Couches to Confetti: What Could Have Been in 2016 College Football

There are less than 20 days before Colorado State plays Oregon State to kick off the 2017 college football season, and college football’s return can’t come quickly enough. Since baseball is the only major sport in season, ESPN has recently resorted to airing programs such as the 2016 WFTDA Roller Derby Championships and Arm Wrestling: Best of WAL 2016 Championship on their networks. ESPNU has been showing reruns of the top 25 games of the 2016 season since July 17. After watching a few of those games, I could not help but notice the pattern of Clemson needing a few lucky breaks to win the close games they played last season. What if things had gone slightly a different way? Would the Tigers still have won the National Championship?

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In The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, a collection of essays written by G.P. Putnam’s sons, the authors use their historical knowledge to contemplate hypothetical questions such as, “what if Alexander the Great had died at the Battle of the Granicus River?”

They then use the questions to derive an alternate account of history of what might have been if the hypothetical situation did occur. I want to do the same for Clemson’s 2016 season. What if Auburn came down with the Hail Mary in Clemson’s home opener? What if James Quick of Louisville had recognized that the first down line was at the two yard line and not the three? What if Kyle Bambard of NC State hit the game winning 33-yard field goal in their meeting in October?

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North Carolina State kicker Kyle Bambard (left) and Ben Grazen watch as Bambard’s field goal goes wide late in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 24-17 in overtime. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro) 

Although the first two questions are a little out of left field (Hail Mary throws are usually never caught and who knows what was going on in James Quick’s mind), the third one most certainly has value. On average, college kickers make about 75% of field goals from the 30-39-yard range, and although Kyle Bambard (67%) is slightly below average, it is still very reasonable to expect him to make at least one of two attempts that he missed against Clemson.

But what if he did hit one of the two field goal attempts and the NC State Wolfpack were able to come out of Death Valley with an upset? To simplify things, let us make the assumption that the rest of the season would have unfolded identically, without a butterfly effect. The loss would have pushed Clemson to finish at a record overall and 6-2 in ACC conference play. Louisville would have finished in first place of the Atlantic division with a conference record of 7-1. But because they had played so poorly to finish out the season (loses to both Houston and Kentucky), they would have been left out of the playoff equation even if they had won the conference championship game against Virginia Tech. That leaves Clemson, Penn State and Michigan all with 10-2 records at the mercy of the selection committee. And my best bet is that Penn State gets in because they won the Big Ten conference championship.

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The playoffs probably would have played out the way that everyone would have thought they should have, with Alabama’s smothering defense dominating Penn State, and Washington beating Ohio State in a close one. This would have pit Alabama against Washington in the finals, and we know from the Sugar Bowl that Alabama would probably pull away and win back-to-back national championships.

Of course, all of this is just hypothetical, but I think it brings to light a very important idea. It might sound cliché, but every play truly does matter. One play changed the fortunes of Clemson players from sitting on their couches to laying in Tampa with orange and white confetti raining down on them. As you watch college football this season, make sure to go to the bathroom before the games and during commercials, because you will never know if you are going to miss the play that paves the way to a national championship.

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Stan Wawrinka’s Stellar 2017: Short, but Sweet

Standing six feet tall, 179-pound powerhouse Stan Wawrinka has demonstrated his tremendous capabilities in his 2017 tennis career. Currently ranked fifth in the world in men’s singles, Wawrinka has proven to be one of the top performers of 2017. He has demonstrated his ability to crush weaker opponents consistently and contest legendary players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer. Despite his recent withdrawal from the U.S. Open, Wawrinka has proven to be one of Switzerland’s most respected tennis players.

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Injury has halted Wawrinka’s hopes of participating in the US Open.

Wawrinka’s first tournament this season was the Brisbane International, located in Queensland, Australia. He played two tough matches, beating Viktor Troicki 7-6, 6-4 in the Round of 16 and Kyle Edmund 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinal. Wawrinka played a tough match against the Japanese Kei Nishikori, and lost 7-6, 6-3. Although Wawrinka did not win the Brisbane International, he showcased his ability to play powerful tennis, while still implementing strategy into his game. This tournament was only the beginning of what would become one of Wawrinka’s best tennis seasons.

