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USC comes into a season in a familiar situation — the frontrunner to win its division.
Fans will add to that Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff aspirations as well.
And with good reason. The Trojans have by far the best collection of players in the Pac-12.
But depth may still be an issue and navigating a schedule that could feature upwards of eight ranked opponents makes winning a league title incredibly difficult.
2015 USC Trojans Schedule
Bye: Week 4, * - Thurs., ** - Fri.
|1.||Sept. 5||Los Angeles, CA|
|USC will begin its season as easily as any team in the nation with two cupcakes. Arkansas State isn't a terrible mid-major program, but shouldn't challenge the Trojans in any way. It's the first-ever meeting between the two teams.|
|2.||Sept. 12||Los Angeles, CA|
|Idaho will be even less competitive than the Red Wolves in Week 2. USC has won all eight meetings with ease over the Vandals. Considering what USC will face over the next two weeks, the Men of Troy deserve to ease their way into the season.|
|3.||Sept. 19||Los Angeles, CA|
|Pac-12 Title Preview I This hard-hitting physical contest has been one of the best rivalries in the Pac-12 for years. USC won the last two meetings on game-ending plays in the final minutes but Stanford had won four straight in the series prior. The last five meetings have been one-score games and it could easily be a preview of the Pac-12 title game.|
|4.||Sept. 26||Tempe, AZ|
|Instant Drama Wild things have happened lately when these two get together. Arizona State won on a historic Hail Mary on the game's final play last year and Lane Kiffin lost his job after losing to ASU the year before. The Sun Devils have won three of the last four but USC had won 11 straight prior. This game could decide the Pac-12 South Division race.|
|6.||Oct. 8*||Los Angeles, CA|
|Primetime Showdown The Huskies and Trojans get the national spotlight to themselves on a Thursday night. USC owns a 51-28-4 all-time record against UW and has won nine of the last 11 meetings. These teams haven't met since 2012.|
|7.||Oct. 17||South Bend, IN|
|Historic Rivalry As good a rivalry as there is in college football, Notre Dame leads the all-time series 45-35-5. USC smoked the Irish 49-14 in Coach Sark's first shot at the Irish but the Trojans had lost three of the previous four meetings with Brian Kelly. The 2015 meeting could feature two top-10 teams vying for a Playoff spot. Sounds good to me.|
|8.||Oct. 24||Los Angeles, CA|
|USC is 9-4 all-time against Utah and had won the first three meetings since the Utes entered the Pac-12. However, late-game heroics from Utah in last year's 24-21 victory resulted in just the second win in the series for the Utes since 1916. Only once has Utah won in L.A. — also in 1916.|
|9.||Oct. 31||Berkeley, CA|
|Upset Alert The Men of Troy have owned their northern rivals, maintaining a 67-29-5 all-time advantage. USC has won 11 straight in the series with the last loss coming in 2003 in Berkeley (when some guy named Aaron Rodgers was the QB for Cal). The Bears are improving and proved that last year with just an eight-point loss to the Trojans. USC needs to be on upset alert.|
|10.||Nov. 7||Los Angeles, CA|
|One of the best games of 2014 out West was USC's 28-26 win, as Zona missed a game-winning field goal to end the game. USC has won two straight, four of the last five and 11 of the last 13. So while it sounds like USC has owned the series, these games have been incredibly competitive. Eight straight games have been decided by one score or less.|
|11.||Nov. 13**||Boulder, CO|
|In four Pac-12 meetings, Colorado has allowed 195 points to the Trojans in four losses. But CU's struggles against the Trojans extend beyond their brief history as divisional foes. In fact, the Trojans are 9-0 all-time against the Buffaloes and 2015 probably won't change this trend.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Eugene, OR|
|Pac-12 Title Preview II USC and Oregon could enter this game undefeated with both division titles, a Pac-12 title and potential Playoff berth hanging in the balance. Oregon should be playing its best football and will be looking for revenge for what took place the last time the Trojans paid a visit to Autzen Stadium - a thrilling 38-35 USC victory in 2011. Otherwise, Oregon has won three of four meetings with the most recent one occurring in 2012.|
|13.||Nov. 28||Los Angeles, CA|
|City of Lights Rivalry The longtime intra-city rivalry has been a game of streaks. UCLA won eight straight from 1991-98 before USC won seven straight from 1999-05 and then five straight from 2007-11. Yet, UCLA has won the last three by double-digits. The season finale could also be a South Division championship game.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
The NFL Draft interview process is going to be interesting for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who is a contender for the No. 1 spot.
Among other off-field concerns Winston will need to address is the incident when he was cited for the theft of crab legs from a Tallahassee, Fla., Publix.
In a conversation with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch aired on ESPN’s Draft Academy, Winston attempted to explain his side.
This may not have helped.
Harbaugh, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, advised Winston to keep his response short and sweet — “I did something wrong, I’m sorry, and I learned.”
Winston, though, wanted to explain that the crab legs weren’t stolen; they were a hook up.
Here’s the video, the transcript and some editorial notes.
Fisch: I know there’s a story with the snow crabs or stone crabs or whatever it might have been, but you left it out when Coach asked you if you had any issues. I wouldn’t leave it out.
(ed. note: Stone crab is a Miami Beach fine dining staple and essentially localized to the famous Joe’s Stone Crab. Fisch did some good eating while offensive coordinator at Miami.)
Winston: Oh. Oh, man. Yeah.
Harbaugh: Stone crabs? (ed. note: Is this the first time Harbaugh has heard of this? That reaction says yes.)
Fisch: Whatever the whole theft thing was at Publix or whatever it might have been. I don’t know the whole — I just know it happened. That’s the elephant on the room for you. Everyone’s going to want to know what happened.
(ed. note: The crab legs are not the elephant in the room.)
Fisch: Don’t by accident just talk about the BB gun and your high school coach crying and forget about the fact that everyone on SportsCenter read about that incident because then it looks like you’re covering it up or you're hiding it.
(ed. note: Fisch mimics the ESPN crawl.)
Harbaugh: If you don’t want to go into it — “I screwed up. I f---ed up. Learned from it.” Be as serious as a heart attack.
Winston: How am I supposed to handle, like, if I just got them for free. Just say I messed up?
Harbaugh: If someone gave them to you for free? So what happened. Explain that to me. You got them for free? Explain that to me.
(ed. note: Harbaugh leans in as if he's the coach of the team potentially drafting Winston.)
Winston: A week before was my buddy’s birthday, and we got a cake and we met a dude inside Publix and he said anytime you come in here I got you. That day we just walked out. He hooked us up with that. When I got crab legs, I did the same thing. He just gave them to me and I walked out. Someone for inside the store had told the security that I didn’t pay for them, and that’s how the whole thing started.
Harbaugh: OK. Then, put that in a nice... Keep that in a tidy box. “I got some crab legs and people at the store reported that I didn’t pay for them. And they were right. I didn’t pay for them, and I f---ed up. I shouldn’t have been taking anything for free. I’ve learned.”
The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true when it comes to ranking college towns.
Do you prefer larger metropolitan areas? Do you enjoy the isolated peace and quiet of a quaint, small town? Cost of living, night life, food, culture, weather, surrounding geography and more go into evaluating a city.
Every college campus is unique and each one brings something different to the table. And the ACC's collection of towns is extremely unique.
When evaluating big cities like Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh or Boston against a small town like Blacksburg, personal opinions will vary greatly. So we had some fun asking ACC experts to rank their favorite ACC locations. Here is what we learned:
The Voting Panel:
Wes Durham, FOX Sports/ACC Network
Mark Packer, SiriusXM College Sports Nation
Tony Barnhart, AJC/SEC Network
Julius Hodge, ACC Digital Net
Bud Elliott, TomahawkNation.com
Jon Meterparel, IMG Sports-Boston College
Mark Ennis, ESPN 680-Louisville
David Hood, Tigernet.com
Amanda Busick, College Sports Reporter
Jerry DiPaola, Pitt Trib Review
Lachlan McLean, Sports Talk 840-Louisville
Nate Mink, Syracuse.com
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM
Voting: A first-place vote was worth one point and a last-place vote was worth 14 points.
