This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Shabazz Muhammad: Despite averaging 19.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals while hitting 53.0 percent of his shots from the floor over the past eight games, he’s owned in just 28 percent of Yahoo leagues, which needs to be rectified immediately. He may be playing a bit over his head, but after getting inserted into the starting lineup Friday, he produced a couple of threes and a career-high five assists. Muhammad has averaged 16.0 field goal attempts over the past five games (he came off the bench in four of them). To put this in perspective, that would rank No. 18 in the league this season, ahead of players like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Dirk Nowitzki. Muhammad may eventually lose playing time when Kevin Martin returns, but he’s looking at a big increase in Usage Rate with Corey Brewer traded to Houston, so while Minnesota plays three games in Week nine, he’s well worth using (Muhammad has been the No. 26 player over the past week in which he played just three contests).

[Week 16 rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Receiver | Tight End | Kicker | DST]

Robert Covington: He’s averaged 3.4 3pt over the past nine games, shooting 49.2 percent from downtown over that span. That’s obviously unsustainable, but Covington has been the No. 27 player over the past two weeks (and a top-80 player on the year) and yet is still owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. Covington looks locked in as the 76ers’ new starting power forward, where he’s averaged 19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks and a whopping 4.3 3pt while shooting 89.5 percent from the line over four games. Philly plays just three games next week, but its third-highest PACE in the league helps offset that, so start Covington with confidence.

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Matt Barnes: He got off to an extreme shooting slump to start the season but has picked it up of late and has averaged 14.0 points, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.3 3pt over the past four games, shooting 57.9 percent from the field over that span. Barnes is owned in just 35 percent of Yahoo leagues despite being a top-75 player over the past month. The Clippers play four games next week, so he looks like a nice start, although to be fair, all of his opponents in Week nine rank in the top-11 in Defensive Efficiency.

Trey Burke: The former top-10 pick is owned in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues (more than any player listed above here) despite being outside a top-150 player this season. In fact, over the past two weeks, he’s been the No. 239 ranked player, thanks mostly to shooting 34.3 percent from the floor over the past eight games (34-of-99). Utah has the third-lowest PACE in the NBA and plays just two games in Week nine, making Burke an easy sit.

Josh Smith: I hate to continue to denigrate Smith, who’s shown improvement lately, as he was the No. 76 ranked player over the past week. But he still remains ranked No. 168 on the year while playing for a team that's below average in PACE and second worst in Offensive Efficiency behind only a 2-23 76ers team. Smith is owned in 87 percent of Yahoo leagues, but he plays just two games next week, so strongly consider benching him. Smith’s shooting line this season is 39-25-46, which is just like Kevin Durant’s last year, only the opposite.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: December 20, 2014, 9:57 am

4A Division II State Championship: Gilmer 35, West Orange-Stark 25
What went down:

Gilmer entered the contest scoring an average of 58 points per game, but it was West Orange-Stark that took a surprising 25-7 lead into halftime. But a different Gilmer team emerged in the second half, scoring 28 unanswered to dominate the Mustangs. The Buckeyes were led by Baylor commit Blake Lynch, who had 116 total yards and two touchdowns, and Kris Boyd, a highly sought-after defensive back recruit, who had 145 total yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Demarco Boyd led the defensive shutdown in the second half, and then did something after the game that will raise a few eyebrows in the recruiting world.

Boyd wins defensive MVP and then throws up Horns with teammate Kris Boyd...

— Mike Craven (@CravenMike) December 19, 2014

Name to know: 

Desmond Pollard. During a pickup basketball game in March, Pollard collapsed and died. The Gilmer Buckeyes dedicated their season to their fallen teammate, and carried his No. 8 jersey out in front of the team as it took the field, with the captains then carrying it out to the coin toss. During their drive to AT&T Stadium, the last stop they made on the way out of town was at Pollard’s grave, as a reminder of who they were playing for once they arrived in Arlington. The band marched in a No. 8 formation during halftime, the players held up eight fingers at the end of the game, a photoshopped image of Pollard leaping for a catch with angels wings was hoisted in the stands. To say it was a moving collective tribute is an understatement. 

Your 2014 Class 4A, Division II champions: The Gilmer Buckeyes pic.twitter.com/QhPc9L3NH9

— Brandon Ogden (@BrandonOSports) December 20, 2014

It was awesome because:

West Orange-Stark’s quarterback’s name is Jack Dallas. I mean, that’s a fantastic name for a quarterback in Texas. It’s almost too obvious. It’s so obvious that it would never even make it in the first draft of the scripts for a season of Friday Night Lights.

4A Division I State Championship: Navasota 42, Argyle 35 (2 OT)

What went down:

Argyle running back Nick Ralston had one mission: Grind Navasota to dust. Ralston is neither flashy nor fast, and he’s been recruited as a linebacker by Arizona State. But Argyle had no illusions about how they could win a title: Take risks on defense that paid off against a flashy offense, and then eat up the clock behind a relentless and punishing running back. Ralston carried the ball a bone-crunching 54 times for 225 yards and three scores. He was far and away the driving force behind their play. But Navasota found a way to hang around, capitalizing on those Argyle risks that went too far, and an interception set up the game-tying touchdown with just under a minute left in the game. It headed to overtime, and after both teams scored and converted, a second overtime. Tren’Davian Dickson, the game’s top college prospect, caught the go-ahead touchdown, though not without controversy. In a Calvin Johnson moment that Lions fans will understand, Dickson came down with the ball, which was then jarred loose by the ground. Did he maintain possession? The referees thought so, and it stood. On Argyle’s attempt to answer, facing a 4th-and-5, Ralston was stuffed on his 54th carry of the game. Navasota stormed the field, and Ralston lay face down on the turf, completely spent. Argyle had won 31 straight games until that moment.

Name to know: 

Dickson. The junior wide receiver is a Baylor commit, and set the national record for touchdown catches in a season this year with 39. He also made this ridiculous touchdown catch as part of the winning effort.

It was awesome because:

Are you kidding? It was double overtime in a state championship. That’s as awesome as it gets. But since that’s already been covered, the Navasota Rattlers mascots are a male and female snake that roam around the sidelines. But here’s the thing: They are snakes with arms and legs. What do you call a snake with arms and legs? Not a snake. This is less awesome than it is egregious in the most trivial sense imaginable. 

This is the Navasota Rattlers’ mascot. What do you call a snake with arms and legs? NOT A SNAKE. Photo by @Tepper pic.twitter.com/GOzmq7dQ4r

— maxthompson (@maxthompson) December 19, 2014

5A Division II State Championship: Ennis 38, Cedar Park 35

What went down:

If Argyle vs. Navasota were two fighters throwing counter punches and dancing around the ring, this one was two heavyweights throwing haymakers, each one feeling like it might leave the opposition flat on the canvas. Ennis jumped out to a 17-0 lead, only to watch it slip away as fast as it was obtained to trail 21-17. By the time the fourth quarter started, Ennis had edged back into the driver’s seat with a 31-28 lead. With 4:48 left in the game, facing 4th-and-10 at the Ennis 21-yard line, Cedar Park quarterback Amir Alzer hit a wide open Davis Fiala for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Ennis fumbled and Cedar Park recovered at the Ennis 29-yard line. It should have been the ballgame. It wasn’t. Cedar Park tried to run the clock down, wound up missing a field goal, and that glimmer of hope was all Ennis needed. Quarterback Devin Smith led them down the field on 11 plays, hitting Donta Thompson for a 36-yard go-ahead score with 21 seconds left. Smith was far from flawless on the day, but in such an evenly matched game, a difference-maker was needed and he was there to wear the cape at the end. Alzer threw a game-sealing interception on the first play of Cedar Park’s last-gasp drive. There wouldn’t be another lead change. 

ENNIS CLUTCHES THE 5A DII TITLE! Oh #txhsfb, you're too much sometimes. @dctf #UILonFOX pic.twitter.com/8ls8anpgZ1

— Matt Garnett (@matt_garnett) December 20, 2014

Name to know: 

It’s not often that the Offensive Player of the Game honor is bestowed upon a losing player, but that just shows how impactful Thomas Hutchings’ was on the field. The Cedar Park running back carried the ball 18 times for 155 yards and a score, while playing both ways, which is far less common at this level or higher. 

It was awesome because:

Well, six lead changes, for starters. This was about as back-and-forth as any of the seven games thus far in Arlington. It was easy to lose track over how many times a team seemingly wrested away momentum for good, only to watch it vaporize in a flash. Also, the crowds are growing. Day 3 should be an even more packed house than the final game on Friday.

Ennis crowd to the third deck #txhsfb #UILState pic.twitter.com/4RVl6IK8Q4

— Matt Stepp (@Matt_SteppTOC) December 20, 2014

Here’s the full schedule (all times central), courtesy of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. For more info on attending the games, check out their page. You can also visit the University Interscholastic League page for more information. All 10 games will be televised live on Fox Sports Southwest. Games may also be bumped to Fox Sports Southwest Plus; check your local listings. The games are being played in order of smallest schools to the biggest, so the talent pool gets deeper with each opening kickoff.

Thursday, December 18
10 a.m. — 
2A Division II State Championship: Bremond 28, Albany 21
1 p.m. — 2A Division I State Championship: Canadian 34, Mason 7
5 p.m. — 3A Division II State Championship: Waskom 41, Newton 22
8 p.m. — 3A Division I State Championship: Cameron Yoe 70, Mineola 40

Friday, December 19
12 p.m. — 4A Division II State Championship: Gilmer 35, West Orange-Stark 25
4 p.m. — 4A Division I State Championship: Navasota 42, Argyle 35 (2 OT)
8 p.m. — 5A Division II State Championship: Ennis 38, Cedar Park 35 

Saturday, December 20
12 p.m. — 5A Division I State Championship: Aledo vs. Temple
4 p.m. — 6A Division II State Championship: Cedar Hill vs. Katy
8 p.m. — 6A Division I State Championship: Allen vs. Cy Ranch

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Max Thompson is at the Texas state high school football championships for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @MaxThompson

Author: Max Thompson
Posted: December 20, 2014, 6:11 am

No. 1 Star: Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets’ netminder kept rolling by stopping 29 shots as Winnipeg downed the Boston Bruins 2-1. Hutchinson won for the third times in four starts. Mathieu Perreault’s goal late in the second period snapped a 1-1 deadlock and stood as the game-winning tally. 

No. 2 Star: Patrik Elias, New Jersey

Elias scored his second goal in three games and later put home the only goal in the shootout as the Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. After his goal in the first period fooled Evgeni Nabokov, he later helped New Jersey earned the extra point with some lovely deking: 

No. 3 Star: Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators

Hoffman scored twice as the Senators cruised to an easy 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He was one of five Ottawa players record a pair of points, joining Mika Zibanejad, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, and Erik Karlsson. Craig Anderson made 32 saves for his third win in four starts. One of Turris' two points came via this nasty shorthanded goal: 

Honorable Mention: Good Long Island boy Keith Kinkaid earned his first NHL win with a 26-save night for the Devils … Ryan Getzlaf netted both Anaheim goals in the loss … Brock Nelson tied the game at one late in the first period and then set up Anders Lee’s go-ahead goal in the secod as the New York Islanders edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 … Newly acquired Jay Harrison recorded an assist in his first shift with the Jets … Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves and Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley provided the goals as the Dallas Stars beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 for their third win in a row. 

Did You Know? The Islanders have won five in a row at Joe Louis Arena, dating back to 2003. (AP)

Dishonorable Mention: Detroit is now winless in their last five games, with three losses coming via the shootout … Calgary has lost seven straight ... Jimmy Howard left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury. There was no update available after the game … Making his first start of the year, Ilya Bryzgalov allowed six goals on 31 shots … Good job, good effort, Lance Bouma:

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: December 20, 2014, 4:47 am

(USA TODAY Sports)Three days after designating veteran reliever Brian Wilson for assignment, the Los Angeles Dodgers have officially released the 32-year-old, allowing him to pursue a free agent contract with another team.

In doing so, the Dodgers will be on the hook for the balance of Wilson's $9.5 million salary in 2015 if and when he signs elsewhere. But that would seem like a small price to pay for a new front office focused on eliminating liabilities.

And a liability Wilson truly was in 2014, posting a 4.66 ERA with a disappointing 29 walks 48 1/3 innings. Wilson's command issues were compounded by a dip in velocity, which raises flags about a bulky elbow. Wilson missed two weeks in April with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow, which is alarming considering he was two years removed from Tommy John surgery. 

It's entirely possible he was never near one-hundred percent. Just how much that arm has left is the Dodgers main concern, and those questions may make it difficult for Wilson to find anything other a minor-league deal. The Dodgers, who had 10 days to trade or release Wilson after his designation, obviously didn't find much interest on that front.

Given Wilson's experience and past success as a closer with the San Francisco Giants, someone will undoubtedly take a flier hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Bullpen depth is something every team needs heading into a 162-game season. But it will be most interesting to see which teams step forward, and even more so how Wilson's arm bounces back. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: December 20, 2014, 3:49 am

The New Jersey Devils edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 after a shootout Friday night to snap a six-game losing streak. They jumped on Evgeni Nabokov in the first period scoring twice before Nikita Kucherov would force overtime by scoring with 41 seconds left in the third.

Late in the first, Patrik Elias put the Devils up 2-0 in nifty fashion. Entering the Tampa zone one-on-one with Matt Carle, Elias turned on the Patrick Kane Mode on his controller and performed a spin-o-rama backhand that knuckled by Nabokov:

Such a helpless feeling for Nabokov. He’s in position ready for a shot and the puck deflects off Carle’s stick, throwing everything off, and he’s left to adjust to a knuckler floating his way.

Said Elias afterward, via Tom Gulitti: "That was more about luck, more of a lucky goal on that one. Good move, but lucky.”

Elias wouldn't be done there. He would later haunt Nabokov by scoring the only goal in the shootout to give New Jersey the extra point.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: December 20, 2014, 2:55 am

(USA TODAY Sports)According to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Miami-Sun Sentinel, the San Francisco Giants reportedly have a deal in place to acquire veteran third baseman Casey McGehee from the Miami Marlins. Rodriguez adds the Marlins will receive minor league pitchers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo. Both are considered lower level prospects.

It's not exactly the big name many anticipated the Giants would land to fill the sizable gap created by Pablo Sandoval's departure. The Giants were also in on but eventually lost out on free agents Chase Headley and Yasmany Tomas, who were viewed as the best bets available at third base in the short and long term. McGehee is more of a short term, fall-back option, but he fills the need nonetheless.

McGehee, 32, is a .264./.324/.400 career hitter over six big league seasons. He actually spent the 2013 season in Japan, before returning to MLB with the Miami Marlins. In the first half of 2014, he came out strong, hitting .321 and knocking in 53 runs, but the power upside shown in his previous MLB run — he averaged 17 from 2009-11 — was non-existent. McGehee finished with a .287/.355/.357 slash line, only four home runs and 76 RBIs in 691 plate appearances. 

By comparison, Sandoval has averaged 17 home runs and 73 RBIs with a .292/.345/.464 slash line over his six full seasons. That's a small from McGehee's career slash and peak production, but obviously McGehee is on the downside of those numbers while Sandoval may just be reaching his peak. The Giants will likely have to pursue an upgrade elsewhere in their lineup to offset the expected future loss in production. 

As for the Marlins, McGehee became expendable on Friday after they acquired Martion Prado in a five-player deal with the New York Yankees. It's not a huge return, but Miami is probably most happy about getting out from under McGehee's arbitration salary, which MLB Trade Rumors projects at $3.5 million

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: December 20, 2014, 1:43 am

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig will officially retire from his position on Jan 25, ending his 22-year run in baseball's most powerful position. But by no means is he going away. On Friday, it was announced by incoming commissioner Rob Manfred that Selig will still have a prominent voice as an adviser under his regime.

Selig's official title will be commissioner emeritus. It's both a respectful way to honor his service and a fancy way to essentially label him an adviser or mentor. It's also a title that apparently pays well. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, Selig will earn an annual pension of around $6 million once he officially steps down.

Here's more on his new role. 

Major League Baseball Commissioner-Elect Rob Manfred today announced that he has given the sport's longtime leader, Allan H. (Bud) Selig, the title of Commissioner Emeritus, which will be effective on January 25th, when he officially retires as Commissioner. As Commissioner Emeritus, Selig will be available to advise Manfred and to assist with special projects as Manfred begins his term as Commissioner.

Manfred said: "Commissioner Selig has had an unparalleled career of decorated service to the National Pastime, and this role will allow the game to benefit from his unmatched institutional knowledge, experience and relationships. I could not ask for a finer mentor during this transition process, and I am grateful that Commissioner Selig will continue to be available to me as a resource."

Manfred was viewed as Selig's hand-picked successor, so there's obviously a strong relationship based in respect and trust between the two men. Given that relationship and Selig's firmly established working relationship with the owners, it does make sense to keep him nearby in case a crisis breaks out or an opinion is needed. However, in some ways it may prevent Manfred from making his own mark, at least initially, knowing that Selig will retain a great deal of influence. 

In that regard, it may not go over too well with people seeking immediate changes to the game, but at this point there really aren't too many changes that are noticeably required. Manfred seems to be mainly focused on making as smooth as of a transition as possible. The feather-ruffling will come later, if need be. 

As for Selig's thoughts on his new position. 

Selig said: "I greatly appreciate the opportunity to stay connected to the game in this new capacity. I will be proud to stand behind Rob's vision for the future and to assist in any ways that he asks. Baseball is the greatest game in the world, and I look forward to seeing our sport flourish under Rob's leadership."

It's a nice gig if you can get it. Respect him or not though, Selig undeniably put in the work required

As for Selig's pension, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told ESPN that the league will not reveal compensation but said the $6 million a year figure is inaccurate. At this point, we're only left to guess what the figure truly is, but we're assuming Olney didn't just pull that number out of nowhere. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: December 20, 2014, 12:04 am

Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman’s offense is grounded in Bill Walsh’s West Coast philosophy.

I know the “West Coast Offense” term is vague by now because of how many changes have been made to it by different coaches, but the offense’s foundation is grounded in rhythm passing and its precision. If it’s a three-step drop, the ball goes here. If it’s a five-step drop, the ball goes there.

And my sense from afar, watching the film, is that Jay Cutler is not that kind of precision quarterback for that offense.

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Before we get more into the fit between Trestman and Cutler, here’s a play that I think is telling. It was the second play of Chicago’s game last Monday night against the New Orleans Saints. On second and eight from the Bears’ 9-yard line, Cutler had a three-step drop and a throw that should have gone to the right. A three-step drop is not a full-field read; you don’t read both sides because it is supposed to come out quick. Tight end Martellus Bennett is immediately open to Cutler’s right, and that’s the throw. You get it to him, he likely gains a minimum of 5 or 6 yards, and now it’s third and 2, a manageable situation to sustain a drive.

Except that Cutler didn’t throw the ball to Bennett, and for whatever reason he looked to the other side of the field, and that’s not in play on a three-step drop. He threw the ball away. Instead of it being third and short, it was third and 8. On the next play, Cutler threw an interception.

(NFL.com screen shot)
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(NFL.com screen shot)

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Here's the end-zone angle of that play, right after the snap, and you can see Bennett breaking open on the right:

(NFL.com screen shot)

Everyone looks at the big plays with Cutler, like the interceptions that get dissected. But the small plays like this one add up, even if it won't be noticed or remembered by most people. And small plays are what Trestman’s offense is built around. If the quarterback is not making those plays, he’s not executing the offense.

This is all just my sense of what has happened in Chicago, I’m not there inside the building to know what’s going on. But I think when Trestman came in he thought about Cutler, "There’s a lot to work with here. My system is precise and it gives you answers and I can make him into a better, more consistent quarterback with those answers.” It appeared as if it was trending in the right direction last year, Trestman’s first in Chicago.

I think you can compare what has happened this year to when you’re trying to teach someone something brand new, and it takes hold for a while. Then all of a sudden it doesn’t take hold anymore because that’s not who the person is, and things get worse.

Walsh’s offense, which is the foundation for what Trestman does, is built around precision in everything, especially for the quarterback. The drop, the footwork, everything has to be very precise. Cutler doesn’t do that, and never really has. He has never been a pure anticipation thrower or a disciplined structured player. He has immense arm talent, and likely because of that he’s a “see it, throw it” quarterback. He’ll wait until he sees a receiver come open, then throw it. That’s the antithesis of being an anticipation thrower. And his arm is good enough to make many of those throws. But he’s not a highly disciplined, nuanced quarterback, which is what is needed for Trestman’s offense to work at a high level.

You need the right fit between quarterback and offensive system. Every offense has rhythm and timing, but Cutler might be more comfortable playing a game where he can pass the ball down the field regularly as part of the offensive system. However, Mike Martz was offensive coordinator there with his vertical philosophy in 2010 and 2011 and that wasn’t the answer either, so who knows.

At this point Cutler will be viewed a bit as damaged goods. But he can still throw the ball and is a talented guy, and with the dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL I’d guess someone will trade for him, if the Bears decide to go that route. I’m wondering if Cutler should be headed for a different type of role in an offense. Always with Cutler, coaches have looked at the physical skills and thought he would be a lead quarterback to build an offense around. Maybe he’s not that guy for whatever reason. Maybe he needs to be a complementary piece in an offense built around the running back, on a team with a big-time defense, so he can be used as a play-action passer and not put the whole offense on his shoulders.

There are a thousand things that go into Cutler not having a good season, of course. If the Bears had a better defense, maybe they have three more wins and we’re not talking about this at all. The offensive line hasn’t been very good, and that’s a factor too, especially since the Bears can’t sustain a run game even though they have a really good back in Matt Forte. But those things haven't happened, Cutler hasn't had a good year either, and now the Bears are turning to Jimmy Clausen this week.

In my opinion, I don’t think Trestman did the wrong thing trying to get Cutler to fit in his scheme. He looked at Cutler and said, there’s so much there to work with, I need to make him better so he can be good every single week, not just once in a while. I don’t think you’re doing the wrong thing when you’re trying to get a talented player to play with more structure and discipline. If that’s not who Cutler is, that’s not who he is, and that might just be where we are at this point.

 

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: December 19, 2014, 11:21 pm

(Puck Daddy presents its annual look back at the year in hockey. Check back every day through the New Year for our many lists and hot takes.)

Players come and go; it's part of the business of hockey.

In 2014, the business just so happened to include many star-studded trades. Some of the reasons for the trades were pretty clear cut (i.e. get me the hell out of [location]), and others not so much.

Now we look back at the famous faces that changed places. Enjoy!

10. June 29, 2014: Sam Gagner dealt twice in same day

Remember that one time in 2012 when Sam Gagner had an eight point game for the Edmonton Oilers, and no one thought he'd leave the organization ever? Then he was signed to a four-year contract extension before the 2013-2014 season? Well that love-fest had run its course after just one season on the books. Gagner was initially dealt by the Oilers to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Teddy Purcell. It looked like a good fit for Gagner, but Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decided to flip Gagner (plus B.J. Crombeen) a mere 90-minutes later to Arizona for a 2015 sixth-round pick. Gagner barely had time to react to the news of the first first trade before learning of the other.

9. June 27, 2014: Ryan Kesler gets his wish - to leave Vancouver.

Pretty much anyone who follows hockey saw this trade coming. We all knew Kesler wanted out of Vancouver, it was just a matter of when and to whom would the center go. After a couple false starts, it appeared the Blackhawks and the Ducks were the final two bidders with Anaheim coming out on top. In the other direction, the Ducks sent draft picks, marginal defenseman Luca Sbisa, and breakout player Nick Bonino. Kesler gives the Ducks the 'one-two punch' down the middle, and as the team is beset by injuries/mumps, he's filling in with needed offense adding 26 points in 34 games.

