…Duke’s offense or Louisville’s defense?
Duke comes into this game strugglingon both sides of the court. KenPom.com has Duke as the seventh-best adjusted offense in the nation. In conference play, Amile Jefferson and Okafor are shooting 63 percent while the rest of the team is shooting just 37 percent from the floor. This is where Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow are going to be crucial.
While Okafor and Harrell might grab the headlines in the paint, this game will be decided on the perimeter. How will Duke’s backcourt, which can catch fire at any time, get open looks against Louisville’s perimeter protectors of Wayne Blackshear, Terry Rozier and Chris Jones? Or will the Cards want to funnel Duke’s guards into the paint where they can be neutralized by Harrell and the 6-foot-10 Mangok Mathiang.
Duke ranks sixth nationally in points per game offensively (83.2) while Louisville ranks 16th in points allowed (56.9), 12th in blocks (6.1) and 10th in steals (10.2). It will be interesting to see how Duke attacks inside the arc, where they score just 52 percent of their total points.
Duke’s recent offensive instability jumbling with their defensive failures going against Louisville’s shallow offense and killer defense should make for great college basketball theatre come Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Ohio River.
David Fox: Duke 68-65
Mitch Light: Louisville 68-62
Jake Rose: Duke 70-60
-By Jake Rose
The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and while the overall number of players leaving for the next level won’t match the 98 that declared last season, there’s no shortage of talent departing the college scene.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.
Baylor, Auburn, Notre Dame and Ohio State are four winners from the draft deadline process, while Florida State, Oregon and Florida are three teams dealing with significant personnel departures to the next level.
It’s hard to slot Alabama into either designation for this column. The Crimson Tide had major losses – receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins – but this team could have lost a few more players to the next level. Defensive end Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland are returning to Tuscaloosa, which should ensure Alabama ranks at the top of the SEC in defense next season. Finding replacements for Cooper and Collins will be the two of the top spring priorities for coach Nick Saban this spring.
Big-play receiver Sammie Coates is off to the NFL, but the damage could have been greater for coach Gus Malzahn. Instead, Auburn managed to keep linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost on campus for their senior season, and receiver Duke Williams returns after catching 45 passes in his debut with the Tigers.
TCU is considered by most to be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2015, but Baylor isn’t far behind. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and regain the services of left tackle Spencer Drango and defensive end Shawn Oakman after both decided to return for their senior year.
Clemson lost only one player – punter Bradley Pinion – to the NFL Draft. But that’s not why the Tigers earn a mention in this space. With Florida State losing five players early to the NFL, the door is open for Clemson to jump to the top of the Atlantic Division once again. With the Seminoles trying to retool the roster next year, the Tigers hope a healthy Deshaun Watson at quarterback will be enough to overcome a revamped front seven on defense and earn the team’s first division title since 2011.
Coach Mike MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort in Boulder will continue into 2015 with one of the team’s top offensive weapons. Receiver Nelson Spruce emerged as the offense’s go-to option after Paul Richardson left early for the NFL. The junior caught 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 scores. Spruce should be one of the Pac-12’s top receivers in 2015.
As expected, running back Todd Gurley left Athens for the NFL, but the rushing attack won’t miss a beat with Nick Chubb stepping into the full-time No. 1 role. Outside of Gurley, Georgia did not lose another player to the early entry deadline. Tackle John Theus, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd were four players mentioned as potential departures, but all are slated to return to Athens in 2015.
LSU seemed to be a lock for the other side of this column after the Music City Bowl. The Tigers have suffered significant losses to the NFL over the last few seasons, which were a contributing factor in the team’s 8-5 record – the first season of less than double-digit wins since 2009. The losses in 2014 aren’t as heavy as the group leaving Baton Rouge after the 2012 season, but coach Les Miles has to replace end Danielle Hunter, cornerback Jalen Collins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. But the news for Miles isn’t all bad. Defensive back Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander are expected to return after considering an early entry to the draft. With the concerns at quarterback, getting Hawkins and Alexander for another season is critical for a team that has to rely on the run in 2015.
The Spartans had some bad news at the deadline with cornerback Trae Waynes leaving East Lansing for the NFL. However, Michigan State returned arguably its best offensive and defensive player for next season after quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun turned down the NFL. The return of Cook and Calhoun should allow the Spartans to push for a spot among the top 10 teams next year.
