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February 17, 2017

SWAC, SEC and C-USA Preseason Baseball Predictions

By bryanflynn

There might still be a nip in the air, but this weekend will feel like spring to some in the state. Starting Friday, Feb. 17, college baseball makes its return, even if the weather is still a bit cold.

Last season three teams from our state reached the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament. Hopefully, that success will carry over to this season, and more teams will reach the postseason.

Division I conferences have begun to release their preseason projected order of finish and preseason all-conference teams. All three Division I conferences with teams from out of state have made their preseason picks.

In the SEC last year, Mississippi State shocked the conference, as it won the SEC West, the SEC regular season championship and earned one of the eight national seeds. MSU won its Regional but runner-up University of Arizona ended up defeating the team in the Super Regional.

The University of Mississippi reached the postseason out of the SEC but lost its first two games in its regional, which got the team bounced from the tournament.

League coaches don’t believe the Bulldogs will repeat their performance from last season. MSU was picked to finish fourth in the SEC and picked as the seventh best team in the SEC.

The Rebels are picked ahead of MSU to finish third in the SEC West and sixth in the conference. Last season UM finished fourth in the SEC West behind MSU, Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University.

MSU placed two players on the preseason All-SEC teams with outfielders Jake Mangum on the first team and Brent Rooker on the second team. The Rebels placed two players on the second-team All-SEC, second baseman Tate Blackman and third baseman Colby Bortles.

The Bulldogs begin the season Friday, Feb. 17, at home against Texas Tech University. UM starts its 2017 season at home against East Carolina University on Friday, Feb. 17.

The University of Southern Mississippi finished in third place in the regular-season standings in Conference USA last season. USM won the C-USA Tournament, which got the conference automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, but the Golden Eagles lost in the Regional.

Coaches gave Southern Miss three first-place votes. But overall, the team was predicted to finish third in the conference. The Golden Eagles place three players on the preseason All-Conference team with pitcher Kirk McCarty and infielders Dylan Burdeaux and Taylor Braley earning the honors.

USM will start the 2017 season at home on Friday, Feb. 17, against Northeastern University.

Jackson State University finished second in the SWAC East with Alcorn State University in third place, and Mississippi Valley State University finished last in 2016. All three teams failed to reach the postseason when they didn’t win the SWAC Tournament and were in a one-bid league.

The Tigers are picked to finish second in the SWAC East and tied for second overall ...

February 17, 2017

NFL Teams Can Start Tagging Players

By bryanflynn

Now that Super Bowl LI is in the books, NFL teams are moving on to the offseason. Teams are already starting to cut players and starting Feb. 15, they began tagging players.

When NFL teams tag players, they have three options: non-exclusive franchise tag, exclusive franchise tag and transition tag. Teams have until March 1 to tag a player who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and can use only one of the tags above each season on just one player. The player and team have until July 15 to reach an agreement on a long-term deal.

The non-exclusive tag is a one-year offer to a player with his salary being an average of the top five at his position over the last five years or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater. The player who receives this tag can sign with another team, but his current one has the right to match the offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation for the player signing with a new team.

The exclusive tag is one-year offer to a player with his salary being an average of the top five at his position for the current year or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater. The player under this tag can’t negotiate with other teams. Only the top players in the NFL ever get this tag, including New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

The transition tag is a one-year offer to a player with his salary being an average of the top 10 at his position. That player’s current team can match any offer to keep him but doesn’t receive any compensation for the person leaving.

Once a player signs his offer sheet for his franchise tag, his full salary is guaranteed for the season. The team can rescind the offer at anytime, as long as the player hasn’t signed the offer sheet. This happened last season when the Carolina Panthers rescinded cornerback Josh Norman’s tag.

Teams can’t use the tag on another player if they rescind the offer. It still counts as a player tagged. A player can only be tagged three times by his team, but with an increase in his salary each time he is tagged.

It is worth knowing that teams don’t have to tag any of their potential free agents, and players don’t typically want to be tagged because they want long-term deals with more guaranteed money.

Few teams are expected to use the franchise tag this year. For example, potential free agents for the Dallas Cowboys or the New Orleans Saints aren’t worthy of the major pay increase that comes with the use of the franchise tag.

A few estimates have franchised quarterbacks earning $21 million this season, defensive ends earning $17 million, wide receivers earning $16 million, and linebackers, cornerbacks, offensive linemen and defensive tackles earning $15 million. There is a bit ...

February 16, 2017

Women in Sports Day; Dak Prescott to Host a Football Camp

By bryanflynn

A couple of events are coming up that might be of interest to those with kids or who follow sports. The first event is next week, and the second will take place later this summer.

Next week, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum (1152 Lakeland Drive) is hosting Women in Sports Day on Feb. 24. This event, which starts at 10 a.m., has free admission and is a good educational field trip for middle school and high-school girls but is open to men and women of all ages.

Mississippi native and first female NFL official Sarah Thomas will be the special guest and speaker at the event. It will have interactive discussions on topics such as nutrition, health, hard work and more.

It has limited space, and reservations are required to attend the event. Students should dress for activity, including wear tennis shoes.

BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi is the title sponsor of this event. To make reservations, call 601-982-8264.

This summer, reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott is returning to Mississippi State University to host a one-day camp at the university.

The Dak Prescott Football ProCamp will be on June 20 at Mississippi State University (100 Championship Way, Starkville). The camp begins at 9 a.m. and lasts until 12:30 p.m.

