Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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The State of My Stateside Teams

I want to do today’s post a little differently. Instead of choosing one topic, I’m going to give each of my teams in the United States a paragraph. S0 here goes.

The Red Sox are a mess right now. It feels like I’m re-watching 2014, because like last year, every single time there’s the smallest bit of momentum, they drop the next two and three of the next four. I still think it’s worth holding course and seeing if David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval can break their season-long slumps, but I’m getting less optimistic with every successive setback. However, it is encouraging to see a few of the players turn things around, notably Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. If a couple more players can figure it out, maybe there is a run in this team. But no matter how bad it gets, as long as we have Eduardo Rodriguez going every five days, there will be something to look forward to. He is the real deal.

The Celtics are about to enter a really interesting part of the offseason. With large amounts of cap space for the first time in years, this summer will be a test of whether big free agents will be attracted to playing for Brad Stevens. My gut tells me no, but wouldn’t it be nice if LaMarcus Aldridge came for a visit? Regardless, a priority has to be re-signing Jae Crowder. I also want Danny Ainge to work as hard as he can to move up a few spots in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein. He could make a serious impact on the team defense, and is miles better than somebody like Kevin Looney, who is being looked at for #16. I’m opposed to giving up the Nets picks, but I think Cauley-Stein’s value above who we’d draft at #16 is worth surrendering an extra first round pick.

The Patriots continue to make news in all the wrong ways. Whether it’s appeal talk, Brandon Spikes’s hit and run or Malcolm Butler getting benched, it’s so negative that following the team this offseason has become unappealing. I think this could be an ugly year on the field too. It can’t be overstated that where all three AFC East teams improved, the Pats lost almost everything at running back and in the secondary. I’m legitimately worried about making the playoffs. This could be an bad year. It’s a really good thing the pressure is relatively off for a year after the Super Bowl win.

Arkansas baseball has been an inspiration. Zach Jackson’s three and two thirds inning save to close out the Super Regional was one of the most gutsy performances I’ve seen on a baseball field. These guys fight and these guys win. Getting to Omaha is the highest achievement this team could have imagined. Any success in the College World Series will just be icing on the cake. With the dire lack of arms in the bullpen due to James Teague and Dominic Taccolini’s injuries, making a run there will be extraordinarily difficult. But this is a truly special group – I wouldn’t bet against them. Nothing made me happier than the Red Sox drafting Andrew Benintendi in the first round and then Tyler Spoon in the 30th. I can’t wait to see Benintendi roaming the Fenway grass. But in the meantime, it’s time for the #OmaHogs to beat Virginia. Woo Pig Sooie.

After a successful year on the hardcourt, Arkansas basketball is looking at a rebuilding year. When Anthlon Bell is the leading returning scorer, that’s not a good sign. But for the next month, the focus of Hog basketball is on watching Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls in the NBA Draft. Portis is getting rave reviews across the league as one of the most NBA-ready players. And Qualls has managed to disappear from draft boards despite posting the lowest body fat percentage of anyone. I really wish Qualls had come back for his senior year, but alas, he made the same mistake B.J. Young did and gambled despite not being assured of being drafted. However, I think Qualls could be a success in the NBA, even if he isn’t drafted. I certainly want the Celtics to take a flier on him in the second round. He’s such a talented athlete that I think he has serious potential defensively with a year of good coaching. I think Portis will be solid, and could have himself a nice career, but his ceiling is low. With so many power forwards on the Celtics, he’d have a hard time getting going in Boston, and thus hope he gets drafted somewhere else.

Arkansas football is riding a ridiculous high right now. Suddenly Arkansas is mentioned as a national title threat. And despite a murderous schedule once again, I don’t disagree. For the Arkansas offense has the potential to be incredible. Two 1,000 yard rushers are returning behind the best offensive line in the country, which in Denver Kirland, John Skipper and Sebastian Tretola boasts three potential all-americans. Sure there are questions at receiver, but I liked what I saw from Keon Hatcher last year and as much flak as I give Brandon Allen, he now has two full years of experience. Plus, the new offensive coordinator Dan Enos is a coach who has had success with QB’s. The defense took three big losses through the middle, but largely remains the same group that held LSU, Ole Miss and Texas to a combined seven points. I realize I need to temper my expectations before the season starts, but the excitement is too real. September 5th can’t come soon enough.

