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All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/lane-kiffin-saban-fau-alabama-nick-not-big-humiliating-assistant-coaches
Body:

Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban seem like polar opposites, but during his tenure at Alabama, somehow they made it work.

 

During an interview with SiriusXM College Sports Nation, the FAU coach talked a bit about how his style differs from that of his former boss. Kiffin seems to go with a more laid-back method when it comes to the assistant coaches.   

 

"That's not really how I do it," Kiffin said. "Those things come up, and everybody has different ways of dealing with them. It's just not really how I do it. I'm not really big on humiliating assistant coaches in front of everybody. I write down notes. In the staff meeting, I explain what we want to get done."

 

 

We'll see if Kiffin's method proves to be a winning style.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 15:57
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/draftkings-nascar-lineup-picks-food-city-500-bristol-motor-speedway-dfs-daily
Body:

Trying to pick your optimal DraftKings lineup for the NASCAR race on April 23 at 2 pm ET on FOX: the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway? Our fantasy NASCAR experts are ready to help. 

Here's what our optimal driver lineup looks like.

 

Kevin Harvick ($10,400)

DraftKings Picks at BristolIn the past two seasons (2015-2016) Harvick has an average finish of 12.0, and has led 16.2% of laps. He won at Bristol last August and finished seventh in April. We like everything about this pick. And, unlike Kyle Busch, he's not as boom-or-bust at Bristol. 

 

Kyle Larson ($10,100)

In five of the past six races this season, he's finished second or better. He's on a hot streak and we're riding it. 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,600)

He finished well (fifth) in the Auto Parts 500 a couple of weeks back and overall his record at Bristol is solid: one win, eight top fives, 16 top 10s. Plus, he finished second in last year's Food City 500. And he has the second-best average finish at Bristol of any active driver.

 

Jamie McMurray ($8,000)

A quality sleeper pick. In seven races this season, he has scored four top 10s. In 10 of McMurray’s last 11 starts at Bristol, he placed top-20 or better. He’s led 179 career laps at Bristol and owns an average finish of 16.5. Since 2015, McMurray has run 80.6% of his laps in the top 15.

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,100)

After four years of competition at NASCAR's top level, Stenhouse has just seven top-5 finishes. Three of those have come at this track, where he was a a surprise second last August. 

 

Matt DiBenedetto ($5,700)

For the price, he can't be beat. He posted an average finish of 11.5 in two Bristol starts last season. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 15:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/gronk-interrupts-white-house-briefing-rob-gronkowski-new-england-patriots
Body:

Gronk is always here for comic relief.

 

During the Patriots' White House visit, Rob Gronkowski got a little mischievous and headed over to the briefing to see if Press Secretary Sean Spicer needed a little help.

 

 

Gronk would probably do an excellent job in the White House.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 13:29
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/rose-bowl-leads-sunny-outlook-usc-football-2017
Body:

LOS ANGELES — Picturesque California skies have inspired lyrics for everything from the Beach Boys' "California Girls," to Kendrick Lamar's "The Recipe." On Saturday, such a scene provided the background both for USC football's spring game, and the forecast for the Trojans' 2017 season.

 

Related: USC Trojans 2017 Spring Football Preview

 

"Great way to finish the spring, right here in the Coliseum. Beautiful, California day," said Trojans head coach Clay Helton.

 

The end of spring practice moves USC one step closer to an autumn likely to be defined by high expectations. A positive outlook isn't necessarily anything new for the Trojans, even in leaner, recent years. They opened 2015 ranked No. 8; ‘14 ranked No. 15; and ‘12 ranked No. 1.

 

In the last half-decade, however, USC has finished ranked higher than its preseason designation just twice: 2013 and ‘16. Of those two, only last season produced a final top-10 ranking — and a No. 3 ranking at that.

 

Yes, of every program in college football, only national title game participants Clemson and Alabama were positioned ahead of USC by season's end. The reversal of fortunes from late September — when the Trojans sat at 1-3 and Helton's tenure seemed destined for an abortive end — to January's climax provided the 2016 season's greatest comeback. USC ended its 2016 campaign winning nine consecutive games, among them matchups with Pac-12 Championship Game participants Colorado and Washington.

 

However, the crown jewel of the Trojans' remarkable turnaround from 1-3 to 10-3 was the capper: a 52-49, come-from-behind victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. The scene in Pasadena was much different than the spring game backdrop four months later, with rain clouds threatening and fog settling around the San Gabriel Mountains.

 

But it was in the cold and gray that USC football shined the brightest it has in several years.

 

Wide receiver Deontay Burnett — who caught the game-tying touchdown in last January's epic — described the win as "surreal," at the time, adding: "Words can't describe it."

 

Indeed, USC's Rose Bowl rally earned lofty standing in the illustrious history of the Granddaddy of 'Em All. The instant classic did not mark a culmination for USC football in the Helton era, as athletic director Lynn Swann made as clear as a spring sky in southern California.

 

In the moments following the Rose Bowl victory, Swann said an appearance in the College Football Playoff championship would be the ultimate benchmark for the state of the program. A victory in Pasadena is a milestone, not a destination. A host of returning talent from last season's squad gives reason to anticipate the bar has been raised. The Trojans won't enter the season ranked No. 20 as they did a season ago; a spot in the magic top four likely awaits.

 

USC has sought to recapture greatness for almost a decade now, dating to 2008 when it won its last conference championship. If the Rose Bowl signified a major step toward recapturing greatness, the 2017 season is about embracing it. That starts from the top, with players like quarterback Sam Darnold, whose MVP performance in the Rose Bowl sets the tone for an impending Heisman Trophy campaign.

 

It spreads on down to new players taking over key roles for departed stars. Such is the lot cornerback Jack Jones faces, taking on a vital role in the USC defense once occupied by Thorpe Award winner Adoree' Jackson.

 

Jones set a lofty individual goal following the spring game, saying he wants to lead the nation in interceptions.

 

"I'm the greatest to ever touch the field. I believe that in my heart," he said. "Nobody else can believe it, nobody else gotta believe it, but I believe it, and that's all that matters to me."

 

Performing starts with believing, and that holds true individually, as Jones laid out. It's also the case for building a successful team dynamic.

 

Last offseason, the newly minted full-time head coach Helton preached a simple philosophy: All about ball. The motto was meant to reflect focus on the game over outside distractions.  A flood of praise and raised expectations beget another philosophy for 2017.

 

"Ball is the team, team is the ball," running back Dominic Davis said while autographing his Nike gloves for a young fan after the spring game. "You should treat the ball as if it's another life. Basically, it's essential to our success."

 

As Davis handed the glove over the Coliseum to his youthful admirer, the boy's face shined like a California sky. The 2017 Trojans are going to have plenty more opportunities to brighten days for USC faithful, no matter if it's under another perfect blue sky, or in cold haze like at January's Rose Bowl.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Rose Bowl Leads to Sunny Outlook for USC Football in 2017
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/early-look-biggest-2017-nfl-draft-needs-nfc-south-teams
Body:

You could argue that the NFC South is the NFL's most talented and competitive division from top to bottom. The Falcons and Panthers have represented the NFC n each of the last two Super Bowls, and all four teams have franchise quarterbacks on their roster.

 

Be that as it may, each of the four teams in the NFC South has flaws and holes to fill. Once those holes are filled, the division is only going to become more competitive, and nobody should be surprised if yet another NFC South team makes its way to the Super Bowl this coming season.

 

It all starts with the draft later this month.

 

Atlanta Falcons

2016 Synopsis: Once the Falcons got things rolling in 2016, they looked like the best team in the league, at least right up until the second half of the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. If not for the face plant on the biggest stage in American sports, I'd say Atlanta had a successful season. These Falcons appear to be built to last for quite some time, thanks to a young defense, a solid and deep offensive line, the best running back duo in the game, the best receiver on the planet and the reigning NFL MVP.

 

Biggest needs: As young and talented as this defense is, the Falcons need more solid contributors at linebacker. They could also use more help at defensive end. When it's their turn to pick in the first round, I'll be stunned if they don't select a player who will start in their defensive front seven immediately.

 

First-round pick: No. 31 overall

 

Potential picks: There is no shortage of talented defensive ends and linebackers in this draft, and there will be plenty to choose from when Atlanta is on the clock. Look for Michigan's Taco Charlton and Kansas State's Jordan Willis as possible defensive end picks. If the Falcons go the linebacker route, I like UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, if he's still available.

 

Carolina Panthers

2016 Synopsis: The Panthers fell victim to that post-Super Bowl lost slump last season. Seemingly nothing went right for 2015 MVP Cam Newton and his squad. The Panthers finished in the bottom half of the league in total offense and defense en route to a six-win season. 

 

Biggest needs: It's crazy to say this about a team one year removed from a 15-1 regular season record and Super Bowl appearance, but the Panthers could use help everywhere outside of the quarterback position. 

 

First-round pick: No. 8 overall

 

Potential picks: Even though they brought in Captain Munnerlyn this offseason, Carolina is still without that elite, shutdown corner it used to have in one Josh Norman. Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore is a no-brainer if he's still on the board. If he's gone, Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey and Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett are both very real possibilities.

 

New Orleans Saints

2016 Synopsis: The Saints bumbled their way to a losing record and another playoff-less campaign last season. Injuries and a terrible defense kept the Saints from being competitive in a division loaded with offensive talent. To make matters worse, their most dangerous offensive threat from the last couple of seasons now resides in New England.

 

Biggest needs: Even though New Orleans has done a lot of work to fill holes on defense so far this offseason, this unit still needs to add more talent. Cornerback appears to be the biggest need, which is why the Malcolm Butler rumors won't go away. Whether that will be resolved by the draft remains to be seen, but don't be surprised if the Saints target a defensive tackle early.

 

First-round picks: No. 11, No. 32 (via New England) overall

 

Potential picks: Due to what I expect to be an early run on corners, Ohio State's Gareon Conley, Florida's Teez Tabor and Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie are all safe bets with the 11th pick. That said, if Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster is still on the board, it will be tough to pass him up based on raw talent. New Orleans could then use its other first-rounder to grab a defensive back or a lineman.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 Synopsis: The Bucs logged their first winning season since 2010. With a young franchise quarterback protected by a solid line a surrounded by up-and-coming playmakers, Tampa Bay made great strides and is a team on the rise. The Bucs fell a game short of the playoffs, but appear to be a sexy pick in 2017 to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII.

