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2015 Vanderbilt Commodores Football Preview

By on July 31st, 2015
Mark Humphrey, AP

Mark Humphrey, AP

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason walked into a lose-lose situation last season.

Mason was replacing James Franklin, who turned around a football program that was once considered the laughing stock of the Southeastern Conference. In his final year as coach of the Commodores in 2013, Franklin led Vanderbilt to a 9-4 (4-4 SEC) record and won the final five games of the season.

Franklin took the job at Penn State and Mason was hired at Vandy, but the Commodores struggled in his first season. Vanderbilt went 3-9 (0-8 SEC) and were at the bottom of the SEC East once again.

There was no way Mason could duplicate that same success in his first season that Franklin had. But with a new season comes a new mentality.

“Our culture has changed. We’re a much different football team than we were a year ago,” Mason said.

One of the new changes that Mason made was hiring Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Ludwig was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin for two years. He ran an offense that averaged 480.8 yards per game — a school record — while averaging 34.8 points per game in 2013.

In 2014, the Badgers offense averaged 34.6 points per game and 468.9 total yards. Vanderbilt struggled mightily on offense as they ranked 13th in total yards with 2149. Only LSU had a worse offense statistically (2118 total yards).

“Andy is one of the brightest and really one of the most unique offensive coordinators in the country,” Mason said. “If you look at his track record and where’s he’s been, he’s been successful wherever he’s been and he’s been able to put his teams and his players in positions to be successful.”

A struggling offense was one of the reasons the Commodores couldn’t hang around the better teams in the SEC. Mason places the blame on himself.

“The biggest component that I felt we fell short in watching our games was being competitive and what that looked like,” Mason said. “We weren’t a very competitive football team in 2014 and that’s on me. I take full responsibility for that.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Johnny McCrary returns after leading the team in passing last season. McCrary threw for 985 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Running back Ralph Webb, who ran for 907 yards and four touchdowns, returns as well.

Vanderbilt will also have to find consistency on the defensive side of the ball. The Commodores finished 12th last year with 20 sacks with and 13th in interceptions with only six. Mason will handle the defensive play calling this year after last season’s struggles.

Vanderbilt will open up its season on Sept. 3 against Western Kentucky before  its first SEC matchup of the season against Georgia on Sept. 12. Vanderbilt was picked by the media to finish last in the SEC East and they have a daunting conference schedule ahead of them.

They’ll have to go against Ole Miss, South Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Tennessee to go along with the Bulldogs.

As the Commodores get ready for the season, one thing Mason sees differently with this year’s team is its confidence level.

“When you’re a football team that lacked confidence and couldn’t find itself getting out of its own way, the confidence factor was few and far between and I think what we’ve been able to is bridge that gap,” Mason said.

You can listen to more of Derek Mason below:

 

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2015 Georgia Bulldogs Football Preview

By on July 31st, 2015

Could this be the year Mark Richt and the Georgia football team finally break through and make their mark on a National Championship stage? The roster sure seems to fair well, and the time is now for the boys in Athens.

What’s on the slate?

Georgia will take on U-L Monroe to open the season, then follow that with the bottom half of the SEC East in Vanderbilt and South Carolina. The Dawgs will hit a bump in the road on October 3rd when they face their first real threat in the Alabama Crimson Tide. The middle of the schedule will be a grind for UGA as they face an up-and-coming Tennessee squad as well as the Florida Gators, who they have struggled to beat consistently since the early 90’s. The schedule also has a road trip to Jordan Hare Stadium, where Georgia will look to escape with a win against one of the nation’s top ranked teams in one of the most difficult places to play. Mark Richt and company can’t sleep on Georgia Tech at the end of the year, a team that defeated the red and black in 2014.

Keys to success

After losing running back Todd Gurley to injury in 2014, freshman running back Nick Chubb brought smiles to Georgia fans across the country. Chubb enters 2014 as a Heisman candidate and will head a hungry stable for the Bulldogs in 2015. Brice Ramsey is expected to start the year for Georgia, but there is competition at the QB position. Ramsey threw for 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards as a backup last year.

The 9th ranked Georgia Bulldogs have the weapons to get the job done, but can they do it? The schedule is not favorable and they are going to need skill players on the offensive side to make things happen in a huge way.

 

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A Lot Of Baseball News In Thursday’s Sports Update

By on July 30th, 2015

**Phillies ace Cole Hamels has been traded to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had to give up six players for Hamels’ services, including Matt Harrison, Jorge Alfaro and Jake Diekman.

