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May 20, 2016

Mississippi College Bests Belhaven for National Title

By bryanflynn

Mississippi College set a school record for softball wins today in what might be the coolest way. The Choctaws won their 39th game as they took down Belhaven University 3-0, winning the 2016 National Christian College Athletic Association Softball National Championship.

MC was the top seed in the NCCAA Softball World Series, and the Blazers were the No. 2 seed in the eight-team tournament. For the most part, both schools dominated.

The Choctaws rolled by teams with scores of 14-4, 11-0, 13-5 and 5-1 to get to the championship game. Belhaven battled its way through the tournament, winning 5-1, 6-1, and 6-5 in an extra innings game, and 9-1 to make the title match.

MC struck quickly with a run in the first inning and, in reality, it was the only run the team needed that day. The Choctaws got two more insurance runs in the fifth inning to seal the win over the Blazers.

Mississippi College pitcher Carlie Sargent earned Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, as she tossed seven shutout innings for the complete game. Sargent (21-11) threw her ninth career shutout as she struck out seven, walked two and scattered four hits.

Belhaven pitcher Julienne Broussard (16-4) pitched seven complete innings, giving up eight hits, three earned runs, five strikeouts and one walk in a losing effort. Katherine Lee, leadoff hitter for MC, went 2-for-4 at the plate, and outfielder Megan Everett went 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

Tylan Buckley, outfielder for the Choctaws, went 1-for-4 but drove in the first run for MC. No player for Belhaven could muster more than one hit.

The Blazers finish the season with a 37-9 record, and Mississippi College ends the season with 39-19 record and a national title. This is the first women’s national championship title in school history.

Belhaven and MC dominated the All-Tournament selections as they dominated the tournament itself. The schools combined to place five of the 11 players selected for the post-tournament honors.

Sargent was not only the MOP but was also named to the All-Tournament Team. Joining her for MC were Lauren Mulligan and Everett. Belhaven placed Dani Craft and Crystal Kehtel on the All-Tournament Team.

May 19, 2016

Nyquist Looks to Conquer the Second Leg of the Triple Crown

By bryanflynn

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is a huge favorite at the 141st Preakness Stakes. After holding off the field in “the Run for the Roses,” the unbeaten horse was installed as a 3-5 favorite after the post draw yesterday.

This year’s Preakness Stakes features 11 horses, just three short of a full field. Nyquist once again got a nice post by drawing the No. 3 position.

The Preakness is the shortest of the Triple Crown races at 1.19 miles. It also features the smallest maximum field of the three races.

Exaggerator is the second choice at 3-1 odds after drawing the No. 5 post. The third favorite is Stradivari, drawing the No. 11 post and at 8-1 odds.

Collected is the fourth choice at 10-1 odds from the No. 7 post. In between Collected and Exaggerator is Japanese horse Lani, who is a 30-1 shot from the No. 6 post and showed all kinds of difficulties in training and before the race in Kentucky.

Cherry Wine from the No. 1 post and Uncle Lino from the No. 2 post were installed at 20-1 odds. The rest of the field—Awesome Speed (No. 4 post), Laoban (No. 8 post), Abiding Star (No 9 post) and Fellowship (No. 10 post)—all join Lani as 30-1 long shots.

Exaggerator, who finished second in the derby, and Lani, who finished ninth, are the only horses from the previous 20-horse field joining Nyquist in the second Triple Crown race. The other eight horses didn’t run in Kentucky.

As the horses are called to post, the United States Navy Glee Club leads the crowd in singing “Maryland, My Maryland,” the official state song of Maryland. The winner of the race is given a blanket of yellow Vikings daisies, daubed with black lacquer in the center to resemble the Black-Eyed Susan.

Black-Eyed Susans, the state flower of Maryland, don’t bloom until June, which is why the flowers are altered for a race that is run in late May.

You can eat and drink like you are at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore if you want to make your race-day party authentic. Maryland crab cakes are a staple at the event along with hot crab dip, oysters, Maryland beaten biscuits and Lady Baltimore cake.

The drink of the Preakness Stakes is also called the Black-Eyed Susan. It consists of bourbon, vodka, sweet-and-sour mix and orange juice. This is the lesser-known Triple Crown drink behind the Mint Julep at the Kentucky Derby.

NBC’s coverage will begin at 4 p.m., but the actual Preakness won’t run until 5:30 p.m. or 5:45 p.m.

If Nyquist wins, he will go into the final race, the Belmont Stakes, with a chance to win the Triple Crown. If he loses, the Triple Crown awaits for another horse next year.

May 18, 2016

Biggest Game in Mississippi Brilla FC History is Tonight

By bryanflynn

The cliché of the biggest or most important game in a team’s history gets tossed around quite a bit in sports circles. But tonight, for the Mississippi Brilla FC, it will be a lock that the biggest match in franchise history is going to be played in Clinton, Miss.

A week ago on May 11, the Brilla picked up what, at the time, was the biggest win in team history. The Mississippi Brilla won their first ever match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in a 2-0 victory over C.D. Motagua of New Orleans. This was the first tournament appearance for CD Motagua.

In Brilla's third appearance, the team finally broke through to get a win in the tournament.

Brazilian player Eduardo Cruz opened the scoring in the 28th minute to give the Brilla a 1-0 lead. Chilean player Ignacio Flores finished the scoring and secured the win with a goal shortly before the end of the first half.

The 2-0 lead was all the Brilla needed in the second half, as they fended off chances by C.D. Motagua. By getting the win, the Brilla moved into the second round of the U.S. Open Cup for the first time in team history.

That was the biggest win in the history of the Mississippi Brilla FC until the team takes the field tonight. In the second round of the U.S. Open Cup, Brilla will play against the Oklahoma City Energy of the United Soccer League.