The Bulldogs lost All-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney and running back Josh Robinson to the NFL, but quarterback Dak Prescott is back for his senior year. Prescott was a first-team All-SEC selection and averaged 341.2 total yards per game in 2014. Losing McKinney and Robinson hurts, but Prescott’s return should keep Mississippi State in the mix to be a top 25 team next year.
The Fighting Irish finished an up-and-down season with a bowl win over LSU, which should give coach Brian Kelly’s team momentum heading into spring practice. And the good news didn’t stop with the Music City Bowl victory, as tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard/center Nick Martin and defensive end Sheldon Day all decided to return to South Bend next season. Notre Dame doesn’t lose much in the way of senior starters, so this team could easily improve off its 8-5 mark from 2014.
It’s unusual for a team to win a national title and lose zero players early to the NFL Draft. But that’s exactly what transpired at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had no players enter the draft and return to defend their title in 2015 with the depth chart nearly intact. Left tackle Taylor Decker, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and quarterback Cardale Jones were the candidates generating the most interest among NFL scouts, but all three will help Ohio State make a run at the title next year.
The Utes had a mixed bag of results at the draft deadline. Offensive tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014) left Salt Lake City for the next level, but Utah returns standout running back Devontae Booker. In his debut with the Utes, Booker – a junior college recruit – rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 scores. He also added 42 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
A 7-6 record was a disappointing finish for a Virginia Tech program that had a favorable schedule and hopes of winning the Coastal Division in 2014. While the fanbase is getting restless in Blacksburg, there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. Cornerback Brandon Facyson and defensive tackle Luther Maddy are back from injuries, while defensive end Dadi Nicolas (18 TFL and 8.5 sacks) decided to pass on the NFL for another season at Virginia Tech.
The return of running back Jonathan Williams keeps Arkansas’ potent one-two punch on the ground intact, but the Razorbacks lost a key piece of their defense with the departure of tackle Darius Philon. The line was already set to lose standout end Trey Flowers (15.5 TFL), and Philon was set to be one of the SEC’s top defensive linemen in 2015. Now, not only are the Razorbacks replacing their best defensive end and linebacker, their best defensive tackle is off to the NFL.
As if new coach Jim McElwain didn’t have enough personnel issues to sort out, the Gators lost four players – end Dante Fowler, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, running back Matt Jones and guard Tyler Moore – to the NFL Draft. Fowler is the team’s biggest loss, but Florida’s offensive line is thin on depth and proven talent. Restocking the trenches is McElwain’s biggest priority going into 2015.
Five players from Florida State’s roster are off to the next level, and there are some heavy losses for coach Jimbo Fisher to address this offseason. Quarterback Jameis Winston was one of college football’s top players over the last two seasons and should be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The other four early departures are on defense, as Mario Edwards, tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams declared for the next level. All four players were considered among the ACC’s top defenders over the last few seasons.
Running back Tevin Coleman carried the Indiana offense in 2014, recording 2,036 yards and 15 rushing scores on 270 attempts. Coleman’s totals are even more impressive when you consider the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld early in the year due to injury, and the backup signal-callers combined for one touchdown pass over the final six games.
The Cardinals lost three defensive backs off a defense that ranked second in the ACC by limiting opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. Safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and safety James Sample are leaving for the next level, and all three players were key pieces in the secondary. Holliman led the team with 14 picks, while Sample intercepted four passes and recorded 90 stops. Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC this year, breaking up 10 passes in 13 games.
The Hurricanes are still looking for their first Coastal Division title. The path to a trip to the conference championship game isn’t going to be any easier in 2015 with the departure of running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers early to the NFL. Johnson ranked second in the ACC by rushing for 1,652 yards, while Flowers anchored the line from the left tackle spot. After losing their last three games in 2014, there’s pressure on coach Al Golden to turn things around in 2015. Needless to say, losing Flowers and Johnson doesn’t help those odds.
The Tigers suffered only one loss to the NFL. However, it was a massive hit to the defense. End Shane Ray (22.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks) left after a standout 2014 season. Ray’s departure is magnified even more with starters Markus Golden (end) and Matt Hoch (tackle) exhausting their eligibility.