|Charlottesville, Va. It's got historic tradition and beauty. It's got a great party scene. It's located in a beautiful part of the country. The campus is gorgeous, the downtown mall is a blast, the vineyards are excellent and the presidential tradition is everywhere. It's hard not to get caught up in the rich vibe when visiting Virginia's campus. Be sure to check out Edgar Allen Poe's Room. Charlottesville got six first-place votes, by far the most of any ACC locale.|
|Chapel Hill, N.C. There is just a lot going on in Chapel Hill. The architecture is awesome, the weather is great and the natural scenery and outdoor activities are fantastic. The food is among the nation's best for a small town and the bar/music/art night scene is as good as any in the Southeast (check out Franklin Street). Chapel Hill barely missed out being voted the No. 1 town in the ACC with eight votes in the top three.|
|Clemson, S.C. How many towns are named after the university? Formerly known as Calhoun, the town voted to change its name to Clemson in 1943. This represents all that is a small college town. The passion is what gives Clemson the best stadium in the league, the best gameday atmosphere and the most interwoven city. It's got great food joints and Lake Hartwell is always a good time. It's also a quick drive to three different states. Clemson got more first-place votes than any town not named Charlottesville.|
|Tallahassee, Fla. Considered one of the better "college towns for grownups," Tallahassee tends to keep people around. It's much larger than the average college town at over 300,000 residents, but has that medium-sized charm. Geography allows for plenty of beach life to shine through and there are endless festivals, dining and night attractions for visitors. The Florida state capital is the top city in the second tier according to the voting.|
|Raleigh, N.C. The most underrated stadium and gameday experience in the ACC is probably in Raleigh. The town loves its Wolfpack and it loves to party — which is probably why it got one first-place vote (and why people keep telling me to try Cook Out). It also was voted 10th or worse in the ACC by four different panelists. Check out Glenwood Ave. and Fayetteville Street. A trip to Raleigh for a sporting event is surely a good time. It's also one of three ACC towns that can claim a Stanley Cup, if that counts for anything?|
|Louisville, Ky. Of all of the big cities in the ACC, Louisville has the most charm. Wrapped by the Ohio River, there is tons to do, no matter what your fancy. Churchill Downs is a must-see while a developing area south of town known as Bardstown Road is as vibrant as any city south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Breweries, boating, golf, a growing music scene (SEE: Forecastle) and more make Louisville the best big city in the ACC.|
|Blacksburg, Va. If you want a truly small town located in the middle of the mountains, Blacksburg is your place. Few towns embody the vibe and feel of the campus like the architecture of Virginia Tech. The stone buildings are gorgeous and the mountains offer plenty to do outdoors. If you prefer city life, this isn't your cup of tea, which is why the Hokies' hometown was ranked as high as second by one panelist while four others voted it outside of the top 10.|
|Atlanta, Ga. The capital of Georgia is a polarizing city for sure. The traffic is downright miserable, the city itself goes on forever in every direction and the fans generally haven't supported many sports teams. Yet, the urban lifestyle is a big draw for many and the food scene is among the best in the nation. Short trips to beaches and mountains offer plenty of easy access to outdoor activities. It's not for everyone but there is a reason the metro areas boasts over five million residents.|
|Miami, Fla. Coral Gables itself is small village located just south of the sprawling metroplex that is Miami. The night life and allure of beach living in Miami is a huge draw for some (it got one first-place vote) but there is very little that is unique about campus life at The U. Which is why it was ranked last by two voters. For the record, this is the only town in the Power 5 with a first-place AND last-place vote.|
|Durham, N.C. The third-ranked city within the triangle was voted as highly as fourth by two voters and was voted last by another — which seems to be a theme among all ACC towns. At 250,000 residents, Duke's hometown is right in the middle in terms of size in the ACC as well. It's not as big as Raleigh and it's not as cool as Chapel Hill.|
|Pittsburgh, Pa. It's a big city and it has all of the advantages of traditional big cities. Huge infrastructure, technology growth as well as professional sports teams can overwhelm the university and its role within the community. Let's face it, the Panthers will always be the second-most important football team in the Steel City.|
|Chestnut Hill, Mass. If this were strictly based on Boston, it would be hard to imagine it falling this far down the list. Boston is a fantastic city with vibrant energy and steeped in American history. However, eight miles down the road is Chestnut Hill. While gorgeous, the campus is sort of an after-thought within the city (sort of like the sports teams). Still, it's hard to believe living on the outskirts of such an extraordinary city could rank as the 12th-best place in the ACC. It got four last-place votes.|
|Winston-Salem, N.C. The fourth-most desirable location of the North Carolina ACC schools is Winston-Salem. While the other three form the triangle of education and basketball, W-S is located just west of Greensboro, far from both the Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks. It got three last-place votes, but also was voted as high as fifth.|
|Syracuse, N.Y. There is a reason that Syracuse's population has been dropping every decade since the 1950s. The weather is brutal for most of the year and its located in the middle of upstate New York — which is sort of close to Lake Erie, right? To quote one Athlon employee from New York, "It's a poor man's Rochester."|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 ACC Preview
Are you ready for some football? Well, NFL fans still have to wait four and a half months until kickoff, but at least we know the games we have to look forward to. The 256-game regular season schedule has been laid out, and there is certainly no lack of intriguing matchups. While the “must see” label often comes down to a matter of personal preference, here are 10 games that caught this football fan’s eye along with five other matchups that shouldn’t disappoint.
1. Seattle at Green Bay (Week 2)
No disrespect to the reigning Super Bowl champions (who are well represented on this list), but it’s the NFC Championship Game rematch that has my full attention. The Seahawks and Packers actually played each other twice last season, both times in Seattle, but it’s the final five minutes of January’s memorable playoff game that no one, especially Green Bay, will ever forget. While some faces (Hello Jimmy Graham!) have changed, the principals remain in place for this early-season treat.
2. New England at Denver (Week 12)
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are certainly no strangers to each other, as this will be their 17th head-to-head meeting. Brady holds an 11-5 edge in their rivalry, so you know Manning and company would like nothing more than to knock off the reigning champions in front of their home fans. Besides being a matchup of two of the AFC’s best teams, it’s also possible this could be the last pairing of two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
3. Dallas at Green Bay (Week 14)
Dez Bryant and the Cowboys return to the scene of the catch, I mean, no catch. Rules interpretations aside, Dallas won’t have DeMarco Murray to run the ball against the Packers and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense on the sidelines. While not as important as a playoff game, the outcome of this contest could have a huge hand in determining the eventual NFC playoff picture.
4. Denver at Indianapolis (Week 9)
Peyton Manning took care of his Indianapolis homecoming last season, but could this be his final game in the place where his Hall of Fame career started? And there’s also the small matter of the Colts having beaten the Broncos at home in the playoffs last season.
5. Seattle at Dallas (Week 8)
The Cowboys went into CenturyLink Field last season and used their running game to control the clock and beat the Seahawks on their own turf. Seattle will get the chance to return the favor at AT&T Stadium and won’t have to worry about DeMarco Murray putting up 115 yards rushing again. However, Dallas’ stellar offensive line is still around, as are Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The Seahawks will have their own new wrinkle, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Should make for an entertaining Sunday afternoon in Jerry Jones’ house, no?
6. Philadelphia at Dallas (Week 9)
The Eagles and Cowboys will first get together in Week 2, but it’s the second act of this NFC East rivalry that will feature the aforementioned Murray’s much-anticipated AT&T Stadium debut as a visitor. OK, while Cowboys fans probably aren’t looking forward to seeing No. 29 in an Eagles uniform (especially if Darren McFadden struggles), you know Murray has this game circled on his calendar.
7. New England at Indianapolis (Week 6)
The Patriots beat the Colts twice last season by a combined score of 87-27. In fact, in four career matchups, Andrew Luck has lost by at least three touchdowns to Bill Belichick’s team. So why should this game be any different? Well, Luck and the Colts will get the reigning champions on their turf, and this is not the same New England team that thumped them 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game. And it probably goes without saying that the officials at Lucas Oil Stadium will do whatever it takes to ensure that all the footballs are not only properly inflated, but also remain that way.
8. New England at Dallas (Week 5)
Potential Super Bowl 50 preview? Perhaps, but regardless of whether either or both teams end up playing in San Francisco in February; this is one of the more intriguing AFC vs. NFC matchups on the ’15 slate. And are there any more hated teams in the NFL than the Patriots and Cowboys?
9. Pittsburgh at New England (Week 1, Thursday)
The reigning champions kick off defense of their title (as well as the 2015 season) at home against a team with Super Bowl aspirations of their own. Unfortunately, while the Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tom Brady dynamic will be intact, there will be no backfield battle between Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, as both are presently suspended for the opener. Don’t get me wrong, this should still be a quality, entertaining game, but DeAngelo Williams vs. James White/Travaris Cadet/pick a Patriot just doesn’t have the same juice as Bell vs. Blount.
10. Philadelphia at New England (Week 13)
Offensive mastermind (same would say mad scientist) Chip Kelly vs. defensive genius (and future Hall of Famer) Bill Belichick. What’s not to like about this coaching chess match in early December? And who knows, there may even be another Tim Tebow sighting at Gillette Stadium. Maybe.
Five Other Intriguing Matchups
New York Jets at New England (Week 7)
Darrelle Revis got his Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last season, and promptly went back to the Jets for $70 million over five years. Will Tom Brady challenge the solitude of Revis Island?
Green Bay at Denver (Week 8)
It may seem hard to believe, but Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have never faced each other, even though the two have combined for 359 career starts. As long as both stay healthy, that will change come the night of Nov. 1.
Buffalo at New York Jets (Week 10, Thursday)
Rex Ryan comes back to the Big Apple. Enough said, unless you’re looking forward to a potential Matt Cassel vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick QB duel.
Denver at Chicago (Week 11)
New Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase host their former employer, which also happens to be the same team that drafted Jay Cutler 11th overall in the 2006 draft. Oh and Peyton Manning also beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI for his only ring. How’s that for payback-driven storylines?
Buffalo at Philadelphia (Week 14)
LeSean McCoy back in the City of Brotherly Love. Forget the reception from Eagles fans, how will McCoy and Chip Kelly greet one another?
According to the numbers, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the toughest schedule in the NFL in 2015.
Their opponents' winning percentage was .579 a year ago (147-107-2) — tops in the NFL entering this season.
The Bengals (.563), 49ers (.561), Seahawks (.559) and Cardinals (.559) round out the top five.
However, normally there is one major issue with using the previous year’s outcomes to determine the next year’s strength of schedule:
No one gets to play last year’s teams.
Typically, using last year’s opponent’s winning percentage is a surface-level way to address scheduling difficulties and it rarely paints an accurate picture. It’s short-sighted and lacks the depth needed to analyze roster churn, home-road splits, bye weeks and aging talent.
However, this one time it might be right.
The Steelers really do have the toughest path to the playoffs.
Notice anything special about those top five schedules listed above? The teams hail from two divisions, the NFC West and AFC North.
Both are considered the toughest divisions in their respective conferences and both divisions will have to face each other this fall.
It doesn’t end there for Pittsburgh, however.
If six games with the AFC North and four with the NFC West — including road trips to Seattle and St. Louis — weren’t tough enough, Pittsburgh also must face the projected champions of the AFC East (New England) and AFC South (Indianapolis), as well as the entire AFC West. That's as hard a schedule as any AFC team could possibly have.
Meanwhile, division rival Baltimore gets the Jaguars and the Dolphins in swing games, while the Bengals get the Texans and the Bills and Cleveland faces the Titans and Jets.
The list of quarterbacks the Steelers will face this season includes Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco (twice), Philip Rivers (perhaps), Andy Dalton (twice), Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith.