Prescott and volunteer coaches from the high school and college-coaching ranks will give tips, lectures and hands-on coaching. Participants will take part in fundamental-football-skills stations, contests and noncontact games in a high energy and positive environment.

The camp is open to boys and girls from first through eighth grades. Campers will be placed in small groups by age so each participant gets the most out of instructions from the coaches. This camp for all skill levels, from players who are new to the game to those have been playing for years.

Each camper will get a souvenir autograph from Prescott. The item will be provided, and no outside items are allowed. Campers get a team photo with Prescott and a limited edition Dak Prescott Football ProCamp T-shirt.

Individual and team groups at each age group will receive awards. Sponsors of the event include Adidas, Wilson, Citi, Welch’s Fruit Snacks and Pronto Print.

The time and date of the camp is subject to change, and the cost is $149.

Prescott will also host a one-day camp in Shreveport, La. on June 22 and a two-day camp in Dallas, Texas on June 24 and 25.

February 16, 2017

Men’s Basketball Rule Changes Incoming

By bryanflynn

The NCAA announced two rule changes for the men’s 2017 Postseason National Invitation Tournament. Those rule changes will make the NIT different from the Division I Men’s NCAA Tournament.

Fouls will be reset after 10 minutes of play each half, and the league will eliminate the one-and-one bonus free-throw opportunity. After a team commits four fouls, every successive foul will allow the opposing team to shoot two free throws until fouls reset.

In overtime, teams that commit more than three fouls will award their opponents with two free throws for each foul.

Technical fouls won’t count toward those numbers. Resetting the fouls will mimic how the game would work with four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.

The women’s game switched from two 20-minute halves just before the start of the 2015-2016 season. Olympic basketball, high-school basketball and the NBA play four quarters, so moving the men’s game to four quarters puts it in line with the rest of basketball. Of course, the length of the quarters is different for each level of play.

The other rule change is that the shot clock will stay the same or reset to 20 seconds, whichever is greater, after the defense commits a foul and a team inbounds the ball to the frontcourt. This rule change is to give each team more possessions. The shot clock used to reset to 30 seconds after defensive fouls.

The idea is that with more possessions, teams should score more points. As teams shoot more three-point shots, changing the shot clock might not actually increase scoring that much, though.

Personally, I like the idea of the men’s game playing four quarters. Each season, I watch more and more women’s basketball because it seems like the flow of the game is faster and smoother than it is for the men.

The NCAA should just go all in and make the NIT four quarters and see how the games play out. Between that and the foul changes, coaches will have to alter their decisions and late-game strategy.

If they’re discussing rule changes, can the NCAA Tournament exclude teams that don’t finish .500 or better in conference play? In the ESPN and Sports Illustrated bubble watch, there are several teams from major basketball conferences that could make the tournament with losing conference records.

Teams shouldn’t be rewarded for being worse than mediocre in their own conference. Playing in a tough basketball conference shouldn’t mean you get in the tournament if you can’t finish .500 in the league.

There are plenty of mid-major conferences with teams that finish above .500 in conference play, but the major conferences including the ACC, Big East and Big 12, that are getting shorted because of that rule.

Instead, reward those mid-major conferences with more bids. The field is 68 teams, but the major conferences get over-rewarded with bids and take up half the field. Those major conferences get bids that they ...

February 13, 2017

UConn Looks for 100th Straight Win

By bryanflynn

College-basketball fans are in for a treat tonight, Feb. 13, as the No. 1-ranked women’s team, the University of Connecticut, hosts the No. 6-ranked University of South Carolina. This game is a possible Final Four preview with March just around the corner.

The South Carolina Gamecocks enters the matchup with a 21-2 overall record and a 9-1 record on the road, and the Huskies enter with a 24-0 overall record and 11-0 record at home, with a 60- home-game winning streak.

One more thing: UConn is also on a 99-game winning streak overall. A victory against the Gamecocks would bring the Huskies to their 100th win in a row.

UConn’s 99 consecutive wins surpassed the school’s previous record of 90 wins from 2008 to 2010. The Huskies own two of the top-three winning streaks in Division I history, with the University of California, Los Angeles men’s team in third place with 88 wins from 1971 to 1974.

Winning 100 games is hard at any level, and every team that the Huskies face gives them its best shot. UConn blows out most of the teams it plays, but those teams come in looking to make history by winning. UConn hasn’t lost a game since a double-overtime to Stanford University on Nov. 17, 2014.

Even Mississippi State University is a part of the streak. UConn defeated MSU 98-38 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The victory sparked more commentary on whether the Huskies are bad for women’s college basketball.

If UConn is able to win tonight, the 100th victory will likely result in the same kind of debate. UConn wins year in and year out, but at the very least, the Huskies bring attention to the women’s game. South Carolina beating the Huskies would be a huge story. It would make the women’s NCAA Tournament more interesting, as some would tune in to see if another team could knock off the Huskies.

If the Gamecocks win, it will make for huge ratings for a Final Four or National Championship Game, but if UConn wins, it isn’t bad for women’s college basketball. UCLA didn’t ruin the men’s game with its winning streak in the ’70s, and UConn isn’t destroying the women’s game now.

The Huskies are making every team that wants to win a title pick up its game. Teams practice harder, run drills longer, shoot more shots in practice, and work more on dribbling, free throws and every part of their game. Opposing coaches and players known they will make history by being the team that beats the Huskies.

But history is getting made one way or another tonight. Either South Carolina breaks UConn’s winning streak, or the Huskies win for the 100th time in a row. As viewers, we all win.

Tune in to ESPN2 at 8 p.m.

