Articles By Athlon Sports
TomTom Runner Cardio GPS watch
Runners rejoice. A built-in sensor measures your heart rate without the need for an awkward chest strap. The large, easy-to-read display makes it a cinch to monitor your distance, speed, calories and more, even during a strenuous run. Set up takes only a few minutes and we recommend syncing it to your computer to track your long-term progress. It worked so well, in fact, that we almost forgot how much we disliked running. Almost.
Adidas miCoach Smart Ball
Whether for yourself or a group of kids your coaching, this high-tech soccer ball takes the game to a whole new level. Download the app, synch it to the ball via Bluetooth, and start kicking. It monitors your power (we managed 58 mph), ball rotation, ball-strike location and trajectory. The app features challenges, training videos and tracks your progress. Charging takes about an hour and lasts about a week (roughly 2,000 kicks). In other words, your leg will run out of steam long before the battery does.
Coleman 50 Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler
This party cooler on wheels keeps your beverages and food frigid even during the hottest of tailgating days. We love the telescopic handle and the fact that you can stand 2-liter bottles upright, or pack in 84 cans of soda (wink, wink). Best of all, Coleman helps you show your team pride with your favorite pro or college football team logo prominently displayed on the front.
Notre Dame Fantasy Camp
If you’ve ever watched the movie “Rudy” and thought, “Hey, I should do that.” Well, now you can. Sort of. Suit up in Fighting Irish gear, dress in the locker room, attend mass, and play a (flag) football game at the stadium, all under the guidance of Coach Brian Kelly’s staff, as well as current and legendary players. In previous years, campers at the multi-day event (June 1-5, 2015) have rubbed elbows with Joe Theismann, “Rocket” Ismail and Tim Brown.
If you watched the World Cup this year and thought, “What’s the big deal? I can do THAT.” Trust us, you can’t. But you can live out your soccer fantasies via one of EA Sports’ best titles. The graphics are stunning, the game-play feels authentic, and you never have to leave your couch to tell your friends that you just bicycle kicked one past goalkeeping great Tim Howard.
$59.99 (PS4); easports.com/fifa
Axe Bat Slowpitch Softball
The creator of the Axe Bat was inspired by hitting legend Ted Williams, who used to swing an axe as part of his off-season training. We tested it and were amazed at how much more pop we got off the bat, simply based on the extra leverage from the axe-shaped handle. It left us asking, “Why would you ever use a regular bat?”
Four Roses Small Batch
Four bourbon recipes were expertly selected by the Master Distiller at the peak of maturation to create a perfectly balanced small batch bourbon that offers a mellow symphony of rich, spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. At least that's what Four Roses says. All we know is that it tastes amazing, goes down sma-oooth and had us cheering even when our team got clobbered.
SensoGlove: The World’s First Digital Golf Glove
Finally — a glove to tell you what you’re doing wrong instead of an annoying playing partner. Made of the highest quality cabretta leather, SensoGlove is easy-to-use with built-in digital sensors that automatically tell you which finger is ruining your golf swing for a consistently accurate, smooth and powerful swing.
Mizuno JPX-850 Driver
Mizuno gets in on the customization kick with the JPX-850, which allows for 10 unique settings (4 neutral, 3 draw, 3 fade) to change launch angle and spin rate. By using twin 8-gram weights, which can be placed on either a central sliding rail or two lateral slots, golfers have the ability to customize the driver to fit their swing needs and, in turn, create the perfect launch conditions and spin rates to bomb drives down the middle of the fairway. Now if I could only customize my swing to look like Ernie Els’.
This American-made hunk of cast-iron goodness rests on your existing grill grates and turns it into a near steakhouse-quality grill. These portable grates reduce flare-ups, help seal in the meat’s juices and leave picture-perfect grill marks. It’s easily the greatest grilling innovation since fire.
$76.99 (two grates & brush); mangrate.com
Gary Player: A Game for Life 3 DVD Instructional Series
Gary Player has traveled more miles than any other athlete. In the process, he won nine majors, so he’s worth listening to. Player shares tips on sand play, efficient practice, short game, course management and fitness for a roadmap to improved play. Keep your cooped-up golfer entertained this winter with simple tips, fun stories and lifestyle advice from the Black Knight himself.
Nike Aeroloft Jacket
We’ve all been there: You get cold, so you put on a jacket, but then you get hot, and your golf swing gets constricted. The swoosh has an answer. Nike designers, with help from the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab, created an insulated performance jacket that allows the body to retain heat while regulating the temperature to keep the athlete comfortable. In other words, the down fill provides lightweight warmth, and the perforations provide ventilation, assisting the body's natural ability to regulate body temperature by dispersing excess heat.
The growing popularity of CrossFit has made kettlebells a common site at many gyms. If you’ve been thinking about trying it out at home, look no further. This 36-pound, chip-resistant piece of ape-faced iron has an enlarged handle for increased grip strength and is balanced to perfection. Worst-case scenario: it’ll make a great door stop in your man cave.
Topps’ Major League 25th Anniversary Wax Pack
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the iconic 1989 baseball movie, Major League, Topps is offering limited edition wax packs featuring cards of classic characters like Roger Dorn, Jake Taylor, Eddie Harris, Rachel Phelps and, of course, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Winning.
Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out by John Calipari and Michael Sokolove
An inside look into the coaching and leadership philosophies of Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari, arguably the most controversial figure of the “one-and-done” era of NCAA hoops. The book chronicles Calipari’s first four seasons in Lexington, including his 2012 national title team.
$21.77 (hardcover); barnesandnoble.com
Tempe, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The Arizona Cardinals are dealing with many key injuries following Sunday's 29-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Cardinals watched safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb), right guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) and running back Andre Ellington (hip pointer) exit the game early. In addition, left tackle Jared Veldheer suffered an ankle injury late in the contest.
Mathieu has a broken left thumb and his status for Sunday's game against Kansas City is unknown. He was at the doctor as Arizona coach Bruce Arians met with the media Monday.