 

Biggest needs: The line is good, but Tampa Bay needs a long-term option at left tackle to protect Jameis WInston's blind side. Tampa Bay also needs a dependable running back to take some of the pressure off Winston and the passing game. Defensively, outside linebacker is a need.

 

First-round pick: No. 19 overall

 

Potential picks: If Florida State running back Dalvin Cook somehow falls to them, the Bucs must pull the trigger. The more realistic option is Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson. If they choose the outside linebacker route, I really like Houston's Tyus Bowser to get the call.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Early Look at the Biggest 2017 NFL Draft Needs for NFC South Teams
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/2017-nfl-draft-4-potential-high-picks-could-end-busts
Body:

We do it every year. We label guys in the NFL Draft as "can't miss" and "sure thing" — and that's rarely the case. Be that as it may, it doesn't stop us from going through the exercise of elevating successful college players to future Hall of Famers as the draft approaches every spring.

 

I've singled out four players who will likely be drafted fairly early the end of this month. Scouts, talking heads and fans love these guys, but the pessimist in me sees chinks in their armor that could result in them being average at best, as opposed to the elite players many project them to be. I'm officially placing these four players on "bust watch."

 

2017 NFL Draft Bust Watch

 

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

This is not so much an indictment on Trubisky's talent as it is the team he ends up with — even though his body of work is slim. He's going to go early, likely to a team looking for an immediate or sooner-rather-than-later, long-term starting quarterback. The issue with that is, the teams that fall into that category are all missing very important pieces that you'd like to already have when you plug in a young signal-caller. Look at a guy like Andrew Luck. He has as much talent as any quarterback in the league. Be that as it may, the perpetual mess that surrounds him in Indy has made him a non-factor in terms of competing for championships. If Trubisky gets stuck with the Browns, 49ers, Jets or Bears, it will be a very steep uphill climb to NFL success for him.

 

John Ross, WR, Washington

Ross wowed everyone at the NFL Scouting Combine with his time in the 40-yard dash. Yes, he's very quick. In the right system, he has the chance to excel and be a nice, situational, complementary weapon for an offense that already has decent pieces in place at the receiver position. The problem is, he's being projected to go to a lot of teams that don't have a No. 1 option at receiver. He would be it — all 5-foot-11, 188 pounds of him. Smaller receivers like Julian Edelman and Antonio Brown have Hall of Fame quarterbacks throwing to them in systems designed largely around their skill sets. There's no guarantee that ends up being the situation Ross finds himself in once his name is called on draft day. He can be good, but his ceiling is probably somewhere on the Brandin Cooks spectrum. I'm not sure that's worth a pick in the top half of the first round like some are projecting.

 

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

Just like in college, Peppers is going to be one of the better overall athletes on the field in every game he participates in. That's terrific. His problem will be finally mastering one skill. He's projected as a safety, but there were plenty of instances in college where — as a safety — he was out of place against both the run and the pass. In most cases, his athleticism made up for it. That won't be the case at the next level. The team that drafts him will need to fight the urge to make him a gimmick player they use in all three phases of the game, instead focusing on making sure he masters a single craft. Unless he falls to a more stable franchise in the bottom third of the first round, that is not very likely to be the case. In the NFL, gimmicks don't last.

 

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Fournette is a physical specimen. He's essentially a linebacker carrying the ball with some underrated breakaway speed. What will cause Fournette to fail to meet expectations at the next level is his projected role vs. his actual skill set. The modern game has almost completely moved on from the 25-30 carries per game running backs who were the focal points of their respective offenses. Championship-caliber clubs usually only utilize big, physical backs situationally, preferring smaller, quicker backs who double as virtual slot receivers in their pass-friendly offenses. That being the case, Fournette's build and playing style could actually be liabilities with the exception of first down and short-yardage plays. He simply doesn't possess that same quickness that made Ezekiel Elliott such an asset in the Cowboys' offense. Taking him with a top-10 pick like some are projecting could end up being a franchise-altering mistake.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
2017 NFL Draft: 4 Potential High Picks That Could End Up As Busts
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-community-reacts-aaron-hernandez-suicide-new-england-patriots-twitter
Body:

News broke early Wednesday morning on the death of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

 

 

Hernandez was recently found not guilty of a double murder but was still serving life in prison for being found guilty in the 2012 murder of Odin Lloyd. Once word spread on the 27-year-old's death, members of the NFL community reacted on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Patriots are not currently set to make a statement. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 10:04
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-badgers-2017-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

When it comes to strength of schedule, you'd be hard-pressed to top the road the Wisconsin Badgers had to navigate in 2016. But in true Wisconsin fashion, all they did was win on the way to a Big Ten Championship Game appearance.

 

Related: Wisconsin Badgers 2017 Spring Football Preview

 

As for 2017, a couple of games against teams from the state of Utah along with what should be a yawner against Florida Atlantic will serve as an early-season tune-up for the Badgers. Their conference schedule – as are most in the Big Ten – looks formidable, but much more manageable than what they faced a season ago. The Badgers also get a week off to prepare for their conference slate after wrapping up the non-conference schedule.

 

2017 Wisconsin Badgers Schedule

 

Bye: Week 4

 

Wk Opp. Date Location
1.

Sept. 2

Madison, WI

The Aggies have become a bit of a tough out over the years, but had a rough go of it in 2016. Head coach Matt Wells will be looking to improve on last season’s 3-9 showing but his team will have its work cut out for it in their opener at Camp Randall Stadium.

2.

Sept. 9

Madison, WI

The Badgers welcome new FAU head coach Lane Kiffin to town. If nothing else, this will be a game that keeps the Wisconsin defense on its toes, thanks to both Kiffin's creative mind and the underrated athletes the Owls have at the skill positions.

3.

Sept. 16

Provo, UT

Wisconsin makes its first road trip of the season, and it won't be easy. BYU returns a seasoned team whose core was a part of nine wins in 2016.

5.

Sept. 30

Madison, WI

Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcat's are always ready for a fight and 2017 will be no different. Veterans at quarterback and running back will keep Northwestern competitive in most games, including this one against the Badgers.

6. Oct. 7 Lincoln, NE

Mike Riley has slowly filled the Nebraska offensive depth chart with guys who fit his system. On defense, the Huskers are transitioning to a 3-4 defense led by new coordinator Bob Diaco. There's no telling how good – or bad – this season's version of Nebraska could be.

7.

Oct. 14

Columbus, OH

A sneaky-talented Purdue squad will be tough to put a bead on in under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. The Badgers shouldn't have any issues getting the win, but the trip to Nebraska the previous week could have lingering effects.

8.

Oct. 21

Madison, WI

Maryland head coach DJ Durkin is quietly building a competitive roster in College Park, but the Terrapins are still a season or two away from being a consistent threat to a program like Wisconsin.

9.

Oct. 28

Champaign, IL

As many expected, Lovie Smith is still climbing uphill in an effort to get the Fighting Illini relevant and competitive again. Like Maryland and Purdue, Illinois is not yet a real threat to the Badgers.

10.

Nov. 4

Bloomington, IN

The departure of head coach Kevin Wilson and subsequent hiring of Tom Allen should not change a whole lot about Indiana's offensive attack in the short term. If anything, the Hoosiers may become more defensive-minded in their approach.

11. Nov. 11 Madison, WI

Once again, this will probably be like looking in the mirror for the Badgers. Iowa should have some stability at quarterback by the time these two meet in what promises to be another physical matchup between the last two champions of the Big Ten West.

12. Nov. 18 Ann Arbor, MI

Any reloading Jim Harbaugh has to do thanks to the mass exodus of talent from a season ago should be complete by the time this game takes place. This could be the first of two meetings between the Badgers and Wolverines.

13. Nov. 25 Minneapolis, MN

Records won't matter in this one, as new Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck will inject his energetic personality into his team and have them up for every games – especially this season-ender against a hated rival.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Wisconsin Badgers 2017 Football Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/florida-georgia-or-tennessee-which-team-wins-secs-east-division-2017
Body:

Florida has won the SEC East each of the past two seasons, but is another team ready to knock the Gators from their perch? Jim McElwain and company figure to be in the hunt once again, but Florida lost several key pieces of their defense to the NFL draft and the quarterback position remains unsettled.

 

Georgia and Tennessee figure to be the primary challengers to the Gators, but both of these teams finished two games behind Florida last season and each has their own share of question marks. So if this is a three-way race, which team has the edge at this point?

 

The 2017 season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to analyze the upcoming year. Athlon’s editors and writers will debate some of college football’s top offseason questions until the release of its top 25 in May.

 

Florida, Georgia or Tennessee: Which Team Wins the East Division in 2017?

 

Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley), AthlonSports.com contributor

For Florida, can the offense improve enough to get back to Atlanta? The Gators lost eight defensive starters from a unit that finished fifth in the country. Also, have the Gators finally found a quarterback in Feleipe Franks? If Florida's offense struggles again, it will be hard to get back to the SEC title game.

 

Much like Florida, Tennessee also has questions at the quarterback position as junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano are competing to be Joshua Dobbs’ replacement. Tennessee also needs to replace several standouts on defense, including defensive end Derek Barnett. The Volunteers’ schedule is demanding with road trips to Florida and Alabama on tap, but they do host Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, so that will help.

 

Georgia is the likely favorite to win the East mainly because sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason is expected to take the next step in his maturation. The Bulldogs will, however, need to replace three starters on the offensive line. Another reason Georgia is likely the favorite in the East is because its defense finished 16th in the nation a year ago and returns just about every starter. That is not the case for neither Florida nor Tennessee.

 

My money is on Georgia at the moment.

 

Michael Wayne Bratton, Saturday Down South (@MichaelWBratton)

I like the Gators to win the East for the third consecutive season. Whether it's Feleipe Franks or Luke Del Rio that ultimately wins the starting quarterback role in Gainesville, Florida's offense will be loaded with experience and talent at every other position on the field. While it's accurate to say the defense has lost several key contributors, many of those same defenders missed significant action last season, and the unit did not suffer a significant drop-off without them in the lineup - speaking to the depth and coaching of the program. The schedule lines up in Florida's favor as well, the Gators face only three true road games in conference play (Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina) and get Tennessee in Gainesville.