This will be the first U.S. Open Cup match for the Energy after they received a bye into the second round. But this will not be the first game of the season for the club.

The Energy has already played six matches this season and have a win, four draws and a loss. Oklahoma City is on a five-match unbeaten streak after it opened the season with a loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

Not to be out done, the Brilla enter this match on a two-game winning streak. This past Saturday, May 14, the team won its first Premier Development League match.

After falling behind 1-0 to the Peachtree City MOBA in the 64th minute, the Brilla got a goal from Cruz in the 68th minute to tie the game. The Brilla won the game when Lucas Cordeiro’s header found the back of the net, giving the team the 2-1 win.

The Brilla will need Cruz, Flores and Cordiero to play big tonight. The club will also need keeper Brendan Ledgeway to be a brick wall in front of the goal.

Other players who could come up big for the Brilla tonight are Brandon Hall, Jake McCain, Oscar Jimenez, Noor Hamadi and Tom Paul. It will take a whole team effort for the Brilla to beat Oklahoma City.

The Energy have plenty of dangerous players as well, such as Kalen Ryden, Jordan Rideout, Coy Craft and Sebastian Dalgaard.

Danni Konig is ...

May 17, 2016

JSU Opens the SWAC Baseball Tournament

By bryanflynn

Jackson State University gets to play in the opening game of the 2016 SWAC Baseball Tournament. It is going to be an early start for the Tigers, who face off against Texas Southern University at 9 a.m., Wednesday, May 18.

JSU earned the No. 2 seed in the East with a 14-10 SWAC record and 32-24 overall record. TSU is the No. 3 seed out of the West and finished with a 13-10 SWAC record and 21-25 overall.

Both teams didn’t meet in the regular season, so this matchup brings a little mystery to the tournament. This game is the first of four that will be played during the day at the MLB Urban Youth Academy's Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans.

The Tigers enter the tournament as the best hitting team in the conference with a .322 average and second-best ERA at 5.31. Texas Southern is the fifth-best hitting team with a .275 average and fourth-best pitching staff with a 6.65 ERA.

JSU had six players earn All-SWAC honors at the end of the season. Shortstop Cornelius Copeland and outfielder CJ Newsome earned First-Team All-SWAC, and catcher Carlos Diaz, first baseman Jesus Santana, outfielder Bryce Brown and pitcher Miguel Yrigoyen earned Second-Team All-SWAC honors.

Texas Southern had one player on the postseason All-SWAC teams: pitcher Robert Pearson, who earned First-Team All-SWAC honors.

The winner of the opening game will play whichever team comes out on top between Arkansas-Pine Bluff University and Alabama A&M University at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The losers of both games will face each other at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

After JSU and TSU open up the tournament, the next game on May 18 will be between Alcorn State University and Grambling State University at noon.

The Braves are the No. 3 seed out of the East, having finished with a 10-14 SWAC record and 15-34 overall record. GSU is the No. 2 seed from the West after a 15-8 SWAC season and a 22-25 overall record.

Both teams played a pair of games this season. The Tigers won the first meeting 12-3 at Alcorn State, and the Braves won the second meeting 11-8 at Grambling State.

Grambling State is the third-best hitting team in the SWAC with a .290 average and the fifth-best pitching staff with a 7.12 ERA. Alcorn State is hitting .274 as a team for sixth in the SWAC and eighth in pitching with an 8.26 ERA.

ASU had one player on the postseason teams, with designated hitter Cedric Bell earning Second-Team All-SWAC honors. Meanwhile, the Tigers had six players on the Second-Team All-SWAC after the regular season.

The winner of the Alcorn State and Grambling State game plays the winner of the Alabama State University and Southern University game Thursday, May 19, at 6 p.m. The losers of the two games play at noon on Thursday.

The tournament features the top four teams from the East ...

May 16, 2016

Five Finalists for C Spire Ferris Trophy Announced

By bryanflynn

Mississippi State University has dominated on the baseball diamond this season and is now dominating the list of finalists for the 2016 C Spire Ferris Trophy. The Bulldogs placed three players in the final five for the award.

The University of Mississippi and Delta State University each placed on player in the final five. The group includes three juniors, a senior and a freshman. Three of the final five are also products of Mississippi, with Florida and Tennessee providing home states for the other two.

Here are the five finalists listed by university.

Mississippi State

Dakota Hutson, junior, has been one of the best starting pitchers on a strong MSU staff. He has an 8-3 record while posting a low 2.52 ERA. The Dunlap, Tenn native has struck out 91 batters faced and walked just 27 in 89.1 innings of work and is allowing opposing teams to hit a .240 batting average.

Reid Humphreys has done just about every thing for the Bulldogs this season. He has played in the outfield, infield and pitched as well. The junior, who is from Brandon, Miss., is batting .333 with 15 doubles, five home runs and a triple. He is slugging .547 with an on-base percentage of .419. Coming out of the bullpen, Humphreys is 0-1 with a 6.05 ERA in 15 appearances. He has struck out 25 batters and walked just six in 19.1 innings of work.

Jake Mangum has had a sensational freshman season as he is hitting .405 for second best in the SEC and has nine doubles, three triples and one home run. The Pearl, Miss., native has an on-base percentage of .419 and a .547 slugging percentage.

University of Mississippi

J.B. Woodham is one of the stars in a strong season for the Rebels. The Orlando, Fla., native is batting .325 with a team leading 12 home runs, 11 doubles and 47 runs batted in. He has shined in his junior season with a .466 slugging percentage and nine assists from the outfield.