February 9, 2017

Baylor Shows Dark Side of Doing Anything to Win

By bryanflynn

It is easy to say that Baylor University is a prime example of what is bad about college sports. The university is a textbook example of how the win-at-all-cost approach can lead an institution of higher learning into selling its morals for wins.

A major sexual-assault scandal broke out at Baylor with police arresting defensive end Tevin Elliott for rape charges in 2012 and his conviction in 2014. New information shows that then-head coach Art Briles helped Elliott stay on campus.

Elliott was accused of a second count of plagiarism that would have him suspended from the university and ineligible for the 2011 season. He missed an April 2011 deadline to appeal, but Briles personally got involved to help Elliott get an appeal.

Briles sent an email to then-university President Ken Starr about overturning the suspension, which Starr did, allowing Elliott to stay in school and on the team.

Briles, Starr and assistant coaches continued to hide or fix problems that Elliott had in missing classes, meaning those in charge at Baylor helped Elliott stay on campus, where he ended up raping a woman.

Elliott isn’t the only case at Baylor. Repeatedly, the coaches and even the Waco Police Department buried reports of players’ misbehavior. Recent reports show that the coaches tried to get people who Baylor football players had victimized not to press charges or report incidents.

A Title IX lawsuit from one woman alleges that from 2011 to 2014, at least 31 players committed 52 sexual assaults. Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton revealed in a report that 17 women reported sexual assault or domestic violence from 19 players, including four gang rapes.

The scandal eventually took down Starr, Briles, assistant coaches and others in positions of leadership. Those in power did nearly everything possible to keep players from being arrested or charged with crimes, and tried to hinder the work of Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford.

Baylor isn’t a program that traditionally won a ton of games, and the last bowl game before the university hired Briles in 2008 was in 1994. The school’s last winning record before Briles was in 1995.

Under Briles, Baylor won 10 games in a season four times, and before him, it had won 10 games just once in program history. There is no question of whether Briles could recruit and coach, but when it came down to integrity and morality, he failed as a leader.

Winning mattered more at Baylor than players committing physical and sexual assault. Another recent lawsuit alleges that regents in a meeting with Baylor alumni and donors on why they couldn’t keep Briles and other involved in the scandals because they “didn’t uphold with the mission of the university.”

One donor is quoted as saying in the same meeting: “If you mention Baylor’s mission one more time, I’m (going to) throw up. … I was promised a national championship.”

The NCAA ...

February 8, 2017

MSU Makes History with No. 3 Ranking

By bryanflynn

Making history is becoming the norm for the Mississippi State University Women’s Basketball Team. After climbing to a historic No. 4 ranking in both the Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Bulldogs made more history on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

MSU climbed to No. 3 in the USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time in program history, which set a school record. The Bulldogs moved back up to their No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press Poll.

After a 64-61 loss at the University of South Carolina, MSU dropped to No. 5 in both polls. MSU is on a three-game winning streak since they dropped their first game of the season to the Gamecocks and are rising back up the polls.

MSU has been in the top 5 of the rankings for 10 weeks and is currently half a game behind South Carolina for No. 1 in the SEC. MSU is a game and a half ahead of No. 3 Texas A&M University.

The Bulldogs learned Monday, Feb. 6, that the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Sport Committee still has MSU as one of its top four teams. MSU is No. 4 in the latest top-16 seeding order.

The University of Connecticut is No.1, Baylor University is No. 2 and South Carolina is No. 3 in the second of three peaks at the potential bracket. Connecticut and South Carolina are scheduled to play on Feb.13 at UConn. The outcome of that game could help the Bulldogs rise up in the seedings.

MSU seems to be a lock for one of the four national seeds and has the home-court advantage that goes along with being a top seed. The Bulldogs must avoid an Atlanta Falcons-like collapse over the final six regular-season games and in the SEC Tournament.

In a 70-53 win against the University of Missouri, the seniors on this team won their 100th game. MSU senior forward Breanna Richardson scored her 1,000th career point in the win over the Tigers. That moved the Bulldogs to 23-1 overall and 9-1 in SEC play as the regular season starts to wind down.

Bulldogs’ junior guard Morgan William is one of the 19 players in the nation on the Dawn Staley Award watch list. The Dawn Staley award goes to the top guard in the nation who shows ball handling, scoring, ability to distribute the ball, and the will to win like Staley did during her college career.

William leads the team in assists with 4.6 per game and steals with two per game. She is second on the team in scoring with 10 points per game.

MSU is back in action on Thursday night at 8 p.m. as it hosts Vanderbilt University on the SEC Network as the team looks to continue rewriting the record book.

February 8, 2017

Dak Named Rookie of the Year and More

By bryanflynn

Before the focus on the NFL shifts from the regular season to the offseason, we should discuss a few things that happened before Super Bowl LI and going forward to the NFL Combine.

If you missed it, Saturday night, Feb. 4, which was the night before the Super Bowl, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was named Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year at the NFL Honors ceremony. On Friday, Feb. 3, he was named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. His coach, Jason Garrett, won AP NFL Coach of the Year.

Dallas thought Prescott would end up sitting out this year and learning behind veterans Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. Instead, Moore broke a bone in his leg in practice to move to second string, and early in the preseason, Romo injured his back making Prescott the starter. All the rookie from Mississippi State did was lead the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC and playoffs.

Prescott is the first Dallas player to win the award since Emmitt Smith in 1990. Smith went on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott finished second in the voting. Prescott thanked the 31 teams that passed on him and wished he could cut the award in half to share with Elliott.