 

Tennessee certainly has the talent to make some noise in the East, but with so much uncertainty following the offseason staff shakeup, it's hard to predict how the Vols will respond. Mixing a first-time play-caller with a starting quarterback without any meaningful college experience should be a huge concern for UT. Georgia will have all the summer hype, but several offensive issues remain unresolved in Athens. The Bulldogs need to find answers at receiver and offensive line to help the team's quarterback live up to his massive recruiting hype. UGA doesn't have the luxury of facing any of the three best league teams on its schedule in Athens this season (Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn). 

 

Cody McClure (@CodyMcClureCFB), AthlonSports.com contributor

Georgia should be the favorite to win the SEC East in 2017. The Bulldogs are loaded on offense with the return of the SEC's top running back duo in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, as well as one of the conference's top quarterbacks in Jacob Eason. The 'Dawgs addressed their biggest need in the offseason by bulking up on the offensive line with the 2017 recruiting class. Georgia also brings back the majority of a nasty Kirby Smart-led defense that got progressively better week-to-week last season and ended up ranking No. 4 in the SEC in total defense.

 

Florida has won the division the past two seasons, and teams like Tennessee and South Carolina could also be in the mix. But Georgia has the most talent in the East. While 'Dawgs fans have seen that before – only to end up disappointed – it's important to remember that Georgia has a new coach now. Smart hasn't shown any signs of underachievement yet, so it's best to give him the benefit of the doubt. Georgia fans should be cautiously optimistic.

 

Rob McVey (@Rob_UTVOLS), AthlonSports.com contributor

Georgia returns arguably the best running back tandem in the country, along with most of the starters from a solid defense. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason should be much improved in year two as well. The only real question mark is the offensive line.

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports

It’s tough to pick against Florida after back-to-back East titles, but I’m leaning Georgia as the East champ in 2017. The Bulldogs return 11 starters on a defense poised to rank among the SEC’s best after limiting opponents to 24 points per game last year. The offense is still a work in progress. However, the running back tandem of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb is among the nation’s best – if not No. 1 – and quarterback Jacob Eason will take a step forward in his second season as the starter. The biggest question marks about this unit still rest with the playmakers on the outside and on the offensive line.

 

While Georgia is my early pick, I don’t think there is much separation between the Bulldogs and Florida. The Gators will remain stout on defense even with some significant personnel losses. And the offense is poised to take a step forward with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks under center. Florida also has a favorable path. LSU, Texas A&M and Tennessee come to Gainesville, and the annual matchup with Georgia is in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs have to play Auburn and Mississippi State in crossover play, while taking on Tennessee in Knoxville. The Volunteers aren't far behind Florida and Georgia, but I think coach Butch Jones' team ends up No. 3 in the division in 2017.

Teaser:
Florida, Georgia or Tennessee: Which Team Wins the SEC's East Division in 2017?
Post date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/draftkings-golf-lineup-picks-valero-texas-open-2017-daily-fantasy-dfs
Body:

Trying to pick your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (April 20-23) golf tournament: the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, Texas? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
 
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.

 

Charley Hoffman ($10,700)

Valero Texas Open LogoHe's trimmed his flowing mane, but Hoff is a horse for this course — no finish worse than T13 in seven Valero Texas Open starts since 2010.

 

Billy Horschel ($8,900)

Another horse worth riding this week, with three top-4 finishes here in his last four appearances. One caveat: His wife just gave birth, so he may not be exactly rested.

 

Luke Donald ($8,700)

We told you last week that Donald was worth a pick, and he justified our faith with a runner-up. We'll double down on Donald this week. He was T13 here last year.

 

Soren Kjeldsen ($7,500)

He's a TPC San Antonio newbie, but Kjeldsen has been sneaky tough over a recent stretch thanks to a solid short game that'll come in handy this week.

 

Daniel Summerhays ($7,000)

Last four Valero Texas Open finishes: T7, T2, T4, T13. Five for five in cuts made at TPC San Antonio. In terms of horses for courses, he's Secretariat.

 

Sam Saunders ($7,000)

Arnie's grandson has three straight top-20 finishes. TPC San Antonio rewards good putters, and Saunders was fifth in strokes gained, putting at Harbour Town.  

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 15:57
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/wounded-war-veteran-carries-woman-across-boston-earl-granville-marathon-finish-line
Body:

The Boston Marathon is difficult to get through, but this veteran is as tough as they come.

 

Former Army Staff Sgt. Earl Granville carried a woman across the finish line while she held the American flag. Granville, who lost one of his legs during his third deployment in Afghanistan, completed the marathon and helped out a fellow runner along the way. 

 

 

A true hero's work is never done.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tom-brady-fan-denies-espn-boston-patriots-super-bowl-twitter
Body:

Boston fans are still not fond of ESPN after the whole Deflategate thing. 

 

One Twitter user uploaded a picture he took during the Boston Marathon of a bystander holding the famous 3-28 score when the Falcons were leading the Patriots in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, and everyone seemed to love it.

 

 

When the photo had gone viral ESPN's assignment desk asked if the worldwide leader in sports could use it on all platforms. That wasn't going down in this fan's mind.

 

 

 

That's got to hurt.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 12:50
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Overtime
Path: /mlb/9-year-old-has-best-reaction-receiving-cubs-tickets-chicago
Body:

Going to your first baseball game is priceless. 

 

Kolt Kyler, a huge Cubs fan, is being repaid for being such a big help around the house and with anything his family needs. His dad decided to surprise him with tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field when they play the Cardinals. You may get a little teary-eyed watching this video.  

 

 

Experiencing his favorite team for the first time is a dream come true for the young baseball fanatic.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 11:10
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/early-look-biggest-2017-nfl-draft-needs-nfc-north-teams
Body:

Thanks to what could only be called "widespread mediocrity" across the NFC, the NFC North got two teams into the playoffs this past season. Be that as it may, the division — outside of Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers under center — is full of question marks and teams looking for direction and identities.

 

The Packers remain the team to beat heading into the draft, but the Lions and Vikings are only a piece or two away from dethroning them. The Bears, on the other hand, appear to be in rebuilding mode. Luckily for all four teams, the 2017 NFL Draft has enough quality prospects at every position help them improve immediately. It's just a matter of making the right choices once they are on the clock.

 

Chicago Bears

2016 Snapshot: It wasn't pretty for the Bears last season. Four different quarterbacks took snaps for the team en route to a three-win season. As a result — and to the delight of many Bears fans — Jay Cutler is no longer on the roster. Unfortunately, Alshon Jeffery — arguably the team's best player over the last couple of seasons — now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. The lone bright spot heading into 2017 appears to be running back Jordan Howard. The rookie out of Indiana topped 1,300 yards on the ground and found the end zone seven times.

 

Biggest needs: Even though they signed Mike Glennon, the Bears are still in need of a long-term option at the quarterback position. Additionally, help is needed at both offensive tackle spots. On defense, they have no real pass-rushing threats.

 

First-round pick: No. 3 overall

 

Potential picks: The are whispers here and there that Chicago really likes North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He'd likely sit behind Glennon most, if not all, of the year if selected. If the Bears don't pull the trigger on a quarterback and hold onto the pick, they'll likely go with the best player available. In that case, you're looking at Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, LSU safety Jamal Adams or Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.

 

Detroit Lions

2016 Snapshot: The Lions had a bit of a roller-coaster season, losing their last four games and backing into the playoffs before getting bounced on wild card weekend by the Seahawks. The good news was that Matthew Stafford seemed to have gotten his groove back, and the offense is only a piece or two away from being one of the most dangerous in the league.

 

Biggest needs: As much as they need more big-time weapons on offense, the Lions need even more help on defense — particularly at linebacker. Once they address that need, they could use an upgrade at running back and a bigger receiver for Stafford to target in the red zone.

 

First-round pick: No. 21 overall

 

Potential picks: This first-round pick is probably going to be a linebacker. If that's the case, you're looking at Temple's Haason Reddick, Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham and Wisconsin's T.J. Watt as possible options. Don't be shocked, however, if they try to make a splash by landing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

 

Green Bay Packers

2016 Snapshot: The Packers fought through injuries and a mid-season slump to win the division and come within a game of playing in the Super Bowl. In the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta, Green Bay's defense was exposed. The offense proved it has enough pieces in place to score with anyone as long as the defense holds up its end of the bargain. That tells you the direction the Packers are likely to go during the draft.

 

Biggest needs: The Packers need help at cornerback, thanks to the departure of Micah Hyde. They also are desperately in need of more depth at inside linebacker and lack consistency in their pass rush.

 

First-round pick: No. 29 overall

 

Potential picks: Wisconsin's T.J. Watt would be a perfect fit in so many ways if he's still around when the Packers are on the clock. If not, you are likely going to see them go with a cornerback first. Look for Washington's Kevin King or USC's Adoree' Jackson to be in the mix.

 

Minnesota Vikings

2016 Snapshot: The season started off shaky for the Vikings, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the year dropping back during a practice in the preseason. Sam Bradford stepped in and kept the ship afloat as long as he could, but was eventually done in by one of the worst collective offensive line performances in the league. The end result was a .500 season where four mid-season losses by a combined 17 points cost Minnesota a division title.

 

Biggest needs: The guard and center positions on the offensive line need to be addressed. Additionally, some depth and youth is needed at the safety position. I also would not be stunned to see the Vikings draft a quarterback early as a long-term insurance policy to Bridgewater's serious injury situation.

 

First-round pick: none

First pick: No. 48 overall

 

Potential picks: It'll be tough to avoid drafting a guard or center with the 48th pick. If he's still on the board, Ohio State center Pat Elflein makes a lot of sense, as does Indiana guard Dan Feeney. If Minnesota decides to gamble at quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech could also be in play.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Early Look at the Biggest 2017 NFL Draft Needs for NFC North Teams
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-2017-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

Auburn has quite the challenge ahead of it this season. Yes, the Tigers made the Sugar Bowl last season and are expected to make another run at a New Year’s Six bowl in 2017, but the schedule has plenty of obstacles, from a  Week 2 trip to Clemson to a three-game road stretch against SEC West opponents. Oh, and there’s the Iron Bowl too.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2017

 

Here’s the road the Gus Malzahn and the Tigers need to navigate if they are to build off last season’s surprise campaign and give the SEC more firepower after a down year for the league in 2016.