Delta State University

Will Robertson is the lone senior to be nominated but closes his career at Delta State with a strong final season for the team. He is batting .426, leading the Gulf South Conference, 27 doubles, eight home runs and 71 runs batted in. The Falkner, Miss., native is posting a .676 slugging percentage and a .492 on base percentage.

The winner will be announced at a luncheon on Monday, May 23 at the Cleveland Country Club. Scouts who cover Mississippi and college coaches choose the final five.

Fans can vote for a player at www.cspoavoting.com. Fan voting is from Tuesday until Sunday and will count for 10 percent of the voting. The other 90 percent will be made up of scouts and coaches.

Also at the luncheon will be former Rebels player and coach Jake Gibbs. The former New York Yankee will be the featured speaker at the event.

...
May 13, 2016

Can Football's Past Save Its Future?

By bryanflynn

Rugby was a precursor to American football. Soccer is also attached to early football as well, and all three games can trace their roots back to Greek and Roman games.

The first football game in America is credited to Rutgers University and Princeton University on November 6, 1869. Rutgers won the game 6-4 over Princeton.

Football began to gain popularity in the U.S., especially on the east coast, and at universities such as Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University and others. While the game grew fans, it also grew detractors.

Early football was even more violent than today’s football. In fact, punching or drop-kicking an opposing player was not against the rules. Neither were shots to the head or other moves you might see in bar fight or pro-wrestling match.

Football tried to clean itself up with rule changes from the “Father of American Football” Walter Camp. Under Camp, the game added the line of scrimmage, cut players on the field down to 11, changed the size of the field, created the downs system used today and many other advances.

While these rules helped, the game was still dangerous to play. In the early 1900s, the game came under fire to be banned for how violent it was at the time.

There are reports that upwards of 20 people died playing football in 1905. That spurred change even as then-President Teddy Roosevelt got involved because of the public outcry.

Rules were changed again, this time adding the forward pass and the formation of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association the forerunner to the NCAA. These rule changes helped make the game safer in the long run.

Fast Forward to 100 years later and there is a public outcry over the safety of football. This time about concussions.

Let’s be honest. Football, rugby, hockey and other impact sports are going to always have a risk of injury or even death. That doesn’t mean officials should stop working to make the game safer, but there will be a certain amount of risk involved in playing these sports.

While concussions are a part of rugby as well as football, there is something football could learn from rugby.

The Seattle Seahawks and other teams in both pro and college football are teaching shoulder tackling. The Seahawks have even produced two videos on how to shoulder tackle properly.

Both videos show drills that can be done with and without pads to learn to shoulder tackle. The idea is to take the head out of the game. Nothing is 100 percent effective, but it should be worth studying to see if players’ head injuries are reduced by using rugby tackling.

Seattle, like them or hate them, is one of the best tackling team in the league and one of the most physical teams as well. The changes in how they tackle haven’t affected their ability to be physical ...

May 13, 2016

The Laremy Tunsil Saga Drags for UM

By bryanflynn

It looks like it will be a long time before the Laremy Tunsil NFL Draft night saga will be over for the University of Mississippi. ESPN writers Mark Schlabach and Nicole Noren reported that the texts that showed up on Tunsil’s Instagram account did in fact happen last year.

The university is now trying to determine if someone altered the texts in any way before publishing them.

The texts in question are said to have occurred between February and April of last year and appear to show Tunsil asking UM Assistant Athletic Director John Miller for $305 for a utility bill and money for his mother’s rent.

Miller allegedly replied to Tunsil, “See Barney next week,” in what could be a reference to Barry Farrar, the Rebels’ assistant athletic director for high-school and junior-college relations.

The texts were just part of a horrible draft night for Tunsil. Minutes before the draft began, someone released a video on his Twitter account showing him smoking a bong attached to a gas mask.

That video caused Tunsil, thought to be a top-five pick, to tumble down the draft until the Miami Dolphins took him with the 13th overall selection. After being drafted, Tunsil admitted in a news conference that he did in fact ask for money, and the texts were real.

The NFL cut the draft-night news conference short after Tunsil admitted to the allegations. He has since declined to answer questions about the texts in two press conferences as a Dolphin.

In related news, attorneys for UM head coach Hugh Freeze have asked a judge not to have Freeze deposed for a civil suit that Tunsil’s stepfather filed against the young athlete. Lindsey Miller, the stepfather, is suing Tunsil for assault, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The lawsuit came just two days before the first round of the draft. Court records indicate that Tunsil’s mother Desiree Polingo filed for divorce six days after Miller filed his lawsuit.

On the night in question, Tunsil claims he was protecting his mother after his stepfather yelled obscenities and pushed her onto a table and chair. Miller says the attack was unprovoked as he was trying to protect Tunsil from meeting with agents. Neither men are currently facing criminal charges.

Miller’s attorneys want to depose Freeze about a statement that he released after the incident and for the names of two men who were with Tunsil that night—a man named Zo from South Carolina and another unnamed agent.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines was able to get documents from the Regulation and Enforcement Division of the Office of the Secretary of State of Mississippi that show an agent was penalized for direct contact with a student-athlete and family member from a Mississippi school in late June of 2015.

The agent met with the student-athlete and his family without giving written notice to the University of Mississippi as state law ...

May 11, 2016

Big 12 Expansion Could be Felt Across College Football

By bryanflynn

The only Power Five conference without 12 or more members and a conference title game is the Big 12; however, it did get permission from the NCAA to hold a title game with just 10 members earlier this year.

That would help the conference crown a true champion. But it would have helped in 2014 when both Baylor University and Texas Christian University both finished with one conference loss and were declared co-champions.

Even with a title game, the Big 12 is exploring adding more members to better position itself for the college-football playoff. The conference was shutout in 2014, but the University of Oklahoma got one of the four spots in 2015.