That doesn’t include games against rising second-year starter Derek Carr as well as the Arizona Cardinals and a Jeff Fisher team on the road.
Basically, this team gets no breaks. In the first five weeks, Mike Tomlin faces two of the last three defending Super Bowl champs, the 49ers and the Chargers and Rams on the road. Then to wrap things up from Week 12-16, Pittsburgh faces a ridiculous five-game stretch that goes as follows: at Seattle, Indianapolis, at Cincinnati, Denver and at Baltimore.
Using last year’s win totals is normally a foolish way to determine what lies ahead for a team. But this slate really does appear to be the toughest in the NFL.
This is a big year for Steve Spurrier. Not only does the Head Ball Coach turn 70, he’ll also see his 100th player picked in the NFL Draft.
During his time as a head coach at South Carolina, Florida and Duke, Spurrier has coached 99 players who were selected in the following NFL Draft, the most among active coaches.
Many outlets will count how many NFL Draft picks a particular school or conference can call their own, but we haven’t seen the tally yet for head coaches.
This, hopefully, will remedy that. Using Pro Football Reference as a resource, we charted every draft pick for active coaches in FBS.
The data wasn’t totally surprising — coaches who have been around for a while have churned out the most draft picks. Frank Beamer has coached long enough to watch multiple players of his drafted in the 12th round.
A few disclaimers:
• This exercise is looking merely at head coaches, mainly because it’s the most interesting and most easily quantifiable look. Coordinators and position coaches play as much of a role for these future pros as head coaches, if not more. At the same time, some of these guys would be drafted if they were coached by Vince Lombardi or Vince Gill.
• This is an inexact science. We assigned players to their most recent coach before the draft. For example, Urban Meyer coached Ohio State’s draft classes since 2013 and Florida’s NFL draft classes from 2006 to 2011 (he coached at Florida from 2005-10). In other words, a draftee may have played his first three seasons for Coach A and his senior season for Coach B. In that case, the tally goes to Coach B.
And on to the charts:
Total NFL Draft Picks, By Coach
|Coach||Total Picks||Picks at Current School|
|1.||Steve Spurrier, South Carolina||99||31|
|2.||Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech||92||90|
|3.||Nick Saban, Alabama||82||41|
|4.||Mark Richt, Georgia||74||74|
|5.||Bob Stoops, Oklahoma||70||70|
|6.||Les Miles, LSU||67||60|
|7.||Kirk Ferentz, Iowa||55||55|
|8.||Bill Snyder, Kansas State||50||7*|
|9.||Larry Coker, UTSA||47||0|
|10.||Urban Meyer, Ohio State||44||9|
|11.||Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati||40||0|
|T12.||Brian Kelly, Notre Dame||36||19|
|T12.||Frank Solich, Ohio||36||6|
|14.||Gary Patterson, TCU||34||34|
|T15.||Mike Riley, Nebraska||32||0|
|T15.||Dennis Franchione, Texas State||32||0*|
|17.||Gary Pinkel, Missouri||31||27|
|T18.||George O'Leary, UCF||29||14|
|T18.||Bret Bielema, Arkansas||29||4|
|20.||Dabo Swinney, Clemson||28||28|
*in his current stint with this team
Total First-Round Picks, By Coach
|Coach||Total Picks||Picks at Current School|
|1.||Nick Saban, Alabama||21||16|
|2.||Larry Coker, UTSA||20||0|
|3.||Steve Spurrier, South Carolina||17||4|
|4.||Les Miles, LSU||15||13|
|5.||Bob Stoops, Oklahoma||13||13|
|T6.||Mark Richt, Georgia||11||11|
|T6.||Urban Meyer, Ohio State||11||2|
|8.||Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech||8||8|
|T9.||Gary Pinkel, Missouri||7||6|
|T9.||Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati||7||0|
Draft Picks for Recently Retired/Inactive Coaches
%still active as a position coach in college
DeMarco Murray isn't in Dallas any longer but Jerry Jones is clearly thinking Super Bowl still. He's assembled a roster that appears poised to make a deep postseason run and finish what it couldn't a year ago.
The Cowboys have franchised Dez Bryant, signed Greg Hardy, brought in Darren McFadden and resigned a bunch of quality role players from last year's team.
But can Tony Romo lead this team to a second consecutive NFC East title for the first time since 1995-96? Here is a game-by-game breakdown of the Cowboys' 2015 schedule:
2015 Dallas Schedule
|1.||Sept. 13||Arlington, TX|
|Dallas has swept the Giants in each of the last two seasons but are just 2-4 in their last six at home against the G-Men. All four wins over the last two seasons have been by 10 points or less. Jason Garrett is 2-2 in season openers.|
|2.||Sept. 20||Philadelphia, PA|
|Back-to-back divisional games to start the year make the first two weeks extremely important for Dallas. Especially, considering who will be running the ball for the Eagles. The Boys have won three straight in Phily but have split with the Eagles in each of the last two years.|
|3.||Sept. 27||Arlington, TX|
|Atlanta is the third of four games in a row against NFC playoff contenders. Garrett has only faced the Falcons once, a 19-13 win in Atlanta in 2012.|
|4.||Oct. 4||New Orleans, LA|
|Sean Payton and Garrett are extremely familiar, having faced each other in three straight seasons. Dallas won easily last season 38-17 at home but lost the two previous meetings. In fact, the Saints have won eight of the last 10 against Dallas dating back to 1998.|
|5.||Oct. 11||Arlington, TX|
The defending champs come to town capping a brutal first month for the Boys. Garrett has only faced the Patriots once, a 20-16 loss in Foxboro in 2011. This could be the highest-rated game of the regular season.
Related: 10 Must-See NFL Games in 2015 Season
|The off weekend comes at a great time after five tough tests to start the year — and with three big NFC games coming up.|
|7.||Oct. 25||East Rutherford, NJ|
|Dallas better not look ahead to Seattle in Week 8 or a trip to New Jersey could be costly. Dallas has won three straight on the road against the Giants and Garrett is 3-1 in his career in East Rutherford.|
|8.||Nov. 1||Arlington, TX|
|The Cowboys shocked the NFL world by going into Seattle and winning 30-23 a year ago. Since 2008, Dallas has won four out of five against the Hawks and Garrett is 2-1 in those games. This is a potential NFC Championship Game preview.|
|9.||Nov. 8||Arlington, TX|
|DeMarco Murray's homecoming will be must-see TV regardless of what happens in the Week 2 meeting. Garrett is 1-3 against the Birds at home.|
|10.||Nov. 15||Tampa, FL|
|Dallas has dominated the all-time series with Tampa 13-3 and has won five straight over the Bucs dating back to 2006. Could this game feature Tony Romo vs. Jameis Winston?|
|11.||Nov. 22||Miami, FL|
|These two teams have only faced each other 13 times in history and haven't played since the last rotation in 2011. Dallas won 20-19 in Miami and this could be a major upset alert moment with huge NFC tilts coming up over the next three weeks.|
|12.||Nov. 26||Arlington, TX|
|Facing a physical Carolina team on just four days rest on a Thursday night could create some problems. Dallas is 9-3 all-time against Carolina and hasn't lost to the Panthers since 2004 (5-0). Garrett is 1-0 against the Panthers.|
|13.||Dec. 7||Landover, MD|
|Garrett is 5-3 against the Redskins and 3-1 in Landover, including a 44-17 drubbing a year ago. This will be the first of two meetings with the Skins in the final five weeks.|
|14.||Dec. 13||Green Bay, WI|
|This game would be phenomenal even if it wasn't a rematch of a memorable NFC Divisional playoff game. Dallas has lost four straight to the Packers, three of which have come at Lambeau Field — like this one. Garrett is 0-2 against Green Bay.|
|15.||Dec. 19||Arlington, TX|
|Todd Bowles will be nearing the end of his first season as the Jets head coach after two seasons as the Cardinals defensive coordinator. Strangely enough, these two have met 10 times total but only three times in Dallas. The Boys won the last meeting in Big D 34-3 in 2007.|
|16.||Dec. 27||Orchard Park, NY|
|Dallas has won three straight against the Bills, as Buffalo hasn't topped the Boys since 1996. Garrett crushed Buffalo 44-7 in his only meeting back in '11.|
|17.||Jan. 3||Arlington, TX|
|The season finale could be the easiest division game of the year for the Boys. Garrett is just 2-2 against Washington at home. This will be the 112th meeting between the two historic rivals.|
Bristol’s race this weekend was aptly titled the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer. It was a chance for the NASCAR community to give back, lending its support to one of its most respected broadcasters.
It was also a special chance for so many to say goodbye. Byrnes passed away Tuesday morning after a nearly two-year, hard-fought battle with head and neck cancer. He was 56 and leaves behind wife Karen, 12-year-old son Bryson, two nephews and countless other family and friends who supported him in his battle. Byrnes, the play-by-play announcer for NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series had been involved with the sport for decades, from its days moonlighting on TNN to reaching the big stage of FOX Sports beginning in 2001.
I’m not going to sit here and say I knew Byrnes well; we sat in the same production meetings together during my time doing TV on the circuit but our conversations were limited. What I can tell you for certain, though is what he brought to the table was a level of professionalism and respect acknowledged by most everyone involved in the sport. When you do your job in that fashion, treating everyone the way you’d like to be treated it’s no surprise he was held in such high regard. Whether it’s the crew chief of a small, independent team, a powerhouse owner like Rick Hendrick or a TV production staffer, they’ll all be paying tribute to the man in much the same way. No one, no matter their position has a bad thing to say about him, a hard road to pave in an industry where one off-kilter report can color someone’s opinion for life.