The Davidson basketball non-conference schedule is slowly coming out and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Games at UNC and at Madison Square Garden vs. Pitt give Davidson big-time exposure and a real chance to earn RPI-boosting wins. But more importantly, it seems like the schedule will be a little stronger on the back-end too, which was almost an issue last year. It’s good to pile up wins, but the strength of schedule numbers needed to be higher. I’ve seen early predictors say this team won’t be the same without Tyler Kalinoski, but he’s just one player, albeit a really good one. Between Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham, there are many hands capable of filling his production. And with Jake Belford returning from injury and some size coming in with the recruiting class, I’m not convinced there will be even the slightest bit of drop-off from last year.

The last team I want to mention is the U.S. Men’s National team in soccer, who beat both Netherlands and the world champion Germans this week on European soil. I’ve heard many people say the wins don’t matter because they are friendlies without many of the sides’ top players, but that should not take anything away from the achievement. Taking many players without experience, the U.S. topped two of the best teams in the world. That’s a fact. And it can be a springboard for Jürgen Klinsmann and the program. You can’t tell me players like Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes aren’t better off in the career having this burst of confidence. This was a week to treasure for U.S. soccer fans.

 

 

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Reflections on My Trip to Super Bowl XLIX

I could tell this weekend was going to be a different type of sports experience when my flight from Charlotte to Phoenix was full of Patriots fans chanting Go Patriots as we boarded (and one lone Seahawks fan). It’s fair to say I saw a few more Seahawks fans when I arrived in Phoenix, but I was not expecting so many fans to be coming from around the country. All weekend, my brothers, dad and I watched droves of neon-clad Seattle-folk proudly wearing #12 jerseys take over everywhere we went. They were out in force. And Patriots fans were not.

Saturday afternoon we went to the circus at the Phoenix Convention Center – or the NFL Experience, as it was officially called. Outside, there were 32 trucks with each NFL logo, there was a red carpet viewing area and there were puppies playing football. Line after line of thousands of jersey-wearing football fans from all over the country followed whatever the NFL produced. But despite the long waits, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, for there was a discernible excitement in the air. Everybody was just happy to be there, even those hapless souls in Jets jerseys.

After I showed off my arm in a deep route passing drill, besting my brothers in our competition, I was chirped by a Seahawks fan who proceeded to bring up the Giants, Spygate and Deflategate all within two sentences. How creative. It was all in good fun, but by Saturday night, the atmosphere was beginning to change.

Sunday morning, we began the long trek out to the desert that is Glendale via public transportation. It felt oddly like the public transportation within Disney World. On the bus – a ride in which the driver missed the stop and ended up taking us on a half-hour detour into the thick of the traffic – the Seahawks fans were much more tolerable than the man the night before. Everyone even united to cheer loudly as the bus finally let us off.

Security was surprisingly efficient and effective. Within the walls of ticketed company, it was a full-on party. We went inside to check out our seats roughly three hours before the game before heading back out to do more NFL-themed games. Waiting in line for another passing drill – this 3/3 outing in front of heckling Seahawk fans being my personal quarterbacking highlight – I was right in between two sets of Patriots and Seahawks fans. At this moment, things began to feel more like a game and less like a party. Conversation turned from Friday night Ludacris concerts to respective gameplans. After a free sampling of Tostitos’s new product and a sighting of Chris Pratt, we went back inside for warm-ups.

As we approached game time, there was some serious buzz in the stadium. All the energy that had been building over the weekend crescendoed as Idina Menzel nailed her final note. Suddenly, there was a game to be played. When Steven Hauschka kicked off, it was unbelievably loud. And for the Patriots first drive, it only got louder. At this point, I feared the alarming number of Seattle fans would make the difference. But enough of the spectacle, there was a game too. And a pretty great one at that.