Prescott now has to follow up his amazing rookie season with more of the same in 2017. He won’t be under the radar, and everyone will look to see if he has a sophomore slump.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan won Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP but continued the trend of NFL MVPs losing the Super Bowl. Ryan’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan won AP Assistant Coach of the Year.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson was named AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year after recovering from a knee injury. Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack was named AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The NFL honored its past on Super Bowl weekend. During the NFL Honors, the 2017 NFL Hall of Fame Class was announced. Long-time New Orleans Saints kicker Morten Andersen was voted into the hall.

Andersen was one of the Saints’ biggest offensive weapons in the 1980s and 1990s and is the leading scorer in NFL, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons history. He is just the second player to make the hall strictly as a kicker. The first is Jan Stenerud.

In Andersen’s 25 seasons in the NFL, he played in 325 games, which is also a NFL record, while playing for five teams and racked up 2,544 points. He is one of the first kickers to make 40- and 50-yard field goals look easy.

Joining Andersen in the hall is St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, Miami Dolphins defensive end ...

February 8, 2017

Patriots Post Epic Super Bowl Comeback to Beat Falcons

By bryanflynn

There is so much to breakdown in regards to Super Bowl LI and the New England Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It was a game for the ages that produced the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

A good place to start the recap is after another scoreless first quarter, the seventh in the Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady era. On the second play of the second quarter, New England running back LeGarrette Blount fumbled trying to fight for extra yards.

Atlanta took the game’s first turnover and scored on a drive that took just five plays and less than two minutes. After a Patriots punt, the Falcons added to their lead with a drive ending in a pass from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to tight end Austin Hooper for a touchdown.

It is important to note that no team had ever come back from a deficit of more than 10 points in Super Bowl history. Only three teams—the Patriots being one—had rallied from being 10 points down to win the Lombardi Trophy.

In desperate need of points, New England drove to the Falcons 23-yard line and faced third down and six yards. Brady got fooled in pass coverage and watched Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford pick him off and score on the interception to give the Falcons a huge 21-0 lead. No team had ever lost the Super Bowl after returning an interception for a touchdown.

New England received the ball after the pick-six and drove to Atlanta’s 15-yard line with 23 seconds left before halftime. A holding penalty and bad play-calling forced the Patriots to kick a field goal to make it 21-3 at the break.

The Patriots’ first half drives went punt, punt, fumble, punt, interception for a touchdown, and field goal. Even with just three points, New England ran 41 plays, which meant more later in the game.

Atlanta was able to get pressure on Brady for most of the first half to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket, and Brady himself was not his sharp self. Add two turnovers and dropped passes from the New England receivers, and it is easy to see why the Falcons were up big on the scoreboard.

The Falcon’s 18-point lead at the half felt even bigger with the way that the Patriots were playing on offense and defense. It seemed the second half would be just a 30-minute wait until the coronation of Atlanta’s first Super Bowl win.

Both teams traded punts to start the third quarter before Atlanta got on track for an eight-play drive that ended with a touchdown. The Falcons led 28-3 with 8 minutes and 31 seconds left in the third quarter.

Those were the last points Atlanta scored, but they were up 25 points with a quarter and half to play. It still seemed impossible for New England to have a chance since no team had ever mounted a comeback ...

February 3, 2017

Super Bowl LI: Preview and Prediction

By bryanflynn

We are nearing the end of what seemed like a never ending two-week wait for Super Bowl LI. This Sunday, Feb. 5, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will take the field at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

The obvious question as time ticks down to kickoff is, “Which team is going to win the game?” That question has been a tough answer to find as I’ve dug through the statistics of each team.

New England has the best defense on paper, but Atlanta’s defense is better than its ranking and has been battled tested against the league’s top offenses. The Patriots’ defense feasted on weaker offenses in the regular season but is still a tough unit.

Both teams feature high-powered offenses that can put up plenty of points, so the key for both defenses will be stopping the opposing quarterback.

For teams wanting to beat the Patriots, the formula has been simple: Get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady and let the hits add up as the game goes along.

The New York Giants used that formula to beat New England in two Super Bowls, and other teams, such as the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, have found success against the Patriots using the same game plan.

In Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks nearly rode that strategy to a win until a Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made an interception and sealed the game for New England. Seattle was able to hit Brady seven times in that Super Bowl.

The Denver Broncos hit Brady 17 times on its way to Super Bowl 50 and kept right on attacking quarterbacks when they played against the Carolina Panthers for the championship. So will that game plan hold up this time?

Looking back at the regular-season games, New England won five times in instances where Brady got pressured more than other team’s quarterback. In one of the two Patriots losses, Brady didn’t play, and in the other, Seattle hit Brady five times, but the Patriots got to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson four times.

In the playoffs, both the Houston Texans and the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get to Brady more than the Patriots’ defense got to their quarterbacks. New England won both games anyway, including one matchup during which the Texans hit Brady eight times.

Teams have been able to get pressure on Brady, but it’s what happens in the secondary that is most important. Opponents haven’t held up in coverage until the pass rush gets to Brady.

Atlanta, on the other hand, has struggled when teams pressure quarterback Matt Ryan. Four of the Falcons’ five losses have come from games in which the Atlanta defense hit their opponents’ quarterback fewer times than the opposing team hit Ryan.

Seattle had 13 hits on Ryan to the Falcons’ five hits, the San Diego Chargers had nine hits to the Falcons’ six, the Philadelphia Eagles had six hits to the Falcons’ three, and the ...

February 2, 2017

MSU Wins the State on National Signing Day

By bryanflynn

National Signing Day in college football is close to the draft in the NFL. Most every coach will say that his team got some of the players that it needed to win in the next season or in the near future through that event.