8. March 4, 2014: Anaheim trades Dustin Penner to Washington Capitals for 2014 fourth-round pick

In the off-season, Dustin Penner signed an one-year, $2-million UFA contract in order to return to his former team, the Anaheim Ducks. Penner was reunited with besties Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and thus stopping the revolving door of left wingers Anaheim attempted to play with the two. In 46 games with the Ducks, Penner had 32-points (13 goals, 19 assists). Not too shabby. That's why it was a shock to most that he was sent packing to Washington. Ducks GM Bob Murray said it was for 'cap room', Boudreau didn't seem to care too much for his effort, and Penner called the move 'cold'. As expected, the affable forward responded to the trade via Twitter in the way only Dustin Penner can:

.@BarackObama hey i know this is last minute & I hate asking on such short notice but can I crash for a few days? I'm great with kids

— Dustin Penner (@Dustinpenner25) March 4, 2014

7. July 1, 2014: Dallas ropes Jason Spezza

Like Kesler above, it was pretty clear that Jason Spezza wanted out of Ottawa. Part of the difficulties in trading Spezza was getting someone to take $7-million cap hit, and gamble on if he would re-sign with whatever team he landed on. In walks a Dallas franchise that was on an upswing after a surprisingly successful first full season of head coach Lindy Ruff, the leadership of GM Jim Nill, and the explosion of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Spezza came to Dallas, and just a month into the regular season, he signed a new deal with the Stars for four years, $30-million.

6. June 23, 2014: Scott Hartnell sent packing from Philadelphia to Columbus for R.J. Umberger

Scott Hartnell was the quintessential Philadelphia Flyer. He was an annoying, repugnant, smart-ass who reveled in the bad boy persona of Broad St. Despite a lousy lockout shortened season, Hartnell earned himself a six year, $28.5-million contract extension. In the first year of the deal, he notched 52 points in 78 regular season games played. It wasn't enough to keep him on head coach Craig Berube's good side; at least, that's who Hartnell believed played a role in his trade.

5. March 5, 2014: Dean Lombardi steals Marian Gaborik from Columbus

If the Blue Jackets haven't figured it out yet, let's help them out: stop trading with the Kings. When Columbus does deal with the devil Dean Lombardi, they always end up giving up a lot and receiving very little in return (Jeff Carter, anyone?). Columbus was aiming to get rid of the forward and they found the bidder in LA, who sent for Matt Frattin (who has since gone to Toronto) and draft picks the other direction. Gaborik ended up bolstering a sometimes stagnant Kings offense all the way to the team's second Cup. He was rewarded by LA in the off-season with a new seven year, $34.125-million contract.

4. June 27, 2014: James Neal traded to Nashville from Pittsburgh

Even the winger himself admits he was 'blindsided' by the trade that sent him to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. While in Pittsburgh, He was designated as Evgeni Malkin's wingman and the partnership was a success with Neal scoring 61-points in 59 regular season games. He looked to be one of several pieces to fall in the franchise's multiple changes after another disappointing run in the playoffs. His time with the Penguins was not without controversy and that likely played into why he was moved. As Wysh notes after the trade, "Neal was a divisive player, with multiple suspensions and some scuttlebutt about difficulties in the Penguins locker room."

3. March 4, 2014: Vancouver unloads most of Roberto Luongo's contract on Florida.

Saddled with a gigantic contract that doesn't expire until 2022, it seemed highly unlikely that the Canucks were going to be able to find a suitor for the oft-maligned netminder (who had a no-trade clause). In walks the Florida Panthers, the team Luongo came from (and Todd Bertuzzi was sent the other way) in 2006. Bobby Lu maintained ties to the Florida area and was happy to go back. Vancouver retains $800,000 of Luongo's salary for the remaining life of the contract.

2. February 28, 2014: Ryan Miller comes to St. Louis from Buffalo

Right when this trade happened, the hockey world started collectively assuming Miller was the missing piece that St. Louis had been looking for all along. Yeah...you know what the old saying is about 'assuming', right? In the regular season, Miller went 10-8-1 with a 2.47 goals-against and .903 save-percentage. Not terrible. The Blues expected Miller to come through in the playoffs, and well, he didn't. He won the first two games of the series and then proceeded to drop four straight against Chicago. All that remains in St. Louis from this trade is Steve Ott, who came over with Miller. Miller left in the off-season via free agency for Vancouver.

1. March 5, 2014: Martin St. Louis traded to Rangers for Ryan Callahan

Prior to the trade, Martin St. Louis was considered to be a player with a sterling reputation; he stuck around Tampa Bay when he definitely could have gone elsewhere for more money. That's why it was so surprising to hear that he asked for a trade after being initially snubbed from the Canadian Olympic team, a roster that was overseen by his boss in Tampa, Steve Yzerman. The captain-for-captain swap appears to have benefited both teams. With St. Louis, the Rangers went all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Callahan enjoyed his time with the Bolts so much he signed a six-year, $34.8-million contract.

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Jen Neale is a staff writer for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

Author: Jen Neale
Posted: December 19, 2014, 11:06 pm

Tired of hearing "Holiday Sweater" over and over again in your head?

Probably not, because that San Jose Sharks video is awesome. But the Pittsburgh Penguins sure did give the Sharks a nice run for NHL holiday video awesomeness in their spoof of the movie "Christmas Vacation."

The video below:

The Penguins buried the lead unfortunately. We had to wait until the end to see Sidney Crosby yell "Where's the Tylenol?" and Evgeni Malkin doing his best Cousin Eddie with "Bingo." 

Nice hat Geno. 

In that sense, it was almost like watching the credits in a Marvel action movie. 

Regardless, there was more than enough good stuff before, between Jim Rutherford as Mr. Shirley or Beau Bennett and Robert Bortuzzo playing the Griswold family's neighbors. 

So far, nothing beats the rapping Sharks, but this is a pretty funny video if you're a "Christmas Vacation" fan ... and if you like the Penguins and hockey in general. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY

 

Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 10:28 pm

Say, were you on the fence about casting an NHL All-Star Game ballot for Jonathan Toews?

Perhaps you’re worried he can’t rock a headband. Or pump iron. Perhaps you’re concerned about him not being the Canadian dream.

Well, the Chicago Blackhawks are about to knock your backside off that fence. Because it’s time to Exercise Your Right To Vote!

(Well, clearly someone inside the Blackhawks video team is a Tim and Eric fan…)

The Blackhawks debuted the first in what we assume is a series of kitschy player-centric videos that feature headbands, tanktops, pastel colors and a 1980s aesthetic.

And if you’ve ever wanted to see a super-intense Patrick Kane in aerobics gear on a step machine winking at you, merry Christmas.

Is it uh hot in here did someone maybe leave the Yule log on a little too long swoon …

The lesson here, folks: Jonathan Toews is a comedy genius who chooses not to unleash his powers, and any time you mine the 1980s for comedy, it’s gold.

And yes, that is an excuse to run this Los Angeles Kings video again:

GOOOOO KIIIINGS!

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 10:21 pm

Derrick Jones just threw down the best dunk of the (young) 2014-15 high school basketball season.

Jones is a 6-foot-6, 180-pound small forward playing for Archbishop John Carroll (Pa.) High School.

He pulled off that amazing dunk in the 42nd annual City of Palms Basketball Classic, as his team took on Sierra Canyon (Calif.). High School. SCHS came away with the 59-55 win.

Jones is currently ranked No. 42 in the Rivals.com Top 100. The senior is committed to play at UNLV next year. 

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: December 19, 2014, 9:41 pm

The thing you hear people who have come to understand the game more fully in the past few years talk about a lot is “The Process.”

The Process, in hockey, is everything.

It's hard to define exactly what The Process is or isn't, because people may see it as different things. For some people, it's defined by wins and losses: If you're winning, you're doing things right, and if you're losing, you're doing things wrong.

For others, it relates to goals: If the goals are going in, or being kept out, for any given length of time, that too is an indicator that a team is good or turned a corner from being bad or has had something go horrible wrong. And for some, something as simple as possession numbers indicate whether things are going right or wrong for a team.

It's unfair to wholly dismiss any one of these as being important. You can be like the Devils the last few years, and have a ton of bounces go against you all season long and lose games you should have won and not make the playoffs but still have strong possession numbers. You can be like the Avalanche last season and get every single bounce for 82 games to go in your favor, despite the fact that you never have the puck. Hockey teams are ultimately evaluated on wins and losses, and nothing more, no matter how much lip service or actual attention is paid to peripheral things.

That, in essence, is why the Oilers fired Dallas Eakins this week. They had to, at some point. No matter if he had the possession trending in the right direction, and it was obvious that his team wasn't getting a single bounce to go its way, but this is a results-oriented business and the results were a 3-15-4 record after starting the season 4-4-1. It's stupid that the team couldn't look past the actual W's and L's in the standings, but that's the reality of professional sports. The Process only gets you so far if The Results don't follow after a certain amount of time.

But if you really look under the hood on that woeful stretch of 22 games for the Oilers, from which they wrung just 10 of 44 available points, you see that no amount of coaching would have saved that team. “Luck” in the NHL, for lack of a better term, is quantified largely by PDO; that is, the addition of shooting percentage and save percentage at 5-on-5, with 100 being the normal number. When your PDO is high, you tend to win a lot of games because your team is scoring on a large percentage of its shots and allowing goals on a low percentage of the opposition's. When your PDO is low, you lose a lot for the opposite reasons. Every team in the league understands this fundamentally.

Suffice it to say that the Oilers' PDO during their losing streak was an abysmal 96.1, because the goalies couldn't save anything and the team couldn't put the puck in the net. Only Minnesota was worse from Oct. 29 to Dec. 12, and even then just marginally, at an even 96 rating, because their goaltending was considerably worse in that stretch (and what do you know: they only went 10-8-1 during that time because hockey's funny that way). If the Wild had fared as poorly as the Oilers, Mike Yeo would have been fired, without question.

But Minnesota is undoubtedly a better team than the Oilers, both in terms of actual on-ice product and in roster construction: They have better players at nearly every slot of the lineup. They are a clear playoff team, where the Oilers are very much not. Even at 10-8-1, people in the Twin Cities often acted as though the sky were crashing down around them.

And what's important to keep in mind about PDO, too, is that teams don't actually have a lot of control over it. If you were to theoretically put together a team of fourth-line guys who were barely at NHL replacement level, and put a career backup behind them, you could reasonably expect your team's PDO to come in lower than the expected, normal 100 by a pretty decent margin. But teams aren't built like that, obviously, and if anything, the Oilers actually tried pretty hard to do that (two NHL centers, two NHL defensemen, and a career backup). The resulting PDO was only a little surprising.

But what no one talked about, really, is that over those 22 games, Dallas Eakins' team had the puck more often than it didn't: 51.7 percent of the time, in fact. That's 12th in the league in that stretch, and it's not nothing. The Process states that he must have been doing something right to get a team that was that bad on paper to possess the puck more often than its superior opponents. And okay sure they obviously spent a lot of time in those games trailing, often by a wide margin — but even with the score close, they were at 51 percent.

Coaches always get fired when their team's PDO is bad for a decently long length of time. Claude Noel was fired last January, when the team's PDO for the year had been 98.8. In the month before he was fired, it was 96.4. Paul Maurice, who looks like he's transformed the team, has enjoyed a totally neutral PDO of 100 since then. That kind of improvement in player performance will help a lot.

And just as a low PDO can make good coaches (and it's hard to argue that's what Claude Noel was, at any rate) look like fools bereft of solutions for their teams' problems, high PDOs can make bad coaches look like geniuses who have found a way to turn chicken excrement into a full-course meal with the world's greatest chicken dish as the entree.

And that's why Bob Hartley signed a multi-year extension on Wednesday.

Obviously, the Flames were in a bit of a skid at that point, having lost six games straight, but it's pretty clear this was a deal that had been in the works for a while. After all, the Flames started out 17-8-2, and with the roster as it was and is constituted, plus all the injuries to key players suffered to start the season, the fact that they spent any time at all north of .500 and in a playoff spot made Hartley look like a miracle worker despite miserable possession numbers (43.5 percent).

All anyone noticed in Calgary was the comebacks — surely the result of work ethic and going to the contested areas — and the winning, and how close even the losing effort were. Hartley had instilled in his club a sense of hard work that allowed it to outperform its meager expectations. And all they needed for that first 27 games of the season was a PDO of 102. Which is not the result of hard work, or the talent that comprises the Flames roster.

(Also of note: The Leafs recently went on a 10-1-1 run in which their PDO was sky-high and their possession was in the toilet. Randy Carlyle, former president of the Wins Are All That Matters Club, told reporters after that 10th win that he was in no way satisfied with the performance; could it be that a hard lesson or three from Kyle Dubas and the last few seasons showed him the light? If Carlyle of all people can learn that this is the actual way in which the world works, then anyone can.)

Teams can, generally, have high PDOs only if they have elite-level goaltending and a strong top-six. The Bruins almost always turn in a season-long PDO north of 100 because Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask have been Vezina-quality for years, and because they generally have forward groups that can make things happen at the other end. (The latter, plus a traditionally strong defense, also leads to good possession numbers, which underscore the job Claude Julien has typically done in this era of Zdeno Chara as captain.)

The Flames have none of those things, relying instead on a mix of Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo in net, and a top-six that's headlined by Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan. This is not the stuff of teams that can post a 102 PDO all year, and indeed, in this six-game losing streak, it's been 94.4. Funny how that works.

The problem with Hartley is that apart from lucking into that PDO, and consequently all those wins, he's done nothing to improve The Process.

For the entire season, the Flames have possession just 45.2 percent, 28th in the league ahead of only Buffalo and Colorado. Last year: 26th at 46.3 percent. The year before: 24th at 47.4 percent. This is a team that's actively getting worse (which you'd expect to some extent because for the most part they're not bringing back veterans, and so on), and started from a pretty pathetic position to begin with.

Over Hartley's three seasons with the team, he's won just 71 of 163, and lost 13 more in overtime or the shootout: That's a .475 winning percentage. They've also allowed 77 more goals than they've scored at even strength, and their possession numbers are 27th out of 30 at 46.4 percent. By any measure, this is a man for whom The Process has not gone anything resembling well.

And to be fair to Flames fans, who say the team has really turned a corner in terms of on-ice performance since the start of last January or so — they're 38-34-3 since then — let's also keep in mind that they're on 46.7 percent corsi during those 75 games, and that's 26th of 30 in the NHL. Calgary has also been outscored by 14 goals (133 for, 147 against) during that time, good for 24th in the league. They're making no headway, regardless of how you want to view things beyond wins.

So why, then, the rush to get him locked up for at least a few more years? They had 27 good games, driven almost entirely by good fortune. Dallas Eakins had 22 bad ones, and was plagued by rotten bounces.

But only the latter had his team moving in the right direction after years of hopelessness, and was given his walking papers anyway. The former's team, which continues its slide, just ensured more of the same hopelessness for years to come.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: December 19, 2014, 9:39 pm

I wish I could say I was among those still working towards a fantasy title this week, but, alas, I was knocked out in a couple leagues in the aftermath of a bloody Sunday in Week 15 in which many big names came up short (Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Josh Gordon, I'm looking at you). That said, I still have some scratch on the line in some consolation contests, which means I'm still working hard to uncover this week's likely booms and busts. So, for the final time this season I offer you the players that jump out to me for looking better or worse than usual this week. Best of luck in your championship matchups, and happy holidays!

[Join FanDuel.com's $2M Week 16 fantasy league: $25 to enter; top 17,475 teams paid]

STARTS

QB – Joe Flacco, Bal at Hou –  If I somehow found myself in need of a QB in this fantasy championship week, I'd feel comfortable streaming Flacco (40 percent available) against a Houston defense that has allowed the sixth-most passing yards and the ninth-most passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks - that looks a lot worse when you factor in how many "non-threatening" quarterbacks the Texans have faced (E.J. Manuel, Derek Carr, Titans QBs twice, Brian Hoyer, Blake Bortles, RGIII). Considering the matchup, and the fact that Flacco has been a top 5 fantasy QB over the past three weeks, he's a pretty safe play this weekend.

Expect Mason to be All-Day Tre against the Giants. (USAT)RB – Tre Mason,  StL vs. NYG –   Mason has been quiet the past two games, but expect him to make some noise this week against a Giants defense allowing 4.8 YPC to the RB position. Also, the G-Men's ability to get after the QB is among the best in the league, which poses a potentially serious problem for the immobile Shaun Hill. It makes a lot of sense for the Rams to go ground-heavy and exploit the Giants run defense as opposed to putting Hill in harm's way via the passing game. Mason has 100 yards and a TD written all over him.

RB – Lamar Miller, Mia vs Min –  No running back has faced a tougher schedule than Miller over the past six weeks, which explains why he has just two touchdowns and has failed to reach 100 yards from scrimmage in that span. This week, though, the schedule finally turns soft, as the Vikings have allowed 4.5 YPC to opposing backs. They also allow the eighth-most yards from scrimmage to the RB position. With Minnesota exceling in pass defense, look for QB Ryan Tannehill to hand the ball off to Miller early and often on Sunday.

WR – Andre Johnson, Hou vs Bal – Things are lining up for Johnson to have a big day in Week 16. Teammate DeAndre Hopkins is looking very iffy to play because of an ankle injury, so Johnson's status as this week's go-to guy is unquestioned. And with QB Case Keenum expected to start, the history card reads very well for the veteran wideout - Johnson averaged 100 yards and scored all five of his touchdowns in '13 in the eight games in which Keenum was Houston's QB. Against a Baltimore defense allowing the second-most fantasy points to the WR position, Johnson needs to be deployed for your fantasy championship.

[Week 16 rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Receiver | Tight End | Kicker | DST]

WR – DeSean Jackson, Was vs Phi –  Thank you very much, Jay Gruden. The Washington head coach called out his receiver this week, saying that he's a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" coach, and that Jackson hasn't delivered in that respect. It's a perfect lead-in scenario for Jackson, as he faces his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, this week. In Week 3, he went for five catches, 117 yards and a TD against the Eagles. And Philly hasn't improved much in pass defense since then as it currently sits as the most generous unit in fantasy to the WR position. Look for Jackson to answer Gruden's call to action.

TE - Jason Witten, Dal vs Ind –  It's hard not to like Witten this week coming off a solid 7-69 line in Week 15 and now facing Indy's defense that is the fifth-most generous in fantasy to the TE position. With DeMarco Murray dealing with a broken hand, that should curb his participation in the passing game, which could lead to a few more looks for Witten. And when Colts CB Vontae Davis is lined up against Dez Bryant, that's also a scenario that could force QB Tony Romo to look Witten's way. And, of course, it doesn't hurt Witten's cause that Indy has little to play for given that its playoff situation is pretty much set.

SITS

This Rivers has run dry. (USAT)QB – Philip Rivers, SDG at SF – I'm sure a lot of Rivers owners already had their fantasy championship hopes dashed, thanks to a six-game slump in which Rivers has averaged 237.6 passing yards and has posted a 7:8 TD-to-INT ratio. Still, Rivers currently sits as the 11th-most started QB this week. If you're a Rivers owner, you should do your part to reduce that Start% number. Go with Flacco (above) if you can. I'd even roll the dice on RGIII in an advantageous matchup against Philly. With Rivers' go-to receiver Keenan Allen out (ankle), and traveling to face a San Francisco defense allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, you'll want nothing to do with Rivers this week.


RB – LeSean McCoy, Phi at Was –  Most everyone who owns Shady is currently starting him (94%). Not sure how that can be justified considering he ranks No. 35 among running backs in total fantasy points scored over the past two weeks - he was a big reason why my team in which I own McCoy was bounced from my league's playoffs. Also, McCoy put up just 22 yards on 20 carries in Week 3, when last he faced Washington, a defense that ranks among the very best at defending the run. McCoy is not getting goal line carries nor opportunities in the passing game. His ceiling this week is about as high as that of LesterCorp's seventh-and-a-half floor.

RB – Isaiah Crowell, Cle at Car  – Don't let anyone convince you that Crowell has RB2 upside this week. He's barely a top 30 RB option, in my opinion. First of all, Carolina has tightened things up quit a bit in run defense compared to early in the year. Over the past five weeks, the Panthers are allowing 30 percent fewer fantasy points to the RB position than the league average. And considering how awful rookie QB Johnny Manziel was last week in the passing game, count on Carolina overplaying the run in an effort to force Manziel to throw the ball, where tunrover opportunities abound. Crowell could very well finish with his third sub-5 point fantasy line in the past four games.

WR – Sammy Watkins, Buf at Oak –  Watkins is currently sitting among the top 25 most started wide receivers, which simply should not be the case. Unless you are a major underdog in your championship matchup and need a high-ceiling, swing-for-the-fences type, Watkins is best avoided. He's finished under 4.0 fantasy points in eight games this season, which means he's more likely to give you that kind of tally than one that you'll be excited about. Oakland isn't much to fear on the defensive side, but it has been so bad against the run that that (the ground game) is where teams usually attack it most, which certainly limits Watkins' upside.

WR – Alshon Jeffery, Chi vs Det –   If you watched Johnny Manziel's NFL starting debut last week, you should have a pretty good idea of what Bears QB Jimmy Claussen looked like on a regular basis the last time he was allowed to start NFL games (2010) - let's just say, it wasn't pretty. If Claussen was the QB last week, Jeffery doesn't score that back-shoulder garbage time TD against the Saints, because he wouldn't have been able to make the throw that Jay Cutler did on that play. Simply put, I have no faith in the Bears passing game this week, especially against a Lions defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the WR position.

TE -  Larry Donnell, NYG at StL – I thought Donnell would be a solid play last week against a Washington team that he scored three touchdowns against in the first meeting. I was wrong. Donnell managed just two catches for 11 yards in the rematch, and he's now gone four straight games without a TD catch. Against the Rams superb defensive front this week, don't be surprised if Donnell is held out of the end zone yet again. With Donnell being ranked (by ProFootballFocus) as one of the best pass blocking tight ends in the game, I expect that role to be enhanced in an effort to keep Robert Quinn, William Hayes and company at bay.

Author: Brandon Funston
Posted: December 19, 2014, 9:06 pm

The Hawaii athletic department has asked the state of Hawaii for $6 million over two years to cover anticipated budget shortfalls.

The school made the request on Thursday. From Hawaii News Now:

"We do need additional support for athletics,” UH Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman told the State House Higher Education Committee Thursday.

UH asked lawmakers for two years worth of two mandatory expenses: $3.4 million for the gender equity costs of women's sports and $2.6 million to help cover the travel costs of its opponents, as required in its agreements with the two athletic conferences to which UH belongs.

"I'm trying to think of a way that we can make athletics somehow sustainable. And I think it will require a partnership between us, the legislature, more external support," Bley-Vroman said.

Hawaii's athletic department isn't new to financial issues. The department has a predicted $3.5 million budget shortfall for this year and has operated in the black just three of the last 15 years.

Athletic director Ben Jay resigned last week and in August, said that the football program could be disappearing because of a lack of funds. Jay will resign effective in June at the end of the school year.

Per HNN, the percentage of subsidies that Hawaii receives from taxesand fees to students puts the school in the bottom half among teams in its conferences. The 40 percent Hawaii gets puts it ninth in the 12-team Mountain West Conference and last in the Big West Conference. Hawaii is a football-only member of the MWC and a member of the Big West in all sports.

When Jay mentioned the future of the football team in August, the team was struggling with lagging ticket sales. The season ticket base was over 15,000 and Hawaii hadn't had less than 18,000 season ticket sales since the 1970s. The lack of ticket sales contributed to this year's predicted budget deficit.

Part of that may be attributable to a poor win-loss record. Hawaii's 4-9 record in 2014 was its best season in the past three years. Since going 6-6 in 2011, the Warriors are a combined 8-29.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @NickBromberg

Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 8:36 pm

You might have heard that Sony Entertainment executives decided to pull Hollywood satire "The Interview," starring James Franco and Seth Rogen that has been condemned by the North Korean government.

