SportsBlog entries for December, 2016 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

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Entries for December, 2016


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 ...

December 19, 2016

USM Takes New Orleans Bowl, Gets Winning Record

By bryanflynn

It wasn’t pretty at times, and it seemed insanely long, but the University of Southern Mississippi has back-to-back winning football seasons. The Golden Eagles went winless in 2012, hitting rock bottom after winning 12 games the year before.

USM lost 23 consecutive games before finally getting a 62-27 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham to end the 2013 season. There was more progress in the 2014 season with three wins.

Finally, a breakthrough happened for USM in the 2015 season. The Golden Eagles had nine wins and went to a bowl game, but lost the final two games of the season.

In the offseason, Southern Miss lost head coach Todd Monken to the NFL. Monken left Hattiesburg to become the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. USM hired former assistant coach and then-head coach of Alcorn State University Jay Hopson.

There were high hopes entering this season, even with a new head coach, because of all the talent returning from the previous season.

Early on, it looked like USM would live up to those expectations with a 4-1 start to the season, including a win over the University of Kentucky out of the SEC. The University of Troy was the lone loss for the Golden Eagles in the first five games.

Southern Miss lost five of the next six games, suffering shocking defeats to the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of North Texas. All three of those teams finished with losing records after UTSA lost the New Mexico Bowl to the University of New Mexico.

The Golden Eagles needed to defeat Louisiana Tech University just to reach a bowl game, scoring a 39-24 win over the Bulldogs to play in the New Orleans Bowl.

In the bowl game, Southern Miss wide receiver Allenzae Staggers put on a show, making 11 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown to set a New Mexico Bowl record and school record for most receiving yards in a bowl game. USM quarterback Nick Mullens went 25 for 40 in passing, with 346 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. Running back Ito Smith rushed for 138 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns and one catch for six yards and a touchdown.

The trio of stars helped the Golden Eagles to a 28-21 win over the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but USM’s defense did its part with six sacks, three quarterback hurries, nine tackles for a loss and one interception. However, ULL scored two touchdowns off of Mullens’ turnovers as a result of short fields.

Most of the night, Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Anthony Jennings was under siege from the Golden Eagle defense. USM found ways to bottle up ULL’s star running back, Elijah McGuire, for parts of the game, even as he rushed for 99 yards on just 17 carries.

The New ...

December 16, 2016

Bowl Viewing Schedule for Dec. 19 to Dec. 24

By bryanflynn

After watching bowl games all Saturday, there is no reason to stop during the next week. Except for Christmas Day—that is for NFL games—there are bowl games every day from Dec. 19 to Dec. 24.

There are eight bowl games with three in the afternoon and five during the primetime hours of 7 to 10 p.m.

Outside of fans of the teams playing, most people don’t truly care about these games. They’re a great way to waste three-and-a-half to four hours. Nothing says “happy holidays” like an insane amount of video reviews and teams you probably didn’t watch all season.

Just in case you are on the fence about watching these bowl games, here are some reasons to tune in to every game. These facts have been gleaned from bowl previews around the web.

Looking for a reason to call in sick or leave early from work on Monday, Dec. 19? How about being home to watch the Miami Beach Bowl on ESPN at 1:30 p.m.

This game features Central Michigan University out of the MAC and the University of Tulsa out of the AAC—two “Group of Five” teams entering the postseason on opposite trends.

The UT Golden Hurricane enters the matchup on a two-game winning streak but the CMU Chippewas enter having lost four of the last five games played. Why should you watch?

Central Michigan beat Oklahoma State University on a controversial Hail Mary with a lateral in one of the craziest games of the year. If this game is close at the end, it could provide a memorable finish for the Chippewas.

Tulsa is playing for a 10-win season, and wide receiver Josh Atkinson needs just 73 receiving yards to make the Golden Hurricane the first team with two 1,000-yard running backs, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 3,000-yards passing quarterback. Who doesn’t like seeing history made?

The Boca Raton Bowl shouldn’t need much to get you to tune in to ESPN at 6 p.m. on Dec. 20. This game features 10-3 Western Kentucky University from C-USA and the 8-4 University of Memphis out of the AAC.

There will be plenty of offense on display as both teams average 40 points per game. Both have also returned interceptions and kick returns for touchdowns this season. Pour some spiked eggnog and enjoy the fireworks.

There are former conference foes battling in the Poinsettia Bowl at 8 p.m., Dec. 21, on ESPN, as Brigham Young University, formerly of the Mountain West Conference, takes on the University of Wyoming still in the MWC.

The score should be close late in the game since both teams have played seven games that were decided by eight-points or less. The Cougars lost four games by a combined eight points.