**The Los Angeles Dodgers received a lot in a three-team trade with the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves. The Marlins send Michael Morse and Matt Latos to L.A. for three minor league pitching prospects. The Braves are shipping off Alex Wood, Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan and Jose Peraza for three prospects.

**The Tampa Bay Rays weren’t able to complete the sweep of the Detroit Tigers, losing 2-1, but still take the series win. Chris Archer took a no-hitter into the seventh until Jose Iglesias broke it up with a single. The Rays will have the day off today and will be in Boston this weekend to face the Red Sox.

**With 2 Bryce Harper home runs, the Washington Nationals evened the series with the Miami Marlins, winning on Wednesday 7-2. The series rubber match will be underway at half past noon today.

**The Baltimore Orioles completed the sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a 2-0 victory. The Braves will be in Philadelphia tonight to face the Phillies.

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2015 Missouri Tigers Football Preview

By on July 30th, 2015
Mauk will look to improve his individual numbers in 2015, while attempting to guide the Tigers to a third straight SEC East title.

Quarterback Maty Mauk

In the 2013 preseason, the media voted the Missouri Tigers to finish in sixth place in the SEC East.

They won the division, finishing 12-2 with a 7-1 conference record.

In the 2014 preseason, the media voted the Tigers to finish in fourth place in the SEC East.

Again, Missouri made it to Atlanta, finishing 11-3 while again going 7-1 in the SEC.

A few weeks ago, the media again came together to vote in their preseason poll at the 2015 SEC media days. Missouri was picked to finish third in the East.

Fool me once, fool me twice, you know how it goes. But fool me three times?

The Tigers will try to make the media answer that pick by again playing in the first weekend of December. And while it may not seem likely in July, there’s a chance they can do just that.

They’ve got the most experienced quarterback in the division. Maty Mauk will need to be more consistent (he threw for less than 150 yards five times in 2014) and tone down on the interceptions (13 last year) if these Tigers are going contend in the East after losing ten starters from last season. But there’s something to be said about having the most battle tested man at the most important position on the field. If Mauk can make those improvements, he could end up being the best quarterback in the East.

Mauk’s situation is something head coach Gary Pinkel is aware of.

“Maty Mauk, I think, is 14-4 as a starter,” Pinkel said at SEC media days. “He’s remarkably good under pressure. [But] we need more consistency from him. He knows that.”

Awareness and self reflection are key at any level of football. Pinkel and Mauk aren’t kidding themselves or taking the easy way out in saying that Mauk has done enough in just winning games. That mindset of fine tuning could be a huge plus for Mizzou if it carries over to the field.

Another reason why the Tigers could win the East again is that they can play the most dangerous card in football: disrespect. Any group of 18-22 year olds is going to use being passed over to win the division in the preseason polls as motivation after taking it two straight years. Pinkel all but admitted as such when asked if he felt disrespected.

“I think it probably bothers my players a little bit more than me. I don’t ever talk about that. I don’t really go there.”

So sure, the head coach wasn’t willing to go out and say he felt disrespected, to the surprise of no one who’s listened to a coach talk to the media in the last twenty years. But he outright says that his players do. Again, there’s nothing more dangerous or unpredictable than a football team that has a chip on its shoulder larger than its opponents’.

The biggest issue for the Tigers will be replacing lost starters. Outside of Tennessee (who return an absurd 19 starters), inexperience will hurt each team in the league this season. It’s always unknown how players seeing the field for the first time, at least in major minutes, will contribute. Missouri’s season could really sink or swim based on the performance of those guys.

Defensive end Charles Harris doesn’t have to be Shane Ray, but he needs to produce while filling the void left by last season’s SEC Player of the Year. Wide Receiver Wesley Leftwich doesn’t need to match the 1003 yards and 77 receptions that Bud Sasser put up last season, but he has to present some sort of threat to keep defenses honest with Sasser departing.

You’ll have an idea early on in the season as to what this Missouri team is. Issues like consistency and inexperience can rear their ugly head early if they’re going to persist. They may not result in losses out of conference, when the Tigers play Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State (though the Red Wolves have been no slouch in recent seasons), and UCONN. But Mizzou opens up their SEC schedule with Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. By mid-October, the Tigers could be leaders in the East or out of the race entirely.