Just like the NFL Draft, football fans won’t know the true winners and losers from Signing Day for a couple of seasons. The high-school and junior-college players that signed with teams yesterday, Feb. 1, still have to live up to the potential that made them worth taking a chance on.

Most recruiting rankings, including Scout, Rivals and ESPN, only look at the Division 1 FBS teams. There are few sites that rank FCS teams, but 24/7 Sports ranks 250 teams across the nation. The website has Alcorn State University with the 186th-ranked recruiting class and Jackson State University with the 206th-ranked class.

Mississippi Valley State University wasn’t ranked in the top 250 schools in the 24/7 Sports rankings, but interestingly, Mississippi College ended up at 218th on the site.

While the recruiting rankings are somewhat lacking for FCS schools, there are plenty of options for FBS-school rankings. Some look at every FBS schools, and some have a cut-off point at the top 75 or 100 schools.

The top-10 national recruiting classes, no matter which ranking service you are looking at, feature mostly blue-bloods of the sport. The University of Alabama, the University of Southern California, Florida State University, the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Oklahoma all finished in the top 10 in the four ranking lists used for this article.

Alabama finished as the top class in every ranking, and the SEC finished with three teams in the top three. The Big Ten placed two teams, and the ACC, PAC-12 and Big 12 placed one team each.

Mississippi State University ended up with the best ranking out of the three FBS schools in our state. The Bulldogs had the 24th-ranked class for 24/7 Sports and ESPN, 25th class for Scout and 27th for Rivals.

The University of Mississippi finished with the 29th-ranked team on Scout’s list, 30th for 24/7 Sports, 36th for ESPN and 39th for Rivals.

In the SEC recruit rankings, MSU finished ninth according to 24/7 Sports, Scout and ESPN, but finished 11th for Rivals. The Rebels ended up 12th in the SEC for ESPN, 24/7 Sports and Rivals, and11th for Scout.

The University of Southern Mississippi finished with the 71st-ranked class according to Rivals, 79th for 24/7 Sports and 81st for Scout. ESPN didn’t have the Golden Eagles ranked among its 75-team rankings.

USM finished with the second-best ranking in Conference USA according to Rivals and the third best in the conference for 24/7 Sports and Scout.

These ...

February 1, 2017

Wild Super Bowl Bets

By bryanflynn

One of the biggest gambling days in the country is Super Bowl Sunday. Fans will bet plenty of money on either the New England Patriots or Atlanta Falcons to win the game.

They will place bets based on the combined score that both teams put up. Who will score the first touchdown? Who will throw the most touchdown passes? Most yards? Most rushing yards?, and more.

If something could happen during the game, you can probably bet on it. But the game isn’t where the betting stops.

There are plenty of other non-football related things to bet.

Before the game, you can bet on whether or not a player for either team will get arrested during Super Bowl week. Players have run into trouble with the law before the big game in the past, but it would be shocking if that happens to either of these teams.

Thinking about betting on the national anthem? You have plenty to bet on here, starting with how long Luke Bryan sings, which is set at one minute and 58 seconds, the color of Bryan’s shirt, whether or not he wears cowboys boots and blue jeans, and whether or not he puts his hand over his heart during his rendition.

Even before the kickoff, you can bet the outcome of the coin toss. You can also bet what the team winning the coin toss does and the first commercial after the coin toss.

One of the biggest non-football things to bet will be the halftime show featuring Lady Gaga. You can make some crazy bets on either the show or Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga bets include if her outfit will break Twitter, what song will she sing to open and close the halftime performance? Does Fox have to blur her outfit? Or will she wear nothing at all?

More Gaga bets are, Will she have a snake on stage with her? What color will her hair be? Will she get booed? There are even odds that Lady Gaga will mention the current president during her halftime performance.

But Lady Gaga isn’t the only thing to bet on at the break. There is plenty to bet on just halftime alone.

Fans can bet on the show having a sound malfunction, the odds that someone catches on fire during the show, the halftime guest performers, the number of songs and if someone falls off stage.

One of the more interesting halftime best is whether or not there will be a wardrobe malfunction. The last time the Super Bowl was in Houston, Janet Jackson had her famous—or infamous, depending on how you look at—wardrobe malfunction.

Fans can place plenty of bets on the current president and the game. How many times President Trump will tweet during the game is a bet you can take and the over/under is five.

Other Trump bets include who he picks to win the game ...

January 31, 2017

Getting Defensive for Super Bowl LI

By bryanflynn

There is an old saying in sports: “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” If that is the case, which defense will lead its team to a victory in Super Bowl LI?

Both offenses in this year’s Super Bowl, which airs Sunday, Feb. 5, at 5:30 p.m. on FOX, are two of the best in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons have the top-scoring offense, averaging 34 points per game, and the New England Patriots are third, averaging 28 points per game.

The team that plays the best defense should come out on top in this game. There are several ways to rank defenses—most rank defenses by the yards they allowed per game, but some defenses give up yards but not points.

Winning a football game is about who scores the most points, and sometimes, that means forcing a field goal instead of giving up a touchdown.

New England is the top defense by that measurement, allowing just 16 points per game on average. Atlanta is 25th in the league in points allowed, as the Falcons’ defense gave up 25 points per game.

Another great test of a defense is its ability to get off the field on third down. That means forcing punts and field goals instead of giving up long drives for touchdowns.

The Patriots’ defense allowed teams to convert on third down 37 percent of the time for seventh in the league. Atlanta ended up allowing teams to convert 42 percent of the time on third down for 26th in the NFL.

