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Tales From The Cockpit: Expectations

Credit: © Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports



After finishing 2015 with an abysmal 3-9 record including a loss to The Citadel, expectations in Columbia are quite low for 2016. I'd have to say that my own personal fan expectations are equally low, but I am starting to feel some optimism. Maybe it's just because football is almost here, maybe it's because I personally decided to give up on the Muschamp bashing and see the sunny side of life...who knows.

One thing I do know, is that whining and crying about it isn't going to change what our team has become. As fans, it's now our job to support our boys no matter what.

That being said, I have a job to do and I'm going to do it.

As all publications do before the season starts, I will now rattle off my picks in every single Gamecocks game in 2016. I will wax poetic about why our boys will win or lose each game and just like with most pre-season picks columns...I'm probably going to be very, very wrong.

So in the interest of being wrong, I'm going to give you two sets of expectations for the 2016 South Carolina football season.

The first set is my sports journalist, radio guy opinion on each game and where our beloved Gamecocks will probably end up....the second, well that one will be just for the fans and I will allow my hardcore homer side to shine and make some completely illogical and outlandish picks without any real rhyme or reason.

So let's get to it.

  • Week 1: @Vanderbilt
    • The Will Muschamp era will kick off with a road SEC match-up. One that in should usually be marked as an easy win, but won't be by any stretch of the imagination. Vanderbilt was the Gamecocks final win in 2015, but it wasn't an easy one and it was at Williams-Brice Stadium. Vandy has some solid returning players and will try to run the ball a lot against the Gamecocks, a team that couldn't stop the run in 2015. Carolina has not lost to Vandy since 2008, but could be ripe for the picking eight years later...but they will kick off the Coach Boom era with a W.
      • Pick: South Carolina edges Vandy 24-21.
  • Week 2: (1-0) @ Mississippi State
    • Two weeks, two road conference match-ups for the new head honcho. This time they travel to Starkville to take on a new-look Bulldogs team with a new starting QB after star QB Dak Prescott took his talents to the NFL. In the Vandy blurb I reference rushing attacks against SC...well, the good news is, Prescott led the Bulldogs in rushing in 2015, the bad news is Mississippi State has a couple of returning, experienced running backs. This game could be close for the majority of the game, but I just can't bring myself to take the Gamecocks in my logical picks.
      • Pick: Mississippi State beats South Carolina 35-24
  • Week 3: (1-1) vs ECU
    • The dreaded ECU game. Why is it dreaded? Ask Virginia Tech who lost to the Pirates in 2015. You could even ask Florida, who fell asleep with the lead and almost squandered it in the end last season. It seems like a yearly trend that a Power-5 conference team will lose to the Pirates. The good news for the Gamecocks is that this is the first home game of the season and you can bet Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking for the debut of Will Muschamp. Another silver lining fact is that ECU is also a team in transition. After a rough 2015 campaign, ECU fired head coach Ruffin McNeill and has officially started over. That being said, this one is going to be closer than any SC fan wants it to be...but in the end they'll pull out the victory, in a very Muschamp-ian way.
      • Pick: Gamecocks win 17-9
  • Week 4: (2-1) @ Kentucky
    • Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky. The Marsha to the Gamecocks Jan for the last two seasons. A game that was never seemed like a rivalry game...but has become one as of late. A match-up that has led many Gamecocks fans to drink excessively. A match-up that....your Gamecocks will win in 2016. Kentucky has no depth and has a weak defense. They do have weapons on offense and according to everybody in Lexington, Sophomore QB Drew Baker has been quite impressive. This game, however, is Will Muschamp's chance to not only win over the fan base, but show that he learned his lesson since Florida and allow his offense to fly.
      • Pick: South Carolina rolls over the Wildcats 38-14.
  • Week 5: (3-1) vs Texas A&M
    • Gamecocks fans would really like to put the last time these two teams met in Columbia in the rear-view mirror, but it's going to be difficult. The Gamecocks did play a depleted Aggies squad very well in College Station in 2015, but this is a different A&M team with transfer QB Trevor Knight. I'm not sure Carolina has anybody to cover Speedy Noil or stop James White. So this will probably be a very long day for Gamecocks fans.
      • Pick: A&M demolishes the Gamecocks 42-24
  • Week 6: (3-2) vs Georgia
    • The most underrated rivalry game in all of college football is a bit more interesting in 2016 with two new head coaches, both of defensive mind. Obviously Nick Chubb will be the primary focus of the Gamecocks defense in this football game, but the passing attack of the Bulldogs could also be a massive factor if freshman Jacob Eason is named the starter and is everything that he's expected to be. Last season the Bulldogs dismantled the Gamecocks in a 52-20, but with Kirby Smart at the helm, a lot has changed in Athens. Smart reminds me of Muschamp a lot, but he hasn't had a chance to learn to "stick to defense" like Muschamp hopefully has now in his second stint as a head coach. The Bulldogs will surely be favored, but I expect a massive upset by the home team.
      • Pick: Carolina shocks Georgia 34-24
  • Week 7: BYE
    • Can't win, but can't lose. Enjoy the early success, cause it's going to be a long second half of the season.
  • Week 8: (4-2) vs Massachusetts
    • Not much to discuss here. Yes, the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel in 2015. Yes Muschamp lost to Georgia Southern at Florida. Yes, no wins are guaranteed right now for South Carolina...but I guarantee this one.
      • Pick: Gamecocks roll over the Minutemen 45-21
  • Week 9: (5-2) vs Tennessee
    • Another rivalry we would like to be a win...but it's not going to be easy. Sure the Gamecocks COULD pull another miracle, but I think the 3-point loss at Tennessee in 2015 was a bit of an aberration and result of a perfect storm of UT injuries and SC energy. Not much to say here except that I don't see a chance for a win over Rocky Top.
      • Pick: Vols beat SC 35-14
  • Week 10: (5-3) vs Missouri
    • The Battle of the Columbias has been a very dramatic series in its infancy. A lot of Gamecocks fans claim that SC would have won in 2015 if Perry Orth had been under center. I'm not sure that's true, but in the spirit of optimism...why not? In 2016 however, I'm not very confident in much. The big plus in my book is that this game will be played in our Columbia this season. Mizzou QB Drew Lock looked great against the lackluster Gamecock defense in 2015 and horrible against basically every other defense he faced. The Tigers return RB Ish Witter, who rushed for 98-yards and a TD against the Gamecocks in 2015, and welcome in Juco transfer Natereace Strong at that position. Mizzou has run the ball well against Carolina in recent years and I expect the same in 2016.
      • Pick: Mizzou breaks Carolina's hearts 21-17
  • Week 11: (5-4) @ Florida
    • The biggest storyline game on the Gamecocks' schedule in 2016. Coach Boom returns to the Swamp to face Jim McElwain. He'll also get to say "What's up?" to his buddy Steve Spurrier. The only think Muschamp wins this day though is whitest teeth. McElwain continues the Gator rebuild and demolishes our boys in a fashion we haven't seen since Timmy Tebow was running the show.
      • Pick: Gators chomp Gamecocks 48-10
  • Week 12: (5-5) vs Western Carolina
    • Finally, a gimme. Again, I know, The Citadel...but shut up and be realistic. This one makes the Gamecocks bowl eligible!
      • Pick: Carolina rolls 45-17
  • Week 13: (6-5) @ Clemson
    • Arguably the best Clemson team in school history didn't accomplish what the 2004 Clemson team did against the Gamecocks in 2015. Yes, garbage time this and prevent defense that...whatever. The truth is, I expect a massive blowout...but I also expected that in 2015 and our boys fought hard and made me proud. I think Muschamp will get more of that out of them in a gut wrenching, hard-fought double-digit loss in Death Valley.
      • Pick: Clemson cruises into the playoffs, pummeling Carolina 45-21