Byrnes’ passing at such a young age reminds us all to live life to the fullest, every single day as tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Byrnes packed a lot into his 30-year career, traveling across the country to connect millions of fans to the beauty of stock car racing. He did it while balancing family life, close to son Bryson and keeping his priorities in order. In the midst of senseless tragedy, it’s refreshing to know Byrnes lived his life without regret, making his time here memorable enough that he leaves it connected to millions. At the end of the day, your biggest impact in this world is not the number of hours you work or the number of dollars you collect, but the way in which you treat and connect with other people. In that department, Byrnes was an A+, and it’s only fitting the Bristol event named after him was the sport’s best of the season. It’s only fair.
“Whether you had the privilege of knowing him or if you watched him on television for the past three decades,” said NASCAR CEO Brian France, “Steve’s work ethic and authenticity made him a beloved individual inside and outside the garage.”
France continued, “His level of professionalism was matched only by the warmth he showed everyone he met. He battled cancer with tenacity and was a true inspiration to everyone in the NASCAR family.”
Godspeed, Steve. You’ll be missed.
Let’s take a deep breath and look at the big NASCAR news items on the front burner after Bristol…
FIRST GEAR: Matt Kenseth finally gets over the hump
Kenseth’s first year at Joe Gibbs Racing was magical, a seven-win season that landed just short of a Sprint Cup championship. But 2014 was a different story. The veteran, now 43, was shut out of Victory Lane, scored just two runner-up finishes and never quite showed the speed that could make him a serious title contender in the new Chase. Just one year behind the retiring Jeff Gordon, a long list of prospects in Nationwide and Trucks (including phenom Erik Jones) made some wonder if Kenseth would start thinking retirement, too.
Not a chance. After a solid start this season, Kenseth took advantage at his best track, winning from the pole while surviving several challenges on late-race restarts in Thunder Valley. The victory locks him into NASCAR’s postseason early while finally putting to bed a winless streak that had clearly started to bother him.
“It wears on you a little bit,” he admitted. “Last year, there were some races we had chances to win and things just wouldn’t line up for us. [Sunday] was exactly the opposite.”
The victory gives JGR as an organization two wins through eight races, putting Kenseth and Denny Hamlin in the Chase. While most of their muscle has been flexed on the short tracks, that’s still light years ahead of the two wins in 36 races they accumulated all last year. Kenseth, who is one of the sport’s most consistent drivers can’t be counted out in the postseason, and while not known as a short track racer has shown considerable strength the last few years at Bristol and Martinsville. Expect him to win more this season.
SECOND GEAR: Close, but no cigar for so many
While Kenseth won the race, he wasn’t the fastest car. Many others saw their chance at victory go up through self-induced mistakes. Teammate Carl Edwards appeared to be a match for Kenseth, but he fell behind a bit on pit road and never got the preferred line during the final series of restarts. Fighting for second late, he slipped up while running side-by-side, slapped the outside wall and collected a surging Kurt Busch in a melee that left him out of contention.
“I made a mistake,” he said afterwards after dropping to 24th. “100 percent my fault. I was racing really aggressively there at the end and I drove into turn one and that was the first time I lifted off throttle. I just pitched sideways -- I drove it way too deep.”
As for Busch, he probably had the best car of all on Sunday but a decision to go down pit road during a late caution trapped him back in the field. While fresh tires helped, the loss of track position left him fighting through traffic with too few laps (19) to make up the distance. You wonder if the team would have made the same decision if regular head wrench Tony Gibson was on top of the pit box; kidney stones forced him to the sidelines and left him out of commission at the race’s crucial stage. It’s the third time in a month Busch has potentially had a winning car only to have circumstances out of his control cost him that chance at victory.
THIRD GEAR: Wrecked by the rain?
NASCAR suffered through several rain delays at Bristol but was determined all day to get the race in. While most celebrated their dedication, keeping the race from being run on a Monday, Team Penske wondered if they jumpstarted things too fast. An early wreck where Brad Keselowski lost control collected teammate Joey Logano and left them skeptical as to whether the track was race-ready after hours of track drying before the initial green flag.
“It’s been raining since we started the race,” Keselowski said afterwards. “It was just a really light sprinkle and the track was just barely dry. I don’t know. The rain was coming in and out and the car just took off on me. I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don’t know. Usually when a car gets that far sideways and it’s kind of out of nowhere there’s a reason behind it. I just really hate that I tore up my teammate in the process. I hate racing in the rain, but I understand the position that NASCAR is in. They want to get the race going and this is one of those days where it’s gonna just keep raining off and on and we’re trying to get as many laps in at a time as we can to give the fans the best race possible, but we’re racing in the rain to do it and that’s what happens.”
Both drivers are already postseason eligible, so that reduced the sting a bit. But if that wreck had been worse, collecting 10 or 12 more cars, it would be a really hot-button issue within the garage this week.
FOURTH GEAR: The beauty of surviving Bristol
In some cases, the best way to get a good finish at Bristol’s fast-paced, 15 seconds-a-lap oval is refreshingly simple: survive. It’s not a matter of dodging the carnage but fighting through it, making sure your car makes it to the finish line intact that can make the difference between ninth and 39th.
Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick were too such examples. Both had good cars but were caught up in several wrecks. Both could have had one bad hit leave them sitting behind the wall. But their teams did amazing work on pit road, patching up each car and allowing both drivers to stay either on the lead lap or within striking distance. When the smoke cleared at the end of the race, both had top-10 finishes and for Patrick, it was a performance that put her on the right side of the Chase cutoff.
Meanwhile, boss Tony Stewart, while cranky on the radio, had a crucial top-10 performance of his own. A sixth-place effort, his best of the season now puts the No. 14 car on the right side of the top 30 in points. That means a single victory could change things around for the program, landing them inside the Chase and ending whispers Stewart has lost a step during the past few years riddled with both injury and tragedy.
Other shoutouts go to Kyle Larson (seventh) and Brett Moffitt (17th) who each had one of their better 2015 performances.
Richard Childress Racing has issued a final appeal of their penalties for doctoring tires. It’s a risk, as their initial appeal dropped the points lost by Ryan Newman from 75 to 50, a crucial 25-point difference that currently has him inside NASCAR’s Chase cutoff. Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss will hear the case and issue an official ruling… Kevin Harvick’s involvement in a mid-race wreck ended his streak of seven top-10 finishes to start the NASCAR season. The good news for him? Martin Truex, Jr. and Logano had troubles of their own, meaning no Sprint Cup driver has been able to start the season 8-for-8. Harvick’s lead in the standings remains a healthy 30 points… Jeff Gordon, third at Bristol now has five straight top-10 finishes to counterbalance an awful start to the season. Now ninth in the standings, he’s put himself in position to win the last few weeks and looks like he’ll easily qualify for the Chase in his final season… Denny Hamlin had back spasms during one of the rain delays, causing him to be replaced by young Erik Jones. Jones held his own in his Sprint Cup debut and strengthened his case to be in the No. 18 Toyota before Kyle Busch returns… It’s the second straight year the Bristol spring race has been delayed by rain.
Steve Byrnes photo courtesy of NASCAR / Getty Images, other photos by Action Sports, Inc.
All things NBA come to a head in the spring, with playoff basketball coming as award season begins as well. This week, the league handed out the first two of its major trophies.
Lou Williams of the Toronto Raptors was designated Sixth Man of the Year after a renaissance season, during which he averaged 15.5 points, the most of his career, and was often the No. 1 offensive option in crunch time for the four-seeded dinosaurs.
The heartening part of Williams’ victory is that it means he’s made more than a full recovery from a torn ACL suffered in January 2013. Lou struggled to find a larger role with the Atlanta Hawks after that malady, but has a found a new home in Canada.
Williams garnered 78 out of 130 first-place votes, edging Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics and Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers—last year’s winner of the award.
The mystery of why this honor has been typecast goes, on though: It almost always goes to a score-first guard:
Being a shooting/scoring guard is helpful in Sixth Man voting. pic.twitter.com/NArcNZlJa0— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) April 20, 2015
Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls was arguably a more deserving winner last season, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rebounding hound Tristan Thompson somehow couldn’t crack the top three in 2015. Big men remain largely cursed in this category.
This morning, the league continued its prize-giving by naming the Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer the Coach of the Year recipient. The race had clearly been between him and the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr for months, with Budenholzer edging him out with 67 first-place ballots.
Coach Bud’s Hawks were the best team in the Eastern Conference all season, and their sudden turnaround seemed to have a lot to do with his wisdom and discipline. Their 20-game winning streak in the winter was a blaze of glory that’s not soon to be forgotten, and their leader on the bench is getting his due props for it.
— John Wilmes
Oregon enters a season after losing in the national title game for the second time in six years.
This time, Mark Helfrich has to rebuild without the best player in school history. While finding a replacement for Marcus Mariota is critical, it's just one of many challenges the Ducks must overcome if they expect to repeat as Pac-12 champs in 2015.
Oregon has one of the best rosters in the league but must face a schedule befitting a defending national runner-up.