Arians said Mathieu could have a pin inserted in the thumb to help it heal, a procedure that would cost him three weeks. There is also a chance Mathieu will be able to cast it up and play.
Fanaika, Ellington and Veldheer will be monitored as the week progresses.
Arians also said that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has missed the past two games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, should be able to practice on Wednesday.
Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (knee) is expected to play Sunday. He has been practicing but wasn't allowed to be activated until this week after being placed on the injured reserve-designated to return list earlier this season.
New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL will not issue any discipline to five St. Louis Rams players who displayed a show of support to the protesters in nearby Ferguson, Missouri prior to Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
As the Rams' offense was introduced, wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens and tight end Jared Cook all stood together and raised their arms to pay homage to those who protested a recent grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting African-American teenager Michael Brown in August.
The verdict triggered a wave of riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association condemned the players' actions while calling upon the NFL to hand out some sort of punishment, but the league denied that request in a statement issued Monday.
"We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation," NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy said in the statement.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said after his team's 52-0 win over the Raiders that he was unaware of the players' intentions to conduct the gesture, which drew the ire of SLPOA and prompted the organization to demand a public apology from the NFL.
"The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory," the SLPOA stated.
"I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights," said SLPOA business manager Jeff Roorda. "Well, I've got news for people who think that way -- cops have first amendment rights, too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."
Berea, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel?
Browns coach Mike Pettine isn't ready to make that decision just yet.
Pettine said Monday he'll announce on Wednesday who will start at quarterback for this Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. He added that general manager Ray Farmer will be in on the meetings.
"Not ready to make a decision on that at this point," Pettine said. "Not leaning one way or the other."
Hoyer was benched early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Manziel stepped in and engineered an 8-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a 10-yard touchdown scramble.
Manziel, of course, performed his "money sign" celebration following his first NFL touchdown. He ended the game 5-of-8 for 63 yards, forcing the Browns into a critical decision about the team's future of the quarterback position.
Hoyer completed 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards and two interceptions before being benched. In the past three games, Hoyer has thrown only one touchdown pass and six interceptions.
Manziel, selected with the 22nd overall pick in May's draft, doesn't shy away from the spotlight. He was fined $12,000 by the NFL for a hand gesture (flipping the bird) that he made in a preseason loss to the Washington Redskins.
The flashy Manziel recently made headlines for an altercation that took place at an apartment complex in Cleveland last week, as a fan alleged that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and his "entourage" assaulted him and his brother.
The 7-5 Browns enter Sunday's game tied with Pittsburgh and Baltimore for second place in the AFC North.
Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger's shoulder injury is not believed to be serious, head coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters on Monday.
The Titans are hopeful he'll be able to play Sunday against the Giants.
Mettenberger suffered a Grade 1 sprain of his AC joint following a big hit from J.J. Watt in the third quarter of Sunday's 45-21 loss to the Texans.
Jake Locker, who was replaced by Mettenberger as the Titans' starter last month, came on in relief, and his first pass was intercepted. Locker was picked off twice and tossed for 91 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-12 throws.
Mettenberger threw for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception before leaving.
Whisenhunt also provided an update on wide receiver Justin Hunter, who suffered a lacerated spleen Sunday and was taken to an area hospital. Whisenhunt said he should be released in the next day or two, but didn't comment on Hunter's status going forward.
The Cleveland Cavaliers just began a campaign to get the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at the Quicken Loans Arena. LeBron James, as has been a trend for him lately, has already publicly reminded everybody who’s boss in Ohio, and undermined his franchise’s momentum with the effort.
"It would be too much for me," James said to reporters Tuesday, before his team’s 11-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, in which James collected 26 points and 10 assists. "It would be too much for me. I think it would be great for us to host (the All-Star game), but hopefully I'm no good in that year if we get it. Too much for me. I don't want it. My family, friends — I don't want it. Too much.”
In his second time around with the Cavs, James has been able to get things the way he wants them so far. He seems to hold more authority over his roster than rookie coach David Blatt, often acting as a de facto disciplinarian for a crew that he, at least partially, hand-picked. Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion were recruited by James this summer, while Tristan Thompson is largely believed to have survived the Kevin Love trade because he shares an agent with James, Rich Paul.
LeBron’s also already taken to the media, before, to critique fellow Cavs. Kyrie Irving’s ballhogging has been noted in so many words by the King, and he’s also openly wondered about the legitimacy of some of Blatt’s pedagogy. James has pushed the envelope in terms of how powerful a figure can be as an NBA player. He’s got an organization in the palm of his hand — and if he threatened to enter free agency again (a possibility in 2015, as James’ new contract has an opt-out clause) he could easily hold dominion over quite a few other teams, too.
— John Wilmes
Late in the third quarter, Alabama was struggling to score enough points to beat Auburn. The Crimson Tide’s quarterback Blake Sims, had thrown three interceptions and Alabama trailed Auburn 36-27. With 3:30 left in the third quarter, Sims connected with Amari Cooper for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
The Crimson Tide rolled on to score 28 unanswered points. The final score of the Iron Bowl was 55-44, with Bama coming out on top in the game and stayed at No. 1 in the Legends Poll receiving 12 of the 13 first place votes this week.
Oregon clobbered Oregon State in this year’s Civil War 47-19 and moves up to the No. 2 slot. The Ducks’ Marcus Mariota accounted for 6 TDs and looks to be the frontrunner for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
Florida State dropped down to No. 3, after hanging tough against in-state rival Florida and pulling out another win 24-19 to become the only undefeated team through the regular season at 12-0. The Seminoles’ defense continually came up big stopping the running attack of the Gators. They received one first place vote from the Legends.
TCU Horned Frogs leaped to No. 4 after demolishing the Texas Longhorns on Thanksgiving night 48-10. Baylor remained at No. 5 by just squeaking past Texas Tech 48-46.
Ohio State struggled past Michigan 42-28, moving up one spot to No. 6. Even though they won, they lost true freshman quarterback Barrett to an ankle injury. The Buckeyes will have to play the Big 10 conference chamapionship with a new quarterback.
