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January 18, 2017

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

By bryanflynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 17, 2017

2016 Cowboys Mirror the 1991 Cowboys

By bryanflynn

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is, without a doubt, one of the best in the NFL at his position. It wasn’t super surprising that he led his team down the field for a game-winning field goal in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

Rodgers has made spectacular throws throughout his career and some amazing throws against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Jan. 15. He showed why he is an All-Pro and Pro Bowl quarterback with his play.

The immediate story will be how Rodgers was able to pull out the 34-31 victory over the Cowboys. The long-term story could be the Dallas that walked off the field in defeat.

While the Cowboys are now home for the playoffs, their future in Dallas looks extremely bright. They remind me of another Dallas team back in 1991, when Jimmy Johnson finally had his triplets in quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. Those Cowboys reached the playoffs with an 11-5 record and had to play on Wild Card weekend.

Dallas defeated the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card round. In the Divisional Round, things didn’t go well, as the Detroit Lions beat the Cowboys.

This year’s Cowboys might have found its triplets in quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Dallas finished first in the NFC with a 13-3 record and did it with rookies at quarterback and running back.

Even in 1991, there was a quarterback controversy with Steve Beuerlein replacing an injured Aikman during the season. This season saw the Tony Romo or Prescott debate that even continued during the playoff game.

Just to show how closely these two teams resemble each other, here are the ages of both triplets: Aikman was 25, Smith was 22, and Irvin was 25; Prescott is 23, Elliott is 21, and Bryant is 28.

Both teams lost in the Divisional Round, but it wasn’t about the loss for either team. It was about what comes next. Dallas seems to be in position to repeat what the 1991 Cowboys did after their playoff loss.

The very next season, the Cowboys ended up winning the Super Bowl. Those triplets ended up winning a total of three Super Bowls before they were done playing.

The Cowboys could have had more Super Bowl wins, but the egos of Johnson and owner Jerry Jones got in the way. Injuries eventually ended the careers of Aikman and Irvin, but Smith ended up becoming the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

But he couldn’t carry the team at his advanced age without Aikman and Irvin or a new quarterback and wide receiver duo.

Prescott and company might not win the Super Bowl at the end of the 2017 season, but a lot of the pieces are in place. With a few smart additions, this team could repeat what Dallas did in ...

January 14, 2017

Cowboys and Packers Have Playoff History

By bryanflynn

No disrespect to the other three NFL Playoff games in the Divisional Round, but the Green Bay Packers at the Dallas Cowboys is the marquee matchup. This will be the eighth playoff meeting in these two historic franchises.

The Cowboys have a 4-3 record against the Packers in the playoffs, but the bulk of those four wins came in the 1990s. Dallas defeated Green Bay three straight years (1993,1994,1995) in the playoffs when the Cowboys were in the midst of their last dynasty.

In the most recent playoff meeting, Green Bay won 26-21 at Lambeau Field over Dallas in 2014 in a game that featured controversy. Most football fans will remember the catch-no catch that Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant made.

The referees ruled it as a catch at first. Then, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling on the field. After a replay review, referee Gene Steratore ruled, “Bryant didn’t complete the entire process of the catch” and ruled the pass incomplete.

Another famous meeting between these two teams took place in the 1967 NFL Championship Game. This game is also known as the “Ice Bowl,” as the players battled dangerously low temperatures.

Green Bay won, just like the Packers did over the Cowboys in the 1966 game, and returned to the NFL-AFL World Championship Game, which is now known as Super Bowl II, but the name Super Bowl wasn’t used until the third game.

Green Bay and Dallas combined have made 13 Super Bowl appearances. The teams have combined to reach 20 NFC Championship games.

The two boast a wide number of legendary coaches and players. They are two of the most talked about franchises in the NFL even when they are suffering from a down season.

One could argue that no team is discussed more than the Dallas Cowboys. The men with the star of their helmet are expected to carry on the winning tradition every season.

And one could argue that no player is more discussed than the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Playing that role leads to instant stardom for not only the starter but for the backups as well.

Playing quarterback for Green Bay comes with its own burden of following in the footsteps of Bart Starr and Brett Favre. Cowboy quarterbacks must live up to Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers already has a Super Bowl win to carry on the tradition that Starr and Favre set. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is trying to take the Cowboys to the Super Bowl as a rookie.

This game features well-established stars for Green Bay such as Rodgers, linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Dallas also features well-known stars in Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and linebacker Sean Lee.

The Cowboys hopes will fall on two budding stars in Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Both rookies played a ...

January 12, 2017

World Cup Expanding From 32 to 48 Teams in 2026

By bryanflynn

The world’s biggest sport is expanding its biggest event. In 2026, the World Cup will move from 32 teams to 48. While some might cry that expansion will ruin the tournament, it could, in reality, be a great move.

Here are how the current 32 teams are chosen: Europe gets 13, Africa gets five, South America and Asia get 4.5, North and Central America, and the Caribbean gets 3.5, the host gets an automatic bid, and Oceania gets a .5 bid.

Playoffs between other conferences decide those half bids.That means South America could get five teams instead of four if it wins a playoff for an extra team.

More bids means more teams from other places besides just Europe. Africa is a huge continent but only gets five teams into the World Cup. The African nations deserve more bids, and so do the Asian countries, North and Central America, and the Caribbean.

Europe is where some of the best national soccer teams in the world are located, but so is South America. Adding a team or two from South America could enhance the tournament.