Bob Stoops is searching for a few answers after Oklahoma finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2014. A revamp of the coaching staff is underway, but the roster suffered a blow on both sides of the ball in the draft process. Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham declared without playing a down in Norman, while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is a huge loss on the interior of the line.
The news at the deadline wasn’t all negative for the Ducks. End DeForest Buckner is coming back for his senior year, and his return helps to soften the blow of Arik Armstead’s decision to leave Eugene after his junior campaign. Despite Buckner’s return, that’s not enough to overcome quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy winner won’t be easily replaced in 2015.
Due to NCAA sanctions, Penn State was shorthanded on scholarships over the last few seasons. First-year coach James Franklin had to overcome a lot of roster problems in 2014, especially up front on an offensive line that was thin on proven depth this year. The Nittany Lions reportedly played the Pinstripe Bowl with just 41 scholarship players, and Franklin’s job in 2015 got a little tougher with the departure of end Deion Barnes, tight end Jesse James and tackle Donovan Smith.
In addition to replacing a handful of departing seniors, Stanford lost cornerback Alex Carter and left tackle Andrus Peat early to the NFL. Peat is regarded as one of the top tackle prospects for the 2015 draft and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Carter recorded 41 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2014 and is projected to go in the second or third round by some scouting services.
The Knights shared the American Athletic Conference crown with Memphis and Cincinnati this year and three of the team’s four losses came against Power 5 opponents. UCF’s league title hopes for 2015 took a hit this week with the departure of cornerback Jacoby Glenn (7 INTs) and receiver Breshad Perriman (20.9 ypc) – two first-team all-conference selections in 2014.
The Bruins return a solid core of talent for 2015 and could win the Pac-12 South if the young talent on the roster develops this offseason. But coach Jim Mora has to fill a major void under center with the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley. With Hundley bolting to the NFL, UCLA could turn to incoming freshman Josh Rosen under center next year. Defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy (21 tackles, three sacks) also left Westwood for the next level.
The good: Quarterback Cody Kessler (39 TDs) is back for his senior year. Kessler’s return could elevate USC as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, but the Trojans lost receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Buck Allen, receiver George Farmer and defensive end Leonard Williams to the NFL. Williams could be one of the first five picks off the board in the first round, while Agholor and Allen were two of the best at their position in the Pac-12 this year.
Coach Mike London earned another year at Virginia after the Cavaliers finished 5-7 in 2014. But in order for London to stick around for the long haul, he needs to get Virginia back to the postseason. That goal got tougher with the draft deadline, losing end Eli Harold and linebacker Max Valles to the next level. Valles and Harold were key cogs in UVa’s pass rush, accumulating 16 of the team’s 34 sacks in 2014.
First-year coach Chris Petersen didn’t have the debut most expected, as Washington closed out the year with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and finished 8-6 overall. The Huskies lose a handful of key seniors next season, and linebacker Shaq Thompson must be replaced. Thompson was a two-way threat for Washington, rushing for 456 yards and two scores and recording 80 tackles on defense.
If the basketball season can top last week’s action this weekend, we're in for a wild ride.
A week ago, Kentucky and Virginia flirted with their first losses of the season on Saturday. Duke delivered on Sunday. And again on Wednesday.
This week, Kentucky faces another SEC team that on paper is overmatched, but the matchup will be on the road in Tuscaloosa. Virginia again leaves Charlottesville for the weekend, this time to face Boston College. Meanwhile, Duke will try to end its modest losing streak with the most high-profile game of the weekend against Louisville in a rare early Saturday tip for a major game.
The top action of the day will continue into Saturday night with powerhouse matchups in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Utah will try to go from being an upstart from the favorite if the Utes can win at Arizona, and Kansas can further prove it is the favorite in the Big 12 (as usual) when it visits Iowa State.
Jan. 17-18 Week Preview and Predictions
All times Eastern
Duke at Louisville
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win will have to wait. At one point, Louisville seemed like a possible site for Coach K to become the second college coach to reach triple digits in wins (retired Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt is the other). Then, Duke started to crumble in losses to NC State and Miami. Those weren’t fluke losses, either, as the Wolfpack and Hurricanes both built significant secondhalf leads. Both teams were able to run with Duke and launched a ton of 3-pointers (20-of-36 combined). Louisville doesn’t push tempo and struggles from long range, but the Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Prediction: Duke 68-65
[Related: Full preview of Duke at Louisville]
Florida at Georgia
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
The SEC doesn’t have any great teams to challenge Kentucky, but the league has a handful of decent teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament. The league has seven top-50 teams on KenPom.com, six of them ranked between Nos. 21-50. Florida and Georgia are two of those teams, and neither have a ton of wiggle room to avoid the NIT. Both teams have been shorthanded in recent games (Jon Horford out for Florida and Juwan Parker and Yante Maten for Georgia).
