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December 6, 2016

MSU Women’s Basketball Makes History

By bryanflynn

The Mississippi State women’s basketball team began the season ranked No. 10 in the nation in the Associated Press poll and No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Since the preseason rankings were released, MSU has steadily climbed in the poll with each win.

In week two of the season, the Bulldogs stayed at No. 10 in the AP poll but moved from No. 11 to No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches poll. MSU leaped to No. 7 in both polls after beating the University of Texas 79-68.

MSU outscored Texas 26-9 in the second quarter, taking control of a game where the first quarter ended with a 16-16 tie. The Bulldogs kept pace with the No. 8 ranked Longhorns for the rest of the game, but Texas outscored MSU in the second half.

That explosion in the second quarter allowed the Bulldogs to cruise to a win and up the polls. Week four of the polls saw the Bulldogs move up to No. 6 in the nation.

It looked like that ranking might take a major hit in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which saw MSU traveled to the University of Iowa.

At halftime the sixth ranked Bulldogs were down 17 to the Hawkeyes at 43-26 and in danger of losing for the first time this season. In the second half, MSU slowly chipped away at Iowa’s lead and tightened up on defense.

The Hawkeyes were still up by 15 at the end of the third quarter even though MSU made a couple of runs in the quarter. MSU trailed by eight with three minutes left in the fourth quarter but wasn’t about let its perfect season end.

A three-pointer with 36 seconds left in the game allowed the Bulldogs to force overtime. MSU outscored Iowa 14-10 in overtime, completing the comeback victory.

MSU’s win snapped Iowa’s 96-game nonconference home winning streak and was the first time since 2012 that the Bulldogs won a game after trailing by 10 or more points at halftime. The overtime win propelled MSU to No. 5 in the country in the latest AP poll.

The Bulldogs made history by being ranked No. 5 in the nation. It’s the highest ranking the team ever achieved in program history and marks the 41st week that MSU is featured in the rankings.

The Bulldogs have three players that are averaging double-digits: Junior guard Victoria Vivians leads the way with a 14.6 points per game average; junior guard Morgan William is second with a 11.9 points per game; and junior guard Roshunda Johnson is third at 10.4 points per game.

After the comeback victory over Iowa, MSU moved to 8-0 on the season and rose up in the polls. In front of the Bulldogs are women’s basketball powerhouses, University of Connecticut at No. 1, University of Notre Dame at No. 2, Baylor University at ...

December 6, 2016

College Football Bowl and Playoff Thoughts

By bryanflynn

The College Football Playoff matchups are set, and there is little argument that the four best teams made it in the playoffs. The University of Alabama, Clemson University, Ohio State University and the University of Washington are the four teams playing for the championship.

There really aren’t any teams that can complain about being left out of the playoffs. If someone wanted to, he or she could make a small argument for Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Oklahoma.

Personally, I have always favored an eight-team playoff. That means all the teams above would be in, and the University of Wisconsin or the University of Southern California would be the eighth team.

In most years, an eight-team playoff would include all the conference champions from the Power Five conferences and three at-large teams. It took years just to get to a playoff, and adding teams will take time.

Two schools from our state got bowl bids. Another blog post will break down these two games before the teams play them.

The University of Southern Mississippi received an invite to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and will face the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Mississippi State University, thanks to a high APR score, ended up in the St. Petersburg Bowl against Miami University from Ohio.

USM earned the six wins for a bowl and will play on Dec. 17 in New Orleans. That is a short drive from Hattiesburg, so Southern Miss fans should help fill the Superdome up for this game.

MSU finished the regular season at 5-7 but is still in a bowl game. The Bulldogs will play the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, in sunny Florida. Miami went from 0-6, winning six straight games to make this bowl.

Besides the playoff games and teams from our state, other bowls have good matchups. Here are the games I plan on making time to checkout.

The University of Houston and San Diego State University clash in the Las Vegas Bowl, which Geico will present on Dec. 17. Two Group of Five teams are exciting to watch, but this game loses some luster, as the Cougars head coach has left to take the same job at the University of Texas.

Boise State University will try to take down another Power Five team in Baylor University during the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on Dec. 27. The Broncos normally play some inspired football against teams from the major conferences, but Baylor floundered down the stretch this year.

On Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, two former Big East teams, the University of West Virginia and the University of Miami in Florida, will battle. Now the Hurricanes are in the ACC, and the Mountaineers are in the Big 12.

Former Big 12 member Texas A&M University faces current Big 12 member Kansas State University. The Aggies are now in the SEC and need to ...

December 1, 2016

2016 SWAC Championship Game Preview

By bryanflynn

Some people might argue the SWAC championship game took place last week when Grambling State University crushed Southern University 52-30 to win the west division. Both teams entered the contest undefeated in conference play, and the winner earned a spot in the title game Saturday, Dec. 3.

Grambling State ran roughshod over the SWAC this season, winning by an average of 38 points in conference games. The Tigers steamroll of the conference included two shutouts, and they only gave up 21 or more points twice.

Alcorn State University won its final two games of the season against Mississippi Valley State University and Jackson State University to win the east division. The Braves now have three consecutive east titles and are looking to become the first team since Grambling State from 1999-2001 to win three SWAC championships in a row.

In last year’s title game, Alcorn State beat up Grambling State, winning 49-21. ASU set championship records for points (49), rushing yards (411) and total offense (613). The Braves are the only team with multiple championship-game appearances without a loss.

Grambling State is playing in its ninth championship game and owns an 8-2 record in its previous trips. The Tigers are 5-0 against SWAC teams from Alabama but just 1-2 against SWAC teams from Mississippi.

When Alcorn State traveled to Grambling State during the regular season, the Tigers routed the Braves 43-18. GSU rolled up 534 yards total offense with 400 yards coming through the air.