I went into the game cautiously optimistic. And despite Tom Brady’s early red zone interception right in front of us, I stayed confident. The defense came out hot. The peak of my confidence came with Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown near the end of the first half. It was all just too easy. But then came the guillotine. The Seahawks thirty-second touchdown drive to close out the half swung the momentum entirely. I thought watching Katy Perry was going to be fun, but instead, I could only be nervous.

Those nerves reached a point I’d never felt as the third quarter bled into the fourth and the Patriots could neither convert a third down nor make a stop. With every failed LaGarrette Blount run, I sank further and further back into my seat, barely able to watch. When the Patriots punted on their opening drive of the fourth quarter down 10, I pretty much accepted defeat. I began dreading the plane ride home the next day, dreading turning on ESPN for the next seven months.

One stop later, the game was on the line as the Patriots drove the field down 10. It felt like Brady was walking across a tightrope with every throw he made between two or sometimes three defenders. Yet the receivers kept making plays. They kept moving the chains. This drive was about the will to win. It was about giving us fans near heart attacks. It was simply brilliant.

The first low point of the game came when Brady overthrew a wide-open Julian Edelman in the end zone. It was an open Wes Welker with the game on the line all over again. But fears were alleviated a play later when Brady found Danny Amendola. All I could do at this point was focus on taking deep breaths.

After another huge stop by this year’s much-improved defense, the next drive was pure gold. This was the drive people will remember forever as a crowning moment of Brady’s career. Gronk, Edelman and Shane Vereen at their absolute best. Even when things went awry on Amendola’s pass interference call, the Patriots answered the call on the very next play. There was never any doubt about this drive. The Seahawks were going to get the ball back down four. That the go-ahead touchdown came on the exact same throw to Edelman that Brady missed on the previous drive made it all the more redemptive. This was our game.

The emotions from this point are all a blur. As soon as Russell Wilson hit Marshawn Lynch on the wheel route, the dread came flooding back. Then the storm surge of dread hit in full force as the ghost of David Tyree returned to University of Phoenix Stadium in the form of Jermaine Kearse. It was all too real. This was the new low point. Suddenly, Lynch was down to the one.

The next play will be talked about forever. We all know it was a stupid play call – the explanations from the Seattle coaching staff about killing a play make absolutely no sense. If you want to kill clock, kneel the ball. But in the moment, it was a flurry of emotions unlike anything I’ve experienced. From our vantage point directly behind the throw, it was hard to tell what exactly happened. We saw the ball thrown in traffic, saw a Patriot go the ground and saw no reaction from the referees. I was the first to react in our group, noticing the Patriots sideline celebrating. I began jumping up and down screaming wildly as I comprehended what just happened. Seconds later, everyone around us was hugging one another. Jubilee. I wouldn’t stop smiling the rest of the night.

There are heroes in every Super Bowl. But few come from as far as Malcolm Butler did. He will be discussed alongside Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel, Ty Law and other heroes of the Patriots Super Bowl years. Throwing context aside, that was one fantastic read he made. But add the stupidity of the call back in and you get one of the best game-sealing plays of all-time.

Butler’s contribution might help Patriots fans remember down the line that this team was about so much more than Brady. Sure, he might have won MVP – and appropriately so – but Belichick needed everyone to beat the Seahawks. Without Revis and Browner, without Hightower and Collins, without Ninkovich and Jones, without Stork and Fleming, without Vereen and Amendola, there would be no Lombardi trophy for the Patriots this year. Brady, Gronk and Edelman were this team’s shiny exterior. But that aforementioned core can’t be forgotten.

Just about any fan out there could have told you Bill Belichick was going to revolve the offense around unexpected players. But for Patriot fans, it was all too clear that Shane Vereen was going to have a big role. However, few could have predicted the magnitude of his role. With every shoe-string catch across the middle, he bailed his quarterback out. He fought for every yard and made some truly remarkable plays. He and Amendola, the other surprise, were excellent.

Everybody wants to talk about Tom Brady’s legacy right now, but I think we need to spend a little more time on the remarkable play of so many Patriots like Vereen and Amendola. Let’s not soon forget Edelman’s iron-man toughness as he fought for the extra yards despite what looked to be a clear concussion. Brady will have his time in the sun soon.

