by Eric Fulton
The point after touchdown is easily the least exciting play in all of football. You have a kicker trying to score just one point for their team. It is a 20-yard kick that they practice just about every single day. Is there pressure? Not from that close to the end zone. No way.
The National Football League (NFL) has decided to change extra points this season to give the game more action packed drama. I guess they figured if kickers can kick an easy 20-yard extra point then let’s try about a 30-plus yard extra point.
Well, since the league is moving back the extra point, teams are going to go for the two-point conversion more often. The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be the first team to adopt this new strategy, but more are likely to tinker with it in the future. Ideas go out the window with the adoption of kicking the extra point. Picture this, a kicker in a cold in December with a team playing a meaningful game missing the extra point because it was from 33 yards instead of the more traditional 20-yard field goal.
This new extra point rule is bringing excitement to the NFL. Maybe a two-point conversion will help determine who wins the game, now? Let’s face it, I feel sometimes NFL games and even football in general is boring. Not all of football is boring, but to be fair, the extra point from the two-yard line is boring. Maybe college football should adopt the same thing the NFL is doing. Besides, I have seen fake field goal attempts in college football when the scoring sets up a unique formation after the touchdown. Basically, it fools everyone from the opposing team to the fans.
Then again, an extra point from the two-yard line is never really an easy shot. Much like golf when the golfer has to angle a short putt, placekickers have to make sure the long snapper snaps the ball at the right angle. Then the holder must hold it in a perfect position with the laces out and finally the kicker has to make sure he gets the right angle in order to make sure things are good.
I have seen a few extra points that have been missed at 20 yards. Take about a couple of weeks ago when University of Texas kicker Nick Rose missed an extra point from 20 yards preventing the Longhorns to tie the game against the University of California. I felt bad for Rose, but he still should have made the kick. Yes, a kicker can miss a PAT, but still paid or not, the point has to be made.
So having the extra point moved back in the NFL makes watching the game even more interesting. It should be fun to watch from here on in. How much of an effect will moving the extra point have in games? I think close games will be determined, but most of the kickers can do this in their sleep. They should not have problem at all. Well, maybe a few will have a problem.
By Julian Spivey
The San Francisco Giants/Oakland A’s game on Saturday at 3 p.m. is no doubt going to be one of the most nostalgic baseball games in recent memory, especially for fans of the two Bay Area teams, but you can’t help but think it’s also going to be one of the saddest games of the year, especially for A’s fans.
The much-talked about matchup between veteran hurlers Tim Hudson, on the mound for the Giants, and Barry Zito, on the mound for the A’s, will be a somewhat hurtful remembrance of what could have and should have been.
In the early ‘00s, Hudson, Zito and another young gun pitcher named Mark Mulder were the budding threesome that were supposed to hold down the A’s rotation for many years to come and bring the struggling team back to their World Series winning ways of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hudson, Zito and Mulder were also going to be the next Big Three rotation, taking the baton from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz with the Atlanta Braves. There was so much hope in the A’s fanbase and with good reason. These kids were good.
In just his second full season in 2000 Hudson would finish second in the American League Cy Young vote going 20-6 with a 4.14 ERA (in an era of inflated offensive numbers due to rapid performance enhancing drug usage). That would also be the same year that Zito and Mulder would make their Major League debuts. Starting in 2000, the young Big Three would lead the A’s to the playoffs in four consecutive years with the three going a full 100 games over .500 (194-94) in that four-year span. Remarkably each of the three pitchers would lead the A.L. in wins from 2000-2002. Hudson winning 20 games in 2000, Mulder winning 21 games in 2001 and Zito winning 23 games in 2002. Zito would win the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2002 with one of the finest pitching seasons in the last few decades going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. Unfortunately, the A’s would lose in the American League Division Series in all four seasons, twice to the New York Yankees and once each to the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox.
The A’s would fail to make the playoffs in 2004, despite Hudson and Mulder having All Star seasons. Zito started to slip going 11-11.
And, in the blink of an eye the A’s Big Three was over. In fact, two-thirds of the Big Three would be traded following the 2004 season as A’s maverick general manager Billy Beane knew the A’s couldn’t afford to re-sign these pitching stars once their contacts were up and they were all coming toward an end. Mulder was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for three prospects and Hudson was traded to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects. Zito remained as the A’s lone ace, but it would only be two more workhorse seasons before he would sign a huge seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
The A’s no longer had a member of that rotation that looked so promising.
Things didn’t work out so well for Mulder in St. Louis or Zito in San Francisco. Mulder would have a great first year with the Cardinals in 2005 going 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA, but then his arm would essentially fall off and after three injury plagued seasons he’d be forced into retirement at the young age of 30. Still, he’d win a World Series title with the Cardinals in 2006, despite not being able to pitch in the playoffs due to injury.
Zito never lived up to the huge contract the Giants gave him. He’d compile a record of 63-80 and a 4.62 ERA with them over seven measly seasons, becoming the most overrated and overpaid player in the game and even losing a National League high 17 games in 2008. Still, he would come up huge for them on the biggest stage of all in game one of the 2012 World Series when he would outpitch Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander and get the Giants started on a four-game sweep of the series.