 

2017 Auburn Tigers Schedule


Bye: Week 7

 

Wk Opp. Date Location
1.

Sept. 2

Auburn, AL

This is no layup of an opener, not against a triple-option offense — although having plenty of offseason time to prepare for that certainly helps. (Assuming the Tigers aren’t already looking ahead to Week 2.)

2.

Sept. 9

Clemson, SC

A road date with the defending national champs. It doesn’t get much tougher than that. Clemson will be going for its second win over schools from the state of Alabama in the past three games.

3.

Sept. 16

Auburn, AL

Wake us up later.

4. Sept. 23 Columbia, MO

This rematch of the 2013 SEC Title game — a 59-42 Auburn win — is actually the first scheduled meeting between the two teams since Mizzou joined the SEC in 2012. That says something about a conference’s scheduling philosophies... we’re just not sure what.

5. Sept. 30 Auburn, AL

Is Nick Fitzgerald ready to become an elite SEC QB? And what will new Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham bring to Stark Vegas in Year 1?

6. Oct. 7 Auburn, AL

This caps arguably the easiest stretch of Auburn’s season — three home dates in four games, all against teams that did not go bowling last year. It gets much more difficult for the Tigers in the second half.

7. Oct. 14 Baton Rouge, LA

This is the Auburn’s third game of the season against another team named the Tigers. Oh, and LSU might be out for revenge after last year’s loss to Auburn cost Les Miles his job.

8. Oct. 21 Fayetteville, AR

This could be a tough one for the Tigers, as it comes right before the bye and sandwiched between trips to LSU and Texas A&M. Gus Malzahn has won three of four against Bret Bielema, including a 56-3 rout last year.

10. Nov. 4 College Station, TX

Maybe by this point the Aggies will finally play like the program they’ve recruited to be, which could spell trouble for the rest of the SEC. Or maybe Kevin Sumlin will be on the hot seat yet again by this point — real or perceived.

11. Nov. 11 Auburn, AL

What’s Auburn’s reward for navigating a grueling there-game SEC West road swing? Two home dates in three weeks with rivals Georgia and Alabama. Some reward.

12. Nov. 18 Auburn, AL

Will Matt Viator have the Warhawks up and running in Year 2? Even if he does, it probably won’t be enough to slow down Auburn.

13. Nov. 25 Auburn, AL

The Iron Bowl. What more needs to be said? Perhaps an SEC West title could be on the line between these two in this contest, not that the game ever needs any added juice.

 

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Teaser:
Auburn Tigers 2017 Football Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2017-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

Looking to rebound after an embarrassing 31-0 defeat to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Urban Meyer returns another talented group of Ohio State players intent upon making another run at a national title. With a team returning veterans to virtually every position group except the secondary, the Buckeyes should be in the thick of the race in the Big Ten and for a playoff spot right up to the very end of the 2017 regular season.

 

Related: Ohio State Buckeyes 2017 Spring Football Preview

 

While this season’s schedule has its share of challenges, Ohio State will probably be favored in virtually every contest this season, including several on the road. The questions that still remain to be answered are how effectively has Meyer and the Buckeyes solved the offensive inconsistencies that plagued them in 2016.

 

2017 Ohio State Buckeyes Schedule

 

Bye: Week 8

 

Wk Opp. Date Location
1.

Aug. 31

Bloomington, IN

For the first time in more than 40 years, Ohio State will open up the season against a Big Ten opponent. Throw in the added intrigue of former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson making his debut as Ohio State's offensive coordinator, and this will only add to the considerable anticipation for the beginning of the 2017 season.

2.

Sept. 9

Columbus, OH

Oklahoma returns to Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1977. Considering how handily the Buckeyes defeated the Sooners in Norman in 2016 (45-24), look for Oklahoma to come into Columbus eager to make amends in the eyes of college football fans across the nation.

3.

Sept. 16

Columbus, OH

This will mark the first time that Army and Ohio State have ever played. Army is coming off an 8-5 season that concluded with an overtime win over North Texas in The Heart of Dallas Bowl.

4.

Sept. 23

Columbus, OH

Another first-time meeting on the gridiron between these two programs. UNLV is coming off of a 4-8 showing in 2016 and should offer little resistance in the Horseshoe.

5. Sept. 30 Piscataway, NJ

Former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash may not be eager to welcome the Buckeyes to New Jersey. Ash’s Scarlet Knights were shut out 58-0 in Columbus last season. The rebuild for Rutgers continues, so expect more growing pains.

6.

Oct. 7

Columbus, OH

Another former Urban Meyer protégé DJ Durkin, put together a solid debut as Maryland’s head coach going 6-7 with an appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl. However, one of those losses came courtesy of the Buckeyes, a 62-3 mauling at home.

7.

Oct. 14

Lincoln, NE

Ohio State will make its first trip to Lincoln since the 2011 season. Ohio State has not lost to Nebraska since that game, putting up more than 60 points in a pair of home victories over the Cornhuskers in 2012 and last season.

9.

Oct. 28

Columbus, OH

Revenge will be on the minds of every Ohio State coach, player and fan, as the Nittany Lions will make a trip to Ohio Stadium. Last year's stunning, come-from-behind victory snapped a four game winning streak for the Buckeyes against their division rivals.

10.

Nov. 4

Iowa City, IA

Trips to Iowa are few and far between. This game will mark the first time the Buckeyes have traveled to Iowa City since the 2010 season, a game that has since been vacated from the record books. Iowa last defeated Ohio State at home in 2004.

11. Nov. 11 Columbus, OH

These teams have split the past two meetings against each other with the road team winning each time. Ohio State will try to buck that trend this season, and don’t be surprised if it’s another close. The last two games have been decided by a total of four points.

12. Nov. 18 Columbus, OH

Former Ohio State secondary coach (1996) Lovie Smith will bring his Fighting Illini to Ohio Stadium for the Buckeyes’ final home game. Illinois hung pretty tough with Ohio State the last time these two teams played, losing 28-3 in Champaign in 2015.

13. Nov. 25 Ann Arbor, MI

After last season’s excruciating double-overtime loss that cost the Wolverines a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game you know Jim Harbaugh will be pulling out all the stops with the Buckeyes coming to the Big House. Michigan also will be looking for its first win in “The Game” since 2011. It’s only fitting that this would decide the East Division (and perhaps more) yet again.

 

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.

Teaser:
Ohio State Buckeyes 2017 Football Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/minnesota-walk-learns-hes-getting-scholarship-during-easter-egg-hunt
Body:

Who says Easter egg hunts are just for kids?

 

One Minnesota linebacker will never look at them the same again. Blake Cashman, a walk-on, learned he was getting a scholarship through a pretty fun game. Leave no egg unturned.

 

 

It's better than candy.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 15:43
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/early-look-biggest-2017-nfl-draft-needs-nfc-east-teams
Body:

The Dallas Cowboys returned to on-field relevance in 2016 on the back of two outstanding rookies and elite offensive line play. Suffice to say, the NFL Draft was a hit for them. The other three teams in their division would all love to have the same luck in this year's draft – and all three need it. The Eagles are in the middle of a rebuild, the Giants are still looking for parts to make everything work and the Redskins appear to be a soap opera gone wrong.

 

There is plenty of talent available in the 2017 NFL Draft, and all four NFC East team will be in position to acquire players who can change the fortunes – both long- and short-term – of their franchises.

 

Dallas Cowboys

2016 Snapshot: Dallas knew what they were getting when they drafted Ezekiel Elliott. What they didn't know was what would happen when Tony Romo went down with a back injury during the preseason. Enter Dak Prescott, and as we all found out, the Cowboys had caught lightning in a bottle. Prescott was the perfect combination of athletic player and cautious game-manager. He led Dallas to the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs. Unfortunately, Dallas' dream season ended in a shootout against a red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

 

Biggest needs: The Cowboys are in the very fortunate position of not really needing anything. The could be helped by a productive edge rusher, another solid cornerback or the addition of some depth and a possible future starter at offensive tackle. They also could look for a capable heir to Jason Witten at tight end. They'll have plenty of options – even picking as late as they do in the first round – to land a player who will fit one of those roles.

 

First-round pick: No. 28 overall

 

Potential picks: It all depends on the direction they go. If they are looking for a pass-rushing defensive end, Auburn's Carl Lawson could be their guy. At corner, UCLA's Fabian Moreau makes sense. Miami tight end David Njoku also is an intriguing option.

 

New York Giants

2016 Snapshot: The Giants qualified for the playoffs after a roller-coaster season of early drama, late injuries and an inability to get into the end zone. Eli Manning topped 4,000 yards passing again, but it was not one of the more impressive campaigns of his career. On defense, the Giants looked to be without a true leader or playmaker. That cost them against some of the league's higher-octane offenses.

 

Biggest needs: The Giants had a hard time scoring in 2016, never hanging more than 28 points on the board in any one game. You simply are not going to be able to consistently contend with the likes of Green Bay, Dallas or Atlanta with an offense that cannot finish. The brought in Brandon Marshall in free agency, and he'll make a fine No. 2 option to Odell Beckham Jr., What this offense is missing, however, is a reliable tight end. A serious threat over the middle would open a lot of other options up for the Giants. Unfortunately, the all-important left tackle position also is somewhat unsettled.

 

First-round pick: No. 23 overall

 

Potential picks: If the Giants want to gamble, they can probably get their tight end in the second round. In that case, they would likely go left tackle and select either Utah's Garrett Boles or Alabama's Cam Robinson. If they decide to reach for a tight end early, Ole Miss' Evan Engram would be a nice addition to the offense.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

2016 Snapshot: The season started out great for the Eagles, led by rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. After Week 3 however, it quickly became apparent how far the team still had to go to become realistic contenders in its own division. Wentz had no consistent receiver to target and a revolving door at running back. Defensively, the Eagle defense had a hard time matching up with the better passing attacks in the league.

 

Biggest needs: The receiver problem was addressed in free agency, so now the Eagles need to focus on shoring up the running back position and solidifying their secondary. Adding some depth to the interior of the defensive line also is on the list of things to do.