Adding more members will also help the conference in its next TV deal and could lead to the Big 12 developing its own channel. Right now the Big Ten and SEC have leveraged their channels to big dollars for their conferences.

The Pac-12 also has its own channel but hasn’t seen the success the Big Ten and SEC yet. Not having a deal with Directv has hurt the growth.

There has been plenty of talk that the Big 12 would like to add two schools, which would likely come from American Athletic Conference.

The AAC has some interesting teams and had some solid success last season.

Temple University in Philadelphia could be attractive to the Big 12 because of the team's large media market and the fact that the Owls beat Pennsylvania State University out of the Big Ten and nearly upset the University Notre Dame.

The University of Cincinnati beat the University of Miami in Florida out of the ACC and played Brigham Young University tough. Both the University of Connecticut and the University of Central Florida are interesting options, even though they have struggled on the field the last couple of seasons.

The University of Houston fits the Big 12 geographically and had a standout season last year with wins over Vanderbilt University in the SEC, the University of Louisville in the ACC and Florida State University in the ACC a bowl game.

The University of Memphis beat the University of Mississippi out of the SEC and University of Kansas out of the Big 12 last season. The Naval Academy would be an interesting choice as well.

Colorado State University is being linked with the Big 12 out of the Mountain West Conference. The Big 12 used to have a presence in Colorado with the University of Colorado until it left to join the Pac-12.

Mountain West team Boise State University could also be in the mix at some point. The only reason the Broncos would be left out in the cold is the small TV market in its location.

The University of Texas will have a lot to say about what school the conference adds. It might object to say the University of Houston because the Cougars could cut into recruiting. The ...

May 10, 2016

Softball Conference Tournaments Start Wednesday

By bryanflynn

The regular season for college softball is over and now conference tournaments for Division I teams kickoff this week around the country. On Wednesday, the SEC, SWAC and Conference USA tournaments all get started with opening-round action.

SWAC

All the teams that made their respective conference tournaments will be in action on Wednesday. One notable exception is Jackson State University. The Tigers failed to make the SWAC tournament this season.

In the SWAC, the top four teams in the East and the top four teams in West make the tournament. Jackson State finished dead last in the East and failed to qualify. The Tigers finished with just six conference wins, which is tied for second fewest wins with the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

JSU missing the tournament means conference Player of the Year and Hitter of the Year Canessa Swanson’s career as a Tiger is over. It also means the best player in the conference misses the tournament.

The SWAC tournament will be played at Ironside, Ala., at the Shea Brothers Softball Complex. The complex has two fields, so two games will happen at once.

Alcorn State University finished second in the East and will begin play in the tournament against Prairie View A&M University, which finished third in the West. That game begins at 3 p.m.

SWAC Coach of the Year Josef Rankin and SWAC Newcomer of the Year Paige Breal leads the Braves. If ASU wins, the team will play at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday but if the team loses, the Braves will play at 5 p.m. that day.

While Alcorn State is facing Prairie View A&M on field one, Mississippi Valley State University, which finished No. 3 in the East, will take on Southern University, which finished No. 2 in the West, on field two at 3 p.m. The Delta Devils will play on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. if they win and 5 p.m. if they lose.

The championship game for the SWAC will be played on Saturday at 2 p.m., and fans can watch it on ESPN3. A tape-delayed replay will show on ESPNU at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Conference USA

Day one of the C-USA Tournament is single elimination. The University of Southern Mississippi is the No. 3 seed in the tournament but will be in action on day one.

The Golden Eagles will face the winner between No. 6 seed University of Texas-El Paso and No. 7 seed Florida International University. USM will not play until the final game of day one at 7:30 p.m.

If USM wins, the team will play No. 2 seed University of Alabama-Birmingham at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. The top seed in the C-USA tournament is Florida Atlantic University.

Interesting note: The University of North Texas is hosting the tournament but didn’t make it. The championship game for C-USA will be played on Saturday at noon, and CBS Sports Network will televise ...

May 9, 2016

Big Week for Underclassmen in NBA Draft

By bryanflynn

Mississippi State University star Malik Newman got some good news recently. He is one of more than 70 players to get an invite to the NBA Combine.

Nearly 120 underclassmen threw their hat into the NBA Draft ring. That is a lot of names for a draft that has just two rounds and 60 draft picks.

On top of the 120 underclassmen from college, another nearly 50 international players have also declared. The draft pool will also include every eligible senior.

The players in the NBA Draft Combine will travel to Chicago to take part in various basketball drills, have medical tests done, and meet with scouts, coaches and general managers. In other words, the basketball version of the NFL Combine.

Players will be there from May 11 to May 15. The NBA Draft Lottery is on May 17 during the NBA Playoffs.

A new NCAA rule allows players who declare but don’t hire agents to return to school after the NBA Combine. Players have 10 days after the combine to make a decision if they are going to stay in.

This week will be important for Newman’s draft hopes. If he has a poor showing at the combine, he will more than likely be back at Mississippi State this fall.

On the other hand, a standout showing from Newman could have him jump up the draft boards. NBA draft projections have him all over the place.

Some have the MSU star going late in the first round, and others have him not being drafted at all. That is a very big disparity on where a player will land.

That is why this week will be important for Newman and others who could be on the cusp of being drafted or not. NBA dreams could be squashed for a year with a bad combine.

It is still not the end of the world for players who need to return to school. They can still declare for the draft after next season without losing their eligibility. In fact, they can declare for the draft three times without losing their ability to play in college.

Players can also, at their expense, have one workout per NBA team. That gives them a chance to get another assessment of their skills and learn just how interested teams are in their services.