Prediction: Georgia 64-61
Ohio State at Iowa
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
In a bit of a quirk in Big Ten scheduling, Ohio State and Iowa will play for the second time since the league opener on Dec. 30. Iowa won that matchup in Columbus 71-65. Iowa forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff scored 18 points apiece, but Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell had yet to hit is groove (13 points, 4-of-16 shooting). After an off game against Indiana, Russell had 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six assists in the Buckcyes’ win over Michigan on Tuesday.
Prediction: Iowa 68-64
Miami at Notre Dame
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Rest assured, Notre Dame won’t be caught off guard if Miami starts to run the floor and gives the Irish problems. Just since ACC play started, the Hurricanes took undefeated Virginia to double overtime and defeated Duke by 26. Putting Notre Dame on edge even more is the absence of starting center Zach Auguste, who has been suspended indefinitely due to an academic issue. After scoring 90 on a team with Jahlil Okafor, could they do the same against a team without its starting center.
Prediction: Notre Dame 74-68
Michigan State at Maryland
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
Yet another Big Ten rematch of a game that took place on Dec. 30. Maryland won that meeting 68-66 in East Lansing. Hopefully this game will be more entertaining — that was a 68-66 game decided in double overtime. The halftime score then was 17-14. Michigan State has been greatly improved since then, defeating Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern for a three-game win streak. Spartans point guard Travis Trice has 27 assists and three turnovers in Big Ten play so far. Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense has been largely dormant since Big Ten play started. The Terrapins are shooting 39.7 percent from 2-point range since conference play began.
Kentucky at Alabama
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
After two overtime escapes, Kentucky returned to form against woefully overmatched Missouri. The Wildcats defeated the Tigers 86-37 and outscored them 1.4 to 0.6 on a per possession basis. Still puzzling, though, is Kentucky’s mere 28-22 advantage in the paint (Texas A&M and Ole Miss both outscored Kentucky in the paint). Alabama is much better than Missouri (and probably better than A&M or Ole Miss), but the Crimson Tide shoot a mere 31 percent from 3-point range. That would seem to be a disqualifer for a team looking to pull an upset.
Prediction: Kentucky 72-54
West Virginia at Texas
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
West Virginia is not going away. After an 86-65 trouncing of Oklahoma, the Mountaineers are 15-2 with those loses coming by a combined three points to LSU and Iowa State. The Longhorns can’t seem to find an offense even after point guard Isaiah Taylor, and now they’ll face West Virginia’s press. The Mountaineers led the nation in turnover rate after forcing 22 turnovers (16 off steals against the Sooners) on Tuesday.
Prediction: West Virginia 66-50
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma is in need of a win in Norman, especially with road trips to Kansas and Baylor on the horizon. Hopes were high for this Sooners team to contend in the league or for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but the last two games haven’t been kind. Kansas State’s Marcus Foster hit two clutch shots to beat OU, and then the Sooners ran into the West Virginia buzz saw. Oklahoma State is a solid team, but the Cowboys will only go as far as Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte will take them.
Prediction: Oklahoma 70-62
Utah at Arizona
Saturday, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
If Utah can defeat Arizona in Tucson, the Utes have to be considered a legitimate Pac-12 title contender and perhaps more. Utah already ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 on KenPom and has been one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Utes have defeated their first three Pac-12 opponents by an average of 24.5 points per game, but that’s against USC, UCLA, Colorado and Arizon State. This is a chance for a statement win. Arizona, meanwhile, needs to rebound from a head-scratching loss to Oregon State in which star freshman Stanley Johnson scored only seven points.
Prediction: Arizona 65-60
Kansas at Iowa State
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Watch out, Kansas is starting to play like the team we thought they’d be at the start of the season. Gone is the team that lost by 32 to Kentucky and by 25 to Temple. Freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, ineffective for stretches during the non-conference schedule, are starting to grow into their roles. A road trip to Ames will indicate if Kansas’ run of Big 12 titles is in any danger. The Cyclones are 2-2 in their last four games with each game decided by four points or less.