Overall: 6-6 SEC: 3-5

Not great, but not 3-9.

Also, we're going bowling!

If the Gamecocks can begin the Muschamp era 6-6 with what was left for him to start with then I have a wonderfully optimistic outlook on the future.

Remember, I said at the beginning that this is just guesswork. Every talking head in sports media has their predictions and 99.9% of them are wrong. Remember when Greg McElroy said our Gamecocks would go 11-1 two years ago?

He was wrong and he makes the BIG bucks. So take this all with a grain of salt. Take this next quick list with all the salt in the ocean.

Fanboy Picks:

  • Week 1: @ Vandy
    • SC dismantles little ol' Vandy 35-10
  • Week 2: (1-0) @ Mississippi State
    • No Dak, No win. Gamecocks roll 24-7
  • Week 3: (2-0) vs ECU
    • Pirates can't handle the Cockpit! SC wins 45-17
  • Week 4: (3-0) @ Kentucky
    • Revenge is sweet, Gamecocks demolish the kittens 38-3
  • Week 5: (4-0) vs Texas A&M
    • Trevor Knight can't beat schools from SC, ask Clemson. Gamecocks squeeze one out 28-24.
  • Week 6: (5-0) vs Georgia
  • Muschamp > Smart all day. Plus I took us in the "real" picks. Gamecocks 32- Pups 21.
  • Week 7: (6-0) BYE
    • Oh to be undefeated going into a Week 7 Bye.
  • Week 8: (6-0) vs UMass
    • Gimme game, Gamecocks roll 48-14
  • Week 9: (7-0) vs Tennessee
    • Even fanboy has his doubts going into the "Orange Crush" portion of the schedule. Vols win close one 31-28.
  • Week 10: (7-1) vs Mizzou
    • Let's be real...you can't name more than one player on this team. Gamecocks win 28-17.
  • Week 11: (8-1) @ Florida
    • Would love to see a triumphant return for Muschamp...but again fanboy has at least a small glimmer of reality. Gators win 35-24.
  • Week 12: (8-2) vs WCU
    • Another Gimme win. SC cruises to 52-17 victory.
  • Week 13: (9-2) @ Clemson
    • This would be the single greatest upset in the history of the rivalry...easily. So in hopes of a reverse-jinx...Clemson wins 45-10....please work.

Overall: 9-3 SEC: 5-2 (SEC East champs?)

Remember, Muschamp did go 7-6 his first season at Florida and then won 11 games the following season. Of course they had FAR more talent to work with when he showed up...but a fanboy can dream.

Regardless of how things shake out, whether we go bowling or not and whether Clemson embarrasses our boys or not...man it feels good to be talking about Gamecocks football!

Just over a week to go, stay positive and stay classy. Don't forget that these are 18-22 year old kids working far harder to try to win for you than you work to be a fan.

Respect is always mandatory.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) or Instagram (dittius33). All of my blogs can be found in one place at InsideTheMindOfDitti.com!

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Tales From The Cockpit: Respect Is Due

Credit: © Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports



A lot of you aren't going to like what I have to say in this post...but it needs to be said.

We don't have a leg to stand on right now. I'm sorry, but it's the truth.

Our Gamecocks finished 3-9 in 2015, our legendary coach walked out mid-season (which I'm okay with, but it happened) and we're coming into the Will Muschamp era that is chock full of question marks.