Mulder and Zito didn’t live up to their early days with the A’s in the National League, but both would win World Series rings and you know that had to hurt the A’s fanbase deep down inside.
Hudson would be the one pitcher of the Big Three to continue on his winning ways. He pitched brilliantly for the Braves for nine seasons going 113-72 with a 3.56 ERA for an underachieving team that would only make the playoffs two years while he was there. These seasons solidified a career that many say makes Hudson a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.
In 2014, Hudson signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants and at age 38 would ride a hot start to an All Star game appearance. Hudson would make his first World Series appearance against the Kansas City Royals in the fall classic and even though it didn’t go well would be crowned a champion on the back of the greatest playoff pitching performance ever by teammate Madison Bumgarner.
All three of the A’s former Big Three had now won a championship. But, they were all supposed to do it together as a team, as one of the greatest rotations to ever play our pastime, much earlier.
Plans don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to, and in sports more often than not they don’t.
Zito hasn’t pitched in the majors since the 2013 season, but wanting to make one last comeback he signed a minor league deal with the A’s organization at the beginning of the season in hopes of coming home one last time. He rode around the country on busses all season long pitching in the minors with the hope he’d get one last bit of action in “the show.” On Sept. 16, the A’s called him up and inserted him into their bullpen. He’s made one appearance out of the pen. Tomorrow should prove to be the veteran’s final career start and quite potentially his final MLB appearance. Hudson, who announced before the season began that he’d be retiring after the season, has gone 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA for the Giants.
All of this is why Saturday’s matchup between two longtime friends and old teammates Hudson and Zito has got to be depressing for much of the A’s fanbase. It’s made even more depressing by the fact that Mulder will be returning to the Oakland Coliseum, as well, to join his former young guns in the ceremonial first pitch.
The media has been playing up the nostalgia aspect of this matchup all week long, but nobody seems to be bringing up the fact that many of the A’s fans will probably shed a tear or two during the game thinking about their dynasty that should’ve been and never was.
by Julian Spivey
Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota team was handed down a severe P4 penalty on Wednesday, Sept. 23 for having illegal trackbar components on his racecar. Bowyer’s team was found in violation of four different NASCAR rules and the team which qualified for the Chase for the Championship playoffs has been penalized 25 championship points, fined $75,000 and Bowyer’s crew chief Billy W. Scott has been suspended for the next three races.
The 25 point penalty drops Bowyer from 15th to 16th (dead last) in the playoff hunt and means he will probably not make the second segment of the NASCAR playoffs in two weeks unless he is able to win one of the next two races at New Hampshire or Dover. Bowyer has not won a race in almost three full seasons. MWR has appealed the penalty, but it’s unlikely it’ll be overturned.
This penalty for having been caught cheating virtually ending any shot Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing have at winning the 2015 title is the most fitting way for MWR to go out of business.
Michael Waltrip announced a few weeks ago that his team would be closing after the 2015 season and with its closure will come to the end the least honorable team in the history of NASCAR.
NASCAR teams having to shutter their doors is a bad sign for the sport of NASCAR. It means the sport is economically not at its best and sponsorship money is drying up. This is something that, as a fan, bothers me going into the future and I’d typically feel bad for a team having to close up shop. But, I can’t feel bad for Michael Waltrip and his underachieving, constantly cheating team. Sure, I feel horrible for the 200 or so people who will lose their jobs, that’s a horrible side effect of a team closing. But, I can’t bring myself to feel bad for Waltrip or Bowyer who’s cheating over the years has brought quite a bit of embarrassment to NASCAR.
Waltrip came into this sport as a team owner cheating and hasn’t let up in the almost decade since, even after that very first instance almost ended his team before it even really got going.
In 2006, Waltrip signed with Toyota to field a full-time, multi-car team for 2007 that included himself as an owner/driver. The team got off to a controversial start in its very first race, the 2007 Daytona 500 when they were found to use illegal additives in their fuel to make the cars go faster and their qualifying spots were disallowed. The team barely survived this start and failed to qualify for multiple races during the season and lost multiple sponsors along the way.
By the end of the team’s inaugural season they were embroiled in controversy once again when fellow owner Jack Roush accused the team of stealing sway bars from his team.
The team’s biggest cheating controversy came in 2013 in the Richmond race, the final race before the cutoff for the sport’s playoffs. The team had manufactured a way to get the second car of Martin Truex Jr. into the playoffs by having Bowyer spin his car out intentionally to bring out a caution toward the end of the race. The result of Bowyer’s intentional spin essentially kept both Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon out of the playoffs and allowed Truex to make it. NASCAR incensed by what was essentially fixing the race on the part of MWR, Bowyer and MWR’s then general manager Ty Norris punished the team by disallowing Truex’s playoff spot and inserting both Newman and Gordon into the playoffs in a move that many found controversial, but I thought was only fair. As a result of this race fixing NASCAR suspended Norris indefinitely for his role in the controversy and fined MWR a record $300,000. Even worse for MWR, longtime sponsor NAPA Auto Parts no longer wanted to be associated with a team of the sport’s biggest cheaters and pulled its backing after the season.