Prediction: Kansas 75-70
Season-opening foes will reconvene Sunday afternoon with much more on the line when the Green Bay Packers face the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on FOX. All that stands between the Seahawks (13-4) becoming the first team in 10 seasons to make it to back-to-back Super Bowls are the Packers (13-4), the team they beat 36-16 more than four months ago.
Green Bay is looking for its first Super Bowl berth since winning the Lombardi Trophy four seasons ago and enters having won 12 of its last 14 games. All eyes will be on the health of Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP who is dealing with a torn calf muscle.
Seattle has won seven games in a row and 10 of its last 11, and also is riding an eight-game home playoff winning streak at CenturyLink Field. The “12th Man” will no doubt be in full force, as the Seahawks hope to get one step closer to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since New England (2003-04 seasons).
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawkss
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 3:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Aaron Rodgers’ Left Calf
May as well get the obvious one out of the way, no? Rodgers’ torn calf muscle is going to take some time to heal completely, so he will continue to be limited by it. However, as we saw last week against Dallas, a “limited” Rodgers is still an extremely dangerous one, as he torched the Cowboys for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers’ mobility was clearly compromised, as he lost a fumble on a sack and was pretty much relegated to staying in the pocket. However, Dallas only brought Rodgers down twice and was unable to generate any sort of consistent pressure. With plenty of time to scan the field for an open receiver, Rodgers spent most of the second half throwing frozen ropes against a helpless Dallas secondary. A repeat performance figures to be much tougher against Seattle’s defense, which limited Rodgers to just 23-of-33 passing for 189 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. The Seahawks also picked him off once and sacked him three times. The Packers’ offensive line made great strides in pass protection as the season went on, but this unit will have its work cut out for it against the Seahawks’ relentless pass rush. Seattle won’t take anything, even a less-than-100-percent Rodgers, for granted, so it will be interesting to see how the likely MVP fares against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (on the road no less) on one good leg.
2. Eddie Lacy vs. Marshawn Lynch
While the head-to-head battle between a pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson will no doubt be fascinating to watch and one of the keys to this game, it’s not the only offensive positional pairing to keep an eye on. Both teams like to run the ball, especially Seattle, and each has a punishing ball carrier in Lacy and Lynch. Seventh and fourth, respectively, in rushing this season, Lacy and Lynch also share one other thing in common – each is hard to bring down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lynch and Lacy are first and second in yards after contact over the past two seasons. In the first meeting between their teams, Lynch had the upper hand, finishing with 110 yards rushing and two scores. Lacy meanwhile was limited to 34 yards on 12 carries and had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter due to an apparent concussion. Lacy was back on the field the next week and after hitting a lull in the middle of the season, he appears to have hit his stride. Lacy has averaged 99 yards rushing per game over his last seven contests, including 101 in the Divisional Round win against Dallas. Lynch managed just 59 yards on 14 carries against Carolina, but to be fair the Panthers’ rush defense is much stingier than the Cowboys’ and the Seahawks were pretty much in control of their Divisional Round affair from the start. For this contest, there’s little argument that Lacy has the tougher challenge as it relates to the defenses, but Green Bay still needs production from him given Rodgers’ limited mobility. On the other side, Seattle fans have seen Lynch’s “Beast Mode” in the playoffs before (vs. Saints in 2010 and ’13 seasons) and would no doubt love an excuse to pelt CenturyLink Field with even more Skittles showers Sunday afternoon.