Players who don’t withdraw their name by May 25 will forfeit their eligibility, even if they don’t hire an agent. Players who stay in the draft and don’t hear their name called will have to catch on with the D-League or overseas.

Newman should get a good idea this week if he should return to MSU.

May 9, 2016

Can American Football Become Global?

By bryanflynn

Here is a nice trivia question you can ask your friends next week: Do you know who was the first 2016 NFL Draft player to sign with his team?

If you said Moritz Boehringer, then you would be right. The rest of you might be saying, "Who’s Moritz Boehringer?"

Funny thing you should ask that, because depending on his success, he could have started a trend.

Boehringer is the first player in NFL history to be drafted directly from Europe. The Minnesota Vikings drafted him with the 180th pick in the sixth round.

The 22-year-old, 6-foot-4-inch wide receiver was the 2015 German League Rookie of the Year, who became interested in American football after watching highlights of Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson.

But Boehringer isn’t the only player from the Germany to find his way to a NFL training camp this summer. Griffin Neal played Division III football at Concordia College who graduated in 2015 and headed to Hildesheim, Germany.

Neal went to Germany after an invitation from an American coach and ended up playing for the Invaders, a second-tier team in the German Football League. He also worked with a quarterback coach that helped get him an invite to Tulane’s Pro Day.

That invite to a pro day was helped by rain that forced the Tulane players to workout at the New Orleans Saints' indoor practice facility. All the Saints decision makers were there instead of just one scout. Neal impressed the New Orleans big wigs enough to get another workout. He aced that workout and earned a contract for camp later this summer.

If the sport of football is going to keep growing, that growth has to come outside of the country. Every major North American team sport has already gone global.

Soccer, can be traced back 2000 years ago but England took the sport around the world, is the world’s biggest sport. Basketball and baseball are well-known around the world. Hockey is limited by weather in most of the world, but it is still more global than American football.

The German Football League started in 1999 and is still trying to grow in terms of talent and fans. Boehringer and others explained during the draft that most German players aren’t ready to play in the NFL, much less the Arena Football League.

Germany isn’t the only place where American football is trying to take hold. There's the Amercian Football League of China, and why not try to get American football in the country with the world’s largest population?

The sport is also making inroads in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, England and other places. The International Federation of American Football says there are 80 countries with some level of organized football.

Currently the most talented players are in Germany. That would make sense if you remember the old NFL Europe that folded in 2007, which had several teams in Germany to expose fans to American football. ...

May 5, 2016

Will the 2016 Kentucky Derby Lead to a Second Straight Triple Crown Winner?

By bryanflynn

American Pharoah finally broke the 37-year streak of no Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. It was the longest drought in Triple Crown history, breaking the previous one of 25 years between Citation winning in 1948 and Secretariat winning in 1973.

While the horse captured the attention of the public from early May to June, American Pharoah is now retired after winning horse racings' first Grand Slam when he captured the Breeder’s Cup in late October. He now lives the life of a stud horse on a stud farm in Kentucky.

A new horse will get a chance to accomplish the feat of winning the Triple Crown this year. Horses have won back-to-back Triple Crowns just once, When Seattle Slew accomplished the feat in 1977 and Affirmed did it in 1978.

The Kentucky Derby, also known as “The Run for the Roses,” is a 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-old horses. This year marks the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, and the race this year will have a full field of 20.

Undefeated in seven races, Nyquist is the early favorite at 3-1, as he drew the No. 13 post on Wednesday, the same one he won at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile last year. Four horses since 1900 have won from that post, with Smarty Jones being the latest in 2004.

Mario Gutierrez rides Nyquist, Doug O’Neill trains him and Paul Redman, who went on to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby on I’ll Have Another, owns him. The horse also won the Preakness Stakes before being scratched from the Belmont Stakes due to a tendon injury.

The second favorite is Exaggerator at 8-1 odds and racing out of the No.11 post. A trio of horses are tied for third favorite: Creator from the No. 3 post, Gun Runner from No. 5 and Mohaymen from No. 14 are all 10-1 odds.

Bob Baffert, who trained American Pharoah, will have Mor Spirit, who drew the No. 17 post, a spot no horse has ever won the derby from. Mor Spirit is 12-1 odds, along with No. 19 post Brody’s Cause.

Destin from the No. 9 post and Danzing Candy from the No. 20 post are drawing 15-1 odds.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has two horses in the field with Mo Tom at No. 4 and Tom’s Ready at No. 12. Mo Tom is at 20-1, and Tom’s Ready is at 30-1 odds.

American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza drew the No. 10 post on Witmore, who, like No. 2 post Suddenbreakingnews, My Man Sam at No. 6 and Saghaf at No. 16, are all at 20-1 odds.

Racing from Japan is Lani from the No. 8 post. The horse is known to be unpredictable from the starting gate. Lani and No. 18 Majesto are at 30-1 odds.

Trojan Nation drew the dreaded No. 1 post. That's the horse that normally gets pinned against the inside rail and is pushed back by ...

May 4, 2016

Saints' Terron Armstead Gets Extension

By bryanflynn

Just days after the draft ended, the talk about picks has turned to their potential and their development as players. The New Orleans Saints are rewarding one of their recent draft picks, who has exceeded his early potential and development.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Saints took offensive tackle Terron Armstead out of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the third round with the 75th overall pick.

As it turns out, he was a steal.

Many scouts believed it would take a couple of seasons for him to turn into a NFL tackle.

In his rookie season of 2013, Armstead saw action in six games and made two starts. He was ahead of schedule developmentally when he made 14 starts the next season.

Last season, he started 13 games despite being limited by injuries that forced him to miss games. He was considered a snub for the Pro Bowl when he wasn’t named to the roster.