The Australian Open, one of the four annual Grand Slam tournaments, was Wawrinka’s next target. Martin Kližan gave a tough fight against the Swiss tennis player in the first round. Although Wawrinka was down a break in the fifth set, Wawrinka still managed to jump to a close win against Klizan, beating him 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.  All hope seemed to be lost when Wawrinka was down in the fifth set, but he quickly turned the match around and won four consecutive games, clinching him the match. Wawrinka carried his determination to win a second Australian Open title into the next few rounds. He managed to only lose a total of one set in the next four matches he played (against Steve Johnson, Viktor Troicki, Andreas Seppi and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). He beat Johnson and Troicki in straight sets, gave up one set against Seppi, and defeated Tsonga in straight sets, bringing him to the semifinals of a major tournament once again. In the semifinals, Wawrinka faced off against Swiss compatriot Roger Federer. In a grueling and tight match, Federer finally defeated Wawrinka in five sets; this match demonstrated Wawrinka’s perseverance and ability to contest the legendary Roger Federer who would go on to win the tournament.

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Although Wawrinka lost in the first round in the Dubai Tennis Championships, he bounced back in the next tournament he played in: the Indian Wells Masters. Getting a bye in the first round, Wawrinka went on to win his second and third round in straight sets against Paolo Lorenzi and Philipp Kohlschreiber, respectively. In the fourth round and quarterfinals, Wawrinka faced more of a challenge, winning both matches in three sets. He played Austrian underdog Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals, a young tennis player rising through the ranks. Although Thiem proved to be a tough contender for Warwrinka, the Swiss veteran eventually put the Austrian youngster down, beating him 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. Wawrinka’s semifinal was a breeze, as he won 6-2, 6-2, and off he went to the finals against who else but Roger Federer. Wawrinka had recently met him in the Australian Open semifinals, and was going to try his best to defeat his Swiss friend. However, Federer once again came out on top and edged Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 in a close match for both players.

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Players sometimes have days when they do not play as well as expected and end up losing in earlier rounds of the tournaments they play in. Wawrinka may have lost in the early rounds of the Miami Masters, the Monte-Carlo Masters, the Madrid Masters and the Rome Masters, but he did make up lost ground at the Geneva Open. Once again getting a bye in the first round, Wawrinka proceeded to face the Brazilian Rogério Dutra Silva in the second round. Dutra Silva was forced to retire the match after getting a right ankle injury, putting Wawrinka in the quarterfinals against American Sam Querrey. Wawrinka beat the sixth seed in three sets, winning 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.  Wawrinka moved on to the finals after beating Andrey Kuznetsov in straight sets in the semifinals and was ready to face his final opponent: Mischa Zverev. In a close and physically demanding match, Wawrinka finally won his first tournament of the year, beating Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Wawrinka’s next tournament was Paris’ world renowned grand slam, the French Open, or Roland Garros. In this tournament, Wawrinka played exceptional tennis and reached the finals, where he met Spanish champion Rafael Nadal. Wawrinka cruised through the first five rounds winning in straight sets, dismantling Jozef Kovalik, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Fabio Fognini, Gael Monfils, and Marin Čilić. In the semifinals, Wawrinka faced the tournament’s top seed: Andy Murray. The British world-number-one was off to a great start in the tournament, getting past Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori. However, Wawrinka put an end to his winning streak at the French Open in an amazing battle. Wawrinka eventually won the match in five sets, which included a tiebreak in the first and fourth set. The 2015 champion advanced to the finals where he played the legendary Rafael Nadal. Although Nadal beat Wawrinka in straight sets, the Swiss veteran proved to be a strong competitor against many other players at the French Open.

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Unfortunately, Wawrinka cannot participate in tournaments for the rest of 2017 because of a knee injury. He has showcased his brilliant skills as a tennis player this season and has demonstrated his ability to win matches and contest tough opponents in an era where two monster powerhouses dominate the sport. Hopefully, the Swiss baseliner can recover soon and return to the game he has dominated thus far.

 

 

Umpires Need To Be Held Accountable Too

Just last month, Adrian Beltre became the 31st player in MLB history to join the 3,000 hit club, which basically punches his ticket into Cooperstown. He’s a guy who has always been one of the very best in the business for as long as he’s been in the MLB. This is exactly what makes what happened to him earlier that same week such a slap in the face. Take a look:

I go to A LOT of Major League Baseball games, and NO ONE stands in the damn on deck circle! It’s a “rule” that has no bearing on the ballgame. Additionally, this game was totally out of hand; the score was 17-5 at the time. So, in a 12 run game, Gerry Davis decides to make an example out of a future Hall of Famer? That’s a joke.

It even extends into the Independent League circuit. Check out this video (WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE):

Wally Backman goes bananas because his guy gets thrown out without saying a single word. I don’t blame Wally. I would’ve had a very similar reaction. These guys make a bad call, and then compound that mistake by throwing guys out. We can’t have that.