It seems stupid to slam the idea of expansion until seeing how the 16 added teams are distributed across the confederations. If Africa gets four or five, Oceania gets one, North and Central America get two or three, South America gets three or four, Asia gets two or three, and Europe gets four to one, that would be a nice mix.

The main thing is not to give Europe a bunch more teams. The other confederations should get the bulk of the new bids, and Europe gets the leftovers, if there are any.

There are other details to be worked out since the group stage would go from four to three teams per group. The top two from each would advance to the knockout stage of 32.

One major problem would be stopping teams from colluding with each other to fix the outcomes of which ones advance. There are a couple of ways to fix this problem.

FIFA floated the idea of having penalty shootouts for group games that end in a draw. Personally, I think this is a great idea.

The NHL does something similar in the regular season when games are tied at regulation and have played a five-minute overtime. If a NHL game is tied after regulation, the game goes to a shootout. The team that wins the shootout gets two points, and the losing team gets one point.

Teams that win the shootout could earn three points, and reaching it would earn a team one point. Teams that lose in regulation would get no points, of course.

Adding a shootout is good because overtime in group-stage games could add too much extra wear on players’ legs. Going straight to a shootout saves players if they are level after 90 minutes of play.

A shootout would change ...

January 12, 2017

MSU Hires Fourth Defensive Coordinator in Four Years

By bryanflynn

The need for a new defensive coordinator is becoming an offseason tradition at Mississippi State University. MSU recently tapped Todd Graham as its fourth defensive coordinator in as many years.

Since Dan Mullen has been the Bulldogs head coach, defensive coordinator is one coaching position that has become a revolving door. This is his seventh defensive coordinator as he enters his ninth year with the school.

In his first season, Mullen hired Carl Torbush as the defensive coordinator. Torbush left after one season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Kansas.

Manny Diaz began his first stop in Starkville in 2010, replacing Torbush. Diaz left after the season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Texas in Austin.

Diaz’s departure brought Geoff Collins to the defensive coordinator position. Collins ended up being the longest-tenured defensive coordinator under Mullen, as he stayed for four seasons.

Collins left Starkville after the 2014 season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. He was recently named head coach at the University of Temple after spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Gators.

Chris Wilson was co-defensive coordinator under both Diaz and Collins and left after the 2013 season. He is currently the defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Diaz returned to the Bulldogs after Collins departed to begin his second tenure as defensive coordinator. Once again, Diaz left the job after just one season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Miami in Florida.

Mullen brought in Peter Sirmon for the 2016 season as the third defensive coordinator in the last three years. Sirmon is now on the move to the University of Louisville and will replace new MSU defensive coordinator Graham at that position.

MSU and Louisville are essentially trading defensive coordinators from the 2016 season. Graham spent the last three seasons with the Cardinals, and his defenses each season ranked in the top 20 nationally. His 2014 defense led the nation with 26 interceptions. He spent 2010 to 2013 as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia.

Last season under Sirmon, the MSU defense ended up 110th nationally in total defense and 93rd in scoring defense. The 2016 Bulldogs defense gave up 31.8 points per game, and the Cardinals only gave up 23.3 points per game and finished ninth in the nation in total defense.

Several of Mullen’s defensive coordinators have left for what they considered better jobs. Mullen would do well to try to keep Graham in Starkville for a few seasons. It would help the Bulldogs to have some consistency at the defensive coordinator position and would help the players to not have to learn a whole new defensive scheme each season they are at MSU.

January 11, 2017

Rematches Highlight NFL Playoffs Divisional Round

By bryanflynn

If something seems familiar about this year’s NFL Playoffs, you would be right. Rematches seem to be a theme in the first two rounds.

There were three rematches on Wild Card weekend, and the only game that wasn’t a rematch was the Seattle Seahawks’ 26-6 win over the Detroit Lions.

The Houston Texans avenged a 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders with a 27-14 win. The Pittsburgh Steelers made up for a 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins, turning the tables for a 30-6 victory. Green Bay beat the New York Giants in the regular season 23-16 and bounced New York from the playoffs with a 38-13 win.

All four games this weekend, which is the Divisional Round, are rematches of regular-season matchups. That means seven of the eight playoff games so far will be rematches of teams that meet during the regular season.

In week three, New England destroyed the Houston Texans 27-0 in a game that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t even play in, as he was suspended. Week four saw the Steelers blow out the Kansas City Chiefs 43-14. The playoffs have two rematches from week six: the Dallas Cowboys against the Packers (The Cowboys beat them 30-16) and Seattle and Atlanta (the Seahawks beat the Falcons 26-24).

The regular season scores matter little since all the games took place in the first half of the season. All these teams have changed over the course as players have returned from injuries or suspensions or teams have lost players to injury or suspension. Each team has seen improvements in play since these teams first met early in the season.

Teams that lost in the regular season meeting went 2-1 in the Wild Card round. The only team to repeat its regular season performance was Green Bay, and if that holds for the Packers, it is good news for the Cowboys.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw his first career interception against the Packers, but the Cowboys forced four turnovers. Prescott had a fumble in the game as well. Dallas took control of the game with its 191 rushing yards.

Pittsburgh and Houston flipped the script on their regular-season foes, but both teams faced backup quarterbacks in the rematch. Houston couldn’t defeat New England without Brady, and Brady is back and on fire.

The Steelers did beat Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith, but Kansas City has speedy return man Tyreek Hill and is better in pass coverage. The most important part of this rematch is that it is at home for the Chiefs.