Our run is over, our state dominance is over and our ability to rag on "that school from the Upstate" is unfortunately over...at least for now.

Clemson is coming off quite possibly their best season in school history and that includes their 1981 National Title run. The Tigers bounced back from their 5-straight losses to Carolina and have now won two straight Palmetto Bowls. Oh, and they played in the National Championship game against Alabama last season and did so quite respectably.

For five straight years, we owned bragging rights.

Day in and day out I saw Carolina fans on social media combating numerous Clemson fans need to fight our team's recent success with history lessons. It was frustrating and, in this fan's opinion, incredibly annoying.

My fellow Gamecocks fans would constantly ask for our respect while our team was by far the more dominant team at the time. Some Tigers fans bowed to the reality of the times, others decided to continue to battle and tell tales of 1981. I hated it...and I'm sure a lot of you Carolina fans did as well.

This is the reason I'm writing this blog today.

It's now our chance to be what we asked for five years. It's our opportunity to be the bigger man (or woman) and pay the respect that we wanted shown to us so badly during our team's last amazing run.

We don't have to like that Clemson is one of the best teams in the country right now, we don't have to enjoy that Dabo Swinney is a national sweetheart and we don't have to laud Deshaun Watson's Heisman campaign...but we don't really have a leg to stand on when it comes to bashing it.

There's really no need to bash it to be perfectly honest with you.

Bashing their great run right now is doing exactly what we hated the most during our run of state dominance. Nothing would fire me up and send me on a Twitter rampage like a Clemson fan brushing off another lopsided result by flaunting their one National Title or lopsided record against USC .

At the time neither of those things were news to us, but they knew full well that the better team resided in Columbia and they only had history to fall back on.

Well, we don't have history to fall back on outside of recent history. We don't have a trophy to flaunt outside of George Rogers' Heisman. We again don't have a leg to stand on...not right now at least.

What we do have is what made me a Gamecocks fan in the first place...pride and loyalty.

I moved here in 2000. South Carolina was coming off a not-so-stellar season as I'm sure you all remember. I went to Williams-Brice Stadium and saw a packed house. I saw excitement and pride. I saw Gamecock Nation at it's best.

That loyalty, that pride, that excitement...THAT is what made me want to be a Gamecock.

I grew up in one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports being from Connecticut. Half of my family are die-hard Red Sox fans (myself included) and the other half die-hard Yankees fans.

So trust me, I get rivalry and the sports hatred that goes along with it...but I also understand reality and when you do or do not have a leg to stand on.

I also fully understand supporting my team regardless of how bad things are going and that was what made me one of you when my life's journey dropped me here in Greenville back in High School.

So just take a deep breath, take a step back, give the respect that is due and wait for our time to come again...no matter how long it takes and no matter how Clemson fans react to it when it comes.

Be the better fan. I know we can do it.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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Tales From The Cockpit: Thank You HBC

© Joshua S. Kelly | 2014 Apr 12


The Spurrier Era of South Carolina football has officially come to an end.

The HBC has taken an ambassador and consultant position at his Alma Mater, the University of Florida. He will no longer dress in garnet and black. He will no longer be seen around campus.

He's gone.

What isn't gone is the impact he made on this program...regardless of how quickly some fans have forgotten it.

Spurrier always liked to point out all of the firsts that he accomplished while leading the Gamecocks, so I'll go ahead and remind you all of a few of the things not one single Carolina fan had ever experienced before the Visor came to town.

  • A 11 win season.
    • The closest Carolina came to this benchmark was in 1984 when the Joe Morrison led Gamecocks finished the season 10-2. Spurrier reached 11-wins three years in a row. All three of these 11-win seasons resulted in Top-10 rankings in the final AP Poll, including the program's only Top-5 finishes in 2013 when the post-season poll had the Gamecocks at #4.
  • 5-straight wins over Clemson.
    • Between 1946 and 1954 the Gamecocks won 7 of 9 meetings with Clemson including a tie and winning 4-straight from 1951-1954 with some old school style wins (e.g. 6-0, 14-7, 13-8). So some fairly old Carolina fans got to see something close, but under Spurrier we witnessed 5-straight years of domination of the dreaded Tigers. Never in the 100+ years of this rivalry has USC so clearly been the better program for such a stretch of time. Without Spurrier, they never would have been.
  • An SEC East Division Title.
    • Tragically this was the ceiling for Spurrier's Gamecocks...but again, it had never happened before Steven Orr Spurrier came to Columbia.
  • 7-straight bowl births and 4-straight bowl victories.
    • This included 2 Capitol One bowls that I was lucky enough to attend. Again, tragic that those 11-win squads couldn't sneak a BCS berth, but this fan was pretty happy the Gamecocks came to Orlando a couple of times.

Now obviously in the grand scheme of college football accomplishments none of this is really that impressive. I mean overall when compared to the entirety of college football, Spurrier was in the end just slightly above average at South Carolina (to which I'm sure many a Clemson fan will point out upon reading this).

The thing is, his slightly above average record is the best coaching record in school history. Spurrier holds the record for most wins at South Carolina, even if the banner is gone from outside Williams-Brice Stadium. For this, the HBC is in fact a Gamecock coaching legend and always will be.

Beyond his coaching accolades, Spurrier did a lot more for the University of South Carolina.

He put the school and program on the map. Year in and year out he brought in bunches and bunches which in turn brought us the Beast Board, the refurbishment of the fairgrounds and stadium and the brand new indoor training facility.

Oh and since we're on the subject of the new facility that dons Spurrier's name, I want to take a minute to send a message to the Johnny-come-lately fans who thought it wise to start a petition suggesting Steve and Jerri's names should come off the building...