Former University of Mississippi quarterback DeVante Kincade leads GSU on offense. He threw for five touchdowns against the Braves in that regular-season meeting.

Interestingly, both teams scored a safety in that game. Alcorn State held an 8-7 lead in the first quarter before Grambling State recorded a safety in the second quarter and never gave up the lead again.

The championship game will feature a battle between two of the top offenses in the SWAC. Grambling State is first in total offense (507.6 yards per game), scoring offense (44 points per game) and passing offense (300.3 yards per game). The Tigers are also fourth in rushing offense with 207.3 yards per game.

Alcorn State is fourth in scoring offense (31.3 points per game), third in total offense (417.9 yards per game), second in rushing offense (217.8 yards per game) and seventh in passing offense (200.1 yards per game).

It is on defense where Grambling State separates itself from the rest of the conference. The Tigers top in the conference in total defense (allowing 323.6 yards per game), scoring defense (allowing 16.4 points per game) and rushing defense (allowing 120.9 yards per game. GSU is also second in passing defense, giving up just 202.7 yards per game.

ASU is third in total defense (allowing 391.7 yards per game), sixth in scoring defense (allowing 29.2 points per game), third in ...

November 30, 2016

Saints Playoff Hopes Can Improve This Weekend

By bryanflynn

This week could end up being extremely fruitful for the New Orleans Saints. If there was ever a week to catch up in the NFC South and the playoff race, it is this week.

At 5-6, New Orleans sits two wins behind the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons, who lead the NFC South, and a game behind the 6-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta hosts the 8-3 Kansas Chiefs out of the AFC West, and Tampa Bay travels to face the San Diego Chargers, also out of the AFC West.

The Chiefs are solidly in the playoff picture and battling with the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos for the division title. San Diego is still alive in the AFC playoff picture but can’t afford to lose many more games.

If both the Falcons and the Buccaneers lose this weekend, New Orleans would move into a tie with Tampa Bay and end up just a game behind Atlanta. The Saints need to beat the Detroit Lions at home this Sunday, Dec. 4.

New Orleans must gain ground this week on Atlanta. The Falcons, after playing the Chiefs, face the 4-7 Los Angeles Rams, the 1-10 San Francisco 49ers, the 4-7 Carolina Panthers and the Saints to end the season.

Atlanta has a chance to win every game and the division, but if New Orleans can win out and get a little help from another team, the Saints could win the division. There is little room for error, but the Saints could be peaking right now.

New Orleans has played vastly better on defense over the past two months and is getting healthier by the day. The Saints’ offense has been its normal explosive self but needs to cut down on turnovers.

Catching Tampa Bay will be easier for New Orleans. The Buccaneers, after playing the Chargers, face the Saints, the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys, Saints (again) and Carolina.

If New Orleans can sweep the Buccaneers and get some help from, say, the Cowboys, then the Saints would easily pass Tampa Bay. The Saints would need help to get in the wildcard picture, with the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, the Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the team.

Dallas could really help New Orleans out with games against the Vikings, Giants, Redskins and Buccaneers, but New Orleans needs to keep winning, as well.

New Orleans just has to win its remaining six games, and the playoffs should be in reach. One loss might not hurt but more than one could end any postseason hopes.

The Saints will have something else to play for this weekend, too. Head coach Sean Payton is tied with Jim Mora for most wins in franchise history. Both coaches have 93 wins, and a victory over the Lions will mean that Payton has the most wins of any head coach in Saints history.

It would seem fitting to reach the ...

November 29, 2016

High-School Football Championships Kick Off

By bryanflynn

The six state championships in Mississippi high-school football will be decided this Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3. This year, teams will play on the campus of Mississippi State University at Davis Wade Stadium.

One of the biggest matchups will be for the 6A championship, with Clinton High School facing Pearl High School on Friday at 7 p.m. This is the second championship game for both schools.

Pearl is making its first appearance in the championship game since 1985 when the team fell to Louisville High School. Clinton returns to the title game for the first time since 2000, which ended in a loss to Moss Point High School.

Starting off the title games Friday will be the 1A championship, which will begin at 11 a.m. and features Lumberton High School against Simmons High School from Hollandale.

Lumberton is making its fifth appearance in the title game and is a perfect four for four in championships. Simmons is the defending champion at the 1A level and is making its third run for the title.

After the 1A game is the 2A game at 3 p.m. featuring Bay Springs High School facing off against Calhoun City High School. Bay Springs is making its third appearance but looking for its first win. Calhoun City is in its 11th title game, the most appearances for any school playing this year, but only has one win to show for all the trips.

Saturday’s games begin at 11 a.m. with the 3A championship between Charleston High School and Kemper County High School out of De Kalb. Kemper County is playing its first title game, and Charleston is making its sixth appearance but has won just one title.

The action continues on Saturday with the 4A title game at 3 p.m. as Poplarville High School faces Lafayette High School from Oxford. This is the first championship-game appearance for Poplarville, but Lafayette is making its fifth title run and has two championships.

Saturday night features the final title game between Laurel High School and West Point High School, kicking off at 7 p.m. Laurel is playing its sixth title game and has three titles, and West Point is playing for its 10th title with seven titles under its belt, the most out of any school making an appearance this year.

The northern teams will be the home squads during these championship games and will be on the sideline with the press box. Attendees can purchase tickets at the gate for $15 and are good for all three games on either Friday or Saturday. Tickets are also available for $14 at any school playing in a championship game.

If you can’t make it to the games, you can still catch them on TV in the Jackson area on MeTV WAPT or channel 16.2 on the digital dial. The games will also be aired in Hattiesburg on WDAM Bounce (7.3); Meridian on WMDN Bounce (24.2); Tupelo ...