Seattle and Atlanta’s first meeting ended in controversy. The final play that mattered in the game looked like Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman interfered with Falcon wide receiver Julio Jones.

It will be interesting to see if Sherman is on Jones and how closely the officials call that matchup. These two superstar players could decide this game.

Another interesting tidbit is that ...

January 10, 2017

Clemson Outlasts Alabama in Title Game

By bryanflynn

The national championship football game between Clemson University and the University of Alabama rematch on Monday, Jan. 9, lived up to the original from the year before. It had all the makings of a heavyweight fight—and without a doubt, it was a fight.

Alabama began the game on defense, pounding away at Clemson’s offense. The Crimson Tide landed shot after shot on Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, including what looked like a blow to the head on the third play of the game.

The early knockdowns certainly had an effect on Watson, as he looked sluggish and timid early on while Alabama built a 14-0 lead that felt much larger. Clemson added to its own misery with a fumble that the Tide recovered.

Still, the Tigers found a way to keep standing round after round and drive after drive against the Tide. Clemson kept the game close with a touchdown in the second quarter to cut the Alabama lead in half at 14-7.

Alabama went for the early knockout but couldn’t finish the job on Clemson. The Tide forced another fumble in third but only got a field goal to make it 17-7 on a drive that started at the Clemson 16-yard line.

Three points were all the Tide could muster from two Clemson turnovers. Alabama couldn’t figure out a way to score points with its defense or special teams the way it had all season.

Clemson came alive in the second half with a touchdown to make it 17-14. Alabama answered right back with a quick strike to make it 24-14 late in the third quarter, but the Tigers responded with yet another touchdown to cut the Tide lead to only three points, making it 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers took their first lead in the game with 4:38 left to play, but they didn’t see their 28-24 lead last long as Alabama’s offense kicked back into gear after being nearly nonexistent for most of the second half.

Alabama scored with 2:07 left to lead 31-28, meaning the Tide had to put the pressure on its historically great defense to win the title. Clemson was more than happy to put its superb offense back to work, as it had found ways to tear through the Tide for most of the second half.

Watson and his teammates on offense made play after play against the Tide to keep driving down the field. Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left to finish off Alabama 35-31.

In the end, the Alabama defense had punched all it could but couldn’t land the knockout blow, and the Tide ended up staggering down the stretch. Clemson weathered the early storm to rack up 511 total yards after 34:44 in possession of the ball, 99 plays and going 7 for 18 on third down.

Even with a freshman quarterback, Jalen ...

January 5, 2017

Fixing the College Football Playoff

By bryanflynn

Fans have hope that the national championship game on Monday, Jan. 9, lives up to last year’s game, when Clemson University and the University of Alabama played an instant classic in the Crimson Tide’s 45-40 victory.

A thrilling championship game for two years in a row can mask the problems with the college-football playoffs. In the three years since the games started, just two have been close. That excludes Monday’s title game, of course.

In year one, the University of Oregon pounded Florida State University 59-20 in one semifinal. Ohio State University outlasted Alabama 42-35 in the other semifinal, and that was the only close game that year.

The first championship game under the new playoffs produced a stinker when Ohio State blasted Oregon 42-20 and took the title. Two blowouts in the first three games didn’t produce the drama everyone hoped for with the playoffs.

A first-year misstep or two wouldn’t be shocking in the first year of a new playoff. That is, until year two. Both semifinal games then ended in a rout, as Clemson spanked the University of Oklahoma 37-17, and Alabama smoked Michigan State 38-0.

So the national title game between the Tide and Tigers was one for the ages, but in the first two years, four of the six playoff games ended in blowouts.

This year saw both semifinals end with little drama, as they were over before the fourth quarter. Alabama took care of the University of Washington 24-7, and Clemson destroyed Ohio State 31-0.

That means six of the eight playoff games have produced little or no drama in the second half. The playoff committee’s job is to pick the four best teams for the playoffs and not produce drama on the field. That is the job of the four teams.

Even so, with six of the eight games being blowouts, is there a problem with the playoffs? And if there is a problem, how can it be fixed for future playoffs?

One fix would be adding more teams. That might not fix the blowouts but would produce more chances for drama.

A six-team playoff in year one would have added Baylor University as the fifth seed and Texas Christian University as the sixth seed. Baylor blew a huge fourth quarter lead to Michigan State in a 42-41 loss, but TCU blew out No. 9 University of Mississippi 42-3.

If the playoff doubled, Mississippi State University would have been a seventh seed, and Michigan State would have been the eighth seed. MSU ended up losing 49-34 to No. 12 Georgia Institute of Technology.

In year two of the playoff, No.6 Stanford University upset No. 5 University of Iowa 45-16, but No. 7 Ohio State took down No. 8 University of Notre Dame 44-28.

Again, even adding teams to the playoff might not produce more drama if the scores above are any indication. Except for Michigan State’s ...

January 4, 2017

Six New Teams in This Year’s NFL Playoffs

By bryanflynn

Things can change quickly in the NFL. One year a team may be raising the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season and the next, the team may be sitting at home waiting for another one to raise the trophy.

The Denver Broncos, who were last year’s Super Bowl champions, are sitting at home, and another team will win a title this year. Runner-up the Carolina Panthers missed the playoffs, too.

Denver finished last season 12-4, and Carolina went 15-1. Both teams won the AFC and NFC titles. This year the Broncos went 9-7, and the Panthers went 6-10 in disappointing seasons.

