Small Changes Big Impact?

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War Memorial Stadium at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo.

Growing up in Hawaii the high schools sport and those played at University of Hawaii at Manoa always took center stage. That is something my home state and Wyoming have in common — despite a plethora of differences.

Similar to Hawaii, Wyoming only has one university. Everyone is cheering for the same team. It’s not like where I went to school in Michigan where neighbors may not speak to each other due to the college flag hanging off their front porch.

University of Wyoming football is coming off a tough season. The Cowboys went 2-10 finishing sixth in the Mountain Division. In the Mountain West Conference, only the University of Hawaii played worse having zero wins, and UNLV and Fresno State in the West Division had the same conference record.

I went to four UW games this past season, all of which they lost, and the thing I noticed as time went on was that attendance went down and the stadium started clearing out earlier and earlier.

The 2016 college football season starts up in seven months and the Cowboys will have a lot to prove. Head coach Craig Bohl enters his third season with the Cowboys and he’s got a lot riding on this season. Everyone would like to see improvement.

There are several things that go into making a program successful. One of those is the strength and conditioning staff.

On Thursday, UW announced the hiring of a new Director of Sports Performance Russell Dennison. Dennison comes from the University of Oklahoma where he has been the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the past five years. A former Sooner football player himself, a fullback from 2002-2005, he brings a lot to the table.

Dennison was responsible for designing speed, strength and conditioning programs for the OU football team. A friend of mine who recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma and used to train with Sooner football had nothing but praise for Dennison, but did mention his focus on running. The Big 12 Conference is known for its speed, known for its offense, so it will be interesting to see the different dynamics Dennison can bring to the table.

I want to highlight and focus in on the “CAN” and not necessarily the “WILL.” The reason I say “CAN” is because much of Dennison’s success lies on the football coaching staff’s shoulders. Will they allow him to run the type of program that he thinks will be best? Is a speed-focused program what will be best for the Cowboys? Will Dennison and Bohl see eye to eye?

I’m sure Dennison has done his research and has an idea for the program and I’m excited to see if he will remain speed focused or take a more weight-room approach.

“Tell your brother to get ready for a lot of running and not so much weight lifting,” said my friend.

Sizewise Oklahoma is bigger than Wyoming. The Sooners’ have fewer players standing under 6 feet and more players standing over 6 foot, 5 inches. Oklahoma’s roster weighs an average of 65 pounds more than Wyoming’s. So my question becomes do smaller teams need more speed or more size? Sacrificing speed for size is never the answer.

I’m excited to see what Dennison can add to the program and I look forward to seeing an improved Cowboy team come August. The question is, just how much of an impact can a change in the strength and conditioning staff have?

Disclaimer: I am the sister of University of Wyoming sophomore linebacker/nickel Tim Kamana.

Sunday of Quarterbacks

This Sunday is conference championships, the final step toward Super Bowl 50. It’s a Sunday of quarterbacks. We have the undeniable Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. We have Carson Palmer, who led the NFL in both yards per attempt and yards per completion through the regular season. And there is Cam Newton, the leading QB on the ground with 636 yards and 10 scores.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that the quarterback is just one of the many facets of a team, but in the case of these conference championships, the outcomes of the games will be heavily dependent on which quarterbacks show up to play.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP, PATRIOTS AT BRONCOS: Both the Patriots and the Broncos come into the game with 12-4 season records. Denver received home field advantage due to their exciting 30-24 overtime win against New England in Week 12.

Both teams were missing key offensive assets in the Nov. 29, 2015, match on the gridiron. The Broncos played without Manning, putting Brock Osweiler under center, and the Patriots played without wide receiver Julian Edelman, who showed exactly what kind of impact he has in the divisional playoff game.

The Broncos are coming off a not-so-pretty win against an injury-heavy Pittsburg Steelers. Denver had to rely on kicker Brandon McManus to pull off the win. McManus kicked five field goals to put the Broncos over the Steelers, 23-16.

In their divisional playoff, the Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs by a touchdown, 27-20. After going 4-2 in the final six games of the regular season, the New England team from the first half of the season looks to be making its return. Edelman, who suffered a broken foot in Week 10, made his return against the Chiefs. He was targeted a team-high 16 times and had a team-high 10 receptions and 100 yards.

New England is the three-point favorite going into Sunday, according to Odds Shark. Sixty-seven percent of bets are being placed on the Patriots. I don’t think I can make a solid argument against either case.

This season Manning has a touchdown-interception ratio of 9-17 with only one touchdown pass at home. Brady is 36-7. The Broncos have been dealing with a shaky offense for awhile, and if it wasn’t for their No. 1 defense, I don’t think they’d even be in the postseason. Denver will need its defense to pull out all the works against New England doing everything possible to stop Brady and his support staff of Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. The Broncos look to linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to lead the charge. Miller has a team-high 11 sacks this season, and Ware has 7.5 of his own.

While it may not be the No. 1 defense in the league, the Patriots are ninth overall in yards allowed this season, which will pose some issues for a Bronco team that already has issues getting to the red zone. One thing Denver has going for it is that Patriots linebacker Jared Mayo has been placed on injury reserve with a hurt shoulder and won’t be playing Sunday.