Grow up.

If you really believe that Steve and Jerri Spurrier didn't do enough for this university to deserve this honor, then you obviously have no clue what you're talking about. I'd also venture to say that before the 5-straight wins over Clemson and 3-straight 11-win seasons that you weren't wearing Garnet and Black...but that's another story for another day.

Okay, I'm done...back to the HBC.

I remember being in the midst of the student section back in 2005 when Spurrier first graced the sidelines of Willy B. The Gamecocks were coming off a 6-6 season that ended in an embarrassing all-out brawl with Clemson in Death Valley...Lou Holtz's last game.

That night, all of that felt like a distant memory, a forgotten nightmare.

That night there was hope. The Visor was here and things were going to change and boy did they change. I for one will always be thankful that Spurrier chose South Carolina over so many other options upon his return to the college ranks.

It was one heck of a ride Coach. Thank you for taking us to new heights.

Goodbye HBC.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

P.S.

To all of the rival fans that will inevitably attempt to diminish our pride by bringing up the past or the 3-9 or poking fun at the accomplishments that we hold so dear....I don't care. You can't erase the excitement and happiness that the past decade of Gamecocks football brought me and hundreds of thousands of others. Nothing you say can ever take away the fact that I was a part of Gamecock Nation for the very best era of South Carolina football....so far.

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33)

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Tales From The Cockpit: In Muschamp We Trust

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina
Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports



Welcome to the very first edition of Tales From The Cockpit.

To get some business out-of-the-way, this blog will be a weekly (and sometimes twice weekly) opinion blog about South Carolina Gamecocks football. I am a fan journalist, so prepare yourself for that before reading...though I'm sure most of you already know that.

Now, let's get down to business.

2015 was horrible for Gamecocks fans. There's no way to sugar coat it.

We saw our legendary coach walk away mid-season after realizing his lack of recruiting over the past couple of years was resulting in a sub-par season and in the end we watched our rival Clemson Tigers play for a National Championship while we licked the wounds left by a 3-9 season including a loss to The Citadel.

It wasn't pretty.

The anxiety and embarrassment didn't end with the 3-9 season though. Then came the coaching search. Rumors flew around like crazy and included up and coming coaches like Justin Fuente from Memphis and Tom Herman from Houston. Other rumors (really fan hopes) even included the recently dumped Mark Richt...but we knew he wasn't coming he had his sights on "The U" from day one.

In the end Fuente opted for Virginia Tech's vacancy and Houston opened their wallet to retain Herman with Power-5 hopes in their future.

Then came Coach Boom, Will Muschamp.

Now for all we know Ray Tanner and company had Muschamp pegged from the start. After all he was a guy that Spurrier always raved about. For some fans, myself included, it seemed at first like the ultimate settle. Muschamp brought a strong resume of experience to the job, but also brought the stain of his only head coaching experience at the University of Florida.

But hey, 4-8 IS better than 3-9, right?

All jokes aside, I've come around on this decision. It just took a little time to get the taste of the frustrating 3-9 season out of my mouth.

Think about it.

In the final game of the season the 3-8 (at the time) Gamecocks fought hard, tooth and nail, with the eventual national runner-ups. Just seven short days after losing at home to The Citadel. They were fired up and ready to go because of a fiery interim coach, Shawn Elliot. A coach who outside of big-time program experience is a lot like Will Muschamp.

Also, one thing that I've said since the day Muschamp was hired...this defense needs a coach like this.

The past few years have been hard to watch with SEC offenses (And Clemson's) slicing and dicing the Gamecock defense for what seemed like a thousand yards a game.

With Muschamp I highly doubt that will be the case.

Spare me the stats of his one season as defensive coordinator at Auburn, I get it....but that was also a snapshot in comparison to his success over the years. The issue I saw over the last few seasons at South Carolina was tackling, or lack there of. With Coach Boom at the helm, you can bet your backside they'll learn how to square up and tackle somebody.

The gripe against Coach Boom in Gainesville was one aimed at his offense. An offense that ranked near the worst in college football for his entire tenure with the Gators, even in his second season when Florida earned a Sugar Bowl birth and finished the season 11-2...but those defenses were pretty darn good.

Couple his defensive prowess with the lessons he learned through his failure at Florida and South Carolina fans should really have nothing but hope for the future.

No, this team will not compete for an SEC championship this year and probably won't anytime soon. Heck, I'm not sure the 11-wins a year level they reached with Spurrier will return anytime soon...but when you start at 3-9, it's all uphill from here.

Even my old friend Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel has faith that Muschamp will succeed in Columbia. This coming from a guy who destroyed Muschamp after the 4-8 season...and I should know, I was sitting next to him every morning in the palatial 96.9/740 The Game studios in Orlando when he did it.

So, Gamecock Nation, it's time to drop the negativity and embrace our new future.

The era of Coach Boom is upon us.

In Muschamp we trust.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33)!

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Bases Loaded: A-Rod, Tebow and Beyond

© Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports



Welcome to Bases Loaded. A blog (and sometimes podcast) about baseball, baseball and a little more baseball.

Originally I had planned on resurrecting my Bases Loaded blog with a nice piece on Alex Rodriguez's crazy journey and forced retirement. I will instead direct you to
Jared Carrabis' piece on Barstool Sports.

So now I will just do a little bit of catching up on a few major baseball topics.

Alex Rodriguez Retirement

This obviously still has to be addressed.

First and foremost, I have to applaud the Steinbrenner kids for finally acting like George...even if they don't want to admit it publicly. The Teixeira retirement happening within a week of the A-Rod "retirement" is far too convenient for me to not believe they didn't play a role in it.