I coach high school basketball as well as baseball, and I can tell you that there is NOTHING worse than when an official gets too big for his britches and tries to become the star of the show. It’s even worse when they walk around on their high horse and won’t even have a discussion with you about what’s going on. That’s what guys like Gerry Davis and Joe West do. They think they run the show and they make sure that everyone who’s watching knows it. It’s brutal.

In a Cubs vs. Diamondbacks game at Chase Field in Arizona this past Saturday, the Cubs fell 6-2. While this scoreline initially makes it look like there was little competition between these two teams, the score was knotted at 0-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The D-backs eventually jumped ahead to a 6-0 lead, but the Cubs weren’t ready to give up. They fought back to score two runs in the top of the ninth inning. They brought the momentum back on their side, only for it to get curtailed by a call from the umpire. The final out of the game was called a strikeout to 2B Ben Zobrist, who took a ball out of the strike-zone in a 1-2 count. Zobrist was furious and adamantly told reporters that this call shows the necessity for the league to enact an automated strike zone, citing the technological advancement and progress of all sports as reasoning. While the Umpire may have been adamant that he was making the right call, his decision overshadowed the game and put a terse end to a game that could have turned into a mini-Cinderella story. Oh well.

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My point is, coaches are held accountable; players are held accountable. Why can’t umpires be held accountable? I don’t have a problem with bad calls. I really don’t. They are part of the game. But when you have guys going rogue and baiting players/coaches into ejections, there’s a huge problem. No one has ever gone to a game to watch someone officiate. Ever.

Fantasy Football 2017-2018 Surprise Projections

It’s not a dream. Football season is only three weeks away, and with that comes the resurgence of one of the most competitive online sports leagues in the world; fantasy football. Whether it’s for a weekly league or for the full season, it’s always a scramble for team owners who are trying to determine which players will be your savior and which ones will ride your bench. It’s easy to be confident in drafting and starting your all-stars like Aaron Rodgers, Le’Veon Bell or Julio Jones week in and week out, barring injury.

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But what about the players who we inevitably pass over each year, who then go on to exceed all expectations we had of them? I’m talking about guys like Matt Ryan who wasn’t ranked as one of the highest QBs in the 2016 fantasy draft, yet ended up finishing in the top three. I’m talking about Melvin Gordon who had an awful rookie season, but then vaulted into the top echelon in the 2015-2016 season. These surprises happen year after year. It was DeMarco Murray in 2014, Cam Newton in 2015 and as previously mentioned, Matt Ryan in 2016. While these are just a few players to have had incredible seasons, others can come out of the woodwork and lead your fantasy team into the playoffs. Looking forward to the 2017-18 season, we should be expecting to see some more players have breakout seasons.

Tyreek Hill is a name that people should be eagerly watching out for.

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Hill burst onto the scene last year in electrifying fashion, displaying unstoppable speed and agility. While his overall receiving stats weren’t all that impressive, finishing with 61 receptions, 593 yards and six TDs, Hill also showed his explosiveness as a kick returner, punt returner and change-of-pace running back.

Hill is a jack-of-all-trades type of player and a walking highlight reel. Now, with the departure of Jeremy Maclin, Hill shouldn’t have much competition to fill the Chiefs’ WR1 role. Expect Hill to be much more involved in the receiving game and to be a lot more than a utility player, even with Alex Smith throwing to him.

His usage on special plays will take a hit, but he’ll be heavily involved on the offensive side of things. The ceiling for Hill is quite impressive – his mix of speed, strength, agility and vision makes him a threat to score every time he takes a snap.

Robert Kelley is another name that stands out.

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Was his rookie season anything to celebrate? Probably not, but at least it’s nothing to sneeze at. He started nine games, finishing with 704 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and rushing for six touchdowns. He will likely be hungry after coming off of a sub-par 2016 season. He won’t be able to fall into the sophomore slump that Todd Gurley fell victim too.

The Redskins did sign another running back in the fourth round of the draft in Samaje Perine. He was a stud at the University of Oklahoma, amassing 4,122 yards in his three years there. Perine is a strong and fast runner, but there’s a fair amount of adjustment that he needs to make before he’ll be ready for the NFL. We know he’s strong, but he’s also raw and unproven.

Robert Kelley will have the first shot to be the starter for the Redskins, and I expect to see Kelley feel more comfortable in his starting role than he was last year. He has talked about watching film and changing his running style to be more patient like that of Le’Veon Bell. If Kelley can execute, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Finally, enter Terrance West, the running back for the Baltimore Ravens who could be in prime position for a breakout season.