While the Saints try to workout a new extension with quarterback Drew Brees, the club can show its single caller that it is committed to protecting him. Armstead is the man who protects Brees' blindside.

ESPN reported that New Orleans locked up its left tackle with a five-year extension that runs until 2021. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the deal is potentially worth $64.5 million with $25 million fully guaranteed and an $11-million signing bonus.

Armstead was on his rookie contract but could have become an unrestricted free agent in 2017 without a new deal. The Saints' other choice would have been to use the franchise tag on him, which would have been around $14 million.

If 2015 first-round draft pick Andrus Peat can develop the same way as Armstead did, the Saints could potentially have the best tackle combination in the league. Peat must come into camp this summer in shape and ready to compete if he is going to live up to his high draft choice. He could also get kicked inside to guard.

Instead, the Saints have locked up a franchise left-tackle at a solid price for both club and player. New Orleans already exercised its 2017 option on safety and fellow member of the Saints 2013 draft class in Kenny Vaccaro.

While the salary cap hasn’t been kind to New Orleans over the past few seasons, the club is locking up its young talent. Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan signed an extension that keeps him with the Saints until 2020.

New Orleans has two big moves left on its off-season to-do list: reworking a deal with Brees and locking up center Max Unger past the 2017 season.

Armstead, Peat (if he pans out) and Unger could give the Saints one of the best young offensive lines in the league.

May 4, 2016

NFL Dreams Live on as Undrafted Free Agents

By bryanflynn

Players’ dreams of taking the field in the NFL live on even if they don’t hear their names called in the NFL Draft. Those athletes still have a chance to make the roster of a professional team, but the road is harder.

Each year after the draft, teams scramble to sign the best available players who were not drafted. One major difference is that these players can choose their teams.

If two or more teams are after the services of a player, then he can decide which team to sign with as an undrafted free agent. An athlete who has teams bidding over his services also has the option of playing for whichever team is the better fit for his talents, gives him a better chance to make the team or offers him more money.

Undrafted free agents sometimes come into camp with a bit of a chip on their shoulders, looking to prove that teams should have drafted them. Players who mope about not being drafted are going to get shown the door rather quickly.

There have been several players who once were undrafted free agents and went on to have productive—and in 15 cases Hall of Fame-worthy—careers. The list includes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, former New Orleans Saints linebacker and Hall of Famer Sam Mills and possible future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.

An undrafted free agent can even make the biggest game-changing play in the Super Bowl. In 2015, Vicksburg native and University of West Alabama star Malcolm Butler sealed the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks with an interception at the goal line.

Six former Mississippi State University have signed as undrafted free agents. The Cincinnati Bengals signed defensive lineman Ryan Brown, the New England Patriots signed wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed guard Justin Malone, the Indianapolis Colts signed punt and kickoff returner Devon Bell, the Chicago Bears signed cornerback Taveze Calhoun, and the Green Bay Packers signed linebacker Beniquez Brown.

The University of Mississippi had five former players sign undrafted-free-agent contracts. The Patriots signed a pair of former UM players in defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton and linebacker CJ Johnson, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed cornerback Mike Hilton, the New Orleans Saints signed cornerback Trae Elston, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed defensive lineman Channing Ward.

On a side note, the New England Patriots love players from Mississippi. Not only do they sign undrafted free agents from our state, but they have also drafted players from our universities, players with ties to Mississippi high-school football and athletes who played junior-college football in this state.

Two former University of Southern Mississippi players earned contracts as undrafted free agents so far this year. Jacksonville signed offensive tackle Rashod Hill, and the Oakland Raiders signed running back Jalen Richard.

A few undrafted free agents also come from Mississippi’s smaller universities. Former Alcorn State University star ...

May 2, 2016

The Saints' Draft Graded, Other Mississippi Players Drafted

By bryanflynn

Months of preparation and work are over for NFL scouts as the 2016 NFL Draft wrapped up over the weekend. But that doesn’t mean the work ends for the players who are just beginning their professional careers.

To be honest, it is fun to make judgments about how well a team drafted, but in reality, it will be a couple of years before we really know how well a team did. That’s not going to stop me from trying to look to the future to see how this class shapes up for the New Orleans Saints and the other players drafted from Mississippi universities.

First, let’s take a look at the Saints draft.

New Orleans’ dreadful defense has been the biggest reason for lack of success. Last season, the Saints gave up an NFL worst of 29.8 points per game. It’s hard to win when every game becomes a shootout.

Part of the reason for that was the Saints gave up a NFL worst 4.9 yards per rush and 8.35 yards per pass. Again, it is hard for a defense to get off the field or win games when the opposing offense is in second and third down and short on every drive.

New Orleans had to use this draft to fix the team’s defensive ills if it wanted to make the most out of quarterback Drew Brees' final peak years. The Saints delivered on defense with first round and 12th overall pick draft pick, Sheldon Rankins out of the University of Louisville.

Rankins should be a run-stuffing interior lineman who can also become a stud pass rusher in sub packages.

A note on sub packages: You will hear that phrase a good bit in today’s NFL. It's when defenses get into their nickel-and-dime defenses.

This pick will be a success if Rankins helps improve a defense that gave up 129.8 yards per game, which was second worst in the NFL behind the Philadelphia Eagles. Winning on first and second down should help the Saints get off the field on third down.

The Saints selected wide receiver Michael Thomas out of Ohio State University in the second round with the 47th pick. This should be the replacement for Marques Colston.

Thomas is a big-body receiver, can make catches in traffic and should be a force in the red zone. He should help take some of the coverage from Brandin Cooks and help get Willie Snead open for more catches.