3. Packers’ Pass-Catchers vs. Legion of Boom
As much attention as Aaron Rodgers’ calf is getting, another popular storyline has been the matchup between Green Bay’s wide receivers and Seattle’s secondary. Headlined by three All-Pros, the back end of the Seahawks’ defense is the best in the NFL, while the Packers have one of the more feared one-two punches at wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. In the season opener, it’s fair to say the Legion of Boom won the battle, as Rodgers threw for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Nelson and Cobb combined for 15 catches that went for 141 yards and the lone score (Cobb). After the game much was made of the fact that Rodgers didn’t throw a single pass in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, basically using just one side of the field. Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy have already come out and said that won’t happen this time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Sherman will be busier than usual either. Instead, look for the Packers to move Nelson and Cobb around to get the matchups they want, while rookie Davante Adams will more than likely see most of his snaps lined up on Sherman’s side of the field. Adams came up big last week with a team-high 117 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, but the Cowboys have zero Pro Bowlers in their secondary while the Seahawks have three All-Pros. Thanks to Adams’ emergence as well as the effectiveness of tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, it’s fair to say Rodgers has more targets at his disposal now than he did in the season opener. However, Seattle’s defense is whole and healthy and still features the best secondary in the league. Even if Rodgers’ calf and the offensive line hold up long enough to give him time to throw, will the results be any different than they were four months ago?
For just the second time ever, a conference championship game pits the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense vs. the top scoring defense (1980 NFC, DAL vs. PHI). There’s no mystery which team fits each bill nor is there any surrounding the overarching storyline headed into this contest. Aaron Rodgers fared pretty well last week with a torn calf muscle, but Dallas’ defense and Seattle’s are two entirely different units. It sounds rather simplistic, but in the classic offense vs. defense matchup, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when that defense is playing at home, is on a pretty good roll and is one win away from getting back to the Super Bowl. And oh yeah, the last postseason game in any round that featured the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense was none other than the most recent Super Bowl. And we all remember how that game turned out.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Green Bay 19
For the third time in the last four seasons, the path to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium, as the Indianapolis Colts take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game Sunday night on CBS. After knocking off Peyton Manning and Denver, Andrew Luck and the Colts (13-5) are looking for their second straight road upset, while Tom Brady and the Patriots (13-4) are aiming to get back to the Super Bowl after coming up just short the past two seasons.
Coming off of his first career road playoff victory (against the man he replaced in Indianapolis no less), Luck will need to beat another future Hall of Fame quarterback to secure his first Super Bowl berth. Luck is 0-3 in his career against the Patriots, including a 42-20 home loss back in November.
With a win, Brady would earn the right to play in a record-tying sixth Super Bowl, giving him and Bill Belichick a shot at their fourth ring. However, the last time they were in this position, playing in the AFC title game at home; they were unable to get the job done, losing 28-13 to Baltimore two seasons ago.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 6:40 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: New England -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Andrew Luck Solve His Patriot Problem?
Luck has already accomplished much in his first three seasons. Although not a Super Bowl winner like 2012 draft classmate Russell Wilson, Luck is a three-time Pro Bowler who has experienced postseason success with the Colts quicker than his predecessor, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Luck is 3-2 in the playoffs in his first three seasons. Manning didn’t get his first playoff victory until his sixth season and it took three more after that before he played in his first Super Bowl. For Luck to get to the Super Bowl it will require his first career victory over New England. Luck is 0-3 against the Patriots, including a 43-22 loss in last season’s Divisional Round. While he’s averaged 322.7 yards passing per game against the Patriots, he’s completed less than 54 percent of his attempts with more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six). Luck is not the first elite quarterback to struggle against Bill Belichick’s team (see Manning), but if he wants to continue to eclipse the man he replaced under center and get Indianapolis back to the Super Bowl, he will need to elevate his play against the team that has ruled the AFC since 2001.
2. Tom Brady’s Conference Championship Game Curse?
The all-time leader in NFL playoff history in yards (6,791) and touchdowns (46), Brady’s postseason resume speaks for itself. He’s 19-8 overall, 13-3 at home and has won three Super Bowls in five appearances. For all of Brady’s success, however, he has not been at his best in the AFC Championship Game. Since the 2006 season, Brady is just 2-3 in these contests, including losses in each of the past two seasons. Beyond the record, however, is the fact that Brady’s numbers haven’t been that impressive. In these five games, he’s thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (five) and his completion percentage of 60.5 is three points below his career rate. Last Saturday, Brady set a personal-best in the postseason with 367 yards passing in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore while the three touchdown passes tied for his second most (shares the record of six with two others). Brady’s status as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play is secure, regardless of what happens in this game. However, if he wants to get another shot at tying Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl rings, Brady needs to put together a better performance than he has in recent conference championship games. After all, there’s a reason the Patriots have played in the last three AFC title games but only made it to one Super Bowl.