A multitude of reasons for teams falling off after making the playoffs, including free agents leaving, player retirements, coaching changes and, of course, injuries, exist.

The exact opposite can happen for teams that make the playoffs after missing out the year before, with reasons such as key free-agent signings, injury-free seasons, smart draft choices and a great coaching hire.

The Broncos struggled in the first season after Peyton Manning retired. While the defense was its dominant self, the offense struggled without a strong quarterback.

Injuries and free agent losses were big reasons for the Panthers’ slide, but so was quarterback Cam Newton’s play. He wasn’t nearly as good this season as last. Denver also struggled at quarterback due to the lack of a halfway decent running game.

Of the 12 teams that reached the playoffs last season, only six reached the postseason again this year. Four of those were in the AFC: the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans.

Things are drastically different in the NFC. Just the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers returned to the postseason.

In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals went 12-4 last season but went 6-9-1 this season. Nearly every team in the AFC playoff field bettered its record from 2015, except the Houston Texans, who finished 9-7 both years.

Top seeded New England went from 12-4 last year to 14-2 this year, and that was without quarterback Tom Brady for four games. Second seed Kansas City went 11-5 in 2015 and finished 12-4 this year.

Third-seeded Pittsburgh improved one game from 10-6 in 2015 to 11-5 this season. The Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders went from out of the playoffs to in the playoffs.

Miami was 6-10 last year but improved to 10-6 this year, and in 2015, Oakland was 7-9 but went 12-4 in another dramatic turnaround in 2016. These two teams give hope to every AFC team that finished with a losing record.

Things were vastly different in the NFC, where four teams from last season failed to make the playoffs. The two repeat teams, Green Bay and Seattle, basically held serve from 2015 to 2016. The Packers went 10-6 both seasons, and the Seahawks went from 10-6 to 10-5-1.

Besides the Panthers, last year’s second seed in the ...

January 4, 2017

Women’s Basketball Standings as Conference Play Starts

By bryanflynn

Now that we are firmly into the New Year, it is time to take a look at the women’s college basketball teams in our state. Most but not all teams have started conference play.

Since women’s basketball in Mississippi has six Division I teams, that is where this update will begin. The Division II and other levels of college basketball will follow.

The Mississippi State University women’s basketball team is having a historic season. The Bulldogs have climbed all the way up to No. 4 in the nation in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.

MSU is a perfect 15-0 overall and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference this season and has met little resistance of opponents along the way such as when it overcame Iowa State University in an overtime victory. Mississippi State is the only SEC team left undefeated at this point in the season and is one of three undefeated teams left in the nation.

The Bulldogs started SEC play on Jan. 1 against Louisiana State University with a 74-48 win at home. MSU has finished the out of conference slate and plays conference games for the rest of the year. Next up for the Bulldogs is a road contest against the University of Arkansas.

The University of Mississippi sits at 12-2 after finishing its out-of-conference slate and 1-0 in SEC play. Both of UM’s losses happened during away games, which are the only ones this team has played.

The Rebels fell 64-57 to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and to former-No. 16 West Virginia University 66-61. UM has an 83-67 victory over former-No. 25 University of Oregon at home.

UM opened conference play against the University of Arkansas with a 73-64 win at home.

Road trips to the University of Alabama on Jan. 5 and MSU on Jan. 16 await the Rebels.

The University of Southern Mississippi has a solid 8-5 overall record and a 0-1 Conference USA record. USM has fallen to Tulane University, MSU, the University of California, Berkeley, and Northern Kentucky University. The Golden Eagles played California and Northern Kentucky games at a neutral location.

Southern Miss stumbled at the end of the out-of-conference slate when it lost three of its last four games. The Golden Eagles started C-USA play on Dec. 30 with a 72-61 loss on the road against Louisiana Tech University.

USM is on a two-game losing streak, as the team has lost four of its last five games. The Golden Eagles will try to break their losing streak on the road against the University Texas, San Antonio on Jan. 5.

Jackson State University began the season with a three-game winning streak before going on a three-game losing streak. The Tigers have won four of their last five games, which earned them a 7-4 overall record and 1-0 in Southwestern Athletic Conference play.

JSU played its final out-of-conference game against Fisk ...

January 4, 2017

Men’s College Basketball Standings as Conference Play Starts

By bryanflynn

If you haven’t kept up with college basketball, you are excused.

College-football regular season and bowl games, the end of the NFL regular season and the holidays might have kept you from keeping up with teams around the state. Heck, even the NBA and NHL might have caught your attention a few times.

In case you are behind, here is breakdown of how each men’s college-basketball team is doing since we have hit the New Year. We will begin with Division I teams.

The University of Mississippi has one of the best records of any Division I team in our state. The Rebels are currently 9-5 overall and 0-2 in the SEC.

UM dropped its first game of the season to one-loss Creighton University. That is not a bad loss by any measure.

The Rebels have also lost games to 10-3 Middle Tennessee State and 10-1 Virginia Tech. The team hasn’t had any bad losses, but it also hasn’t had any standout wins just yet. However, the Rebels still have plenty of time to build a NCAA Tournament resume.

In the SEC opener, Kentucky beat UM 99-76. The Rebels dropped another SEC on Jan. 3 70-63 against the University of Florida. The team has just one more out-of-conference game left on Jan. 28 against Baylor University.