George would have fired both Hal and Hank by now if he were still alive for spending so much money and winning just one World Series, but if he hadn't, this move would have pleased him for sure. Especially with the added wrinkle of forcing A-Rod to take a consultant position to earn the rest of his money. It's genius.

That being said, the story of A-Rod is very interesting to me. As a baseball guy, I find it both great and awful and really everything in between.

When A-Rod was a young, up and coming stud in Seattle I was an enormous fan of him. The short stop trio of Rodriguez, Nomar and Jeter was one of my favorite parts of baseball in the late 1990s.

When A-Rod chose to take money over loyalty, 16-year-old me was angry and decided to hate him. In the end, he was the dope that left the team that won more games than any other in MLB history (then lost). I look back now and kind of have to marvel at how that decision changed baseball forever.

Following that signing players began making more and more money leading up to the enormous contracts for average players we see today. Beyond changing how the rest of the league was paid, it shaped the future of my beloved Boston Red Sox and of course the New York Yankees forever.

If he hadn't had such a massive contract, the Manny/Lester for A-Rod (with a few other pieces and teams involved) would have happened and who knows if I would have seen history in 2004, or the 2007 and 2013 titles that the Red Sox ended up winning.

Of course the PED stain will forever mark the career of Alex Rodriguez, but in my opinion its far beyond just a "cheating" thing.

The last few years just weren't a good look for A-Rod. The suspensions after his 2007 speech, the appearance on Mike Francesa's radio show and the endless game of tug-o-war with the Yankees all made him easily the most hated man in baseball.

For me though, it was all about what Biogenesis represented. Thanks to A-Rod's funding, that clinic peddled PEDs to kids all over South Florida. Sure Major League Baseball was shady in the whole process, but that doesn't change the facts.

I have for years been very outspoken about how dumb the steroid controversy is and how guys like Bonds and Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. This one fact, in my opinion, takes A-Rod to a completely different level than the rest of the so-called cheaters in baseball.

To me, this puts him on the level of Pete Rose.

Beyond that, the stories of guys like Bonds and Clemens come with the "he was a Hall of Famer before the steroids" twist. With A-Rod can we really say that?

We know that A-Rod may in fact have been one of the most naturally gifted players to ever step on the diamond, but do we know for certain that he was ever clean? Can we divide his career into a before and after?

I'm not sure we can.

I will say what I say about Bonds on a daily basis though, hundreds upon hundreds of MLB players have been stained by positive tests, reports or accusations. Not every one of them hit 700+ home runs...or 696 in A-Rod's case.

So in the end, to me, his exclusion from both the Hall of Fame and Monument Park at Yankee Stadium should be based on his involvement in Biogenesis alone.

Tim Tebow: Baseball Man?

This news broke this morning and sent me on a tweeting frenzy, so I apologize if you've already read what I'm about to write.

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted out that ol' Timmy was training to play baseball and wanted to make a run at playing in the show and will host a workout for Major League teams later in August.

Now don't get me wrong here, Tebow is an extremely gifted athlete and is a grown ass man who can do whatever the hell he wants to in his free time....I just don't understand it.

For years now I've been frustrated by the idea that Tim Tebow is so special that he can just wake up one day and be a professional level talent at something he's never done before. This started with the "play him at tight end or fullback" conversations in the football world.

NFL tight ends and fullbacks have played their position for their entire career (with very few exceptions). They played at every level from High School to College and then the NFL.

The same thing applies to this new story and maybe to an even higher degree.

Baseball is an incredibly hard sports to master and making it to the show is by the odds insanely difficult to do. Not even the legendary Michael Jordan was good enough to just jump in and be a major success. So obviously it takes more than just being an insanely gifted athlete.

We've even seen a lot of examples of football players who actually played baseball in college, like Russell Wilson, get drafted and never even make it out of Single-A ball.

Again, you do you Mr. Tebow. I'm in no way saying you shouldn't do what you want and I really do hope you prove me wrong. I just don't get why this is the avenue your taking when you could easily be a star quarterback in the AFL or CFL and bring a TON of eyeballs to those leagues.

I for one would love to see Tim Tebow be the next Doug Flutie in the Great White North....or at least win a few Arena Bowls for the Orlando Predators.

Homer Time

Oh man are the Red Sox driving me crazy.

The September Swoon showed up in mid-July and hasn't shown signs of stopping. Needing extra inning wins to earn a split with the lowly Minnesota Twins was only the beginning.

The West-Coast road trip was a debacle, David Price is now 9-8 on the year and oh yeah, the bleeping Yankees are coming into Fenway starting tonight and have their 4-day A-Rod farewell tour in tow...so you now he'll play and he'll probably put a few on Lansdowne Street for old times sake.

Ugh...

Okay...I'm done.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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Day: Favorites from ACC Kickoff Day 2


Friday marked the Coastal Division’s turn to take the podium, and I may be a little biased, but Clemson really stole the show (until Steve Addazio took over for a few minutes). From paisley shirts to pillows at the Ritz Carlton, here are some of my favorites from Day 2 of the ACC Kickoff...

Favorite fashion choice: Ben Boulware

How can you not love Boulware’s choice of paisley shirt paired with a pink tie and fake capris? The ensemble came from a combination of Clemson’s M.H. Frank, J. Crew, the Belk’s in Easley, and teammate Adrien Dunn’s closet, and it’s safe to say that Boulware matched his explosive play on the field with his loud outfit choice. I would also like to point out that Boulware was wearing socks, so take notes, Coach Fedora.