November 29, 2016

Egg Bowl Win Earns MSU a Bowl Spot

By bryanflynn

Mississippi State University completely dominated the University of Mississippi in the 2016 Egg Bowl. The Bulldogs’ players ran around and over the Rebels in a 55-20 road win.

MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald set a school record for most rushing yards in a game at any position with 258 rushing yards. The quarterback also broke Dak Prescott’s school record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback with 1,243 yards.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 27-10 lead in the first half before the Rebels mounted a comeback. UM cut MSU’s lead to only seven points at the break, but the second half belonged to the Bulldogs, who outscored their main rival 28-0 over the final 30 minutes.

It was a disappointing end to the season for the Rebels. Entering the game, the team could have reached six wins to reach bowl eligibility but instead looked completely outmatched on offense and defense most of the afternoon.

MSU racked up 566 total yards with 457 of those yards coming on the ground. The Bulldogs only threw for 106 yards in the game.

The Rebels had 528 total yards but couldn’t keep pace with MSU on the scoreboard. All the rushing attempts wore out the UM defense and kept the Bulldogs’ defense fresh for the second half to finish off the Rebels.

MSU’s victory gave head coach Dan Mullen five wins in the eight Egg Bowls that he has coached. That is something he can hit the recruiting trail with to sell athletes on coming to play for the Bulldogs.

The Egg Bowl win not only denied the Rebels a bowl game, but it also set the Bulldogs up for a bowl. MSU got plenty of help on the final weekend of the regular season.

There are 80 slots for bowl teams with the first priority going to those with 6-6 records. That means the University of Southern Mississippi will get first shot at a bowl before other teams.

Next is the United States Military Academy and the University of Hawaii. Army currently has a 6-5 record but two wins over FCS teams—only one counts toward bowl eligibility—with a final game against the United State Naval Academy on Dec. 10.

If the Army Black Knights best the Navy Midshipmen, they are bowl eligible with seven wins, but in reality, with its current record, Army is already going bowling because there won’t be enough 6-6 teams. No matter how the Army-Navy game turns out, both teams are going to make a bowl game.

Hawaii is 6-7 and will play in the Hawaii Bowl because the Rainbow Warriors get to play 13 games. This is because it is hard to get teams to travel to Hawaii so they get an extra game.

Either way, Hawaii is bowl eligible, but that still leaves two teams that can get six wins this weekend, which are the University of South ...

November 23, 2016

The Egg Bowl’s Bad Defense

By bryanflynn

The 2016 edition of the Egg Bowl may end up feeling like a Big-12 or Pac-12 game, in that defense might be optional when the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University meet on Saturday, Nov. 26.

Heading into this game, the Rebels are ranked 101st in total defense, and the Bulldogs are slightly worse, at 105th in the nation. MSU gives up 455.2 yards per game, and UM allows 451.7 to opposing offenses.

Those aren’t defensive numbers normally associated with SEC defenses. Poor defense is one reason that the Bulldogs aren’t going to a bowl game and a reason that the Rebels need to win this game to go to a bowl game.

Each team will try to attack the other’s weakness on defense.

MSU will try to use its 33rd-ranked rushing attack against the Rebels 112th-ranked rush defense. The Bulldogs gain 212.8 yards per game on the ground, and UM is giving up 227.2 rushing yards.

UM will brings its passing attack, ranked 12th in the nation, against the 119th-ranked pass defense of the Bulldogs. The Rebels average 314.5 yards in the air, and MSU gives up 279.7 yards to completed passes.

Both defenses will try to take away what the opposing offense does best. That means the Bulldogs want the Rebels to run on offense, and UM wants MSU to pass on offense.

The Rebels allow 224.5 yards per game passing for 60th in the nation. MSU is 74th in the nation in passing, averaging 225.5 yards per game.

UM enters the game with the 104th-ranked rushing attack, which amasses 144.1 yards per game. The Bulldogs bring the 72nd-ranked rush defense, which allows 175.5 yards per game.

Again, neither defense is very good, but they will try to force the opposing offense into what they stink the least at on defense. Either way, both offenses should have big days against these porous defenses.

Stopping each team begins and ends with the quarterback.

The Rebels must force MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to be a passer and not let him break off the long runs that he produces nearly every game. UM must not let the Bulldogs turn their quarterback Shea Patterson into a runner.

Fitzgerald is prone to miss targets in the passing game, but he is great at reading the defense during the rushing attack. Patterson brings Johnny Manziel to mind, as he scrambles to keep plays alive when the rush bears down on him. He also has a strong arm and can read defenses pretty well in limited action.

Barring injuries, this will be the quarterback matchup for the Egg Bowl for two more years since Fitzgerald is a sophomore, and Patterson is a freshman. If Patterson turns out as good as recruiting sites believe he will, he will be gone for the NFL after his junior season.

While the Rebels want ...

November 22, 2016

Prescott Shines in Win Over the Ravens

By bryanflynn

Credit for the Dallas Cowboy’s eight-game winning streak seemed to be split between the offensive line and running back Ezekiel Elliott entering their game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Nov. 20. It isn’t like Dallas’ rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott, doesn’t get enough credit, but many seemed to think he was more of a game manager than a quarterback who can win games on his own.

The Ravens’ game plan was to force Prescott to try beating them with his arm.

That plan looked perfect early on, as Baltimore’s top-ranked rush defense bottled up Elliott for 26 yards on six carries in the first half. The Ravens even rattled Prescott, who started four for 10 on pass completions, gaining only 31 yards on the Cowboys’ first four drives.

Dallas punted on those drives, and everyone had to wonder if having Tony Romo as the backup quarterback was putting pressure on the young rookie. Then came first down and 30 yards for the Cowboys with under 10 minutes left in the second quarter and Baltimore leading 7-0.