New England allowed teams to convert just 39 percent on fourth down, and the Falcons allowed a whopping 72 percent of fourth-down conversions. This is important if one team is behind late in the game and must gamble for a first down.

The numbers bare out that the Patriots get off the field better on third down so they give up fewer points, and Atlanta struggles at times to get stops, which means its defense gives up more points.

Another factor in this Super Bowl may be how each team responds in the red zone, the area from the opposing team’s 20-yard line to that end zone. This represents a good scoring chance for a field goal or touchdown.

New England allowed its opponents to make touchdowns in the red zone 50 percent of the time, and Atlanta allowed red-zone touchdowns 72 percent of the time. On offense, the Patriots scored touchdowns on 64 percent of their red-zone trips, and the Falcons scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their visits to the red zone.

Good defenses force turnovers, and both teams are great at that. The Patriots forced 23 turnovers, and the Falcons forced 22 turnovers. Both teams only gave the ball away 11 times this season on offense.

But the opponents that a team plays against can skew statistics ...

January 30, 2017

Small but Impressive Group of Football Hopefuls at Winnipeg Tryout

By bryanflynn

As the sun set on Friday, Jan. 27, at Smith-Wills Stadium, 30 former college football players stretched and talked as they waited for a chance to impress scouts from the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Nearly every player at the tryout just finished up their career in the 2015-2016 college football season.

While it was a smaller group of players than years past, plenty of talent was on display during the tryout. Players from universities all over Mississippi were in attendance, as well as other schools such as Jacksonville State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Akron, the University of Memphis and Tulane University.

One of the earliest players to impress scouts at the tryout was former Jackson State University defensive back Zavian Bingham. In the 40-yard dash, he ran an unofficial 4.3 seconds on both his attempts.

His times in the cone drill and length in the broad jump ended up being solid numbers. Bingham, a native of Terry, Miss., talked to Winnipeg scouts for most of the night.

Former Mississippi State University offensive lineman Justin Malone was one of two players in that position at the tryout. Malone spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers before a knee injury ended his hopes of making the team.

Malone, a former Madison-Ridgeland Academy standout and Madison, Miss., native showed good footwork and nice blocking skills. He is trying to get his career back on track after the knee injury and can play several spots on the offensive line, including center, like he did at the 2015 Belk Bowl.

Two quarterbacks were at the tryout. Former Delta State University quarterback Tyler Sullivan and Alabama A&M University quarterback De’Angelo Ballard both struggled, but showed flashes of being able to play at the next level.

Sullivan, who is from Louisville, Miss., looked good on deep throws most of the night. Ballard, who is from Macon, Miss., showed plenty of arm strength and showcased his speed during the agility drills.

Overall, nearly every one of the players who showed up on Friday displayed some potential and made plays during the four-hour workout. It was a small but impressive group; each man seemed to give his all for a small chance to keep playing football.

Late in the event, every player was reminded of what can go wrong at a tryout.

Former Alcorn State wide receiver Jordan Payne stood ready to take off on a pass route. As the play started, Payne took two steps and fell in a heap as everyone on the field heard a loud pop. Most players thought the wide out tripped on his own feet, something that does happen, until his body language and the way he stayed on the ground let them know it was more than just a player tripping.

Payne suffered some type of lower leg injury. Other players said it was an Achilles tear as he was carried off the field toward his waiting family.

While Bingham and Malone might ...

January 26, 2017

Mississippi in the Senior Bowl

By bryanflynn

Last year, in the 2016 Senior Bowl, former Mississippi State University quarterback Dak Prescott shined. He even won MVP in the South squad’s 27-16 win over the North squad.

Scouts were impressed with his footwork and the fact that he could take snaps under center, an area in which quarterbacks from spread offenses often struggle. Prescott then carried over his solid practice and game from the Senior Bowl to the NFL Combine.

Even though he slid to the fourth round in the NFL Draft, all the evidence that Prescott could play in professionally started in the Senior Bowl. The meteoric rise of Prescott will have NFL scouts taking a harder look at the work of players in this all-star game.

There are a few players with ties to Mississippi universities or the state in this year’s Senior Bowl. All the players will be looking to show scouts that they are ready to make a Prescott-like step to the next level.

Mississippi State University has two players in the 2017 Senior Bowl: wide receiver Fred Ross and offensive tackle Justin Senior.

Ross ended his career at MSU as one of the most productive receivers in school history, although he dropped some passes that he should have caught this season.

Scouts are going to watch Ross’ route running and see if he drops easy passes in the Senior Bowl. He can help himself even more by showing that he is faster in person than he looks on tape.

Though Senior started most of his career at right tackle with the Bulldogs, scouts will likely watch his pass-blocking skills and see if he can play left tackle.

Being able to play left in the NFL is important for offensive tackles. Players who can play left tackle often rise higher in the ranks because they protect the quarterback’s blind side, which also means they can make more money than right tackles.

If Senior can’t play left tackle, another important thing to show is that he can slide inside and play guard. Being able to play more than one position on the offensive line would make him for more useful on an NFL roster.

University of Mississippi tight end Evan Engram will be one of the most watched players at this year’s Senior Bowl. He can stretch the field vertically in the passing game and could make for a red-zone threat at the next level.

Just like Ross, Engram had some head-scratching drops at times this season, and scouts will be watching that in practice this week. Teams might like to see how he blocks in the run game before deciding when to draft him.

Texas A&M University safety Justin Evans will try to show that he is the top player at his position in a year that is full of good safeties. Evans is from Wiggins, Miss., and played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to ...

