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College football rankings: Alabama, Ohio State lead way-too-early top 25 ahead of 2022 season

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1 How does this keep happening? Two years after losing six first-round picks, a season after playing for another national title, the Crimson Tide will be loaded again in 2022. For starters, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and Nagurski Award-winning linebacker Will Anderson Jr. return. That’s arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the country. A new tailback will have to emerge after the loss of Brian Robinson. 2 The Rose Bowl served notice that two Heisman frontrunners behind Young might be C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The Buckeyes should be favored to win the Big Ten again, but to get to the next level, the defense needs a lot of work. The hiring of Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State was huge. 3 The defending champion Dawgs will once again play crushing defense. They always do under Smart. Some of the faces will change. It will be interesting who replaces Stetson Bennett at quarterback. At least six starters should return on offense, including freshman All-American Brock Bowers. 4 The Brent Venables era begins. The Sooners will play (much?) better defense. They must considering the new coach. Dillon Gabriel is a plug-and-play quarterback. Expect more of the same from the Sooners with an added defensive edge. The Big 12 battle with Baylor will be fascinating. 5 The nation’s top recruiting class gives the Aggies a tailwind heading into 2022. With true freshmen having more of an impact sooner, it will be fascinating to see who contributes. Aggies will be drooling over top QB signee Conner Weigman. There has to be a hint of disappointment after beating Alabama and winning only eight games. Now add Brian Kelly to the mix in the SEC West. 6 After only two seasons, Dave Aranda has emerged as an elite coach. (Ask USC and LSU.) The defending Big 12 champions and Sugar Bowl champions should be Big 12 and maybe playoff contenders in 2022. By Oct. 1, the Bears will have played BYU, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. 7 Marcus Freeman will kick things off in South Bend, Indiana, with a talented roster. The Fighting Irish have won at least 10 games five years in a row. Make it six with several super seniors likely to return. The addition of 2020 All-American Brandon Joseph from Northwestern is a huge get. 8 Ignore that fake-accent dude from Massachusetts in the corner. Kelly, the coach, is the real deal. If you told any program they could get the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, they’d take it in a heartbeat. Kelly has better access to the playoff in the SEC, but he’ll have to work harder to get there. 9 The Tigers should be back in the hunt for a 10-win season (for the 12th straight year). Sorry, can’t put Clemson in the playoff hunt just yet. There is too much uncertainty at quarterback, where D.J. Uiagalelei needs to prove himself, and across the coaching staff with two new coordinators. 10 Sam Pittman continues to overachieve in Fayetteville. The nine wins in 2021 were the most since 2011. That’s also the last time before 2021 the Razorbacks scored at least 30 points in 5+ games. The offense is loaded with K.J. Jefferson, who had the most touchdown passes since Austin Allen in 2016. Cincinnati comes to Razorback Stadium to open the season. Wow. 11 With or without Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines will be New Year’s Six-worthy. No Aidan Hutchinson and no David Ojabo, but there’s a reason J.J. McCarthy played a large part of the second half in the Orange Bowl. He’ll be given every opportunity to unseat starter Cade McNamara. 12 Mario Cristobal will have an immediate impact and an immediate quarterback. Cristobal called returning quarterback Tyler Van Dyke “the best quarterback in the country.” Van Dyke threw for at least 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in the last four games. The Hurricanes will get tougher in both lines because that’s what Cristobal does. 13 Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff says his league is undersized in both lines. That’s not the case at Utah where the Utes specialize in playing bully ball. Ask Oregon. Kyle Whittingham has assembled seasons of at least nine wins in six of the last seven campaigns. A rare nonconference battle with Florida opens the season. 14 Lincoln Riley needs a quarterback. That problem could be solved as soon as Caleb Williams makes up his mind. If not, Jaxon Dart is capable of leading the offense if he’s pulled out of the transfer portal. Before anything happens, the Trojans have to get tougher up front. Watch Alex Grinch take another step as a defensive coordinator. 15 Josh Heupel assimilated quickly at UT. Seven wins looked like a bright light at the end of a tunnel. Hendon Hooker has Heisman hopes and a rocket arm that produced 31 touchdown passes. The defense must get better. Look at the schedule. Nine wins seems more than possible. 16 1.     The Longhorns will need an entire offseason to wash the taste of a loss to Kansas, as part of a 5-7 season, out of their mouths. Steve Sarkisian gets a five-star infusion at quarterback with Quinn Ewers. Xavier Worthy is a budding star at wide receiver. Only TCU and Kansas, though, gave up more yards. Is this any way to get ready for the SEC? 17 At this moment, Sam Hartman hasn’t declared for the NFL Draft. For now, that means the Demon Deacons aren’t going anywhere. Dave Clawson has most of his impact players back from a 10-win team. As long as that stays the case, Wake will impact the ACC. 18 Georgia in the season opener in Atlanta? Yes, please. Dan Lanning gets to measure himself as a head coach right away playing his old team. Cristobal has left a stocked cupboard. Watching a rookie coach from the SEC chase a Pac-12 title — the Ducks may be favored — will be fun to watch. 19 The Badgers righted themselves nicely after a 1-3 start to win seven in a row. The offense must become more consistent under Graham Mertz, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The emergence of running back Braelon Allen (1,200 yards) should take some of the pressure off. 20 No Kenneth Walker III, but Mel Tucker has established himself as a master of the portal. Inspirational Payton Thorne will play behind an experienced offensive line. 21 We’re in the middle of one of the best runs in school history. Kalani Sitake is settling in as the guy to lead the Cougars into the big time in the Big 12. The team with the best record last season in the Pac-12 (5-0) plays Oregon, Stanford, Boise State, Baylor and Arkansas. Someone will have to step up for the productive Tyler Allgeier at running back. 22 Shane Beamer defied expectations winning seven games in Year 1 of his regime. Insert Spencer Rattler from the transfer portal, and the Gamecocks will be a legitimate upset threat in several SEC games. Expect eight wins as the upward trajectory continues. 23 The losses are massive (Desmond Ridder, Jerome Ford, Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant for starters) but the Bearcats won’t go from 13-1 to irrelevant. Luke Fickell is building the dominant program in, perhaps, two conferences. At least 25 players have graduated, gone to the NFL or transferred out. 24 Sean Clifford is back for a sixth season, which gives the Nittany Lions a chance. Look at it this way: If Clifford had not gone down against Iowa, Penn State might have won enough for James Franklin to be the new coach at USC. As it is, Franklin signed a 10-year, $75 million deal. Four of the five tacklers on the No. 6 scoring defense have departed. Call it a transition year. A return trip to Auburn in nonconference play won’t help. 25 The biggest loss didn’t take a snap last year as Knowles, the star defensive coordinator, departed for Ohio State. That led Mike Gundy to lament his program’s lack of funding. Had the offensive play-calling been better, the Cowboys would have beaten Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game and advanced to the playoff. Quarterback Spencer Sanders isn’t perfect, but he is experienced and back.