 

First-round pick: No. 14 overall

 

Potential picks: The smart move would be to draft the best corner available – likely Alabama's Marlon Humphrey or Colorado's Chidobe Awuzi. That said, it will be tough for the Eagle brass to fight the urge to take Florida State running back Dalvin Cook or LSU's Leonard Fournette if either on falls to them.

 

Washington Redskins

2016 Snapshot: Washington was nothing short of dysfunctional down the stretch, losing four of its last six games. The problem with looking back to last season is that, perhaps more than any other team in the league, the Redskins of 2017 are going to be a completely different version of what we saw last season. Between a polarizing owner, the firing of a general manager and the saga of Kirk Cousins and his desire to leave town, the Redskins are quite simply a mess.

 

Biggest needs: The Redskins need to be proactive in the Cousins situation and hedge their bets with a long-term option at quarterback at some point. Additionally, they'll need targets for that quarterback to throw to. Linebacker and guard also are two positions of need going forward, regardless of who is taking the snaps.

 

First-round pick: No. 17 overall

 

Potential picks: If it's going to be a quarterback, I don't see any way it's not Clemson's Deshaun Watson. He's the safest option at the position in the draft. If they decide to go receiver, Washington's John Ross is a guy who might remind some Redskin fans of Santana Moss. If they are looking for a bigger, more traditional No. 1 receiver, they are better off waiting until the second round and potentially grabbing Penn State's Curtis Godwin. Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp also is in play.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Early Look at the Biggest 2017 NFL Draft Needs for NFC East Teams
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /nba/charles-barkley-says-isaiah-thomas-crying-court-day-after-sister-death-nba-tnt-celtics
Body:

Isaiah Thomas' sister Chyna tragically passed away in a car accident a day before the Celtics were set to begin their playoff push. The star point guard was obviously overcome with grief.

 

There was talk about Thomas missing Game 1 against the Bulls but Thomas persevered and scored 33 points in a loss. Everyone talked about his strength and how brave he was for going out there... except Charles Barkley. The NBA on TNT host said when he saw Thomas crying on the sideline it made him "uncomfortable" and that it was a "bad look."

 

 

The video of Thomas crying was hours before the game, not minutes. No matter when it was, you can't question Thomas' heart for going out there, leaving everything on the floor, and being there for his team during a difficult time in his own life.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 10:01
Path: /nfl/myles-garrett-no-1-prospect-nfl-draft
Body:

Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett was a five-star recruit out of high school, an All-SEC and All-America performer for the Aggies, and the unofficial heavyweight champ of the NFL Scouting Combine — prompting one defensive coordinator to tell The MMQB, “I don’t have a player comparison for what I just saw. He looked like Wolverine.”

 

Related: Ranking the Top 100 Prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft

 

The 6’4”, 272-pounder who inspires comic book hero comparisons has cemented his status as the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft (April 27-29). We talked to the 21-year-old, whose ability to terrorize QBs in the pocket is about to help line his own pockets in the NFL.

 

What are you looking forward to at the next level?

Dominating. Having fun. They go hand-in-hand. If you’re having fun, you’re dominating, usually. And if you’re dominating, you’re definitely having fun.

 

What NFL goals have you set for yourself?

Rookie of the Year, I want to win a Super Bowl, I want to be Defensive Player of the Year, I want to be MVP, I want to be Super Bowl MVP. But I’ve got to work hard to achieve all those things. It’s obviously not going to be handed to me.

 

What players do you model your game after?

Von Miller and J.J. Watt. Those are the top two.

 

Who’s the best player you’ve faced?

(Louisville QB and reigning Heisman Trophy winner) Lamar Jackson. In most games, he’s accurate with the ball and if you’re lacking off contain, he’ll escape and go 10, 20, 30, 40 yards down the field to score on you.

 

Has your love of dinosaurs been overblown?

I am big into dinosaurs, but I have many other interests that I’m passionate about. That’s something people gravitate to. That’s fine with me. As long as you don’t see me as a “dinosaur” man. I’m much more than that. I’m into poetry. I’m into writing. I love reading. I love sports outside of football. I’m a basketball fan through and through. I love boxing and soccer. I’m a huge Barça fan.

 

Who’s your favorite player on FC Barcelona?

It’s hard not to say Messi. He’s probably 80 percent of the world’s favorite. But if not him, probably Piqué.

 

Who’s your favorite poet?

Maya Angelou.

 

What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. It’s the biggest land carnivore of all time. They love to eat fish, but it can also eat anything else because it was so massive — over 50-60 feet long — had a huge shell on its back and was bigger than anything else around.

 

Other than Jurassic Park, what dinosaur movie should people check out?

If you’re a kid and you haven’t seen Land Before Time, I can’t understand you. That’s the thing that everybody just has to see.

 

You studied architecture at Texas A&M, do you plan on designing your own house?

I’d like to. If I get the chance and get the time, I’d like to do that.

 

Should you have been paid for playing college football?

You’re putting your body on the line. You do deserve more money than you’re getting. Guys want to be paid for their likeness. Their jerseys are out there. It’ll be your number and your team. It can’t have your name on it, but it’s still your number. Do you get paid for your likeness yet? Or are you owned by the university?

 

Do you have any big plans for your first big purchase with your signing bonus?

Get my dad a car. Whatever he wants. He deserves it.

 

What’s your best pass rush move?

I don’t think I have any move that’s better than the another. If you try to rely on me being a speed rusher, I’ll show you great power. If you think I’m a bull rusher, I’ll run right by you.

 

In the NFL, every rule written is to protect quarterbacks. How does that impact you?

I just do what I do. Nothing really changes. Don’t hit him below the knees. Don’t hit him in the head. Be ferocious.

 

Are you still planning on watching the draft with your family in Arlington, Texas?

Still my plan. Quiet at the house. We’ll see what goes from there. I don’t know what we’ll be doing by then, but I know we’ll be eating and celebrating.

 

Who should be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft?

Who do I think should be the number one pick? Who? Me.

 

Teaser:
Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett is ready to dominate the NFL.
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, LSU Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/lsu-tigers-2017-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

A new era has kicked off in Baton Rouge this spring with Ed Orgeron fully in command as LSU’s head coach, replacing Les Miles. Miles and his 114 career wins with the Tigers are gone, but there’s still plenty of talent remaining. Fans can expect the same hard-nosed defense under returning coordinator Dave Aranda but a long desired opening up of the offense has been promised with the arrival of Matt Canada.

 

Related: LSU Tigers 2017 Spring Football Preview

 

The Tigers turned in a wild 8-4 season in 2016, fighting through all the ups and downs, the coaching change and some costly injuries, including one to running back Leonard Fournette. LSU opened the season ranked fifth in the country, but stumbled out of the gates to a 2-2 start, which ultimately cost Miles his job.

 

On the surface, the four losses are nothing to be ashamed about, as one came in the season opener to a Wisconsin team that started out unranked but wound up going 11-3, winning the Big Ten West Division and finishing things off with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over previously undefeated Central Michigan. The other three losses came to SEC foes Auburn, Alabama and Florida. So LSU won eight games and lost four others to teams that went to a bowl game (three of which won their respective divisions), and still a national championship-winning head coach was shown the door. Welcome to life in the SEC West.

 

As for this coming season, the Tigers’ schedule can be viewed at in two different parts. While the first five games shouldn’t present too much of a challenge, the final seven are a brutal lineup of SEC matchups. LSU’s slate in October and November alone could be viewed as the toughest in the nation, and that doesn’t include a neutral-site game against BYU and a road game at Mississippi State. Also adding to the difficulty is the fact that the Tigers have five SEC road games this season because of the one with Florida that got re-scheduled and eventually moved to Baton Rouge in 2016 because of the impact of Hurricane Matthew.

 

2017 LSU Tigers Schedule

 

Bye: Week 9

 

Wk Opp. Date Location
1.

Sept. 2

Houston, TX
(NRG Stadium)

Both LSU and BYU fans are getting a treat as these tradition-rich programs are set to meet for the first time ever. The Tigers will more than likely be favored, but the Cougars are no stranger to playing SEC West teams. BYU beat Mississippi State 28-21 in double overtime last season, although that game was on the Cougars’ home turf in Provo, Utah.

2.

Sept. 9

Baton Rouge, LA

Chattanooga was among the FCS’ top teams last season, making the playoffs and finishing ranked 10th in the final poll. But LSU should have little trouble with the Mocs, who gave Alabama some fits last season before falling 31-3 in Tuscaloosa.

3.

Sept. 16

Starkville, MS

Since 1985, LSU has owned Mississippi State, holding a 28-4 advantage during that stretch. More recent meetings have been closer, as Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs continue to prove the doubters wrong. This will be the Tigers’ first real test of the season, as Mississippi State boasts Nick Fitzgerald, one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks.

4. Sept. 23 Baton Rouge, LA

After hosting LSU in 2015, Syracuse will pay its first-ever visit to Baton Rouge. The Orange, who went 4-8 last season, are rebuilding under second-year head coach Dino Babers, while Ed Orgeron and company will no doubt be happy to be back at home after opening SEC play on the road.

5. Sept. 30 Baton Rouge, LA

Troy is coming off of its best season as a FBS program, going 10-3 and at one point finding itself ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time. The Trojans gave Clemson all it could handle last year at home before falling 30-24 to the eventual national champions, so they won’t be intimidated playing in Tiger Stadium.

6. Oct. 7 Gainesville, FL

Last season, Florida rolled into Tiger Stadium and stunned LSU 16-10. The Tigers may have been worn down by a tough stretch of SEC West games prior to playing the Gators, but that excuse won’t fly this fall. Florida is the two-time defending SEC East champs and getting a win in The Swamp is never easy. 

7. Oct. 14 Baton Rouge, LA

The last time these two teams played Les Miles was still the head coach, but LSU had a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass from Danny Etling waved off upon review because the play clock had expired before the ball was snapped. The 18-13 loss ended up being the final game Miles coached for the Tigers, as he was relieved of his duties shortly afterwards. Miles may no longer be around, but LSU would love to exact some revenge if for no other reason the fact that it would mean a win over a key SEC West rival.