January 25, 2017

Belichick and Brady Overshadow Quinn and Ryan in Experience

By bryanflynn

Super Bowl LI features a wide disparity between the two head coaches and starting quarterbacks in terms of experience. New England head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are about to coach and play in their seventh Super Bowl together.

Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan are in their first Super Bowl together. If experience counts at all in the Super Bowl, Belichick and Brady are overflowing with it.

No coach and quarterback combo in the history of the NFL has reached seven Super Bowls together. Belichick and Brady are tied with Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw with the most Super Bowl wins with four.

Belichick is reaching his seventh Super Bowl and is 4-2 in his previous trips. He surpasses the great Don Shula, who made six trips to the big game but went 2-4.

Shula is still the NFL’s all-time winningest coach with 328 wins in 33 seasons as a head coach, but Belichick is currently fourth with 237 wins in 22 seasons as the top man. Belichick is still 91 wins behind Shula and will need at least nine more years of an equal number of wins just to have a chance to break Shula’s record.

Quinn on the other hand is in his second season as a head coach with a 19-13 overall record. If you do the math, that means Belichick has 218 more wins than the man he is coaching against in the Super Bowl.

There isn’t even another active coach with 200 wins in the NFL right now. The next closest active head coach is Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs (173).

Other active head coaches who have won a Super Bowl are Mike McCarthy (Green Bay), Pete Carroll (Seattle), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Sean Payton (New Orleans) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore), and none have even 125 wins.

Brady is tied with Joe Montana and Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl wins with four. Unlike Brady, Montana and Bradshaw were undefeated in Super Bowl starts.

Brett Favre and Peyton Manning have the most regular season wins by a quarterback with 186. Brady sits third with 183, but when you add playoff wins, the New England quarterback has the most with 207 wins.

Ryan has just 85 wins in the regular season and 88 in the postseason. It is amazing that Brady nearly has 100 more regular season wins than the quarterback who will oppose him.

Brady’s name is all over the NFL record book for passing. He is fourth in passing yards (61,582), fourth in passes completed (5,244), fourth in touchdown passes (456) and fifth in pass attempts (8,224).

Another amazing Brady stat: He has just 152 career interceptions. That is fewer interceptions than Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.

Ryan has 114 career interceptions and came in the league eight years ...

January 20, 2017

Blue Bombers Hold Tryout in Jackson for Fourth Year

By bryanflynn

Coming to Jackson in late January is becoming a tradition for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Canadian Football League franchise has held a tryout in the capital city for the last three years.

Scouts for the Blue Bombers trekked to Jackson on the Friday before the Senior Bowl (Jan. 27) after spending the week there scouting players. Winnipeg spends a week in Mobile, Ala., looking for talent that the NFL might not take in its spring draft.

The Blue Bombers also hold free agent tryouts across the country for talent that has slipped through the cracks. Winnipeg has held a tryout for the last three years at Smith-Wills Stadium.

The team is returning to Smith-Wills for a fourth year on Friday, Jan. 27, for another free agent tryout. This marks the second year in a row the tryout will take place at night under the lights of the stadium.

Last year the tryout had a high-school feel as players ran, jumped and went through drills under the setting sun. The temperature slowly began to fall as the sun dropped, but it was nowhere near as cold as Canadian winters.

Over the last three years, players from Mississippi State University, Alcorn State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi College attended the tryout. Players from conferences such as the SEC, Sun Belt, Conference USA and the SWAC at the FBS and FCS levels have made the trip to Jackson to show their skills.

Each year the tryout brings 75 to 100 players to Jackson in hopes of continuing their football careers. Kickers, punters, quarterbacks, offensive and defensive linemen, defensive backs and wide receivers have all tried to impress the Blue Bomber coaches.

The Winnipeg coaches run drills such as the 40-yard dash and broad jump to give players’ times and lengths of their best efforts. After the speed drills, the coaches run the players through football-related drills.

Afterwards, those coaches have told players to start working on getting a passport. Players have to have a passport to enter Canada, and coaches tell stories of guys who have missed out at a job because they didn’t have a passport.

The Blue Bomber coaches ask each player to send or email game tape for them to watch. They tell the players they will pass the tape along to arena teams if they feel like a player could get more development at that level.

Winnipeg coaches stay after the tryout to give players an honest assessment of their abilities. They talk to players about what areas they need to work on and if the CFL would be a fit for their skills.

Seven players from free agent tryouts have become starters for the Blue Bombers the over last two years. During the last two years, Another nine players have contributed to on game day after catching the coach's eye during a ...

January 20, 2017

95 Underclassmen Declare for the 2017 NFL Draft

By bryanflynn

Former University of Mississippi Damore’ea Stringfellow is one of 95 underclassmen to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. Monday, Jan. 16, was the deadline for players who are three years out of high school to announce their intentions.

Some players who decided to forgo their college eligibility received information from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee, which graded them as a first- or second-round pick. An interesting article on ESPN.com from Kevin Seifret took a closer look at the process.

Those who received a favorable free evaluation from the CAC are graded just on their football potential. The CAC doesn’t look at their off-the-field issues, or academic or medical problems.

A great example used in the story is University of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. There is no doubt that Mixon has first- or second-round talent on the field, but it will be interesting to see how teams view his year-long suspension for assault in 2014.

A video of Mixon punching a woman in the face and breaking her jaw, cheekbone and eye socket came out in December 2016. Recently the NFL has mishandled some very public cases of domestic assault .