Wyoming is in its first bowl game in five years, and a win would put the program at 7-7 for bowl games. The Cowboys knocked off Boise State University in an exciting game.

The Famous ...

December 15, 2016

New Orleans Bowl Preview

By bryanflynn

If you are not busy this Saturday with holiday shopping or events, it will be a great day to watch the first bowl games of the season. And don’t worry—all of them are worthy background noise if you are partying or decorating.

The day begins with the Celebration Bowl at 11 a.m. between SWAC champion Grambling State University and MEAC champion North Carolina Central University on ABC. At 1 p.m., switch to ESPN for the New Mexico Bowl between the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas, San Antonio.

If the New Mexico Bowl can’t keep your attention, flip back to ABC at 2:30 p.m. for the Las Vegas Bowl, which features the University of Houston against San Diego State University. Two games are at 4:30 p.m. with the Camellia Bowl between Appalachian State University and the University of Toledo on ESPN and the Cure Bowl between the University of Central Florida and Arkansas State University on the CBS Sports Network.

But you will want to be in front of the TV for the bowl nightcap between the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl at 9 p.m. on ESPN. With both teams being fairly close to the city, this should have one of the best atmospheres of the early bowls.

Louisiana-Lafayette is in its fifth New Orleans Bowl (the only bowl the program has ever been played in team history) and is 4-0 in this game. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won those four games with a combined 27 points, so expect this game to be close.

Southern Miss is making its fifth appearance in this bowl but first since a 42-32 loss to Middle Tennessee State University there in 2009, the Golden Eagles haven’t had their heads in the bowl game. USM is 3-1 in the New Orleans Bowl and has won by an average of 12 points in its three victories.

Both these teams enter this game with 6-6 records and were up and down throughout the season. The winner will be the team that feels it has the most motivation, but a winning season should propel that team in the recruiting and for the next season.

Louisiana-Lafayette began the season at 2-1 before five of its next seven games but rallied to win its last two, which made the team become bowl eligible. USM started 4-1 on the season but lost five of its next six games before defeating Louisiana Tech University and becoming bowl eligible.

Don’t look for defense to be on display in this game. USM is giving up an average of 30.3 points per game for a 81st national ranking, and ULL allows 25.1 points per game for 59th.

Both teams’ offenses should provide plenty of fireworks. The Ragin’ Cajuns score 25.8 points per game for No. 92 in the country, and the Golden Eagles put up 33.8 ...

December 14, 2016

SWAC All-Conference From Miss Schools

By bryanflynn

Last week, a Jackson Free Press blog post listed all the players who made all-conference in various leagues that have Mississippi teams. That list didn’t include the SWAC teams from Mississippi, or Belhaven University, as the Blazers are still transitioning to Division III and not eligible to win the conference title or make the playoffs at DIII.

The SWAC released its first and second team all-conference players, and Grambling State University and Southern University dominated the selections. GSU had 14 players and SU had 10 players make either first- or second-team All-SWAC.

It is not surprising that the Tigers and Jaguars are so well featured since both teams were two of the best in the SWAC this season. Grambling State won the SWAC title game and will represent the conference in the Celebration Bowl.

Even with all the Grambling and Southern players on both the first and second team, Alcorn State University and Jackson State University landed players on both teams with ASU’s six and JSU’s three.

The Braves had two offensive linemen make second-team All-SWAC. Senior Detonio Dade earned his fourth all-conference honors, and junior Timothy Gardner helped make the ASU offensive line one of the best in the nation in pass protection and rushing.

Alcorn State had four players make either first or second team on defense with two on each team. The Braves were represented on each level with two linebackers, one defensive lineman and one defensive back.

Senior linebackers Darien Anderson on the first-team and Michael Hurns on the second-team were honored. Anderson earned his second All-SWAC honors after being second team last season, and he ranks fourth in the FCS in sacks. Hurns finished the season with 62 tackles and three sacks, and he was elected as the Student Government Association’s senior class president.

Senior defensive back Eric Foster, who racked up 41 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble while being ranked in the top 10 in the conference in passes defended, earned first-team honors. Junior defensive end Michael Brooks landed the second team after posting 29 tackles on the season.

Jackson State had three players make all-conference teams with all three on defense. JSU had just one first-team player and two second-team players.

Senior Javancy Jones earned first-team honors at defensive end and second-team honors at linebacker. Jones was the Tigers’ pick for the 2016 Conerly Trophy and was a finalist for the award, as he finished third in the conference in tackles with 82, second in tackles for a loss with 19.5 and 12 in sacks with four.

Senior defensive backs Justin Jemison and Zavian Bingham earned second-team honors. Jemison finished with 46 tackles for fourth on the team, two interceptions and five passes defended. Bingham notched 41 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, one punt block and one pick returned for a touchdown.