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Sandy Alcantara Is On Pace To Shatter Marlins History

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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

 

The Miami Marlins don’t have much of a chance to accomplish anything this year, but their staff ace Sandy Alcantara does.

The National League Cy Young favorite continued his run of dominance last night, tossing seven scoreless innings against the San Diego Padres and earning his 11th win of the season.

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Alcantara also struck out seven batters and allowed just four hits while only walking two batters and lowering his ERA on the season to 1.92.

In fact, last night marked the eighth time Alcantara has tossed at least seven scoreless innings in a game this year, which ties him with the late Jose Fernandez.

Only Dontrelle Willis has pitched more games where he went seven innings and allowed no runs in Marlins history.

He had nine of those back in 2005.

 

Alcantara’s Dominance

Alcantara is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

He might already be there.

With each start, he dominates his opponents and proves why the St. Louis Cardinals made a terrible mistake when they traded him away back in 2017.

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Only Justin Verlander has a better ERA than Alcantara, who is the clear-cut favorite to take home the National League Cy Young Award.

He has dominated in almost every start, and he did it at an important time last night, as he shut down the juggernaut offense of the Padres, who just recently acquired Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

While the Marlins aren’t going to go anywhere, Alcantara has a very good chance to achieve something special.

He matched a Marlins great and is now one dominant start away from matching yet another one.

We’ll see if he can keep up this run of success.

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The post Sandy Alcantara Is On Pace To Shatter Marlins History appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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WNBA Power Rankings: Aces, Sky title favorites as playoffs begin; Mystics lurking as darkhorse

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After a thrilling close to the regular season, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2022 WNBA playoffs, which will tip-off Wednesday night with two first-round Game 1s. In the first game of the night, the Chicago Sky will host the New York Liberty, and in the finale the Las Vegas Aces will take on the Phoenix Mercury. 

The Aces (+165) and Sky (+200) are the top two seeds and the top two title favorites entering the postseason, per Caesars Sportsbook.

The league has once again revamped the playoff format, eliminating the first-and-second-round byes in favor of a standard bracket. Play will begin with a best-of-three first round series, followed by best-of-five series in the semifinals and Finals. One interesting twist, though, is that in the first round, Games 1 and 2 will be hosted by the higher seed, while the lower seed will get to host a deciding Game 3, if necessary. The semis and Finals will be a standard 2-2-1 arrangement. 

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As we wait for the action to begin, here’s a look at how each team fares in our pre-playoffs power rankings. 

1. Las Vegas Aces — No. 1 overall seed

Sunday’s comeback win over the Storm to secure the No. 1 seed capped off a tremendous close to the season for the Aces. They won four straight, including a win over the Sky and two over the Storm. Their reward was a first-round matchup against a depleted Mercury team that should be little challenge, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. During their mid-season slump there was concern that the Aces had peaked too early, but they’re back on track and the title favorite. 