Arizona comes in at No. 7 after beating Arizona State 42-35 and earned the right to a rematch against Oregon in the Pac 12 conference championship to be played next weekend. Arizona has beaten the Oregon Ducks the last two times they played and gave them their only loss earlier this season.
Michigan State crushed Penn State 34-10 and moved to No. 8.
|3||Florida State (1)||12-0||79||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The NBA’s Eastern Conference is bad, very bad — while its Western Conference is just the opposite. By season’s end, we might be facing a record-shattering competitive discrepancy between the league’s two halves. At time of publication, the Indiana Pacers’ ugly 8-10 start would have them in the East playoffs, while a superior 8-8 start from the off-the-radar Denver Nuggets has them tenth in their conference, outside of the postseason picture.
Understood in terms of point differential, the gap between the conferences is like this: The West has 10 teams who average more points than they give up, while the East has just five. Something, many believe, needs to be done about how much harder life is beyond the Mississippi, and you can count Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban among them.
"It's not like it'd be the first time we've ever realigned," Cuban said to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. "It's happened many times before, so there's precedent and I just think it shakes things up and makes things interesting. It's not like you're reducing competition. You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild. It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well.
"I did the trial close right here," Cuban said about his plan, which would ship his Mavericks — along with the New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets — to the East while the Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would come west. "Then it'll turn into headline porn and then we'll see the response.”
— John Wilmes
Lucky for Tom Crean, the tumultuous offseason is over. Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers can breathe a little easier, for the time being, and concentrate strictly on basketball.
Just three weeks ago, Crean was feeling the pressure from an IU fan base starved for a sixth national title banner to hang in Assembly Hall. Or at least an Indiana program back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.
Instead, Bloomington had controversy.
Back then, the news that freshman forward Emmitt Holt had been driving a car that hit sophomore teammate and that both players were drinking underage led to an outcry for a changing of the guard in Bloomington. Police said Holt, 18, was not responsible for the accident and was below the legal blood alcohol limit, but the Nov. 1 incident was the latest in a series of off-court incidents involving Crean’s players.
After 17 wins and missing the postseason altogether in 2013-14, many called for IU athletic director Fred Glass to turn up the heat on Tom Crean. With the most recent string of off-court issues, the change in temperature may be justified.
Glass gave Crean his vote of confidence when he told the Indianapolis Star earlier in the month that Crean “is the solution, not even part of the problem.” The vocal majority was skeptical at best of a coach who failed to capitalize on the No. 1 team in the nation two years ago.
While the clamor for Crean’s job has diminished with the start of the season, Indiana faces a critical week to set the tone for the remainder of the season. The Hoosiers already have been on both sides of an upset, defeating a ranked SMU team on Nov. 20 and losing at home to Eastern Washington on Nov. 24.
IU’s next tests begin this week when the Hoosiers host Pitt in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge today and face Louisville at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 9.
Those will be tall tasks for this Indiana squad, but Glass could be right in assuming that Crean is part of Indiana’s solution. Crean has dug Indiana out of a mess before. Seven years ago, when Crean was hired, the program faced NCAA sanctions from the Kelvin Sampson scandal.
The vast majority of the state’s top recruits had been overlooking IU for years, and the roster was riddled with failing grades, drug abuse allegations, nothing but walk-ons, and a lame duck interim coach in Dan Dakich.
In 2012, Crean helped deliver Indiana’s first Big Ten title in 20 seasons, back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and a No. 1-ranked team. For a time, Indiana was back among the elites.
Crean resurrected the program, recruiting players who succeeded academically and athletically. Last season, Indiana posted a perfect APR and received the APR Public Recognition Award for four consecutive years of academic excellence.
That counts for something, right?
Crean will have at least a season to deliver results, but what constitutes a success is open to interpretation. Athlon picked the Hoosiers eighth in the Big Ten and slotted them into the NIT, not a banner season by Indiana standards. Yogi Ferrell is one of the top point guards in the league, but his supporting cast is in question.
The arrival of freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson addressed the need for shooters and floor spacers the Hoosiers desperately lacked last season.
With sophomore sniper Collin Hartman returning from an ACL tear, and the arrivals of freshman Max Hoetzel and Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisoft, Indiana won’t be short on deep threats. In Indiana’s first six games they are averaging 9.7 3-pointers per game while shooting 43.6 percent from deep. Blackmon alone is shooting 57.1 from behind the arc.
The loss of big men Noah Vonleh to the NBA Draft and Luke Fischer to Marquette is Crean’s biggest issue, leaving the Hoosiers looking and playing like a run-and-gun Big East roster in the meat and potatoes Big Ten.
Rebounding and post defense are going to be the biggest areas of concern for the Hoosiers, especially in conference play.
Unfortunately for Crean, the frontcourt woes have been magnified by the rash of off-court issues.
Six-foot-nine forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who was arrested in February for DUI, is Crean’s most experienced true post player and averaging only 4.7 rebounds and 8.2 points so far this season against inferior competition. Sophomore forward Troy Williams, who was suspended four games for a second failed drug test, will be asked to play out of position and help solidify the post for Indiana this season.
Yet Crean has done enough in his tenure at Indiana to give him a chance to dig the Hoosiers out of their current predicament. Whether Indiana misses the tournament for a second straight year or surprises every college basketball prognosticator in America and goes dancing, Crean has earned the right to clean up this mess. He’s done it before.
-by Jacob Rose
Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets started out their first year with their new/old moniker on an exciting, “buzzy” note. Since then, it’s been nothing but downhill.
Currently on a nine-game losing streak, the Hornets are lost. And many have speculated that their maverick off-season acquisition is a big part of their new malaise. Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson is, by all accounts, a handful as a personality in the locker room, and the Hornets have appeared ill-equipped to wrangle him in recent days. So much so that their front office is already considering moving the mercurial shooting guard. Here’s the word from the wire, via Grantland’s Zach Lowe:
“The Hornets are searching for upgrades on the wing and at power forward, per those sources, and they are willing to talk turkey on basically anyone other than Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Free agents signed this past offseason can't be traded until December 15, and few would be surprised if the Hornets make and take calls on Lance Stephenson ahead of that trigger date.