8. Oct. 21 Oxford, MS

LSU was impressive on both sides of the ball in beating Ole Miss 38-21 at home last season. The Tigers ran for 311 yards, while holding the Rebels to just 107 on 36 carries. Once again this game precedes LSU’s big showdown with Alabama (following a bye), but the Tigers did not get caught looking ahead in 2016. Except the same this October.

10. Nov. 4 Tuscaloosa, AL

It’s no longer Les Miles vs. Nick Saban, but that doesn’t change the significance or magnitude of this game. Alabama has had its way with LSU recently, beating the Tigers the past six meetings going back to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will have a chance to earn his big salary in this one, as LSU’s offense has to be clicking on all cylinders to have any shot of winning in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tigers were shut out 10-0 at home by the Crimson Tide last season.

11. Nov. 11 Baton Rouge, LA

Another tough out for LSU has been Arkansas, as these teams have split the last 10 meetings. The Razorbacks beat the Tigers 31-17 in their last trip to Death Valley in 2015 with LSU returning the favor in Fayetteville, winning 28-10 last season. Arkansas gets a break in that it will have played Coastal Carolina the week before, while the Tigers will have just faced Alabama. The Razorbacks also have been a tough team to beat in November under head coach Bret Bielema.

12. Nov. 18 Knoxville, TN

LSU’s challenging November slate continues with a visit to Neyland Stadium to face Tennessee. The Volunteers figure to be among the favorites in the SEC East and will be aiming for their first win over the Tigers since 2005. The last time LSU came to Knoxville was in 2011. The Tigers won that game easily, 38-7.

13.

Nov. 23

Baton Rouge, LA

Texas A&M has lost six games in a row to LSU, a streak that dates back to the 2011 Cotton Bowl when the Aggies were still members of the Big 12.How much significance this season-ending matchup will hold remains to be seen, but Texas A&M has to replace key pieces on both sides of the ball, and November has not been kind to Kevin Sumlin’s team recently when it comes to SEC games. The Aggies are just 3-9 in the last month of the regular season over the past four years.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.

 

(Ed Orgeron photo courtesy of www.lsusports.net)

Teaser:
LSU Tigers 2017 Football Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-toughest-college-football-schedules-2017
Body:

Once again, the balance of power in the ACC weighs heavily in the Atlantic Division.

 

With Florida State, Clemson and Louisville bringing back what they do, those three teams all look like top 15-type squads heading into the 2017 college football season. Therefore, when we look at which ACC schedules are the toughest that has to be taken into account.

 

However, the gap closes slightly this season. Both Virginia Tech and Miami are in the second year of promising new head coaches in Justin Fuente and Mark Richt, respectively, and programs like North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech are probably a slight step ahead of the second group in the Coastal Division.

 

There will be some terrific non-conference battles (hello, Alabama vs. Florida State), and whenever Clemson, Florida State or Louisville play, it should have national attention.

 

So let's take a peek around the league to see which teams have the toughest roads to hoe.

 

1. Florida State

Non-Con: Alabama (in Atlanta), vs. ULM, vs. Delaware State, at Florida

Atlantic Home: NC State, Louisville, Syracuse

Atlantic Road: Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson

Crossover: vs. Miami, at Duke

 

Obviously, the season opener with the Crimson Tide is not just the best non-conference game in the league, but the country, as both teams have realistic national title ambitions. Add in road trips to Clemson and SEC East defending champion Florida and the slate outside of Doak Campbell Stadium is fierce. The Seminoles should be favored against Miami, but only beat the Hurricanes by a point last season.

 

Related: Ranking the ACC’s Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2017

 

2. Clemson

Non-Con: vs. Kent State, vs. Auburn, vs. The Citadel, at South Carolina

Atlantic Home: Boston College, Wake Forest, Florida State

Atlantic Road: Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Crossover: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech

 

The non-conference slate is highlighted by a home game against an Auburn team that should be much improved with the addition of JUCO/former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The Louisville game could have gone the other way last year and that's at Papa John's Stadium this time around. The Tigers also pulled one of the most difficult crossover assignments from the Atlantic in going to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech.

 

3. Georgia Tech

Non-Con: Tennessee (Atlanta), vs. Jacksonville State, at UCF, vs. Georgia

Coastal Home: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

Coastal Road: Miami, Virginia, Duke

Crossover: vs. Wake Forest, at Clemson

 

The Yellow Jackets return enough to be a contender in the Coastal Division, but they get no help from their schedule. The non-conference tussles with Tennessee and what should be a much-improved Georgia squad won't be easy. Conference road games against Miami and Clemson will also make life difficult for coach Paul Johnson and Co.

 

4. Syracuse

Non-Con: vs. Central Connecticut, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. Central Michigan, at LSU

Atlantic Home: Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College

Atlantic Road: NC State, Florida State, Louisville

Crossover: vs. Pittsburgh, at Miami

 

Three of the non-conference games are manageable, but the trip to Death Valley to face LSU, whose new offensive coordinator rolled up 76 points against Syracuse last year with Pittsburgh, is a bear. Outside of Clemson, NC State, Florida State and Louisville make up probably the toughest road stretch an Atlantic team can find. The trip to Miami also will be treacherous for the Orange.

 

5. Pittsburgh

Non-Con: vs. Youngstown State, at Penn State, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Rice

Coastal Home: Virginia, North Carolina, Miami

Coastal Road: Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia Tech

Crossover: at Syracuse, NC State

 

Yes, the Panthers avoid Clemson, Louisville and Florida State, so the crossover slate is manageable, as both the road trip to Syracuse and the home date against NC State are winnable. That said, the non-conference schedule is brutal, traveling to Happy Valley to face what should be a top-10 Penn State squad and hosting an Oklahoma State team that will be at least in the top 15 to start the season.

 

6. Boston College

Non-Con: at Northern Illinois, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Central Michigan, UConn (in Boston)

Atlantic Home: Wake Forest, Florida State, NC State

Atlantic Road: Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse

Crossover: vs. Virginia Tech, at Virginia

 

The meat of this schedule's challenges come within the division. The Eagles have to travel to both Clemson and Louisville and will be heavy underdogs in both. Boston College nearly upset Notre Dame the last time the teams met and traditionally plays the Irish tough, but pulling Virginia Tech out of the Coastal makes for a hard road.

 

7. Duke

Non-Con: vs. NC Central, vs. Northwestern, vs. Baylor, at Army

Coastal Home: Miami, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech

Coastal Road: North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Crossover: vs. Florida State, at Wake Forest

 

As far as non-conference games are concerned, Duke has a pretty interesting group. The home games against Northwestern, which is expected to be a fringe top-25 team, and Baylor will both make for an uphill battle for the Blue Devils. Most of the toughest games on the schedule are at home, including the crossover heavyweight opponent in Florida State. The trip to Virginia Tech is the toughest road test.

 

8. Virginia

Non-Con: vs. William & Mary, vs. Indiana, vs. UConn, at Boise State

Coastal Home: Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Coastal Road: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Miami

Crossover: Boston College, at Louisville

 

There are a few interesting non-conference battles on the horizon, particularly the trip to Boise to play the Broncos on the Blue Turf. Indiana and UConn are winnable games. The crossover trip to Papa John's Stadium to face Louisville will be intriguing, as the Cavaliers nearly pulled off the upset last year. Although Virginia has not beaten its in-state rival since 2003, avoiding the trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech is preferred.

 

9. North Carolina

Non-Con: vs. California, at Old Dominion, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Western Carolina

Coastal Home: Duke, Virginia, Miami

Coastal Road: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh

Crossover: vs. Louisville, at NC State

 

The Tar Heels have an interesting non-conference slate with visits from Cal and Notre Dame, both of which are at home. The crossover games are tough, as Louisville at home and the trip to NC State gives the Tar Heels games against two of the top four teams in the Atlantic. The road games within the division are also about as rough as it gets with visits to the three of the top four Coastal teams.

 

10. NC State

Non-Con: South Carolina (in Charlotte), vs. Marshall, vs. Furman, at Notre Dame

Atlantic Home: Syracuse, Louisville, Clemson

Atlantic Road: Florida State, Boston College, Wake Forest

Crossover: at Pittsburgh, vs. North Carolina

 

The non-conference portion of a neutral site game with South Carolina and a trip to Notre Dame is difficult, but the Wolfpack should be competitive with both and maybe favored against the Gamecocks. The trip to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles will be the toughest divisional game, but avoiding Miami and Virginia Tech out of the Coastal helps.

 

11. Louisville

Non-Con: at Purdue, vs. Kent State, vs. Murray State, at Kentucky

Atlantic Home: Clemson, Boston College, Syracuse

Atlantic Road: NC State, Florida State, Wake Forest

Crossover: at North Carolina, vs. Virginia

 

Credit the Cardinals for playing two non-conference teams from Power Five conferences on the road, but neither Purdue nor Kentucky is a major player, even though the Wildcats beat Louisville last year. The Cardinals avoid Miami and Virginia Tech in the crossover games, but a trip to North Carolina won't be easy. Don't expect the trip to Tallahassee to be as easy for the Cardinals as their blowout win over the Seminoles last year.

 

12. Virginia Tech

Non-Con: West Virginia (Landover, Md.), vs. Delaware, at East Carolina, vs. Old Dominion

Coastal Home: North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh

Coastal Road: Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia

Crossover: Clemson, at Boston College

 

For the most part, outside of the West Virginia neutral site game against a team many expect to start the season in the top 25, the non-conference games should be wins. The crossover games bring Clemson to Blacksburg, which should be one of the better matchups of the first half of the season. Miami and Georgia Tech are tough road games inside the division, but, realistically, 10 wins are not out of the question here.

 

Related: Miami or Virginia Tech — Which Team Wins the ACC's Coastal Division in 2017?

 

13. Miami

Non-Con: vs. Bethune-Cookman, at Arkansas State, vs. Toledo, vs. Notre Dame

Coastal Home: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia

Coastal Road: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh

Crossover: at Florida State, Syracuse

 

When you look at this non-conference schedule, it's easy to envision the 'Canes winning all four. Three of the games should be layups, while Notre Dame is at home. The annual rivalry game with Florida State is in Tallahassee and will likely be the only road game, at least at this stage, where the Hurricanes are the underdog. Getting Virginia Tech at home could be critical to how the Coastal title is decided. The 'Canes should win a minimum of nine, maybe 10 games with this schedule.

