NASCAR in a Nutshell from 2-27

February 27, 2010

To listen to the weekly NASCAR segment, “NASCAR in a Nutshell” from the show on February 27th, check out our Facebook page, and of course tune in for the final segment (approximately 9:40 – 10:00 AM) each Saturday morning on WUSC to listen to a quick run through everything that has gone on in the world of NASCAR.


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NFL 2010 Offseason Interesting Player Storylines Part Two

February 23, 2010

In part two of our offseason player preview, we look at a few players that make less headlines, and Terrell Owens.

There are other interesting offseason stories aside from Julius Peppers and Donovan McNabb.  These story lines will be good entertainment for fans and writers alike.  In fact, the owners and coaches may even have some fun with these guys in the offseason.

  1. Brandon Marshall, wide receiver – Marshall has made it very clear he wanted out of Denver last season.  He recently sited Darrent Williams’ death as another reason for requesting to leave.  Marshall finally gets his wish as he enters free agency this year as a restricted free agent.  His intentions and desires remain a question.  Some players just want to go to a contender, some want money and fame, and some want more playtime and the ability to start.  Marshall is a little short in the money department, but I do not see that as his deciding factor.  He will most likely just look for a team he feels comfortable with that can succeed.  The teams I expect to make a run for him are the Rams, Panthers, Dolphins, Ravens, and Jaguars.  All of those teams are in need of a young, play-making wide receiver and weapons for their respective quarterbacks.  In the end, I expect the Ravens to get the final word on Marshall.
  2. Darren Sharper, safety – Darren Sharper was one of the biggest reasons the Saints won the NFC Championship and Super Bowl XLIV.  He transformed their defense from a laughing stock to a strength.  The issue for Sharper is his impact could be over as soon as it peaks.  He enters free agency as a coveted veteran still able of being a defensive force.  New Orleans has already reported that they are not applying the franchise tag to Sharper.  He has expressed his desire to return to New Orleans, but also his preference for a multi-year contract.  I expect the Saints to offer Sharper a two-year contract to try to lock him up.  If they do not come to an agreement soon, Sharper will test the free agency and would likely get a lot of attention.  I could honestly see any team in the NFL making a run for him, but at the age of 34 he would likely not sign with a team that is not in contention for his second straight Super Bowl ring.
  3. Thomas Jones, running back – Thomas Jones provides a very interesting, and unfortunate story for 2010.  He is expected to be released by the Jets soon and that would open many doors for both parties.  The Jets struck gold with their rookie running back Shonn Greene, and have one of the league’s more serviceable and versatile backups, Leon Washington returning from injury.  Jones is arguably the most underrated player in the NFL for the past five seasons.  In each of those seasons, he has eclipsed the thousand-yard mark and only turned the ball over four times.  His touchdown count was low until the past two seasons, scoring 27 times.  He is a work horse running back that can provide a reliable option for any team in need of a powerful running back.  His career is nearing the end, but he is a perfect candidate for a tandem backfield.  A return to Chicago is not out of the question, but look at many of the same teams listed in part one for Tomlinson and Westbrook.  The Lions could always use more reliability on offense and the Browns need someone to run the ball.  Jones has spent his whole career in cold weather, which works in favor of both teams.
  4. Terrell Owens, wide receiver – As always, Terrell Owens will provide some offseason entertainment.  He knows he is nearing his career’s end and, with any common sense, will play the free agency accordingly.  His stint in Buffalo was a waste.  Owens has reached the point in his career when he is a second option and should focus more on being a possession receiver.  If he gets his head on straight and proves to teams he is ready for that stage of his career, he could get a good contract.  Look at teams that need a second option or simply another weapon for their quarterback.  The Panthers and Jaguars come to mind.  Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme needs as many weapons as possible and Jacksonville has not had a solid receiver since Jimmy Smith.  Owens would be a nice compliment to Steve Smith in Carolina or Mike Sims-Walker in Jacksonville.  Also keep an eye on teams that have no viable receiving threats and would take a chance on such a “high risk, high reward” player like Owens, including the Bears, Rams and Buccaneers.
  5. Vincent Jackson, wide receiver – Vincent Jackson is an underrated receiver in the NFL.  He becomes a free agent this season and is in line for a significant pay increase.  He deserves a multi-year, high salary contract.  I expect the Chargers to make an offer to match his capabilities, but if they do not offer that, things could get interesting.  He is in a similar situation as that of Brandon Marshall.  He is looking for a pay increase, but with an addition of success.  Jackson is a solid number one receiver and will go to a team as such.  Look for the Bears and Jaguars to make a push, as well as a few others.  However, you can expect him to return to San Diego, only with a bigger bank statement.