Mississippi State University currently sits at 9-4 and 0-1 in the SEC after finishing a nonconference game on Dec. 29 against the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a 77-54 win.

MSU’s first loss of the season came against a 9-3 University of Central Florida team. The other two losses came at the hands of 6-5 Lehigh University and East Tennessee State University.

This is a young team, and it still has time to improve for a shot at a NCAA bid. It is in shape for the NIT, however. Just making the postseason should be the main goal for the Bulldogs.

MSU is done with out-of-conference games. The Bulldogs start in SEC play on Jan. 3 against began with a 68-58 loss to the University of Alabama.

The University of Southern Mississippi is still rebuilding after a NCAA investigation and player departures and transfers. USM currently has a 3-10 record over all and 0-1 in C-USA and is on a nine-game losing streak.

It is going to be a long year for Golden Eagle fans as the program continues working back toward respectability.

Southern Miss began Conference USA play on Jan. 1 against Louisiana Tech University in a 79-55 loss.

USM hits the court again on Jan. 5 against the University of Texas-San Antonio. The Golden Eagles have finished their nonconference schedule.

Jackson State University currently has a 5-9 overall record and 1-0 SWAC record. The Tigers went through a six-game losing streak after starting the season with a win. The Tigers broke that losing streak when they went on a two-game winning streak that included ...

January 4, 2017

College Football Bowl Conference Records

By bryanflynn

There is just one college-football game left to play this season. Clemson University and the University of Alabama will play on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. on ESPN in the national championship game.

As the 2016-2017 season comes to an end, it seems a good time to look back at how the conferences performed during the bowl season. Just to compare conferences on an equal footing, let’s first a look at the “Power Five” conferences and then the “Group of Five” conferences.

The clear winner of the Power Five is the Atlantic Coast Conference. Currently, the ACC has 8-3 bowl record, with Clemson still to play in this year’s title game.

Speaking of Clemson, the Tigers made a statement by shutting out Ohio State University 31-0 in a semifinal game. Florida State University beating the University of Michigan 33-32 in the Orange Bowl in the ACC’s other “New Year’s Six” game.

The ACC crushed nearly every other Power Five conference, going 3-1 against the Big Ten, 3-1 against the Southeastern Conference, and 1-0 against the Big 12. Only the Pac 12 will finish with a winning record against the ACC, as Stanford University won 25-23 over the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Finishing with a 4-2 bowl record means the Big 12 is the only other Power Five conference to finish with a winning record. The Big 12 finished 2-1 against the SEC, 1-0 against the Mountain West Conference and Pac 12, but 0-1 against the ACC. The University of Oklahoma did bring the conference a win in its New Year’s Six game. Strangely, the Big 12 didn’t play the Big Ten this bowl season.

It was an up-and-down season for the SEC, and it showed in the bowl games as the conference went 6-6. The SEC got 12 out of 14 teams into bowl games, with Mississippi State University reaching the postseason with a 5-7 record.

Both the East and West in the SEC went 3-3 in bowl games. The conference finished 2-0 against the Big Ten, and 1-0 against the Mid-American Conference and the Pac 12. The flipside is that SEC also went 1-3 against the ACC, 0-1 against the American Athletic Conference and 1-2 against the Big 12. The University of Alabama, MSU, Louisiana State University, the University of Florida, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Georgia brought home wins for the conference.

If Alabama loses to Clemson, the SEC will finish with a losing record in bowl games.

Just like the SEC, the Pac 12 has a .500 record in bowls at 3-3. This wasn’t a stellar postseason for the conference, but the University of Southern California did win the Rose Bowl to give the Pac-12 a victory in a New Year’s Six game.

The Pac-12 will finish with a 1-0 record against the ACC, 2-1 against the Big Ten, and 0-1 against the Big-12 and the SEC. It can still ...

January 2, 2017

The Saints Enter Another Uncertain Offseason

By bryanflynn

Once again the New Orleans Saints have finished with a 7-9 record and are out of the playoffs.

The team has missed the postseason four of the last five seasons and hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of the Super Bowl season in 2009. It hasn’t been able to finish with a winning record since 2013.

As soon as the season ended, New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton spoke with General Manager Mickey Loomis after the team’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Loomis and Payton will continue to meet this week following the end of the season.

Rumors began to swirl that the Saints would be open to trading Payton to another team if the right offer came its way. This is the second offseason that rumors of the Saints looking to shop Payton have started.

After the end of last season, New Orleans and Payton came to an agreement on a five-year contract extension worth $9 million per year. The Saints also worked a deal with quarterback Drew Brees that has him signed for next season.

Even after a disappointing year, there is hope in New Orleans. The defense suffered injury after injury and still rallied to become better as the season progressed.

Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas ended up playing well in their first seasons. The offense is still one of the best in the NFL, and Brees, who turns 38 this month, is still one of the quarterbacks in the league.

New Orleans has plenty of offensive weapons but needs to get cap room and use draft picks to continue to work on the defense. Over the Cap says that the Saints have more than $30 million to spend in cap space this offense.

The team has to make a big decision: Will it continue to chase a title with Payton and Brees, or will it begin to rebuild?

If the team can carve out more cap space and use that money judiciously, the defense can be improved quickly. A pass rusher should be the No. 1 offseason need the team should address.

The NFL is a passing league, and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks is part of winning games. Teams that can’t get pressure normally struggle during the season.

