Bishop Media Sports Network

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SEC Saturday

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are two weeks into the 2020 college football season.

As you know everything has been altered due to the global pandemic. The SEC begins the season this Saturday and we are going to preview these games.

#5 Florida @ Ole Miss: Kyle Trask enters the season as the starting QB for the Gators. He was given the job in the Kentucky game after Feleipe Franks got hurt.

He led Florida to a comeback win and he never looked back. I expect him to be much better and have more confidence this season.

Ole Miss was 4-8 in 2019 so we don’t expect much from them.

QB John Rhys Plumlee is the epitome of a dual threat. He rushed for 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

The Gators should still win by 14 points.

#23 Kentucky @ #8 Auburn:  This season home teams won’t have the advantage of crowd noise.

That will not make a difference for Auburn though. Last season true freshman quarterback Bo Nix passed for 2,542 yards, 16 scores and 6 interceptions.

He also ran for 313 yards and 7 TD’s. As expected, he made some head scratching plays due to his inexperience.

He should be much more consistent and protect the football better going into his sophomore season.

Kentucky has been a solid team over the last few years. The Wildcats were 8-5 in 2019. In a battle of jungle cats that Joe Exotic would appreciate, I give the edge to the Tigers by 10 points.

Miss St @ #6 LSU: The Tigers are the defending champs, but they lost so much talent from that team.

Heisman Trophy winning QB Joe Burrow was the top pick in the draft. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was also a first-round pick.

The elite programs reload with talent, but I think that’s unrealistic for LSU.

The Bulldogs senior RB Kylin Hill ran for 1,350 yards and 10 scores in 2019. I think this will be a close game but LSU should win by a touchdown.

#4 Georgia @ Arkansas: UGA had Wake Forest transfer QB Jamie Newman as the expected starter but he opted out of the season a few weeks ago.

USC transfer JT Daniels is now the starter and I think he’ll do well. RB D’Andre Swift left for the NFL but Zamir White, James Cook and Kenny McIntosh will step up.

Arkansas is a bad football team, going 2-10 last year and winless in conference games.

The lone bright spot is Last Chance U star Rakeem Boyd who ran for 1,133 yards and 8 scores in 2019.

The Hogs have added Florida transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks and he easily won the starting job. Yikes. UGA wins by 27 and Franks will assist with three turnovers.

#2 Alabama @ Mizzou: I hate to say it but Missouri has no chance.

Mac Jones has been named the starter for Bama. The Crimson Tide have too much talent at every position and this will be a blow out.

Vanderbilt @ #10 Texas A&M: I think the Aggies are ranked way too high, especially with Kellen Mond at quarterback.

That won’t matter in this game because Vandy is outmatched.

That’s the case for the Commodores in the majority of their conference games. Give me A&M by 20 points.

#16 Tennessee @ South Carolina: The Vols got off to a rocky start (1-4) last year but finished 8-5 and won the Gator Bowl.

South Carolina battled injuries to quarterbacks last season. I think the Gamecocks pull the upset in Week 1.

Prize Fish

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are now just a week away from the end of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

Even with a massively expanded postseason this year, or possibly because of that expansion, it’s pretty clear which teams will be present during round 1 of a playoff that will look wildly different for a lot of different reasons.

Basically, with 16 teams making the cut, all of the decent teams and a couple of middling ones will be in on the final hunt for that World Series trophy; and unless something truly wild happens three of those teams will be hailing from the NL East.

The Braves seem destined to win the division and Marlins and Phillies are both over .500.

Miami is too far behind San Diego in terms of winning percentage to take over the four seed in the playoff tournament, but they’ll likely hold on to the five spot and therefore play the Padres in a three-game set taking place entirely at Petco Park.

The Phillies, assuming they don’t usurp the Marlins in second place, can only be seeded seventh or eighth, which has the dramatic possibility of seeing them face off with Atlanta in Truist Park for the first round.

The Marlins are surely going to win the World Series.

Now that might sound that a pretty bold prediction, but history backs me up here.

Sure, Miami’s season-to-season track record has been underwhelming, to say the least (they’ve never won the division since coming into existence over two and a half decades ago). However, they’ve made it to the postseason via the wild card twice and they’ve never lost a postseason series.

