Big 12 Preview

Each of the 10 teams in the Big 12 (math is hard), with the exception of Kansas, have enjoyed some measure of success in recent years. Sorry Kansas, Todd Reesing isn’t walking through that door anytime soon. But most of these teams have taken a ride on the football rollercoaster. Maintaining year after year success in college football requires a recipe that most schools have yet to master. The wide open offenses of the Big 12 look to be very enjoyable this season.

Oklahoma looks like the team to beat here. Even with Baker Mayfield and Mark Andrews playing on Sundays now, they seem primed to run the table. RB Rodney Anderson is considered one of the best in the country. WRs Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb will spread the field for what looks to be an unstoppable offense. But don’t count Texas out. The Longhorns are returning most of their starters; 7 on offense, 7 on defense. Look for WR Collin Johnson to break out in a big way this season. TCU will have something to say as well. Kenny Hill is gone, but RB Darius Anderson and WR Jalen Reagor are returning to lead this offense.

Most experts have West Virginia as the 4th best team in the Big 12. I’m hanging my hat on this today; West Virginia could very well win the Big 12. QB Will Grier returns, as do WRs Gary Jennings and David Sills. They combined for 157 catches last season with Sills finding the end zone 18 times. Their schedule favors them early, but 3 of their last 4 games will be battles. Oklahoma State lost a lot of offense. QB Mason Rudolph (4,904 yds, 37 TD) is gone. WRs James Washingon (74-1,549-13) and Marcell Ateman (59-1,156-8) are gone as well. Justice Hill provides a strong running game, but not if teams can stack 8 in the box. QB Taylor Cornelius and WR Jalen McCleskey will have to jump start the passing game.

Kansas State is without QB Jesse Ertz and a QB battle has been going on all off season. RB Alex Barnes will be relied on in the backfield to keep the running game going. Losing WR/Return man Byron Pringle takes a spark out of the Wildcats offense and special teams. Iowa State began 6-2 last season before running into a few Big 12 buzzsaws towards the end. RB David Montgomery is back, much to the delight of Cyclones fans. Kyle Kempt will be under center again, but someone will have to step up to replace WR Allen Lazard.

Texas Tech is depleted at the offensive skill positions. Nic Shimonek, Justin Stockton, Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell, and Cameron Batson are all gone. Kliff Kingsbury has his work cut out for him. Baylor is coming off a dismal 1-11 season. Good news; 17 returning starters. WR Denzel Mims is locked and loaded for a huge season. Watch him this year. And then there’s Kansas, another 1-11 team. 19 returning starters, but possibly another double digit loss season.

The Big 12 will provide a lot of points. I like the over. Which game, you ask? Yeah, that one. Most of these teams like to move the ball up and down the field. We’ll surely see some shootouts this year and I’m ready for it.

ACC Preview

We’re just 14 days away from the first full Saturday of college football. Sure, there are 4 games next Saturday and 12 on the following Thursday. But there’s something special about that first full Saturday. I’ll be writing about each conference over the next week or so to get geared up for the season.

The ACC, if you take out Clemson, is a very evenly skilled conference. Clemson is clearly the cream of the crop again this season. But a lot of talent is returning to the ACC this year. This will provide us with great, competitive games to watch. Some stars have moved on, but others are emerging.

The Atlantic Division is led by Clemson. There has been a bit of a QB controversy here between Kelly Bryant and freshman Trevor Lawrence. Whichever one is under center, the Tigers will be explosive. Their defense is every bit as stellar as the past couple seasons. Florida State will be anticipating the return of Deondre Francois at the helm. He missed most of last season with an injury, how he rebounds will determine their fate. Look for Boston College to make a splash as well. If FSU stumbles, BC could slide ahead of them. RB AJ Dillon, fresh off a stunning freshman season, is a force to be reckoned with.