New Orleans finished 27th in sacks this season with 30, but to be fair, the Oakland Raiders finished last in the league in sacks with 25 and still made the playoffs. Most of the teams in the postseason finished from near the top to the middle of the league in sacks.

Brees could play until he is 40 or beyond, and if he will work with the team on salary, it could help the Saints make one or two more championship runs. But will the future Hall of Fame quarterback cut the team a hometown discount? Who knows at this point.

The ...

December 28, 2016

College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six Game Schedule

By bryanflynn

If you were holding off on watching bowl games until the main course, this is the post you were waiting to read. This features the steak of New Year’s Six games and filet mignon of playoff games for you to devour as 2016 ends and 2017 begins.

Things get going with a dream matchup in the Orange Bowl, which kicks off Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Orange Bowl features traditional college football powers the University of Michigan against Florida State University.

How long has it been since the Wolverines were in the Orange Bowl? The last time was 1999 when some guy named Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, and the team beat the University of Alabama.

Florida State is making its second appearance in the Orange Bowl this season after beating the University of Miami in Florida earlier in the year. This is the Seminoles’ 10th trip to the Orange Bowl.

Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers does a little bit of everything on defense, offense and special teams for the Wolverines. The Seminoles feature running back Dalvin Cook, who is a threat to take any run to the house.

Expect both teams’ quarterbacks to be under constant pressure. FSU leads the nation in sacks with 47, and Michigan is fourth with 44.

New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, features the two semifinals College Football Playoff games. Before the New Year rings in, we will know who is playing for a title on Jan. 9.

The semifinals begin with the University of Alabama against the University of Washington at 2 p.m. on ESPN in the Peach Bowl. Both teams should have plenty of motivation and have had plenty of time to prepare.

Alabama is one of two teams left in the country and has made it this far with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and one of the best defenses in college football history. Washington started the season ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll and 18th in the Coaches Poll but are the Pac-12 champions.

Both teams played against the University of Southern California during the regular season. The Crimson Tide overpowered the Trojans for a 52-6 win. USC gave the Huskies their only loss of the season in a 26-13 win.

Washington couldn’t handle USC’s defensive front, and Alabama’s defensive front is even better. That could lead to a lopsided game if the Huskies can’t block.

Hurts has been turnover-prone this season and could keep Washington in the game if he can’t hold on to the ball or if he throws interceptions. Alabama’s defense covers up a lot of his mistakes.

In the second playoff game, the University of Clemson faces Ohio State University at 6 p.m. on ESPN in the Fiesta Bowl. Both teams enter the game with one loss and again should be highly motivated.

NFL talent will be all over the field for both teams. The Tigers have quarterback Deshaun Watson ...

December 28, 2016

College Football Bowl Schedule Dec. 29 to Jan. 2

By bryanflynn

This is the final guide to the bowl games that aren’t in the College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six games. These bowl games will mainly feature teams from Power Five conferences, but a few Group of Five teams are sprinkled in the mix.

This guide will take you from Thursday, Dec. 29, to Monday, Jan. 2. You can plan your New Year’s celebrations around the games you most want to see.

The Birmingham Bowl kicks off the games on Dec. 29 with the University of South Florida against the University of South Carolina. This game is a matchup between a Group of Five team and a Power Five team at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

South Carolina is rebuilding under first-year coach Will Muschamp, but the team still managed to reach a bowl game. South Florida won a school-record 10 games, but head coach Willie Taggart jumped ship to take over at the University of Oregon.

Both schools could be even better next season, and this game could set the tone for 2017. It would be a slight upset for a 6-6 SEC team to win against a 10-2 team from the AAC.

If you’re out getting after-Christmas sales and miss the Birmingham Bowl, make sure to be home in time to catch the Belk Bowl at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 29 on ESPN. This game will feature the University of Arkansas from the SEC against Virginia Tech out of the ACC.

The Razorbacks started the season 5-2 before stumbling to a 7-5 finish. Virginia Tech comes in this game at 9-4 after the Hokies gave Clemson University a scare in the ACC title game. Arkansas features the most sacked quarterback in the SEC, Austin Allen, who was put down 28 times. The Hokies hired Justin Fuente away from the University of Memphis, and he has done a fine job replacing coaching legend Frank Beamer.

The Dec. 29 games end with an 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN for the Alamo Bowl in a top-15 matchup between No. 12 Oklahoma State University and No. 10 University of Colorado.

Colorado should be motivated coming into this game. The Buffaloes haven’t been to a bowl game since 2007, and the team hasn’t won a bowl game since 2004.

Oklahoma State enters this game with a chance to get to 10 wins. Colorado already has 10 on the season and played in the Pac-12 championship game.

This game will probably have a ton of points. Defense will be optional, and both teams have solid quarterbacks. Plan to stay up late, as with all the potential scoring, the game could run long.

If you are going to watch all the Dec. 30 college football games, be sure to have plenty of snacks and drinks on hand. The day starts with an 11 a.m. kickoff of the Liberty Bowl between the University of Georgia and Texas Christian University on ESPN.

In the preseason this game would ...

December 27, 2016

Blocked Kicks Save St. Petersburg for MSU

By bryanflynn

It seems fitting that the final game of Mississippi State University’s 2016 football season came down to a special-teams play. One of the biggest question marks for this squad since the opening game was special teams.

MSU lost the first game of the season against the University of South Alabama due to a missed 28-yard field goal. There were other special-teams blunders along the way for the Bulldogs, so it made sense for the final play of the season to come down to a kick.