Most of the time, a team facing first and 30 from its own 28 yard line would lead to a punt from the offense. But this is when Prescott began to take over and showed that he is a major reason for the Cowboys’ rebirth.

Prescott took off for 12 yards on first down, and on the next play, he ate up 12 more yards with a pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant, setting up a makeable third down and six yards.

Then, Prescott hit wide receiver Brice Butler on a 41-yard bomb to set up first and goal at the Baltimore seven yard line. The Cowboys scored three plays later when Prescott found Cole Beasley in the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

Prescott shook off this rough start to end the game with 23 completions for 26 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. In the second half, he went 14 for 15 on passing, and Dallas began to take over the game.

The Cowboys salted away the game in the fourth quarter with a drive that lasted more than six minutes. Prescott went three for three on passing, but Elliot handled the bulk of the work. All the same, great play from the fourth-round draft pick at quarterback led the way for the Cowboys’ running game to take over in the fourth quarter.

Prescott made play after play throwing the ball in a game where the Ravens wanted to see if he would fail under the pressure. But Baltimore’s game plan blew up in its face when Prescott proved that he can make every throw needed to beat opponents.

It is likely that the rest of the teams on the Cowboys’ schedule will try to employ the same tactic down the road. Even though that seems like a sound strategy, the former Mississippi State University star has shown ...

November 22, 2016

2016 Conerly Finalists Announced

By bryanflynn

This college-football season has been underwhelming for most of the teams in our state, with close losses, injuries, mistakes and countless other struggles.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t players who are worthy of recognition, and we now know the 10 finalists for the 2016 C Spire Conerly Trophy.

Every four-year college and university nominates one player for this award. This year, the Conerly Trophy will be awarded to its 21st recipient. The ceremony will take place at the Clarksdale Country Club instead of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum as it has in the past.

Here are the finalists in the order that I think they will finish.

Hunter McEachern is the freshman quarterback for Belhaven University and nominee for the Conerly. Despite being in his first season, he served as the team captain for the 2-8 Blazers, and he set a school record for passing attempts with 76, completions with 48 and touchdowns with six. He threw for 3,722 yards on 337 completions with 31 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

Mississippi Valley State University quarterback Austin Bray is the 1-10 Delta Devils’ pick for the award. He passed for 1,462 yards after completing 129 passes out of 239 attempts and finished the season with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as MVSU struggled nearly every week on offense. He also rushed for 163 yards with four touchdowns.

Millsaps College went with defense for its Conerly nominee. Defensive lineman Alex Foust finished his senior season with 42 total tackles. He was a three-year starter for the Majors and finished second the Southern Athletic Association in tackles for a loss with 15.5 this season. He also finished second in the conference in sacks with 9.5 for the Majors, who ended the season with a 3-7 record.

Jackson State University named highly touted defensive lineman Javancy Jones for the Conerly. The senior missed time this season due to an injury and his mother’s illness, but he was still a force on the field when he was healthy.

Jones led the 3-8 Tigers with 17.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks, and he saw action at tight end, as he caught two passes with one ending in a touchdown. He was also JSU’s finalist for the Conerly last season.

Mississippi College also nominated a familiar name for the Conerly, as well, with wide receiver and kick returner Marcel Newsom tapped as the Choctaws' finalist for a second consecutive year.

He finished this season with 57 catches for 853 yards and five touchdowns for the 3-7 Choctaws, leading the Gulf South Conference in all-purpose yards with 180.6 per game and receiving yards with 94.8 yards per game.

Alcorn State went with linebacker Darian Anderson, who led the 5-5 Braves in tackles with 80 total.

He tops the Southwestern Athletic Conference in sacks with 10 and is one of the finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which the best defensive player at the ...

November 22, 2016

Saints Special Teams Not Very Special

By bryanflynn

Kicking field goals and extra points seems easy for every NFL team but the New Orleans Saints. In a major surprise, the Saints saw a place kick blocked for the second week in a row.

The Denver Broncos blocked a potential game-winning extra-point attempt and returned it for two points to beat New Orleans on Sunday, Nov. 13. Less than a week later on Thursday Night Football, the Saints saw the Carolina Panthers block a field-goal attempt.

Thanks to a penalty, the Panthers’ return of the block for a touchdown came off the scoreboard, but that didn’t stop wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. from making a spectacular catch for a touchdown shortly after.

Instead of cutting the Panthers’ lead to 13-6 at the half, New Orleans watched as the Panthers ballooned to 20-3. That big lead helped Carolina hold on for the 23-20 win.

The first team to block a Saints kick wasn’t the Broncos but the New York Giants in week two of the season. New York returned that block kick for a touchdown in the Giants’ 16-13 win over New Orleans.

Special teams haven’t been very special for the Saints. In addition that blocked field goal, New Orleans kick returner Marcus Murphy fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the one-yard line.

The kickoff looked to be heading out of bounds, which would have given the Saints great field position from a penalty. Murphy’s mistake came after Carolina scored its only points of the second half from a field goal, and it kept the Saints in bad field position for most of the third quarter.

Back in week three, New Orleans had two punt-return men crash into each other during a game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints players’ miscue allowed the Falcons to recover the ball.

While it might be easy to pour all the blame on the Saints’ special teams for the losses of the last two weeks, quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t helped matters. Against Carolina, he had two turnovers, a fumble from a sack and wobbly interception, and during the previous week’s loss with the Broncos, he threw two interceptions.

The New Orleans defense has improved as the season progressed and has played well enough to win the last two games. But turnovers from the offense, poor special-teams play, including a running into the kicker penalty in the Carolina game, and poor coaching have betrayed the defense.

Some of the blame on last night’s win certainly falls on the coaching. Head coach Sean Payton didn’t get the offense moving fast enough on its last touchdown drive. Instead, the Saints huddled up and took their time going down the field.