Louisville lost Lamar Jackson to the NFL. But the Cardinals have their top 3 WRs returning. The running game here is inexperienced, but a solid passing game should keep defenses honest. Opening the season versus Alabama is rough, but these guys will be pretty solid. NC State returns QB Ryan Finley and WR Kelvin Harmon. Losing Jaylen Samuels to the NFL will hurt, but this is still a pretty deep team. Wake Forest surprised a lot of people last year. QB John Wolford is gone, but having WR Greg Dortch on the field can put the Demon Deacons fans at ease. QB Eric Dungey is back for Syracuse, but his 2 main targets are gone. It might be a long season for Orange fans.

The Coastal Division has Miami clearly at the top. QB Malik Rosier and RB Travis Homer are back to lead the offense. The top 2 WRs are gone, but the Hurricanes have a lot of talent ready to step up. North Carolina should be marginally better this season. Only 5 returning starters on offense, but the skill positions are included in those five. Duke will see QB Daniel Jones returning along with his top 3 targets from last season. I look for TJ Rahming to have a big season. Sophomore RB Brittain Brown will take over the RB duties.

Virginia Tech and QB Josh Jackson are looking to make some noise in the ACC. WR Cam Phillips is gone, but Jackson is a QB that can make things happen. His WR core is still pretty deep even without Phillips. They are one of my surprise teams this year. Georgia Tech is going to run the ball down your throat again this season. QB TaQuon Marshall is electric. Throw in KirVonte Benson and you have a dangerous 1-2 punch coming at you. Pitt, like Syracuse, is likely in for a long season. They return only 4 offensive starters from a team that went 5-7. Their schedule won’t do them any favors either. Virginia lost Kurt Benkert, but RB Jordan Ellis will be back. Converted RB Olamide Zaccheaus will now be at WR for the Cavaliers. He led the team in receiving last season.

A lot of new faces will be on the field in the ACC. This leaves some question marks, but it also makes the upcoming season even more exciting. I have Virginia Tech as my surprise team and TJ Rahming and Olamide Zaccheaus as the emerging players. It’s just around the corner, guys. I’m pumped.

Fantasy Football: Draft Wisely

A lot of fantasy football drafts have already taken place. A lot more will unfold over the next few weeks. I’m still waiting to do mine. This is the time of year when participants across the country start breaking down stats, flipping coins, making ‘concrete decisions’ only to backtrack roughly 7 minutes later, and overall stressing out over who to take with their first pick. Aahhhhh, football is back.

If you play fantasy football, you already know the top projected players, you know what they bring to the table, you have the stats memorized. Looking over the Top 25 (or so) rankings, I see some great players that have a question mark or two next to their name in my mind.

Le’Veon Bell: This guy is a premier RB, there’s no doubt. What he can do on the field is unmatched in the NFL. But suspensions and injuries have marred his past. And this year’s contract dispute may affect him as well. Think twice before snatching him up #1 overall.

Ezekiel Elliott: He’s already had one suspension and he doesn’t seem to have grown or learned from it. Supreme talent, risky off the field issues. Playing for an offense that has been depleted (Witten, Dez) doesn’t help his cause.

David Johnson: David Johnson is a phenomenal RB. But he’s coming off an injury that could affect his play, at least early on. An injury prone QB won’t do him any favors either. If Josh Rosen ends up being the real deal (I think he will be), then Johnson should have a solid year.

DeAndre Hopkins: Hopkins has proven to be one of the best WRs in the game. But he’s on a team with a QB coming back from a serious injury with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Put him on any other team and he’s an easy 1st round pick. And he still may be, against all odds.

Kareem Hunt: Two words: sophomore slump. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s definitely a concern with any player who puts up numbers like Hunt did in his rookie campaign. He’s lightning in a bottle and a pleasure to watch. He could pay huge dividends or have you wishing you’d drafted differently.

Dalvin Cook: Cook’s upside has no ceiling. I think he’ll be one of the best RBs in the league for years to come. Keeper league? Grab him. But coming off that devastating injury makes him a risky early pick. A talented offense in Minnesota will take some pressure off of him.

Gronk: What can you say about Gronk that hasn’t been said? He can get you a TD per game. But how many games will he play? He’s hinted/joked about retirement and he’s one crossing pattern away from being forced into it. Best TE in the game, hands down. How much of a gambler are you though?