Late in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Monday, Dec. 26, the MSU Bulldogs, clinging to a 17-16 lead, watched Miami University from Ohio drive to their 20-yard line.

On third down and 20 yards, with 14 seconds left, the Miami RedHawks decided to try for a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal. It felt like the Bulldogs would end their season with the opposing team making a massive kick.

Instead, MSU defensive lineman Nelson Adams stuck his big paw into the air and blocked the field-goal attempt to seal the victory for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs ran out the final five seconds to finish off the game.

Adams’ block was the second in the game for the Bulldogs. MSU also blocked a Miami extra point after starting the game with a Christmas hangover.

Miami jumped out to a 3-0 lead on its first drive of the game and added to that lead with RedHawks quarterback Gus Ragland’s six-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The RedHawks were up 9-0 after the initial blocked extra point, as the Bulldogs struggled to get going.

With 22 seconds left before halftime, MSU finally broke through with a touchdown on a two-yard run from quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to cut Miami’s lead to only two points at the break.

The RedHawks added to that lead with a third-quarter touchdown to go up 16-7 on the Bulldogs, but Mississippi State answered right back on its next drive to stay in the game as Fitzgerald made a 44-yard touchdown run. That touchdown cut the Miami lead to two points yet again late in the third quarter.

On the ensuing RedHawks drive, MSU corner Jamoral Graham picked off Ragland at the beginning of the fourth quarter, setting up Flowood, Miss.-native kicker Westin Graves to cap off a seven-play drive with a 36-yard field goal, taking the lead 17-16.

Graves’ field goal ended up being all the Bulldogs needed on offense to win the game. MSU’s defense played a solid game and kept the team in the running until the offense could get going.

The Bulldogs’ defense forced two turnovers, with senior linebacker Richie Brown forcing and recovering a fumble in the second quarter and Graham’s interception. The fumble helped to keep MSU alive, and the interception helped to win the game.

Fitzgerald struggled in passing, going 13 for 26 on throws for 136 ...

December 23, 2016

Bowl Viewing Schedule From Dec. 26 to Dec. 28

By bryanflynn

If you aren’t suffering from college-football bowl fatigue, you can still watch plenty of games. The quality of football might be questionable at times, but drink it all in because when it is gone, it will be gone until next fall.

Since so many games are coming up, here is a brief schedule from Monday, Dec. 26, to Wednesday, Dec. 28.

The first game to feast on is the St. Petersburg Bowl, which kicks off at 10 a.m. on ESPN. Check out my recent preview of the game between Mississippi State University and Miami University in Ohio.

After the St. Petersburg Bowl, check out the Quick Lane Bowl at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN. This game is the first to feature teams from Power Five conferences.

Boston College and the University of Maryland enter the game with identical 6-6 records. The Eagles and Terrapins were once conference foes in the ACC, but Maryland is now a member of the Big Ten.

The final game on Dec. 26 is the Independence Bowl at 4 p.m. on ESPN2 between North Carolina State University and Vanderbilt University. This is an ACC against SEC matchup with two more 6-6 teams.

In fact, no team that plays on Dec. 26 enters the game with a winning record, and Mississippi State has a losing record. Both the Wolfpack and Commodores beat in-state rivals, which made them become bowl eligible.

College football on Dec. 27 begins with the Heart of Dallas Bowl between the United States Military Academy and the University of North Texas at 11 a.m. on ESPN. No one will say this is the sexiest bowl matchup of the season.

The Army is playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and just the second time since 1997. That should lead to a highly motivated Black Knights squad.

North Texas beat the Army earlier this season at 35-18 but enters this game with a 5-7 record. The Army comes into this bowl game with a 7-5 record, which makes it the first team with a winning record to play this week.

Continue watching bowl games with the Military Bowl at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN. The game features Wake Forest University battling Temple University and may focus more on off-the-field issues than action on the field.

Wake Forest just fired Tommy Elrod, who was the color analyst on the team’s radio broadcast. Elrod was giving the Demon Deacons’ game play to opposing teams, and he was a former player and coach at the university.

Temple, on the other hand, just lost head coach Matt Rhule, who is taking over the dumpster fire that is Baylor University football. The Owls shocked the Navy to win the AAC Championship Game, but with their coach bolting, are they mentally going to be in this game?

Two normally cold-weather teams clash in the Holiday Bowl from San Diego at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Washington State ...

December 22, 2016

St. Petersburg Bowl Preview

By bryanflynn

It’s the day after Christmas. All the gifts have been opened, and family is being family. What better time to find an empty room and watch football? Lucky for us all, the St. Petersburg Bowl kicks off at 10 a.m., Monday, Dec. 26, on ESPN.

This bowl game features two teams that got into the bowl picture late in very different ways. Both teams should be more than happy to be going to a bowl game, which should lead to highly motivated opponents.

Mississippi State University entered the 2016 season needing to replace the greatest player in program history, quarterback Dak Prescott, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. MSU struggled with close losses against the University of South Alabama, Louisiana State University, Brigham Young University and the University of Kentucky, all by 13 points.

Thanks to a high APR score and a blowout win over the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs are playing a bowl game with a 5-7 record. It is a chance for a young team to get extra practice and build for the 2017 season.

Ohio’s Miami University, on the other hand, made NCAA history on its way to a bowl game. The RedHawks started the season 0-6, and any hope of a bowl game seemed like a distant wish.