An extra note on Thomas: His uncle is former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

New Orleans went back to defense with its second of two second-round picks when the team traded with the New England Patriots to get Vonn Bell, also out of OSU, with the 61st pick. Bell has the abilities to cover like a corner, but he plays safety.

This pick will work in sub packages, as Bell can be used to cover a team’s slot receiver. ...

April 29, 2016

Laremy Tunsil's Scandals Take Over First Round of the NFL Draft

By bryanflynn

Here's a quick rundown of what happened during the first round of the NFL Draft: The Los Angeles Rams made University of California quarterback Jared Goff the No. 1 overall pick, and the Philadelphia Eagles took Carson Wentz, a quarterback out of North Dakota State University, making him the No. 2 pick.

After Goff and Wentz went in the draft, all eyes fell on University of Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. In fact, it was a terrible night for Tunsil and got worse as the night went along.

Shortly before the draft started, a video on Tunsil’s Twitter account, which was hacked, showed someone who was wearing a gas mask. later confirmed to be Tunsil, taking hits from a bong. It didn’t take long for the video to go viral and for ESPN and NFL Network to begin discussing it and what it would mean for him.

Before the draft, Tunsil was considered to be one of the top players in the draft, and many thought he would be the first player to hear his name called. After the video got out, he began to fall down as reports came out that teams had taken Tunsil off their draft board.

Instead of being the first tackle picked, Tunsil watched as the Baltimore Ravens drafted Ronnie Stanley out the University of Notre Dame in the sixth pick, and the Tennessee Titans drafted Jack Conklin out of Michigan State University in the eighth pick.

The Miami Dolphins finally stopped Tunsil’s drop by taking him with the 13th pick. Tunsil was supposed to be a top-five pick, but he didn’t even go in the top 10.

The first reports said that the video of Tunsil was five years old, but then it changed to two years old. But it didn’t matter when the video was taken. The damage was done, and it cost him millions.

The top pick in the draft will sign for about $28.5 million, and the fifth will sign for about $24 million. Falling all the way down to the 13th pick means Tunsil will sign for about $13 million.

The video cost him $10 to $15 million in salary in his first contract.

But his bad night wasn’t over. After the Dolphins selected him, a post on his Instagram account showed the offensive tackle asking a coach for money.

That post came up during his first press conference.

A reporter asked a visibly sweating Tunsil about the conversation with his coach over money. At first he denied that it happened, but in a follow-up question, he said he did ask and took money.

The money reports said he did it to pay bills and rent. Tunsil already had to sit out games last season for the Rebels due to receiving improper benefits. The day before the draft, reports surfaced that his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, filed a lawsuit against the offensive tackle ...

April 28, 2016

Looking to the NFL Draft

By bryanflynn

Day one of the NFL Draft begins tonight with the first round and continues Friday and finishes on Sunday. This could be one of the wildest in recent memory, with the first two picks having already been traded.

In the remaining few hours before the draft, pass the time by reading as many mock drafts as you can if you don’t have a feel for the players. The best teams are able to build through and add free agents to become a title contender.

All the first-round action begins at 7 p.m. CST on ESPN and the NFL Network. Here’s what to watch for mainly tonight but a couple things throughout the draft.

Which quarterback do the Los Angeles Rams select?

It is hard to remember that the Rams are back in L.A. again. But they are, and they traded with the Tennessee Titans to get the top pick.

L.A. is going to draft a quarterback, but the question is, will it be Carson Wentz or Jared Goff? Whichever quarterback the Rams choose leaves the other for the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded with the Cleveland Browns for the second pick.

What will San Diego and Dallas do with picks at three and four?

The real intrigue of this draft begins with the Chargers and Cowboys. Both teams could make a pick on offense or defense. San Diego and Dallas could also start a run on defensive linemen since both teams need help in the trenches on the defensive side.

If the right deal comes along, either team could be enticed into a trade. Both could in fact move back in the draft if the teams that need a quarterback decide to move up.

Will the Browns and 49ers draft a quarterback?

After nearly two decades, Cleveland is still trying to find who will be the man under center. San Francisco might be ready to move from Colin Kaepernick and start fresh at quarterback.

The 49ers have the seventh pick, and the Browns follow with the eighth pick. Both teams have plenty of holes to fill, so they could pass on a quarterback in this round to pick one up later.

If both the Browns and 49ers take a quarterback, it could cause a run on the other ones in the draft.

Will the Saints take a quarterback or defensive player?

There is some thought that the Saints could go after a quarterback in the first round. New Orleans really needs defensive help like a pass rusher or in the secondary if they want to make a run at a title with Drew Brees.

On the other hand, Brees won’t play forever, so when do you get his replacement if you don’t think you already have him on the roster? This would be a classic build for the future or a play--for-right-now spot for the Saints.

More quarterbacks late in round one?

Two other teams ...

April 27, 2016

Are the Saints and Brees Playing Chicken Before the Draft?

By bryanflynn

Some interesting things have come out of New Orleans over the past few days. Both the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees seem to be trying to position themselves for some possible post-draft fallout.

By now, nearly every Saints fan knows that Brees currently has a $30 million salary number cap for this upcoming season. This is also the final year of his current contract with New Orleans.

The next few stories are why this is so interesting.

When the Carolina Panthers suddenly rescinded their franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman, making him an unrestricted free agent, it quickly became apparent that Washington and New Orleans were his top destination options.

Norman signed with Washington instead of New Orleans, but after Norman was off the market, ESPN reported that Brees was willing to rework his deal so the Saints could sign the star cornerback.

Neither side has said it had a contract deal in place after Norman signed with Washington. But could Brees have worked out a deal in a few short hours to give the Saints room to sign Norman?

Then, there was this: Just this week, Ian Rapoport said the Saints were looking to move up to the number-one pick before a trade was made between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tennessee Titans.