2015 Oregon Ducks Schedule
Bye: Week 8, * - Thurs., ** - Fri.
|1.||Sept. 5||Eugene, OR|
|Adams Bowl Should former Eastern Washington star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. win the starting QB job for Oregon (as expected), he will have to face his former team in Week 1. From a storyline standpoint, it doesn't get any better than this. That EWU is an extremely good FCS program only adds more intrigue.|
|2.||Sept. 12||East Lansing, MI|
|Playoff Primer These two national powers played a thrilling, high-scoring bout a year ago before the Ducks pulled away in the final few minutes (46-27). This will mark the sixth-ever meeting — Oregon leads 3-2 — but this time around Michigan State is the team at home and with the star quarterback (Connor Cook).|
|3.||Sept. 19||Eugene, OR|
|The first meeting between these two programs could be ugly. State has only been playing high-level college football for a few years and the Panthers their last 11 games in 2014. Helfrich will get to see a lot of his young players in this one.|
|4.||Sept. 26||Eugene, OR|
|Utah was sneaky good last year and will be sneaky good again this year. But the Ducks handled the Utes with ease, 51-27, giving Oregon its third straight win over Utah in three Pac-12 meetings. The only win for Utah in the series since 1994 came in 2003 in Salt Lake.|
|5.||Oct. 3||Boulder, CO|
|The all-time series appears close (11-8, Oregon) but the Buffs haven't been competitive since the late 1990s. Oregon has won five straight in the series and has averaged 50.8 points per game in the process. Colorado has scored 11.6 points per game over that span. Any crossover schedule that includes the Buffaloes is a lucky break.|
|6.||Oct. 10||Eugene, OR|
|The Ducks have won eight straight games against the Cougars and have scored at least 43 points in seven of those games — and at least 50 in five. That said, last year's 38-31 decision was the closest the Cougs have played the Ducks since the '06 upset win in Pullman.|
|7.||Oct. 17||Seattle, WA|
|Upset Alert Despite dominating the series with 11 straight victories, the rebuilt Ducks will need to be on high alert in Seattle midway through October. The Huskies will get extra time to prep for arguably the biggest game in the Pac-12 North while the Ducks could be looking ahead to their bye the following week and the daunting slate that awaits them.|
|9.||Oct. 29*||Tempe, AZ|
|Pac-12 Title Game Preview? Arizona State could be one of the top picks to win the South Division and the long trip to the desert could be the toughest road trip for the Ducks all season. Oregon has a narrow edge in the all-time series 17-16 but only because ASU has lost eight straight. These two haven't met since 2012 and the Ducks have won four straight in Tempe. The bye week comes at a great time, giving Oregon two weeks to prepare.|
|10.||Nov. 7||Eugene, OR|
|Cal leads the all-time series 40-35-2 and that includes six straight losses to the Ducks. Oregon has scored at least 55 points in each of the last three meetings and only once over the last six have the Bears even topped 17 points.|
|11.||Nov. 14||Palo Alto, CA|
|North Division Championship Many are buying major improvement from an already solid Stanford squad in '15. And this physical rivalry has gone the way of the Cardinal in both 2012 and '13, giving Stanford the division and eventual Pac-12 title. The winner of this game has won the last five Pac-12 championships.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Eugene, OR|
|Pac-12 Title Game Preview II USC and Oregon could enter this game undefeated with both division titles, a Pac-12 title and potential Playoff berth hanging in the balance. Oregon should be playing its best football and will be looking for revenge for what took place the last time the Trojans paid a visit to Autzen Stadium - a thrilling 38-35 USC victory in 2011. Otherwise, Oregon has won three of four meetings with the most recent one occurring in 2012.|
|13.||Nov. 27**||Eugene, OR|
|The Civil War The 119th meeting between the two in-state rivals has gone the way of the Ducks seven consecutive years. Only two of those, 2013's overtime classic and a six-point game in '09, have even been close. This could be a coronation for Oregon once again.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true when it comes to ranking college towns.
Do you prefer larger metropolitan areas? Do you enjoy the isolated peace and quiet of a quaint small town? Cost of living, night life, food, culture, weather, surrounding geography and more go into evaluating a city.
Every college campus is unique and each one brings something different to the table.
When evaluating a bigger city like Nashville against a small town like Starkville or the culture of Gainesville with the Midwest tempo of Columbia, Mo., personal opinions will vary greatly. So we had some fun asking 12 SEC experts to rank their favorite SEC locations and here is what we learned:
The Voting Panel:
Tim Brando, FOX Sports
Dari Nowkhah, SEC Network
Tony Barnhart, AJC/SEC Net
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Chris Low, ESPN
Wes Rucker, 247Sports
Laura Rutledge, SEC Network
Chad Withrow, 104.5 The Zone-Nashville
Kayce Smith, ESPN/SEC Net
Seth Emerson, Macon Telegraph
Josh Ward, WNML-Knoxville
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM
Voting: A first-place vote was worth one point and a last-place vote was worth 14 points.
|Nashville, Tenn. There may not be a hotter city in the nation than the 615. An exploding food and rock music scene have only added to the historic charm and excitement of Music City, USA. Vandy is located just outside of downtown and doesn't add too much to the city but West End (where the campus is located), like every surrounding borough, has grown exponentially over the last decade. A cultural hub of the Southeast, there is literally something for everyone in this exploding it-city. Nashville was voted first or second in the SEC by eight of the 12 experts.|
|Athens, Ga. Great food, great bars, great music — try R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Danger Mouse and the B-52s — and the gorgeous natural beauty of the East Georgia mountains make Athens a contender for best college town in America every year. There are few places in the country where catching a college football game is more enjoyable than Athens, Ga. The Dawgs' home town got five first-place votes and two second-place votes.|
|Oxford, Miss. It's a very small town but is rich on tradition and culture. Some of America's greatest writers call it home (William Faulkner, John Grisham) and The Grove might be the best place to tailgate anywhere in the world. It's extremely charming and has an excellent night life on Courthouse Square. Square Books, Library, The Blind Pig and countless other shops, bars and eateries belong on your must-do list. Oxford got the other two first-place votes.|
|Knoxville, Tenn. Larger than most towns in the SEC, Knoxville offers some unique attributes others in the league cannot. First, the greatest whitewater rafting in the world and Smoky Mountain National Park are just south of town. But a developing food and night life scene downtown have made Knoxville a much more attractive place to be in recent years. Check out Market Square for shopping, drinking and eating. The same can be said for the Old City as well.|
|Baton Rouge, La. If food is your thing, then few places in college football can match LSU's home town. The most creative, eclectic and delicious menu of any tailgate can be found in Baton Rouge. And it's all amazing. The weather can border on desert-like when it comes to heat, but being a capital city gives it a ton of modern growth and technology. And being just up the road from New Orleans has its perks.|
|Tuscaloosa, Ala. Houndstooth Sports Bar and Dreamland BBQ are famous for a reason. They are must-do stops if ever in T-Town. Most of the city revolves around the extremely passionate fandom of Alabama sports. But the town is bigger than outsiders traditionally think, giving it more things to do than one might assume. Tuscaloosa is probably the nicest of the true SEC small towns. Which is why Tuscaloosa was voted as high as fourth and as low as 13th in this poll.|
|Auburn, Ala. It's one of the smallest college towns in the nation and there is literally nothing else in the area but the university so it's not for everyone. However, the charm is unending and the food scene is getting better and better. The Hound is awesome for brunch and BBQ. Acre is incredible fine dining and Hamilton's is right off Toomer's Corner (also, a must-see locale). I've eaten at all three and I'd go back to all of them. The developments and upgrades to the gorgeous brick campus only continue to improve the area.|
|Columbia, Mo. Possibly the most underrated town in the SEC, Columbia is one of the most forward-thinking locations in the league. The arts, journalism and social conscious attitudes are fostered by the university. The night scene is extremely underrated (and filled with crazy good pizza). This town has the most Midwestern vibe of any SEC town.|
|Lexington, Ky. The horse capital of the world is one of the bigger places to live in the SEC at over 300,000 residents. There is a distinct identity with this town that is undeniable. The surrounding horse land has been preserved and the world's largest basketball-specific arena is located in downtown. Bluegrass and hoops, that's what Lexington does!|
|College Station, Texas If you think Auburn is small and in the middle of nowhere, then you won't like College Station much either. It's flat and non-descript with little else going on but the campus. The food is excellent (duh, it's Texas) and there are a few solid bars with good music. So if you love golf, BBQ and Texas A&M sports, you will enjoy this place.|
|Gainesville, Fla. Unless you are an undergrad at the university, there isn't a whole lot to the city of Gainesville. It's really, really hot and humid most of the year and isn't a beach city like many outside of the region believe. There is some good music and plenty of places to party. But from a standard of living perspective for adults, there isn't a whole lot to sell about this town.|
|Fayetteville, Ark. Not much separates Fayetteville from Tuscaloosa. Arkansas' home base is more charming than outsiders believe and the beautiful Ozark Mountains offer plenty to do outside of town. There is also much more development in the area due to massive corporate growth from Walmart and Tyson. However, Fayetteville is difficult to get to for most travelers. For what it's worth, I had Fayetteville at eighth on my ballot.|
|Columbia, S.C. Another capital city mixing with a college campus. There is a ton of promise in this town but it has yet to catch its stride and develop like a Nashville for example. The school and campus are the best part of being in Columbia. Four of the 12 voters placed this town as one of the worst two in the SEC.|
|Starkville, Miss. There isn't a whole lot to write about here. The atmosphere surrounding the various sporting events (namely, football and baseball) add plenty of charm but there is nothing to do here and it's smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It got nine of the 12 last-place votes.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 SEC Preview
A new rivalry might be brewing in the NBA’s midwest.
The Chicago Bulls went up 2-0 in their first round playoff series Monday night, defeating the young, underdog Milwaukee Bucks 91-82. Jimmy Butler led the way for Chicago, scoring 31 points, including a 12-point explosion in the fourth quarter. He also displayed his confidence with this moment:
The game got a bit chippy, too. Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia was ejected from the game late in the fourth quarter, after wrestling with Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic and then elbowing him in the head. Mirotic then sat out the rest of the contest with a strained quad, and possibly a concussion.
The skirmish between Pachulia and Mirotic was a culmination of multiple scrums throughout. The Bucks are outmatched by veteran Chicago, but they’re hungry, lengthy at every position, and coached well enough by Jason Kidd to give the Bulls some serious problems. Butler, Derrick Rose and Co. struggled for much of the game through Milwaukee’s forest of strategic limbs, scoring a measly 11 points in the opening quarter.
The Bucks may have stumbled into the postseason on a string of bad growing pains, but they’re showing against the Bulls that they are — at the very least — a nuisance to be taken seriously. Their competitive fire against a team that could be Finals-bound is a surely refreshing sight to fans of the rebuilding franchise, and their ability to at least get under Chicago’s skin a little is an omen of greater things to come.
Game 3 between the sides moves to Milwaukee, on Thursday night. The Bucks’ home court is typically invaded by fans from nearby Chicago when the Bulls visit, but an exciting new squad may start reversing that trend soon.