It's not a football story. But President Barack Obama made it one. Accidentally.

[Join FanDuel.com's $2M Week 16 fantasy league: $25 to enter; top 17,475 teams paid]

Condemning Sony for pulling the plug on the film, and simultaneously wondering why North Korea would be so bothered by the satire, Obama mentioned the film's stars, Seth Rogen and James ... Flacco?

James Flacco: https://t.co/jsKjhmOo2z

— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) December 19, 2014

Actor James Franco (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Gucci)Yes, the president meant actor James Franco.

Not James Flacco, or Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, or any other Flacco/James/Joe combination who might be out there.

That, of course, led to some hilarious reaction from the sports world on Twitter and a discussion, of course, of whether Franco or Flacco or Obama were elite.

You might remember all the talk about Flacco's status — IS HE ELITE?! — after he signed that big-money contract with the Ravens following his Super Bowl victory two seasons ago. It was tired and overdone back then, but we're lucky to spin it forward in a pretty hilarious way now because of Obama's gaffe ...

James Flacco... Still a better QB than Matt Ryan

— lindsey ok (@lindseyyok) December 19, 2014

James Flacco is elite, y'all. #Ravens

— Baltimore Media Blog (@BaltMediaBlog) December 19, 2014

Franco or Flacco? Who cares? Neither one is Elite.

— Mike Navel47 (@Navel47) December 19, 2014

I didn't watch the Obama presser, was too busy ordering James Flacco posters

— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) December 19, 2014

But is James Flacco elite? The joke isn't too original, but that doesn't mean it's not funny. http://t.co/wWYCZcCAjR pic.twitter.com/iXgDSJN115

— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) December 19, 2014

Why is North Korea sweating this James Flacco guy? http://t.co/8sdigSMaRu pic.twitter.com/L7wQyfySKB

— VICE Sports (@VICESports) December 19, 2014

And, naturally, the real Flacco had to chime in on this matter — and correct the president, ever so kindly.

.@barackobama It's James Franco, not James Flacco ;)

— Joe Flacco (@TeamFlacco) December 19, 2014

No response yet from the Franco camp on this, at least not from the actor's official Twitter account (@JamesFrancoTV), which is just too bad.

This is not, we might add, Obama's first sports-related tongue slip. Who can forget his famous mention of "Kaminsky Field" in an interview with Bob Costas, talking about his supposedly beloved south-side-of-Chicago baseball team's ballpark.

(A personal note: It's also bothersome the way the president pronounces "Mizzou," which happens to be my alma mater, when Obama does his NCAA bracket picks, but that's a far more nitpicky and regional complaint that we can't fault him too much for. And, luckily for the president, the Mizzou hoops team isn't making the field this year, that's for sure.)

As for North Korea, it's a serious news story, yes, certainly, but a funny slip of the tongue added a layer of levity to the whole thing.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: December 19, 2014, 8:07 pm

Nov 22, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner McEvoy (5) runs for a touchdown against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. (Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)To boost a defense that allowed 59 points in the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin will look toward a player who played primarily on offense this season.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, quarterback Tanner McEvoy was working with the first-team defense at linebacker and safety during practice on Thursday. McEvoy, who saw action in 11 games as a running quarterback this season, said he’d play both offense and defense when the Badgers take on Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

“I’ll be going both ways,” McEvoy said. “At the end of practice I had my normal QB package.”

After transferring to Wisconsin last season, McEvoy played safety in 11 games for the Badgers and made three starts. At 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds, McEvoy showed great athleticism and made 27 tackles with one interception.

McEvoy said he returned to the defensive side on Tuesday in efforts to match up with the speed of Auburn’s high-powered offense, which put up 489.2 yards and 35.8 points per game this season. To accomodate the change, McEvoy will change his jersey number from No. 5 to No. 11 or 14 since he shares No. 5 with cornerback Darius Hillary. 

“I just love playing,” McEvoy said, per the Wisconsin State Journal. “Wherever I can get on the field, that’s what I’m here to do and help this team win. So I’m excited to be able to get more reps out there and just help these guys get a bowl victory and send the seniors off the right way. As long as I get on the field and help the team win, that’s my goal.”

McEvoy was the Badgers’ starting quarterback to begin the season before Joel Stave overcame his “yips” and returned to the field after missing the beginning of the season.

McEvoy threw for 709 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions this season while also running for 574 yards and six more touchdowns.

For more Wisconsin news, visit BadgerBlitz.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @SamDCooper

Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 8:00 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media.

Photo via @mitchkorncaps

• Washington goaltending coach Mitch Korn wishes everyone a Happy Hanukkah. Barry Trotz is not impressed. [Via Twitter @mitchkorncaps]

• Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta has the mumps. Robert Bortuzzo and Thomas Greiss each tested negative. Maatta recently came back from thyroid cancer surgery. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

• Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno is on fire at the moment, right on time for next month’s All-Star game in Columbus. [Fox Sports]

• The Kings and the Blackhawks showed us the best overtime we’ve ever seen in last year’s playoffs. [Grantland]

• The Fort McMurray Oil Barons will be sans forward Danton Ayotte after he attacked a referee. [Slam Sports]

• Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson almost scored a goal into an empty net against New Jersey. And talked about that amongst other topics. [The Hockey Writers]

• A look at the future Los Angeles Kings, when they all decide to pull a Martin Brodeur. [The Royal Half via LAKings.com]

•  A detailed look at how many players drafted by teams are in the league, and still producing for those teams.  [The Committed Indian]

• The Blue Jackets have stormed back into the hunt and looking like a true contender. [Yahoo]

• The Washington Capitals are awesome when they score first. When they don’t? That’s another story. [Japers Rink]

• The Minnesota Wild ruined the Montreal Canadiens’ 2001 draft by taking Mikko Koivu. Montreal ended up with Mike Komisarek instead. [The Hockey News]

• Who are the NHL’s ‘hot’ goalies and NHL’s cold netminders? An inside look.  [InGoal Magazine]

•  A detailed breakdown of the Los Angeles Kings zone entries. Who are the best puck carriers on Los Angeles? [LAKingsinsider]

• Shane Doan cannot fathom leaving the Arizona Coyotes. [ESPN]

• Finally, The Montreal Canadiens honored former captain Saku Koivu on Thursday. 

 

 

 

Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:53 pm

The NHL’s mumps ‘Team Zero’ is clear and obvious to Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin.

“I tell everybody who said the mumps started in Anaheim, if you look back from where players started missing games the first team that had some kind of the flu was the St. Louis Blues,” Beauchemin said via phone. “They had (a bunch of) guys that had what they called a ‘bacterial infection.’ They probably didn’t know they had the mumps but my guess is that’s probably what they had. Then Minnesota got it then we got it.”

Awesome.

Keep in mind, there is possibly credence to Beauchemin’s statement. The Blues have been really mumpy … I mean shady about how a bunch of their players had a mysterious bacterial infection on their team before without definitively saying what it was. In fact, they still haven't.

There was even some weird drama about the Centers for Disease Control being at Scottrade Center, until the team denied it. 

Generally where there's smoke there's fire ... but whatever. 

Regardless, if the Blues, or the Ducks or the Minnesota Wild, their players or any other team had any clue about the mumps, a virus that only afflicted 584 people in the United States last year, could the outbreak have been stopped before it even started?

“I never really knew what the mumps was until I got them. I never really heard about it,” Beauchemin said. 

So far we haven’t seen any Jenny McCarthy/Kristin Cavallari reason as to why a player wouldn’t get a booster vaccine. For example, Wild defenseman and mumps survivor Ryan Suter just went with the hand washing method, which failed.

“Everybody got the shots on our team, and I’m like ‘I don’t need to get the shot. I think I’ll be all right. I wash my hands a lot. I’m a clean guy,’” he said. “So everybody got it except for me. And of course, two weeks ago I get the mumps.”

But in a league with a players association that has to put visors to a vote, can you really force a player to have a team stick a needle in him? Even if it has a reported 88 percent chance of stopping this illness?  This complicates the matter somewhat. 

“I don’t know. Everybody has a different view on that stuff with flu shots or whatever,” Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton said.

With the news that Pens defenseman Olli Maatta has the mumps, that brings 16 confirmed, public cases to the NHL. 

Adam Larsson said the mumps were the low point in his 22-year-old life.

“It came right away for me. My face started growing and the fever came at night. Those four days were probably the worst days in my life so far. It was really bad at one point. I couldn’t eat or anything. I’m glad to be back. I just have to work my energy level up a little bit to where I can play.”

Ack, that sounds horrible.

The NHLPA responded with the below statement from spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon via email, when asked if the association had sent out or pushed any measures to lessen the mumps spread. 

“The NHL/NHLPA’s joint infection control subcommittee has been following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations on managing mumps outbreaks. We continue to educate the players on best practices to avoid contracting and spreading mumps.”

When asked if mumps vaccines are mandatory, the answer from the PA was that vaccinations were “available, but not mandatory.”

In this regard, pressure may have to come internally from other players. Suter, who said he was vaccinated as a child like most players from North America, indicated that he felt remorse for not taking the shot, since it knocked him out and may have infected others.

In a lot of ways, it’s no different than a sick co-worker who tries to tough it out, and then infects the entire office.

Beauchemin believes others should take the vaccine, simply so they won’t have to go through the pain he felt.

“It is everybody’s choice, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it,” he said. “You’re better off feeling a little under the weather for a couple of days, than getting a fever putting you down for a couple of weeks.” 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:34 pm

Another quarterback injury has changed the perception of the Arizona Cardinals again, at least in the betting line.

The Cardinals are the biggest underdogs ever for an 11-3 team, going back to when it was first tracked in 1980, according to OddsShark.com. Arizona is an eight-point underdog to the Seattle Seahawks, according to Yahoo Pro Football Pick 'em lines. They're a huge underdog even though they're at home. There haven't been too many teams that have been exactly 11-3, and even fewer that have been underdogs at all, so the sample size isn't tremendous, but the line is telling.

[Join FanDuel.com's $2M Week 16 fantasy league: $25 to enter; top 17,475 teams paid]

Nobody expects the Cardinals to win with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley against a Seahawks' pass defense that has been stifling the past few weeks. Never put anything past the Cardinals, who have overcome numerous injuries to already clinch a playoff berth, but this task seems to be a bit much. And with a win, the Seahawks would pull even with the Cardinals and clinch the tiebreaker, so they’d have the inside track for the NFC West title.

All these injuries are not really fair for the Cardinals. No team is fully healthy this time of the NFL season, but the Cardinals’ plight has been tougher than most. That won’t matter to the Seahawks, who are trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions. And I can’t pick Lindley and the Cardinals either. If Bruce Arians can muster enough points with a quarterback who has a 46.8 career rating to beat the Seahawks, he’s an even better coach that we realize.

It’s unfortunate for the Cardinals that they have to play such a big game so shorthanded, but the NFL isn’t always fair.

Here are the rest of the Week 16 picks:

Jaguars (-3.5) over Titans (picked Thursday): Moving on.

Redskins (+7.5) over Eagles: Seems like a letdown spot after such a big game for Philadelphia last week, though the Eagles might be focused coming off a loss. Either way, it’s nice to have Saturday NFL football back.

49ers (-1) over Chargers: The Chargers’ offensive explosion at Baltimore seems to be an outlier. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that Philip Rivers is dealing with injuries. He doesn’t look right lately and neither does San Diego.

Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman (USA Today Sports Images)Bears (+9) over Lions: Maybe foolish but I have a feeling the Bears actually try to rally a bit around Jimmy Clausen. Either that or they totally roll over for Marc Trestman. Either way.

Vikings (+6.5) over Dolphins: The Vikings have covered seven of their last eight, according to OddsShark. They’re undervalued here, too.

Falcons (+6) over Saints: Not sure why I’d take the Saints laying this many points, considering how poorly they’ve played most of the second half of this season.

Patriots (-10) over Jets: I hate double-digit favorites in the NFL, and the Jets will play the Patriots hard, but the disparity between the two teams is ridiculous.

Steelers (-3) over Chiefs: I know that just when I start to trust the Steelers they’ll pull the rug out from under me, but here goes anyway.

Buccaneers (+10.5) over Packers: I think an angry Aaron Rodgers could put up pinball numbers, but I also don’t need to be taking two double-digit road favorites in one week.

Panthers (-3) over Browns: After what we saw from Johnny Manziel last week, I can’t pick the Browns.

Ravens (-5) over Texans: Sorry, not picking Case Keenum over the Ravens.

Rams (-5.5) over Giants: Maybe the Rams can finally slow down the Odell Beckham train.

Cowboys (-3) over Colts: I’m not sure I get this line. The Colts have nothing to play for, really. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton probably won’t play, it appears. Sure, DeMarco Murray will be limited at best with a broken left hand, but I’m only giving a field goal to take a good team that probably needs to win if it wants to win a division title? Dallas is 10-2 in games Tony Romo hasn’t been hurt and they’re facing a team that has nothing tangible to play for. What am I missing here?

Raiders (+5.5) over Bills: The Raiders have been surprisingly feisty at home lately.

Broncos (-3) over Bengals: The Broncos keep grinding out wins, and I’ve seen too much of Bad Andy Dalton lately to go Cincinnati. The only concern is motivation, because I think at some point the Broncos are going to realize that no matter what they do the rest of the way, the AFC is going through Foxboro.

Last week: 8-7-1
Season to date: 113-108-2

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:10 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

The Miami Marlins have reportedly added another everyday player to the lineup they're overhauling, while the New York Yankees added a young pitcher who they're hoping has his best days ahead of him.

The Yankees sent the versatile Martin Prado to the Marlins, where he's likely to play third base, in a five-player swap. The Yankees are getting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, a 24-year-old with a big arm; Garrett Jones, who might have enough pop in his lefty bat to hit some longballs in the Bronx; and 22-year-old pitching prospect Domingo German.

The Marlins are also getting pitcher David Phelps, who had a 4.38 ERA in 2014, pitching as both a starter and a reliever. Jack Curry of the YES Network was first to report the trade. 

Speculating that Yankees love Eovaldi's big arm and think Jones can hit for power at Stadium, but losing Prado's versatility hurts.

— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) December 19, 2014

The Yankees are obviously hoping that Eovaldi matures into a nice starting rotation piece. He was 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA last season, but he's still young enough to turn that around. We've seen many young pitchers start the same way only to get better as they've entered their primes.

For the Marlins, this is another win-now move to add to an offseason haul that include Mat Latos, Dee Gordon and Michael Morse, in addition to Giancarlo Stanton's new mega contract. Prado, 31, can play all over the infield and outfield. He's a former All-Star who is a .291 lifetime hitter. 

Possible MIA lineup: 2B Gordon, LF Yelich, RF Stanton, 3B Prado, CF Ozuna, 1B Morse, C Saltalamacchia, SS Hechavarria.

— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 19, 2014

Casey McGehee played third base for the Marlins last season and won the NL Comeback Player of the Year award. He could get some work at first base with Morse since Jones is gone, but McGehee might also be a trade chip for the Marlins now.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:01 pm

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6)
Montgomery, Ala.
Dec 20, 2014

This is not a good matchup, especially considering the way these teams finished their respective seasons.

South Alabama won just one of its final five games, and Bowling Green lost three straight to end the season, including a 51-17 defeat to Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference Championship game.

What’s going to hamper South Alabama in this game is its inability to score. During that five-game stretch, the Jaguars averaged just 19 points per game. Overall, they ranked 113th nationally in scoring offense with 20.2 points per game and 87th with 372.8 yards a game.

Those numbers are unfortunate considering Bowling Green’s defense has been one of the worst in the country, allowing 33.9 per game. The Falcons have allowed more than 40 points six times this season.

However, Bowling Green has the ability to put up points quickly, but it’s had trouble in the last month finding consistency at quarterback. Sophomore James Knapke has been the team’s go-to quarterback most of the season, but was replaced in the MAC Championship by freshman Cody Callaway, who didn’t fare much better.

The Falcons do have some star power, including running back Travis Greene, who led the team with 908 yards and 10 touchdowns and receiver Roger Lewis, who had 956 yards and five scores.

South Alabama will rely on its ground game behind Kendall Houston, who had a team-best 652 yards.

Vegas odds: South Alabama (-2.5)

FUN FACT

This is the first-ever bowl appearance for South Alabama, which became the fastest program to reach a bowl game in FBS history. The Jaguars are in their second season as full FBS members and sixth season of competition.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Even though South Alabama is favored in this one, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Jaguars to keep up with Bowling Green’s scoring. BGSU 42, South Alabama 17.

Nick: It's less than a 2.5 hour drive for the Jaguars to get to Montgomery, Ala., the site of the game. And it's USA's first bowl game ever. Bowling Green has lost three straight games. It's the upstart all the way. South Alabama 24, Bowling Green 20.

Sam: Bowling Green really struggled down the stretch. South Alabama wasn't much better, but the program is playing in its first-ever bowl game. That's tough to pick against. Plus, South Alabama is abbreviated "USA." To pick against the Jaguars would be un-American. South Alabama 27, Bowling Green 20.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook

Author: Graham Watson
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:00 pm

LISTEN HERE! [And if that doesn't work, try here.]

It's a (Gettin' down on) Friday edition of Marek vs. Wyshynski beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PT, and we're talking about the following and more:

Special Guest Star: Chris Johnston of Sportsnet on the KHL crisis and the NHL in general. 

• Marty Brodeur's rough night. 

• Bruins, Blues talking trade?

• News and notes. 

Question of the Day: GOING POSTAL! ASK US ANYTHING! Email puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or hit us on Twitter with the hashtag #MvsW to @wyshynski or @jeffmarekClick here for the Sportsnet live stream or click the play button above!

Click here to download podcasts from the show each day. Subscribe to the podcast viaiTunes or Feedburner.

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:56 pm

The demise of the UAB football program has left the Blazers’ players looking for new teams. Linebacker Jake Ganus, the team’s leading tackler in 2014, has found his.

Ganus tweeted on Friday morning that he would play his final season of college football with the Georgia Bulldogs.

I'm so blessed and honored to be able to finish my college football career at The University of Georgia!! #DawgsOnTop

— Jake Ganus (@jakeganus_4) December 19, 2014

In his junior season, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Ganus registered 70 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He also had a 56-yard fumble return for touchdown en route to second team All-Conference USA honors.

According to UGASports.com, Ganus committed to Georgia over Marshall after finding out that “his eligibility would not count” toward Georgia’s mid-year scholarship numbers. He will enroll at Georgia in January.

Several other UAB players have already found a home for their football futures. Wide receiver Marqui Hawkins committed to Indiana last week. Additionally, quarterbacks Cody Clements and Austin Chipoletti, offensive linemen Lee Dufour and Cameron Blankenship along with running back D.J. Vinson decided to follow offensive coordinator Bryan Vincent from UAB to South Alabama.

UAB’s leading rusher, Jordan Howard, reportedly visited Indiana and Notre Dame and also has offers from “Vanderbilt, Iowa, Louisville, Kansas, Nevada, Marshall, Southern Miss., Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State,” according to Al.com.

For more Georgia news, visit UGASports.com.

For more UAB news, visit BlazerSportsReport.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:18 pm

Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on 10 intriguing over/unders for Week 16.

Assuming he's active, project DeMarco Murray's line (atts-rush yds-recs-receiving yds-tds) at home vs. Indy. 

Dalton – 19 attempts, 90 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 12 yards, 1 touchdown

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Scott – 17 attempts, 83 rushing yards, 1 reception, 7 yards, 1 touchdown

Brad – 15 attempts, 79 rushing yards, 0 receptions, 0 touchdowns

Ben Roethlisberger, who's averaged an otherworldly 373.3 passing yards per game and totaled 20 touchdowns in six home games this year, fantasy points scored vs. KC 17.5. 

Andy – OVER, barely. It's not the greatest of matchups, as the Chiefs defense ranks second in the league in terms of passing yards allowed. But KC has also given up 21 touchdown passes while only collecting four interceptions. Ben has so many weapons at his disposal and he's been a monster at home, so I'll trust him here.

Brandon – UNDER. In Yahoo default scoring, Big Ben has topped this number five times while the KC defense has allowed this number just three times. In fact, KC hasn't let a QB reach 270 passing yards, and it has faced six top 10 fantasy QBs, to date. If I'm playing the odds, they are telling me, in no uncertain terms, to take the under.

Dalton – OVER. You’ve already pointed out how good he’s been at home this season, and while Kansas City has yielded the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs this season, that’s been accompanied by a 21:4 TD:INT ratio. KC has countered that by allowing an NFL-low two touchdowns on the ground, which should result in a nice game from Big Ben. 

[Week 16 rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Receiver | Tight End | Kicker | DST]

Saturday Special. Coming off an inexplicable zero-catch game against Dallas, Jordan Matthews receptions against woeful Washington 5.5. 

Brandon –  UNDER. I can see him catching four or five passes, but six is a bit of reach given that Philly has really dialed down QB Mark Sanchez's pass attempts (under 30 in each of the past three games). While Washington's secondary is exploitable, I'm not sure it's going to be that lucrative for Philly given that it's a road game against a divisional foe that can put serious pressure on the QB. I'm guessing Chip Kelly will once again try to keep things conservative for Sanchez.

Dalton – OVER. Since Mark Sanchez took over QB duties (when Mathews became fantasy relevant), the rookie wideout has averaged 5.2 catches while hailing in four scores, and that modest reception average comes with him totaling just two over the past two contests combined. This week he’s facing a Washington secondary that’s surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season, so expect him to bounce back from the recent slump. 

Brad – OVER. Last week was a fluke fanatics. Washington is dreadfully, woefully, terribly bad against the pass. Would be no shocker if the rookie duplicated his 8-59-2 line against 'Skins back in Week 3. 

Julius Thomas, who has one catch to his name since Week 12, receiving yards on the road in Cincinnati 44.5.  BONUS: Will he score a TD YES or NO? 

Dalton – UNDER. Even over the first five games in which he scored a remarkable nine touchdowns, he averaged just 55.4 receiving yards. Thomas has averaged 29.8 yards in the six games he’s played since, and now he’s also dealing with a hobbled Peyton Manning. Still, despite playing in just 11 games (and being extremely limited in others), he’s somehow still tied for second in the NFL with 12 TD catches, so I’m saying YES he scores Sunday. 

Andy – UNDER and YES. I'm not expecting heavy usage from Thomas, a player whose value is almost exclusively tied to touchdowns. He's caught just 41 balls for 456 yards on the year, yet he's given us 12 spikes. In a tricky matchup at Cincinnati, I'll give him four catches for 41 yards and one score.

Scott – I'm not a fan of expecting much from injury returnees, but Thomas had his feet-wet game last week, This week, back to full deployment. The Bengals pass defense is better on the flanks against the wideouts; I'll give Thomas an affirmative OVER and YES to these assignments. 

Josh Gordon, who hasn't rewarded the patient, receiving yards with Johnny Failure Football under center in Carolina 64.5. 

Andy – Um ... no. No. UNDER. I just can't do it, not after last week's Manziel meltdown. If you're starting Gordon, you're simply hoping for a score. Within the context of last week's game, it's plenty impressive that Gordon delivered 48 receiving yards. I don't think I can make myself project more than 60 at this point.

Scott – Have to take the UNDER. Johnny Football didn't look close to ready last week and Gordon isn't in top form yet, either.

Dalton – OVER. Johnny Manziel’s first game was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, yet Gordon somehow managed 48 receiving yards against a Bengals team that’s allowed the second fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts this season. Johnny Football gets another week of first-team practice reps, and Gordon gets an easier matchup. But I have to say I’m not optimistic about JFF’s future. 

Marshawn Lynch, who hasn't eclipsed the century mark in combined yardage in four straight meetings versus Arizona, total yards the fifth time around 99.5. 

Brad – UNDER. This game has 9-6 written all over it. Lynch will be sporadically useful, but considering RBs are averaging under 3.5 yards per carry in 'Zona since Week 1 last year and given his recent history versus the Desert Birds, the Beast falls short of 100. 