“The Hornets viewed Stephenson as a dose of perimeter dynamism for a plodding offense built around Walker's pick-and-roll work and Professor Al's post-up trickery. The 2013-14 version of that offense didn't really have a third leg — a creative off-the-dribble threat waiting on the weak side when smart defenses snuffed out the good stuff. Stephenson didn't promise to solve Charlotte's fatal spacing issues, but with Indiana he was an average 3-point shooter and a bullying rim attacker on the pick-and-roll.
“It hasn't worked. ... Stephenson is an easy scapegoat, and that's partly his own doing. His body language has been horrible, and that degrades morale. He pouts when he doesn't get the ball on the weak side, flapping his wings and looking skyward as if his teammates have wronged him. He steals rebounds, and he hot dogs with the ball at times.”
While a deal involving Stephenson is unlikely at this premature moment, a few more weeks of losing and bad P.R. for Charlotte could push the needle to “move now” territory quickly. Stay tuned for updates.
— John Wilmes
When it comes to reborn players, Gerald Green is near the top of the genre. The 28-year-old was selected No. 18 overall, straight out of high school in Houston, by the Boston Celtics. He followed that with a six-team stretch that saw him struggle to find minutes or a defined NBA role. The extreme, eye-popping athleticism that got him into the league without any NCAA action appeared to be languishing by the 2012-13 season, when he played a reserve role with the Indiana Pacers and averaged less than 12 minutes per game in their playoff run.
Things have been different with the Phoenix Suns, though. Under the leadership of head coach Jeff Hornacek — last year’s runner up for Coach of the Year honors — Green’s springy style has blossomed. Watch as he creates one of our early season’s chief highlights last night, ooping it to himself for an emphatic finish against the Orlando Magic:
Green is now an indispensable rotation player for his team, running all over the floor in the Suns’ uptempo system and liberally shooting 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip. He pairs with tiny dynamo Isaiah Thomas to make the Suns’ second unit nearly as devastating as their turbo-charged starters, led by the two-headed guard monster that is Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
Green’s memorable flourish, this time, unfortunately came in a Phoenix loss. The Suns dropped the game 93-90 to the young, feisty Magic, who were led by the combined 39 points and 18 rebounds of Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. The Suns also got a chance to say hello to an old ally — Channing Frye, a floor-stretching big man who provided invaluable veteran resolve to last year’s 48-win Suns squad, which narrowly missed the Western Conference playoffs.
— John Wilmes
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s race back into playoff contention began in earnest over the weekend, as Russell Westbrook returned from a hand injury to lead his team to a dominant, morale-boosting 105-78 victory over the New York Knicks. Westbrook controlled the game thoroughly in every moment he was in it, tallying 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. He was the best player on the floor, and it wasn’t close. Russ’s emphatic dunk early on said pretty clearly that the Thunder are a frightening foe once again:
Reigning MVP Kevin Durant was still watching from the sidelines, excitedly cheering on his Thunder and looking like he badly wanted to join them. Durant’s been practicing with the team, so it’s only a matter of weeks before he returns. It’s a fun time to be an OKC fan: The team suffered greatly without its stars — going just 4-10 — but it’s still early enough for their hole to be manageable. A mere five-game deficit in the standings separates them from the conference’s eighth playoff seed.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Westbrook’s buddy Derrick Rose found rhythm with his Chicago Bulls. Behind the All-Star level play of Jimmy Butler and the out-of-hibernation mania of Joakim Noah, Rose and the Bulls beat the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets over the weekend to finish their annual circus road trip with a 4-3 mark despite a litany of injuries to key players.
The Bulls now sit near the top of the Eastern Conference, where there may be a vacancy soon. During a 106-102 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Raptors lost shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who suffered a torn tendon in his left groin, as reported by ESPN and AP. The Raptors currently lead the East with a 13-3 record, but having DeRozan (arguably their best player) out for an indefinite period of time will make it hard for them to keep pace.
— John Wilmes
It does not matter which division you put them in, as the Wisconsin Badgers just have a knack for playing for the Big Ten championship game. In the four years the Big Ten has held an organized championship game, Wisconsin will be making their third appearance in Indianapolis this week. Perhaps it is time to respect Wisconsin as one of the top programs in the conference - if we have not done so already.
When the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams and opened the doors to a conference championship, many were quick to suggest the game would be dominated on a regular basis by Ohio State and Michigan. Perhaps this will be true over a longer period of time, but Michigan has yet to play in the game and Ohio State is making just its second appearance in part due to one year of a postseason ban. The Buckeyes came up short in their first Big Ten championship game trip a season ago, losing to Michigan State. Now, without quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes must find a way to slow down a red-hot Wisconsin running game, with their own Heisman candidate running back Melvin Gordon leading the devastating charge.
For Wisconsin, this is an opportunity to proclaim once more to be the team to beat in the Big Ten. Though the Badgers have seen plenty of success in the Big Ten over the last few years, the state of the Big Ten continues to be measured on a national scale based heavily on the status of Ohio State and Michigan. Wisconsin had a chance to change that slightly with a season-opening game against LSU, but the Badgers saw that win in Houston slip away in the second half. Now is a time for some redemption with a third Big Ten title in four years.
As it turns out, Wisconsin is being shown some respect heading to the Big Ten Championship Game. Not only have the Badgers climbed the rankings enough to hang just outside the top ten in the major polls, but Wisconsin has been tabbed the betting favorite heading to the Big Ten title game. The injury to J.T. Barrett carries some influence in that betting line for sure, but Wisconsin will issue no apologies for that situation.
Winning an outright championship was a rarity in the Big Ten until the introduction of the Big Ten championship game. No school other than Ohio State or Michigan has ever won three outright conference championships in a four-year span. Minnesota did it when the Big Ten was known as the Western Conference with just nine members (Michigan State had not joined the conference yet and Chicago was in its final days as a conference member). If it happened before the Allies claimed victory in World War II, it does not count for much in today’s game. Perhaps the Badgers are looking to establish dominance in the new era of the conference.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Running backs made a strong return to prominence in the 2014 college football season, and no other conference saw running backs take the spotlight the way the Big Ten did. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah entered the season as two of the most recognized running backs in the country, and more than lived up to the hype. With Gordon and Abdullah in the conference, it was easy to overlook the work done by Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. Coleman may be the nation’s most overlooked running back.