That’s right, two trips to the playoffs; two World Series Championships.

It’s really as simple as that. They’re poised to make the cut at the NL East’s second-place team, and history tells us that that means they won’t lose in the postseason.

But for the sake of argument, let’s briefly look at how they’re going to win their inevitable third Commissioner’s Trophy.

It starts and ends with Miami’s starting pitching.

I’ve rambled on and on here about Atlanta’s struggles with the starting rotation and how the young pitchers they call up have struggled. Miami keeps striking gold when it adds starters to the roster.

For example, highly touted prospect Sixto Sanchez has delivered in a huge way for the fish, giving them innings and not giving up runs. He’s looked every bit of what the Marlins hoped he’d be.

He’s got help on the mound from guys like Sandy Alcantara, who’s only made 5 starts but has gone six innings in all but one, giving up three earned runs or less in those 4 games (he gave up 5 in a 4-inning affair during his second start of the season).

Pablo Lopez has looked good too.

Some of their starters haven’t been up to snuff, like Jose Urena, but looking at the more immediately future: it doesn’t matter. You only need three starters in a three-game series.

Their bullpen is led by guys like Brad Boxberger and James Hoyt.

So, while picking the Marlins to win the whole thing this year may seem like a foolish notion, it’s pitching that matters most in the playoffs, and they’ve got a good crew on the mound.

The mere fact that they’ll be there is all the backup I need.

Let Them Play

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Let me go ahead and begin by stating that I am not a fan of the NCAA, specifically it’s governing board.

Besides the whole student athlete model being a bit archaic, and truthfully a sham, most of the decisions made by the board in regards to the student athletes, they claim to care so much about, is a complete contradiction to what is actually in the athlete’s best interest.

Now that you’ve been privy to my inner Jay Bilas, it should come as little surprise I think the NCAA has squandered a perfect opportunity make this upcoming basketball season memorable, not because of Covid, but in spite of it.

Before the NCAA announced the basketball season would begin on Nov. 25, the ACC coaches (unanimously, I believe) proposed to expand the NCAA tournament and allow all 351 Division I teams to participate.

The main idea behind it was that a team wouldn’t have to worry about their tournament chances being diminished due to games being cancelled because of covid.

As we are seeing with football, it’s almost a given that games will be cancelled.

In a year as unorthodox as this year has been, it was an interesting, outside the box idea, that had the potential to be a lot of fun; can you imagine a single elimination tournament featuring 351 teams? Obviously, the NCAA didn’t see it that way.

There were two particular issues the NCAA had when asked about the proposal- making the tournament is a special achievement and allowing everyone in would take away from that honor, and the extra 2-3 rounds it would take to include everyone would be too taxing on the athletes.

On one hand I understand the first line of thinking, if you’re looking at it strictly from the viewpoint of conference tournaments; for all the mid-major teams the regular season doesn’t mean anything in terms of making the tournament.

In a way, their regular season has always been diminished because they’re only making the tournament if they win their conference.

I know the conference tournaments wouldn’t have as much at stake in this scenario, but personally, I’d be ok with that for one season.

Where the NCAA loses me though, is arguing that the longer season would be detrimental to the athletes.

They ask students to play on holidays, spring break, during exams, as well as a myriad of other things that take them away from their studies/families, but adding what amounts to an extra week of games is too much?

I’m sure if you were to ask the players how they felt about allowing all teams into the tournament and playing an extra week of game most of them wouldn’t mind.

Then again, the NCAA and most coaches don’t seem to want to listen to what the players have to say, except for when it supports their own agendas.

I say all this realizing it may come across as an “everyone gets a trophy” argument, which may or may not rub you the wrong way.

However, with all the metaphorical garbage we have to wade through on a daily basis it would actually be nice to see something that even fits everyone.

Unfortunately, with all the changes and adjustment we’ve had to endure over the past six months, when it comes to the betterment of the NCAA athlete you can always count on the NCAA to take a look, and then do the opposite.

Sinking Ship?

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

For months I have tried to tell anyone who would listen to not crown the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Super Bowl Champions just yet.

It took the Bucs only one week to prove it.

