Sunday Column

Column: NFL Playoffs Taking Center Stage

The News for the week January 5-11, 2020

FOOTBALL

Green Bay Packers Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the best running backs in the league. Jones had been undersized and was a three-star recruit coming out of Burges High School in El Paso, Texas. Jones got just two Division I offers, from New Mexico State and UTEP.

Matt Rhule said recently that he would only leave Baylor for the perfect opportunity, and the Carolina Panthers helped create that for him by making him one of the highest-paid head coaches in the NFL. Rhule is now working to put together his coaching staff. On the top of his list is LSU Tigers passing game coordinator Joe Brady.

Robert Kraft has built a $4.5 billion sports empire with the Patriots but will it crumble with the departure of Tom Brady, 20 other free agents and key assistants? Brady could sign with the Los Angeles Chargers or move with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Cleveland Browns.

Terrell Ownes a former Dallas Cowboy commented recently on why the team should sign Tom Brady and not Dak Prescott.

“He hasn’t extended Dak’s contract,” Owens said of Jerry Jones. “So, that leads me to believe he truly doesn’t believe in Dak. If he had, then I think he would have already got a contract extension.”

The Los Angeles Rams have hired former Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell’s role in Los Angeles will be more geared toward game-planning and helping Jared Goff succeed as a passer.

The Clemson Tigers are currently on a 29-game winning streak and are looking to win their second-straight National Title, this time in New Orleans.

Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, Clemson’s top two receivers who were banged up against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl, are both healthy and ready to face No. 1 LSU.

The Clemson Tigers lost four defensive linemen and a starting cornerback from the 2018 national championship squad to the NFL draft. Clemson’s defense lacked experience in certain spots but five months later, Clemson is back in the national championship game for the fourth time since 2015 and chasing its third title during that span because of a unit that has been as good as any in the country.

Travis Etienne, from Jennings Louisiana was widely ignored by his home school, LSU, on the recruiting trail. Etienne has his sights set on redemption after a disappointing showing in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago.

There have been only eight quarterbacks in history to win a Heisman Trophy and national championship in the same season. Joe Burrow can be the ninth quarterback since 2013 with a win against Clemson. Burrow would be the first player to lead the country in completion percentage while throwing for 5,000+ yards and 50+ touchdowns. Burrow can break Hawaii’s Colt Brennan’s single-season record for touchdown passes with 58 set in 2006.

Money is piling up on LSU, leaving sportsbooks around the nation with lopsided action on a national championship game that is setting up to be a big decision for bookmakers.

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm announced Wednesday he will give up his senior season in favor of the 2020 NFL Draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. listed Fromm as the No. 5 quarterback in the nation in his most recent draft rankings.

Mike Leach is the next head coach at Mississippi State. Leach, 58, recently signed a contract extension at Washington State through the 2024 season. Leach is 139-90 as a head coach. He compiled a 55-47 record with six bowl appearances in eight seasons with the Cougars. He was 84-43 with nine bowl trips in 10 seasons at Texas Tech from 2000-09. He led Washington State to a 6-7 record in 2019, capped by a 31-21 loss to Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 27 in Phoenix.

BASKETBALL

The National Basketball Association announced a multi-year extension of its partnership with Twitter and Turner Sports that will put more live game content and highlights on the social media platform.

Whether your team is rebuilding or on the brink of a playoff run, these teams continue to intrigue despite continuing to lose games.

Houston’s Russell Westbrook scored 34 points in his return to Oklahoma City, but the Thunder controlled the game from early on to beat the Rockets 113-92 Thursday night.

Cleveland Cavs head coach John Beilein said he has begun contacting his players to apologize for calling them “thugs” during a team meeting Wednesday at the team hotel.

Former Connecticut Huskies coach Jim Calhoun added another milestone Friday night when the University of Saint Joseph beat Pratt Institute 105-61 for his 900th career victory.

The Associated Press college basketball poll started on Jan. 20, 1949. The original poll had 20 teams, with Saint Louis the first school to hold the No. 1 ranking. From the 1961-62 season through 1967-68 only 10 teams were ranked. It expanded again to 20 teams from 1968-69 through 1988-89. The Top 25 began the next season, and it has stayed at that number ever since. The AP’s final poll is released after the field for the NCAA Tournament is selected.

HOCKEY

Connor McDavid is still widely acknowledged as the NHL’s best player, but his team the Edmonton Oilers missing the playoffs hurt his case in the eyes of enough Hart Award voters. That may change this year as the Oilers are looking to make the playoffs this season.

When Pittsburgh Penguins Dominik Kahun and Patric Hornqvist buried their 10th goals of the season Tuesday night in Vegas, they became the Penguins’ sixth and seventh skaters to tally 10 or more goals this season, making them one of just four teams in the NHL to have seven players with 10+ goals this season.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks hockey team had been 2-6-2 in its previous 10 games. Powerhouse program University of North Dakota hadn’t lost at home in 10 months. UNO scored twice in the first five minutes and never trailed to knock off the top-ranked Fighting Hawks 6-3. UND’s last loss at Engelstad Arena also came against UNO, a streak that lasted 321 days. Overall, North Dakota (16-2-2, 7-1-1) had won 10 straight and was unbeaten in 15 games.

BASEBALL

Cody Bellinger is the current National League MVP and has secured an $11.5 million contract for the 2020 season. This sets a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension, the Colorado Rockies but the relationship between the two sides is deteriorating and it’s leading Colorado to explore a trade.

The Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals announced a trade that sends outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena from St. Louis to Tampa Bay in exchange for highly touted left-hander Matt Liberatore and catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez.

The Houston Astros are being investigated by Major League Baseball for sign stealing. Now the Boston Red Sox have also been linked to sign-stealing tactics over the past two years.

Most of the big named free agents have signed but the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to shop Corey Seager and the Cincinnati Reds are interested. Seager, only 25 years old and looked great in his return from Tommy John surgery hit .272 with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs. Seager is also on track to become a free agent after the 2021 campaign.

GOLF

The World Handicap System will provide all golfers with a consistent measure of playing ability, with handicaps calculated in the same way wherever they are in the world.

Tiger Woods will make his 2020 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open starting Jan. 23 in San Diego. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on the same Torrey Pines course and has eight career victories there. He tied for 20th at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2019.

Pete Dye, the famed golf course designer responsible for the heralded 17th-hole island green at TPC Sawgrass, died Thursday at the age of 94.

ESPORTS

Video games were a hot topic on Twitter in 2019, with the social network revealing that more than 1.2 billion gaming-related tweets were shared last year. Twitter said this was a year-over-year increase of almost 20%.

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