Healthy for all 16 games last season, West started 13 of them. He finished with five rushing touchdowns and 774 yards on 193 attempts, averaging just about four yards per carry.

Going into the 2017 season, West will be the starter from the first snap. Additionally, there are a few other aspects looking up for West. With the recent injury to Joe Flacco – who could potentially miss week one – the Ravens could be looking to run the ball more and be a bit more conservative with their cannon arm quarterback.

Furthermore, Baltimore’s schedule looks very promising for rushers as nine of 16 regular season games will be played against teams who ranked in the bottom ten last season in rush defense. While at a first glance, the Ravens backfield may look crowded especially with the newly signed Danny Woodhead, it’s not as competitive as it might seem. John Harbaugh has a lot of confidence in the 26-year-old and expects him to be the workhorse.

Harbaugh has also mentioned that Kenneth Dixon has the same workhorse potential; however, Dixon is suspended for the first five games – immediately decreasing his value. Woodhead is a nice addition to the Ravens backfield but will ultimately only be used as a change of pace and third down back.

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Each year, without fail, players surprise us. I guess that’s part of being a good fantasy team owner – looking for value that can exceed expectations. However, we continually follow the draft projections thinking that things will be different. While a lot of the time these players end up working out just fine, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that they don’t always live up to the expectations that we place on them. As we enter the new NFL season, remember to keep in mind that some players will be undervalued and it’s your job as a fantasy owner to find those underrated players and lead your team to victory.

Obviously draft smart and don’t take players in the first round that have a good chance of being available in the fourth or fifth rounds, but remember to keep an eye open for those players that could have breakout seasons and surprise us all. Oh, and don’t take a kicker till the last round. Please.

Neymar Transfer to Improve Brazilian Chemistry

MSN, a worldwide phenomenon, came to an end on August 3, 2017.

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The trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. is no more, as FC Barcelona accepted roughly a 222 million Euro transfer for Neymar from PSG, demolishing the previous transfer record set by Manchester United for Paul Pogba just a year ago.

Fans are arguing that Neymar can’t reach his full potential in the French Ligue 1 and there’s no question that Spain’s La Liga is more competitive. Yet, a move to Paris may have peaked Neymar’s interests for reasons other than getting paid 30 million Euros a year. The opportunity to play with his Brazilian counterparts in Paris only increases the chances for Neymar and co. to bring home the World Cup in 2018. In 2010, Spain hoisted the World Cup, and in 2014, Germany were the victors.

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These two countries feature a majority of their national team players competing at home in domestic competitions. In La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona make up most of the national team, while in the Bundesliga, many members of the national team play for Bayern Munchen and Borussia Dortmund. Chemistry is the backbone to success in the sport of football, and it played a huge role in both Spain’s, and Germany’s World Cup wins.

Neymar will be joining Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura in Paris, all candidates to be selected for the national team come next summer. This upcoming season is going to be crucial if Brazil wants to avenge their 7-1 humiliation to Germany in 2014. Chemistry has been a problem for Brazil while Dunga was in charge of Brazil’s national team, but Tite has seemed to unite the Selecao.

Neymar’s transfer may bring that core closer together, thus giving the boys in yellow a chance to bring home the trophy of all trophies in Russia. In order to truly understand Neymar’s decision to leave the great club of Barcelona, we must understand the legacy that Neymar is trying to leave.

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His accomplishments on the international stage pale in comparison to that of his domestic success, and in order for him to truly be seen as the complete package, he wants to achieve success on both fronts. Such a fate can be streamlined in a tenure with PSG, as he will have the opportunity to get practice with his future national team compatriots on a regular basis. Expect big things from the Brazilians in Paris.

Biggest NFL Rookie Impacts in 2017-18

Myles Garrett

The first overall pick and the most NFL-ready player in the draft, Garrett will finally provide a spark to the most abysmal franchise in football. There is a sense of belief that he will be comparable to Julius Peppers in his prime and that it will not take him long to get there. Garrett will be the guy to help Cleveland orchestrate its first good pass rush in ten years and make the whole defense better by taking pressure off his line mates as well as the secondary. Garrett is going to bolster the whole Cleveland organization that desperately needs to elevate itself back into NFL relevance.

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Leonard Fournette

Tom Coughlin wanted a pure runner when he and the Jags looked towards the NFL Draft, and he got the best one available in2017. Although the LSU product will have a learning curve to his game and will not be able to run defenders over the same way that he did in college, he should still be very effective. Fournette has a hill to climb to see the same success that Ezekiel Elliot saw last season, but it may not be as steep as people are thinking it will be. Fournette will be primarily a first and second down back to start making third downs more manageable for Blake Bortles and company. He needs to ease into the offense before becoming a three-down force. Fournette may struggle early in the season, but look for him finish strong as a solid, reliable back come the end of the season.