Andy – UNDER, but not by much. It's not as if Lynch has been a complete dud against the Cards. He's still a good bet for a touchdown and, say, 80-ish yards.

Brandon – UNDER. Yeah, Arizona is legitimately tough on opposing running backs. I think Beast-Mode will find the end zone, but I suspect he'll wind up in the 70-80-yard range. Should be a serviceable fantasy day for Lynch, just don't count on 100 yards.

RGIII, once again back in the saddle with Colt McCoy sidelined, total yards Saturday against Philadelphia 274.5.   

Brandon  – OVER. I'm sticking with my early-week fearless forecast of 248 passing yards and 40 rushing yards, which I think is very doable against a Philly defense allowing the fourth-most passing yards and rushing yards to the QB position.

Scott – UNDER, since that's such a big number. Griffin's stubbed his toe too many times in 2013-2014 for me to start him aggressively. That said, the Philly defense has made a slew of mediocre QBs look good, and I do think it will be a competitive game. I have Griffin in the QB2 range this week, not a Top 10er. 

Brad – OVER. Jay Gruden's public shots at RGIII continue to paint the passer as a mental midget. His flawed on-field fundamentals certainly supports that. Still, the Eagles are allowing 299.9 combined yards per game to slingers. On a high volume, Griffin meanders his way to 280-plus with 1-2 touchdowns. 

If Julio Jones is deemed inactive, Harry Douglas receiving yards in 'Nawlins 99.5.  

Dalton – UNDER. I like Douglas as a WR2/3 in fantasy leagues if Julio Jones is out in a game that’s over/under is 56 points, but Douglas has averaged 68.2 yards in “starts” this year and has reached 100 in just two games all season. 

Brad – OVER. Sean Payton instituted major defensive changes last week, which proved wondrous last week in Chicago. Still, his secondary is far from lock-down. Assuming no Julio, Douglas is sure to surpass the 100-yard mark for the second straight week. Keep in mind Vegas projects a scoring bonanza (55.5 over/under). 

Scott – UNDER. I know the Vegas receiving props aren't hashed out with depth, since the handle is low, but I'm positive it will be considerably lower than this. And to the side, remember the rub with Douglas: he's not a big touchdown guy. He has 406 career catches and a piddly eight touchdowns.

OLD MAN STRENGTH! Fred Jackson, who goes toe-to-toe with the rancid Raiders, standard fantasy points scored this Sunday 12.9. 

Brad – OVER. The Raiders reek, especially defending the run. In total, 12 RBs have eclipsed the propsed number this year. Jackson, even with C.J. Spiller possibly in uniform, is a strong bet for 80-90 total yards and a TD. 

Dalton – OVER. C.J. Spiller may return in some capacity this week, but Jackson is coming off a four game stretch in which he’s either gained at least 97 yards, scored or saw 14 targets. He now faces an Oakland front seven this week that’s ceded the second-most fantasy most to opposing running backs this year. 

Brandon – OVER. There have been 12 running backs that have eclispsed this mark against the Raiders this season, and if Jackson gets the 22 touches that he has averaged over the past three games, I don't see how he doesn't become the 13th RB to topple this number.

Top-Five Buys. Your best bets (versus the spread or over/unders) for Week 15.

Brandon – 1) WAS +7.5, vs. Phi, 2) SDG-SF over 41 3) TB +12 vs. GB 4) CAR -3.5 vs. Cle 5) DET -8 at CHI

Dalton – 1) DEN -3 at Cin, 2) HOU +5 vs Bal, 3) SF -1 vs. SD 4) CAR -3.5 vs. Cle 5) OAK +7 vs. Buf  

Scott –  1) WAS +7.5, 2) DEN -3, 3) OAK +7, 4) STL-NYG under 43, 5) DEN-CIN under 47.5

Brad – 1) OVER GB/TB 48.5, 2) Pit (-3) vs. KC, 3) Ari (+7.5) vs. Sea, 4) UNDER Den/Cin 47.5, 5) SF (-1) vs. SD

Andy – 1) DET -8 at CHI, 2) HOU +5 vs. BAL, 3) WAS +7.5 vs. PHI, 4) SF -1 vs. SD, 5) GB-TB Over 48.5

Want to bull rush Brad? Find him on Twitter. Also, check out the Yahoo! Fantasy and Rotoworld crew every Tuesday-Thursday on 'Fantasy Football Live' starting at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network (Find channel here). Additionally, tune into 'FFL' radio on Yahoo! Sports Radio Sundays at 9 AM ET. 

Author: Brad Evans
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:16 pm

Many fans take to public forums to push for an ouster of various people in their favorite organization. Talk radio, message boards, article commenters etc. 

But when a fan or fan group puts its money where its mouth is ... that's a little different. Behold the below screen grab from an ad by the "Kevin Lowe Must Go" Facebook group in the Edmonton Sun.

Photo credit via the Edmonton Sun's online edition. 

According to the Sun's website, a full page ad costs $5,680 dollars for a weekday. Wow, that's a lot of oil money -- or at least money that could be better spent on a vacation out of Edmonton. But if you got it, may as well spend it. It's not the first time fans have put in time and effort to asking the Oilers to fire Lowe, and not the first time this social media group has pushed for Lowe's ouster in a paid public setting. 

The Facebook page itself has over 16,000 likes. You can also purchase merchandise from them, which includes bumper stickers and t-shirts. Get me one of those!

Short description on the page says:

Seeing how many likes we can get to create some publicity to get Kevin Lowe fired. No commitment or sales pitch, just like and share if you want Lowe gone

As the Oilers continue their "Forensic" investigation of the joke they have become, will this be included as evidence? Probably not. But props to this Facebook group for using its hard earned loonies to show its dislike, distaste and disdain for the current management group. 

Sadly the advertisement misses part of the point. Bad management starts at the top -- with ownership. So if Katz does indeed fire Lowe, do you trust him to put the right guy in charge?

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:14 pm

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Air Force (9-3)
Boise, Idaho
Dec. 20, 2014

Air Force is quite familiar with Boise.

Saturday's Potato Bowl will mark the third time the Falcons play at Boise State's home stadium in four years after trips to Boise in 2011 and 2013. It might not have been the preferred destination for Air Force players, but after going 2-10 last season, a bowl game after a seven-game turnaround shouldn't be complained about.

Western Michigan is a turnaround team too. The Broncos were 1-11 last season and also improved seven games. And the great 2014 netted coach P.J. Fleck a contract extension through the 2020 season, though if WMU keeps winning eight games a season, the odds of Fleck coaching there for six more years are very slim to none.

The Broncos were one of the better teams stopping the run this season, ranking 37th in the country. Air Force, with waterbug quarterback Kale Pearson and running back Jacobi Owens, average 272 yards per game and are the eighth-most prolific rushing team.

But it may be more important for Western Michigan to limit Pearson's passing. Tossing out an early season blowout of Nicholls State, Pearson's three worst games completion percentage-wise were in the Falcons' three losses. Air Force runs, runs and runs to set up the pass in the hope that defenses haven't forgotten about it. If Western Michigan can not fall asleep in the defensive secondary, it's got a great chance.

ODDS

Western Michigan -1

FUN FACT

This may not be so fun for Western Michigan fans, but the Broncos have never won a bowl game. WMU is 0-5 and its first appearance was in the 1961 Aviation Bowl. Never heard of it? Don't worry about it, you're not alone. The game was only played once. 

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Western Michigan has never won a bowl game and that streak is going to stay intact. This one comes down to the wire and the Falcons prevail. Air Force 28, Western Michigan 24

Nick: In an embarrassing moment that will live in infamy forever, Western Michigan gets penalized at the beginning of the game for attempting to row down the blue field with oars. However, the Broncos overcome the faux pas and make P.J. Fleck the next Kliff Kingsbury. Western Michigan 27, Air Force 20.

Sam: Both of these teams can really put some points up, but Western Michigan is a young team that turned the ball over nine times in its last two games. It will be a tight one, but a hungry Falcons program that hasn't won a bowl game since 2010 will emerge victorious. Air Force 34, Western Michigan 31

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:10 pm

The salary cap molds and shapes the future plans of NHL teams. Such is the case for the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and, potentially, T.J. Oshie. 

Oshie is signed through 2017 at $4.175 million annually. He’s a well-liked player, meshes with David Backes and gives them an aggressive forechecker. And as we saw in Sochi, he's pretty OK in the shootout sometimes. 

But where would you rank him among the best Blues forwards? He’s currently seventh among them in scoring with 12 points in 24 games. He’s been eclipsed by Vladimir Taresenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera. He’s not as vital as Alex Steen or David Backes. He’s probably ahead of Patrick Berglund, but mostly because Berglund’s been a dud this season.

About that salary cap: The Blues project to have well over $12 million in space next season, but with only 15 players under contract. Jake Allen needs a deal. Taresenko (hoo boy) needs a deal. Lehtera’s up in 2016 as a UFA. Schwartz is up in 2016 as well, as an RFA.

The Blues have to look to the future, and Oshie might not be a part of it. 

So they’re listening to offers, and Elliotte Friedman says a lot of interest is trickling down from the Boston Bruins.

On Brady and Walker on Friday morning, Friedman said the Bruins have “talked a lot” with the Blues. “They’ve been linked to T.J. Oshie, and the issue there is that he’s got more term,” he said.

And that’s the trick for the Bruins: Their cap situation is even more precarious. They too have over $12 million in space for next season, but only 14 players under contract. Adam McQuaid (UFA), Torey Krug (RFA), Matt Bartkowski (UFA) and Dougie Hamilton (RFA) are all up; so is Reilly Smith (RFA).

(Please recall this cap situation in 2015 was the reason they couldn’t give Jarome Iginla a 2-year deal.)

One assumes any deal for Oshie would be salary for salary. Loui Eriksson, struggling to find his footing in Boston, is signed through 2016 and makes $4.25 million. One-for-one?

But again, that term … would it be worth it for the Bruins for a player that, frankly, simply doesn’t generate enough points?

Friedman said that “Boston’s looking around at a lot of things. I think they’re concerned about a lack of edge on that team.”

Another name, that he terms a longshot? Zack Kassian of the Vancouver Canucks, who would come cheaper than Oshie. He has a $1.75 million cap hit through 2016. And obviously, he plays with the edge they’re looking for.

Zack Kassian, for whom Milan Lucic was a prototype, with Milan Lucic as a mentor?

Or, given that Lucic goes UFA in 2016 … would this be a “Men In Black” training your replacement deal?

(All salary info via Cap Geek)

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 5:55 pm

Without a playoff appearance since 2006 and mired in also-ran status behind the powers of the National League West, the San Diego Padres are going all-in in 2015.

Friday was another day of frantic dealing for Padres general manager A.J. Preller, capping off a week of bold moves. On Friday Preller landed outfielder Justin Upton in a deal with the Atlanta Braves. That was quickly followed by acquiring third baseman Will Middlebrooks from the Boston Red Sox.

With the dust settled (for now) the Padres have completely overhauled their offense that ranked 30th in the majors last year. While some of the deals are still not finalized, if everything goes according to plan the Padres will have this week acquired Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Upton, and Middlebrooks.

Here’s a look at what their potential revamped 2015 batting order might look like, compared to what their 2014 lineup often looked like on a typical summer day after third baseman Chase Headley was traded in July:

2015

2014

1. Alexi Amarista, SS

1. Everth Cabrera, SS

2. Jedd Gyorko, 2B

2. Yangervis Solarte, 3B

3. Justin Upton, OF

3. Seth Smith, OF

4. Matt Kemp, OF

4. Yasmani Grandal, C

5. Wil Myers, OF

5. Jedd Gyorko, 2B

6. Derek Norris, C

6. Will Venable, OF

7. Will Middlebrooks, 3B

7. Cameron Maybin, OF

8. Yonder Alonso, 1B

8. Yonder Alonso, 1B

9. Pitcher

9. Pitcher

 

In addition to the offensive upgrades, the Padres also added reclamation projects to their pitching staff in Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson. If one or both can turn back the clock they could bolster the backend of the starting rotation which already includes stalwarts Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy. Just as remarkably, the Padres made these deals without losing their top prospects. Catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Matt Wisler, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe – three of San Diego’s top four prospects according to Baseball America – remain in the organization.

A roster overhaul of this nature is not always a recipe for success (just ask the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, among many other teams). But Preller has put the Padres in a position to make some noise in the tough NL West in 2015, and if nothing else a team worth watching. Some of his players are already excited:

Christmas has come early for the @padres this year

— Tyson Ross (@TysonRoss) December 19, 2014

Since winning the division in back-to-back years in 2005 and 2006 the Padres have had to watch the other California teams dominate. The San Francisco Giants have won three World Series, and the Los Angeles Dodgers throw seemingly endless amounts of cash around in pursuit of a title of their own. The Padres are now poised to make the division a three-horse race.

Author: Ian Denomme
Posted: December 19, 2014, 5:19 pm

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2)
Las Vegas
Dec. 20, 2014

Much like last year's Fresno State team, Colorado State heads to Las Vegas knowing that if things had gone differently at the end of the season, a bigger bowl could have been had.

In 2013, Fresno State lost its final game of the regular season to San Jose State. The 62-52 loss to the Spartans dropped Fresno from the ranks of the undefeated and blew up any chance of a BCS bowl. Instead of a win in the MWC title game meaning a possible trip to Arizona and the Fiesta Bowl, it meant a venture to Las Vegas.

This year, Colorado State's scenario for a New Year's Bowl wasn't as straightforward. Had the Rams won out and Boise State lost a game, there was a good chance Colorado State would have been the highest-ranked non-Power Five conference team. The reward for that honor? A New Year's Bowl and likely trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Instead, Boise State won out and won the conference. The Broncos are the team heading to Arizona. The Rams lost to Air Force in the final game of the regular season. Even if Boise had lost to Utah State in the MWC title game, Colorado State had guaranteed it wasn't going to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Rams have a similarity to USC, the other team in last year's Las Vegas Bowl, too. Like USC, Colorado State heads into the game with an interim coach. Though in the Rams' case, it's because Jim McElwain left to go to Florida, and not because he was fired (Lane Kiffin) or quit after knowing he wasn't getting the permanent position (Ed Orgeron).

Utah certainly hopes the resemblance is closer to Fresno State as the Trojans absolutely obliterated the Bulldogs last year. It might have been a blessing in disguise for Fresno. If the game was anywhere close to an indication of the quality of the team, a BCS bowl could have been an embarrassment.

But back to this year. Both teams' defenses are in the bottom half of the FBS, and it gives Colorado State the edge. While Utah's Devontae Booker was one of the best running backs in the Pac-12, CSU has the better quarterback in Garrett Grayson. And RB Dee Hart ran for over 1,200 yards.

ODDS

Utah -2.5

FUN FACT

This is Colorado State's first Las Vegas Bowl appearance. Utah was last in the game in 2010, when the Utes lost 26-3 to a Kellen Moore-led Boise State team.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Utah 21, Colorado State 17: Colorado State has not seen a defense as good as Utah's this season and the Utes should be able to hold the Rams' high-powered offense in check.

Nick: Colorado State 31, Utah 30: Garrett Grayson was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in 2014. Travis Wilson, while serviceable, was not. Let's go with the interim coach mojo for the second year in a row.

Sam: Utah 24, Colorado State 20: Though Travis Wilson can be very inconsistent, the Utes have enough playmakers on offense to put some points on the board while their stout defense does enough to hold off a Colorado State team playing without its head coach.

For more Colorado State news, visit GoldandGreenNews.com.

For more Utah news, visit UteZone.com.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 5:00 pm

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators passes during a game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)University of Florida Police cited Gators starting quarterback Treon Harris on Tuesday for operating a motor vehicle without a valid license.

According to the Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu, Harris, a freshman, is facing a second-degree misdemeanor charge stemming from the incident.

Court records show that Harris has actually never had a driver’s license, but his attorney, Huntley Johnson, said the quarterback is in the process of getting one.

“I think as soon as he gets his license, the charge probably will be dismissed,” Johnson told the Sun. “That’s the way it’s usually handled in a case like this for a citizen, and he’s a citizen.”

There’s a bit more to the incident, however. Andreu tweeted that two small bags of marijuana were found in the car Harris was driving along with fellow freshman teammates Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson.

According to UPD, two small bags of marijuana were found in the car Treon Harris was driving. He was not charged because the car is not his.

— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) December 19, 2014

According to UPD, two passengers were in the car with Harris, including true freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor and another UF student.

— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) December 19, 2014

Harris was stopped on Stadium Drive for going 10 mph over the speed limit on Dec. 13 at 11:29 p.m. Smell of marijuana coming from the car.

— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) December 19, 2014

Actually just realized that the third passenger in the car with Harris was true freshman DB J.C. Jackson.

— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) December 19, 2014

Harris’ arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 15 at Alachua County (Fla.) Courthouse.

It’s unknown if the incident will impact the statuses of the three players for the Birmingham Bowl, where Florida will take on East Carolina on Jan. 3.

Harris took over as starting quarterback with five games left in the regular season. He threw for 896 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions while running for 291 yards and three more scores.

For more Florida news, visit InsideTheGators.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:59 pm

(Puck Daddy presents its annual look back at the year in hockey. Check back every day through the New Year for our many lists and hot takes.)

It hasn't been the busiest year for the NHL's Department of Player Safety, which is good news: It means players are getting it. Alas, as we see in this countdown, many do not. Including some that are one their way to the NHL one day. 

Here are the top 10 most heinous on-ice acts of 2014: 

10. John Moore’s head-shot on Erik Haula

The Rangers defenseman was given a 2-game ban for a hit on Dale Weise on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just 12 games later, he was given a 5-gamer for this hit on Erik Haula of the Minnesota Wild that had a little bit of that ‘ol Cooke-on-Savard black magic.

9. Mike Rupp’s head-shot on T.J. Oshie

A shoulder to the head on Oshie earned Rupp a 4-game suspension from the NHL, which called it late and too high and totally interference. This incident was memorable for former Minnesota Wild player Wes Walz defending the Wild’s Rupp for the hit, blaming the St. Louis Blues for vowing to send a message to Minny.

8.  Gianluca Curcuruto head-shots Travis Konecny 

The Plymouth Whalers defenseman saw an opportunity to lay out Ottawa’s Konecny and took it, nailing the 17-year-old draft prospect in the noggin. The result was a 12-game suspension from the OHL. Watch the hit on the OHL site.

7. Ryan Garbutt gets trippy vs. Winnipeg

The Dallas stars pest had a two-fer against the Winnipeg Jets in December, with a straight-legged trip of goalie Michael Hutchinson and then a slew-foot that lifted the 526-pound* Dustin Byfuglien off the ice and then crashing down. He earned a 3-game suspension from the NHL.

*Our estimate

6. Matt Cooke goes knee-on-knee with Barrie

Matt Cooke had been on his best … well, best for Matt Cooke behavior for a while. Then, in a playoff game against the Colorado Avalanche, he basically did the Captain Morgan pose in going knee-on-knee with Tyson Barrie, taking out the Avs’ No. 2 defenseman. Cooke earned a 7-game suspension and lost the benefit of the doubt.

5. Noah Bushnell elbows Julius Bergman in the head

Bushnell skated up to Julius Bergman, raised his arm and elbowed Bergman in the head, earning a 10-game suspension for the Sarnia Sting forward from this September game. (Watch the video here.) Hey, it’s preseason for dudes who want to elbow other dudes in the head, too…

4. Milan Lucic spears DeKeyser

It’s one thing to go tape-to-taint with an opponent. It’s another to do it when he’s got his back turned to you. The Boston Bruins forward was fined $5,000 for this cup-check on Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings. Not exactly Milan Lucic’s finest moment, but it would be erased later in the postseason when he threatened to murder most of the Montreal Canadiens.

3. Anthony Stolarz slashes Josh Ho-Sang in the head

Windsor’s Josh Ho-Sang gave London Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz a slash at the end of a play in their Memorial Cup playoff game. Stolarz responded by taking his goalie lumber and smacking Ho-Sang in the back of the hear. Inexplicably, outside of “it was Josh Ho-Sang,” Stolarz was only given a 2-minute minor. That was later rectified by the OHL, who gave him an 8-game suspension. Also, Stolarz is a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick. Sometimes the jokes write themselves, folks. 

2. Lukas Kaspar throws stick at ref

In a KHL game in November, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk forward Lucas Kaspar was hit with a slap shot. He crumpled to the ice as his opponents controlled the puck. Like, for a while. Kaspar was in ridiculous pain, so he’s thinking this was a serious injury. Yet there was no whistle. So he decided to get a whistle … by hurling his stick like a javelin at the referee.

He was kicked out of the game and suspended for five more. 

1. Storm Phaneuf, wearing skates, kicks a dude

Storm Phaneuf is a goalie for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL. The crease is his domain. The Drummondville Voltigeurs' Dylan Montcalm crashed that crease, and for that was given a goalie interference penalty.

At that moment, Phaneuf remembered he was wearing Ginzu knives on his feet, and kicked Montcalm with his skate.

Montcalm was injured, but not seriously. Phaneuf was suspended for nine games. But hey, bright side: His was the most heinous on-ice act of 2014. Congrats, or something.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:49 pm

Welcome to the latest Shutdown Corner podcast! On today's piping-hot episode, we have:

• Discussion of Chicago's new quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, who once posed like this: (1:35 mark):

Jimmy Clausen


• Where's Jay Cutler going to end up? (13:25 mark)

• Our Week 16 locks, upsets, and games we'd pay to see (17:01 mark)

• The sad fate of the Arizona Cardinals (27:30 mark)

All this and more as part of the Shutdown Corner Podcast. Listen up, and while you're listening, here are some more options ...

Subscribe via iTunes right here.

Non-iTunes subscription link here.

Leave us a nice review here.

The Shutdown Corner podcast is the product of Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk), Frank Schwab (@YahooSchwab) and Jay Busbee (@JayBusbee). New episodes every Tuesday and Friday, with bonus episodes when you least expect it. Enjoy!

[Join FanDuel.com's $2M Week 16 fantasy league: $25 to enter; top 17,475 teams paid]

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

Follow @jaybusbee

And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:45 pm

Sep 13, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo XIV prior to the game against the UCLA Bruins at AT&T Stadium. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)If you don’t have the Longhorn Network, you will be missing out on some quality programming on Christmas.

ESPN announced on Thursday that LHN, its 24-hour University of Texas channel, will air a five-hour special called “BEVO: Home for the Holidays” that solely consists of the mascot roaming at his ranch. For real.

The special will air from 7 a.m. to noon central time and feature “the first-ever BEVO cam” where “fans can watch the longhorn roam his natural habitat.”

The special also features a “festive holiday music playlist.” We can only hope that the playlist was picked by BEVO himself.

“BEVO holds a special place in Texas fans’ hearts, so what better gift for our viewers than to have him join the family at home for the holidays,” said Jill Husak, LHN’s director of marketing, in a release. “Beloved BEVO on his scenic ranch, combined with holiday music, will make the perfect television background when Texas fans gather on Christmas morning.”

Best of all, the program will be completely commercial free, so you won’t miss any of the action.

For more Texas news, visit Orangebloods.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:04 pm

Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5)
Albuquerque, N.M.
Dec. 20, 2014

Utah State’s regular season ended in disappointing fashion. With a chance to earn a spot in the Mountain West title game, the Aggies were blown out 50-19 by Boise State, snapping a five-game winning streak. The Aggies hope to get the bad taste out of their mouths in the New Mexico Bowl against UTEP on Saturday in Albuquerque.

The Aggies have a pretty favorable matchup against the Miners. Utah State’s biggest strength is its defense – particularly its rush defense. Led by brothers Zach (145 tackles) and Nick Vigil (116 tackles) at linebacker, the Aggies allowed just 129.3 yards per game on the ground this season.