That slow play helped the Panthers to eat up the clock while the Saints methodically moved down the field needing two scores down 10 points. The offense should have played with more urgency, and that has to come from the head coach.

Unless the place-kicking ...

November 15, 2016

A Look at the Cowboys and Saints

By bryanflynn

Cowboys

It’s official now. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is fully healthy, and he won’t be starting this weekend at home against the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, he will be backing up new starter Dak Prescott. Dallas has ridden rookies Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to the NFL’s best record.

The 8-1 Cowboys haven’t lost since their 20-19 defeat against the New York Giants in the opening game of the season. Prescott didn’t have the full faith of the coaches early in that first game, and it showed in the play calling.

The former Mississippi State University star started his winning streak the next week with a 27-23 victory over the Washington Redskins. Flash-forward, and Prescott has won eight of his nine career starts, tying Johnny Lujack of the 1948 Chicago Bears.

He also tied Kyle Orton for second on the list for most consecutive wins by a rookie quarterback in a single season. Prescott only trails Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had 13 consecutive wins at the start of his career.

It is easy to feel bad for Romo since he lost his starting job due to injury, but Romo himself got the Cowboys starting job after a benching of Drew Bledsoe.

Interestingly, Bledsoe earlier got injured with the New England Patriots, which opened the door for Tom Brady to take over and begin his Hall of Fame career in 2001.

It seems fitting to mention those two players at this point, as Prescott is playing the role of Brady, and Romo is playing the role of Bledsoe. That 2001 Patriots season ended with a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI to the St. Louis Rams, who are now in Los Angeles. New England needed Bledsoe during that run to a title, and the Cowboys might need Romo at some point this season.

This Cowboys season has a good deal of historical similarities.

This Dallas team is a lot like the Super Bowl winning teams of the 1990s. Those teams featured “The Triplets”—quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin—as a young core of offensive playmakers.

This year, the Cowboys have quarterback Prescott, running back Elliott and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Those 1990s Cowboys teams featured a dominant offensive line, and this year’s team has a dominant offensive line.

Dallas hasn’t won eight straight games in a season, the franchise record, since 1977. And for anyone wondering, that 1977 season ended with the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl.

Saints

Heartbreaking might not be the best word to describe the New Orleans Saints’ loss this past Sunday, Nov. 13, to the Denver Broncos, but it certainly fits. While the loss hurts, there are a lot of good things to take from it.

New Orleans went to toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. The Saints lost the turnover battle four to two, and ...

November 15, 2016

College Football Winners and Losers

By bryanflynn

It was shake up Saturday in college football as the teams that were previously ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 all went down on the same weekend for the first time since 1985. The losses are sure to shake up the college football playoff top 25 when it comes out on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Just when everything in college football seemed to be going to script, like nearly every year, at some point a weekend like this past weekend happens. The door is now open for several one-loss teams and a few two-loss teams.

There were winners and losers this weekend and not just on the scoreboard. Plus, not all the winners and losers have to deal with the playoffs.

Winners

The University of Alabama is the biggest winner this weekend. Not only did Clemson University, the University of Washington and the University of Michigan all get upset, but Auburn University fell to the University of Georgia.

The Auburn loss gave the SEC West title to the Crimson Tide, and the other losses gave Alabama breathing room it didn’t have until the upsets happened. Now, the Iron Bowl loses some of its luster since a Tide loss won’t have any effect on the division race.

In theory, Alabama can still lose to Auburn, win the SEC Championship game and make the playoffs. Things might change if the Tide stumbles against a weaker foe from the east in the title game.

Right now only one team is a lock for a playoff spot, and that team is Alabama.

Another winner thanks to all the losses is the University of Louisville. The Cardinals were on the outside looking in after falling to Clemson earlier in the season.

Depending on how things shake out, Louisville could end up with one of the four playoff spots. It seems unlikely that Clemson would lose to Wake Forest University this weekend, but if they do, the Cardinals would win the ACC Atlantic division.

Even if Clemson doesn’t stumble, Louisville just needs to win against the University of Houston and the University of Kentucky to end the season. The Cardinals only need a little more chaos to take place to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Penn State University is a winner this week thanks to the University of Iowa’s win over Michigan. The Nittany Lions just need Ohio State to beat Michigan in the season finale and not stumble along the way to Rutgers or Michigan State universities.

If Penn State wins out and Ohio State beats Michigan, the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten East. That would put the Penn State in the conference championship game.

After losing to Michigan, Penn State needed someone to knock off the Wolverines after they upset the Buckeyes. That would be a major accomplishment for Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin.

The University of Mississippi is a winner this week after having ...

November 13, 2016

Preseason Howell Trophy Favorites

By bryanflynn

This might be one of the most open seasons ever in college basketball for the Howell Trophy. Many years, it seems like the season begins with a clear favorite, but this season, no school boasts a Marshall Henderson, Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody or Jarvis Varnado.

The only returning finalist from last season is Quinndary Weatherspoon of Mississippi State University. If there was a preseason favorite, it might be the 6-foot, 4-inch guard out of Velma Jackson High School.

Last season Weatherspoon ended his freshman season third on the team in scoring at 12 points per game, and he was named SEC All-Freshman and SEC Freshman of the Week twice.

The league coaches named him first-team All-SEC this preseason. He is the only Bulldog to land on the preseason honors. MSU has won six Howell Trophies, which is the best for any university.

A recent trend in the Howell Trophy has been the University of Mississippi’s dominance. The Rebels have won the last four awards, with Moody becoming just the second player to win the trophy in back-to-back years.

If the Rebels want to make it five straight, it would seem that the preseason hopes lie with forward Sebastian Saiz. The SEC coaches named him second-team All-SEC in the preseason.