 

14. Wake Forest

Non-Con: vs. Presbyterian, vs. Utah State, at Appalachian State, at Notre Dame

Atlantic Home: Florida State, Louisville, NC State

Atlantic Road: Boston College, Clemson, Syracuse

Crossover: at Georgia Tech, vs. Duke

 

Even for an Atlantic team, this schedule is on the easier side when compared to the rest of the ACC teams. As far as the non-conference schedule is concerned, the trips to Appalachian State and Notre Dame will both be tough for the Demon Deacons, but the crossover games with Georgia Tech and Duke are manageable. Obviously, going to Clemson is no picnic, but Boston College and Syracuse are not all that difficult when it comes to divisional road games.

 

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2017
Post date: Monday, April 17, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/oklahoma-city-thunder-vs-houston-rockets-2017-nba-western-conference-playoffs-preview-prediction
Body:

Few debates in sports has become as heated as who should be this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player so is it too late to just hold off voting and declare the winner of the Western Conference’s most compelling first-round playoff series the winner?

 

Perhaps the league won’t be interested in changing the rules to allow that but it doesn’t make this MVP-caliber duel between James Harden’s Rockets and Russell Westbrook’s Thunder any less enticing. Both teams have undergone impressive transformations in their own right but the end result will be one team moving on and the other moving on to a vacation. The playoffs have a ton of fantastic matchups this year but few will be must-see TV quite like this one.

 

Houston enters the series as a trendy dark horse to break the hold that the Warriors and Spurs have had on the Western Conference in recent memory. Mike D’Antoni was initially thought to be a questionable hire for a franchise that had a number of flaws but has turned out to be just the right man for the job in leading an impressive turnaround. The up-and-down style the team plays is conducive to high-scoring affairs but the development of Harden into an all-around player instead of just a volume scorer has been key to the Rockets’ resurgence. The team is more than just their MVP candidate running the show however, and the big stage afforded by the playoffs represents a chance for everybody in the Lone Star State to recognize the talent on the roster.

 

Sitting on the other bench and welcoming the challenge is the league’s fastest guard in Westbrook. While everybody expected him to step things up this year after being spurned by Kevin Durant in the offseason, few could have predicted the guard becoming the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for the entire season. Westbrook has seemingly been a man on a mission each time he steps on the court and it’s almost scary to think about him turning things up even more in the postseason.

 

It simply doesn’t get much better than this one and if you’re a fan of basketball, make sure to set your calendar reminders for each and every game of this series.

 

No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35) vs. No. 3 Houston Rockets (55-27)

 

Game 1 – Sunday, April 16 at 9 p.m. ET (TNT)

Game 2 – Wednesday, April 19 at 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

Game 3 – Friday, April 21 at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Game 4 – Sunday, April 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 5 (if necessary) – Tuesday, April 25

Game 6 (if necessary) – Thursday, April 27

Game 7 (if necessary) – Saturday, April 29

 

Note: Games 1, 2, 5, 7 will be played at Toyota Center in Houston, while Games 3, 4, 6 will be at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City

 

Keys for Oklahoma City

As much as the NBA playoffs are a time for stars to shine, OKC will need some significant performances from everybody around Russell Westbrook if they hope to move onto the second round. Victor Oladipo hasn’t been on this kind of stage before and will need to step up as a reliable second option as a scorer and Steven Adams must not only control the paint but also maintain his stance as an interior defender.

 

Perhaps nobody will have as much pressure on them than Andre Roberson, who will have to bump up his scoring from his average of 6.6 per game while also using his length defensively to slow down James Harden when he’s picking and popping. Second-chance opportunities and loose balls on every possession will be huge for a team like the Thunder given the volume of 3-pointers they’re likely to see in this one from the likes of Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and others.

 

Finally, it goes without saying that Westbrook must be on every night for the team to have a chance. If he’s not feeling his outside shot or is having trouble getting to the basket, life will be pretty tough for OKC during this series.

 

Keys for Houston

Head coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t subscribe to the philosophy of defense winning championships but it’s probably safe to say that end of the court will play a key role in his team going one-and-done or advancing to the next round. Chiefly that concerns how the Rockets plan to defend Russell Westbrook and stop him from racking up postseason triple-doubles as often as he did during the regular season.

 

Patrick Beverley figures to handle those duties first and foremost and the tenacious defender did a pretty good job on the MVP favorite during the teams’ regular season meetings. Defending Westbrook isn’t just a one-on-one battle though and it goes without saying that when he gets up to full steam, the interior defenders will need to step up and help as well. The Thunder are not just a one-dimensional team but making the supporting cast beat you instead of their superstar point guard is certainly the way to go.

 

Offensively, Houston has been getting just about every shot they’ve wanted this year and are hoping that carries over into the postseason. If the three’s are falling only one or two teams in the entire league are even capable of hanging with James Harden and company on the floor. The Thunder are not one of them so getting up and down should pay off in a big way as these games progress.

 

Final Analysis

 

We may have to get deep into this series but eventually the focus will fade over the MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, as the attention will rightfully turn to these two teams and what they’re able to do out on the court. There’s no question that each player is going to be the difference between an early exit or a sustained playoff run but the Rockets taking on the Thunder figures to be the most compelling first-round series in the postseason thanks to each team’s style matching up well with the other.

 

Oklahoma City certainly wants to clamp down on things defensively and force players like Patrick Beverley, Trevor Arizia and Ryan Anderson out of their comfort zones both offensively and defensively. They do have a big advantage down low and when it comes to rebounding the basketball and any hope of an upset could hinge on those two factors alone.

 

Houston won’t be intimidated and likely welcomes all the attention that this matchup will bring in order to prove it is a real threat to the West’s top two teams. The Rockets’ bench is much deeper than their opponents and you figure that will come into play as this series progresses and the crunch time minutes get altered depending on how games are flowing and what the foul situation is.

 

So yes it’s worth tuning in for Russ and Harden battling back and forth alone. It’s also worth making the effort to catch this one because there should be any number of highlights every night that result from either team getting out and running. Houston has the edge in most areas but the Rockets should have their hands full night in, night out before eventually taking the series.

 

Prediction: Rockets in six

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

Teaser:
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets: 2017 NBA Western Conference Playoffs Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, April 15, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/portland-trail-blazers-vs-golden-state-warriors-2017-nba-western-conference-playoffs-preview-prediction
Body:

The Western Conference is stuffed with compelling matchups but if you’re grading first-round series’ based on the potential for fantastic late night games, it’s hard to go wrong with the compelling pairing of the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors. Look past the two seed lines and mismatched records, this series features plenty of superstars, lots of offense and a handful of fascinating one-on-ones that are worth tuning in for alone.

 

The headliner is not surprisingly the West’s best team of the past three seasons in the Warriors, who cruised to a league-best 67 wins behind their potent trio of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. While the middle name of that group has spent a good chunk of the back half of the season on the bench with a knee injury, the other two have more than made up for the loss and continued to keep the team’s incredible offense humming. Durant has returned to the lineup in the past week though, making the starting five even more lethal and offering head coach Steve Kerr even more flexibility on defense.

 

On the opposite side is Oakland native Damian Lillard and his cast of confident shooters, who ran off 10 wins in their final 14 games to sneak into the final spot in the West. While you normally wouldn’t think of drawing the top-seeded Warriors in the playoffs is much of a reward for all that effort, this Trail Blazers squad is actually pretty excited at the prospect of playing the underdog and slaying an NBA Goliath over the next few weeks.

 

It won’t be easy to do so however, as Golden State swept the four-game regular season series and did so by averaging more than120 points per game. The pair haven’t met since January however and undergone significant changes since then so this is a much different ball game than some of the numbers suggest. While we probably should be a tad disappointed that two teams of this caliber are meeting so early in the NBA playoffs, the flip side is one of the most fascinating set of first-round games in the Western Conference.

 

No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers (41-41) vs. No. 1 Golden State Warriors (67-15)

 

Game 1 – Sunday, April 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 2 – Wednesday, April 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

Game 3 – Saturday, April 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Game 4 – Monday, April 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

Game 5 (if necessary) – Wednesday, April 26

Game 6 (if necessary) – Friday, April 28

Game 7 (if necessary) – Sunday, April 30

 

Note: Games 1, 2, 5, 7 will be played at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., while Games 3, 4, 6 will be at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.

 

Keys for Portland

Health may be the biggest factor for the Trail Blazers if they’re to make a run at a career-defining upset this year. Though every team is banged up after the grueling 82-game schedule, Portland has a host of key players who will need to be monitored during this series. If the team wants to take some of the scoring load off of Damian Lillard and running mate C.J. McCollum that means that Allen Crabbe needs to be good to go. He was dealing with foot issues that caused him to spend the past several games in a boot on the bench but is apparently fine for this series. Keeping him in the game and not in street clothes is going to be pretty important for a team already behind the eight-ball in terms of talent.

 

As big as Crabbe’s injury is, the one to center Jusuf Nurkic looms even larger. The double-double machine could hold a huge advantage in the paint if he’s in the lineup but it remains to be seen if that will actually be the case come tip-off in Game 1. Nurkic was a difference-maker once he arrived from Denver and played a big role in the playoff push despite eventually winding up with a right leg fracture. The drop-off to Meyers Leonard is steep and it goes without saying that one can’t be shorthanded against a team like the Warriors and expect to pull out four victories.

 

Outside of those two however, one area to really pay attention to is if Portland can take advantage of being physical in the backcourt on defense. Both of the team’s starting guards are a tad smaller than Klay Thompson but it’s possible to really make life much tougher for Steph Curry on both ends of the court. Tiring out the league MVP doesn’t always work given the amount of stars on the other bench but it has proven to be a useful strategy to use against the team everybody is aiming to beat.

 

Keys for Golden State

As good as the Warriors have been, this isn’t an opponent they can just show up to the arena and beat. Steve Kerr knows this and so does his group of veteran players, most of whom know exactly what it takes to not only survive the first round but make it all the way to the Finals in June. With the intensity turned up to the max as a result, all eyes will be on how well this team plays and particularly when it comes to the return of Kevin Durant.