Then, sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland returned from an offseason ACL tear and put the team on his back, carrying the RedHawks over the next six games. Miami won six straight games to finish the season 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility.

No team in the history of college football has started the season 0-6 and finished at 6-6. It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds this season and sent the RedHawks to a bowl for the first time since 2010.

MSU is making its school-record seventh consecutive bowl game. That record looked in danger before the Egg Bowl win, so there is some momentum for both teams.

The Bulldogs feature a stout rushing attack that averages 233 yards per game and is 24th in nation. Miami features the 33rd ranked rush defense, which only allows 140 yards per game.

This game will feature strength against strength, as the RedHawks’ rush defense tries to corral MSU’s rushing. Miami will focus on stopping Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who rushed for 1,243 yards with 14 touchdowns, and running back Aeris Williams, who rushed for 656 yards and four touchdowns.

The RedHawks have one of the weakest rushing attacks in college football, averaging just 134 yards for 109th in the nation. MSU features a middle-of-the-road run defense that is 69th in the country and gives up 178 yards per game.

Stopping Miami for the Bulldogs begins and ends with Ragland, who has passed for 1,274 yards with 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in six games. He is the man who makes the RedHawks’ ...

December 21, 2016

Former MSU Stars Prescott and Cox Named to 2017 Pro Bowl

By bryanflynn

Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott continues to impress people with his play. The former Mississippi State University star picked up another accolade on Monday, Dec. 20, when he was selected to play in the 2017 Pro Bowl.

Prescott replaced the injured Tony Romo and has led Dallas to an NFC-best 12-2 record. The Cowboys are tied with the New England Patriots for best record in the NFL.

Prescott has thrown for 3,418 yards while completing 292 passes out of 431 attempts with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has rushed for 238 yards on 52 carries with six touchdowns and four lost fumbles.

While breaking records and playing the most scrutinized position for one of the most scrutinized teams, Prescott has completed 67.7 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 103.2 during his 14 starts.

Prescott has only lost to the New York Giants twice during his short time as the Cowboys starter. He struggled against the Giants in a 10-7 loss, which is when he had his first two-interception game of his career.

His rookie struggles led to talking heads debating whether Romo should start. The former Bulldog shut down talk of anyone replacing him when he threw for 279 yards on 32 of 36 passing with one rushing touchdown.

Prescott hit a rookie wall in early December but is now bursting through it in late December. Prescott’s and fellow rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott’s plays are a major reason for the Dallas turnaround, as the team went 4-12 last season.

Former MSU teammate Fletcher Cox will join Prescott on the NFC Pro Bowl roster. The Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle has been a solid star and budding superstar since he was drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

This season Cox has totaled 37 total tackles, 23 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, two passes defended and one forced fumble. He has started 14 games and is two away from starting 16 for the fourth straight season at the defensive line.

During his five-year career, Cox has amassed 249 total tackles, 182 solo tackles, 28.5 sacks, nine passes defended and six forced fumbles. The former MSU star is working on what could end up being a Hall of Fame career.

Three other former Bulldogs were named as alternates to the Pro Bowl. If an injury keeps a player out of the game or if players selected for the game end up in the Super Bowl, they don’t play in the game, Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay and Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright could end up on the NFC team, and Oakland Raiders offensive guard Gabe Jackson could end up on the AFC team

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this year. Despite leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, Brees isn’t on the roster or listed as an alternate. ...

December 20, 2016

NFL Opens Combine to Fans

By bryanflynn

In the past, the NFL Combine has been held behind closed doors, with the best college football players trying to impress scouts without the public seeing any of the action. That changed in 2004 when the NFL began to broadcast the event on its own NFL Network.

College-football fans were finally able to see their favorite players go through drills, and NFL fans were able to see who their favorite teams might draft. However, the event still wasn’t open for the public to see up close and personal.

Last year, 1,500 fans got a chance to see the combine live at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It was the first time the league let fans into the combine to watch the events live.

While NFL ratings were down a bit this year, the league has been trying more and more to make offseason events matter. The NFL is working on becoming a year-round league with fans being able to get closer than ever to action.

When the NFL Combine takes place from March 3-5, 2017, the league will select a lucky group of 6,000 fans will get to see it all from Lucas Oil Stadium. The league will hand out those tickets for free, but they are non-transferable.

They won’t be just in the stadium watching from the stands for every event, either. Fans will be able to stand nearby as they watch the 225-pound bench press and cheer on players trying to complete as many reps as possible.

Fans will also be able to run a 40-yard dash, vertical, broad jump and other combine events from the convention center called “Combine Corner.” The league will allow fans to run an obstacle course, show of their form tacking against tackling dummies, and face “The Gauntlet,” where they can catch passes from a JUGS machine, which is a machine that shoots football for players to practice catching.

Before fans can take part in the physical events, they will have to sign a waiver that releases the league from any liability in case of injury. There are also events for those who want to visit the Combine but don’t want to take part in the physical events.

Fans will be able to interact with players at the convention center as members of the media conduct interviews, and the players will sign autographs. There will also be press conferences from head coaches that fans will be able to attend.

Visitors will have opportunities to take photos with players, NFL legends, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the actual bench where players will do the 225-pound bench press. They can also pretend that their favorite NFL team just drafted them and get pictures wearing a jersey from that team.

Lastly, fans can enjoy virtual reality attractions, see all 50 Super Bowl rings, shop for NFL gear, win prizes and more activities. To register for a chance to win a free tickets, fans can download the NFL Fan ...

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