Mixon entering the draft is another case where the league could be scrutinized depending on where he is drafted. If the talented running back is taken in the first round, it proves that winning in football matters more than off-the-field issues.

Just looking at football talent, it makes sense for players such as former Louisiana State University running back Leonard Fournette and Texas A&M University defensive end Myles Garrett to leave school early. That is not the case with every player who does, though.

Some get bad advice from friends and family or look to improve their life and their families’ lives by becoming a professional player. During the NFL Combine, it is good to hear NFL Network’s Mike Mayock’s evaluation of players.

Mayock is quick to point out that he doesn’t know a player’s personal situation, but he can tell if the player should have stayed in school and might be hurt by coming out early. That doesn’t mean Mayock is correct on every case.

In the 2015-2016 season, 322 players were evaluated, and 73 were told to return to school but declared for the draft anyway. Of those 73, 11 went in the first or second round, but 20 went undrafted.

That is the tricky part of the draft. It only takes one team to fall in love with a player and have need at that position.

Sometimes draft order hurts a player. One prime example is current Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The draft order of the 2005 NFL Draft meant that Rodgers could, and eventually did, slide after the San Francisco 49ers made their pick at No. 1.

That meant Rodgers fell all the way to the 24th pick, mainly because teams after the 49ers felt ...

January 20, 2017

Steelers’ Receiver Broke Locker-Room Code

By bryanflynn

It is rare to get an inside look at what goes on in a NFL locker room after a game. Even stranger is getting to see the inside of the locker room after a playoff road win.

That is what made Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown streaming the events of the locker room so unusual. Brown shot the video with Facebook Live after the Steelers 18-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 15.

Brown posted 18 minutes of postgame discussion from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and other teammates speaking after the game. Tomlin has since apologized for his language in the video, but what the coach said wasn’t surprising.

Tomlin called the Patriots “aholes,” and said his team was going land at “four in the f*ing morning,” when getting home from their trip to Kansas City.

Tomlin didn’t say anything that he needed to apologize for the next day, in my opinion. Salty language in a football locker room is nothing new, and what Tomlin said is in no way near the worst of it. In a game between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans on Saturday, Jan. 14, lip readers could clearly see Patriots coach Bill Belichick drop an f-bomb when requesting a timeout.

Athletes are famous for using any type of perceived or real slight against them as motivation. Basketball great Michael Jordan was an expert at using nearly anything to fire him up for a game.

New England now has plenty of bulletin-board material to post in its locker room. It is not like the Patriots needed more motivation after quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for four games, leaving some players feeling like the league is out to get them.

What Brown posted is just another log that the Patriots can throw on the fire—even if the log they are throwing really doesn’t offer much wood to burn.

Tomlin called Brown “selfish,” “foolish” and “inconsiderate” for posting the video. If you have never been in a locker room, it is the one place where anything that is said is supposed to stay there.

It is a place where everyone is able to speak his mind, and the outside world isn’t supposed to know. That doesn’t mean things don’t get out, but normally, it is from sources speaking to the media, not live streamed on Facebook.

What is said in the locker room is like having a family meeting: You don’t let anyone outside the family hear what is said. Even when NFL Films or TV crews are in the locker room, players and coaches know and carefully sanitize what they say to avoid controversy.

Brown made the game-winning catch for a first down to run the clock out against the Chiefs. He is one of the best wide receivers in the game today, but it will be interesting to see how his teammates treat him after the video. Tomlin ...

January 18, 2017

JSU’s Jones Looks to Shine at East-West Shrine Game

By bryanflynn

College football players only have a few chances left to impress NFL scouts before the NFL Combine or Pro Days at college campuses around the nation. Two of those opportunities take place this week with two all-star games.

Jackson State defensive end and linebacker Javancy Jones will try to grab the spotlight this week in the 92nd annual East-West Shrine Game. He ended up being a late addition to the roster after he got word late last week that he was headed to Tampa, Fla., for the game.

Jones and the other players will get coaching from top NFL assistants whose teams didn’t reach the playoffs. This serves two purposes: to give assistants the chance to develop into head coaches and to give the players a chance to learn from top NFL coaches.

During his time at Jackson State, the Macon, Miss., native became one of the greatest Tigers in the long and proud history of the program. He also dealt his mother being sick and played for three different head coaches.

In his final season, Jones racked up 82 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass break up. Those numbers could have been better, but Jones missed most of the Grambling State game and next game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff due to a knee injury.

After the season ended, the JSU great was named All-SWAC at defensive end and linebacker. He was a finalist for the second year in a row for the Conerly Award and won the popular vote over the eventual winner, Evan Ingram (2,862 votes), as Jones earned more than 3,000 votes.

He earned SWAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2013 and was named All-SWAC three years while at JSU, with the exception of the 2014 season. He was named Preseason All-SWAC in his final three years with the Tigers.

In his illustrious career at JSU, the star defensive player was named to seven All-American teams: STATS, BOXTOROW and the American Football Coaches Association.

An impressive showing this week at the East-West game could help Jones end up with an invite to the NFL Combine, which is from Feb. 28 to March 6. Even if he doesn’t end up at the combine, scouts could flock to his Pro Day before the draft.

This week could help Jones end up getting drafted or at least become an undrafted free agent. The former Tiger’s draft stock could skyrocket with a great week at practice and in the game.

Jones isn’t the only player from a Mississippi university looking to improve his draft stock. Joining Jones at the East-West game is Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown, University of Mississippi wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and cornerback Tony Bridges, and University of Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens and offensive center Cameron Tom.

The other All-Star Game is the NFLPA ...

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