Brees said in an interview on “The Rich Eisen Show” that he doubts the Saints tried to make a move for the top pick. New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis also said the report was false during a recent press conference.

Rapoport, in the same story, reported that the Saints were also interested in possibly moving up from the 12th pick to inside the top 10 to draft former University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.

If you don’t remember, the Saints spent a third-round draft choice on Garrett Grayson last year. Grayson just rode the pine after the preseason, mainly as the Saints’ third-string quarterback.

The theory that New Orleans might want to draft a quarterback in the first round raises some questions.

Would the Saints want to sign Brees to a contract of three or fewer years if they draft a quarterback in the first round?

Will the Saints let Brees play out this season and then move on from the future Hall of Fame signal caller?

Will New Orleans rework Brees’ deal so they can trade him once his salary is more trade-friendly?

Even if the Saints rework Brees’ deal and draft a quarterback, is the club saying the Super Bowl window is closed with Brees?

Do the Saints want to rework Brees’ deal and make a couple of final runs at a Super Bowl?

Is this all really a pre-draft smokescreen that the Saints are using to work a better deal with Brees?

Let’s take a look at each question.

If the Saints take a quarterback in the first round, they ...

April 26, 2016

Rebels and Bulldogs Battle in Pearl

By bryanflynn

Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi travel to Pearl’s Trustmark Park to play for the Governor’s Cup tonight. Both teams are ranked to varying degrees in every major college-baseball poll, with MSU reaching as high has third place and the Rebels as high as ninth.

The Bulldogs come into the game after taking two of three wins from Louisiana State University over the weekend to move to 27-13-1 overall and 10-8 in the SEC. UM just got a huge sweep of Auburn University, which moved the Rebels to 31-10 overall and 10-8 in SEC play.

Both teams are tied with LSU for second place in the SEC West and two games behind division leading Texas A&M University. In RPI, the Rebels are ranked fifth and MSU is ranked 13th.

These teams have been meeting in the Jackson area since 1980, when Dale Danks Jr., then mayor of Jackson, started the Mayor’s Trophy. The game moved to Trustmark Park in 2007 and was renamed the Governor's Cup.

This will be the 37th meeting in the Mayor’s Trophy/Governor’s Cup series, with both teams tied at 18-18 heading into the game tonight. MSU does have a 5-4 edge since the game was renamed to the Governor's Cup, though.

Last season, the Rebels pounded the Bulldogs 11-1 for UM’s largest victory in the series. MSU leads the all-time series 246-205-5 and is 31-27-1 in neutral-site games.

This season, MSU took two of three games in the SEC series when these teams played in Starkville. The Bulldogs will also be the home team tonight, as the team will probably hand the ball to freshman Ryan Cyr, and the Rebels are likely to counter with junior Chad Smith on the mound.

Besides the state bragging rights, this game also provides momentum for the final stretch of the regular season. Both teams only have four conference series left before the SEC Tournament kicks off in late May.

After this game, the Bulldogs travel to Alabama (9-9 in SEC play), and the Rebels host the aforementioned LSU Tigers in Oxford this weekend. UM might need the momentum more with SEC series against the University of Georgia, the University of Kentucky and Texas A&M to end the season.

MSU’s schedule gets easier in the final weeks. The Bulldogs face the University of Missouri, last place in the SEC East, then Auburn, last place in the SEC West, and end the season at the University of Arkansas, second to last in the SEC West.

Currently only general-admission/standing-room-only tickets remain for tonight’s game. Gates open at 5 p.m., and the game starts at 6:30 p.m.

If you can’t catch tonight game in person, it will be broadcasted on the SEC Network starting at 6:30 p.m.

*UPDATE* This game is now sold out.

April 25, 2016

Rare News Out of the NFL Combine

By bryanflynn

Something so rare happened today that ESPN reporter Adam Schefter couldn’t remember how long it had been since it last happened. For the first time in a long time, none of the players invited to the NFL Combine failed the drug test.

This was good news for the players who teams considered to have “red flags,” but this was also good news for teams who liked players who made questionable decisions in their past.

Players can have a red flag for something as simple as not being voted as team captain, such as Michigan State University quarterback Connor Cook, or as serious as sexual assault charges, such as Bowling Green University Roger Lewis.

A player can also get a red flag for falling out a hotel window, as former University of Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche did. After this incident, Nkemdiche went from top 10 pick to questions of, “How far will he fall in this week’s draft?”

Each NFL team will decide if a red flag matters before drafting a player. The talent of said player will also have an impact on whether a team will draft him.

That is to say, in most cases, the more talent a player has, the more room he has to mess up.

So, why is it important that no players failed the drug test at the NFL Combine? That’s because it is more than just a drug test.

The test gives teams a chance to look at the decision-making of future draft picks. When a player goes to the combine, he knows that he is going to be tested for drug usage, so failing that drug test means more than failing a random drug test in college.

Teams want to know why a player would fail a test that he knew he would have to take when he showed up. When you are talking about giving certain players millions of dollars, this becomes an important factor for teams.

No players failing the drug test is good for the athletes, as well. According to ESPN, no player with a failed drug test has been selected in the first round since 2010.

Failing out of the first round is a loss of money for each spot a player drops. That still doesn’t mean a player won’t fall out of the first round of this year’s draft because of a red flag, but it does mean that he won’t fall because of this particularly avoidable trap.

Last year, University of Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory failed a drug test at the NFL Combine and went from a first-round pick to a second-round pick. Failing a drug test could even force a player to drop out of the draft and become an undrafted rookie free agent.

While not failing a drug test won’t be the reason Nkemdiche falls in the draft, his statements in a pre-draft interview, in which he said ...

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