On my plane ride home, there was a large man three rows in front of me dressed in a black hoodie, a West Virginia hat and dark sunglasses. He sat quietly as Patriots fans walked by without looking twice. From my seat, I saw this man’s enormous hands. There was a black ring on his left hand. But there was a noticeable lack of a championship ring.

Upon landing in Charlotte, Randy Moss exited the plane quietly, head down and headphones on. One of the greatest receivers to ever live walked swiftly, not wanting to be recognized. And soon he was out of sight.

This Patriots team didn’t have a Randy Moss on offense. It had a collection of grinders, of fighters. Julian Edelman, the undersized seventh-round pick who arrived in the NFL without a position, is now what Moss and Welker will never be. A Super Bowl Champion. He and 51 others are not soon to be forgotten in New England. You can bet Patriot fans won’t be walking by players like Edelman anytime soon without giving him a nod, a high-five or a thank you.

What a game.


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Why Davidson Beat UNC & Duke This Week, Arsenal & Deflategate

Ever since Christmas break wrapped up shortly after New Year’s, life has been a whirlwind with travel, back-to-school meetings and school work. I’ve certainly made time for sports, but I haven’t had the extra hour post-game to write. So today, I want to offer my perspective on a few things I’ve missed relating to college basketball, Arsenal and of course, the Patriots and the increasingly frustrating Deflategate.

I’ll start with basketball. Over the long weekend, I had the opportunity to go to three big time games in the state of North Carolina on three straight nights. On Sunday, I was at UNC-Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, experiencing the Dean Dome for the first time. Monday night, I joined my high school friend in the front row at Cameron Indoor for Duke-Pittsburgh. And Tuesday night, I put down the pen to revel in Davidson’s surge of school spirit in our upset win over no. 22 Dayton, taking in the game from the student section instead of my usual spot on press row.

Beyond the excitement I get from simply watching good basketball, I really enjoyed picking up on the differences between the three fan experiences. UNC felt like an NBA atmosphere – albeit without luxury boxes. Fans were excited, and granted, it wasn’t that close a game, but it didn’t have the small-town feel I associate with the college game. I loved all the history they played up. I also enjoyed all the smart, intellectual conversation being had about the game all around me. I sat pretty high up, but I felt like everyone around me knew what was going on and could appreciate the intricacies of the Roy Williams defense. I left impressed with their basketball culture and tradition, but underwhelmed by the atmosphere.

Being in the student section at Duke was the opposite. It was about the experience. At one point, I heard the guy behind me trying to explain what an air-ball was to the girl next to him. This is someone who waited in line all day for second-row tickets, and yet they didn’t know anything about the sport. That being said, the environment in Cameron is terrific. It was unbelievably loud and so much fun to be a part of. But it was hard to concentrate on the game. Everyone seemed more focused on getting on tv and taking pictures than actually watching the game. I certainly enjoyed watching Jahlil Okafor post-up, but I’m not sure the girl behind me even noticed the 6’10” superstar ten feet away.

Davidson-Dayton was an anomaly by Belk Arena standards. I’ll admit that Davidson games typically aren’t great basketball experiences. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this game was my favorite atmosphere of the three. More than half of Davidson’s student body showed up for this game. Where else does that happen? It was loud and engaging but at least I had a little space to move, unlike at Cameron where line-monitors literally push everyone as close together as possible. People got fired up with every made three, and the roof nearly came off when Davidson kept stretching their lead. And then there were the five swimmers, who stripped to speedos for free throws and danced – see photo (which I am in as well). I loved every second of it. This Davidson game had both the basketball experience and the game experience. For me, this game experience beat UNC’s and Duke’s – at least on this weekend.