It was a slight bummer that the session moderator instructed the media to ask Boulware about football and not his fashion statement. It’s also a slight bummer that it may be the last time we see such a statement from the linebacker, so appreciate it while you can, Clemson fans—when Dabo was asked whether Boulware could don such a look for Tiger Walk, he responded with a simple, “Absolutely not.”

Favorite quote: Dabo on recruiting

A reporter from Pennsylvania questioned Dabo about recruiting in the state of South Carolina and whether or not Clemson’s recent success has sealed off top talent in the state from other schools like Penn State.

In response, Dabo talked about how he focuses first on his program and the people within it while encouraging recruits to choose the best fit for them: “We have a complete commitment from our university, our administration. We have great facilities, it's important. At the end of the day it's about the people there. You can go stay at a Ritz Carlton, but if they treat you like crap, you ain't going back…I don't care how fluffy their pillows are.”

I loved Dabo’s answer as a whole, and he acknowledged that Clemson is not for everybody, but recruits are going to know what to expect, pillows and all.

Close second: Politics are pretty inescapable right now, so players and coaches alike have been asked what their slogan would be if they were to run for President. Dabo’s was the most catchy of the day: “Don’t be a meanie, vote for Swinney!” He gets my vote every day of the week.

Favorite personality: Steve Addazio

Steve Addazio is a human shot of espresso, as one reporter put it on Twitter. And that’s a good thing. He started the Boston College session with a 1500-plus word opening statement in which he had to have mentioned at least half of his players and addressed essentially every aspect of his program.

But he had me excited before he even got into all of that, because he himself was “Awfully excited to be here today. Awfully excited that the start of college football is going to be happening here. We're all in a buzz about it. You start to feel that thing heading into summer once the 4th of July is over. It's about football. That's the greatest thing there is. We're talking about the best sport in America.”  Now, I do like baseball just a tad more, but the excitement is real.

Go Coach Addazio. Go ACC. Go football season, but more importantly, go Tigers

 
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Day: Favorites from ACC Kickoff Day 1


Football is upon us. The ACC kicked off the 2016 season with a bang on Thursday, officially announcing the creation of an ACC Network in partnership with ESPN, which is a huge positive for all ACC sports.

But football was the focus for the rest of the day in Charlotte, as the head coaches and player representatives from schools in the Coastal division had a chance to talk to the media about the upcoming season.

From socks to Snapchat, here are some of my favorites from Day 1 of the ACC Kickoff.

Favorite fashion choice: Fedora’s lack of socks vs. Des Lawrence’s Jesus socks

The disparity in the sock game amongst the University of North Carolina representatives was really…something. Head Coach Larry Fedora elected to go sock-less with his suit, citing that he was recently at the beach and could not make himself wear socks yet. That combined with his beard made for quite the look for the Tar Heel coach, but fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) his players did not take after his fashion choices.

Cornerback Des Lawrence was rocking his Jesus socks for his time at the podium, and when asked about the holy garments, he said that, “These are my Jesus socks right here. Just a slight dab, as we kids would like to say. Time for us to dress up, get outside of our comfort zone. Fun for us to do. I didn't know coach wasn't wearing any socks. That's his thing. I don't really know what that is. He's looking good.”

If you say so, Des.

Favorite quote: Fuente on tempo

The media was anxious to see how Justin Fuente is going to lead Virginia Tech in his first year after taking over for Frank Beamer, and one of the questions dealt with Fuente’s offensive philosophy. After first listing traits like running the football and then throwing downfield, Fuente delivered this comparison: “Lastly, tempo, in my opinion, is an advantage. I also believe it's like anything else, it's probably like sugar and pizza, soda pop. Too much of it is not a good thing.”

To clarify, he followed the remark up with the thought that he does not believe in moving the ball so fast that it hurts the defensive side of the game. Overall, it felt like a Dabo-esque analogy to me. I approve.

Close second: The much longer tenured Duke's David Cutcliffe joking about the new coaches: “Now we got Dabo, Jimbo, and Bronco.” If nothing else, the ACC.

Favorite social media post: Cutcliffe’s panda Snapchat

I loved all of the social media coverage of the event, especially the ACC Digital Network bringing in players and coaches alike to experiment with virtual reality technology. They documented the experience on their Snapchat story, and my favorite social media post could’ve easily been watching players slice through thin air while participating in virtual reality Fruit Ninja, but Coach Cutcliffe using the panda filter on Snapchat was just too fantastic. Bless ESPNU for giving us such a gift.

Favorite question: Married life?

ACC Kickoff is certainly a time to talk all things football, but I appreciated that one reporter took the time to ask Pitt’s Nathan Peterman about what he’s learned from married life, as the Panther quarterback will celebrate three months of marriage next week.

Peterman matched the great question with an equally great answer: “Well, my father-in-law asked me that about a month ago, too. Morgan is her name. I know she's watching at home, too. She's awesome. I think it's just really learning to gel together, learning to mesh together. She's been great supporting me. Just can't wait for many more months, to go through this whole season with her by my side. It's been awesome. I just learn to be a servant every day and to have fun with her.”

Go Nathan Peterman. Go ACC. Go football season, and it’s just getting started.

 
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Day: Why what Chad Kelly said at SEC Media Days literally does not matter


Chad Kelly ran his mouth a little bit while in front of the mic yesterday at the final day of SEC Media Days. 

In other news, water is wet. 

He declared himself to be the best quarterback in the country in addition to insisting that LSU’s Death Valley is the “real” Death Valley, obviously a jab at his former program and perhaps teammate in Deshaun Watson. I just laughed the comments off, remembering the tantrum Kelly threw the last time he was in Memorial Stadium during the 2014 spring game (Dabo Swinney dismissed him shortly afterwards). Though social media give $wag Kelly quite a bit of attention for his remarks, what he said literally doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, especially to Clemson fans. 