Saiz finished last season with averages of 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He is the second-best rebounder to return to the SEC this season. The senior is the only Rebel to land on one of the two preseason teams. UM has won four Howell Trophies all in the last four seasons.

The University of Southern Mississippi returns guard Khari Price from last year’s squad. Price averaged 9.8 points and is the leading returning scorer.

Him winning the Howell Trophy seems like a long shot since the Golden Eagles are going to struggle due to NCAA sanctions. USM has seen just one player win the award since the trophy was first handed out in the 2004-2005 season.

Jackson State University might find itself losing the award because the Tigers have two players who can win. Both guard Paris Collins and guard/forward Chace Franklin were named preseason first-team All-SWAC.

Collins and Franklin were important parts of the Tigers’ successful season last year. Both players’ returns give JSU a nice one-two scoring punch.

Collins finished second on the team last season with 13 points and was the top rebounder with 6.1 per game. Franklin was third in scoring with 12.3 points per game and third in rebounding with 5.2 rebounds.

Both players could steal votes from each other if they lead the Tigers to an impressive season. Since the award’s beginning, JSU has had one Howell winner (2006-2007 season) but hasn’t had a finalist since the 2009-2010 season.

Mississippi Valley State University’s Howell Trophy hopes will be with Marcus Romain. He led the Delta Devils in scoring ...

November 13, 2016

Preseason Gillom Trophy Favorites

By bryanflynn

While the Howell Trophy might be wide open, that is not the case with the Gillom Trophy. Can anyone wrestle the trophy away from Mississippi State University Guard Victoria Vivians?

The last two years have seen Vivians walk away with the award for best women’s player in the state of Mississippi. She is without a doubt the best player in the state and deserving of the award, and any other women’s player who wants to win it will have earned it if they best Vivians.

The MSU guard wasted no time in following up her incredible high-school career with a great start to her college one. As a freshman, she averaged 14 points per game, which was the best scoring output for any SEC freshman.

Vivians won the Gillom as a freshman and was the favorite to win it last year. She followed up a successful freshman season by averaging 17.1 points per game. It has hardly a surprise when she won the award for a second year in a row.

Now a junior, it seems Vivians is the frontrunner to take home a third Gillom Trophy. She is a preseason first-team All-SEC and leads a strong MSU that is nationally ranked and picked to finish second in the conference behind South Carolina.

Shandricka Sessom is the only other finalist for the Gillom to return this season. The University of Mississippi star had a breakout season as a sophomore.

Sessom should continue getting better this season and be even more of a scoring threat. To learn more about her, check out the Thursday, Nov. 10, Jackson Free Press Person of the Day.

Jackson State returns last season’s leading scorer Derica Wiggins, who averaged 12.2 points per game.

Coaches named her to second-team All-SWAC in the preseason. She will be expected to help JSU exceed its sixth place pick in SWAC.

Mississippi Valley State University boasts two potential Gillom winners: Ashley Beals and Christina Reed, who were both named to preseason All-SWAC teams.

Reed earned first-team All-SWAC honors after averaging 16.5 points per game last season. Beals earned second-team All-SWAC recognition for averaging 15.5 points a game that year.

Both Delta Devils might steal votes from the other by being teammates. Leading MVSU to the top of the SWAC after being picked to finish in ninth place would catch the eye of the voters.

Alcorn State University will turn to forward/center Henrietta Wells as its favorite to win the Gillom. Wells was named SWAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the preseason.

She doesn’t score a ton, averaging just five points, but she pounds the glass for 5.3 rebounds per game. Wells is the Braves’ rim protector, averaging 2.9 blocks per outing. She earned first-team All-SWAC honors for her defensive work in the preseason.

Vivians is the favorite, but any one of the women list ...

November 10, 2016

Mississippi Division I Basketball Teams Opening Game

By bryanflynn

College basketball begins this Friday, Nov. 11, and fans will have plenty of hoops to feast on throughout the day and weekend. Between games on cable TV and ones available for streaming, you might need to add a few more TV, laptops and tablets to your viewing area.

Games begin at 9 a.m. central time when Robert Morris University hosts Point Park University in women’s basketball. Two hours later, the men’s season begins with Milligan College at Middle Tennessee State University. Neither game is on TV or ESPN3, but I would bet my bottom dollar that they can be some how.

Here is a list of the men’s and women’s teams from the six Division I universities in Mississippi and their first game of the season.

The first team that tips off this season is the men of Jackson State University at 12:15 p.m., when the Tigers go against Xavier University of Louisiana. The Jackson State women’s team plays Blue Mountain College at 6 p.m.

Neither JSU game is on TV, but the Tigers are at home. Fans should be excited about this season after the team finished strong last season.

The University of Mississippi women’s team takes its home floor for the first game of the 2016-2017 season at 2:30 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana University. Fans can watch it on SECN+. At 6 p.m., the Rebels men’s team takes on Tennessee Martin University, which will also be on SECN+.

If you don’t know, games on that network are not on TV but are streamed online, which is annoying since my cable has two alternative SECN channels that are scheduled to show diddley squat on Friday.

Mississippi State University women’s season begins at 6 p.m. in the Maine Tipoff Tournament against Villanova University. For some reason, this game is not on TV, but the MSU website has a link for listening to it.

The MSU men are showing on the SECN+ at home against Norfolk State University at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, Mississippi Valley State University men’s team starts the season at 7 p.m. on the road against Northwestern University. The game will not be broadcasted on TV.

The University of Southern Mississippi men’s team hosts Tougaloo at 7 p.m. for the season opener, but this game is not on TV. Alcorn State University men’s team hits the road to face Loyola University Chicago on ESPN3.

Alcorn State University women’s team begins the season at 8 p.m. on the road against Grand Canyon University, and the game is also not on TV. That is it for Mississippi team’s Friday games, but fans can watch plenty of other games on if none of those catch their eye.