LeSean McCoy: Great talent, plays hard, gets a ton fantasy points. His off the field issues may leave him with a long suspension or possibly some jail time. I’d love to live in a world where LeSean McCoy has his head on right. What a superb player he could be.

All fantasy drafts are different; league scoring varies from league to league. Most of us have won leagues, most of us have finished last. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, but this is OUR YEAR….….right? Good luck on your upcoming draft, let’s ice down the beer and enjoy 17 weeks of pure bliss.

Nick Markakis: HOFer?

Nick Markakis has put together one of the most silent Hall of Fame potential careers in my memory. Some of you are undoubtedly thinking “Nick Markakis? Hall of Fame?”. Yes, Nick Markakis, Hall of Fame. He has been solid and consistent throughout his entire 13 year career so far. Take a look at his numbers……

  • 2,194 hits
  • 1,029 runs
  • 464 doubles
  • 179 HRs
  • 946 RBI
  • .290/.359/.427
  • 2 Gold Gloves

And he’s only 34 years old. If he strings together just 4 more years of typical ‘Markakis seasons’, he winds up with 2,800+ hits, 1,350+ runs, 600+ doubles, 225+ HR, 1,200 + RBI. Throw in the Gold Gloves and a cannon arm and you definitely have a bona fide Hall of Fame player.

Markakis, this season, got his first All-Star Game nod. It was long overdue. But the ASG voting process leaves a lot to be desired. A player who plays outside of the media spotlight simply won’t garner the popularity votes. For those in the know, Nick Markakis has been an All-Star caliber player for most of his career. He has played in Baltimore and Atlanta, not exactly baseball meccas. If he puts these numbers up in New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles, then he’s a household name. I doubt that concerns him. I’m sure he’s enjoying the game while putting up solid numbers each season. But how can you not pull for the guy to get a ring this season, unless your team is one of his opponents.?

But there are a lot of great players who aren’t enshrined yet. Al Oliver, Dave Concepcion, and Ted Simmons come to mind for me. There are quite a few others too. When Markakis’ career comes to a close, we’ll see then how voters view his accomplishments. For now, I just want to watch this guy play as much as I can. I truly enjoy watching him play. He’s currently having one of his better seasons too. All the more reason to tune in to a Braves game from time to time.

With ‘my team’ wallowing in the NL Central basement, Nick Markakis gives me reason to keep watching baseball and having someone to root for. I want the Braves in the World Series, the world needs to wake up to the talent that is Nick Markakis.

Athletes and Social Media

Sean Newcomb, Trea Turner, Josh Hader. You’ve seen the tweets, you’ve seen the backlash, but there were quite a few before them that fell victim to social media outrage because of tweets and posts that they put out there as teens. Now, I’m not defending anything that these guys posted, not at all. What I’m defending is the right for them to be who they are as adults rather than being judged by juvenile naivete and/or stupidity.

None of us were perfect when we were younger. We all said stupid things, we all did stupid things. But unless you’re under the age of 30, no one in the world saw it or heard it. It’s not living on in infamy. As a matter of fact, it’s more than likely completely forgotten. What can start as an innocent trash talking of sorts amongst friends can now be misconstrued as racism, bigotry, homophobia, or even worse. It’s what teenagers have always done. Again, I’m not defending what was posted, but I don’t really care what someone posted as a dumb, naïve kid. I just don’t.

There are those out there that will scream and cry for justice simply because that’s who they are. Get over it. We live in a world that is becoming more and more transparent. It’s a world that is also seemingly looking for ways to be offended. My take has always been this; if you’re offended by words, log off and get help. And if you’re digging up tweets that are several years old, I’m just wondering how sad your life is. Who hurt you? Isn’t that an exhausting way to live?

Athletes across the board are undoubtedly doing damage control as we speak. This may even become vital in collegiate recruiting. Do schools hire a social media mole to see if there are any offensive posts? I think we’ll see it head in that direction, to be honest. In this day and age, the best proactive thing you can do is to think before you hit ‘send’. Social media has become so habitual, but you really don’t have to post every thought that crosses your mind. And I don’t mean just the tweets that could offend. No one cares that you got a new umbrella either. Trust me.