All of the preseason hype surrounding the Bucs came crashing down in the Superdome last Sunday as the New Orleans Saints showed the experts why they are the team to beat in the NFC South currently.

So, what was wrong with Tampa last Sunday other than being crowned as Super Bowl Champions in August?

The spin from the Bay is they didn’t have OTAs. They didn’t have a preseason. The offense has a ton of new pieces, moving parts and a brand new quarterback in Tom Brady. There were bound to be some speed bumps on the road to a world title.

Breaking news; nobody in the NFL had OTA’s, or a preseason, and you have the GOAT.

You can’t use the classic we have a new QB excuse, can you Tampa? You can spin that with a rookie, but not a 6-time Super Bowl champion QB in Tom Brady.

Brady is the GOAT, and if Tampa does not live up to the hype this year it damn sure won’t be because of Tom Brady.

This is the NFL and even the all-time greats may toss a pick-six now and then. Brady did toss for 239 yards and 2-TD’s.

He did throw the ugly pick six. Mike Evans was dealing with a hamstring issue and only had one catch for two yards, but it was a touchdown catch. Evans will get healthy to be the deep threat Brady has been missing since he had Randy Moss in New England.

Despite the loss against the Saints, the offense had their moments. The unit moved the ball and actually out-gained New Orleans in total yards.

The offense has to run the ball better moving forward. Ronald Jones II had 66 yards rushing, but once Leonard Fournette gets up to speed in this offense look for this combo to take some of the heat off of the passing game.

The running game needs to click this week because Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin is experiencing delayed-onset symptoms after a hit to the head last week and is in the concussion protocol for Week 2.

What I was impressed with last week was the Tampa defense. Yeah, they gave up some points but held Drew Brees to only 160 yards passing and played well, so there is plenty to build from on this side of the ball.

Devin White is a stud at linebacker. This unit will have to step up until the offense comes around. The offense will come around very soon.

As expected, I turned on the TV on Monday and the talking heads on sports shows were kicking dirt already on the Bucs.

Not so fast there experts. I’m going to revise my predictions in the NFC South. With the Saints losing Michael Thomas for a few weeks with a high ankle sprain, and the Falcons looking like complete garbage again on defense I’m picking Tampa to now win the NFC South.

I had the Bucs picked third, but after seeing the potential of the Tampa defense I now pick them to win the division. Brady and the offense will be fine moving forward. The NFC is up for grabs in 2020.

Tampa Bay hosts the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, which will be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bucs to cure a week one hangover from New Orleans.

Honestly have you ever left New Orleans without a hangover?

Panthers Prowl

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

To say that Georgia State’s tenure in the Football Bowl Subdivision has been a roller coaster ride might be a bit of an understatement.

The Panthers enter 2020 on the heels of a 7-6 record last season and the program’s third bowl appearance, however the team has been prone to big dips in performance, going 3-9 and 2-10 to follow up their previous seasons in which they reached a bowl.

A big reason for the inconsistency has been Georgia State’s struggles to build depth at quarterback.

The Panthers have had their share of impact passers, but have routinely needed a year or two to break in a new star after losing one.

That task once again presents itself this fall as two-year starter and dynamic threat Dan Ellington has moved on.

Ellington was one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the Sun Belt Conference in 2019 before tearing an ACL two-thirds of the way through the season.

Showing plenty of toughness – and the aforementioned lack of QB depth – Ellington played out the season, but was rendered into a one-dimensional threat and the offense suffered greatly.

Mikele Colasurdo seemed to be a fitting replacement, but has opted out of the season after suffering from COVID-19. That leaves redshirt freshman Cornelius Brown as the most seasoned option available for the Panthers.

Many other pieces remain in place for a Panther offense that was potent before Ellington’s injury.

The running game has been on the upswing for the past two seasons and Georgia State returns four offensive linemen who may be a bit undersized, but who proved their effectiveness last fall.

If the Panthers are to avoid another post-bowl falloff, fixing the defense is a huge priority.

Georgia State ranked just 112th in the country against the run last season and was amongst the worst in the nation at getting to opposing quarterbacks when they dropped back to pass.

The Panthers’ seven wins in 2019 easily could have been more if not for the fact that their defense couldn’t stop any bleeding despite getting plenty of help on the scoreboard from its offense.