The USM women’s team doesn’t take the floor until Sunday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. when the Golden Eagles host New Orleans University. This is the only game with a Mississippi team on Sunday, but it is not on TV.

The MVSU women’s team ...

November 8, 2016

Saints Ground Game Key Against Broncos

By bryanflynn

Last week, the New Orleans Saints’ game against the San Francisco 49ers, might have been the perfect time for running back Mark Ingram to get out of head coach Sean Payton’s dog house. Ingram got benched after fumbling in back-to-back games.

He fumbled against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks, and his fumble against the Seahawks got him benched for the rest of the game. The sit-down must have gotten through to him, as he ran for 158 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown in the 49ers game.

On the longest run of his NFL career, Ingram ran 75 yards to paydirt to earn a game ball for his play. He also added another touchdown off a pass from quarterback Drew Brees.

Getting Ingram back on track is important this week for New Orleans, as the Saints host defending Super Bowl champions the Denver Broncos.

On Sunday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders rushed for 218 yards against Denver for a 30-20 win. The week before, San Diego found room to run against the Broncos, as they ran for 123 yards as a team.

New Orleans rushed for 248 yards as a team against the 49ers, with running back Tim Hightower running for 87 yards on 23 carries. The rushing attack made it easy for the Saints to be balanced on offense. Brees threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns.

Oakland was able to control the clock by leading the time of possession 40:28 to 18:32. New Orleans won the time of possession against San Francisco 38:53 to 21:07.

Ingram and Hightower need to combine for a big game against Denver. The Broncos are the best defense in the NFL against the pass this season.

Denver only allows 5.7 yards per pass, a passer rating of 67.2 and just 183 passing yards per game, and has 28 sacks this season. Against the run, the Broncos are 29th in the league, as the defense allows 128.6 yards per game.

New Orleans has the 16th best rushing attack in the NFL at 108.1 yards per game. The Saints are the best passing offense in the league at 326 yards per game.

The Broncos have the 25th best passing offense at 227 yards per game and the 23rd best rushing attack at 96.8 yards per game. New Orleans is last in the league, as it allows 300 passing yards per game, but is 19th against the run, allowing 108.5 yards per game.

If the Saints can run the ball, it makes the Broncos’ pass rushers have to work harder during the game. New Orleans can wear out those pass rushers with the physical play of a rushing attack.

Denver would like teams to pass against them so they can unleash their pass rush, but last season was better at stopping the run. In the Super ...

November 7, 2016

UM Quarterback Chad Kelly Done For The Season

By bryanflynn

This season isn’t what fans, players or coaches had hoped for the University of Mississippi football team. It has been a rough campaign for this team since it kicked off the season against Florida State University.

The Rebels have blown leads in the second half against FSU and the University of Alabama. The team suffered a three-game losing streak to the University of Arkansas, Louisiana State University and Auburn University.

Just as things couldn’t get worse for the Rebels, the team suffered a pyrrhic victory against Georgia Southern University. In the 37-27 comeback, UM quarterback Chad Kelly tore his ACL and lateral meniscus.

The injury will sideline the senior for the rest of this season and will have short- and long-term ramifications for the parties involved.

In the short term, the Rebels need two more wins in the last three games to become bowl eligible. Now, it seems like that mission just got even harder to accomplish.

This weekend, UM travels to Texas A&M University. The Aggies might be without their starting quarterback, as well, because Trevor Knight injured his shoulder in a loss to Mississippi State University.

Texas A&M is a better team when Knight is on the field, but his backup, Jake Hubenak, went 11 for 17 for 222 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in relief. On the other hand, UM backup Jason Pellerin went one for five, passing for 19 yards with an interception, and rushed for 29 yards on four carries.

Hubenak gets to play his first start—if he has to start—at home, and Pellerin will make the start in a hostile road environment. UM does have the option of taking the redshirt off highly touted quarterback recruit Shea Patterson.

At this point in the season, no change at quarterback is a great option. Still, the Rebels will have to make a decision quickly.

After Texas A&M, UM hits the road again to face a tough Vanderbilt University. The Commodores are in need of two wins to become bowl eligible, as well.

Of course the Rebels regular season ends at home against MSU. Both teams need two wins to get to six wins, and this game could be a winner-goes-bowling game.

In the short term, UM will struggle without Kelly but should be fine down the road with Patterson at quarterback. Getting to a bowl this season will help whoever starts at quarterback for the rest of the season with the extra practice time for the postseason game.

Long term, this injury might hurt Kelly’s draft status. The injury he suffered normally requires four to seven months of recovery time.

That means Kelly will miss any bowl game and any postseason All-Star games such as the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and the Rebels Pro Day. Kelly doesn’t get any more chances on film to impress scouts with his abilities.

CBSSports.com ...

November 4, 2016

Washington Victory Spells Clinton Win

By bryanflynn

If you didn’t notice the Washington Redskins’ 27-20 home victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, you’re excused. But why would a game played on Oct. 16 matter to you or me or the entire country right now?

The reason why the Washington win matters is become this is an election year. That means the “Redskin Rule” is now in effect.

Those who don’t know what the rule is, or means, it is fairly simple: If Washington wins its final home game before the election, the party that won the last election will win this year and stay in the White House, and if Washington loses, the party that lost the election will win and take the presidency.

Sounds crazy, right? But this totally unscientific method has a surprisingly high accuracy rate.

Since the Redskins relocated to Washington in 1937, the country has had 19 presidential elections, not counting this year, and this rule has been correct on 17 of those races. Elias Sports Bureau Executive Vice President Steve Hirdt discovered the rule just eight days before the 2000 election.

Hirdt was looking for some interesting election factoids for ABC’s broadcast of the Washington Redskins against Tennessee Titans game and saw that the rule had worked perfectly for every election since 1940.