These are perfect examples of why the NFL offseason is so exciting.  We as fans are in line for a lot of fun.  The next few months will be eventful and the entire landscape of the NFL could change.


NFL 2010 Offseason Interesting Player Storylines Part One

February 23, 2010

Many key players in the NFL could be on the move this offseason.  Pro Bowlers such as Julius Peppers, Donovan McNabb and Antrel Rolle are just a few of the big names that could see new teammates in 2010.

I want to take a look at some of these players and give some insight to where they could be next year.

Note that these are not all of the important free agents out there.  These ten players are simply some of the players that I feel will be interesting to watch in the offseason.

  1. Julius Peppers, defensive end – Peppers was tagged as the Panthers’ franchise player in 2009 earning him over $17 million that season.  Reports have been released that Carolina is not looking to apply the franchise tag to Peppers in 2010.  However, if they change their mind it would cost the Panthers over $22 million.  Peppers has made it known that he wants to play for a contender, preferably in a 3-4 defensive scheme as a rush linebacker.  The Arizona Cardinals fit that bill perfectly.  They have won the NFC West crown the past two years and run the 3-4 defense.  On top of that, quarterback Kurt Warner and defensive end Bertrand Berry have both retired.  These moves, coupled with the expected release of free safety Antrel Rolle will free up the finances required to sign a player like Julius Peppers.  There is a need for a rush linebacker like Peppers on Arizona’s defense and the pieces seem to be falling into place.  Expect the Cardinals to make a run for this highly-touted defensive star.  Other teams to watch are the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.
  2. Donovan McNabb, quarterback – McNabb is still under contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and has announced that he will stay an Eagle next season.  However, there have been rumors of the Eagles looking to trade McNabb while he has value.  After all, McNabb is in the tail end of his career and the Eagles may want to hit the market while he still has value.  The team mentioned most in regards to receiving the quarterback is the Minnesota Vikings.  This of course hinges on Brett Favre’s decision to return or retire.  If Favre does decide to retire, I expect the Vikings to make a hard run at McNabb.  If Favre returns, clearly McNabb will not be considered and would then likely stay in Philadelphia.  However, the Eagles could entertain other deals.  Keep in mind, they have a full competent backup and future quarterback in Kevin Kolb and they would still have Michael Vick on the roster.  Expect McNabb to be in Eagle green or Viking purple, but do not count out teams like the St. Louis Rams or even the Oakland Raiders.
  3. LaDainian Tomlinson, running back – The San Diego Chargers released Tomlinson Monday afternoon, likely because they feel is it not worth the value, including a $2 million bonus for next season that he would cost them.  While he was one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, he is nearing the end and is now worth no more than a backup running back role.  I expect him to either end up playing for a team that is a legitimate contender, such as the New Orleans Saints or the New England Patriots, or a team that has a young, established running back and needs veteran leadership, like the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears.  Or if he is lucky, he could get one last chance as a lead back on a young team.  The teams I look for trying to obtain his services are the Cleveland Browns or the Kansas City Chiefs.  Both teams are young on offense and have a young running back with a bright future (James Davis and Jamaal Charles respectively).  This of course leaves a big hole for the Chargers, which I expect to be filled in the first round of the NFL draft by C.J. Spiller or Jahvid Best.
  4. Brian Westbrook, running back – The Eagles released their all-time leader in yards after scrimmage early Tuesday afternoon.  Westbrook is in a very similar situation to Tomlinson.  He is plagued with injuries and nearing the end of his career as a team’s number-one running back.  Like Tomlinson, he will be looking for a team that can use him in a leadership and backup running back role.  Many of the same teams apply for Westbrook as well.  Look for the Chiefs, Browns and Bears to try for his services.  But do not be surprised if the Texans or Lions also place bids.  Westbrook provides a strong leadership presence for young offenses and would be a great mentor for young backs like Kevin Smith, Steve Slaton and Matt Forte.
  5. Antrel Rolle, safety – While the Cardinals have not officially released Rolle as of yet, it is expected because of the $4 million bonus he is due next year.  Not having to pay this money next season will free up the finances for an elite player like Julius Peppers, which would be more of a need for the Cardinals in 2010.  This story is a bit more of a surprise because of Rolle’s history in the Pro Bowl, his ability to make plays in both pass and run defenses, and his relative youth (he is 27 years old).  Rolle still has quite a few good years ahead of him.  He is one of the elite free safeties in the league and will make a splash in the free agency if he is released.  Many teams in the league could use his talents, but look for the Panthers, Texans and Seahawks to make big bids.  The Panthers had a weakness deep in the middle of the field, and signing Rolle would allow them to move Sherrod Martin back to cornerback, his natural position.  The Panthers would have depth and versatility, not to mention the money needed to pay him after Peppers leaves, freeing up over $17 million in salary.