Two running backs rushed for 2,000 yards this season. Gordon at Wisconsin you already know. The Badgers running back leads the nation with 2,260 yards and he has a shot at the single-season rushing record with a Big Ten championship game and bowl game still to play. The other 2,000-yard rusher this season is Indiana’s Coleman, and his rushing total may be even more impressive.
Indiana’s offense was dealt a blow with various injuries this season, which put the pressure to keep the offense doing anything squarely on the shoulder pads of Coleman. He was up to the task, running for 100 yards in all but one game this season. He rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State and 132 yards against Michigan State. Though the Hoosiers were unable to string together enough wins to go to a bowl game, it was not for a lack of effort from Coleman. He just needed more of a supporting cast or a defense to get to the postseason.
Those who watch Big Ten football may be much more familiar with Coleman, but in a year that seemed to be heavy on running back depth in the Big Ten, missing out on hapless Indiana and their running back star must have been common for the casual college football fan. The Big Ten will see Gordon fly to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and Nebraska’s Abdullah is a household name. The Big Ten also saw Jeremy Langford be a big piece of top 10 Michigan State’s offense all season long. Minnesota’s David Cobb also had an impact for a Gophers team making a push for a division title. Coleman’s biggest flaw was playing on a losing team, which is often the case for talented players most people may not know much about.
If Coleman returns to the Hoosiers in 2015, he will no longer be flying under the radar. Running backs may have had a strong season in college football, but the importance of the running back has taken a hit in the NFL Draft. Maybe that will be enough to keep Coleman in Bloomington for another year. If so, then Kevin Wilson’s offense will have a valuable piece to work with in 2015.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
California ran into a brick wall on its path to the postseason in 2014, but the program appears to be in solid hands with head coach Sonny Dykes.
Cal ended its 2014 season sitting on five wins, one win shy of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. The first season under Dykes may have looked like a mistake with just one win to celebrate in 2013, but Dykes has shown Cal has potential to compete in the Pac-12 using his coaching style and system. It just took some time for that to become a reality.
The difference one season under Dykes made was undeniable. In his first season at Cal, the Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring with just 23.0 points per game in 2013. That matched the 2012 scoring average of Cal, but the win total went down in the process as Dykes took over. No team in the Pac-12 improved its average scoring output in 2014. The Bears finished the season ranked second in scoring average, behind only Oregon, with an average of 38.3 points per game.
As expected, Dykes has used the passing game to lead his program. When Dykes took over, the Bears improved from ninth to third in the Pac-12 in passing offense, adding about 121 passing yards per game in 2013 compared to 2012. This season the Bears added even more to the passing game with 346.0 passing yards per game. Only Washington State and Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense had more passing yards per game. Cal may not be running the ball as much as it did before Dykes was named the head coach, but the running game did improve this season compared to 2013. The Bears rushed for nearly 150 yards per game this season, up from 123.7 ypg in 2013. More importantly, California more than doubled its rushing touchdown total in 2014, going from just 10 in 2013 to 22 in 2014.
Next season, Cal should be in line for a bowl trip if everything continues to develop the way it has this season. Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff will return an experienced junior with nearly 4,000 passing yards and 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in 2014. Leading receivers Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs could all be back as targets next season as well. Throw in a potential senior running back in Daniel Lasco, with his 1,115 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and the ingredients of a healthy and potent offense are in place. There will be a couple of holes to fill on the offensive line, but Dykes is going to have an offense that will be ready to take the next step in 2015. If the defense can start to improve the way the offense has, getting to six wins should easily be within reach next season.
Cal’s defense allowed a Pac-12 worst 39.8 points per game in 2014. With four losses decided by one score, Cal does not need to be Stanford on defense to get back to the postseason. Trimming just five points from two losses would have resulted in two more wins. Cal is close to being a bowl team, and this is the first step. At Cal, the focus will not be on winning a Pac-12 title, or even a Pac-12 North title, but a step in the right direction. Dykes is leading Cal in the right direction.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
NC State added about a touchdown per game to its scoring average. At the same time, it trimmed three points off its defensive scoring average. The result? An increase of four wins and a bowl trip in Dave Doeren’s second season in Raleigh.
Year two under Doeren got off to a solid start, although it took advantage of a weak non-conference schedule. The Wolfpack picked up wins out of the gate against Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian. A 4-0 start is always nice, regardless of the competition, but it was not until a home date with Florida State in late September we got a true glimpse of the potential NC State would come to show off this season. NC State caught Florida State sleeping in Raleigh, but as so many teams have found out this season, putting Florida State to sleep for good is an incredibly difficult task. NC State showed plenty of firepower, but Florida State had just a little bit more in a 56-41 decision.
It looked as though NC State had already hit a wall. A week after the wild setback against the Seminoles, the Wolfpack were shutout on the road at Clemson, 41-0. Two more double-digit losses in ACC play to Boston College and Louisville appeared to drop NC State back to some reality that Doeren had plenty of work to still do. As it turned out, that is when NC State did get to work.
NC State forced three turnovers in a road win at Syracuse. Another setback against ACC Coastal champion Georgia Tech followed, but NC State finished on quite the high note in the regular season. The Wolfpack blew away Wake Forest to clinch bowl eligibility, and wrapped up the regular season with another in-state blowout victory against North Carolina, 35-7. Any time a North Carolina school can go undefeated against in-state opponents, it is a cause for celebration.
There is no question Doeren is leading NC State down a positive path, although there is much work to be done before making any plans to challenge Florida State, Clemson and perhaps Louisville for the Atlantic Division. Ending the season with a bowl victory would be nice, but the focus on 2015 should already begin.