This is bad news for a UTEP offense that threw for just 144.3 yards per game – 120th in the nation – and relies primarily on the rushing attack (212.7 yards per game) of sophomore Aaron Jones (1,233 yards, 11 TDs), senior Nathan Jeffery (513 yards, 5 TDs) and senior quarterback Jameill Showers (288 yards, 4 TDs).

After a hot start, Jones really cooled off during the middle of the season before again heating up down the stretch. In wins over North Texas and Middle Tennessee in November, Jones gained 177 and 147 yards with a combined three scores.

The Aggies will need to bottle Jones up and force Showers to use his arm. Showers, a Texas A&M transfer, threw for 1,732 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but completed just 55.7 percent of his passes and tossed five interceptions. If UTEP wants to win its first bowl game since 1967, Showers will need to step up his play.

Utah State managed to put up solid numbers offensively despite losing three quarterbacks to injury over the course of the season, including star senior Chuckie Keeton. After Darrel Garretson and Craig Harrison also went down, true freshman Kent Myers filled in admirably, throwing for 798 yards and five touchdowns while completing 69.2 percent of his passes. He also showed an ability to make plays with his legs, racking up 240 yards and four scores on the ground over the course of six games.

ODDS

Utah State (-10)

FUN FACT

UTEP running back Aaron Jones gained 549 yards and scored seven touchdowns in his first three games of the season. Over the season’s final eight games, Jones gained 684 yards and scored only four touchdowns.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Utah State 35, UTEP 14: UTEP's offense has revolved around its running game and it's going up against a Utah State defense that excels against the run. Even though Utah State is on its fourth quarterback, it's still the better team in this game.

Nick: Utah State 27, UTEP 19: The ghost of Chuckie Keeton wills the Aggies to a victory as the Miners are overmatched and afraid of ghosts.

Sam: Utah State 31, UTEP 17: UTEP didn’t beat a single team with a winning record this season. I don’t expect that to change. The Aggies’ defense will be too much.

For more UTEP news, visit MinerIllustrated.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:00 pm

I'm going to tread lightly here, since any one of the multitude of kicks and punches Darko Milicic threw opposite fellow Serbian Radovan Radojcic would knock me the hell out, but the NBA's failed former No. 2 overall pick lost his kickboxing debut, and that presents plenty of opportunity for jokes.

Famously picked by the Pistons immediately behind LeBron James and ahead of future All-NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 draft, Milicic earned a bust label after playing for six teams over 10 seasons. His kickboxing career is off to a similarly inauspicious start.

As first reported by the Associated Press and later evident in video of the defeat, Milicic suffered a nasty cut on his left leg that forced officials to call the World Kickboxing Association fight in the second round. The man who once suggested he'd "kill someone on the court" if he had to couldn't do so in the ring.

While some may suggest Milicic stick to what he does best, carp fishing, he has a different take.

"The next time, it will be better," the 7-footer said, according to the AP. "I'm invincible."

We should not doubt his indomitability, since he once vowed to drive home at 80 miles per hour in a snowstorm during his short-lived Boston tenure in his final season as a professional basketball player.

Milicic, who previously pledged to donate the proceeds from the fight to charity, appeared in good spirits as he hoisted a second-place trophy following the loss. It's probably better to bite my lip here than suffer a busted one at the hands and feet of Milicic next time I find myself near a Serbian kickboxing ring.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don't Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: December 19, 2014, 3:22 pm

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
New Orleans, La.
Dec. 20, 2014

Louisiana-Lafayette will be in familiar territory for its 2014 bowl game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will head east to the Superdome looking for its fourth straight win for a 10 a.m. local start in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday against Nevada.

The Cajuns overcame a 1-3 to start to win seven of its last eight games, finishing 8-4 overall and second in the Sun Belt with a 7-1 conference record. Led by dual-threat senior quarterback Terrance Broadway, a three-year starter, and sophomore tailback Elijah McGuire, ULL put up an average of 229.4 yards rushing a game, 23rd in the country.

Broadway threw for 2,073 yards and 12 touchdowns while gaining 634 yards and three scores on the ground. McGuire racked up 1,165 yards and 14 touchdowns on 7.8 yards per carry. Additionally, 238-pound senior Alonzo Harris ran for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns.

At 7-5, the Wolf Pack had an up-and-down season, but it was certainly an improvement over a 4-8 2013 campaign. Like ULL, Nevada also features a heavy rushing attack with a dual-threat senior quarterback. Cody Fajardo had an impressive senior season, throwing for 2,374 yards and 18 touchdowns while also running for 997 yards and 13 scores.

Fajardo has a slew of playmakers to give the ball to, including three wideouts with 45 or more receptions – Richy Turner (58 catches, 541 yards, 4 TDs), Jerico Richardson (53-626-3) and Hasaan Henderson (45-579-4) – and running backs Don Jackson (932 yards, 7 TDs) and James Butler (620 yards, 5 TDs).

Though it gave up 28.2 points per game, Nevada’s defense forced 26 turnovers this season. If it can force the Ragin’ Cajuns to put the ball on the ground, the Wolf Pack could reverse its bowl fortunes in recent years. Nevada has reached postseason play in nine of the last 10 seasons, but won just one twice – once in 2005 and once in 2010.

ODDS

Nevada (-1)

FUN FACT

Though he is second on ULL in rushing yards this season due to the emergence of Elijah McGuire, Alonzo Harris is third in program history with 3,260 career rushing yards. With 76 yards on the ground against Nevada, Harris can pass 13-year NFL veteran Brian Mitchell (3,335 yards) in the school’s record book.

PREDICTIONS

Graham: Nevada 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 17: Both of these teams excel in their respective running games, but Nevada has a little more versatility and few more weapons. Also, the Wolf Pack defense has been strong this season, forcing 26 turnovers.

Nick: Nevada 33, Louisiana-Lafayette 28: We'll take the mullet over the bench press in this game, as ULL coach Mark Hudspeth will be unable to press his team to victory.

Sam: Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nevada 24: There’s just something about the Ragin’ Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl that makes it tough to pick against them. ULL’s three-headed rushing attack of Broadway, McGuire and Harris is going to be tough for the Wolf Pack to stop. Cody Fajardo is going to keep it close, but I like ULL to pull it out in its home state.

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 3:00 pm

Whenever Ryan Suter gets into trouble, he just skates out of it. This is what he has done his entire career, and it’s a fascinating attribute to watch: If an attacking player comes at Suter in his own zone, he slips out, starts to churn his legs and glides away. In some ways, he's the American version of Scott Niedermayer, a two-way slick-skating blueliner who is as strong defensively as he is offensively. 

It's an ability that helps him on the ice, as it has since he was a young child learning to play hockey in Madison, Wisc. But as he's discovered this season, he can also skate away from distress and pain off the ice. 

While the summer of 2012 was one of Suter’s biggest moments of his career, when he ended up with a 13-year $98 million contract from the Minnesota Wild, the 2014-15 hockey season has been one of the toughest.

His father Bob, a 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympian died before the year began, on Sept. 9 from a heart attack.

Then Ryan Suter contracted the mumps, an illness that was officially announced on Dec. 4. 

“After going through earlier in the year with my dad, I feel like nothing can hurt me anymore,” Ryan said. “That is the biggest blow I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I got along with my dad pretty darn good. We had a pretty good relationship, so that was probably … nothing can faze me after dealing with that.”

And through it all, Ryan has simply continued to skate – for almost half a game. He has averaged 29:34 of ice-time through 28 contests. If he endures this pace, it would be the highest of his career. It’s a way to calm down, and just forget about life. 

“The more that I’m on the ice, the more comfortable I feel, the more I don’t have to think, the more you just go out and play,” he said. “I think it’s easier to play more minutes. The part that kind of bothers me about it, is having to … I don’t want that to be ‘Ryan Suter played all these minutes.’ I want it to be that he’s a good player.” 

When Ryan saw his wife Becky at an informal skate last September at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minnesota, he knew something was off. Immediately Ryan thought there was something wrong with one of his two children. Instead it was more complicated.

“She had said (my dad) had a heart attack,” Ryan said. “So I’m thinking, ‘He’ll be in the hospital, we’ll go to Madison and everything is going to be fine.’”

But it wasn’t OK. After a phone call with his brother, Ryan knew that life was about to be altered dramatically. 

"It’s the worst thing ever, it’s the worst day of my life," Ryan said.  

Just 10 days later, he showed up for the first day of training camp, fought back tears and talked about the experience and his father’s wake, which was attended by a reported 4,000 people.  

"Leaving is tough," he said. "It was tough to leave. Everyone's probably going to think I'm just so soft. It was tough leaving to come up here because it was close and I knew he loved coming up here to watch games. It sucks. I feel bad for everybody that's gone through it." 

And then the season started, and he went back to what he does best – running the Wild’s attack from the blueline and controlling the pace of the game.

He then woke up Sunday Nov. 30 after a Nov. 29 loss to the Blues, and felt off.

After some tests, it was confirmed that he had the mumps.

Becky Suter was pregnant with the couple’s third child – according to the Mayo Clinic, a possible mumps complication is miscarriage early in pregnancy – so Ryan locked himself in a room in their house away from the rest of their family, including his two vaccinated children.

If he needed to eat, he put on a surgical mask and Becky would serve him food. 

After Ryan finished the contagious period of the virus he scrubbed down the entire room with anti-bacterial wipes.

“I wiped down every single part of that room that could have gotten anything on it, Ryan said. “Wiping the fan down, washed all the sheets, so I sterilized the room right away so she didn’t have to deal with it.” 

His first game back against the Islanders on Dec. 9, he played 29:08 and notched three assists. Against the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 13, he played 33:07. 

Ice-time may not be a sexy Norris Trophy stat, and Suter may have his own issues as being known as the guy who plays forever, but there’s something about putting him on the ice that makes a coach look better.

The Wild’s Mike Yeo probably knows that with Suter playing for half a game, that’s 30 minutes where he doesn’t have to worry about his team’s defense. And Suter doesn’t have to worry about anything. It's a win-win for both sides. 

“There’s a time to be physical and a time to put a hit on someone,” Suter said. “For me a lot of the time (I spend) is protecting the middle of the ice and playing and using your brain more than your body so you can think the game more and not exert so much energy skating around and chasing guys around. You can think where they’re going to be and anticipate a little bit more.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY

Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: December 19, 2014, 2:56 pm

It was one tackle in a game that was, otherwise, the definition of unmemorable. A tackle to bring a merciful end to a slapfight between two 2-12 teams, a sack of the Tennessee Titans' Charlie Whitehurst through an indifferent O-line. But for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, it was the most profitable tackle of his entire career.

The sack triggered a $600,000 bonus in Marks' contract; he had to achieve at least eight sacks this season, and he now has 8 1/2. The sack preserved Jacksonville's 21-13 win against Tennessee, giving the Jaguars the tiniest measure of hope for a better year and giving Titans fans more reason to hope for Marcus Mariota in Tennessee blues.

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For his part, Marks knew exactly where he stood. After making the sack, he leaped up and made the Johnny Manziel "money" gesture before getting buried by teammates in a celebratory pile. After the game, he invited pretty much the entire city of Jacksonville to party with him.

"It was pretty awesome," Marks said. "Just the excitement of all the guys. Everybody's excited about somebody else accomplishing something. It just shows the character of our team and the guys that we have. Nobody gets that check but me, but everybody's excited for me. It's just the commitment we all have to one another and the character of each guy in here."

Maybe so, but Marks deserves plenty of credit all on his own. Coming into this season, he only had seven sacks total for his previous five years in the league, one with Jacksonville and four with Tennessee. He's more than doubled his total of four sacks last season.

In the end, Marks is getting the check, but his teammates are apparently going to help him use it. "Oh, we're going to spend some of that money," DE Red Bryant said.

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: December 19, 2014, 2:12 pm
Dec 18, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) skates against Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m the lead physician for Hockey Monitoring Mumps Measles, Muscus and Mirsey, a.k.a. HMMMMM… 

“We’ve instructed the members of the National Hockey League to do what they can to stop the spread of infectious diseases, lest anyone wish to see Sidney Crosby do another media availability looking like he’s hiding a boomerang in his cheek.

“To that end, we present this short feature called ‘How To Not Spread Bodily Fluids And Be Generally Gross, Starring Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Here we see Mr. Giroux, once called the best player in the world by the current coach of the Nashville Predators, taking off his glove, bringing his finger to his face and then vigorously wiping his hand on the back of a linesman before a faceoff against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The common theory here is that Mr.. Giroux is applying a viscous colloid, a.k.a. a ‘booger’ to the official’s shirt, a common practice among second graders but a bit of a lost art in pro hockey.

“While some are quick to blame Mr. Giroux, we believe this is a general failure on the part of the National Hockey League to not have small boxes of Kleenex attached to the belts of each on-ice official. 

“Later in the week, Mr. Giroux was playing the Florida Panthers when he leaned over and began gnawing on the sweater of defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

“This, again, is curious and troublesome behavior at a time when mumps are affecting true superstars of the game like Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry as well as Tanner Glass. Recent statistics show there are currently more NHL players with the mumps than there would have been fans in the stands had this game been played in Sunrise.

“But, again, we can’t put the blame on Mr. Giroux. Clearly it’s the responsibility of the National Hockey League to have more snacks readily available around the ice for the players. A bowl of peanuts near the benches. Maybe a Cliff bar in the penalty box. Had they been, we believe Mr. Giroux would have relented from chewing on synthetic fibers or, potential, human shoulder flesh. 

“In summary, we here at HMMMMM excuse this pattern of seemingly gross, yucky and grucky behavior from Mr. Giroux in recent games.

“Although, admittedly, we don’t have any medical explanation for that whole grabbing a cop’s buttocks thing without a definitive measurement of his blood alcohol levels …”

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 2:10 pm

Holiday spirit is in a little shorter supply this season in Chicago with the Bears' struggles this season, but injured cornerback Charles Tillman is trying to keep a healthy perspective on the team and himself — and also giving fans a reason to smile — as best he can.

"It has just been one of those years, man," Tillman told the Shutdown Corner. "Every year, some team just has one of those years. That's us."

Tilman has been working back from a season-ending triceps injury he suffered back in Week 2 that put his career status in doubt, but he's rehabbing dutifully and taking part in his usual dose of community service — he was the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year last season — for which he is widely respected in the community.

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He's also at a loss for words on why the Bears' season has gone so awry. Tillman blames injuries and bad luck as the primary factors.

"I don't think anyone could have foreseen how this has gone. I always have felt that we have a chance to win the Super Bowl before the season, and this year was no different. I just think injuries had a lot to do with it. We just have not been healthy, and that's something this team has struggled with the last two years.

"I think everyone did everything they could to come into the season healthy, but stuff happens. It's football, man. The football Gods made sure we were going to all be injured this year, so that's how it went."

The Bears lost Tillman in Week 2, and other stalwarts went down throughout the season: linebacker Lance Briggs, receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive end Lamarr Houston and linebacker D.J. Williams, among them. But most of those injuries took place well into the season — after the Bears' struggles were well underway.

Their injuries from the 2013 season appeared to be more serious and plentiful, when the team lost several starters for various lengths, but still finished 8-8 and on the cusp of the playoffs.

Other factors have derailed the Bears' 2014 season. First, the struggles of the defense continued to the point where coordinator Mel Tucker was made out to be the fall guy. Tillman thinks this was unfair.

"I don't agree with Mel being the fall guy," he said. "I believe we as players have to make plays. If you blame Mel, you have to blame the players, too. It's not just one man's job or duty. You need all 11 guys and coaches on board, working together as one. If you don't have that, you lose.

"We've shown collectively how great we can be at times, but we have been inconsistent. We've been consistently inconsistent. That's a little frustrating because I know the level of talent we have. On paper, we're talented. But some days we just don't show up."

More recently, the Aaron Kromer breach of trust has divided the locker room. Tillman couldn't help but acknowledge the situation but also said it's not the kind of thing that will linger long term.

"I think there might have been a little trust lost with a few words that were said a few weeks ago, but I also know that there was an apology and we've all come to terms with that," he said. "I relate that to, if you have a problem with your wife and have a falling out, are you not going to ever trust them again?

"You still love each other. You fight and you work through it. Let's be done with it and move on. It's no different in the locker room. That tension exists, and we face each other like men, forgive each other and move on. I think that's normal."

As for the much-discussed benching of quarterback Jay Cutler, Tillman indicated that the decision was above his and his teammates' pay grades.

"Those are coach's decisions," Tillman said. "We, as a team, just have to roll with it and trust that they have the best interest of the team with the decisions they make."

Does Tillman agree with Martellus Bennett's assessment following the loss to the New Orleans Saints that some Bears have quit on the team?

"I don't know. I think guys are. I think it's just one of those years where no matter what happens, everything has gone wrong. I see guys put in the work; I see the effort. I think frustration has killed some passion, though."

Tillman has said recently he intends to return to the NFL next season, health willing, but that everything feels good with his triceps now.

"The triceps is awesome," he said. "I feel strong. ...I am lifting a little weight now. Right now, the goal is to get my arm as strong as I can.

"No Peanut punching right now; maybe some peanut jabs. It's not where it needs to be yet. But I'm getting close to hopefully making some plays next year for the team."

Is a return to the Bears in the offing for 2015?

"I [would] return to the Bears," he said. "But right now I look at it as interviewing for all 32 teams. The Bears are included in that. I have no ill will whatsoever. I am keeping all options open."

But being hurt hasn't dampened Tillman's charitable heart, and he recently found a new team to work with — Courtyard, the official hotel of the NFL — to raise some holiday spirit in a video series the hotel chain is doing called "Courtyard Camera" with NFL players.

Tillman posed in disguise as an overzealous holiday video director in a Chicago branch of the hotel and tried to recruit guests to sing songs for him on tape.

"I'm a kid at heart, and anytime there are cameras there is going to be fun to be had if I am involved," Tillman said. "My job was to get [hotel guests] to go along with it and sing 'Jingle Bells.' They had no idea who I was. I had props, a disguise, I was acting so serious ... people thought I was crazy. And no one knew who I was.

"I was screwing up people's names on purpose, pushing it right to the edge without them getting mad."

The results are pretty amusing. Have a look:

Tillman's body might be injured, but his heart is just as warm and vibrant as before.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:37 pm

Is Mississippi State wearing a white version of its 100th anniversary uniforms against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl?

Athletic director Scott Stricklin tweeted a picture of the jerseys, complete with Orange Bowl patch, on Thursday.

I wonder what a white version of the @HailStateFB “100 Year” uni would look like at the @OrangeBowl? #SpoilerAlert pic.twitter.com/84SyyUfrIS

— Scott Stricklin (@stricklinMSU) December 19, 2014

MSU wore the home version of the uniforms earlier in the year against Southern Miss. Besides being a different color, the home uniforms had "Hail State" on the front. The white ones simply say "Mississippi State."

For comparison's sake, here's what Mississippi State's regular road uniforms looked like in 2014.

The Bulldogs in white also means we likely won't get to see Georgia Tech's sweet white honeycomb helments. Maybe they'll wear gold versions?

For more Mississippi State news, visit BulldogBlitz.com.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 12:46 pm

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer brought a former quarterback of his to speak to his football team Thursday night.

No, it wasn't Chris Leak, or Alex Smith. Not that you were going to guess either of them anyway.

Privileged to have one of the greatest competitors in this sport @TimTebow speak to the team tonight pic.twitter.com/skGFtM9ZCa

— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) December 18, 2014

Maybe this will help some people believe that ESPN doesn't have an agenda for the SEC at the expense of other conferences? Because otherwise, why would the network allow an SEC Network employee to speak to a team about to face Alabama?

Or maybe Tebow is a double agent and as part of being an SEC Network employee, was using his friendship with Meyer to spy for Alabama and give Nick Saban Ohio State's secrets? That'd be a heel-turn greater than any WWE scriptwriter could think up.

But we do know this. Tebow's presence in Columbus means he wasn't in Arizona on Thursday night preparing with the Cardinals to play on Sunday against the Seahawks.

For more Ohio State news, visit BuckeyeGrove.com.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 12:28 pm

It's becoming increasingly obvious that general managers around Major League Baseball don't place sleep high on their list of priorities. When they're closing in on a deal? Forget about it.

The latest late night/early morning deal is brought to us by Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal, who reports the San Francisco Giants and GM Brian Sabean have reached an agreement to bring back veteran right-hander Jake Peavy on a two-year deal.

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick later confirmed the overnight agreement and the financials, which come in at $24 million guaranteed.

Peavy will make $7M in 2015 and $13M in 2016. $4M signing bonus and full no trade clause.

— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 19, 2014

While the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres aggressively move furniture around in hopes of surpassing the Giants in the NL West, the defending World Series champions have yet to make an addition of note this winter. That's significant on its own accord, but it becomes more glaring when you consider they've also lost a cornerstone in Pablo Sandoval, who last month inked a five-year, $95 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

While necessary reinforcements haven't come in just yet, the Giants are at least keeping other notable pieces on board. On Wednesday, they re-signed reliever Sergio Romo to a potentially steep two-year, $15 million deal. Steep because they're counting on a bounce-back season from a former closer, which is far from a sure thing. But perhaps not as risky in their mind because of familiarity and comfort on both sides.

Now they've agreed to bring back the 33-year-old Peavy as well with a multi-year deal, which at least one scout told Yahoo's Jeff Passan he wasn't sure he'd be willing to do. Again, though, familiarity and comfort may have won out, and it's not difficult to understand why considering Peavy's contributions down the stretch.

After being acquired from Boston ahead of the trade deadline, Peavy posted a 2.12 ERA in 12 regular season starts. He was less effective in the postseason, posting a 6.19 ERA in 16 innings, but he'd done his part to help get them there, much like he'd done with Boston one year earlier, and he's a guy you know Bruce Bochy will be comfortable running out there every fifth day.

The price matches what the Giants will need him to be, which is an experienced starter who soaks up innings in the middle of the rotation. But the bigger question may end up being how this will effect their pursuit of free-agent James Shields, who's similar to Peavy in some ways but provides a higher ceiling and therefore a higher price tag. Will he still be in play for San Francisco, or is this a sign the Giants will focus more on staying the course with pieces they already have rather than making a splash? 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: December 19, 2014, 12:25 pm

Basketball coach Pat Geil has removed many players from practice for lackluster effort or shoddy performance.

Only once has he yanked a kid off the court for doing too well.

When Robert Upshaw enrolled at San Joaquin Memorial High School four years ago, the highly touted 6-foot-11 junior initially could only practice with his new team because of California transfer rules. Geil put Upshaw on the scout team in practice until the center's knack for swatting away shots in the paint created an unusual problem.

"He was blocking so many shots and making it so difficult to score that our starting big guys began losing confidence," Geil said. "When they got in games, they were hesitant to shoot. Eventually, we had to tell Rob, 'Why don't you sit out for a while.' Our big guys couldn't get up any shots against him in practice and it was killing us."

Scoring against Upshaw hasn't been any easier for opposing college players this season than it was for his San Joaquin Memorial teammates four years ago. The University of Washington sophomore is turning away shots at an absurd pace, averaging a national-best 4.8 blocks despite coming off the bench every game this season and only logging 19.1 minutes per night.

The emergence of Upshaw as a defensive anchor is a huge reason 16th-ranked Washington has won its first nine games and held opponents to an anemic 33 percent shooting. The Huskies' array of tall, athletic guards have been able to defend aggressively and close out hard on 3-point shooters without fear of being beaten off the dribble since they know there's a shot blocker with a 7-foot-51/2-inch wingspan lurking in the paint to erase mistakes.

Upshaw's impact on defense isn't the only way he has contributed to Washington's quest to end a three-year NCAA tournament drought. The former top 50 recruit has also averaged an efficient 10.9 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds, further validating the Washington staff's decision to offer him a second chance after Fresno State dismissed him from school the summer after his freshman season.