— John Wilmes
Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price secured a spot among great managerial rants in baseball history with an expletive-filled tirade with reporters after Monday’s 6-1 win over the Brewers.
Responding to a question from C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer on the status of All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco, Price lit into accurate reports about roster moves concerning his team.
The final tally was 77 “F” words and 11 “S” words. Quite impressive for a rant after game No. 13 of a 162-game season.
North Carolina’s uniform is one of the best in the ACC, and the Tar Heels will open 2015 with a revamped design to the helmet, jersey and pants.
By no means is this a drastic redesign for North Carolina. However, the uniform features argyle on the uniform and helmet.
Here are more photos of North Carolina’s football uniforms for 2015:
6. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell surprised many with his freshman year performance at Ohio State and has emerged only in recent months as a potential lottery selection. Just as Elfrid Payton rose in last year’s draft on the strength of intangible traits, Russell's standing seems to be quickly rising due to qualities that you can’t exactly put your hands on. D’Angelo is confident and creative and has instincts that seem tailor-made for a bold step up into the next level. We might look back and see him as a steal.
5. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
The Latvian big man has enjoyed some rising buzz in recent days. Like Dirk Nowizki before him, Porzingis is a lengthy European with a tantalizing skill set. A seven-footer with unusual mobility and shooting range, his upside has scouts drooling. Kristaps can leap like a man much smaller than him, and frequently gets out ahead of the pack on the break, for alley-oop finishes. Players this tall, who run the floor this well, simply don’t come around very often. His wiry frame is a source of concern — can Porzingis beef up enough to avoid the abuse of NBA bullies, and can he keep his unique body healthy while doing so? These are seemingly valid questions, but they may be asked in vain if Porzingis is what he looks like: a singular player.
4. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor is still regarded as the top man in the upcoming draft by many analysts. But while the dominance he displayed as a post scorer in college does look largely translatable to the professional level, it’s not clear the Chicago-born big man can do much else that will carry over. An average defender, at best, under Krzyzewski, Jahlil’s strong suit of scoring down low is of debatable relevance in the contemporary NBA. Today, professional centers — more than ever — are expected to squash easy attempts at the rim from the opposition. Skeptics believe Okafor might give up, on the other end, as much he gives as a scorer.
3. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow appreciators came out in droves during the NCAA tournament, in which Justise became an indispensable piece of a title run, and arguably a more important one than Jahlil Okafor, Duke’s center who’d enjoyed much of the team’s glory throughout the regular season. Winslow’s versatility, mobility, and poise under pressure make him an appealing option at the small forward position, which has been one of the NBA’s weakest for years. And, of course, it never hurts to have gone through a year of the Mike Krzyzewski thresher.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, China
Mudiay is the best 2015 point prospect for a league that’s increasingly guard-driven. A bit off the radar for his decision to play in China for $1.2 million (as opposed to zero dollars, in the NCAA), Emmanuel is along a path previously only forged by Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings. The same questions that plagued Jennings (a No. 10 overall selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009) and his draft status are likely to threaten Mudiay’s stock. The choice to go abroad will help his wallet in the short term, but it leaves many scouts wondering if his development wouldn’t have been better served domestically. Mudiay is big for a point guard, though, without sacrificing any elite athleticism for his frame, and the right organization could easily turn him into a franchise player over time.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
The role of big men in the NBA has changed quite bit over the last decade, and Kentucky’s Towns is perhaps better suited to fit into the demands of contemporary league centers than any draft prospect we’ve seen this decade. As a freshman, he showed an all-around knack that bodes well for his future as a pro. He’s not just a post scorer, or a defensive bully — though he’s capable of being both — but is also comfortable operating near the elbow, playing a pass-first style, or chasing stretch bigs out to the perimeter. If his outside shooting can improve, he has the chance to be something like a very bulky wing man. Towns is not only massive — he’s also incredibly skilled.
— John Wilmes
Tim Tebow will receive at least one more shot at an NFL career after signing a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.
The 2007 Heisman winner and two-time national champion at Florida participated in an offseason workout for Philadelphia on Monday.
The signing of Tebow, who hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2012, is the latest in a number of high-profile unorthodox moves by Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Tebow was a first-round NFL draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010 and went 7-4 as a starter in 2011, leading the Broncos to a playoff win in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos traded Tebow to the New York Jets in 2012 where he played sparingly. He signed with the Patriots in 2013 but did not make the regular season roster.
Tebow is 8-6 as a starter in his career and has completed 47.9 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, all with Denver.
Since he was cut by the Patriots, Tebow had been an analyst for the SEC Network.
Some day a college football program is going to hit six figures in attendance — for a spring game.
Ohio State came 609 fans short of the 100,000 mark Saturday when it drew what is presumed to be a record for spring game attendance.
The Buckeyes counted 99,391 fans to their spring scrimmage Saturday, and just think what it would have been had quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and/or Braxton Miller played. Would that might have been good for an extra 400 fans?
Spring game attendance is a tricky thing: Not every school tracks it. Tickets are often free. Many schools provide merely estimates.
That said, in recent years, several schools have provided attendance figures, so it’s worth looking at which schools had the biggest spring crowds.
Ohio State has the top two, but Alabama has six of the top 11 on record.
Top Spring Game Attendance Figures Since 2007
|1.||2015||99,391||Defending national champion|
|4.||2007||92,138||First season under Nick Saban|
|5.||2010||91,312||Defending national champion|
|7.||2013||83,401||First season under Gus Malzahn|
|8.||2012||81,112||First season under Urban Meyer|
|9.||2008||80,149||First season under Bo Pelini|
|10.||2013||78,315||Defending national champion|
|11.||2012||78,315||Defending national champion|
|12.||2015||76,881||First season under Mike Riley|
|15.||2014||72,000||First season under James Franklin|
|20.||2009||65,000||Defending national champion|
|24.||2015||60,000||First season under Jim Harbuagh|
On Saturday, the West Virginia University football team wrapped up its final open practice at The Greenbrier before the Gold-Blue game Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Most of the news this past Saturday was centered around Mountaineer junior quarterback Skyler Howard.
During his media session, West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen announced Howard as the "clear-cut" No. 1 quarterback.
"He is the clear-cut No. 1 right now. Not even close," Holgorsen said. "He's a different kid. He's operating well. I sure hope I am not jinxing him right now. He is operating very well and looks great. His teammates believe in him. The coaches believe in him."
Holgorsen mentioned he has grown from the end of last season through the spring to this point.
"Everything. His knowledge. His fundamentals are good," he said. "He's accurate and he's throwing the deep ball well. His communication is really good. His understanding of the offense continues to improve."
"He's stepped up. I said the same thing last year (wanting someone to step up and take the quarterback job). He just wasn't ready to do it. He's making plays. Just put it that way. He's making plays and people believe in him. That's what you look for in a quarterback." Holgorsen said.
After listening to Holgorsen, it sounds like the team has a clear understanding of who's leading in the clubhouse.
"Probably. I don't think I need to say it to the team," Holgorsen said. "I think they understand where we are at with it. It's all about the development of the young guys. Are any of the young guys going to get enough reps and make enough plays where they warrant a first team rep?"
Right now, the answer is no. So Skyler is the guy.
As for the younger guys, the work to improve continues.
"All the other young kids are young kids. They are freshman and keep getting better. How good they get I don't know. We are going to keep repping the heck out of them and watch them and see how they progress." he said.
With the team set to put a bow on the 2015 spring, WVU has the confidence in knowing they have found a starter and can focus on chemistry during the summer months.
[Skyler Howard photo courtesy of wvmetronews.com]
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Kevin Sumlin enters his fourth season at Texas A&M with a rising collection of elite recruits and a brand-new defensive coordinator to go with his brand-new stadium.
The Aggies may be ready to compete for a SEC West Division crown with John Chavis manning the defense. But to reach Atlanta, this squad will have to navigate one of the more difficult schedules in the nation — even with two “easier” crossover opponents.