This race fixing was the most embarrassing moment in the history of NASCAR and frankly NASCAR was actually a little too easy on the team. They should’ve banished the entire team for the remainder of the 2013 season or at the very least removed Bowyer’s cheating team from the playoffs.
This is why it’s hard to get upset about Michael Waltrip Racing closing its doors upon the season’s end. MWR and Bowyer, who hopefully will have trouble finding a competitive ride, have been much more of an embarrassment and detriment to NASCAR than they have done any good. MWR has, in fact, only managed to win a measly seven races in their decade as a Sprint Cup Series team, and hasn’t seen a driver in victory lane in over two years.
The team will always been known as cheaters and an embarrassment to the sport, and as Bowyer’s penalty this week shows they have never learned their lesson. Michael Waltrip Racing is coming to an end after the checkered flag flies at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November and I say, good riddance.
by Eric Fulton
The first couple of weeks of the 2015 National Football League (NFL) season have already shown us many crazy finishes and some unbelievable games. As we head on to week three, nearly half of the teams in the league are 1-1. Only nine teams are undefeated after two weeks (Patriots, Jets, Bengals, Broncos, Cowboys, Falcons, Panthers, Packers and Cardinals).
Meanwhile, they are nine teams that have yet to pick up a victory. Some of those teams were I am sure many fans picks to either reach Super Bowl 50 or win the big game. So far, the Ravens, Texans, Colts, Giants, Eagles, Lions, Bears, Saints and Seahawks are winless. I would say at least two of the teams mentioned are a huge surprise. I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, the non-surprising 0-2 teams. I would say the Chicago Bears are not a surprise mostly because Jay Cutler is their starting quarterback. Another unsurprising team to start 0-2 is Houston. Who is really their starting quarterback, Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett? Either one does not assure victory. Some days, I’m sure Texans fans wish J.J. Watt would be their quarterback.
Now to the teams that should be 1-1, however, they stubbed their toe to become 0-2. Teams that will look back at the end of the season and ask what if we had taken care of business earlier in the year. For instance, if the New York Giants handled clock management correctly against the Dallas Cowboys in week one, they probably would have been at least 1-1 and they probably should be 2-0. The Detroit Lions are in the same boat had they taken care of San Diego after dominating the Chargers early. The New Orleans Saints can probably still contend in the NFC South, but at the rate they are going, it looks as though things won’t be easy in the Big Easy. Despite problems in their running game and defense, the Philadelphia Eagles could win against the undefeated Jets on Sunday. However, if they don’t, their fans will start a “Fire Chip Kelly” website and petitions after the game, if they haven’t already.
There are three 0-2 teams left that I have yet to mention. These teams I think are the ones who get on a roll and get back into the playoff mix. I will start with Baltimore. The Ravens lost a tough week one game at Denver in which they lost their defensive leader Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury that will sideline him the rest of the year. Then they lose a tough game at Oakland. Still, I think the Ravens should not be counted out in the AFC North. Their championship experience led by quarterback Joe Flacco will help this team turn around their season. Another team that is 0-2 but will turn things around is the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts faced two top tier defenses in the NFL the first two weeks, the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. Andrew Luck is a good quarterback, but if he can limit the turnovers, he will definitely be an elite quarterback. Plus, he has better weapons this year than ever in running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson to go along with fellow wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Indy’s defense should also be better later on this season.
However, there is one team who is a serious surprise at 0-2, the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. It seems as the though just like in recent years, there is a “Super Bowl Hangover” if you lose the game. But there have been a few teams that have bounced back to have a rebounding season. Look at the talent Seattle has right now: Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch and Earl Thomas. They added pieces like Jimmy Graham and Fred Jackson. The biggest issue for the Seahawks has been safety and leader of the defense Kam Chancellor missing two games due to a contract holdout. He is back now and that should give Seattle a great chance to get back where they belong. I think now the loss they suffered in last year’s Super Bowl is behind them. They lost two tough games on the road and they are the team that we can see in a few weeks thinking they are the best team in the NFL without any hesitation. The Seahawks are a great football team and they will ride the ship all the way back to Super Bowl 50.
by Julian Spivey
Lawrence “Yogi” Berra passed away at his home in New Jersey on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at the age of 90 and left a legendary and fascinating life behind him. Yogi Berra was a true American hero.
Berra was one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, playing for Major League Baseball’s greatest franchise the New York Yankees and winning more titles, 10, than anybody in the history of America’s game. He was also a legendary wordsmith, though it was by accident, becoming known for his “Yogi-isms,” a number of memorable witticisms or more often than not malapropisms.
Truth be told, Berra would’ve been an American hero even without his hall of fame baseball career or his wonderful way with words simply by being one of the many American soldiers taking part in the D-Day invasion as a gunner’s mate on a gunboat landing on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
After the war Berra soon joined the Yankees big league club in 1946, hit a home run in just his second career major league at-bat and never looked back for 20 years, or really more if you take into account his many years as manager and coach after his playing days were over.