From a basketball standpoint, I remain really impressed with UNC, having seem them play Davidson two months ago as well. Their length causes so many issues for opponents, and their offense looks even more balanced now than it did two months ago. With Marcus Paige picking up his play, I expect this Tar Heels squad to peak in March. Watch out. Duke looked good too, especially offensively. Watching Okafor in person gave me a new appreciation for how good he really is. Duke has the shooters to make him all the more effective against the inevitable double-teams too. What worries me about Duke though is their lack of depth and their defensive lapses. Justice Winslow also seems half a step slow to me. They’re good, but right now, I don’t see them as being National Champions-good.

Davidson is at an interesting point in their season. Overlooking the recent 30-point loss on the road at Richmond, this team has done everything right. But injuries are starting to take a toll as the grind of the A-10 begins. Road trips anywhere without Jack Gibbs ’17 at the point won’t be easy. Is this team good enough to make the tournament? Absolutely. But it’ll be a challenge to get there with a seven-man rotation that includes two foul-prone 6’7” freshmen forwards. I’m confident. But cautiously so. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for continued A-10 coverage and thoughts. It’s going to be a fun couple months of college basketball.

Now to the Arsenal, where I’ve been way behind in my coverage. This weekend was the first time I’ve felt legitimately happy about Arsenal in a really long time. I’m tempted to say since the FA Cup Final, but that was more relief than happiness. The performance against Manchester City felt like a dream. Texts I sent to my friend included, “I can’t believe my eyes,” “What a day to be a Gooner” and “Coquelin is my hero.” If you told me a month ago that I’d say those last four words, I would have laughed.

But I have to keep reminding myself that it was only one performance. Three points are only three points until you win the next game. A shift in mentality is only a shift if it can be repeated. Much is still to be done. And lest we forget, Arsenal are currently outside the top 4. But there is now hope and hope is something I haven’t experienced as a Gooner in far too long. I’d almost forgotten it could be this way.

I’m excited to see Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott back for the FA Cup tie this weekend, but I think Arsene Wenger needs to be careful with rupturing the flow of this team by thrusting them back in the lineup long-term. I want to see them play, but not at the expense of removing Coquelin or putting Cazorla out wide. I also think David Ospina should continue to start in goal. Wojciech Szczesny made a mistake, and he needs to learn. Sit him for as long as Ospina plays better than Szczesny had been playing. If that’s through the end of the year, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Switching topics, Deflategate is one of the most overblown, poorly handled things I’ve seen in sports. As a Patriots fan, I realize nobody cares what I have to say on this subject and won’t take me seriously, but take a moment to step back and think about what is going on. It’s ridiculous that the NFL has let it get to this point.

If the Patriots doctored the balls after inspection, yes, that is bad. They should be punished. But what about the line judge and umpires who touched the balls on literally every single play in the first half? Why didn’t they notice? And if informed by the Colts staff, why didn’t they stop to check them during a break in action? If there wasn’t a noticeable difference – remember the two pounds is measured in PSI, not weight – then it can’t have that big an effect. The referee should have checked it on the field and replaced the ball. If deemed not important enough to check on until halftime, then who cares about it now? It wasn’t even flag-worthy when they found out they were deflated. They just switched them out. So why are we sitting here nine days before the Super Bowl wasting our time on this issue?

If the NFL wanted to punish the Patriots, it should have done so on Monday. Letting it drag out this long is a disservice to everyone, the NFL included. It takes away from what has happened on the field and what will happen on the field. Hate on Bill Belichick all you want. He doesn’t deserve the benefit on the doubt on this one – I get it. But comparing slightly deflated balls to bounty-hunting and to Spygate is an injustice to sports reporting.

 


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Oh, How Outsiders Must Hate Boston Right Now

Sports fans around the country must really hate Boston right now. I’ll be the first the admit that I’ve been seriously spoiled in my professional sports fandom. Not only do we win more often than not and possess money to dump on free agents, but we are wonderfully obnoxious about it all – think Bill Belichick deciding to get an extra touchdown rather than kneeling the ball. The last two days have been a spectacular microcosm for the relative power and arrogance of Boston sports that I hope never ends.