All four starters in the defensive secondary return, but it remains to be seen whether that will be a positive. Georgia State allowed 8.5 yards per pass attempt last season and allowed 27 yards through the air.

In a season that is certain to be remembered for its uniqueness, Georgia State has been one of the hardest hit Sun Belt teams in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Panthers lost a Sept. 5 home date vs. Murray State and a Sept. 12 visit to Alabama and weren’t able to schedule any makeup games, leaving them with just 10 matchups this fall.

Overall, the Panthers seem poised to remain as a solid team and avoid too much of a drop-off this time around.

Finding a suitable replacement for Ellington should keep them competitive in most games, but making a run at the Sun Belt East division might be a bit of a stretch as Appalachian State enters 2020 as the prohibitive favorite, with Georgia Southern and Troy also widely predicted to finish ahead of Georgia State.

Down South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books. Let’s take a look at what happened around the NFC South after the first week of games.

Seattle 38, Atlanta 25: The Falcons defense looked just as bad as they have the last few seasons. Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He also had three runs for a team-high 29 yards rushing. Atlanta sacked Wilson 3 times but that did not slow him down.

Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.

Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage each had 9 receptions for over 100 yards.

In Todd Gurley’s first game as a Falcon he rushed 14 times for 56 yards and a TD.

Atlanta outgained Seattle 506 yards to 383 but came up short all four times they tried to convert on fourth down.

The one good thing for the Falcons is Ryan surpassed John Elway for ninth on the NFL career passing yardage list.

Las Vegas 34, Carolina 30: Matt Rhule made his coaching debut as the Panthers head coach.

They had the best defense in the NFL just a few seasons ago, now they need all the help they can get.

The Raiders offense did whatever they wanted.

Second year running back Josh Jacobs rushed for 93 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Derek Carr threw for 239 yards and a score.

This was the first game for the Raiders since moving from Oakland to Las Vegas. Gruden didn’t hold back on praising Jacobs.

“That was a little bit like Walter Payton used to play,” Gruden said. “It was hot as hell. He got beat up early. He insisted on coming back and he insisted on getting the ball as a runner and receiver. He is special. He deserves some national attention — and I hope you give it to him.”

This was Teddy Bridgewater’s first game as the Panthers QB.

He had a solid game, completing 22 of 34 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.

Former New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson also made his Carolina debut and played well. He had 6 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, Christian McCaffrey had another great game. He ran for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns and he had 38 yards receiving.

New Orleans 34. Tampa Bay 23: This was the most anticipated game of the day. We all know Tom Brady left New England this offseason to become a Buccaneer.

He has a ton of offensive weapons. The Saints also feature a geriatric quarterback surrounded by playmakers.

This was the first game featuring two starting quarterbacks in their forties and they played like it.

The game started good for Brady. He rushed for a touchdown to give Tampa an early 7-0 lead.

It was downhill from there. He threw two picks and one of them was returned for a touchdown. Jameis Winston had to see himself in Brady as he watched from the Saints sideline.

“I made some just bad, terrible turnovers,” Brady said. “I obviously have got to do a lot better job.”

Drew Brees only threw for 160 yards and 2 TD’s. Alvin Kamara had a rushing and receiving score.

Surprisingly Michael Thomas only had 3 catches for 17 yards.

The Return

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When the NBA resumed their season, I heard Bomani Jones mention on a podcast that he didn’t realize how much he needed the return of basketball, until he watched the opening tip.

As someone who has been concerned with how the college football season was going to take place, while keeping everyone as safe as possible, I understood exactly where Bomani was coming from.

I paused my game of Red Dead Redemption 2 and took a break from binging The Big Bang Theory, to watch what was essentially the opening weekend of college football.

We all know this upcoming season is going to be something completely different than we’ve experienced before and if the first weekend is a taste of what the next few months hold, we’re in for a wild, unpredictable ride.

It didn’t take long for Covid to start wreaking havoc on the schedule with both Houston/Memphis and Virginia/Virginia Tech postponing their respective games.

There were also a few other games postponed, as well as some, Oklahoma/Missouri State come to mind, that were almost cancelled.