Berra is very likely the second greatest catcher to ever play the game of baseball behind probably only Cincinnati Reds legend Johnny Bench. Berra put up unbelievable numbers for a catcher during his era, most of which were records for his position when he retired like 358 home runs, 1,430 RBI and 2,150 hits to go along with a .285 career average. Berra was an 18-time All Star and one of the few players (and only one of two catchers along with Roy Campanella) to ever win three league MVPs (1951, 1954 & 1955).
And yet despite these all-time great numbers he put up and the fact that some competing pitchers considered him the scariest hitter in the league because he was such a spectacular bad ball hitter he’s also one of the most underrated players in the history of the game. This is somewhat understood as despite being one of the likely two greatest players to ever grace a baseball field at his position he’s likely only the fifth or sixth greatest player in his own franchise’s history being a lifelong Yankee. In fact, Berra was rarely even considered the best player on his own team despite his three MVPs playing alongside Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle for the entirety of his career.
Berra is also vastly underrated because he’s known more for his fascinating and legendary quotes and Yogi-isms than for his terrific on field play. His unique way with words, that never seemed an act, made him one of the most comical figures in the history of the game with sayings like: “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Many made fun of Berra’s quotes, but quite often they hint at a particular truth or bit of wisdom like: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Berra was larger than life, despite his small for a baseball player five foot, seven inch frame. He may be gone, but he’ll forever be known as maybe baseball’s greatest winner and as sports’ most quoted figure.
Yogi Berra's 10 Greatest Yogi-isms
by Eric Fulton
It wasn’t all that long ago that the 500 home run club was an exclusive fraternity where only a handful of baseball players reached the incredible milestone. At the time, those who reached that historic plateau were considered in everyone’s eyes Hall of Fame locks. However, hitting 500 home runs in a career now certainly doesn’t guarantee Hall of Fame status. Especially for those who cheated their way to get to the once iconic number.
On September 12, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox became the 27th player in Major League Baseball history to reach the 500 home run club. He is just the third active player to have 500 or more home runs, trailing only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. The next player closest to reaching 500 home runs is Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers who currently has 410 home runs. However, it would take another three to four years for him to reach the 500 home run plateau, and he probably doesn’t have that many years remaining in his career.
The 500 home run club was once a great list of Hall of Fame players. However, that has been clouded by players who took steroids or another performance enhancing substance. Unfortunately, players like A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmerio fall under the steroid cloud and those players will not be inducted, at least for a long time, if ever.
What is also unfortunate is David Ortiz has occasionally been talked about alongside the aforementioned players when it comes to steroid use. It’s long been believed that Ortiz tested for a PED during the MLB’s trial testing period, before they officially outlawed illegal substances. That is one reason why Ortiz is probably not a Hall of Fame player. Yes, he was a big part of the Boston Red Sox ending their 86 year championship drought in 2004 as well as the two more titles (2007 and 2013) they have won since.
The second biggest reason Ortiz might not be deserving of one day being enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame is he has played most of his career as a designated hitter in the American League. Take Edgar Martinez for instance. Edgar Martinez played his whole career with the Seattle Mariners, an American League team. He spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter and he has numbers good enough to be in the Hall of Fame but currently isn’t. The one knock against him is never having to have played much defense and thus not being considered an all-around player.
Would I vote for David Ortiz to Cooperstown if I had the chance?
That is a tough decision.
I felt like he could have done more on the field and the performance enhancing drugs is also an issue too. So I think it is too close to call. I will say even with all the judgments, Ortiz has been a great part of the game. I think with most of the players that I mentioned they don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because of the steroids. Ortiz is maybe the toughest call, but it looks like he will be waiting a while before he gets into Cooperstown.
by Julian Spivey
About midway through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race of the Chase for the Championship playoffs Kevin Harvick wrecked his No. 4 Budweiser Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet after having his tire cut down on a restart.
Harvick’s car developed a tire rub after making contact with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, who had been almost spun out himself and knocked onto the apron of the racetrack by an over-aggressive move by the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano.
The contact between Harvick and Johnson on the restart in which Harvick had been leading was bad enough to make the tire eventually go down and send Harvick into the wall and into the garage to fix his damage. Due to low attrition in the race, Harvick finished in 42nd position, second-to-last in the finishing order.
Harvick was not pleased with Johnson for making contact with him, apparently failing to realize the whole incident was truly caused by Logano’s bumping of the No. 48. After the race Johnson went to Harvick’s motorcoach to talk with the reigning series champion, but Harvick wanted no part of him and even shoved Johnson with a full fist to the chest.
The incident resulting in a poor finish for Harvick was an unfortunate one, but it also is another sign of the stupidity of NASCAR’s current Chase for the Championship playoff format. Four drivers are eliminated after each segment (every three races) of the Chase until the final four drivers compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-November.
Harvick has been the most consistent and arguably best driver in the sport this season having scored more points in the first 26 races of the season than any previous driver of the Chase era and his 22 top 10 finishes in those 26 races put him on pace to break Jeff Gordon’s modern era record for most top 10s in a season. Simply put Harvick is having one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history and because of this stupid format he might be eliminated from title contention in two weeks at Dover International Speedway.