To recap, the Patriots routed the NFC North-leading Lions 34-9, doing Patriots things like sitting Sports Illustrated cover boy Jonas Gray for being late to a practice with no consequence at all and running up the score with a needless touchdown. I love that Bill Belichick left Gray active for the game even though he had absolutely no intention of playing him. It may have left the Patriots with one fewer player, but he made the Lions, TV announcers, and millions of fantasy owners wait the whole game to see how long the in-house suspension would last. And how annoyed must Steelers fans be, not to mention fans of any team needing a good running back, that LaGarrette Blount wryly worked his way back onto the Patriots with a serious of childish acts that ultimately will carry no consequences?

At the same time, we had our much overlooked New England Revolution playing in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Red Bulls and taking the first leg 2-1 on the road on a dubious Jermaine Jones goal. Hate us for scoring goals like that. Hate us for acquiring World Cup star Jones on a literal coin flip. And hate us for not caring one bit that we have a legitimately great soccer team right now – even the owners of the team, the Krafts, couldn’t be bothered to watch the Conference Finals.

There was a Celtics loss in the evening – we have to have one bad team, right? – but before the night was over there was news that the Red Sox had landed Hanley Ramirez for 5 years and 90 million dollars. Given their pursuit of Pablo Sandoval, the move was surprising, but maybe they’d gotten impatient with Sandoval, or believed his price was too high.

Wrong. We all woke to the news that Sandoval too was headed to Boston, for 5 years and roughly 98 million. Wow. The Red Sox spent almost $200 million in twelve hours on a pair of third basemen when the biggest need on the team is very clearly pitching. Somehow, Ben Cherington went in and stole the two best hitters on the market before everyone’s eyes. And it can be argued that he didn’t need to. You can sure hate us for that.

Cherington seemingly sold Ramirez on playing left field, a position he has never played in his big-league career. This is the same player who put up a stink for having to move from shortstop to third base not too long ago. Ramirez also will join an absurdly crowded outfield, although he won’t be the one worried about that. So what convinced him then that this was the place for him? The answer has to be money. Most teams can’t afford to spend money on superstars they need, but the Red Sox do it for players they want.

Sandoval on the other hand chose Boston over similar offers from two other teams, including the Giants, for whom he’d won three World Series titles and become a cult hero. He chose a worse team in a city with notoriously harsh critics in a more challenging league over his home team that didn’t try to undercut him. I can’t begin to understand why he’d make that decision, but I’m sure glad to have his switch-handed hitting bat in the lineup.

On a quick tangent, the Red Sox now have to sort out the mess in the outfield and acquire frontline starting pitching. I think it has to start with Jon Lester. Wouldn’t that be the cherry on top of this month if he signed? And then go after Cole Hamels with a package that includes Deven Marrero (whose path is now blocked for at least two years) and a couple other top prospects. Yoenis Cespedes probably has to go somewhere, so if the Phillies want him, he could be a chip. Next, trade some combination of outfielders for a second-tier pitcher.

I think out of the outfielders left, I want to keep Betts, Victorino, Nava and Castillo. We can’t bank on Victorino being healthy, but if he turns out to be anywhere near what he was two years ago, he’d be a valuable piece in right. And Nava’s left-handed bat and versatility could come in handy as a fourth or fifth outfielder. That leaves Craig, Holt, Bradley Jr., and Cespedes on the outside looking in.

At one point early Monday morning, 4 of ESPN’s top 6 headlines were Boston related. And frankly, although it was a pretty great day to be a fan, it wasn’t particularly out of the norm. We’ve had many days like that in years past. You should hate us for being obnoxious and arrogant. But I hope this run of excellence across the Boston sports never ends.

I don’t know if I necessarily believe that a culture of winning breeds winning, but I believe that a culture that expects winning demands winning. And as fans, we more than any other fan group won’t put up with losing at this point. Lose and we won’t accept it.


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Grazing In the Sports World Grass

I wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of my favorite sports writers with this piece, using the style of Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy’s “Picking Up the Pieces” articles. In it, I will hit on many topics with only a single paragraph. My current title is a work in progress for this segment going forward. If you have a better idea, put the name in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94).