NC State will lose a bunch of talent from the starting offense, and perhaps more if some juniors leave with a year of eligibility remaining. The defense will look to fill a bunch of holes as well. Playing in a bowl game can help give new faces some extra reps to prepare for the future, and that should not be overlooked. NC State looks to be heading to a rebuilding year, but it does not have to be if Doeren’s Wolfpack make the most of extra bowl practices and the bowl game.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The Crimson Tide stayed at No. 1, with eleven first place votes. Alabama started slow against Western Carolina but trudged to a victory, 48-14.
No. 2 FSU slipped past Boston College on a last second field goal 20-17. The Seminoles came in with two first place votes and stay undefeated. They have a 27-game win streak.
Oregon maintained the 3 spot in the poll, as they continued to roll for another blowout, 44-10, against Colorado. The Ducks have won six straight games since losing to Arizona.
Vandy proved no contest for the No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Commodores got shellacked 51-0.
Baylor beat Oklahoma State 49-28, TCU was idle, and Ohio State struggled past Inidiana 42-27. Those three teams come in ranked at No. 5 through No. 7, with Georgia staying at no. 8 after easily destroying Charleston Southern 55-9.
Next weekend will be what is always the most exciting of the year … Rivalry Weekend. The Iron Bowl in Alabama, the Egg Bowl in Mississppi, the Civil War in Oregon, and the Florida-FSU game could provide the biggest shake up in the top 4 this coming week.
|2||Florida State (2)||11-0||86||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: FRIDAY GAME SET
1) QB Justin Holman, UCF vs. USF ($5400)
Holman could have a very nice game against a weak South Florida defense. We would expect to see Holman account for a few scores in this contest.
2) QB Dane Evans, Tulsa vs. ECU ($6900)
Evans has had some big games this year and this week could be another one against ECU. The Pirates defense gives up plenty of big plays and Evans has the weapons to take advantage. Expect Evans to toss a few scores in this one.
1) RB Kenneth Farrow, Houston vs. SMU ($5800)
Farrow scored four times last week against Tulsa and could duplicate those numbers versus SMU this week. The Mustangs defense is down right awful and could yield plenty of opportunity for Farrow to find pay dirt.
2) RB William Stanback, UCF vs. USF ($4900)
Stanback missed last week due to injury, but returned to practice and should play this week. He could easily score a couple of times against this Bulls defense.
3) RB Mark Weisman, Iowa vs. Nebraska ($4800)
Weisman has scored 14 rushing touchdowns this season and could add a couple to that total against Nebraska. The Huskers run defense is a sieve right now and is allowing huge running plays.
1) WR Bud Sasser, Missouri vs. Arkansas ($4800)
Sasser has scored five times in the past four games. He is the top target for Missouri and comes in at a lower price. Look for Sasser to have a productive game and reach value.
2) WR Breshad Periman, UCF vs. USF ($4700)
Perriman has scored a receiving touchdown in each of the last five games. He could easily make it six in a row versus the Bulls. Look for Perriman to beat USF deep at least once.
3) WR Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky vs. Marshall ($4600)
Dangerfield has scored three times in the last two weeks and is getting no respect with his pricing. He could have a big game in what could be a shootout with Marshall. Look for “Rodney” to hit value this week.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB CJ Brown, Maryland vs. Rutgers ($6400)
Brown may run all over this Scarlet Knight defense. He could easily run for a couple of scores and add another one through the air. Expect Brown to post a nice stat line on Saturday.
2) QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State vs UNC ($5200)
This one is all about the match up. The Tar Heels defense is simply horrible and Brissett could have a big fantasy day. He could be an excellent punt option this week.
3) QB Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville vs. Kentucky ($4900)
Bonnafon has scored three rushing touchdowns in the last two games. He gets a solid match up with a struggling Kentucky defense. Expect Bonnafon to reach value this week.
1) RB Buck Allen, USC vs. Notre Dame ($6300)
Allen has struggled a bit recently, but comes in at a very low price considering his potential. He could carve up this Notre Dame defense that is playing awful over the past month. Take advantage of Buck’s low price this week.
2) RB Devin Chafin, Baylor vs. Texas Tech ($5800)
Chafin has scored seven rushing touchdowns in the last three games and is getting a steady dose of carries. Expect Chafin to find the end zone again this week against a lousy Red Raiders rush defense.
3) RB TJ Logan, UNC vs. NC State ($4900)
Logan is averaging 104 yards rushing and a score over the past two games. He draws a very appealing match up with a soft NC State defense. Look for Logan to have another productive afternoon.
4) Robert Martin, Rutgers vs. Maryland ($4700)
Martin seems to have taken over the Rutgers backfield and could have a nice stat line against a Maryland team that is defensively challenged. Look for Martin to approach 100 yards on the ground and add a score.
1) WR Devin Lauderdale, Texas Tech vs. Baylor ($5200)
Lauderdale has scored three times in the last two games, which coincides with the insertion of Patrick Mahomes at the QB position. Look for Lauderdale to be targeted early and often against Baylor.
2) WR Mike Williams, Clemson vs. South Carolina ($4800)
Williams could receive a boost this week with the expected return of DeShaun Watson under center. He also has a very nice match up with a South Carolina defense that has struggled all year long.
3) WR Shane Wynn, Indiana vs. Purdue ($4700)
Wynn is averaging 106 yards receiving over the last two games and could tear up a miserable Purdue defense. He could find the end zone this week as well.
4) WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State vs. Michigan ($4400)
Marshall is becoming a big time playmaker for Ohio State. He had 95 yards receiving and four total scores last week against Indiana. Expect him to make more big plays against Michigan.
1) TE Dan Vitale, Northwestern vs. Illinois ($3100)
Vitale had 43 yards and a touchdown last week and could put together another solid game versus Illinois.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Blake Sims, Alabama vs. Auburn ($6700)
Sims could have a huge game against an Auburn defense that is softer than a wet paper bag. Look for Sims to make plenty of big plays and rack up the yards and scores.
1) RB TJ Yeldon, Alabama vs. Auburn ($5100)
Yeldon sat out last week and should be ready to roll in the Iron Bowl. Look for TJ to come out ready to play and easily reach value this week.