Jamal Adams

The man who thinks that dying on the field would be a perfect death will surely leave everything out there on the field. This is the first time in a long span that the New York Jets didn’t completely botch their first round selection. The best safety in the draft fell right into their lap. Adams will be a leader in gang green’s secondary, and will hopefully take the reins as a future defensive captain. Expect Adams to be heavily favored in the defensive rookie of the year running because he is that good, and his team just isn’t.

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Solomon Thomas

Thomas is strong, fast, athletically gifted and quite knowledgeable of the game. Because of the natural differences between the college game and the professional level, there aren’t many rookies who can come straight to the National Football League and seamlessly make an impact. Thomas could very well be one of them, mostly due to his raw ability. The only knock on Thomas’ game is that he is described as, “hot and cold” (SB Nation), referring to his sporadic nature of bringing effort to the game. This will not fly in an NFL locker room full of veterans, so Thomas may require some guidance and motivation in his first few years in the league. If it comes to fruition, Thomas looks poised for an excellent rookie year.

OJ Howard

Howard will enter the NFL having already played in a high volume pro-style offense at Alabama. This is great news for Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter, who loves tight ends who can receive the football. In his two seasons as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, future Hall Of Fame-er Tony Gonzalez hauled in 176 receptions, which shows what can be expected of Howard. His 6’5’’, 240-lb frame is coupled with a 4.51 40-yard dash time, already making him a potential matchup nightmare. He poses a huge issue for defenses because of his ability to run the seam, and he is another huge target in the red zone in addition to Mike Evans.

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Will the Pens Repeat?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the most feared franchises in the National Hockey League. Ever since acquiring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the draft, the franchise has been built for success. Along the way, the Pens have also featured a variety of other star players, such as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, wingers Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz, and defensemen Kris Letang and Justin Schultz. With players of this caliber, an energetic Pittsburgh fan base and several successful seasons with Stanley Cup Playoff runs, the Pens should have no problem repeating their recent cup victory, right? In order to fully answer this question, we must look at a number of determining factors.

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Sydney Crosby (right) and Evgeni Malkin (left) are among the most elite players in the NHL.

They Have Been There Before…

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Pens have been to the Stanley Cup four times, capitalizing on three out of the four appearances. They have also had successful regular seasons in that time period, averaging only 24 losses per season in that span. Since 2007, they have had a great roster which helped them be this successful, with members like Crosby and Malkin. Thanks to their success, more than half of their team has massive amounts of playoff experience in the past two years, and a handful of them have already won multiple Stanley Cups in their careers. With these experiences as well as the recent success they have had, the Pens have a very high chance of raising the cup yet again.

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The Roster Speaks for Itself…

As mentioned before, the Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the best rosters in the NHL. Sidney Crosby has compiled over 1000 career points and has collected three cups as the captain of the team, Evgeni Malkin has accrued the same amount of cups and over 800 career points, and other great players and goaltenders provide the Pens with successful seasons. Furthermore, goaltending is one of the most crucial parts in a successful NHL team. Goaltenders like Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray have helped the Pens win games and be successful in the post-season. The defensive lineups from Kris Letang and Justin Schultz to Ian Cole and Trevor Daley have been outstanding in the regular season and postseason. These reliable blue liners led the Pens to two recent Stanley Cups. With wingers like Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin and Patric Hörnqvist, the Penguins have had all of the puzzle pieces up front to be very successful for the past few years.

All factors considered, the Pens clearly have a very good chance at winning the Stanley Cup for the 2017-2018 season. This is not to say that they will be alone in the chase for the cup. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators and many more teams could challenge for the Stanley Cup next season. With the Predators’ hot stretch at last season’s end, we have honestly learned that any team could win the Stanley Cup; however, the aforementioned teams have shown great success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before, and will continue to make appearances year after year.

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Will they Win?

Given the roster and the past experiences of the Pittsburgh Penguins, some will say that the Pens will hoist the trophy at the end of the season. While we need to watch out for injuries, trades and lineup changes for next season before we can get a better read on their prospects, I absolutely believe that they will make a run at the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2017-2018 season. Teams like the Blackhawks, Bruins, Ducks, Caps and Sens will be there too and make it interesting, so it will be anybody’s cup come playoff time. Will the Pens repeat? Don’t bet your house on it, but they will make a run for it.