"What I've tried to do is be the person Washington has been missing, a big man that can block shots, run the floor, rebound and also score," Upshaw said. "I'm having success but I'm not satisfied. I know I can be a lot better than what I am right now. I think this is the start of what I can be, and I just have to keep improving."

Upshaw's evolution into an impact college player and an NBA prospect is a testament to his perseverance because there were times when it seemed his basketball career had stalled.

This is a guy who averaged an underwhelming 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman at Fresno State despite arriving with more hype than any recruit the school has landed in years. This is a guy who Fresno State coach Rodney Terry suspended twice as a freshman for team rules violations and eventually decided was more trouble than he was worth. This is a guy whose spot on the Washington roster was in jeopardy last spring after the coaching staff banned him from attending practices or games so he could address his off-court issues.

"I think it has made Rob a stronger person fighting through so many obstacles to get to this point," said his mother Ceylon Sherman. "Rob has always been a sweet, caring person, but the decisions and choices he was making weren't the right ones. He has matured a lot over the last year or two. Now he appreciates what he has more because he had to work harder to achieve it."


Before Upshaw could evolve into an elite basketball prospect, he first had to give the sport a chance.

Upshaw's mom played from third grade through high school and both his older brothers were basketball players too, but he preferred soccer and baseball. Only after he rocketed up to 6-8 entering eighth grade did he finally grow tired of his family's not-so-subtle encouragement and decide to give basketball a try.

Even though Upshaw hadn't played basketball nearly as long as most of his peers and he was in such poor shape that he'd get tired after a couple trips down the floor, his size, footwork and coordination enabled him to quickly emerge as a potential Division I prospect anyway. By the end of his sophomore year at Edison High School, Louisville, Georgetown, Texas, Arizona and UCLA were among the many programs dispatching coaches to Fresno in order to pursue him.

Out of a large pool of elite programs Upshaw signed with Kansas State in November 2011 because of his strong bond with the players and staff and his belief that head coach Frank Martin's tough-love approach would get the most out of him. Upshaw intended to honor that letter of intent until a teammate at an all-star game approached him in late March 2012 and broke the news to him that Martin had just left Kansas State for South Carolina.

"It was heartbreaking," Sherman said. "We had taken our time to look for a perfect fit for Rob, and Kansas State was everything we were looking for. We were ready to move to Kansas. We were ready. It was frustrating when it happened because we were going to Kansas State because of Frank Martin. Once he left, we had to open the recruitment back up."

Robert Upshaw (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)With the spring signing period only weeks away, Upshaw didn't have much time to make a decision. He didn't want to go to Kansas State anymore because he'd be playing for a staff that didn't recruit him. He didn't want to follow Martin to South Carolina either. And while some elite programs that originally recruited him were still willing to free up a scholarship to make room for him, he was overwhelmed at the thought of starting his recruiting process all over again.

For that reason, Upshaw chose the school that felt most comfortable to him. He lived minutes from Fresno State's campus, he knew most of his future teammates and Terry had recruited him since his freshman year of high school when Terry was an assistant coach under Rick Barnes at Texas.

"Toward the end, Rob was just so frustrated with the recruiting process that he said he was going to give Fresno State a try," Sherman said. "I didn't want him to stay in Fresno, but against my wishes, that's what he did. It just didn't turn out to be a good fit for him."

The risk for celebrated basketball prospects who choose to play for their hometown college is that the spotlight shines brighter and the expectations are more burdensome. Success brings fame and adulation; failure ensures ignominy and criticism.

There are a handful of reasons why the most prized recruit of Terry's tenure experienced more scorn than praise as a Fresno State freshman.

Upshaw battled knee problems leading up to the start of the season that detracted from his explosiveness and conditioning. He also often gave an uneven effort in practices and games. And he got himself in trouble often enough away from basketball that Terry was compelled to suspend him twice for a total of four games late in the season before dismissing him the following summer.

Neither Upshaw nor anyone close to him chose to offer specifics when asked exactly what led to his dismissal, but their answers were still revealing. They describe Upshaw as a goodhearted but immature kid who made the type of foolhardy decisions college freshmen sometimes make when they're living on their own for the first time.

"I made some bad choices," Upshaw said. "What happened is done and I can't change that, but I learned from it. I'm not doing it now. I'm definitely not doing it now. I'm in a better stage of my life. Basically, I just had to grow up."

The first step in Upshaw's maturation process was spending part of the summer after his freshman year at John Lucas' Houston-based treatment program.

Lucas, a former NBA star whose career was nearly derailed by substance abuse, has gained national acclaim for training basketball players and for helping rehabilitate athletes whose lives have careened off track. The tough love approach Lucas favors was exactly what Upshaw needed to recalibrate his mindset for the comeback ahead.

"John Lucas was so good for Rob," said Upshaw's former AAU coach Clayton Williams. "That's when he started to make changes and make strides. He came back a different person."

One of Upshaw's first priorities after returning home was to find a school willing to offer him a second chance. Washington emerged as one of a handful of suitors once its staff did enough research to properly weigh the risks.

Assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger visited with Upshaw and the big man's family, friends and former coaches in hopes of assessing what went wrong at Fresno State and whether the off-court issues were likely to resurface. Otzelberger emerged from those conversations confident Upshaw was ready to make the necessary changes in his life and convinced the 7-footer could fill a need for a Washington program that lacked a shot blocking center on its roster.

"We certainly did a lot of digging to find out where he was at mentally," Otzelberger said. "From everything that Rob was saying to us, we felt like he wanted to turn his life around and he seemed sincere in those overtures. We knew his ability level and we knew the challenges of finding a legitimate rim protector. Between what Rob was saying to us and the tremendous upside that he has, it made him a risk we were willing to embrace."

Even though transfer-friendly Oregon and prestigious UCLA were among the other schools that expressed interest in Upshaw, Washington was a fairly easy choice.

Playing time didn't figure to be an issue with top big man Perris Blackwell graduating after the 2013-14 season. Upshaw also fancied the idea of playing for Washington's Lorenzo Romar, a head coach with a reputation for preparing his players for life outside basketball by serving as a father figure and hands-on mentor.

When Upshaw arrived at Washington at the start of the 2013-14 school year, Romar immediately set up some stipulations for what the 7-footer had to do earn his trust. Only if Upshaw lived up to Romar's expectations on and off the floor would he have the chance to play for the Huskies when he became eligible the following season.

"More than anything, we needed to see consistency on a daily basis," Otzelberger said. "We made sure he was attending class, doing well in school and addressing any issues he had away from the floor. We encouraged him to tackle those head-on and to get appropriate help and attend counseling or meetings if needed. And from a basketball standpoint, we wanted to see that daily commitment. He hadn't always been someone who had taken care of business on the court, off the court and in the classroom, so that's what we wanted to see."

Though Upshaw endeared himself to everyone at Washington with his warm, friendly personality, his transformation wasn't instantaneous. Romar even prohibited Upshaw from attending practice or sitting on the bench during games for the second half of last season to prove he wouldn't hesitate to cut ties with the 7 footer if necessary.

There were times Upshaw wasn't sure he'd ever have the chance to play for Washington, but he gradually won over the coaching staff by attending class, persevering through extra workouts and getting into the best shape of his life. Romar reinstated Upshaw to the team this summer, shaking his hand and congratulating him the progress he had made in his first calendar year at Washington.

"Coach Romar could have given up on me a long time ago but he hasn't," Upshaw said. "He has been like a second father to me. He wanted me to change my life and he wanted me to get myself together, so he had to give me a couple consequences in order to do that. It has really helped me. Look where I'm at now."

Indeed how far Upshaw has come in the past 18 months is pretty remarkable.

The person whose self-destructive choices nearly cost him his basketball career is now back on an upward trajectory. The player once dismissed from a losing program is now an unbeaten team's breakout star. The guy once derided as a bust is now one of the most feared shot blockers in the nation.

Earlier this month, Brad Roznovsky, an assistant coach at San Joaquin Memorial when Upshaw was there, visited his former player in Seattle for two days. He returned home from Seattle extremely encouraged by Upshaw's maturation on and off the court.

"I think he has really grown up," Roznovsky said. "There are a lot of people in the Fresno area who still come up to me and make jokes about Rob, but he is proving everyone wrong right now. From where he is now to where he was a year and a half ago, it's night and day."

Video of Robert Upshaw via NZAUTV Basketball:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 11:19 am

Vin Scully lost his World Series ring Thursday while doing some holiday shopping. We know this, because the Dodgers sent out an APB via Twitter that Scully's ring was missing. Exactly nine minutes later, the Dodgers called the whole thing off, saying Scully's ring had been found.

Crisis averted.

The mystery might not be gripping enough for "Serial" to investigate, but the details of Scully's sort-of missing ring are plenty amusing. He lost it at Costco while grabbing ribs, putting them in plastic bags and loading them into his cart at the behest of his wife, Sandi. The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke talked to Scully and got the scoop — and, in the process, proved that Scully, 87, can even make a trip to Costco sound magical. 

"There's so much stuff there, stuff everywhere, the first couple of times I was a little intimidated," he said. "But it's become my home away from home."

The story goes like this: The Scullys were prepping for the holidays, stocking up on food and everything else they sell at Costco. They paid for their haul (presumably it was $100 more than they expected, just like every Costco trip ever) then went to their car. That's when Vin noticed his ring was gone. As Plaschke notes, it's the ring from 1988, the only one of Scully's six that he still has. He's given the others to his children. Scully first alerted the Costco manager and he also called the Dodgers, who in turn put the Twitter detectives on the case.

We'll let Plaschke finish the story from here:

Then Vin and Sandi drove home while Vin continued to remind himself it was only jewelry and paled in comparison to the large and loving family that awaited his 88th holiday celebration.

"You know, maybe God heard me say that," he said.

Sure enough, while Vin was unloading the stacks of items, he heard a cry from inside the house. While emptying the ribs, Sandi found the ring at the bottom of the bag.

"I'm still laughing about it," said Vin. "But you know, I think I've been laughing about things all winter."

If he were a lesser person, we'd probably tsk-tsk him for not checking his bags first. But he's Vin Scully, so we'll just say, "Aw, shucks, Vin, you're still the best." 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: December 19, 2014, 8:25 am

No. 1 Star: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings 

Kopitar has a career-best 5-point night as the Los Angeles Kings won a wild 6-4 game against the St. Louis Blues and Marty Brodeur. Kopitar assisted on Marian Gaborik’s two goals, Jeff Carter’s game-trying goal and Jake Muzzin’s game-winning goal. He also scored a goal of his own in the second period, his seventh.

No. 2 Star: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fleury made 29 saves for his NHL-leading sixth shutout as the Penguins defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 1-0. Blake Comeau had the lone goal.

No. 3 Star: Eric Fehr, Washington Capitals

After a brilliant set-up by Mike Green, Fehr’s goal at 42 seconds of overtime gave the Washington Capitals a 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also assisted on Joel Ward’s opening tally in the first period. The Capitals ended the Jackets’ winning streak at seven games.

Honorable Mention: Calvin Pickard made 47 saves in a losing effort for the Avs. … Brandon Pirri and Dave Bolland had shootout goals and Roberto Luongo made 25 saves a few more in the shootout as Florida defeated the Flyers, 2-1. … Andres Sekera and Justin Faulk had a goal and an assist as the Carolina Hurricanes stunned the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-1. … Matt Beleskey’s goal at 8:33 of the third period gave the Anaheim Ducks a lead they wouldn’t give up and a 2-1 win. Frederik Andersen made 23 saves. … Matt Tennyson and Barclay Goodnow scored in the third period as the San Jose Sharks rallied for 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Did You Know? The Oilers only win over their past 18 games is against the Sharks.

Dishonorable Mention: Dalton Prout and Tom Wilson fought, and then Jared Boll and Michael Latta fought two seconds later in the second period. … Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski and Boone Jenner were minus-3. … Joffrey Lupul was a minus-3. … Marty Brodeur gave up six goals, including a long-distance one from Dwight King. …  Max Pacioretty was hospitalized after a hit from Clayton Stoner.

 

 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 8:21 am
(AP)

Billy Beane's rebuilding plan collided with A.J. Preller's rebuilding plan Thursday, as the Oakland Athletics traded another of their 2014 All-Stars while the San Diego Padres added another guy capable of hitting baseballs pretty far.

The A's traded catcher Derek Norris to the Padres, getting two young pitchers — Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez — in return. Norris, 25, enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, particularly in the first half when he had an OPS of .879 with eight homers and 37 RBIs. It was enough to get Norris on the AL All-Star team. His second half wasn't as good, but he was hit in the head by backswings a couple times, which certainly didn't help things.

As Beane, the always-bold A's general manager, remakes his roster, Norris is just the latest All-Star on the move. Oakland had seven All-Stars last July. Only two remain. Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija have all been traded. Sean Doolittle and Scott Kazmir, the other two All-Stars, may not want to get an A's tattoo or anything.

Jesse Hahn is going to Oakland now. (AP)Preller, the new and ambitious Padres GM, has added another piece to the league-worst offense he's trying to turn around. In the matter of a week, he swung trades to add Norris, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. Each comes with injury concern — Kemp's hips, Myers' wrist and Norris' concussion worries.

The Padres are assuming risk, sure, but Preller isn't cleaning up a mansion. He's trying to flip a foreclosed home.

Norris fills the gap created when the Padres dealt their catcher, Yasmani Grandal, to the Dodgers in the Kemp trade. San Diego also acquired Ryan Hanigan, 34, in the Myers trade, but Norris figures to be their main catcher, thanks mostly to his superior bat. (On Friday morning, the Padres were close to sending Hanigan to Boston for Will Middlebrooks.) The Padres are also getting right-handed pitcher Seth Streich, who earned praise in the Oakland prospect ranks after a strong 2014. He'll likely start 2015 in Double-A.

For the A's, this trade makes more sense than some of the others. They're selling high on Norris (Maybe he's never an All-Star again, who knows? His second half wasn't nearly as good as his first.), and they're getting two pitchers in return who project well.

Hahn, 25, was a rookie in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 12 starts. Alvarez, 23, came to the Padres when they traded Huston Street to the Angels. He was dominant in the minors and made 10 relief appearances for the Padres last season, striking out nine batters in eight innings and allowing one run. He's a back-end bullpen guy, who throws hard and could be groomed as a closer. 

There's some thought out there that the A's are gearing up for another big trade, moving some of their young arms for a bigger bat. Troy Tulowitzki's name has been thrown around. We don't know if that'll happen, but we do know that Beane's always swinging deals.

And, apparently, so is Preller.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: December 19, 2014, 7:22 am
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 18: Martin Brodeur #30 of the St. Louis Blues reacts as he waits for the ice to be cleaned tied 3-3 with the Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center on December 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Martin Brodeur visited the site of his 2012 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.

And things were … weird.

Weird in the sense that the St. Louis Blues managed to secure a 3-0 lead in the first period, only to see the Kings rally to tie; and then a 4-3 lead entering the third, only to see the Kings score three goals in 12:06 to secure a 6-3 win. 

Weird in the sense that Brodeur made a save on Tyler Toffoli in the third period, and then had the puck literally disappear in his gear. It took about 90 seconds for the game officials to locate the puck, searching his glove and his pads and, finally, watching as Brodeur basically dropped it on the ice like a chicken would an egg:

The highlight that launched a million “Marty ate the puck!” jokes on social media.

Weird in the sense that, moments later, things got a little less funny for Brodeur.

Although we can’t say the same for the Kings and Dwight King:

The Kings intercepted the puck at center ice, and King fired a long-distance shot on Brodeur from the red line. Reminder: the puck is made of rubber. And it acted as such as it bounced like a super-happy fun ball over Brodeur’s shoulder to make it 6-4 in favor of the Kings.

Some goals from the red line are bad. Some are just unfortunate and borderline freaky.

It was that kind of night for Marty Brodeur. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:57 am

The Montreal Canadiens could have used Max Pacioretty late in their game against the Anaheim Ducks. But as they scrambled to find a way to tie Thursday night’s game – which ended in a 2-1 win for the visiting Ducks – Pacioretty was getting evaluated after a brutal Clayton Stoner hit along the boards.

Pacioretty left the game at 4:04 of the third period. He passed the puck up ice and, frankly, admired the pass a bit. But Stoner delivered a hard check to his side, twisting the Montreal forward’s body around. Pacioretty face-planted into the glass. He was helped to the back and was eventually taken to the hospital for precautionary tests. 

Expectedly, the two sides had differing views of the incident. From the Gazette:

“I didn’t like the hit,” said [Montreal Coach Michel] Therrien, but he refrained from discussing the matter further.

The one Canadien who was unequivocal in his assessment of the hit was Pacioretty’s close friend, David Desharnais. “It should have been a penalty,” said Desharnais, who went on to suggest that a five-minute major for boarding was in order. 

Said Clayton Stoner: "I think their team wasn't happy about it. … I didn't mean to hurt him but the game's fast and sometimes guys go into the boards wrong, so I hope he's all right and I didn't mean any intentions to hurt him."

What do you think? With no penalty on the play, could Stoner get something from the league?

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:30 am

In a rather swift and shocking December surprise, the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics moved quickly to negotiate and finalize a deal sending Rajon Rondo from Boston to Dallas. The timing of the transaction, pitched a good two months prior to the NBA’s trade deadline, was telling – Rondo is an odd player, and the Mavericks have forever been an intriguing (and winning) experiment under Dallas owner Mark Cuban, a man who mixes equal amounts basketball know-how and a love for tossing himself in front of a television camera.

Cuban put those two loves together on Thursday night in typically busy and visible fashion. He was one of dozens of celebrities that gathered to sing Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” character off into the televised sunset, but prior to the sing-a-long Cuban was furiously working to sign off on the Rondo deal, which sent Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, and a pair of picks to Boston for the mercurial guard.

ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann, no stranger to the camera himself, noticed as much:

From #Colbert Farewell: @MarkCuban finalized Rondo deal in green room, sitting w/Waterston, Daniels, me + dismaying UN Amb. Samantha Power

— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) December 19, 2014
(Courtesy Twitter.com/KeithOlbermann)

Cuban is not the Mavericks’ head of player personnel; Donnie Nelson has ably held that role for years, but no other NBA owner packs as much analytical and scouting punch as the Mavericks’ el jefe.

It’s true that his team’s franchise cornerstone, the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, was drafted a year and a half prior to Cuban purchasing the team, but Cuban has intelligently tossed himself into the world of basketball analytics while still encouraging his hired basketball men to do their job. It’s a delicate balance and the Mavericks haven’t been championship contenders since the team’s 2011 NBA Finals win, but the franchise has been in the championship mix routinely since 2001, and it’s hard to argue with Cuban’s approach.

The ability to work through salary structures, possible promises on contract extensions, and noise from all manner of scouts, coaches and Mavericks employees in real time on one smartphone also helps. This is an entirely different era than the one that, say, Boston general manager Danny Ainge was working in when he was dealt from Boston to Sacramento for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney 25 years ago.

The Mavericks are taking a calculated risk with Rondo. The team boasts the league’s best offense by miles, and even the brainiest of NBA analytics swabbers can’t agree on whether Rondo works as some underrated basketball boffin, or a destructive me-first element that values gaudy assist totals over a seamlessly churning five-man offense. Wright and Nelson were having fabulous years for the Mavericks, but their presence won’t be badly missed on this deep outfit, and the picks sent to Boston (likely a 2016 first rounder after restrictions are minded, alongside a second-round selection) won’t likely tip the scales for this win-now outfit.

It’s a fascinating deal, true to Dallas’ team name. To watch it all go down in real time in the green room of a tiny New York City soundstage, even for someone as experienced as Keith Olbermann, must have been equally as fascinating.

(Hat-tip: Seth Rosenthal at SB Nation.)

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: December 19, 2014, 6:21 am

2A Division II State Championship: Bremond 28, Albany 21

What went down:

Sometimes it’s really simple in an athletic contest: The team that makes the fewest mistakes, wins. In the clash of the two smallest schools competing this weekend at AT&T Stadium, Albany made the fewest mistakes, taking a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter over Bremond. All Bremond did from there is score 21 unanswered, erasing three quarters of beating themselves with an epic 12-minute beat-down to win 28-21. How’d they do it? They skipped the multiple looks on offense and kept things simple, ramming the ball down Albany’s throat. A final, desperate drive by Albany ended with a pass falling to the turf at the Bremond 10-yard line as time expired. It was soul-crushing for Albany, and pure euphoria for Bremond. And it was the perfect, climactic start to the weekend’s slate of games.

Name to know: 

Bremond quarterback Roshauud Paul was a one-man wrecking machine in the fourth quarter, scoring the tying and go-ahead touchdowns, finishing the game with 265-all purpose yards and having a hand on three scores – two on the ground and one through the air to Josh White. More importantly, Paul is just a sophomore. He’ll be a thorn in the sides of small programs all over the state for two more years. 

You want no part of my guy Roshauud Paul. Congrats Bremond on the state title.

— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) December 18, 2014

It was awesome because:

Over 8,000 people showed up to watch schools with a combined enrollment of 278 fight for a title. That, and those two tiny schools both still had inflatable helmet tunnels for the entrance. Bremond even had a smoke machine, which clearly is what gave them their edge.

Bremond — enrollment: 141 students — has an inflatable helmet run-through and a smoke machine. I love you, #txhsfb.

— Greg Tepper (@Tepper) December 18, 2014

2A Division I State Championship: Canadian 34, Mason 7

What went down:

The setup was everything the casual fan could dream of with Canadian’s up-tempo spread attack against Mason’s grinding Wing-T ground assault. But the clash of offensive ideals didn’t quite pan out as hoped. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead, Mason failed to control the clock with its run game, and Canadian’s offense started pinging all over the field, scoring 34 unanswered behind the steady guidance of quarterback Tanner Schafer, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, including one stretch where he completed 15 of 16. 

Name to know: 

Miguel Castillo was the losing quarterback, but he was by far the sentimental hero of the game. At times, he was the only player that could keep his offense moving, seemingly finding yards after contact on every carry. He ran the ball 20 times for 103 yards and a score, and at one point, his jersey was torn in half and rendered useless. He played one play with it remaining on his person solely thanks to it being tucked in. 

Mason QB Miguel Castillo is playing hard. So hard that his jersey has been RIPPED off. @dctf #UILonFOX pic.twitter.com/cR0aq1XCnB

— Matt Garnett (@matt_garnett) December 18, 2014

It was awesome because:

There were 13,706 in attendance for a game between two schools from towns with an average population of 2,562, and Canadian brought a train horn. It was extremely loud. Also, there was a barefoot kicker. No, seriously. 

Mason runs the Wing-T and has a barefoot kicker. You should be watching the Texas HS championships. pic.twitter.com/r0E8wTgGkH

— maxthompson (@maxthompson) December 18, 2014

3A Division II State Championship: Waskom 41, Newton 22

What went down:

The Wildcats’ four-headed rushing monster just overwhelmed the Newton defense. Trace Carter, Dillon Benton, Kevin Johnson and Junebug Johnson all ran roughshod over the Eagles to the tune of 329 yards at a 7.31 yards-per-carry clip. With both teams’ offenses predominantly run-based, it was all but over when Waskom led 20-8 at halftime. 

Name to know: 

As much as the Wildcats' backs were a menace, the one player that seemed built for the stage was Newton’s Roney Elam. Elam played both ways, quarterbacking on offense, but shining as a roving defensive back that dropped big hit after big hit. He may play for a small school, but his commitment to Texas A&M is no shock. He looks ready to drop the hammer on Saturdays. 

It was awesome because:

Waskom’s enrollment is 271, and the Wildcats were decked out in slick Under Armour uniforms, capped off with eye-popping chrome helmets. Repeat: A town of 2,160 has a high school team with uniforms that would make some DI schools look trashy. 