They return to practice to gear up for next season August 5th. Fall camp is often a time to establish identities for the season. Mauk is aware of that and will have the Tigers ready.

“I’m trying to help our guys and help them grow as players,” Mauk said. “And then you know when we get out there August 5th, it’s time to go, you know. We’ll put the foot on the pedal.”

As Missouri heads full throttle into the season, they could finish first, stall out early, or anything in between. As a team of inexperienced talents that have something to prove, led by a veteran gunslinger, the ride should be fun to watch.

 

Click below to listen to audio from the story:

 

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Some NFL News And More In Wednesday’s Sports Update

By on July 29th, 2015

**High school quarterback prospect Dillon Sterling-Cole commits to Arizona State over Florida and other schools. Sterling-Cole was the last uncommitted quarterback who participated in the Elite 11 camps.

**The NFL has upheld Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension for his role in Deflategate. According to new emerging evidence, Brady instructed his assistant to destroy his cell phone right before his interview with investigator Ted Wells.

**Eight months after being diagnosed with lymphoma, Chief’s safety Eric Berry has been cleared to practice in this upcoming training camp. Berry will join recently injured Chief players on Wednesday for a three-day mini-camp before training camp on Saturday.

**Jonathan Papelbon has been shipped off to Washington where he will assume the role of closer for the Nationals. The Phillies received a pitching prospect in return.

**Rays’ catcher Curt Casali goes deep twice again en route to a rout of the Detroit Tigers, 10-2 on Tuesday. This is the first time the Rays have won consecutive games in the second half of the season and will go for the sweep today at noon.

**Behind six strong innings from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins take the series opener against the Washington Nationals, 4-1. Both teams will be back at it tonight at 7.

**Finally, the Atlanta Braves lose to the Baltimore Orioles, 7-3. Chris Davis belted two home runs to help the O’s clinch the series and improve their win streak to four games. Tonight’s game will get underway at 7.

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Kentucky Wildcats 2015 College Football Season Preview

By on July 28th, 2015

stoop

After orchestrating an impressive two year turnaround, Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops is entering his third season with high expectations for the team. Last season, the Wildcats improved from 2-10 (0-8 SEC) to 5-7, earning two conference wins.

As the 2015 college football season nears, Kentucky fans hope that Stoops can continue making improvements. Kentucky’s inexperienced offensive line battled hard last season, protecting QB Patrick Towles as he threw for 2,718 yards, completing 57.3 percent of his passes. Junior center Jon Toth will lead the offensive line as they match up against some of the most talented defensive lines in the country. Based on recent commitments, Stoops’ diligent recruiting has paid off and the Wildcats finally look like an SEC team in terms of size and strength.

“I’m proud of our staff. They’ve worked hard at recruiting quality players and very good people,” Stoops said. “We need to continue to develop the players that we have on our campus.”

One of those players, safety A.J. Stamps, led the team with four interceptions in 2014.

“I’m never comfortable. I’m never satisfied,” Stamps said. “There’s a lot left in the tank. Hopefully I can come and show that off this season.”

The Wildcats will need a strong defense if they intend on competing in the SEC East this year.

The team’s offseason improvements are not limited to its athletes. A $120 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium will be revealed on September 5th when the ‘Cats kick off their season against Louisiana-Lafayette.

“I’m kind of on the same side as Coach Stoops,” senior nose guard Melvin Lewis explained. “I just can’t wait to see it. We’re very excited about it.”

Stoops’ influence has completely revitalized the Wildcats and this season they will aim for their first bowl game appearance since 2010. In college football’s most competitive conference, Kentucky fans can rest assured that Mark Stoops is making the right decisions to generate success in the future.

Audio from this story can be found below:

Stoops is proud of his coaching staff

Stamps is hungry for more success

 

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Big Trade In The Majors, That And More In Tuesday’s Sports Update

By on July 28th, 2015

**Multiple reports confirm that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been traded to the Blue Jays. In return, the Rockies receive shortstop Jose Reyes and three pitching prospects.

**Rays will look for their first set of consecutive wins in the second half of the season. Tampa Bay took Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers with the help of Curt Casali, who put two over the fence. Game 2 begins tonight at 7:10.

**Braves lose a heart-breaker in Baltimore in extra innings. Matt Wieters led off the bottom of the 11th with a home run to secure the victory for the Orioles. The teams will be back in action tonight in Baltimore.