 

Prior to the injury that caused him to miss 19 games, Golden State was just starting to hit its stride in terms of integrating the former league MVP into the lineup. With so many talented shooters and offensive threats, it goes without saying that finding minutes and shots for everybody was going to be a challenge but Steph Curry and the rest of the team eventually found their rhythm mid-season. That was broken up with Durant out of the lineup so it will be interesting to track how well the ball moves around with him back in the starting five and logging significant minutes with the pressure turned way, way up in the postseason. If things are not flowing as crisply as we’re used to seeing, don’t be surprised if Kerr is forced to make adjustments in terms of both play calls and the lineup to make sure things go smoothly for the No. 1 seed.

 

Aside from the starters though, the Warriors can really take advantage of their diverse options off the bench in this kind of series and really hammer home their frontcourt’s ability to get up and down on both ends of the floor. Being able to insert somebody like Andre Iguodala is truly a luxury few teams have and is one area where the team really needs to be able to extend leads when the time comes.

 

Final Analysis

 

In the past three decades, the No. 8 seed has pulled off the unthinkable and upset the top seed in the NBA playoffs just five times. Warriors fans know this better than most having pulled it off 10 years ago against the Dallas Mavericks, but the team is certainly hoping history does not repeat itself here.

 

The Trail Blazers are not backing down from the challenge however and may even be secretly excited over the prospect of doing just that. Star guard Damian Lillard has not shied away from the attention offered by the first-round matchup and has even publicly stated that Portland will advance in six games. That may be some bold talking only a handful of underdogs can do but it fits the mentality of a Portland team this season that has been through plenty of ups and downs.

 

Staring them down however is the best team in the league by a significant margin. Last year’s painful ending to the Finals has only added fuel to the fire inside of this team that managed to add an NBA MVP to the starting lineup as part of the impressive response to 2016’s letdown. This group is hungry and experienced enough that all the brash talk coming out of the other locker room is very unlikely to faze them.

 

This has not been the smoothest path to the playoffs for either side but the fact is, Golden State is the better team in just about every area across the board. Given the injuries that Portland is dealing with right now, it’s hard to go with the team from the Pacific Northwest in this West Coast battle and it wouldn’t at all be that shocking to see a sweep. Despite the potential for a lop-sided series in terms of wins and losses, this one should be a thrilling first-round matchup that won’t lack highlights on the offensive end of the floor.

 

Prediction: Warriors in five

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

 

(Steph Curry photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors: 2017 NBA Western Conference Playoffs Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, April 15, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /chipper
Body:

Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr., 44, did it all during his career with the Atlanta Braves — as the No. 1 overall pick in 1990, World Series champion in 1995, NL MVP in 1999 and MLB batting champion in 2008. Chipper’s new autobiography, Ballplayer, covers those bases and much more. We caught up with the switch-hitting third baseman, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2018.

 

What was it about those 1990s Braves teams that made them so successful?

I would say cohesiveness, especially ‘95. Coming off the heartbreaks in ‘91 and ’92, got ousted by the Phillies in ‘93 really kind of unexpectedly. The strike in ’94. Everything really set up for that (1995) team to be successful. We got to the World Series against Cleveland, and their obviously vaunted offense — one of the scariest I’ve ever played against, they were awesome. It lends more credence to the fact that good pitching is going to shut down good hitting, 90 percent of the time anyway.

 

Could you sense that everything was going to culminate with a World Series win in your first full big league season in 1995?

Yeah, it was time. I didn’t have the monkey on my back that some of the other guys did. All I knew was a little itty bitty part of me didn’t want the Braves to win the World Series until I got there. That sounds terrible to say. I was obviously rooting for the Braves to win. But, yeah, there was a little part of me that said, okay, ’95, I’m here now, it hasn’t been done yet, let’s see what I can contribute to us getting back and getting it right. And it worked out.

 

What was it like as a rookie on that loaded Braves team?

One of the biggest things with championship ball clubs is trust, and your teammates have to trust that you’re going to go out and do your job, that you’re going to be one-ninth of the equation every day that helps you win ball games. Earning that trust in Spring Training and in the early season, until the guys knew, “Hey, this kid’s come in, he’s hitting third, in front of McGriff and Justice and behind Grissom and Lemke, and he’s not missing a beat.” Gaining that trust from my teammates early on in ‘95 was paramount for me.

 

Your parents were seemingly at every game you played. What did that mean to you?

Yeah. I owe them everything. Every championship that I ever won, whether it was Babe Ruth or a high school state championship or a World Series, I was never going to let the moment slip by to let them know that I was sharing it with them.  And I was always glad that they were there.

 

I remember the state championship my junior year, come off the field first thing and dad’s there with a big old hug. All those hours and hours and hours and days and days and days of fieldwork when I was a kid in the backyard, imitating the lineups that we saw on TV on a Saturday afternoon. I’d turn it around and hit left-handed whenever a lefty was hitting, and then I’d go out trying to be my dad. When you win a championship you have a time of reflection. After Game 6 was over, I went and tried to get my parents’ attention up in the stands and blow them a kiss, because I owe it to them that I’m standing in after this and right there.

 

I get chill bumps just thinking about it now, and a little choked up. Nobody will ever know the amount of work that was put in, and to have it culminate with the people that I love most in the stands, and us being the last team standing in ‘95, doesn’t get any better than that.

 

 

Why do they call you Chipper?

I’m obviously a junior, and my mom got really sick of “Big Larry” and “Little Larry” when I was a kid. People always said I looked like “a chip off the old block” when I was a kid. Yep, he’s a “Chipper,” and it just kind of stuck. That’s how it was explained to me. I’ve been Chipper my whole life. The only person that ever called me Larry, when I was growing up was my great-grandma. She couldn’t get Chipper out for some reason, she just called me “Little Larry.” I didn’t hear it again until I got to New York.

 

You broke into the bigs and you were almost young enough to be a teammate’s son and then you retired as a man old enough to be a teammate’s father. Which side of that spectrum suited you best?

I was probably suited better to be the mentor. Most of my teammates will probably tell you that I was brash and cocky and sometimes open my mouth when I shouldn’t have and sometimes did things when I shouldn’t have, got a little lippy from time to time. Fortunately, I grew out of that and I had some instances during my career and during my life off the field that kind of humbled me a little bit. And I learned from it and I became what I feel is hopefully a good mentor. You would have to ask some of the younger guys that I played with towards the end of my career, whether I was or not.

 

The fact of the matter is I tried the best I could to lead by example, tried the best I could to pull guys aside and let them know how things were done, maybe give them a suggestion here or there that might help them. So I would definitely say I was better suited to be the old fogey as opposed to the brash young kid.

 

There’s another No. 1 overall pick on the Braves right now. What advice do you have for Dansby Swanson?

Keep your head down. Don’t read your press clippings. Go to work every day, play every day, lead by example. I really see Dansby as a Derek Jeter-type of player, personality. Now, he will not have the spotlight on him ever, like DJ does because Dansby plays in Atlanta and DJ played in New York for the Yankees. That being said, he has some of the same attributes as Derek, and I think that the Braves are damn lucky that they got this kid because feel like he’s something that they can build around for many years still.

 

Speaking of Derek Jeter, your career and Derek Jeter’s career, there are many parallels. Do you think you were underrated because you played in Atlanta and not New York?

You can’t help where you’re drafted. I could not be happier to play for the Atlanta Braves. I’m a southern kid. I wouldn’t trade my life, my career for anything. I go out and I put up the best resume possible and let other people decide all that. I had a blast playing for Bobby Cox, playing for the Atlanta Braves, playing with the Hall of Famers that I did throughout my career.

 

Who’s to say that playing in New York would have suited me? I know that Derek had the perfect personality and outlook to play in New York. And I can’t say that I necessarily had that. I might’ve gotten in a lot more trouble than he did, through the years. Atlanta’s a lot more laid back, you get away with a lot more in Atlanta. But as far overrated/underrated, I’m up for the Hall of Fame coming up this year, and there’s people out there that say that I got a great shot to get in. How can I deem that being underrated?

 

You did play well in New York, well enough to name your son Shea…

New York was a special place to me. My dad always said if you can be successful on that stage, in New York, you’ll be successful anywhere. And fortunately for me, I got off to a good start in New York, hitting my first home run in the big leagues in Shea Stadium, playing a couple of World Series and some playoff games there in New York, so a lot of experience in New York, some love/hate along the way with some of the fans and whatnot, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences every single time going to the Big Apple and playing.

 

You mentioned the Hall of Fame and you are eligible for this next class. What will that mean to you? What does the Hall of Fame mean to you?

It means a lot. It’s not everything. It is a crowning achievement, but it’s not why I played the game. It will be quite an honor if I’m selected, but it will not be the end of the world if I’m not. Is that politically correct enough for you? I spent 20 years of my life trying to put up the best resume possible. And right now it’s out of my hands. My motto in life is to not worry about things I can’t control. And I can’t control that right now. I spent 19 years having it in my hands and now it’s on to somebody else.

 

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, how do you think the Hall of Fame voters should handle the "Steroids Era" of the late ‘90s, early 2000s? Guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not in the Hall of Fame...

I would say use common sense. Your instincts are normally correct. You know? If you think somebody is doing something bad, chances are they probably are. If you haven’t heard anything and they’ve been clean, chances are they probably have. It’s a very tough situation for those guys to be in. I get it. It’s unfortunate that some of the best players in the game are linked to steroids, but not everybody did them. There were guys that took pride in their job and doing it the right way. And I think if these voters use their heads and do their due diligence, and investigate a little bit, they’ll have a pretty good idea who was doing it and who didn’t.

 

What was the best prank you were part of or that you saw?

Oh, boy. I would have to say Maddux was probably the king as far as that goes. But see, Greg was gross. He was one of the grossest human beings you’ll ever want to meet in your life. He would come in — I don’t even know if you can print this — he would come in after playing golf all day, and drop trou right there at his locker, and take his underwear off. And the sanitary bin was right next to his locker, and he would take his sanitary and he would wipe his rear end with his sanitary. And he would put the sanitary back into the sanitary bin, and he would wait patiently for somebody to come by and pick up that sanitary to wipe off. So, yeah, that’s Greg Maddux in a nutshell right there. Many hours of entertainment that guy provided me.

 

Teaser:
Chipper Jones wrote a best-selling autobiography, Ballplayer.
Post date: Friday, April 14, 2017 - 14:31

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