It's all about family in #txhsfb and nobody knows that better than Waskom. @dctf #UILonFOX pic.twitter.com/yAC330t9ig

— Matt Garnett (@matt_garnett) December 18, 2014

3A Division I State Championship: Cameron Yoe 70, Mineola 40

What went down:

Cameron Yoe became the third straight team to orchestrate a blowout after the day’s first game, and it was perhaps the least surprising of the bunch. Yoe came in shooting for a three-peat, and unfortunately for Mineola, the Yoemen weren't interested in leaving anything to chance, dominating from start to finish behind a relentless offensive attack.

.@yoefootball comes out chanting: "Ohhhhhh--these boys ain't ready." I agree. Mineola ain't ready. @dctf #UILonFOX pic.twitter.com/hcuR30A51v

— Matt Garnett (@matt_garnett) December 19, 2014

Name to know: 

It was the Reid Nickerson and Traion Smith show. Nickerson was deadly through the air, and Smith was unstoppable on the ground. It was just a fantastic one-two punch. Nickerson threw for 304 yards and five touchdowns, and Smith ran for 124 yards and five touchdowns. You read that correctly. The duo accounted for every Cameron Yoe score. 

It was awesome because:

The previous record for points by one team in a Texas high school football championship game was 70 points by Stephenvile in 2012. Cameron Yoe busted out the big guns to catch that record en route to its third straight state title.

 

Stop the fight. #txhsfb

— Greg Tepper (@Tepper) December 19, 2014

Here’s the full schedule (all times central), courtesy of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. For more info on attending the games, check out their page. You can also visit the University Interscholastic League page for more information. All 10 games will be televised live on Fox Sports Southwest. Games may also be bumped to Fox Sports Southwest Plus; check your local listings. The games are being played in order of smallest schools to the biggest, so the talent pool gets deeper with each opening kickoff.

Thursday, December 18
10 a.m. — 
2A Division II State Championship: Bremond 28, Albany 21
1 p.m. — 2A Division I State Championship: Canadian 34, Mason 7
5 p.m. — 3A Division II State Championship: Waskom 41, Newton 22
8 p.m. — 3A Division I State Championship: Cameron Yoe 70, Mineola 40

Friday, December 19
12 p.m. — 4A Division II State Championship: Gilmer vs. West Orange-Stark
4 p.m. — 4A Division I State Championship: Argyle vs. Navasota
8 p.m. — 5A Division II State Championship: Ennis vs. Cedar Park

Saturday, December 20
12 p.m. — 5A Division I State Championship: Aledo vs. Temple
4 p.m. — 6A Division II State Championship: Cedar Hill vs. Katy
8 p.m. — 6A Division I State Championship: Allen vs. Cy Ranch

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Max Thompson is at the Texas state high school football championships for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @MaxThompson

Author: Max Thompson
Posted: December 19, 2014, 5:24 am

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a resurgent unit since the returns of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. After a loss in Durant's season opener Dec. 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Thunder had rattled off seven straight wins to enter Thursday night's game against the West-leading Golden State Warriors with a 12-13 record and just out of a playoff spot. The turnaround has been a reminder that OKC is a legitimate title contender when fully healthy.

However, a stroke of bad luck right before halftime of Thursday's game could derail that resurgence. On the final possession of the half, Durant drove to the basket looking for a buzzer-beater before colliding with the defending Marreese Speights. Durant was called for a charge on the play, but the real damage came as his right foot — the same one with the stress fracture that kept Durant out of the season's first 17 games — came down on Speights. Durant turned his ankle in the process, fell to the ground and left the game. Take a look:

Reserve Perry Jones took Durant's place to open the second half, with the reigning MVP not returning from the locker room to join his teammates on the bench. TNT's Lewis Johnson reported that Durant had X-rays taken on-site at Oracle Arena, but it appears that it was just a precaution. The Thunder later announced that Durant had suffered a mild ankle sprain and would not return on Thursday.

Durant also spoke to reporters after the Thunder's 114-109 loss:

 The Thunder play at Staples Center vs. the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night but will have a day off before returning to Oklahoma to face the Pelicans on Sunday. They are also part of the NBA's Christmas Day schedule with a marquee game at the San Antonio Spurs, so it figures that everyone around the league would like to see Durant return by next Thursday. 

Westbrook is capable of leading the Thunder in Durant's absence, but an extended stay on the sidelines or even a nagging injury would be an issue for the team over the course of this season. To make matters worse, Durant was having his best game of the year prior to going down, scoring 30 points on 10-of-13 shooting in 19 minutes.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: December 19, 2014, 5:23 am

Each time Kevin Ollie answered a question about NC State transfer Rodney Purvis during last season's national title run, the UConn coach referred to the former McDonald's All-American as "a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can't drive."

The Ferrari finally emerged from the garage this November, but so far Ollie hasn't gotten enough mileage out of it.

In the six games Purvis has played so far this season, he is scoring a modest 7.2 points per game, shooting only 35.1 percent from the field and averaging more turnovers than assists. He also was suspended for UConn's season opener against Bryant and sat out against Texas as a result of a lingering sprained ankle that was hampering his ability to attack the rim. 

Purvis was healthy for UConn's 66-56 loss to Duke on Thursday night, but the sophomore wing still wasn't very effective. On a night when the Huskies desperately needed other scorers to emerge in support of star guard Ryan Boatright, Purvis played 30 minutes but sank only 4 of 11 shots and finished with eight points and three turnovers.

That sort of stat line isn't what Purvis envisioned when he left NC State after starting 23 games as a freshman and averaging 8.3 points. At the time he believed he could have accomplished more in an offense that offered him more opportunities to create off the dribble, but so far he has played a similar role at UConn and produced slightly less.

Season-long struggles from Purvis are one of several factors that have contributed to UConn's disappointing 4-4 start. Last year's national champs need scorers to emerge to help replace Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey, but so far the Huskies are lacking enough reliable options besides Boatright.

UConn is shooting only 29.5 percent from behind the arc and isn't generating enough free throw attempts or second-chance points either. Freshman Daniel Hamilton has performed well as a secondary perimeter threat and Amida Brimah had been making strides finishing around the rim prior to his scoreless game against Duke, but nobody else has delivered consistent production.

The most frustrating part about Thursday's loss for UConn was that the Huskies played well strong enough defense to spring a massive upset if they just could have generated a little more scoring.

Aggressive defense from UConn limited Duke to 37.5 percent shooting and forced 19 Blue Devils turnovers, but despite 22 points from Boatright and a surprising 14 from forward Kentan Facey, the Huskies couldn't take advantage. Late in the second half, Duke was sending two defenders at Boatright to get the ball out of his hands because Mike Kryzewski preferred any other player creating for the Huskies.

There are a handful of players capable of filling that scoring void for UConn going forward.

Maybe Omar Calhoun will eventually develop into more than a bit player now that he's finally healthy. Maybe Hamilton will steadily improve his already-solid production as he gains experience. Maybe Brimah will become more consistent and continue to flourish.

Nonetheless, the player most capable of giving UConn more is Purvis. The Huskies need their Ferrari to stop performing like a Ford. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 4:26 am

(USA TODAY Sports)With ace James Shields ready to move on this winter, the Kansas City Royals are ramping up efforts to add depth to their starting rotation. On Wednesday, they announced a two-year, $20 million deal with veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez. On Thusday, they stayed busy, announcing a two-year, $8.5 million deal with former Atlanta Braves starter Kris Medlen.

Both deals definitely carry some risk and reward for Kansas City. As the Stew noted on Wednesday, in Volquez's case it's performance based following a somewhat surprising and possibly unsustainable bounce-back season in 2014. In Medlen's case, it centers almost entirely around health. In March, the 29-year-old right-hander underwent his second Tommy John surgery in four years.

It's an interesting "tale of two deals" if you will. Though it's very clear the Royals have applied lower expectations and therefore greater logic to Medlen signing. According to Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal, Medlen's contract is backloaded — he'll earn $2 million in 2015 and $5.5 million in 2016 — and loaded with incentives — he can earn up to $10 million over two seasons — almost assuring they'll get value. They also have a mutual $10 million option for 2017. 

What they're hoping for, obviously, is a return to the field at some point in 2015 and more impactful contribution in 2016 and perhaps beyond. That's consistent with the usual recovery time from Tommy John surgery, though obviously things can be different when it's a second Tommy John. 

It's not a bad gamble to take. After undergoing the procedure in 2010, Medlen bounced back to produce a 2.47 ERA over 84 appearances between 2011-13. Of his last 44 appearances, 43 have been starts, including a 12-start stretch to end 2012 where Medlen allowed only nine earned runs and the Braves never lost. His ERA as a starter was a consistent 2.46.  

The Royals won't need or expect Medlen to be that good since he's being paid like a backend starter in today's market. With guys like Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas around, in addition to Volquez, they'll be fine if he tops out as such. But the upside is obviously enticing. If it's reached, the Royals are a deeper better team, and general manager Dayton Moore will have some added flexibility for down the road. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: December 19, 2014, 2:57 am

Clarkie Carroll has been through a lot in the last year. The now-12-year-old endured 10 long months of chemotherapy to treat a rare bone cancer that robbed him of half of his right femur.

Thankfully, he is now cancer free and back to playing golf. But Carroll is more than your standard-issue junior talent. The kid's got a growing trick-shot repertoire. So the folks at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina teamed up Carroll with viral trick-shot sensations, the Bryan Brothers, to film some action around Thanksgiving.

Carroll, whose grandparents live off of Pinehurst No. 7, and his family hope the video can raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow @RyanBallengee

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:44 am

They say golf is a game you can play for a lifetime. So long as you're upright and swinging, that means you have a chance to make an ace, just like 103-year-old Gus Andreone did in Florida on Wednesday.

Andreone, the oldest member of the PGA of America, made the hole-in-one at Palm Aire Country Club in Sarasota, Fla. He used a driver from the green tees on the 113-yard 14th hole at the Lakes Course.

"I hit it solid and the ball then hit the ground about 30 yards from the green and kept rolling, rolling and rolling," Andreone saidaccording to PGA.com. "It fell into the hole, which was cut on the right middle part of the green. Miracles do happen once in a while." 

Andreone, who now has eight lifetime aces, may well be the oldest man to have ever recorded a hole-in-one. The apparent prior record holder was Elsie McLean, who made a hole-in-one at 102 years old in 2007.  Andreone's first ace came 75 years ago in 1939. His last one before Wednesday was sometime in the 1990s, on the same course's 17th hole.

It certainly takes skill to make an ace, much less eight of them, but it's hard not to wonder if some people are just plain lucky. Andreone seems to be -- not only with the aces, but three lottery wins in his life. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow @RyanBallengee

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:25 am

Are you planning to watch all 38 college bowl games? So are we. (Eventually ... time permitting.)

Well, keep this guide handy: a list of the top NFL prospects and sleepers for the 2015 draft in every game, even the ones with weird names and sponsors.

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We tried to guess which underclassmen will enter the draft, but some impressive players were off the list. Plus, we couldn't list every gifted player who will take the field in December and January.

With that in mind, here are some players you should know about from each of the games (listed chronologically, all kickoff times ET):

NEW ORLEANS BOWL

Matchup: Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
Location: New Orleans
When: Dec. 20, 11 a.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Nevada QB Cody Fajardo — The dual-threat quarterback replaced Colin Kaepernick as the Wolfpack’s starter but has not progressed as a pro prospect and would have to be put into the “project” category. He’s athletic and had a great performance in the close loss to Arizona, but Fajardo remains a piece of clay that must be molded.

Sleeper prospect: Louisiana-Lafayette OG Daniel Quave — His brother Mykhael appears to be the better prospect, but he’s a junior. Daniel is a big, burly guard with late-rounds  or priority free-agent potential, per 120 Sports’ Russ Lande, who has started 50 straight games for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

NEW MEXICO BOWL

Matchup: UTEP (7-5) vs. Utah State (9-4)
Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
When: Dec. 20, 2:20 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Utah State ILB Zach Vigil — The Aggies’ aggressive, attacking scheme fits Virgil well, and Lande says the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year is "one of the more versatile players in the country” who could end up a mid-to-later-round prospect who fits the mold of a quality reserve and special teams demon in the NFL. Keep an eye on Vigil, who lives behind the line and will showcase his skills at the East-West Shrine game, even if some scouts feel that DE B.J. Larsen might be just as good an NFL prospect.

Sleeper prospect: UTEP TE Eric Tomlinson — His 6-foot-7, 270-pound frame alone could get Tomlinson drafted, as his massive body could make him an ideal No. 2 tight end who can block effectively in the run game. Some NFL scouts think Tomlinson could bulk up and play tackle. His receiving potential is limited, but he did catch six passes the past two games. Tomlinson and Miners QB Jameill Showers will play in the NFLPA Collegiate bowl to showcase their skills to scouts following the bowl game.

LAS VEGAS BOWL

Location: Las Vegas
When: Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Matchup: Colorado State (10-2) vs. Utah (8-4)
Top prospect: Colorado State OT Ty Sambrailo — With this game and the Senior Bowl, Sambrailo has a chance to make a bigger name for himself following a strong senior season in which his name has been thrown into the late first-round mix. Sambrailo could make himself some money if he holds his own against the Utes’ highly touted pass rush end, Nate Orchard, who could go as high as Round 2. This is one of the best individual battles you’ll see in bowl season.

Sleeper prospect: Utah CB Eric Rowe — The lanky cover man has been starting for the Utes since his freshman year and has handled the switch from safety to corner this past season deftly. The Senior Bowl invitee could end up being tried at both positions in the NFL, with enough size (6-1, 205) to handle either spot.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL

Location: Boise, Idaho
When: Dec. 20, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Air Force (9-3) vs. Western Michigan (8-4)
Top prospect: Western Michigan CB Donald Celiscar — The 5-11, 191-pound senior tied for the NCAA lead with 17 passes defended (matching teammate Ronald Zamort) and also picked off four passes this season. His size and lack of blazing speed likely will limit how high he’s considered in the draft, but the first-team all-MAC corner has a nose for the ball that can’t be taught.

Sleeper prospect: Air Force P-PK Will Conant — The underclassman-laden Falcons have one of the best double-duty special teamers in the country in Conant, who has made 17 straight field goals on attempts under 60 yards. He also averaged 43.8 yards per punt and landed 18 of them inside the 20. He’s a mature player who hit the game-winner against Colorado State, has a future as an officer, is getting married but also could be invited to an NFL camp.

CAMELLIA BOWL

Matchup: Bowling Green (7-6) vs. South Alabama (6-6)
Location: Montgomery, Ala.
When: Dec. 20, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge (Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports)Top prospect: South Alabama QB Brandon Bridge — There is some intrigue with Bridge, who doesn’t have the prettiest passing numbers but stands as a physical marvel at 6-5 and 235 pounds. He showed he can move, too, with a 65-yard run this season. His receivers dropped several passes, the Jaguars’ offensive line was a sub-par group and Bridge dealt with an ankle injury that caused him to miss most of the South Carolina game, which disappointed scouts eager to see him against better competition. Bridge is raw and unpolished, but he has traits that have the NFL scouting community keeping close tabs on him.

Sleeper prospect: Bowling Green LB Gabe Martin — He will  always will be up against the fact that he’s undersized and not an exceptional athlete, but his football instincts are strong. The 239-pound linebacker had a team-best 110 tackles (16 for loss) this season, along with two interceptions and a blocked kick.

MIAMI BEACH BOWL

Location: Miami
When: Dec. 22, 2 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3)
Top prospect: BYU CB Robertson Daniel — The outspoken, confident and talented Daniel is a former junior-college safety who has become the Cougars’ best cornerback and has the size at 6-0 and 198 pounds to earn some late-round consideration. He has batted down 13 passes this season, which ranks him among the NCAA leaders.

Sleeper prospect: Memphis OT Al Bond — The Tigers’ right tackle likely projects to guard in the NFL, and the 6-4, 305-pound redshirt senior has a chance to be a late pick because of his respectable strength and athleticism.

BOCA RATON BOWL

Location: Boca Raton, Fla.
When: Dec. 23, 6 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Marshall (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2)
Top prospect: Marshall DT James Rouse — He might be a man without a home in the NFL, too light at 270 pounds and tall at 6-5 to play tackle inside and perhaps not quick enough to be a true edge player. More likely, Rouse could appeal to some 3-4 clubs looking for a 5-technique end. The Thundering Herd play him at nose tackle, and he sees double teams on almost every play. His strong work ethic has allowed the sixth-year player (he lost his entire 2011 and 2012 seasons to injury) to persevere to this point.

Sleeper prospect: Northern Illinois S Dechane Durante — Scouts who broke down 2014 first-round DB Jimmie Ward commented that Durante opened some eyes during the process, and the 6-2, 200-pounder built on that with a strong senior season (four interceptions) to where he might be a late second- or early third-day pick. Durante will have his hands full tracking Marshall QB Rakeem Cato, who has some NFL traits.

POINSETTIA BOWL

Location: San Diego
When: Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Navy (6-5) at San Diego State (7-5)
Top prospect: San Diego State OT Terry Poole — The East-West Shrine invitee switched from right tackle in 2013 to start every game this season at left tackle. He’s a bit old at nearly 23 and has limited upside, but Poole could end up being a good swing tackle prospect in the NFL with his good height and reach.

Sleeper prospect: Navy LS Joe Cardona — A long snapper from Navy? Bet you Bill Belichick is interested. The Senior Bowl invite is considered one of the best in the country at his job. Even with that, we can’t blame you for not “watching” a long snapper. Just know his name. He’s good, and NFL teams know all about him.

POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL

Location: Nassau
When: Dec. 24, noon, ESPN
Matchup: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
Top prospect: Western Kentucky CB Cam Thomas — At 6-1, 190 pounds, Thomas has a nice long frame for the position, not to mention the temperament. It’s easy to see his confidence and competitiveness on tape, and with refinement could be a starter in the NFL in time. Don’t be surprised if Thomas, whom teams generally avoided throwing at this season, ends up being a Day 2 draft pick.

Sleeper prospect: Central Michigan WR Titus Davis — The 6-2 flanker can run and stretch the field (15.6 yards per catch) and might end up in a terrific battle with Thomas if they’re matched up. After missing three games with a knee injury earlier this season, Davis turned in a few dominant performances and has shown he’s all the way back.

HAWAII BOWL

Matchup: Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5)
Location: Honolulu
When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
Fresno State safety Derron Smith (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)Top prospect: Fresno State S Derron Smith — It’s easy to look at the numbers and say that Smith didn’t play as well as a senior, dropping from eight interceptions last season to one in 2014. But in the right scheme, Smith’s range and hitting ability could be put to good use. He has been invited to the Senior Bowl and much like eventual first-rounder Jimmie Ward a year ago, Smith (5-10, 200 pounds) could be a fast riser in the pre-draft process.

Sleeper prospect: Rice CB Bryce Callahan — A year ago, Phillip Gaines was all the rage. He rose through the draft process, tested well and landed in Round 3. Callahan does not possess ideal measurables and likely won’t blaze his 40-yard dash, but the 5-10, 180-pound corner has the toughness and temperament that will endear himself to positional coaches. He’s a winner who should  make it in some capacity.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL

Matchup: Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
Location: Dallas
When: Dec. 26, 1 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Louisiana Tech OT Mitchell Bell — The 6-3, 354-pound Bell, who also will play in the NFLPA game, is a former junior-college transfer who has helped the Bulldogs improve their scoring, rushing game and helped cut down significantly on the team’s sacks. He helped open up big holes for junior RB Kenneth Dixon (a whopping 26 touchdowns this season) and pave the way against an Illini defense that allowed 249.6 rushing yards per game (sixth worst in the country). Bell figures to be a guard in the NFL in a power-based, man-blocking scheme.

Sleeper prospect: Illinois TE Matt LaCosse — You won’t find him listed high on many pre-draft rankings lists, and LaCosse had somewhat of a disappointing career. But the 6-6, 245-pound athletic tight end has been a solid red-zone threat with occasional big-play potential. He likely won’t be drafted but could end up in a team’s training camp next summer.

QUICK LANE BOWL

Matchup: North Carolina (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5)
Location: Detroit
When: Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Rutgers OG Kaleb Johnson — After sticking his toe in the draft waters a year ago, Johnson returned to school and has improved. His durability (49 straight starts) and versatility (started at left tackle, right tackle and — his position the past two seasons — left guard) are NFL-caliber for sure. Johnson might not wow you in any one way, but he’s a draftable prospect who can make a gameday roster as a rookie.

Sleeper prospect: North Carolina DT Ethan Farmer — An athletic defensive lineman who can shoot gaps and move pretty well, Farmer won’t wow you at first blush but has the kind of scheme-diverse skills that could endear him to a number of teams in the later stages of the draft. A decent wave player at the next level.

ST. PETERSBURG BOWL

Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
When: Dec. 26, 8 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: North Carolina State (7-5) vs. UCF (9-3)
Top prospect: UCF LB Terrance Plummer — A natural leader and big striker, Plummer fits the profile of an old-school “Mike” linebacker but has enough skills in pass coverage to project to this era of NFL defense. His lack of size is concerning, and Plummer won’t blow scouts away at testing, either. But if you watch him play in this game, you should come away impressed. He’s a fun study.

Sleeper prospect: North Carolina State P Wil Baumann — The 6-foot-6, long-levered Baumann had a tremendous season, averaging 45.3 yards per punt, and has been a weapon for the Wolfpack. Turn on the Clemson game (four punts of 50-plus yards, four inside the 20-yard line) and you’ll see a field-position changer.

MILITARY BOWL

Matchup: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Location: Annapolis, Md.
When: Dec. 27, 1 p.m., ESPN
Top prospect: Cincinnati OT Eric Lefeld — There was some buzz about Lefeld entering the season, and even though he earned first-team all-conference honors in an explosive offense, the 6-5, 310-pound Lefeld isn’t a perfect prospect. He can boost his stock with a good performance in this game against some young talent on the Hokies’ defensive line. He’s not massive and likely has little chance to play on the left side with only adequate feet.

Sleeper prospect: Virginia Tech S Detrick Bonner — The redshirt senior has had a bit of an inconsistent career in Blacksburg, but he finished strong and has shown the kind of do-everything temperament (he’s played corner, safety and nickel linebacker) that could make the 6-1, 204-pounder a core special teamer and dime back in the NFL.

SUN BOWL

Location: El Paso, Texas
When: Dec. 27, 2 p.m., CBS
Matchup: Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Top prospect: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong — With ideal measurables, sneaky speed and outstanding positional instincts, Strong might be a cleaner, better version of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jordan Matthews. Strong isn’t a blazer, but he makes plays downfield and has a flair for the dramatic, making some highlight-reel grabs this season. Expect the 6-4, 205-pound Strong to go out with a bang against a young, undersized Duke secondary.

Sleeper prospect: Duke OG Laken Tomlinson — The 330-pound, Jamaica-born Tomlinson is a road grader and squarely build right guard who has started for four years straight. Although he has considered a medical career after his football days, Tomlinson is very football-driven and it shows on the field. He’ll display his skill in the Senior Bowl, too, and will have the chance to perform at a high level in this game against a good Sun Devils front.

INDEPENDENCE BOWL

Location: Shreveport, La.
When: Dec. 27, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Matchup: Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
Top prospect: South Carolina OG A.J. Cann — Roundly regarded as the top interior prospect in the 2015 crop, the 6-4, 311-pound Cann has been praised by coaches up and down this season and has been an equal force in both the run and pass games. Cann might be a high second-round pick in a draft class that appears thin inside.

Sleeper prospect: Miami OT Ereck Flowers — Gifted RB Duke Johnson might declare for the draft, and LB Denzell Perryman will be everywhere in this game, especially trying to take down South Carolina draft-eligible RB Mike Davis; both Johnson and Perryman could be top-50 picks. But Flowers has a chance to rise through the draft process, even in a crop loaded with OT talent. He has come on the latter part of the season.