He’s 16th out of 16 drivers following the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland on Sunday and because of his 42nd place finish is almost 20 points (half of a race field’s worth) behind the 15th place driver in the current standings. He either needs to jump four drivers in the standings in the next two races at New Hampshire and Dover to make the second segment of the playoffs or he needs to win one of those two races to automatically qualify for the next segment.
There’s a good chance a driver having an all-time great season and the defending champion no less could fail to make the second segment of the playoff format through absolutely no fault of his own, but incidental contact from another competitor. That’s absolutely asinine.
I understand that NASCAR wants to add more excitement to the sport, especially during the fall portion of the season when it has to compete in television ratings with the NFL (something it could never dream of keeping up with no matter what the sport tries). This format may indeed be considered more exciting by a good portion of the sport’s fans, but the sheer truth of it all is that it’s simply not a fair system and Harvick’s accident on Sunday putting him in grave danger of surviving after the season he’s had is just another example of how horrible this Chase format, in its second season, truly is.
by Julian Spivey
The 2015 NASCAR Chase for the Championship (NASCAR’s playoff system) begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway and consists of 10 races until a champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-November. Every few races a group of drivers will be eliminated from the competition until a four driver group heads to Miami with a chance to win the title.
This is the second year of this current NASCAR playoff system and I haven’t been a fan of it from the minute it was announced before the 2014 season. I feel that this playoff system, especially the basically four man “winner take all” style of the title race at Miami makes the entirety of the season and all 35 races that come before it meaningless. It’s not a good format for crowning a real or true or deserving champion, but it’s NASCAR’s way of trying in some way to compete with the popularity of the NFL and gain viewers.
Because of the crapshoot style of these playoffs prognosticating the winner of the title and ranking the drivers from least likely to win the title to most likely is something of an inexact science, but here’s how things should shake out if they go the way they should.
16. Paul Menard
15. Clint Bowyer
14. Ryan Newman
13. Jamie McMurray
The second year of this NASCAR playoff is sort of proof that a 16-driver playoff field is about four too many. None of these four drivers have a valid chance at winning the title. It would be the shock of the sports world if any of them did (I’m aware Ryan Newman almost did so last year despite not winning a single race) and would further prove the idiocy of this entire system. It’s been almost two years since any of these drivers has even won a race in the Sprint Cup Series (Jamie McMurray in October of 2013 is the most recent). Two of these drivers have never made the playoffs before (McMurray and Paul Menard). And, Menard who slipped into the playoffs because he was barely more consistent throughout the season than Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne or Kyle Larson has only one career win to his name. These guys have no shot.
12. Jeff Gordon
I’m a lifelong Jeff Gordon fan so this pains me to say, but Gordon could easily have been listed with the group of four drivers ahead of him on this list. I’ll give him a slightly better chance than those four drivers to win the championship because he has more experience, winning four titles previously but none since NASCAR instituted any form of a playoff more than a decade ago and the fact that he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, one of NASCAR’s preeminent teams. The way Gordon has looked this season he really has little-to-no shot at winning the title and it’s looking very much so like he’s going to fail to win a race in his farewell season. This is all the more of a shock because you could argue Gordon was the best driver in the sport last season despite not winning the title.
11. Martin Truex Jr.
For the first quarter of the season or so Martin Truex Jr. looked like one of the three-to-five best drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. But, he’s been slumping as of late and that’s just one of the reasons why he’s unlikely to win the championship. I’m not sure a single car team could ever really compete for the championship and Truex, despite some consistency this season, doesn’t threaten for enough victories to win a title.
10. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch could be a threat to win the championship. Meaning that there are about 10 different drivers who I believe have a good shot at this title. He’s simply ranked No. 10 on this list because out of those 10 drivers I feel he has the least opportunity to do so. He’ll be a real threat to win at least one race throughout these playoffs to move forward to a next segment though (that could be at Martinsville).
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There are two things going against Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s title chances: 1) Hendrick Motorsports is in the midst of probably the worst run I’ve ever seen from that team in my almost two decades of watching this sport 2) Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t managed to win a race at a non-restrictor plate track this season having won both of his races at Talladega and Daytona. Earnhardt Jr. has absolutely owned restrictor plate races as of late, like he did in the early part of his career, and that will help him at Talladega in October and could propel him farther along than others.
8. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski made the Chase for the Championship on his lone win of the season early on at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., which was without a doubt the weakest win of the season having won it on strategy (he would’ve surely made the playoffs on points either way). Keselowski hasn’t looked like the championship driver that he is for most of the season and has looked worse all year long than his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano. But, Keselowski’s aggressive style behind the wheel means he’s hard to count out in a system that can reward aggressiveness if done right (it can also hurt a driver severely if done wrong).
7. Carl Edwards
Joe Gibbs Racing is on absolute fire this season and each of its drivers has won a race (three of them, including Edwards, have won multiple races). Most people seem to be picking a Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win the title this season and it would be hard at this point to pick against them as well as the entire team is operating. In fact, it wouldn’t be outlandish to put all four of the Gibbs drivers in the top five on this list. I think of Gibbs’ stable that Carl Edwards is the least likely to win just based on what I’ve seen this season.