Mississippi Valley State University didn’t land a player on either the first ...

December 13, 2016

Brees Struggles End Saints Playoff Hopes

By bryanflynn

When the New Orleans Saints needed quarterback Drew Brees the most to make a playoff run, the future Hall of Fame quarterback let them down. He has thrown six interceptions and zero touchdowns in his last two games.

The Saints are still mathematically alive for the playoff, but it seems highly unlikely that they get to the postseason. New Orleans will need all kinds of help, Brees must play better, but it seems more likely that the team will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

On Dec. 4 at home against the Detroit Lions, Brees failed to throw for a touchdown in the 28-13 loss. He threw three interceptions and posted a 63.3 quarterback rating.

It was the first time in 60 home games that Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass. It was a surprising loss of power for one of the top offenses in the NFL, as Brees threw for 326 yards but could lead his team into the end zone just once during the game. That was a one-yard touchdown, which fullback John Kuhn ran.

Brees might have played his worst game as a Saint the next week, Dec. 11, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the second game in a row, Brees threw three interceptions and zero touchdowns.

It was the first time since the 2009 season in weeks three and four that Brees didn’t throw a touchdown in back-to-back games, but this is the first time in his career that he has thrown three interceptions in back-to-back games.

Brees posted a 48.5 passer rating and had his lowest output for passing yards this season by throwing for just 257 yards. He did pass 4,000 yards for the 11th straight season, which extends his NFL record for the most straight 4,000-passing-yard seasons.

Since getting back to .500 at 4-4, the Saints have lost four of their last five games. The one bright spot was a 49-21 blowout win over the lowly Los Angeles Rams.

Those same Rams just fired head coach Jeff Fisher on a week that they play Thursday Night Football, which means it wasn’t that much of a bright spot for the Saints overall.

In the four losses, Brees has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions. This season. he has thrown 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in wins and 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in losses.

Brees has a 56.2 passer rating in the two games played in December. When the weather gets colder, that is when NFL quarterbacks are supposed to be at their best, but that hasn’t been the case this season with Brees.

It would be wrong to say he was at fault for every interception thrown during the last two games, but he did throw some bad passes that ended up being picked off. Brees will be the first player to take the blame for mistakes the Saints offense made, ...

December 12, 2016

The Giants Have Prescott’s Number

By bryanflynn

Dak Prescott is 0-2 against the New York Giants but 11-01 against the rest of the NFL teams that he has faced. The Dallas Cowboys score an average of 28.5 points per game but have scored just 26 points against New York in two games.

Prescott might have played his worst game as a professional against the Giants on Dec. 11. He went 17 for 35 on passing, gaining 165 yards with one touchdown, but had the first two-interception game of his career.

The former Mississippi State University star also fumbled once, but the Cowboys were able to maintain possession. Prescott has gone three straight games without passing for 200 yards.

As a whole, the Dallas offense converted just one third down for the second game in a row. The Cowboys went one for nine on third down against the Minnesota Vikings and one for 15 on third down against the Giants.

Dallas has lost two games against the Giants by a total of four points. If the Cowboys go on a winning streak like they did after their last loss to New York, it would end in a Lombardi Trophy.

Prescott and the rest of the team must put this lost behind them quickly. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions lie ahead, and both teams are on five-game winning streaks.

With Prescott at quarterback, Dallas is going to have to live with rookie moments or games like those against the Giants. The returns have been too good to panic since Prescott has 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 13 NFL games.

The 11-game winning streak has given the Cowboys a cushion if Prescott continues to struggle. In the loss to the Giants, Prescott wasn’t the only one at fault, either.

Receivers dropped passes, and the offensive line struggled at times in pass protection. The Giants sacked Prescott three times and pressured him eight times during the game.

One bright spot has been the play of the Dallas defense. That unit harassed New York quarterback Eli Manning all game long and forced him into mistakes. The Cowboys’ defense finished strong against the Giants’ running game.

Dallas was undone by a 61-yard touchdown catch and run late in the third quarter from Odell Beckham Jr., which ended up giving the Giants the win. Take away that one big play, and the Cowboys win the game.

The Cowboys have another luxury other teams don’t possess in quarterback Tony Romo. If, say, Prescott hit a rookie wall, Dallas could make a change to a Pro Bowl quarterback and hope Prescott regains his magic if Romo gets hurt.

There is a real possibility that other teams are starting to get a better handle on Prescott. At this point, there are 13 game tapes on the rookie, and it is becoming easier to know what ...

December 8, 2016

Next Three Weeks Big For Cowboys and Saints Playoffs

By bryanflynn

As of this moment, the only team in the NFL playoffs is the Dallas Cowboys. Since its opening-week loss, Dallas has reeled off 11 straight wins.