**Marlins and Nationals open up their series tonight in Washington. Jose Fernandez and Jordan Zimmerman will be on the bump.

**The Arizona Cardinals break the gender barrier in the NFL. Head coach Bruce Arians hires Jen Welter as an assistant coaching intern to work in training camp and preseason. She is believed to be the first female coach ever.

**And finally, with his 20th home run last night, David Ortiz makes it 14 straight seasons with at least 20 home runs or more. Only one American League player has ever matched that streak and it was Babe Ruth in 15 consecutive seasons with the Yankees.

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2015 South Carolina Gamecocks Football Preview

By on July 27th, 2015

spurrier

The Old Ball Coach in his natural habitat

It’s hard for any seasoned college football fan to imagine that Steve Spurrier is now coaching in his 70s. Spurrier turned 70 years old in April and is entering his tenth year at South Carolina.

Don’t let his age fool you; the old ball coach is not going to slow down by any means. His admiration to reach the mountain top of the college football world is still high. Spurrier said so himself recently at SEC Media Days.

“We still have lofty goals, but we really need to return to being a top ten team. I don’t think we are too far away from returning to that.”

2014 was a turnover year for the South Carolina Gamecocks, finishing 7-6 (3-5 SEC). Two of the best players in program history left, defensive tackle Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Connor Shaw.

The run and gun offense seemed like it didn’t miss Shaw in 2014. Dylan Thompson had a 140.4 passer rating with over 3,000 yards, ranking 22nd in the country in pass yards per game. Mike Davis was just shy of 1,000 yards rushing and accounted for 48 percent of the total run game. However, both those players are in NFL uniforms now.

Brandon Wilds finished with 570 yards on the ground last year and is the most experienced running back returning. As for the quarterback position, there is a three-way race between Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia. Spurrier proclaimed the battle for QB-1 is ongoing.

“It’s pretty much wide open. If Connor Mitch is the best, which he easily could be, then he’ll be the starter. But we believe in letting every player earn it and go from there.”

The offense won’t feature entirely new personnel. Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper is returning with vengeance. Cooper was an All-SEC receiver last year and finished with over 1,000 yards receiving and nine touchdown grabs.

“We are pretty young on offense. New running back, quarterback, a couple of linemen, young at receiver—besides me none of them really have much experience,” Cooper said. “But we have been working hard all spring, in the summer we have been working hard. Overall, we will be ready on offense even though we are young.”

The defense is what let down the Gamecocks in 2014. South Carolina barely made it into the top 100 in points against, ranking 91st while allowing 30.4 points per game. The loss of Clowney made the difference, but Spurrier takes responsibility.

“We did not play well defensively. Probably more my fault than anybody’s. So we made a few changes.”

The changes included bringing in Jon Hoke to co-defensive coordinate with Lorenzo Ward. Hoke is a 32-year coaching veteran who has been a college football journeyman, coaching at seven different schools including Florida at the tail end of Spurrier’s coaching tenure. He has coached in the NFL with the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears since 2002.

The Gamecocks will begin their season on neutral ground against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Gators will have to make a trip to Columbia in mid-November to face the Gamecocks on the road.

For audio clips of quotes above, click below:

Spurrier wants to be in the top ten once again

Spurrier admitting the QB battle is wide open

Spurrier did not play well on defense last year

Cooper doesn’t feel sense of burden leading the offense

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Another Verbal For Gator FB, Baseball HOF Inductions, More In Monday Sports Update

By on July 27th, 2015

A lot happening on this Monday in the sports world…

** The Gator football program gets another verbal for the 2016 class when 6’6″ Texas quarterback Kyle Trask says yes to Florida.   He is not a highly ranked prospect but Gator coaches saw him at Friday Night Lights and offered.

** Cooperstown has four new members to the Hall of Fame as pitchers John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez along with Craig Biggio are formally inducted on Sunday.

** In MLB action, Baltimore tops Tampa Bay 5-2; Atlanta nips St. Louis 3-2 and Miami loses 3-1 at San Diego.   Tonight, Tampa Bay hosts Detroit, Atlanta is at Baltimore and Miami is off before playing Washington tomorrow.

** As the MLB trading deadline approaches, Kansas City goes out and gets Cincinnati starting pitcher Johnny Cueto for three minor leaguers.

** Kyle Busch is on a hot streak.   He won the Brickyard 400 yesterday and he’s now won four of the last five Sprint Cup races on the NASCAR circuit.