The Patriots begin their preseason tonight against the Washington Redskins. In what is pretty much his only action of the entire year, Ryan Mallett will see the majority of the snaps tonight at quarterback. The former Razorback deserves a shot in the NFL due to his physical tools, and I think his time is running out to earn a trade to start games somewhere else. Not much else happens in the preseason opener, so make sure to keep your eye on Mallett.

Following that, I am getting excited quickly for the coming Arkansas football season. I fully understand that the degree of difficulty of the schedule (many say the Hogs have the toughest schedule in the country) could make progress hard to see this year, but I fully believe in what Bret Bielema is doing to rebuild the program. I really like the way the offensive line is shaping up, and it makes me giddy to think about the trio of highly regarded running backs hitting the holes. This team will begin to resemble the Houston Nutt Razorback teams from the Darren McFadden era, and in my mind that’s a good thing. If Casey Dick was good enough to ride his running backs to successful seasons, why can’t Brandon Allen? I’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks, but the August 30 opener at Auburn can’t get here soon enough.

Moving to baseball, I was really impressed with Joe Kelly on the mound for the first time with the Red Sox last night. There hasn’t been a good sinkerballer in Boston in a while, and last night the new arrival showed he has top notch stuff on the hill. He isn’t a number one starter by any means, but he could be a solid number two or three on a great team. It was also fun to see him beat out a ground ball base hit – I hope other Red Sox players were taking notes. And it was also good to see Xander Bogaerts turning it around at the plate. His struggles have gone on far too long for a player as talented as he is.

To basketball, news has broken this morning that the Kevin Love to Cleveland trade we’ve all been waiting for has been all but confirmed. Minnesota should be happy enough with the return – two number one overall picks plus a first rounder for a player who would have left for nothing in a year is a good deal. I can’t wait to watch Love play with LeBron James. Think about all of the fast break dunks LeBron will get from Love’s outlet passes. It is a match made in heaven. With perimeter threats on the roster, Love will also be able to play in the post more than he ever could in Minnesota, and I expect him to reach new heights this year on the block. He is one of my favorite two or three players to watch in the NBA, and I’m glad he will get a shot to play for a championship. I don’t think this puts Cleveland above San Antonio, but they are certainly the favorites in the East.

All is quiet on the Celtics front these days. Looking at the roster, there is a lot of redundancy as it currently stands. Shooting guard in particular is full of talented individuals who won’t be happy with sitting on the bench. Marcus Thornton is the name that makes the least sense on the this roster given his age and ability. I think he’s gone before December. And with Vitor Faverani making the news for the wrong reasons, he too could find himself looking for a new job before long. When there isn’t any other news, getting arrested for drunk driving is not a smart move for a player on the fringe of the team.

To Arsenal, there isn’t much in the news this morning other than that Theo Walcott’s return to training is scheduled for the end of the month. As I’ll say in a post in the near future about Walcott, I think he has a key role to play in the coming season, and getting him on the field as soon as possible will be vital for Arsenal’s success. And there is also the confirmation from Arsene Wenger that Manchester United have officially lodged a bid for Thomas Vermaelen, but that’s hardly news at this point. I’m ready for transfer rumors to stop so that the talk can be about the play on the field again. Is it Sunday yet?

And yesterday brought about the retirement of Howard Webb, the high profile Premier League referee who was in charge of the 2010 World Cup Final. He is a tremendous referee and his authority on the field will be missed. I was trying to think about Arsenal matches he had done recently, but none came to mind. I picture him doing Manchester United matches. But apparently after United, Arsenal has done the second best of any team with him in charge. I guess we’ll miss him in more ways than one.

Lastly, I have formed a Fantasy Premier League league for all to join. I’m not a big fan of fantasy sports in general, but the Premier League does it excellently – for all who don’t know, the league’s official website hosts the game which features a FA Cup style cup among all the millions of participants in the second half of the year – and it’s a wonderful way to keep up with players across the entire league. The league is under this blog’s name on fantasy.premierleague.com. Click join private league – the passcode to join is 1154525-274716. I’ll be trying to get as many people as I can to play, so please join even if you’re only slightly interested. Tell your friends as well.

That’s all for now. Have a great day and thanks for reading.