Check back for part two, as we look at five more players that should have interesting offseasons.


Brandis Raley-Ross: Unspoken Leader

February 20, 2010

When anyone talks about South Carolina basketball, the first thought is the little firecracker that is senior point guard and Bob Cousy Award finalist Devan Downey.  But today, I give you another name; Brandis Raley-Ross.

The senior two-guard of the Gamecocks squad is easily forgotten behind the thrill of Devan Downey and the infusion of young talent head coach Darin Horn has brought to the program.

After a devastating loss to Tennessee in the Colonial Life Arena, it was not Downey that gets my attention.  It is Raley-Ross.

Sitting in the media room, preparing to leave, I looked over to see the two senior guards enter.  Immediately, media members flock to Downey, as to be expected.  But if you had looked away from the excitement as I did, in the corner sitting alone with his head down, feeling the agony of defeat is Brandis Raley-Ross.

This sight brought back a realization I had forgotten about college athletics.  What we, the members of the media see as a job or a hobby, these young men see as their life.  What we do for enjoyment, they do for passion.

So often in today’s world of sports, after a loss you see players go into the locker room with their heads down, only to see them not even ten minutes later seeming to have already forgotten the game.  This was not the case.

As I walked towards the door to leave, I stopped by him, slapped his knee and simply said, “You played a good game today.”  With a solemn look on his face, he looked up and simply said, “Thanks.”

This show of emotions proves that leadership is not always determined by intensity on the court, but by the anguish of defeat.   It is measured by the effect the game has on the player and the way he reacts, both in victory and defeat.

From the stands, you tend to forget the significance of college athletics, especially to those involved.  Brandis reminded me that there is more to this sport that simply X’s and O’s.  There is excitement and despair.  Love and heartache.

Raley-Ross has demonstrated that his passion for this game runs deep.  That is the kind of leadership he portrays on this team.  He is the quiet, mature and confident, yet passionate leader that holds this team together.

On the court, he is “second chair” to Devan Downey, though equally as important.  He helps provide the veteran guidance this team desires.  He is the calm, collective mind that helps hold the team together when aspects of the game begin to get out of hand.