2) RB Don Jackson, Nevada vs. UNLV ($5100)
Jackson had a stinker last week, but could bounce back nicely against UNLV. The Rebels rush defense has allowed 34 rushing touchdowns on the season and is ranked 123rd in the country.
3) RB Dwayne Washington, Washington vs. Washington State ($4900)
Washington has back-to-back games with over 100 yards rushing and has scored three times in those games. He could find plenty of room to run in the Apple Cup game with Washington State.
1) WR Jordan Villamin, Oregon State vs. Oregon ($5300)
Villamin is averaging 23.55 DK fantasy points over the last four contests. He appears to be priced way too low compared to his recent production. Look for this Beaver to have an excellent game in the Civil War.
2) WR Bruce Natson, Utah State vs. Boise State ($5600)
Natson is averaging 23.68 DK fantasy points over the past four games and is also receiving carries out of the backfield. Look for his impressive streak to continue against the Broncos on Saturday night.
3) WR Marcus Kemp, Hawaii vs. Fresno State ($5100)
Kemp had 114 yards and a score last week against UNLV. He has another juicy match up with Fresno State this week. The Bulldogs rank 100th in the country against the pass.
1) TE Cam Serigne, Wake Forest vs. Duke ($3400)
Serigne is one of the better DFS tight ends and has been playing very well recently. He could find more success against Duke.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Let’s not beat around the bush: We love the NBA. That’s why we’re here. And in lieu of any game action tomorrow — football’s time to shine as the turkey’s tryptophan tricks us to sleep — we’ll have to subsist on the memory of some of the season’s most heart-warming trends. What are we thankful for through the beginning of the 2014-15 season?
Boogie Cousins and the surging underdogs, the Sacramento Kings
The 9-5 Kings have been the league’s most fun team this November. Their collection of written-off ballers has been the David raging against the collective media’s Goliath-sized doubt about them, and their endearing chemistry is an essential part of their cache. Check out DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi flaring some of that love on the bench:
Anthony Davis is the future of the NBA. The 21-year-old Chicago native has long been regarded as a future MVP candidate, but after his stint with Team USA this summer, The ‘Brow is jumping into headlines sooner than many expected. It’s still early in the season, but right now it’s an easy call: Davis is the best player in the league, and watching him is a singular joy. Watch him prove it in this recent 40-point performance against the Utah Jazz:
The Lakers and Knicks are both terrible
My apologies if you reside in — or root for — one of the nation’s two biggest basketball markets. But for myself and everyone else in between, the schadenfreude that the burning rubbish of these two franchises grants us is richer than the pumpkin pie that follows the feast. New York and L.A. are a combined 7-22; yikes. Enjoy the failure while it lasts.
I think this Vine of lil’ Nate speaks for itself:
— John Wilmes
Led by 22 points and 12 rebounds from DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, the Sacramento Kings improved to 9-5 on the season by beating Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, 99-89, at the Smoothie King Center in Louisiana last night.
Considering that the Kings beat the Pellies without their No. 2 man Rudy Gay, it might be safe to say this was something of a statement game. Boogie and Davis, both, are the best young big men in the game, and they’re also both trying to lead their teams from mere Western Conference fodder into genuine playoff contention. In the ongoing (and fascinating) tug of war between the two teams — which last saw N.O. take a 106-100 victory in Sacramento, just a week ago — the Kings now stand proudly.
The Kings’ Northern California suite mates, meanwhile, took care of business all the way over in America’s swampiest appendage, downing the Miami Heat 114-97 behind Stephen Curry’s 40-point explosion, which included 8-of-11 shooting from three-point land. Watching Curry do his thing at top volume is one of the greater joys of the modern game, so I’m just going to leave this here:
Fellow point guard mega-star Derrick Rose wasn’t having the same luck as Curry up in the woozy altitude of Denver, as the Chicago Bulls fell 114-109 to the Nuggets. Rose left the game at halftime, citing discomfort with his recently tweaked hamstring. Given that the team was playing on a back-to-back and Rose’s body is prone to breakdowns anyway, resting him was probably the wisest course available. But that won’t stop the endless, Rose-centric idiot wind from storming through the net for today, tomorrow, and forevermore.
— John Wilmes
LeBron James called his Cleveland Cavaliers team “fragile” over the weekend, after they hit a new low by losing a fourth-straight game. The Cavs haven’t proved they’re tough and playoff-ready, by any means. But at least that streak is over now. Cleveland dominated the young Orlando Magic wire-to-wire last night, pulling out a 104-76 victory behind James’ 29 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals. That’s what MVPs do: They snap you out of a funk, straightening out a whole squad seemingly on their own.
Derrick Rose used to do such work the Chicago Bulls, but lately the Windy City’s lucky just to see their star point guard take the floor. After missing four games with a tweaked hamstring, Rose returned to action against the Utah Jazz last night to help the Bulls eke out a win in Salt Lake City after blowing a 19-point lead. Chicago played Rose for just 25 minutes, clearly still uneasy about the health of their game-changing star. Until the stakes are truly high, you can expect the team’s approach to favor preserving Rose’s fragile body, regardless of what his critics might say.
The New York Knicks were put in a position to understand Chicago’s plight last night, as Carmelo Anthony left the court with back spasms toward the end of a 91-86 road loss to the Houston Rockets. ESPN's Ian Begley reported that 'Melo went to a Houston hospital to receive medication for the pain, but Anthony’s status is otherwise unknown at this moment. Stay tuned for updates.
But Rockets counterpart James Harden continued to prove, in this contest, that he deserves mention in the MVP category himself. Racking up a season-high 36 points to go with six rebounds and six steals, Harden closed the Knicks by scoring his team’s last 12 points and widened the gap to let Clutch City breathe easy. If the Rockets are to survive Dwight Howard’s recent knee injury — which has led to some serious rebounding and rim-protection problems — it’ll be because of The Beard simply won’t let them lose.