On top of the media backlash, these athletes also have to face their teammates in the locker room. Team unity is being tested on an entirely different level than we’re used to seeing. I haven’t heard of any dissension yet, but I’m sure there will be a case where that changes. In the meantime, my plan is to just enjoy the games. I refuse to buy into the drama. Take a step back and look at every mistake you’ve ever made. Now imagine the world watching while you did it. Exactly. Now go watch the game.

NL Rookie of the Year Race

A few rookies have made a huge impact on their respective teams in the National League this season. This is always an added bonus for any team, something you don’t count on before the season begins. How they sustain it could very well affect their standing by season’s end.

Juan Soto: BA .314, OBP .420, SLG .515, OPS .995, HR 13 RBI 36. Soto started the season in the minor leagues. The 19 year old has been on fire since being called up. For Nats fans, he should make losing Bryce Harper to free agency a little more soothing. He’s exciting to watch and has good power for such a young player.

Ronald Acuna: BA .260, OBP .324, SLG .469, OPS .793, HR 9, RBI 24. Acuna has been a nice surprise for the Atlanta Braves. He has provided solid numbers for them as they look to secure a postseason spot heading into the last 2 months of the season. Time will tell if the weight on his shoulders becomes too much or if he can help carry this team.

Let’s throw an honorable mention into this conversation. Jesse Winker was on pace to have a stellar rookie season before having season ending surgery this past week. I feel he was the frontrunner at the time of this injury. A .299 BA, .405 OBP, and an .836 OPS puts him at, or near, the top among all rookies. Add 7 HR and 43 RBI and you have a guy with a good future ahead of him. At least Reds fans are hoping so.

With Winker’s injury, the NL ROY is, at least for now, a 2 man race. I think Soto is the guy right now, but let’s see if he can maintain these numbers over the next 2 months. You never know what you’re getting with rookies. Some are highly touted as teenagers, others surprise you by coming out of nowhere. Once again, we have the privilege to sit back and watch.

NL Cy Young Race

Voters will have quite a few choices to pick from when voting for the National League Cy Young Award this year. At least 4 pitchers are having Cy Young quality seasons. Three of them are pitching for contenders while one is stuck on a team that has been debilitated with injuries.

Jacob deGrom: 5-6, ERA 1.82, WHIP 0.98, BAA .205, K 164. Jacob deGrom is the hard luck pitcher of 2018. The New York Mets simply don’t score runs when he is on the mound. His stuff is nasty, it seems he’s on top of his game each time out. He went through a 10 game stretch this season where he posted a 1.08 ERA, but the Mets went 2-8 in those games. This will affect his votes.

Max Scherzer: 14-5, ERA 2.30, WHIP 0.90, BAA .183, K 200. Max Scherzer is in this conversation every year. He has been one of the most dominating pitchers in MLB over the last decade. There’s not much you can say about Scherzer that hasn’t already been said. He’s a machine, he’s reliable, he’s a winner, the dude can flat out pitch.

Jon Lester: 12-3, ERA 3.06, WHIP 1.23, BAA .231, K 96. Jon Lester’s numbers aren’t quite on par with Scherzer, but the guy knows how to win and he’s the ace on a first place team. That alone scores some points in the voters’ eyes. When he’s on the mound, you know the probability of winning goes up. He’s done this throughout his career. 2018 is another solid year for him.

Zack Greinke: 12-5, ERA 2.96, WHIP 1.05, BAA .233, K 143. Greinke is having a resurgence of sorts this season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He won the award in 2009, so he’s been there, done that. He is undoubtedly the anchor in the Dbacks rotation. They are currently the 2nd Wild Card team and Greinke will look to keep them in contention the rest of the season.

There are 2 months left in the season. Which ace will take their game to the next level? I think Max Scherzer is the clear frontrunner right now. It would be his 3rd in a row, and 4th overall, if he were to win this season. But Greinke and Lester can surely step in and win this too.