However, some of those cancellations brought on new games, (Houston replaced their game against Memphis with Baylor and Appalachian State’s game against UNC-Charlotte also took place because of previously cancelled games), so it was interesting to see teams adapt on the fly to that adversity.

Looks like you can add each team’s schedule to the list of things that will be fluid throughout the year.

There was also the news the Big Ten and possibly Pac-12 will vote to resume their seasons, with a start date sometime in October. If you thought the debates about who made the college playoffs in years past were contentious and heated, imagine what it will be like this year when two of the five conferences will have only played half the games.

As for the actual games, you had three Sun Belt teams (Louisiana, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina) beating three Big-12 schools (Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas) as well as Georgia Tech’s victory over Florida State.

I know upsets happen every year, and outside of Iowa State not much was expected from any of the losing teams, but with everything going it feels like a precursor of things to come.

A couple weeks ago I thought this might be the year a school from outside the power 5 would have a shot at the playoffs, and I’m still hanging onto that belief, if only by a thread.

Then you had the case of Georgia Southern, who squeaked out a win over Campbell, due in large part to 33 of their players not being eligible to play.

Not all their players sat out because of Covid, but many them did, even if the cause wasn’t directly related.

I realize this will only be a blip on the ticker at the bottom of your screen, but insert Georgia or Clemson in place of Georgia Southern and see how big a story it becomes.

The great 1980’s poet, Tom Keifer (Cinderella) once wrote “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” and while I tend to agree with his sentiment, I would like to add a caveat to it.

In some cases, you know exactly what you’ve got, you just don’t realize how much you missed it until it comes back.

It was good to see you again, college football. Here’s hoping everyone can stay safe enough for you to stick around for a while.

MVP

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It seems bonkers to be thinking about and talking about end of the year awards for the Major League Baseball season when not even two months have passed since the first pitch of the season was thrown, but here we are.

The pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign will be over soon and things like Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Gold Gloves, and Silver Sluggers must be given out.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to make a case for a player who should be the National League Most Valuable Player this season: Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Freeman has long been respected as one of the most consistent players in the game, if not the top player at his position.

He’s had All Star appearances, won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but the one thing (other than a World Series ring, of course) missing from his trophy case is an MVP award.

This year, for all its flaws and weirdness, presents the best opportunity for Freddie to fill that spot on the shelf.

As with most seasons, Freeman has hit for average and power, with good RBI numbers as well as a great OPS and WAR (for you sabermetric fans out there).

But it also seems like every year he hovers just under the radar for serious award consideration.

This year seemed to be shaping up much in the same way, but Freeman has gotten incredibly hot, slugging his first two career grand slams, tons of multi-hit games, and a two-homerun game to boot.

In that stretch, his batting average skyrocketed over .330 and his OPS topped 1.000 (a whopping, and league leading, 1.075). He also is the top of the league in RBI’s, driving in runs at a torrid clip.

But the case isn’t just made because of his numbers alone. The Braves, who have been favorites to win the NL East all season, have seen their starting rotation decimated over the course of the season, and Cy Young candidate Max Fried hitting the Injured List could very well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Short of taking the mound himself, Freddie’s offensive explosion has seen him do everything he can to prevent Atlanta from slipping out of first place in the division, as the Philadelphia Phillies have given chase.

Freeman is also a team player. The Braves third hitter for almost his entire career, he responded well to being moved up to the two-hole after leadoff man Ronald Acuna, Jr. was hurt and kept out of the lineup for a few games.

He responded so well that Brian Snitker has kept him there after the young outfielder’s return.

Credit to where it’s due: Freddie always thrives when someone with some thunder hits behind him.

Last season, Freeman was awarded the Silver Slugger after a year of having Josh Donaldson batting in the cleanup spot.

This year Marcel Ozuna has been a revelation, protecting Freddie and giving opposing pitchers a veritable Sophie’s Choice of who to pitch for in any situation.

In fact, for a while there it looked like Ozuna would be the Braves’ most likely MVP candidate.

While Ozuna continued to thrive in Atlanta, Freeman has jumped into the forefront of the conversation both in Atlanta and, I hope, the minds of the MVP voters.

It’s time for Freddie to stop being the bridesmaid and get married. I now pronounce him the NL MVP.

You may win the World Series now.

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