— John Wilmes
It’s been a weird season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Preseason speculation had them atop of the league, fighting for a second Western Conference title and their first NBA championship. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant’s foot injury — a Jones fracture — cast doubt on those hopes, but by no means dashed them. When Russell Westbrook left the team’s first game of the season with a hand injury, things got even dimmer.
Next came injuries to Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb. The “Zombie Thunder” have been a collection of overstretched players; basketball journeymen thrust into roles they couldn’t have possibly imagined a 59-win team would’ve handed them. Kendrick Perkins has been asked to score — yikes — in an offense regularly led by Sebastian Telfair, a point guard who wasn’t even in the league last season.
Now 3-12, the Thunder have the worst record in their conference. Only the comically bad, winless Philadelphia 76ers are at a lower spot in the standings. The Thunder have dug themselves quite a hole to get out of.
Good thing the cavalry’s on the way, then. According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, the Thunder’s dual superstars are now participating in the majority of team practices. Westbrook could return as soon as Friday, when OKC hosts the New York Knicks. “They looked good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said when asked about Durant and Westbrook. “But no more than that. They’re going to continue to go through this process, and when they’re ready, 100 percent ready, they will play. But until then, nothing else we know of.”
At the end of the day, the berserk Western Conference is arguably no easier or more difficult for a team whether their postseason berth comes with a No. 1 seed or a No. 8 seed. Every matchup is tough. And the Thunder, lucky them, are talented enough to beat any team in a seven-game series (home court or not) if they’re healthy. The challenge now is for them to play nearly perfect basketball for four months, just to get to those playoffs.
— John Wilmes
Earlier this month, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver penned a New York Times op-ed called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” The column was exactly what its title would lead you to believe it was. Silver highlighted the ongoing mega-industry of sports betting — a mixture of illegal activity and tricky maneuvering through legislation made possible by the internet — and called for professional sports leagues to take hold of the phenomenon for themselves, and bring it into daylight.
“There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States,” Silver wrote, “but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.” Silver also noted that things are different — and, by implication, more reasonable — abroad: “Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.”
Silver’s voice is one thing, but now a louder one is joining in. Over the weekend, Mark Cuban echoed his commissioner’s sentiments. “I agree 100 percent," Cuban told reporters before his Dallas Mavericks fell to the Houston Rockets. ”I think we're the world's biggest hypocrites when we say, 'Oh, we don't want you betting on our games,' and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL.
“I mean, it's hugely hypocritical. I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It's just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change. And it'll be interesting to see how the NFL reacts as well, because they've still so far said that they're adamant against it because I guess they have data that says the NFL doesn't benefit from gambling.”
Now, who wants to throw down on some over/unders about Cuban’s suggested timeline?
— John Wilmes
The Cleveland Cavaliers have now lost four games in a row. Nobody thought it was going to be easy for the quickly assembled super squad to find their rhythm — but no one thought they’d falter this badly out of the gate, either. Now 5-7 on the season, LeBron’s squad showed all the classic symptoms of losing basketball in their two weekend losses to the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors. Dropping the games by an average deficit of 15, they looked lost on both sides of the ball as rookie head coach David Blatt continued to have little impact on James and the rest of his stars.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat didn’t get off to a great start either, but the pandemonium about their beginnings was centered around a mere 9-8 record. They were criticized for not destroying everyone; not for failing to meet the standards of competence.
James had already clocked significant Team USA minutes with Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while there’s a lot more work to be done with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom seem confused and overwhelmed by the demands of winning basketball. How much longer can Cleveland stumble without general manager David Griffin making some moves?
Meanwhile, Anthony Davis continued to prove himself as this season’s best player. In a 106-94 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the New Orleans Pelicans big man poured in a career-high 43 points, also collecting 14 rebounds on the night. Davis is up to a preposterous 35.91 player efficiency rating over 36.6 minutes per game, and if he can hover near those figures for the rest of the season, there’s little doubt he’ll win the MVP award.
The Chicago Bulls’ former MVP Derrick Rose continued to sit and nurse his hamstring as his team limped into losses against the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. Pau Gasol is now also out (calf) and the team lost Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson to injuries over the weekend, too. Chicago is still sitting pretty, near the top of the Eastern Conference seedings with an 8-5 record. But if the bodies keep on falling, the Bulls might find themselves slipping into the sticky territory of unmet expectations that rival Cleveland is living in.
— John Wilmes
Going into the start of the 2014 college football season, it seemed UCLA was the trendy pick to make a run to the first College Football Playoff and maybe even win the whole thing. Back-to-back losses in the middle of the season against Utah and Oregon may have derailed those ideas, but the Bruins have become one of the hottest teams in college football at perhaps the best possible time. But what is it that has changed with the Bruins that all of a sudden have them living up to the preseason hype?
For starters, protecting the football has improved over the last four weeks. Through the first seven games of the season, UCLA had a turnover margin of -2, with just two games seeing a positive turnover margin. Though the Bruins have lost the football a handful of times over the last month, the defense has come through with forced turnovers to make up for it. UCLA has forced six turnovers in the last four games.
Before that, the Bruins defense had forced eight turnovers all season, with three coming in the opener against Virginia and four coming in a road blowout win against Arizona State. Turnovers forced often felt to be few and far between those games for the Bruins. Now they can be counted on for at least one turnover per game it seems.
The Bruins are also starting to turn up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. UCLA is coming off its best performance of the season with six sacks of USC quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA recorded three sacks in each of the two previous games before the USC game. UCLA had 10 sacks combined in its first eight games of the year.
UCLA has played its way into controlling the outcome of the Pac-12 South with just one week to play. The offense has been there for the Bruins throughout the season, but the defense is back to upholding its end of the bargain. All that stands in the way of UCLA and a trip back to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a third time in four seasons is Stanford. It is fitting the Bruins have a chance to wrap up the division against the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.
The Bruins also have a chance to wiggle into the College Football Playoff picture after all, with a convincing victory against Stanford and a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA may need a good amount of help elsewhere to see the preseason expectations met by UCLA, but crazy things can happen in the sport of college football. And the college football gods have rewarded teams getting hot at the right time. For UCLA, now could be the perfect time to be putting all of the pieces together.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)