2. Chicago Sky — No. 2 overall seed

A mini skid during the final week cost the Sky the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the entire playoffs. They won the title as a No. 6 seed last season, though, so they won’t be too concerned about their position. What is worrying, is they haven’t been playing their best basketball down the stretch. They went 3-3 in August after losing just four games in June and July combined, and have not been great defensively. Still, we know this team can flip the switch and they have championship experience, cohesion and the ability to be elite on both sides of the ball. 

3. Connecticut Sun — No. 3 overall seed

On the one hand, Sun had an easy schedule post-All-Star break, and cleaned up by going 11-3 down the stretch to secure the No. 3 seed and best net-rating in the league at plus-9.5 points per 100 possessions. On the other, they were 10-0 against bottom-seven opponents and 1-3 against top-four opponents, picking up just a solitary win over the Storm. The Sun are a definite contender, but their 1-6 record against the Aces and Sky is of real concern, especially considering they would likely have to get through both teams to win the title. 

4. Seattle Storm — No. 4 overall seed

Even in defeat to the Aces on Sunday in the regular season finale, we saw how dangerous the Storm can be when everything is clicking. Moving Tina Charles into the starting lineup has indeed juiced their offense, and that new unit has a plus-20.9 net rating in 16 games together. In the last two playoff runs where the trio of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird have been healthy, the Storm are 12-2 in the postseason and won the title both times. Can they do it again? Perhaps, but they have not been one of the elite teams over the balance of the season, and do not have the same level of supporting cast as they did in 2018 and 2020. 

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5. Washington Mystics — No. 5 overall seed

Despite being the No. 5 seed, the Mystics could be a darkhorse contender. They coasted through the regular season to some extent in order to keep Elena Delle Donne healthy for the playoffs, and it’s clear they could have been a higher seed if she played a full schedule. In her 25 games they went 18-7 – a .720 winning percentage that would be right in line with the Aces and Sky over a full season – and had a plus-12.3 net rating with her on the court. In the 11 games she sat out, they were 4-7. This team could cause problems if Delle Donne can withstand the demands of a playoff schedule, but they would almost certainly have to beat three of the top-four teams in succession in order to win the title, which may be too much to ask. 

6. Dallas Wings — No. 6 overall seed

The Wings caught fire toward the end of the season and won five straight games from July 30–Aug. 8 to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth. That stretch included victories over the Aces and Sky, and they seemed to have unlocked something by giving more playing time to Teaira McCowan. They will be without All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale for at least the first round, however, due to a hip injury, and while they’ve had some good games in her absence, her shot creation will be missed in the playoffs. During the regular season they were 2-1 against the Sun, and should be competitive, but actually winning the first-round series will be difficult. 

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7. New York Liberty — No. 7 overall seed

The Liberty enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. They closed the season on a 6-2 run, and had the third-best net rating (plus-6.8) in the league in August. When healthy and at their best, they have the ability to play with and beat any team in the league thanks in large part to their prolific 3-point attack. However, they have not been able to reach that level on a consistent basis this season, and will be sizable underdogs against the defending champion Sky. 

8. Phoenix Mercury — No. 8 overall seed

After losing in the Finals last season, the Mercury went all in for another run at the title. Their plans fell apart over the course of the last six months, however, as Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, Tina Charles abruptly left the team mid-season and both Diana Taurasi (quad) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons) are now sidelined. They deserve a lot of credit for even making the playoffs, but they lost five of seven games to close the season and it’s hard to imagine them being competitive against the Aces. 



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Stat Trolls Tua Tagovailoa As He Tries To Make A Change

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(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

 

Much is left to be desired from Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

In two NFL seasons, the former Alabama standout has amassed 4,467 yards and 27 touchdowns.

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However, he has thrown 15 interceptions, which put him in a bad light.

But there have been changes that can turn the tide for him in 2022.

First, he will have an offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel.

Second, they gave him more targets downfield like Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds, and Tyreek Hill.

Third, the Dolphins also improved the protection around him with offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Connor Williams.

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Those additions should help him rise above this eye-popping comparison.

The NFL on CBS tweeted that Odell Beckham Jr. has more 30-yard passes (2) for touchdowns than Tagovailoa (1).

While the claim may sound dubious, it should motivate Tagovailoa to throw more deep balls and to trust his teammates.

He has no excuse to falter, especially after getting everything he needs on offense.

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Likewise, he should build more confidence to throw the deep ball with ease.

Doing so will help him overtake Beckham on that statistic.

 

No Excuse For Failure

Coming into his third NFL season, Tagovailoa will be compared to his NFL Draft classmates Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

The former has already led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl stint while Herbert has become Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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Those are the lofty standards that Tagovailoa should live up to if he wants the Dolphins to take the next step.

Gone are the days of finding an alibi because he already has several weapons around him.

Therefore, Tagovailoa should make a significant jump in performance to make the front office consider him as a long-term option.

The post Stat Trolls Tua Tagovailoa As He Tries To Make A Change appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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