This isn’t the first time Kelly has crowned himself the top QB in the nation. In April, he said that he maintains the mindset that he’s the best and that nobody could stop him, and honestly, he should. I hope Deshaun Watson also plays with that mentality. And I hope Wayne Gallman thinks he’s the best running back. And every Tiger on that field at their respective position. You don’t become the best without first believing that you can be. The difference is obviously that Kelly talked about it during a very prominent forum, but that just matches what we know of his personality. I look forward to watching him try to live up to his words in the fall.

To add insult to injury for Clemson fans, Kelly also instigated this exchange when asked about playing LSU in Baton Rouge this season: 

"I'm excited to get down there to the real Death Valley," Kelly said. "I'm anxious to get out there and play. My boy, (LSU quarterback) Brandon Harris, like to FaceTime me and show me this is the stadium I'm coming to. He better get ready because it is going to go down there."

A reporter then asked: "You said the real Death Valley?"

"The real Death Valley, yes sir," Kelly responded. "The real Death Valley with 100,000 people. Yes sir."

If the sentiment itself didn’t give it away, the smirk it was delivered with cemented that this was blatantly a knock on Clemson, and it was intended to get a reaction out of the Tiger faithful. 

But here’s the thing. Clemson is coming off one of the best seasons in program history, and energy around the Tigers seems to be at an all-time high, both from within the program and outside of it as well. Are people truly doubting the legitimacy of Clemson as a national powerhouse? Not that I’ve really seen, so why would a snide remark from a guy whose character prevented him from remaining a Tiger even have any traction? Clemson doesn’t have to be on the defensive right now; the Tigers have earned the right, at least for the moment, to own and take pride in their success (and maybe even carry themselves with a little bit of $wag, but we all know that’s not really their style). 

Worry about Kelly if the Tigers get the privilege of facing him in the postseason. But today marks 50 days until Clemson kicks off their 2016 campaign, and that’s what I’m focusing on.

 
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Atkinson: 2016 SEC preseason media poll? Here is mine.


Today’s the day every college football fan has waited for this summer. The first of the 2016 preseason media polls will be released starting in Hoover with the final day of SEC Media Days on tap.

It’s “talking season” and the July preseason polls give us all something to yak about or in the case of Sturg and his Crimson Tide, something to crow about. However, we all know they’re essentially meaningless and simply a guess at predicted order of finish. 

Sturg and I set sail for ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte next Thursday morning and in the era of transparency, I’ll post my ACC ballot here next week. But for now, here’s my preseason SEC poll…

SEC West
1. Alabama - Until someone knocks off the Tide, I’m going with the best coach in the history of college football to replace several important players on both lines of scrimmage and win the West. Looking for a new starting QB has been a non-issue the last three seasons for Nick Saban and company…and Alabama will be just fine with whichever of the four grabs hold of the job.

2. LSU - No thanks to an incompetent AD in Joe Alleva who left Les Miles inexplicably twisting in the wind last November, Les Miles is back and should be good news for Tiger fans. LSU is a tempting pick to dethrone the Tide with the SEC’s most electric player on offense in star Leonard Fournette and almost everyone back on the offensive and defensive lines.

3. Texas A&M - Going with A&M here is arguably high, especially given the offseason turmoil Kevin Sumlin endured with virtually every QB on the roster exiting stage left coupled with bringing in a new offensive coordinator in UCLA’s Noel Mazzone. John Chavis’ defense steadily improved and boasts the top pair of defensive ends in America. But Oklahoma transfers QB Trevor Knight and RB Keith Ford could be the biggest key for the Aggies.

4. Ole Miss - Chad Kelly is one of the top returning signal callers in the SEC and he’ll have to be this year with a young offensive line that will likely feature four sophomores and freshmen. Talent isn’t an issue in Oxford despite losing All-SEC players like Treadwell, Nkemdiche and Tunsil to the NFL Draft in May. However, distractions from a swirling NCAA investigation will be an issue and likely dog Hugh Freeze and his team all season starting in Orlando against FSU on Sunday, Sept. 5.

5. Auburn - The Tigers are an enigma and Gus Malzahn is treading on thin ice on the Plains. A brutal four-game start to the season with Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M and LSU won’t be easy to navigate but having all four at home definitely will help, as Malzahn breaks in a new QB with Florida State transfer John Franklin III. Hiring Kevin Steele to run the defense doesn’t turn many heads (including mine) despite having six returning starters.  

6. Arkansas - I’m a big fan of head coach Brett Bielema and the coaching job he’s doing in “Fayettenam” (have you ever been there and no it’s not worse than Starkville). A strong, pounding running game and physical defense is how you win in the SEC and Bielema’s squad needs a stronger start to the 2016 campaign than last year when the Hogs were in virtually every game.   

7. Mississippi State - Who’s gonna be last in the West because unfortunately somebody has to carry that title. The straw that stirred the Bulldogs’ drink in standout QB Dak Prescott graduated and is now wearing a Dallas Cowboy uniform. There’s a lot to like about new starting QB in big sophomore Nick Fitzgerald. Dan Mullen has adapted his offensive philosophy and tailored it to maximize his personnel and a backloaded schedule should help, as he figured it out.

SEC East
1. Tennessee - What’s not to like about the Vols? They’ve got it all. So will this be the breakthrough year? It damn well should be with 17 starters returning, including one of the SEC’s best signal-callers in Joshua Dobbs and a standout tandem of running backs in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. I love senior defensive back Cam Sutton leading a defense that’s littered with speed, experience. It all hinges on the first-seven games for the Vols this season because starting Oct. 29, their last-five games are a cakewalk. 