2015 Texas A&M Aggies Schedule
Bye: Week 6
|1.||Sept. 5||Houston, TX*|
|Scoreboard Showdown It may be called a neutral-site game, but one has to believe that Aggie fans will out-number Sun Devil supporters in Houston. This marks the first-ever meeting between the two and it should be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Both offenses are great and both teams could be ranked in the top 20 to start the season. What's not to love about a rare Pac-12 vs. SEC matchup?|
|2.||Sept. 12||College Station, TX|
|The home opener for the Aggies will come against Ball State. These two have also never faced one another and the Cardinals figure to be overmatched here. The defense needs to show signs of life in this warm-up test.|
|3.||Sept. 19||College Station, TX|
|Only once before have these two programs met — a 48-18 Texas A&M win in 1950 in San Antonio (what?). Nevada can score points, so this should be an interesting test for John Chavis' defense. Although, it won't help much with the following game...|
|4.||Sept. 26||Arlington, TX*|
|Rivalry Restored One of the great aspects to TAMU landing in the SEC West is the renewed rivalry with Arkansas. This was a thriller last season, as Kenny Hill led a wild comeback in overtime. The Hogs lead all-time 41-27-3, but have lost three straight to the Ags. This is a huge early-season pecking order game in the West.|
|5.||Oct. 3||College Station, TX|
|The all-time series is tied at four. These two met four times before World War II, have played three times in SEC play and met in the Independence Bowl in 2000. This has been a high-scoring affair over the last three seasons and the Aggies were embarrassed a year ago in Starkville. Texas A&M has never lost at home to MSU.|
|7.||Oct. 17||College Station, TX|
|Must-See TV This was an obliteration last season when Alabama stepped on Texas A&M's neck 59-0 in an eye-opening win for the Tide. The two previous SEC meetings between Kevin Sumlin and Saban, however, were fantastic battles totaling 144 combined points. Have the Aggies closed the gap enough to compete at home against the mighty Tide?|
|8.||Oct. 24||Oxford, MS|
|Last season was the only win for Ole Miss in the all-time series against Texas A&M (6-1), but it was a thorough performance by the Rebels at Kyle Field. Three times have these two programs met in the Magnolia State and all three times the Aggies prevailed. Facing Ole Miss on the road a week after hosting Alabama is a lot to ask of any team.|
|9.||Oct. 31||College Station, TX|
|My favorite part of the fabricated Alamo Rivalry so far has been Steve Spurrier's comments at last year's SEC Media Days. We can all hope that his Gamecocks don't go down to Texas and "get killed and so forth" this time around. Texas A&M shocked Carolina in the season opener last year in the only meeting between the two programs.|
|10.||Nov. 7||College Station, TX|
|Instant Classic This has been an instant classic ever since the Aggies joined the SEC. The combined score in the last two games is 83-82 and the road team is 3-0 in three SEC meetings. Expect nothing but the same in this late-season divisional showdown. Who could ever forget the fourth quarter when these two last met at Kyle Field two years ago? Texas A&M is 4-1 all-time vs. Auburn with the two pre-SEC meetings coming in 1911 and '86 in Dallas.|
|11.||Nov. 14||College Station, TX|
|Texas A&M's seemingly mandatory November cupcake will be Western Carolina this fall. These two programs have never played and it's a safe bet the Catamounts won't want anything to do with the Aggies after 60 minutes.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Nashville, TN|
|Vanderbilt and Texas A&M have faced each other only once before and it got ugly quickly. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies rolled to a 56-24 win over James Franklin's Dores two seasons ago in College Station. Looking ahead could be the only issue here for the Ags.|
|13.||Nov. 28||Baton Rouge, LA|
|Chavis Bowl There has been one name in the SEC who has managed to shut down Kevin Sumlin's offense and it's John Chavis. Now, Chavis will return to Tiger Stadium with an Aggies logo on his chest. This budding SEC rivalry has featured four straight wins by LSU (2011-14), who leads the all-time series 30-20-3.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 SEC Preview
The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true when it comes to ranking college towns.
Do you prefer larger metropolitan areas? Do you enjoy the isolated peace and quiet of a quaint small town? Cost of living, nightlife, food, culture, weather, surrounding geography and more go into evaluating a city.
Every college campus is unique and each one brings something different to the table.
When evaluating a big city like Chicago against a small town like State College or the culture of Piscataway with the tempo of Iowa City, personal opinions will vary greatly. So we had some fun asking 10 Big Ten experts to rank their favorite Big Ten locations:
The Voting Panel:
Gerry DiNardo, Big Ten Network
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Kevin McGuire, College Football Talk
Sean Callahan, HuskerOnline.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Brent Yarina, Big Ten Network
Kevin Noon, BuckeyeGrove.com
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM
Voting: A first-place vote was worth one point and a last-place vote was worth 14 points.
|Madison, Wis. There is no place like it in the Big Ten during fall Saturdays and it's why Madtown is routinely voted one of the nation's best college towns. The capital city is located between two gorgeous lakes and is home to the famed State Street — and it's delicious brat haze. It's vibrant, fun, welcoming and an absolute blast. This is the case even during the cold winter months, which is why Madison got eight of 10 first-place votes.|
|Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s the quintessential campus locale just 45 minutes west of Lake Erie. There is no doubting you are in a college town as the growth of Ann Arbor has centered around technology and research stemming from the university. The downtown is charming and houses one of the best main streets in the Big Ten complete with fine dining, nightlife and more. There is a stateliness to Ann Arbor that is reflective of the great university located there.|
|State College, Pa. Dubbed Happy Valley, State College isn't easy to get to but is worth the trip — and not just for the 110,000 screaming Lions fans. Bordered by the Allegheny Mountains, it has a great downtown of roughly 100,000 people while also feeling remote and quaint at the same time. The outdoor activities are among the best in the conference and climbing Mount Nittany is a right of passage. Also be sure to visit Penn State Creamery in this idyllic college locale.|
|Columbus, Ohio Many outside of Ohio wouldn't guess that Columbus is the biggest city in the state. A revitalized downtown offers more to do than most typical college towns. It might be too big for some (voted 10th by one panelist and ninth by two others) but professional sports, nightlife and High Street give the massive fanbase plenty to do while in town. Columbus got three second-place votes.|
|Bloomington, Ind. About an hour off any major interstate southwest of Indianapolis, Bloomington has a time-capsule feel. The bar scene is great and the food is solid in this prototypical college atmosphere. Laid back might be the best way to describe the Midwest feel of the gorgeous Indiana campus.|
|Iowa City, Iowa A perfect blend of city and town is where the Hawkeyes call home. The fifth largest city in Iowa, located just west of the Illinois border, Iowa City has a little bit of everything to offer visitors, especially if you are into literature. Sure, there is plenty of nightlife, quality dining and the "Ped Mall" but also a storied literary scene complete with a book festival. It was one of just three places to get a first-place vote on this panel.|
|Evanston, Ill. If you like big cities, few places in the world compare to The Windy City. Evanston is located on the north side of Chicago, situated along Lake Michigan and is a short train ride to Wrigley Field. Northwestern offers the best of both worlds — campus life nestled inside a bustling, massive metroplex (and they'll tell you about it).|
|East Lansing, Mich. Located smack-dab in the middle of the state (between Detroit and Grand Rapids), East Lansing could be one of the quicker developing cities on this list. It's fairly non-descript but hosts a variety of festivals and events. It's, uh, east of the state capital of Lansing.|
|Minneapolis, Minn. A very underrated location to live — at least, for eight months of the year — The Twin Cities offer plenty for visitors and residents alike. Parks, biking and theaters are prevalent and the downtown experience is awesome. If you can handle the frigid winters, Minneapolis is one of the best places in the Big Ten.|
|Lincoln, Neb. There isn't a lot to do in Lincoln but support the Big Red. The campus is inviting and it should come as no surprise that Memorial Stadium is the focal point of the town, as the massive structure rises from the relatively mundane horizon line. Silicon Prairie is a great place to get a steak and be sure to check out the Haymarket District.|
|College Park, Md. The nation's capital is just down the road so the busy Beltway could function as a negative or a positive depending on your taste. The rolling-hilled campus is sort of an oasis within the built-up corridor. Check out M Circle or the Memorial Chapel, as there always seems like something to do on Baltimore Ave.|
|Champaign, Ill. At nearly 150,000 residents, Champaign-Urbana is larger than you'd expect but doesn't have any of the big city problems (like congested traffic). It's located in the middle of nowhere and there isn't much to do. It's really green, though, so it's got that going for it.|
|Piscataway, N.J. One tourism website designed to sell the Big Ten cities as destinations didn't mention a single thing about Piscataway in the description. I'm guessing that's for a reason. It's cold and in New Jersey. This town got three last-place votes.|
|West Lafayette, Ind. It's one of the smallest towns on this list at under 50,000 residents. There isn't a whole lot to do, both indoors or out other than the Lafayette Brewery and the Wabash River. If you like brick and Greek parties, then this is your place. Otherwise, continue down I-65 to Indy or Chi-town. Purdue's home city got seven last-place votes.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big Ten Preview
Spring practice for the Texas Tech defense may as well be spring training for a high school baseball team.
Always watching, new defensive coordinator David Gibbs is telling his players to keep their eye on the ball. Or more specifically the quarterback and when and where the ball is going.
A defender might break up a pass or get a takeaway, but if his eyes aren’t where Gibbs wants them to be, he’ll hear it.
“If your eyes aren’t in the right spot as you go through a progression, even if you make a play, he won’t be happy because it isn’t the way he teaches it,” safety J.J. Gaines said.
Texas Tech’s defense needs more than just eyes on the ball. The Red Raiders need their hands on the ball.
That’s why Gibbs is here. Texas Tech had only 15 takeaways last season, 18 the year before and 13 before that. The Red Raiders defense hasn’t had more than 20 takeaways in a season since 2010.
At one point, Texas Tech went 16 consecutive games without a positive turnover margin and 12 consecutive games in the red. Obviously, there’s an offensive component to all this, but in those 16 games, Texas Tech’s defense forced only 18 turnovers. Texas Tech went 5-11 overall and 2-10 in the Big 12 in those 16 games.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, Houston was racking up turnovers at a near-record pace. The Cougars had twice as many takeaways as Texas Tech in 2014. They’ve had more takeaways in the last two seasons (73) than Texas Tech had in their last four (66).
If for no other reason than the stat sheet, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury had to give Houston’s defensive coordinator, Gibbs, a look. Whatever approach Gibbs brought to Houston, Texas Tech needs some of that magic touch if the Red Raiders are going to reverse their momentum.
“I don’t have any miracle answers,” Gibbs said. “Just because it worked at Houston doesn’t mean it’s going work here. But I also believe in the system that we’ve put in.”
Perhaps this is basic, but Gibbs is focusing on eye discipline to boost Texas Tech’s dismal turnover numbers. For a team that has the fewest takeaways in the Big 12 in the last three seasons (40), Gibbs has to start with the basics.
“We’re built on more pressure and keeping eyes on the quarterback and when the ball is thrown, where the ball is thrown, it allows you to have more guys breaking on the ball,” Gibbs said.
The 47-year-old Gibbs is well-traveled. He’s coached defensive backs for three different NFL teams and has been a coordinator at Minnesota and Auburn.
His 2013 season at Houston was something of a breakout. Houston forced 43 turnovers, eight more than any other team in the country that year. The Cougars also averaged nearly a plus-2 turnover margin per game (plus-1.92).
How did Houston thrive on turnovers? Some of it was certainly ability and coaching. The Cougars were also a statistical anomaly.
According to Football Study Hall, teams recover roughly 50 percent of all fumbles and intercept 22 percent of passes defended (interceptions plus pass breakups).
The 2013 Houston defense recovered 69.3 percent of fumbles and intercepted 31.3 percent of defending passes. Combined with the offense’s good fortune, Houston “nearly broke the system,” Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly wrote.