6. Denny Hamlin
I don’t believe Gibbs’ driver Denny Hamlin is a major threat to win the championship this season after winning only one race, but he won only one race last season and ended up in the championship race at Homestead. The thing that benefits Hamlin (as well as others like Jimmie Johnson) is the tracks and format where winning automatically gets you to the next segment play in their favor. What might not play in Hamlin’s favor is that he recently tore his ACL playing basketball. He doesn’t seem to think it’ll have much of a negative impact on his title chances, but that’s to be seen.
5. Joey Logano
Joey Logano has been one of the most impressive and consistent drivers all season long and he’s gone through this format with success before having made the championship race last season. Logano has arguably been the most impressive driver this year who either doesn’t race for Joe Gibbs Racing or isn’t named Kevin Harvick. He wins enough and is aggressive enough to win his first title this year, I just think four guys have a better shot.
4. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson is basically my selection to win the championship every single season and for much of this season I felt he was the guy to beat because for the longest time he was leading the Sprint Cup Series with four wins. He enters the playoffs tied with Gibbs drivers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth with four wins, but while Gibbs is currently hot, Johnson’s team at Hendrick Motorsports seems to be behind. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Johnson tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with his seventh championship come mid-November, but Hendrick is going to have to turn things around fast for him to do so.
3. Kevin Harvick
Defending champion Kevin Harvick has been the most consistent driver for the entirety of the season. He’s been so consistent with 22 top 10s in 26 races that he’s threatening to break Jeff Gordon’s modern era record for most top 10s in a season. The only problem with Harvick’s title chance is that he’s stopped winning. He has two wins this season, but both came in the opening few weeks of the year. To win a title in this format you’re going to have to win races and I’m not 100 percent sure Harvick will find his winning groove in time to repeat. That being said Harvick will most likely finish the year with the most points overall, which would pretty much make him the champion in my mind.
2. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth seems to be the most popular pick to win the championship this season and with good reason – he’s the hottest driver in the sport right now driving for the hottest team in Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth has won a series high four times this season and remarkably three of those wins have come in the last six races. The only reason why I don’t have Kenseth as my prediction to win the title this season is, despite having the best team right now, I don’t believe he’s aggressive enough to win in this playoff format. I think it’s going to take a driver willing to rough guys up and make aggressive, quick decisions to win and that doesn’t really suit Kenseth’s style or personality. If it just comes down to best car though he may join Tony Stewart as the only drivers to win a championship pre-Chase and during the Chase.
1. Kyle Busch
I don’t believe Kyle Busch should even be eligible to compete for the championship this season. He may have won a season high four races (tied with Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson), but because he missed a quarter of the season I just don’t think he belongs. In that past a driver who missed that many races wouldn’t have had a prayer. Maybe I should stop living in the past? Busch had the hottest streak of the season winning his four races in a five week span. There are two reasons why I think Busch is the guy to beat this season: he drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and he’s aggressive enough to make the right moves in the right situation to do it. Busch has always been aggressive and in the past this has hurt him greatly in the playoffs. In the past I’ve said that Busch couldn’t be a champion for this very reason. But, there’s something about him since he came back from his injury at the beginning of the season that’s shown me he can still be aggressive and smart at the same time. We’ll see if I’m right come mid-November, but I’m predicting Kyle Busch wins his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this year.
Who do you believe will take the title?
by Preston Tolliver
Let's be honest -- there are a lot of things in “Space Jam” that don't make sense. Not the whole "Michael Jordan being sucked down a golf hole and having to save a world of cartoon characters from a team of aliens who stole talent from other NBA players" thing. That's super plausible. In fact, I would argue that “Space Jam” is just as responsible for His Airness returning to the court as “Rocky IV” was for ending the Cold War. Facts are facts, and it's silly to dwell on them.
What doesn't make sense, however, is the structure of the Tune Squad: its two tallest starters, Jordan and Bugs Bunny, filled the backcourt, while they put their two shortest players, Daffy Duck and the Tasmanian Devil, in the post to duel it out with the juiced-up alien equivalents of Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson. Sure, Jordan has always played the two, but in this case, wouldn't it make sense to put him near the basket? And if the stories were reversed, and the Tune Squad possessed talents of NBA players, whose souls would have been absorbed into that magic, glowing basketball that was never really explained?
Before we continue, let's take a look at the Monstars. There's no need to analyze their on-court talents and compare them to NBA players, because we know who they're supposed to be:
• Pound, the round, orange alien who possesses Charles Barkley's talent
• Bang, the green alien with a flattop who possesses Patrick Ewing's talent
• Bupkus, the purple alien who possesses Larry Johnson's talent
• Blanko, the tall, lanky blue alien who possesses Shawn Bradley's talent
• Nawt, the red, short alien, who possesses Muggsy Bogues's talent
The movie only shows us only a few minutes of actual game time in what's really a 48-minute contest (as proven by different shots of the scoreboard throughout the latter half of the film), making it difficult to surmise who did what on the court. For example, it's entirely possible that Daffy Duck, even though we never saw him take so much as a shot attempt, led the team in scoring, rather than Michael Jordan -- we just didn't see it. So all we can really do is a little math, and assume that final stats were relative to what we saw on screen. Additionally, everything in this article assumes that Michael refused to rest on the bench any during the game, which, knowing his psychopathic, not at all normal or healthy level of competitiveness, isn't that hard to believe. Furthermore, in a land where characters endure falling Acme anvils and exploding sticks of dynamite on a pretty common basis, you have to translate such shenanigans to your typical basketball statistics. For example, even though he didn't swat the ball out of Bupkus's hands, we can count Wile E. Coyote's rigging of the basket with enough dynamite to level a small town as a blocked shot.