PINSTRIPE BOWL

Location: New York
When: Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Boston College (7-5) vs. Penn State (6-6)
Top prospect: Penn State DB Adrian Amos — The 6-0, 205-pound Amos is a Senior Bowl invitee who plays downhill and has a physical presence in the secondary. He could play safety and cornerback on the next level and has started at both positions for the Nittany Lions.

Sleeper prospect: Boston College C Andy Gallik — Following in the Eagles’ long tradition of undersized, smart centers, Gallik handled some of his toughest matchups (USC and Florida State, in particular) very well and has the brains and technique to be an NFL starter in time.

HOLIDAY BOWL

Location: San Diego
When: Dec. 27, 8 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4)
Top prospects: USC DT-DE Leonard Williams and Nebraska DE Randy Gregory — You could argue that Williams and Gregory might be vying to be the first non-quarterback selected in the draft. Williams has top-five potential as a disruptive defensive lineman capable of playing almost any technique, and Gregory is an edge burner whose pass-rush ability stacks him up among the best in a deep crop of defensive ends in the 2015 class. Either of these physical specimens could help an NFL defense from Day 1 next fall.

Sleeper prospect: USC CB Josh Shaw and Nebraska WR Kenny Bell — If we’re going to pick two top prospects in this game, why not two sleepers — who could match up — as well? Bell doesn’t blow you away physically, and he’s playing in a crude passing offense, but he delivers in key situations — such as his two-TD game in the overtime win against Iowa, despite being banged up. Shaw has returned after his bizarre preseason balcony leap, and he has only a few more chances — including this game — to convince NFL scouts he has moved past the incident. He has some NFL-caliber skills but requires polish.

LIBERTY BOWL

Location: Memphis, Tenn.
When: Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Texas A&M (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Top prospect: Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi — Entering the season, the athletically blessed Ogbuehi was viewed as a potential top-five pick, but after some struggles he shifted back to right tackle and overall has had an up and down season. He struggled against top talent but still has the ability NFL teams won’t wait too long to take a chance on.

Sleeper prospect: West Virginia DE Shaquille Riddick — The Gardner-Webb transfer has the kind of length, quickness and closing ability to tempt NFL teams. Just look at the Baylor game, in which he had three sacks, for evidence of that. He and Ogbuehi might lock horns a few times in this one.

RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL

Location: Orlando, Fla. 
When: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)
Top prospect: Clemson DE-OLB Vic Beasley — Facing off against mid-to-late-round OT Tyrus Thompson and facing a run-heavy team such as the Sooners (even if star freshman Samaje Perine can’t play because of injury), Beasley will get a great test. NFL teams want to know if Beasley can stack with power and play the run, or if he will be only a pass-rush specialist on the next level. That they know he can do.

Sleeper prospect: Oklahoma LB Eric Striker — You mean there’s a pass rusher in this game smaller than Beasley? Indeed. Striker opened eyes a year ago when he torched Alabama OT (and future second-rounder) Cyrus Kouandjio in the Sugar Bowl and followed it up with 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this season. That said, he’s listed at 6-0 and 221 pounds, and might not have a clear NFL position, lacking base strength. Still, his ability to disrupt is intriguing.

TEXAS BOWL

Location: Houston
When: Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Arkansas (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6)
Top prospect: Texas DT Malcom Brown — A possible first-round pick, Brown is an interior penetrator who made plenty of plays in the backfield (14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, both team highs) despite not a lot of established talent around him. How he’ll handle the physical, nasty ground attack of the Hogs will be a test for Brown, whose calling card comes more often in passing situations.

Sleeper prospect: Arkansas LB Martrell Spaight — The Senior Bowl invitee is all around the ball and racked up the tackles this season — 123, 55 more than any other Razorback. His technique could use refinement, but it’s not hard to appreciate the way he approaches the game, makes hustle plays and motors through the whistle. A yoga routine this past summer helped him get more flexible.

MUSIC CITY BOWL

Location: Nashville, Tenn. 
When: Dec. 30, 3 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: LSU (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (7-5)
Top prospects: Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley and LSU OT La’el Collins — Both have had strong seasons and have put themselves in the same range as possible first-round picks. A perfect opportunity to do some OL scouting without having to change channels. Both players could end up being starting left tackles in the NFL.

Sleeper prospect: Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack — Another year, another Irish tight end prospect. Koyack has flown beneath the radar this season and lost out on All-America lists to more well-known players at his position, but Koyack has the all-around game to become a solid pro, a la John Carlson. He might not be as talented as Tyler Eifert or Troy Niklas, other high-round Irish prospects in recent seasons, but Koyack has a fairly high ceiling as a prospect.

BELK BOWL

Louisville's Gerod Holliman stands with the Jim Thorpe Award (AP Photo/John Raoux)Location: Charlotte, N.C.
When: Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Georgia (9-3) vs. Louisville (9-3)
Top prospect: Louisville S Gerod Holliman — With a 14-interception season, Holliman put himself in the discussion of being the best safety in the country with an unbelievable nose for the ball. Were a few of them gift-wrapped? Sure. Is he a suspect tackler at times? Yes. But there’s a lot of intrigue to his game in a league where finding half-field safeties is hard. Holliman is expected to declare for the draft early and might not have to wait too long to hear his name called, even if there is a one-year-wonder concern about him. WR Davante Parker might end up being the best pro from this team, but Holliman's incredible season and a lack of depth at safety could affect where the two players are picked.

Sleeper prospect: Georgia C Damian Swann — Swann dipped his toe in the NFL waters a year ago but wisely returned to school and had a nice — but not great — final season. Still, he has some Cover 2 skills and playmaking ability that could make him a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick. A coach such as Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith will take note of Swann’s turnover-forcing ability and live with his average speed and measurable.

FOSTER FARMS BOWL

Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
When: Dec. 30, 10 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Maryland (7-5) vs. Stanford (7-5)
Top prospect: Stanford OT Andrus Peat — Will he come out? Some people believe he might end up staying in school another year, as Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin reported, and Peat could end up a top-five pick in 2016.

#Stanford OT Andrus Peat is on the fence about whether to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft or not, per multiple sources.

— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) December 16, 2014

But Peat still could be in the first-round mix (and perhaps even high up in it) if he continues to show well in this game and decides to declare early. The 6-7, 319-pound Peat has everything you look for in a left tackle prospect but still could play with a little more vinegar in his diet.

Sleeper prospect: Maryland WR Deon Long — Junior Stefon Diggs is more gifted but less reliable than Long, who has been the Terps’ most consistent and reliable receiver this season. After a broken leg, Long took a bit to regain his form and was called out by head coach Randy Edsell for his work ethic. But Long has some nice ability and also seems to play with passion and purpose on game days.

PEACH BOWL

Location: Atlanta
When: Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Mississippi (10-2) vs. TCU (11-1)
Top prospect: Mississippi S Cody Prewitt — It’s between Prewitt and CB Senquez Golson as to who might be the best pro prospect in the Rebels’ secondary, but Prewitt has good size for the position, and safety appears the shallower position of the two in next year’s draft class. At 6-2, 212 pounds, Prewitt has excellent size and a ballhawking style. He was the captain of the “Landsharks” defense, and it showed up on tape. Watching him combat TCU’s explosive offense should be great theater.

Sleeper prospect: TCU DT Chucky Hunter — The former power lifter is as strong as an ox and has decent quickness and anticipation skills inside, even if he is a bit sawed off at 6-1, 300 pounds. He’s a mid-round prospect but one who plays hard and with a purpose.

FIESTA BOWL

Location: Glendale, Ariz.
When: Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Arizona (10-3) vs. Boise State (11-2)
Top prospect: Boise State RB Jay Ajayi — The junior will wait until after this game, reports have said, to decide whether he’ll declare. Arizona’s defense has played well most of the season, led by linebacker Scooby Wright, but if Ajayi goes off in this game he might keep running to the league. Well-built at 6-0, 217 pounds, Ajayi — who had a streak of seven straight 100-yard games this season — runs through contact, sees holes quickly and can spring big plays as a runner and receiver. He might be a better prospect, some have said, than Doug Martin.

Sleeper prospect: Arizona WR Austin Hill — Scouts say he is still coming back from a 2013 knee injury and might be a better prospect than he has shown. A month off prior to this game could return a little more explosion to the 6-3, 212-pound wideout’s game. He’s not a burner, but Hill glides and has solid hands.

ORANGE BOWL

Location: Miami
When: Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Georgia Tech (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (10-2)
Top prospect: Mississippi State LB Benardick McKinney — It’s almost a certainty that McKinney applies for the draft, and he could be the first off-the-ball linebacker selected in April — perhaps even in the first round. He’s well-built at 6-5 and 245 pounds and could play inside or on the strong side in the pros. He has shown the requisite physicality to be an impact defender in the NFL. Some have compared him to the Dallas Cowboys’ Rolando McClain, who is enjoying his finest season as a pro.

Sleeper prospect: Georgia Tech S Isaiah Johnson — He has impressive size and intelligence, and has come back nicely from missing the entire 2013 season with a knee injury. Johnson might not have as much range as you’d like in a safety, and he looks more effective the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. He was awarded the team's defensive effort award at the end-of-season banquet, which will endear him to NFL teams as a reserve and special teams contributor early in his pursuit of a pro career.

OUTBACK BOWL

Location: Tampa, Fla. 
When: Jan. 1, noon, ESPN2
Matchup: Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
Top prospect: Auburn WR Sammie Coates — A player with warts but also enticing physical skills, Coates has declared for the draft and will tease NFL teams with his ability. A strong performance here and at the Senior Bowl (the fourth-year junior is eligible for the game) could ease scouts’ concerns over his hot-and-cold performance and inconsistent execution because he has game-breaking ability and a pro-ready frame at 6-2 and 204 pounds with vertical speed.

Sleeper prospect: Wisconsin OT Rob Havenstein — The massive right tackle would be a great fit for a power-running team such as the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets or Cincinnati Bengals. Havenstein might not be the world’s most agile lineman, but watch in this game: When the Badgers need that third-and-short conversion, there’s a good chance Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement will be running behind Havenstein’s backside to get it.

COTTON BOWL

Location: Arlington, Texas
When: Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Baylor (11-1) vs. Michigan State (10-2)
Top prospects: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun and Baylor DE Shawn Oakman — They are vastly different prospects, comparing the lean, quick-footed Calhoun to the massive, bear-strong Oakman. Calhoun had a slow start to the season after entering it with sky-high expecations, and Oakman too often plays with a cool motor. But both players possess the physical traits and playmaking potential to be possible first-round choices this spring.

Sleeper prospect: Baylor OT Spencer Drango — The fourth-year junior could declare for the draft and would be in a deep mix of talented tackles who would be taken in the top 50 picks. Drango came back nicely from a ruptured disk in his back last season and has shown the toughness, strength and movement skills to make him a very good pro. He and Calhoun should go head-to-head plenty in this fascinating battle of the Bears’ high-powered offense against the Pat Narduzzi-coordinated Spartans defense.

CITRUS BOWL

Location: Orlando, Fla. 
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC
Matchup: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Missouri (10-3)
Top prospect: Missouri DE Shane Ray — Expect a big performance from Ray in what could be his final college game and what will be the final game for Mizzou defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who is taking the Missouri State head coaching job. Ray, one of the fiercest and best pure rushers in the country, should have a fantastic battle with Gophers junior OLT Josh Campion, who has started all 37 games in his career and is a key to the strong run game.

Sleeper prospect: Minnesota RB David Cobb — Speaking of which, Cobb is the main workhorse for the Gophers’ ground game, and yet he is rarely mentioned among the best backs in the country, much less even the Big Ten. Cobb might not have special traits, but he’s well-built, well-rounded and has ideal vision to hit the hole quickly. He is always falling forward, too.

ROSE BOWL

Location: Pasadena, Calif.
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 5 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Oregon (12-1) vs. Florida State (13-0)
Top prospects: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Florida State QB Jameis Winston — In a game loaded with top-tier NFL talent, Winston — despite all the character questions — remains the player who could be a transcendent pro … or a colossal bust if he doesn’t get his head on straight. But just turn on the tape and you see a confident, pro-style quarterback with good athleticism, a strong arm and rare on-field intangibles. Of course, Mariota might be the higher — and safer pick — despite playing in a scheme that worries some NFL talent evaluators. His physical traits are strong, and his character is off-the-charts good. One of the most exciting on-field, prospect vs.prospect games we’ve seen this late in the season in a long time.

Sleeper prospect: Oregon C Hroniss Grasu — The Ducks found out how valuable Grasu was when he suffered a leg injury and left the win against Utah; the offense suffered without him in the second half. He is expected to return for this game, where he’ll need his great athleticm, top-notch smarts and awareness against the interior of the Seminoles, which features DT Eddie Goldman, a possible first-rounder, and NT Nile Lawrence-Stample, who could come back from injuiry.

SUGAR BOWL

Location: New Orleans
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Alabama (12-1) vs. Ohio State (12-1)
Top prospect: Alabama WR Amari Cooper — We’ve written plenty about Cooper this season, as he figures to be the first wide receiver taken in this class. He’s smooth, fluid, reliable and dangerous on short passes. Cooper also can track down deep balls, even though he’s a high-flier, and will line up all over the field.

Sleeper prospect: Ohio State TE Jeff Heuerman — Although he is seldom used as a receiver, Heuerman has an NFL build for the position at 6-5, 255 pounds and possesses better foot speed than he is given credit for. He could land on Day 2 of the draft and be a more productive pro than he has been in college.

ARMED FORCES BOWL

Location: Fort Worth, Texas
When: Jan. 2, noon, ESPN
Matchup: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
Top prospect: Pitt OT T.J. Clemmings — Every time you watch Clemmings, it’s easy to see why scouts have warmed up considerably to his game to the point where he could be drafted in the top 40 or 50 picks, perhaps even in Round 1. The converted defensive lineman has been a pile driver for the Panthers, who feature one of the NCAA’s rushing leaders in James Connor. Clemmings is among the country’s most-improved players this season.

Sleeper prospect: Houston DT Joey Mbu — He’s not a top playmaker, but the fact that Mbu will play in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl shows that he is on NFL scouts’ radars. The momentum toward landing as a Day 3 draft pick can start with a good game against such a powerful running team.

TAXSLAYER BOWL

Location: Jacksonville, Fla. 
When: Jan. 2, 3:20, ESPN
Matchup: Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
Top prospect: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff — The massive and powerful Scherff has overcome some early season injuries to regain top form and put him back in the talk of perhaps being one of the top two or three tackles drafted, even as high as the top half of the first round. He’s not an elite pass blocker, however, which could keep him from being an NFL left tackle.

Sleeper prospect: Tennessee CB Justin Coleman — Quietly reliable three-year starter for the Vols who will showcase his skills at the East-West Shrine Game and could be a late-round pick. There’s nothing flashy in his game, and he’s not expected to test like a rock star, but Coleman is a willing tackler with a nose for the ball.

ALAMO BOWL

Location: San Antonio
When: Jan. 2, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
Top prospect: UCLA QB Brett Hundley — In what is expected to be his final college game, Hundley still has a lot of people to win over in scouting circles. The expectation is that he’ll be drafted — and maybe overdrafted — on potential alone and be viewed as a high-ceiling prospect in need of serious development. Still, Hundley is a very good athlete and competitor who will also earn high marks for his sterling character. This is a good Wildcats defense he’ll be facing with a chance to put more good tape out there.

Sleeper prospect: Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett — A player with NFL bloodlines and the holder of several school receiving and return records does not normally qualify as sleeper material. After a slow start this season and with less national buzz than he should receive, Lockett has come on of late and reminded people of how special a playmaker he can be. He might be a No. 3 receiver in the NFL, but Lockett could thrive as a mismatch piece in the slot for a prolific passing offense.

CACTUS BOWL

Location: Tempe, Ariz.
When: Jan. 2, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Oklahoma State (6-6) vs. Washington (8-5)
Top prospect: Washington LB Shaq Thompson — There are not many athletes in college football who can do what he does, with or without the ball in his hands. Thompson is a rare athlete who projects to being a fast-flow linebacker, despite his incredible two-way work as a running back (456 rush yards, second-most for the Huskies this season). The funny part: Four of Thompson’s six TDs have come on defense, where he is an Alec Ogletree-like specimen with great instincts.

Sleeper prospect: Oklahoma State DT James Castleman — As a three-technique, Castleman could stand to play with better balance and power, but he has good feet and can find the ball (42 tackles, seven for loss). He has a chance to get drafted with a good performance here and in the East-West Shrine Game.

BIRMINGHAM BOWL

Location: Birmingham, Ala.
When: Jan. 3, noon, ESPN
Matchup: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Florida (6-5)
Top prospect: Florida DE Dante Fowler — Fowler decided to leave school early right after head coach Will Muschamp was let go, and he is still a player with upside. Occasional flashes of greatness remind us just how special a player Fowler can be, as he balances power and finesse in his game and could be a more dominant pro than a college player. His motor runs scalding hot on almost every play and he plays with a nasty edge.

Sleeper prospect: East Carolina QB Shane Carden — It was a rough finish to the season for Carden and the Pirates, but the heady, gutsy passer continued putting up big numbers in the team’s prolific passing game. He lacks ideal NFL measurables and might be a product of said system, throwing to two NFL-caliber receivers, but Carden compares to 2014 fifth-rounder David Fales and former NFL journeyman Bruce Gradkowski (CBS’ Dane Brugler first made that apt comp) as a heady backup who could last a decade in the league.

GODADDY.COM BOWL

Location: Mobile, Ala.
When: Jan. 4, 9 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Toledo (8-4)
Top prospect: Toledo C Greg Mancz — Keep an eye on him. You might not be blown away by the tape, and Mancz might not look all that pretty or dominant. But the four-year starter has played every spot on the line except left tackle and could be the type of versatile backup who thrives in a zone-based scheme for years. Playing center ups his value and makes him a mid-to-late-round prospect.

Sleeper prospect: Arkansas State LB Qushaun Lee — The first time you hear a loud crack in the game, look up and check: It probably will be Lee, who doesn’t mess around. Lee is built in the Dexter Coakley/Dat Nguyen mold and won’t be for every NFL team. But he has the temperament to do whatever it takes to make a team — as a reserve linebacker, special teamer, you name it. He made nearly 400 tackles, forced six fumbles and hauled in an impressive eight interceptions (four this season) in his career with the Red Wolves.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:16 am

Considering the pain Branden Dawson appeared to be in after his hard fall Wednesday night against Eastern Michigan, the diagnosis doesn't seem as dire as it could have been.

Tests revealed the Michigan State senior suffered a stable, non-displaced fracture to his left wrist, the school announced Thursday night. He will miss at least the Spartans' next two games against Texas Southern and the Citadel but could return in time for Michigan State's Big Ten opener against Maryland on Dec. 30.

"I feel bad for Branden, as he's been practicing so well over the last few weeks," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a school-released statement. "But we also feel a bit fortunate when you look at the video from the game; it certainly could have been worse."

Dawson suffered the injury when he fell hard to the floor attempting a tip dunk and braced the impact to his tailbone with his left wrist. He stood up wincing and shaking his wrist before retreating to the locker room where trainers wrapped the injury in ice.

Michigan State (8-3) ought to be able to survive without Dawson in its next two games, but the Spartans will miss him dearly if he can't return in time for the start of Big Ten play. Dawson, Michigan State's top returning player from last year's Elite Eight team, is averaging 11.6 points per game and a team-best 8.7 rebounds per game. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:15 am

Nov 23, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo (9) controls the ball during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)The first big NBA trade of the season is upon us. As reported by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Dallas Mavericks have obtained point guard Rajon Rondo and rookie forward Dwight Powell from the Boston Celtics in exchange for big man Brandan Wright, forward Jae Crowder, point guard Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round pick, and a future second-round pick. It's a deal with many repercussions — for the West's playoff picture, the futures of several players who have thrived in Dallas, the growing gap between the two conferences, and a player who can be one of the best point guards in the NBA when in the right situation.

Let's get the Celtics' portion of the deal out of the way first, because it's the easiest to analyze. A quick glance at the deal might indicate that the Celtics didn't receive value for their ostensible franchise player, but he's a four-time All-Star in reputation more than effect, at least on a rebuilding team several years away from contention. After a torn ACL, a broken hand, and middling performances in recoveries from both, Rondo doesn't have the value he did in the immediate aftermath of the Celtics' playoff runs. He's also an unrestricted free agent after this season, which means his team-friendly deal is essentially a non-factor. Boston is also a team that doesn't have to assess the impact of every asset in every trade — they are trying to maximize options, not assemble a winner from spare parts.

While that analysis might paint Rondo as past his prime, the Mavs should feel extremely happy to have added a player of his quality. At his best, Rondo is a tremendous defender at the point of attack, a mad-genius facilitator, and a triple-double machine. He also happens to join the best offense in the NBA (top in points per possession, points per game, and shooting percentage), a squad with plenty of scorers who should minimize the impact of his bizarre status as a point guard who can't shoot at all. It's easy to imagine Rondo picking up a 12-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in a big playoff game for this unit, perhaps with an assist on a Dirk Nowitzki game-winner to boot.

Yet there's reason to worry about Rondo's fit, because even a sizable improvement on his performance so far this season wouldn't push him up to his past levels. Rondo has never been a good outside shooter, but his career shooting percentages are impressive, with five seasons at 47 percent from the field or better. But the last two seasons have been downright horrendous — both at 40 percent — with a true-shooting percentage of 42.2 percent, the worst of his career by a wide margin. Rondo has always been a weird player who doesn't abide by common positional standards, but he has to serve as some kind of scoring threat, however atypical, for his passing ability to reach its peak.

Plus, it's not as if Rondo is entering a situation in desperate need of his facilitating talents. The Mavericks have thrived with Monta Ellis serving as a ball-dominating guard (particularly late in games) with versatile players like Chandler Parsons, screeners like Tyson Chandler (and the departed Wright), and the sui generis Dirk Nowitzki forming a fantastic offensive unit with many options. Unfortunately, Rondo is another player that needs the ball to thrive, which calls into question exactly how he and Ellis will work together. The Mavericks were not quite in need of even more offensive options. Anyone who watched last spring's first-round series against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs saw a team that could not be stopped in any one way.

On the other hand, finding reasons that this deal will go wrong would seem to give the Mavericks too little credit. The most obvious factor in their favor is that Rick Carlisle, his staff, and these players built this wonderful offensive machine in the first place, which bodes well for their ability to work other players into the mix and reform the attack to fit everyone's strengths. Stressing about Ellis's ability to play with another ball-dominating guard is also questionable — he thrived in his first years with the Golden State Warriors next to a fully-bearded Baron Davis and did just fine on offense as Stephen Curry came into his own several years ago. If Dallas already had plenty of options, then they now have the potential to become an offensive juggernaut, the sort of team that causes lovers of aesthetics and numbers alike to join hands and sing tributes in a state of euphoria.

It's also true that Rondo gives the Mavericks something they didn't have before — a potential elite defender on the perimeter. In fact, this is where the pairing with Ellis becomes a clear improvement. Monta has always struggled to defend superior offensive players, but Rondo can guard the West's top guards — James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, et al. — better than most while allowing his backcourt mate to focus on his offense. Even if the Mavs' offense gets worse, they will still have a top outfit in that area while vastly improving their defense. Their biggest worry in this deal might be finding someone who can replace the production of Wright, a very effective reserve who helps considerably when Chandler needs rest.

Rondo is not a normal player by any means, so it can be difficult to project his role with a new team with especially high confidence. Yet he always injects his team with new possibilities, whether via his inversion of the court on offense, his versatility as a defender, or whichever extraterrestrial properties he imparts to his teammates by continued exposure to his existence. He is forever an enigma, but always a potential difference maker. The Mavericks clearly weren't content with being a fringe contender in the loaded West — they want to be a favorite. Rondo provides the best value of any player they could have added to get them to that level.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @FreemanEric

Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: December 19, 2014, 1:02 am

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