The first instance of the rule was Washington 37-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which meant that Franklin Roosevelt won the election over Wendell Willkie. Four years later, the rule held up again when Roosevelt beat Thomas Dewey in 1944, and the Redskins won 14-10 over the Cleveland Rams.

This rule kept right on working all the way up until the 2000 election. It didn’t work out in the 2004 election when Washington lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers.

Under the rule, George W. Bush should have lost to John Kerry. Bush won the election, and the rule failed for the first time. Hirdt revised the rule (Redskin Rule 2.0) and said that if the party wins the election but not the popular vote, the rule gets flipped the next election.

The rule held up perfectly in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat Washington 23-6, and Barack Obama beat John McCain.

It wasn’t until the 2012 election that the rule failed under the original and 2.0 rules. The Carolina Panthers won 21-13 over Washington, and Obama should have lost to Mitt Romney.

He easily won re-election, but Hirdt amended the rule again. The 3.0 version of the Redskins Rule states that when the incumbent is being challenged from someone from Massachusetts, the incumbent will win.

That explains both Kerry and Romney’s losses. The Redskins started as a franchise in Massachusetts and played in Boston from 1932 until 1936.

In the 1932 election, the team currently in Washington was known as the Boston Braves. That election saw the Braves win 19-6 over the Staten Island Stapletons. Roosevelt beat incumbent Herbert Hoover. ...

November 4, 2016

MSU Hire Cohen as New AD

By bryanflynn

Former Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin recently left the program to take the same position at the University of Florida. But MSU didn’t have to look to far to find its new athletic director: The university gave current head baseball coach John Cohen for the job.

Cohen is the 17th athletic director in Mississippi State history. He is a two-time SEC Coach of the Year, once at the University of Kentucky and once at MSU, for his work as the baseball coach.

MSU hired Cohen as head baseball coach in 2009, and since then, the team has won 284 games. He has seen 135 Bulldogs get selected in the MLB Draft. Two of his assistants, Nick Mingione and Butch Thompson, have become head coaches at the University of Kentucky and Auburn University.

In his eight years leading the MSU program, Cohen built a 284-203-1 record. Last season, he led the Bulldogs to a 44-18-1 record, and MSU went from worst to first after the program posted a 24-30 season the previous year.

The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native played at MSU and was a part of the Bulldogs’ 1989 SEC Championship team and 1990 College World Series team. He graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1990.

Cohen received a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Missouri in 1994. He spent six seasons as a graduate assistant and coach with the Tigers before taking the head coaching job at Northwestern State University from 1998 to 2001.

While at Northwestern State, Cohen built a 146-84 record before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Florida from 2002 to 2003. He left Florida to take over at the University of Kentucky.

Cohen finished his time with the Wildcats with a 175-112-1 record from 2004 to 2008.

During his time and MSU and Kentucky, he led seven teams to NCAA Regionals.

In 2013 Cohen led the Bulldogs to one of the best seasons in MSU history with a 51-20 record, and the Bulldogs reached the College World Series finals before falling to the University of California at Los Angeles.

Cohen has been a coach in the SEC for 13 seasons and has coached in the conference for 15 years overall. In July, he was named associate athletic director, along with his duties as head baseball coach.

While head coach at MSU, Cohen has helped the athletic program raise funds to upgrade Dudy Noble Field. The upgrades make the baseball stadium one of the best in the country.

Lake Charles, La.’s American Press newspaper has reported that current LSU assistant coach Andy Cannizaro is the new head baseball coach at MSU. Cannizaro joined the LSU coaching staff in 2014, when he began his coaching career.

Cohen is the third former coach to become athletic director at a SEC school. He joins Skip Berkman, the athletic director at LSU, and Ray ...

November 3, 2016

It’s 1997 Again, in the Sports World

By bryanflynn

It seems like the 2016 sports world is following the same script as late 1997.

That year, the NFL featured two ties in back-to-back weeks. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens ended in a 10-10 tie in week 12, and the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants ended in a 7-7 tie in week 13.

This year, the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks ended in a 6-6 tie in week seven, and the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Redskins ended in a 27-27 tie in London, England. It seems interesting that the Redskins would be involved in both years.

Just like this year, 1997 featured a great World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Florida Marlins. That series went back and forth, with both teams battling to win a title.

The 1997 World Series came down to game seven, when the Florida Marlins were able to prevail 3-2 after 11 innings. It was the first World Series title for the Marlins in franchise history.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know this year’s World Series featured the Indians against the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and seemed ready to break a 68-year title drought.

Chicago won two straight games, forcing a game seven. The Cubs jumped out to a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.

Cleveland battled back and cut the Chicago lead to 5-3 after five innings. The Cubs then scored another run in the top of the sixth inning and went up to 6-3.

They were four outs away from a title in the bottom of the eighth inning. Cleveland scored three runs with two outs and tied the game 6-6 at the top of the ninth.

Neither team scored at that time, so the game headed to extra innings. Then the rain began to fall. Both teams were forced to wait through an 18-minute rain delay before the game restarted.

Chicago scored two runs in the top of the 10th inning and took an 8-6 lead and needed three outs to win. The Indians didn’t go quietly into the night, as Cleveland scored a run with two outs, cutting the lead to 8-7.

Cleveland hit a ground out to end the game and gave the Cubs a World Series victory for the first time in 108 years. It was the first title for the Cubs since 1908, when the franchise had won the second of back-to-back titles.

Just like the Redskins in the NFL, the spirit of 1997 swept up the Indians.

Way back in 1997, Louisiana State University hosted the number one team in the nation, but that year it was the University of Florida. This Saturday, Nov. 5, Louisiana State University hosts the No. 1 team in the nation now, which is the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Could the No. 1 team in ...

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