3. Will Either Team Gain Much Ground?
New England’s 42-20 win In Indianapolis in November featured a season-high 246 yards rushing. Jonas Gray led the ground assault with 201 yards and franchise-record four touchdowns on 37 carries. The Colts managed a meager 19 yards on 16 carries, as they were forced to play catch up most of the game. Since then, plenty has changed in each team’s backfield. The Patriots brought back LeGarrette Blount after he was released by Pittsburgh, and he has taken over as the No. 1 rusher, while Gray has all but disappeared. Indianapolis also has overhauled its running back rotation, as Dan Herron (Cincinnati’s sixth-round pick in 2012) and undrafted rookie Zurlon Tipton have replaced an ineffective Trent Richardson and injured Ahmad Bradshaw, who broke his ankle against New England. While Blount has been solid (4.7 ypc, 3 TDs) in his second stint with the Patriots, the offense has relied less on the run, rushing for a season-low 14 yards in last week’s win over Baltimore. The Colts on the other hand, have made more of a concerted effort to get the ball into Herron’s and Tipton’s hands, as the team has averaged more than 100 yards rushing in each of its playoff victories. So what should we expect Sunday night? The Ravens’ Justin Forsett gashed New England for 129 yards on the ground on 24 carries (5.4 ypc) last week, while Indianapolis held Denver to just 88 yards rushing. Has the edge in the running game swung the Colts’ direction or will the Patriots try to reassert themselves on the ground once again?
Instead of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady XVII, we get Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady IV. While the magnitude of the latter pales in comparison to the former, the stakes for the latest head-to-head meeting between arguably the game’s top young quarterback and one of the best to ever play the position couldn’t be higher. Just like his predecessor, the obstacle that stands between Luck taking the next step in his stardom is none other than the combination of Bill Belichick and Brady. As impressive as the Colts’ postseason run has been thus far, the path to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium, which is still Belichick and Brady’s domain. Luck gives it his all, but in the end the Patriots have too much on both sides of the ball. New England exorcises some recent playoff demons by finishing the job it had set out to do the past two seasons.
Prediction: New England 30, Indianapolis 20
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 16:
• Bill Walton, Jay Bilas and Dave Pasch called last night's Arizona-Colorado game, and things got weird.
• Kobe and LeBron had fun last night, like a couple of rec league geezers.
• Rory McIlroy had his first professional hole-in-one today.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Blood is thicker than water — and basketball, too, apparently.
At least Los Angeles Clippers head coach and executive Doc Rivers seems to think so. The second-year man in Lob City traded for his son Austin Thursday. The younger Rivers is a fledgling third-year guard who’s played for the New Orleans Pelicans until this week.
In a flurry of swaps between the Clippers, Celtics, Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets — a sequence of barters that is frankly hard to keep track of, almost suggesting that front offices across the league are treating the wealth of NBA talent much like a commune does their food — the 22-year-old Rivers ends up on his father’s squad.
The move, rumored to be in the works all week, was reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein. “The trade,” Stein wrote, “will send Rivers to the Clippers, former L.A. first-round pick Reggie Bullock to the Suns and two players to the Celtics: Phoenix big man Shavlik Randolph and L.A. swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts.”
The father-son relationship hasn’t been seen on an NBA bench before. It’s statistically unlikely, for starters, but it also comes loaded with potential perils: Professional locker rooms are complicated enough places without making every day a “take your kid to work” day. While there could be benefits of Austin teaming up with Doc (the junior Rivers being a more effective player than the man he replaces, Jordan Farmer, for instance), there’s also a lot of risk in the move.
What if Austin’s dad begins playing favorites with his kin? Hopefully we don’t have to find out — and there’s a good chance we won’t, as there are more than enough reserve minutes to go around in Clippersland. This was exhibited clearly, in a recent cornerstone Clippers road victory, 100-94, over the excellent Portland Trail Blazers. Rivers didn’t play any of his starters for less than 35 minutes in the game, only going three deep on his bench, including a mere five-minute stint from Glen Davis.
If L.A.’s leading lineup is to stay fresh for the daunting Western Conference playoffs, they’ll need to find relief from any place they can. Rivers is right to take a gamble on his struggling son, who has showed glimpses of improvement this year. Austin just might prove to be a useful stop-gap piece in the lead-up to a postseason run.
— John Wilmes