Where we run into some controversy is in the last 10 seconds of the game, at which time the Tune Squad is, according to the scoreboard, down 77-67. However, before their final timeout expires, the Tune Squad is within reach -- down 77-76 -- and not coincidentally, Bill Murray runs out of the locker room after the team is told they'll have to forfeit without a fifth player. So, it would be logical to surmise that prior to running out on the court, Bill Murray stopped at the scorer's table and talked his way into nine points, because, well, he's Bill Murray. This would also make him either the second or third leading scorer on the team.
So, when we transfer all these shenanigans and hijinks and tomfoolery and whatever other silly word you want to use to describe whatever the hell went on, those five or six minutes we see look a little like this:
Michael Jordan: 14 points, 1 assist
Bill Murray: 9 points
Lola Bunny: 2 points
Bugs Bunny: 2 assists, 1 steal
Daffy Duck: Nothing. Daffy did nothing. At all.
Taz: 2 points
Foghorn Leghorn: 1 assist
Porky Pig: 2 points
Elmer Fudd: 2 points
Tweety Bird: 1 assist
Sylvester the Cat: 1 assist
Stan Podolak: 2 points
Wile E. Coyote: 1 block
Pepe Le Pew: 2 points
Yosemite Sam: Also nothing
On-screen, that adds up to 35 total on-screen points (again, we're giving those nine instantaneous points to Bill Murray), six assists, one steal and a block. Since that still leaves 43 unclaimed points, we can use some math and a little logical reasoning to assume the final scoring breakdown would look a little more like this (obviously, bench players would likely see little to no change, and players like Stan Podalak and Bill Murray, whose time on the court we saw in their entirety, will be unaltered):
Michael Jordan: 37 points
Lola Bunny: 12 points
Bill Murray: 9 points
Bugs Bunny: 4 points
Taz: 6 points
Porky Pig: 4 points
Elmer Fudd: 4 points
Stan Podalak: 2 points
Of course, there's more to a player than what translates to a stat sheet, especially when drawing comparisons between the tunes and actual NBA players (obviously, there's no need to draw comparisons for Michael Jordan -- if you have to ask why, you should probably take a break from reading this and instead watch this video). So, without further ado, here's a little breakdown of a few of the Tune Squad's other pieces:
Point Guard — Bugs Bunny
Standing at 3'3" (4 feet, if you count the ears), Bugs Bunny was the second-tallest player on the court, behind only Jordan; he was a full foot taller than Daffy Duck at the power forward position, and nearly twice the height as Taz at the center. So what we have here is more of a point forward, a position that has been perfected really by only two people: most recently LeBron James, and much more importantly, Magic Johnson, who, during the 1980 NBA Finals, famously played all five positions for the Los Angeles Lakers in a Stone Cold-level mudhole-stomping of the Philadelphia 76ers.
During that 1979-80 season, the 6'9" Johnson, who was started as the team's shooting guard, was also the second-tallest player of the five starters, falling short of only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 7'2". He also currently sits at fifth place for the most assists in a career with 10,141 -- we know that Bugs Bunny still has, at most, 10,139 to go to catch up to Johnson, but he's still the Tunes' leading playmaker, nonetheless.
In what we see of the game, Bugs is the only player to log more than one assist (okay, he only got two, but that's a lot for the four or five minutes we actually saw of the game). So it would be safe to assume that he led the Tune Squad in assists, probably notching upward of 8-10 for the duration of the game.
But Johnson isn't the only NBA player -- or even Laker -- the Wild Hare draws comparisons to. Jerry West, aptly nicknamed The Logo, earned his infamous moniker after becoming the silhouette that still remains on the NBA's trademark. Another comparison of the two comes off the court -- Bugs' first appearance, coming in Porky's Hare Hunt, was on April 30, 1938. Not even a month later, in a very small town called Chelyan, W.V. Jerry West was born, on May 28. Coincidence? Probably not, dudes.
Small Forward — Lola Bunny
Aside from Michael Jordan, Lola Bunny is the only Tune Squad player who has on-court experience, and as such is the team's second-leading scorer (and most-harassed player, because, well, sexism).
Lola enters the movie as a new character, giving the team some much-needed basketball IQ (and Bugs Bunny an apparently much-needed love interest). In the game, her only highlight is after Pound calls her "doll," which apparently awakens her inner Blake Griffin and she dunks the ball in Pounds face in the name of glorious feminism.