Off the court, he counter-balances this “quiet leader” demeanor with furious workouts and training.  He prepares himself fully for each and every game as if it is his last.  With the end to his college career quickly approaching, he has become the Gamecocks’ underrated and unspoken leader.

While Brandis Raley-Ross will not be remembered by many in the way of B.J. McKie, Alex English or Devan Downey, he will be remembered by one sports writer, for on this day, he remind me what sports is all about.  This game will forever be in my memory.

And to the Gamecocks’ “Unspoken Leader”, I thank you.  Continue to do what you do out there for the team and all of Gamecock Nation.  And always remember, you played a good game.


SpeedWeeks 2010: Should We Be Surprised?

February 17, 2010

As Speedweeks 2010 came to an end on Sunday night as Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, this was not the storyline everyone was talking about Monday morning.

Danica Patrick’s debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday afternoon was also on the list of stories to be discussed around the water cooler on Monday morning. This too, was not the feature story. Patrick crashed mid-way through the race, and did not finish.

The topic people were talking about is the over two hours in delays of the Daytona 500 to twice fix a pothole that developed between turns one and two during the Daytona 500.

On lap 122, NASCAR issued a red flag, halting the race for one hour and 41 minutes to repair a piece of the track where the asphalt came up. NASCAR CEO Brian France said on the FOX telecast of the race that the reason for the long delays was due to the track workers not being able to find a compound that would actually work.

NASCAR resumed the race, only for it to be stopped again with 39 laps to go, as the hole returned. This time, Daytona International Speedway track workers had figured out the correct compound that would piece together the track that was last paved in 1978.

Obviously, NASCAR or the speedway inspectors had no clue this was going to happen, and who could blame them. No one expected the famed speedway to start to break apart. However, a harsh winter may be partly to blame for the track’s condition.

NASCAR was hoping that the 2010 Daytona 500 would kick start a sport that is seeing television ratings dwindle and attendance at races decreasing. The sport decided to put control back in the driver’s hands, by allowing the bump draft and making changes to the car to make it more about driver’s ability, than how well a crew can set up the car.

However, like recent Daytona 500s, the racing was not what people were talking about. In 2009, rain was the name of the game, as the race was called 48 laps before its scheduled ending due to rain (Matt Kenseth was declared the winner). In addition, the no-testing policy was put in place prior to the race to ease economic worries; everybody was concerned about the level of competition without the ability to test before the race as in years past.

In 2008, NASCAR debuted its Car of Tomorrow full time, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500. There was concern that the new car would not provide the most competitive race in the sport’s most celebrated event.

In 2007, controversy arose on two occasions. During the qualifying races on Thursday, Jeff Gordon penalized post-race inspection, and was forced to start in the rear of the field. At the end of the Daytona 500, there was discussion over who was the winner. The caution was held until the leaders crossed the finish line. Kevin Harvick just edged Mark Martin at the line, as the rest of the field was crashing behind them. The caution was not thrown until after the leaders took the checkered flag. Many fans felt that NASCAR should have thrown the caution flag earlier, perhaps changing the outcome of the event.

And in 2006, the race winner, Jimmie Johnson, had his crew chief, Chad Knaus thrown out of Daytona prior to the race. Chad Knaus tinkered with the suspension a little too much, causing NASCAR to eject him and suspend him for four more races.

Enter Darian Grubb. In his first career race, he led Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to the win of the Great American Race.

In the end, should we be surprised that the racing was not the topic of discussion the Monday after the big race, probably not. There is countless Daytona 500s where the focus was not on the winner of the race, but something that happened during or even before the race.

For one guy, Jamie McMurray, he will forever be known as Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray. Even though his race winning move will probably not be the memory of the 2010 race, his name will forever etched in history.

So now the sport heads off to Fontana, California and the Auto Club Speedway. It is unofficially, the first points race of the season. (Points are awarded for the Daytona 500, but every driver wants to win more than points race.)