2. Florida - Everyone is sleeping on the Gators. Not me. Tennessee is the rightful favorite in the East but Florida has owned Rocky Top with 11-straight wins. Second-year head coach Jim McElwain got a head start on the three new head coaches in the division this year by taking the Gators to the SEC title game last season. They’ll need to get the QB situation figured out quickly but one of the nation’s best secondaries will pair with All-American candidates DT Caleb Brantley and LB Jarrad Davis.

3. Georgia - It’s no secret that injuries to top running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel won’t make Kirby Smart’s first season easy, starting with UNC in the opener where both are questionable to play (as of now). An experienced offensive line that combines for almost 100 career starts helps, however the defensive line cannot afford to underachieve again. 

4. Missouri - The Tigers always surprise and I think they’ll do just that again this season with head coach Barry Odom taking over. Eight starters returning on defense is huge, especially up front but scoring is the name of the game. And that’s where it could get tricky for Mizzou, replacing four starters on the offensive line and new pro-style QB Drew Lock under center. 

5. South Carolina - I’ve said five wins is the ceiling for this team and if USC can get out of the gate 3-3, which includes three SEC games on the road, I think they can get there. Despite the loss of Skai Moore to an offseason neck injury, Will Muschamp’s defense has a rock in the middle with senior linebacker TJ Holloman leading a unit that will be infinitely better than last year (430 ypg allowed). 

6. Kentucky - UK shot out of the gate the last-two seasons, including a 4-1 start last year before falling apart in the second half, highlighted by a 24-7 halftime lead that turned into a 38-24 loss at home to rival Louisville. The Wildcats have been notoriously weak on defense and only two returning starters in the front seven will make stopping the run and getting off the field on third down even more difficult. 

7. Vanderbilt - Can Derek Mason’s team find some offense? Any offense will do. Vandy boasted one of the SEC’s top defensive units last season, allowing just 21 points a game. However, the Dores struggled mightily and let me emphasize mightily on offensive, crossing the 21-point mark just twice. Underrated junior running back Ralph Webb (1,152 yards in 2015) is the key to unlocking more points this season and rising in the division standings.


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Day: Top Moments of the Braves First Half


The Braves may have been one of the worst teams in MLB before the All-Star Break, but that doesn’t mean that the first half didn’t have its highlights. In no particular order, here are my top five (serious and not-so-serious) Braves moments of 2016 so far.

"The chicken bone incident"
Once it became evident that Erick Aybar was going to be just fine after a rogue chicken bone got him scratched from the lineup, this was undoubtedly my favorite story of the entire season. I don’t even need the second half to be sure (unless by some miracle the Braves make the postseason).
 
Braves Twitter had a field day, poking fun at the idea of a wayward chicken sacrifice to try to save the Braves’ season. Julio Teheran might should consider himself lucky, as his missed start because of an ingrown hair on his leg is slightly less remarkable than Aybar’s misfortune. Personally, I’m still waiting for the notification that someone broke a rib laughing at our injury report.

The firing of Fredi Gonzalez
I was in Chick-fil-A when I got the news, and I’m pretty sure I embarrassed my brother with how audibly excited I was. I’ve never been a huge fan of Fredi, and I knew it was only a matter of time until he was fired this season. I recognize that he wasn’t exactly given much to work with this year, but I don’t think anyone expected the Braves to be quite as bad as they were at the outset; part of the blame has to fall on leadership.

Plus, I can’t imagine Fredi was the guy the Braves wanted in the dugout when they start bringing up prospects like Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. While Brian Snitker isn’t necessarily the answer, either, I think getting Fredi out of the clubhouse was a major step in the right direction for this Braves team and their front office.

The Freeman cycle
The Braves may find themselves last or close to it in many categories this season, but they did have the first player to hit for the cycle in 2016 in Freddie Freeman. He was the first Brave to do it since Mark Kotsay in 2008 (I actually remembered this), and Freeman joined some other elite company, becoming the third Brave to accomplish the feat in the last 100 years.

But of course, in typical 2016 Braves fashion, someone on Twitter brought up the fact that Freeman needed extra innings to complete the cycle, so maybe it doesn’t quite count? You can decide for yourself, but I’ll give Freddie his credit where it’s due.

Fort Bragg game
Outside of the Braves not getting the win in the actual game, this whole event was such a win for everyone involved. I couldn’t get enough of seeing the players interact with the troops and their families, and it was obvious that players and soldiers alike thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I hope this game sets a precedent for other sports to honor the troops in such a manner, as it is the least they can do to pay respect to those who protect their right to play the game day in and day out.

The first-half finish
To say the Braves have had a knack for the unusual in 2016 would be an understatement, and this perhaps culminated with their win over Chris Sale and the White Sox in their last series of the first half. As listed by @TeamATL10, in one game...
  • The Braves, who are the worst home-run hitting team in MLB, hit three homers and scored eight runs against Chris Sale, who is going to be American League All-Star starting pitcher.
  • The Braves let a shallow fly ball drop in between two infielders and two outfielders, allowing a run to score.
  • Matt Wisler fielded a bunt that would’ve easily gone foul, also allowing a run to score.
  • Ender Inciarte totally forgot how many outs there were, also allowing a run to score.
  • The White Sox turned a triple play.
  • BUT, despite all of that, the Braves scored 11 runs, the most they have scored in a game all season, and won the game.
The Braves went on to take two of three in that series, finishing the first half on a remarkably positive note, and though I may be the only one, I’m excited to see what the second half brings.
 
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