Here's where I run into trouble and you probably stop reading this article (Okay, you probably stopped a long time ago). I'm not as brushed up on WNBA as I should be, so it would be silly to try to draw comparisons between Lola and another female player, because I simply don't know enough about WNBA players to make any logical argument. What I can do is compare her to James Harden a la 2013, when he really broke out as on offensive star. But like that 2013 James Harden, we don't see much defense from Lola -- she can turn Pound's face into mush on the way to the basket, but she's nowhere to be found when the Monstars have the ball. Nevertheless, she does provide the Tune Squad a needed scoring option -- Michael Jordan and Bill Murray can't carry the team alone.
Power Forward — Daffy Duck
Okay, Daffy Duck didn't do nothing, but he didn't really do much. He absolutely did nothing that translated to the stat sheet, but he did provide some decent defense down the stretch, if we're counting painting Pound's derriere red so he could be gored by Toro, but his efficiency is better measured off the court -- sure, he has a propensity for being a loudmouth, and his ego clears the line from confidence to cockiness, but that isn't always a bad thing. Take Nick Young, of the Los Angeles Lakers, for instance -- I fancy myself an NBA fan (no, really), but I couldn't tell you what that dude's done on the court other than talk big and prematurely celebrate missed shots. What he did give the Lakers, though, was character for a team that had little else than an injured Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer (God help us). What he gave them, and what Daffy brought to the Tune Squad, was swagger.
Center — Tasmanian Devil
The Tune Squad went small in the post, planting literally their smallest player in the center position. It doesn't make much sense until you consider the brutish manner in which the 2''4" "Wonder from Down Under" carries himself -- he's quick, short-tempered, and, as Wikipedia describes him, "He is best known for his speech consisting mostly of grunts, growls and rasps, and his ability to spin like a vortex and bite through just about anything."
You want the man guarding the basket to be physically menacing. You want him to make sounds that you're afraid to get too close to, and you want someone who will follow through if an opposing player gets even remotely out of line. This is what we refer to as being Zach Randolph.
Center - Foghorn Leghorn
Foghorn Leghorn's only time on the court (spent just before he's turned into a KFC menu item) is spent trotting down the court, drawing shades of Kendrick Perkins leading a fast break (see 00:53 here).
Note: You do not want Kendrick Perkins on your team. You never want Kendrick Perkins on your team.
by Julian Spivey
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently trying to procure a time machine. After today’s game against the Tennessee Titans, where they were lit up by Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota for a 42-14 loss, you can’t help but wonder if they’d like to go back in time a few months and select Mariota first overall in the NFL Draft over Jameis Winston.
You don’t expect much out of rookie quarterbacks in their NFL debuts. You expect them to be sacked, throw picks, fumble the ball and lose the game. In fact, you pretty much expect what Jameis Winston did in his debut game on Sunday when he struggled mightily going 16-for-33 with two interceptions, the first of which was returned for a pick-six on his first pass of the game, and getting sacked four times. He did throw his first two touchdown passes in the game, though.
What Winston did was pretty much in line with what the majority of quarterbacks in their first NFL start do … but it looked even worse, because Marcus Mariota put forth what was quite possibly the best debut performance for a rookie QB in the long history of the NFL.
Mariota was so good in fact that he only had to play three quarters. I’ve said that Mariota was good, when in fact I should’ve said he was perfect. Because he put forth a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his very first game going 13-for-16 with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. That’s right, Mariota threw one more touchdown pass than he did incompletions in his more-than-impressive debut and became the first rookie QB with a four touchdown game in his debut since Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton did so with the Minnesota Vikings way back in 1961. Mariota’s performance, in fact, drew raves from Tarkenton himself on Twitter who said:
“Great day by Marcus Mariota!” - Fran Tarkenton
The NFL’s schedule gave us fans the incredible opportunity to witness something that almost never happens (it might have never happened before, I don’t know) the first two draft picks of the season – both quarterbacks – making their NFL debuts against one another.
It might sound ludicrous to say what I did in my lede that the Buccaneers might already be regretting selecting Winston over Mariota with the first overall pick in this past spring’s draft, but I thought from the very beginning that Mariota should’ve been that selection. The two former Heisman trophy winners were incredibly impressive on the field in college, but Mariota is a shining figure off the field, where Winston has been almost nothing but trouble. Trouble seems to follow players more often than not into the NFL and I figured Mariota would be the safer pick regardless of what Winston might do on the field.
Mariota was also much more impressive than Winston in last season’s college football playoff in which Mariota and the University of Oregon embarrassed Winston and Florida State as badly as Mariota and the Titans did to Winston and the Buccaneers in the NFL’s opening weekend. That’s right, Winston’s last two losses have both come at the hands of Mariota led offenses and he looked absolutely horrible in both compared to Mariota’s stunning box scores.
It may turn out that Mariota doesn’t even have a better rookie season than Winston. He could easily have an inferior career than him – it’s way too early to be forecasting that kind of stuff. However, for the first weekend of the NFL season Mariota looked like a guy completely in control of his position and team and Winston looked like your typical rookie starting quarterback. That’s why you can’t help but wonder if for just one split second the Buccaneers front office on Sunday afternoon thought, “did we make the wrong choice?”