Danica Patrick attempts her second race in a Nationwide car, as ESPN is hoping that Danica-mania will continue providing the highest television ratings in the series’ history. Hopefully, rain will not be the story at Fontana as it was last year, when we learned the definition of a weeper.


NHL Post-Break Teams to Watch

February 16, 2010

With the XXI Winter Olympics in high gear, the NHL is on its hiatus.  League play will pick back up on March 1st, but that is no reason not to prepare.

NHL fans are aware of the more powerful teams to watch.  The Capitals, Sharks, and Blackhawks are obvious teams to keep your eyes on.

But do not forget about the less obvious teams.  There are a number of teams in the league ready to make a push to close out the season strongly and solidify their playoff spot.  These are three of those teams:

  1. Philadelphia Flyers (32-25-3, 67 points) – Philadelphia comes back from the break with twenty-two games remaining on the schedule.  They are currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but their grasp on their playoff spot is not too firm.  There are five teams within five points of the Flyers.  The bottom three spots are still wide open.  With veteran defenseman Chris Pronger and young point scorers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers have the chance to hold that spot and perhaps move up.  The possible career-ending injury to goalie Ray Emery could hurt them and their schedule is a daunting one with twelve of their twenty-two games on the road.  If Michael Leighton continues to fill in well for Emery the Flyers could very well close out the season in the playoffs.
  2. Detroit Red Wings (28-21-12, 68 points) – The Red Wings currently sit on the outside of the playoff picture, one point behind the eighth-place Calgary Flames.  What plays into Detroit’s favor is that they are a veteran team.  They are led by elite, experienced players Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Todd Bertuzzi, and have an efficient and youthful goalie, Jimmy Howard.  Goalie Chris Osgood is still on the roster and is a top-level goalie for Howard to follow.   Howard’s save percentage is currently .927 and allows just 2.28 goals per game.  With veteran leadership and superior goaltending, the Red Wings could easily get themselves back into the playoffs, and potentially make a run to the Western Conference Finals and even a Stanley Cup.
  3. St. Louis Blues (28-25-9, 65 points) – Do not sleep on the Blues.  I repeat, do not sleep on the Blues.  They are twelfth in the Western Conference, but only four points out of a playoff spot.  They went into the break on a three-game winning streak and plan to extend that streak when league continues.  Andy McDonald and T.J. Ohsie lead lines that include experienced wingmen Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk.  The Blues do not have the cream-of-the-crop talent that some other teams have, but what they do have is a youthful, fiery team with nothing to lose.  Their goalie Chris Mason is having a respectable year, with a save percentage of .912 in 45 games.  If Mason continues to improve and their expert leadership shines through, they could win the close race for one of those final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Other teams to keep a close eye on:  Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Montreal Canadiens, Atlanta Thrashers.

NHL league play resumes March 1st when the Colorado Avalanche host the Detroit Red Wings, 9:00 PM on Versus.


James’ NCAA Conference Realignment Theory, Big Ten Revision

February 14, 2010

The biggest issue I had with my realignment was the strength of the Big Ten Eastern Division related to the comparative weakness of the Big Ten Western Division.

Therefore I have revised the Big Ten’s division to a North/South setup.  This helps balance out the two divisions and even maintains more of the historical rivalry games in the Big Ten that the East/West setup removed.  They are as follows:

The Big Ten North Division hosts Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin.

The Big Ten South Division will have Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Ohio State and Purdue.

The inter-divisional rivalries must now be revised.  In this new setup, more rivalries are maintained.  Michigan will play Ohio State in The Big Game, Michigan State will play Indiana for the Old Brass Spittoon, Minnesota will play Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale, and Illinois will play Northwestern for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.  Penn State has then been paired with Purdue and Wisconsin with Iowa State.

This revision also reopens the door for other rivalries including the battle for the Little Brown Jug between Michigan and Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State’s fight for the Land Grant Trophy, and Illinois and Ohio State play their game to decides who gets to house “Illibuck.”

The image posted will provide a visual explanation of the revision.