** According to published reports, the Miami Heat are going to trade guard Shabazz Napier to the Orlando Magic in exchange for a future draft pick.

** Jason Day rallied to win the Canadian Open on the PGA Tour.   He birdied the final three holes to win by one shot.

** Chris Froome wins the Tour de France; he’s from Britain and Brits have now won three of the last four races.

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2015 Tennessee Vols Football Preview

By on July 23rd, 2015

Success in college football comes and goes in cycles. Although some cycles last longer than others, the only yearly guarantee is that there are no guarantees.

Tennessee ranks inside the top ten on the all-time Division I FBS wins list, but the Rocky Top faithful have learned lessons about complacency and sweeping changes the hard way. Former head coach Philip Fulmer brought the Vols back to prominence again in the 1990s, but the program has failed to win more than seven games since 2007.

Now the times are changing, a change that can only be interpreted as a good thing for the 13-time SEC Champions.

“When you’re at the University of Tennessee, you always have high expectations. But this year is different for each and every player in our football program,” said head coach Butch Jones. “That’s what you want. You want the expectations to be exceptionally high.”

As Jones enters his third year as head coach at Tennessee, he’s not exaggerating about the level of expectations heaped on his team. The Vols went 7-6 and capped off 2014 with a dominant victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, a season good enough to reinvigorate enthusiasm within and around the program.

“I really think our players really learned how to win last year,” Jones said. “They learned how to prepare. They learned how to take care of their bodies. They learned excellence in the class room. They learned everything that it takes to prepare for an opponent week in, week out.”

The cast of players Jones is referring to is largely unchanged from one year ago, led by a surprising leader who emerged in 2014.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs rose from third on the depth chart to take over the reins in October against Alabama. By season’s end, Dobbs put up over 1200 yards and nine touchdowns. The season wasn’t without struggles, but Dobbs has learned a lot in his time at Tennessee and felt ready for the role even before the rest of the conference had taken note of his ability.

“It was definitely a process,” Dobbs said. “I feel like I did a great job of taking advantage of the reps I got during practice and treated them as game reps. And then the effort and the time I put into film study, seeing what I need to improve on and working on those in practice.  I feel like all of those valuable reps really helped me once I got my opportunity.”

Dobbs won’t have to carry the offense on his own. At wide receiver, Marquez North returns from a shoulder injury that limited him to just 30 catches last year. He’ll be flanked by familiar face Pig Howard, who led the Vols with 618 yards in 2014.

At running back, the backfield duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara figures to be explosive. Hurd provides power on the ground, while Kamara compliments his skillset by bringing speed and agility to the rushing attack.

Now packing experienced weapons in his arsenal, the expectations for Dobbs as an individual are elevated as well. Still, the junior doesn’t feel like 2015 is any different.

“The only difference I guess is the label ‘he’s the starting quarterback.’ I feel like since I’ve gotten on campus, I’ve acted as if I was the starter. I carry myself that way and my teammates have felt that same sentiment. I always used to push them and I continue to push them now,” Dobbs said. “I don’t feel like there’s been a change, there’s just been more hunger to win and more hunger to succeed.”

Dobbs will be aided by a defense that, similar to the offense, returns the majority of its best players from the previous campaign. Middle linebacker AJ Johnson is gone, but losing one leader is offset by an improved defensive line, a consistent lineup of outside linebackers, and a secondary featuring Cameron Sutton and JUCO transfer Justin Martin that belongs in the top tier of the SEC.

Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt combined for 21 sacks last year. Maggitt expects more of the same—if not even better production—from himself and his teammates in the months to come.

“Coming off of a pretty good season and having a great offseason conditioning, everything has taken a step up. The expectation and standard has risen,” Maggitt said.

Last season’s leading tackler Jalen Reeves-Maybin returns to the team as well, raising the bar even higher. Maggitt knows he can’t control the hopes of fans and analysts, but he knows he can play a huge role in the ultimate result.

“That’s the expectations of other people. What I can control is leading the team. We came to Tennessee for that reason. That’s something we’re not blind to. We know it’s being talked about. Our job is just getting ready for the season and taking it one game at a time.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Tennessee’s turn into the 21st century began with a bang but segued into a whimper with significant struggles as of late. But with most major playmakers back on both sides of the ball in 2015 and a committed head coach who isn’t looking to go anywhere, the Vols appear to be back on track to cycle towards the top of the SEC East once again.

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