In other words, Houston was lucky. But there’s something to be said about being at the right place at the right time.
“I believe you ask a basketball coach if you believe that his team got outhustled or outrebounded or watch a basketball game and one team always gets the loose balls, what’s the difference between a loose ball in basketball than a fumble in football? It’s hustle,” Gibbs said. “It’s guys running to the football. It’s a combination of things. Is it luck? Yeah, it’s luck.”
As much as Gibbs needs to reverse Tech’s turnover trend, he needs to repair a dismal run defense. The Red Raiders allowed a Big 12-worst 259.5 rushing yards per game and allowed 5.2 yards per carry, the eighth-worst average in the league.
Opponents weren’t afraid to average 50 carries per game against the Red Raiders because they knew Tech couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Defensive line has been a major issue, and Texas Tech is counting on a true freshman, Breiden Fehoko, to be an impact player. The linebackers are short on experience as well.
Perhaps some of the youth might be a good thing. Gibbs is the fifth person to coordinate the defense since Ruffin McNeill left before the 2010 season.
In many ways, all the ingredients of a disorganized defense were present in Lubbock in recent years.
Gibbs is another new face, so where might he succeed where others have not? If Gibbs can get everyone in the right place at the right time, he’ll have a fighting chance to turn around the Red Raiders’ defense.
“That’s what happens on these bad defenses,” Gibbs said. “You got guys trying to do too much and then all heck breaks loose. I see it on good defenses. But the good defenses have good players behind the players making the mistakes. The problem at some of these places is that you don’t have the erasers. I’m not saying they were doing it last year, but they’re not going to do it this year.”
Move over Dizzy Bat, now we have Dizzy Punt.
What’s Dizzy Punt, you ask? Coaches at Dakota State, an NAIA program in Madison, S.D., show us, and we’re pretty much going to keep it on a loop for a few minutes.
NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Preview and Predictions
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans can’t beat the Warriors in a seven-game series. The truer debate lies in deciding whether they can win one game against Golden State. An emboldened, postseason version of Anthony Davis will be a sight to see regardless, though. Davis is the best 21-year-old the league has ever seen, and his late-April debut against Steph Curry’s squad makes for a potentially unforgettable moment of introduction. While this may be the least competitive series in the West’s first round, it could also very well be its most watchable.
Verdict: Warriors in 4
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
With full health, the Rockets would be runaway favorites against discombobulated Dallas. But without Patrick Beverley to help cause Maverick headaches with with his perimeter defense, and without the extra punch Donatas Motiejunas gives them down low, this could be a drawn-out affair for Houston. James Harden and Dwight Howard — along with the armada of relentless Rockets wing defenders—should still be able to lead the way into the second round, but they might tire themselves out quite a bit getting there.
Verdict: Rockets in 7
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
Pour one out for Chris Paul. The Clippers point guard has had a fabulous season, and deserves every bit of MVP consideration he gets. But Los Angeles is undeniably overmatched against the surging defending champion Spurs, and their likely first-round exit is only going to give more fuel to the band of CP3 haters who criticize him for his lack of postseason success. The Spurs look poised to take the NBA throne back again, and it seems like a bit of Greek poetry that Paul has to stand in their way so early along the defense path.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Both of these teams are somewhat fortunate to have found each other. The Blazers and Grizzlies both limp into the first round, collectors of broken bodies and holders of lowered hopes. Mike Conley Jr. has been far less than his best self for months, playing on a bum foot, Marc Gasol recently sprained his ankle, and Tony Allen and Courtney Lee have been on and off the floor for a long while. At least their injuries aren’t keeping their men out of action, though: the Blazers will do battle without Wesley Matthews, arguably their most important defender. Expect Memphis to come out alive in this war of attrition.
Verdict: Grizzlies in 6
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Barring Memphis finding a miracle curative elixir, the Warriors’ path of relatively little resistance should continue into the second round. If Memphis can walk into the bout with good health, they can cause Golden State trouble—Zach Randolph is a post-player who can most definitely make the Warriors second-guess their decision to start the undersized Draymond Green at power forward. But the Warriors are likely to waltz through their series with the Pelicans, while the Grizzlies face a more punishing climb in their matchup against Portland. Stamina is always key in the playoffs, and the Warriors look set to have far more of the stuff.
Verdict: Warriors in 5
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
The Rockets, again, should find themselves cursing the injury Gods against San Antonio. Every bit of depth is needed against the Spurs, and the Rockets will more than notice their two missing, crucial pieces of it when Gregg Popovich is running them ragged with relentless ten-man rotations. Putting Kawhi Leonard on James Harden, too, should give San Antonio an edge that no other team in the conference could have over the Rockets. Like Paul before him, Harden might start to see a thin playoff resume diminish his reputation in the eyes of casual fans, after another premature playoff exit.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
Western Conference Finals
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
This series could very well be the NBA Finals — whoever comes out of the East might be ill-suited to contend with either winner. For the Warriors, the sight of San Antonio is certainly scarier than any that could come from the other coast. A late-season Golden State thrashing at the hands of the Spurs put the league on notice, as San Antonio showed it has what it takes to mess up the Warriors’ brilliance on the perimeter. You can’t stop Steph Curry, but if you’ve got Leonard and Danny Green to throw at him, you can come as close as you need to.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
— John Wilmes
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been named the Sprint Cup Series Most Popular Driver for 12 straight years (2003-14). The 40-year-old son of racing royalty and member of the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut is a fan favorite, for obvious reasons. But what does Dale Jr. like? Start with Bristol Motor Speedway, where he will race Sunday.
Athlon Sports caught up with Dale Jr. to talk about the iconic track, childhood memories at the bullring, the new paint scheme on his No. 88 Chevrolet and one of Dale Jr.’s favorite bands — Old Crow Medicine Show, who will play the Bristol prerace concert this weekend.
Where does Bristol rank among tracks on the Cup schedule?
Bristol fights for that top spot. I always loved going there as a kid. It’s one of the more exciting racetracks to be at as a fan. When I used to go watch my father race, being able to run around the pits and garage area all weekend long, when they were preparing to race and then sit down and watch the race, there’s not a bad seat in the house at Bristol. And it’s as much fun to race there as it was to see. It’s very special to me and my heart. It’s a tough race to win, but it’s a great feeling when you do.
What is your favorite Bristol memory?
When we swept in ’04. That was a great, great weekend. To be able to win the Nationwide race and the Cup race. We lapped all the way up to sixth place in the Cup race. We had this long, uncharacteristic green-flag run where we had to pit under green. We ended up lapping a lot of cars. Our car was just the class of the field that night.
Does a win mean more at a historic track like Bristol?
Yeah, it does. I like the history of the sport. I grew up in a house full of trophies, right? With my dad winning all the races he won, there was trophies on every shelf. Some of those trophies are different, more unique than others. The trophy for Bristol is a very, very tall trophy. I remember one of the races he won at Bristol, I got a picture of me standing next to the trophy and I’m shorter than the trophy.
When you’re a kid and you see something that big that you can win at that event, No. 1 you hoped it would never change, so when you got your opportunity to race there you could win the same trophy. And you hoped you’d have that opportunity, No. 2. And we were able to do that.
You don’t seem to drive quite as aggressive as your father, “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt. Why is that?
Well, it’s easy to be aggressive when your cars are good. I’ve been aggressive when the time comes — when it seems to be necessary and when the car can do it. You can’t go running with guys when you’re not handling well or the car doesn’t have a lot of speed because they’ll get you back pretty easy.
Who’s most likely to cause a problem at Bristol?
Anybody, really. Anybody. Whoever’s up there. … Anyone in that position is gonna do whatever it takes to win. Because Bristol’s a track where guys want that trophy on their mantle.
Any pranks planned for teammate Jeff Gordon’s last season?
I’m sure Jimmie (Johnson) has some ideas on some things he’s got brewing. I don’t know if he’ll clue in me and Kasey (Kahne).
Old Crow Medicine Show is playing the prerace show at Bristol. You’re a big fan of those guys aren’t you?
Yeah I been listening to them guys. I actually come across them about four or five years ago and love a lot of their songs. They kind of turned me on to a new genre of music that I’d really not heard before. And being a fan I was really excited when I heard they were gonna come play at the pre-race, so all the other drivers and mechanics and guys can actually get a chance to see them and hear them. So it’ll be great.
What do you think about the new Mountain Dew DEWshine paint scheme on the No. 88 car, which will debut at Bristol?
I guess what matters is what everybody else thinks. I’m just anxious to see what the fans think. I had a little involvement myself. I think it turned out great. The gold numbers are back for Bristol. We’re gonna put some tire marks on that thing and hopefully put it in Victory Lane on top of that building over there at Turn 3.
Ketch Secor, lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show, on Bristol:
That’s where motor racing really calls home — the place where Tennessee and North Carolina and Virginia and Kentucky all come together. That’s sort of the epicenter, in my mind, of racing. Racing fans, they really come from that part of the country.
Anyhow, we’ve always loved playing music in Bristol, Tennessee. It’s the birthplace of country music. It’s a place where the Bristol Sessions found the discovery of some of the seminal figures in early country music history. So, we’ll be really proud to be part of the show this April 19.
Georgia Tech is making sure it commemorates its first win over rival Georgia in six years.
The Yellow Jackets also went on to win the Orange Bowl, defeating Mississippi State 49-34 and earning a bowl championship ring.
One side of the Orange Bowl championship ring commemorates the Yellow Jackets' ACC Coastal title. The other salutes the Georgia “State Champs.” Georgia Tech also defeated Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern 42-38.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tim Byerly shared an image of the ring during his stint as a guest Tweeter for @GTStudents on Thursday.
We finally got the Orange Bowl Rings!! Just as much yours as they are ours. Thx for the support all year Jacket fam!! pic.twitter.com/wPLxXdwNWz— GTStudents (@GTStudents) April 15, 2015