The Cowboys get a chance to avenge their only loss of the season to the New York Giants this Sunday. More than just revenge at stake for the Cowboys.

A victory over their hated rival isn’t the only thing on the line in this game. A Cowboys win would lock up the NFC East title for the club and put a strangle-hold on home-field advantage.

New York, on the other hand, can keep Dallas from winning the division and help its playoff hopes. The Pittsburgh Steelers overwhelmed the Giants last week and have both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles hot on their tails.

Dallas can wrap up home-field advantage with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next week on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys can then use the last two weeks of the season to let banged up players rest.

It would take a massive fall from the Cowboys to lose the division and home field, but massive falls have happened before in the NFL. Dallas ends the season with games against the Detroit Lions and the Eagles.

Every team the Cowboys play in the final four weeks of the season are still in the hunt for the playoffs. That means locking up division and home field will become more important each week.

On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints burned all their margin for error in a loss to the Lions. Detroit helped its playoff hopes and put the Saints in must-win mode for the last four weeks of the season.

New Orleans gets another chance to help its playoff hopes, as the team plays Tampa Bay in two of the next three weeks. A road game against the Arizona Cardinals is mixed between the two meetings against the Buccaneers.

Few teams have been as hot as Tampa Bay the last four weeks. Since losing to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 3, the Buccaneers have won four straight games and tied for the NFC South lead.

If the Saints are going to make the playoffs, they are going to have to earn it. The team must beat Tampa Bay twice and then Arizona and Atlanta just to have a chance to get in the postseason.

Every team in the NFC is still alive for the playoff except for the San Francisco 49ers. Pretty much every game in the NFC will matter as far as playoff hopes go over the next four weeks.

The next three weeks, however, are huge for the Cowboys and Saints but for different reasons. Dallas becomes the top team in the NFC, and the Saints can end up playing for something in the final week of the season if both just win.

December 7, 2016

All Conference Players at Miss Universities

By bryanflynn

Now that the college-football regular season has ended, conferences are beginning to honor players that stood out. Millsaps College, Delta State University, Mississippi College, Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi have released the names of players who received conference recognition.

In the Southeastern Conference, the Rebels and the Bulldogs were featured lightly. MSU wide receiver Fred Ross was named second-team All-SEC, and he is the only Bulldog to make the first or second team.

Rebels tight end Evan Engram made school history when he became the first player in school history to be named All-SEC four times. Engram earned first-team All-SEC in 2014 and 2016 and second-team All-SEC in 2013 and 2015.

Injured UM quarterback Chad Kelly earned second-team All-SEC. Kicker Gary Wunderlich joined him on the second-team. Kelly, Engram and Ross all were invited to play in the 2017 Senior Bowl, but Kelly won’t play due to his injury.

Twelve players from Southern Miss earned some type of All-Conference USA honors.

Offensive lineman Cameron Tom, defensive lineman Dylan Bradley and defensive back D’Nerius Antoine were named first-team All-CUSA. Running back Ito Smith and kicker Parker Shaunfield earned second-team All-CUSA honors.

CSUA named quarterback Nick Mullens, tight end Julian Allen and wide receiver Allenzae Staggers to honorable mention for offense. Defensive lineman Xavier Thigpen, linebacker Elijah Parker and punter Tyler Sarrazin earned defensive and special team honorable mentions.

Offensive lineman Ty Pollard earned C-USA first-team All-Freshman team.

Players from Delta State and MC earned recognition in the Gulf South Conference. Running back Chris Robinson of DSU and wide receiver Marcel Newsom of MC were named first-team GSC offense. Newsom earned first-team special team honors as a return specialist.

Statesmen offensive tackle George Roberts and linebacker Larry Tullo were named to the second-team All-GSU on offense and defense. Choctaws punter Matthew Turcotte earned second-team All-GSU honors on special teams.

Millsaps garnered several players on the Southern Athletic Association’s end-of-season honors. Offensive lineman Austin Harris, linebacker Hector Sandoval and defensive back Jared Bullock earned first-team All-SAA on offense and defense.

Wide receiver Rashad Sims was the only player the Majors placed on the second-team All-SAA squad. Running back Taz Watson, offensive lineman Bryan Pitman, defensive lineman Jacob Kendall, and defensive backs Benton Brown, Tyrone Howard and Chandler Loy received honorable mention All-SAA.

The SWAC and the American Southwest Conference still haven’t released the names of players who earned all-conference honors.

December 6, 2016

MSU Women’s Basketball Makes History

By bryanflynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 6, 2016

College Football Bowl and Playoff Thoughts

By bryanflynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2016

2016 SWAC Championship Game Preview

By bryanflynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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