If New England takes the win, this will be the seventh bowl appearance for the Brady and Bill Belichick team. The Patriots are 0-3 in postseason games in Denver.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP, CARDINALS AT PANTHERS: The Arizona Cardinals (13-3) will travel to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, to take on the Carolina Panthers (15-1) in the NFC Conference championship. This will be the first meeting of the season between these two teams.

The Panthers are coming off a big 31-24 win over Seattle in the divisional playoff. Carolina had a nearly perfect — I don’t like the word perfect — first half, outscoring the Seahawks 31-0. But then the Panthers let 24 Seahawk points go unanswered in the second half. While I don’t think that is a need for alarm, it does make me wonder if Seattle could have pulled off the upset if there was just a little more time.

Although it won the NFC West with relative ease, Arizona is coming off quite the win against Green Bay. The Cardinals were winning 20-13 with less than two minutes to go. With the game on the line, Green Bay went for it on fourth and 20 with a 60-yard throw to Jeff Janis. An illegal motion put the Packers at first and 15 with 12 seconds remaining on the Cardinals’ 41-yard line.

With no other options left, Aaron Rodgers went for the Hail Mary and connected with Janis to send the game into overtime. However, OT belonged to Larry Fitzgerald, who led Arizona to the win with a 75-yard catch and run to get inside the 10-yard line, followed by a shovel pass from Palmer to reach the end zone.

Like in the AFC, the NFC championship is predicted to come down to a field goal with the Panthers being the three-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

Newton is the leading quarterback on the ground with 636 yards rushing and 10 scores on the ground. He also threw 35 touchdown passes in the regular season. Newton’s support staff makes the Panther offense what it is. Running back Jonathan Stewart has 989 yards rushing, tight end Greg Olsen had 1,104 receiving yards with seven touch downs and wide receiver Ted Ginn has 10 touchdown catches on his 2015-16 resume. Carolina’s offense is the reason it went 15-1 this season with the only loss coming from division rival Atlanta.

Palmer was one of the top passers in the league through the regular season, leading the NFL in both yards per attempt and yards per completion, but that quarterback didn’t really show up in the divisional playoff. Palmer threw two interceptions and struggled against the defense against Green Bay.

Palmer will need to shake off the postseason nerves and be at his best if the Cardinals want to pull off the win. Palmer threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns in regular-season play.

If the Panthers win, this will be Newton’s first trip to the Super Bowl since entering the NFL in 2011.

BETTING AGAINST THE ODDS?

I don’t disagree with the Patriots being the favored team in the AFC championship, but it’s going against a lot of the odds that some are using to bet against the Cardinals.

No road team has won a conference championship since 2012, the year when two road teams made it to the Super Bowl” the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Spanning the last 20 seasons, road teams are 15-25 in the conference championship.

My only argument with the odds in the AFC matchup is that I think the Patriots will win by more than three points. They have the stronger offense and a solid defense to match. New England won’t be relying on field goals to pull off this win.

The NFC championship I believe will be the more exciting of the two games. It will pit offense against offense and I look forward to seeing what these two teams are able to bring forward. I expect touchdowns to be scored and I believe the betting odds are correct: it will be a fight till the very end.

AFC PREDICTION: New England 

NFC PREDICTION: Carolina

NFL loses bargaining chip?

The NFL voted Tuesday in Houston to decide which franchise would work its way back to Los Angeles. The 32 coaches in the league voted 30-2 on relocating the St. Louis Rams to the country’s second largest market that has been NFL-less for 21 years. So why now?

WHY THE RAMS?

There are a few different ideas going around on why the Rams got the go-ahead. I’d like to think the league partially thought about the fans, but some people beg to differ. I’d like to think it was a factor, for the Rams have the longest history in the city and an active fan base there.

Moving to LA the Rams will deal with plenty of competition when trying to gain new supporters. There are the Lakers and Clippers, Dodgers and Angels, Kings and Ducks, and you can’t forget the giants of it all — USC and UCLA. It was termed the Entertainment Capital of the World for a reason.

The main reason for everything the NFL does, though, is business. That is why Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s stadium design at the Old Hollywood Park Racetrack outdid the Charger/Raider Carson proposal. The multiuse center in Inglewood will cost $1.8 billion and won’t be ready until 2019, but for the money that the NFL is hoping this place will generate, it’s worth the wait.

Until their new home is built, the Rams will most likely be playing in the Coliseum.

THE TWO LEFT OUT

The Chargers were offered the option of joining the Rams either as a partner or a tenant. Owner Dean Spanos has until January 2017 to make his decision.

The main reason Spanos wants to make the move is the simple fact that San Diego has not delivered a new stadium. Qualcomm was built in 1967, and if you’ve ever been inside that place, it doesn’t look like many renovations have taken place either. But renovations won’t do this time around, and the Chargers are looking for a new home, so that means Qualcomm can’t just get gutted.

The city of San Diego is hosting a vote in June to decide on a $350 million check for the Chargers. Raiders owner Mark Davis has been calling for a new home for years now. O.co Coliseum saw renovations in 1995 but was built in 1966. Back in 2014 Davis traveled to Houston to see if there was a possibility there for his team, but as long as Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Texans are around, no other team is stepping into their territory.

For now the Raiders are staying in Oakland, but if the Chargers choose to stay in San Diego, Davis will then get a year to decide if he wants to make the move or not. Entering a market three years after the other team though sounds lethal to me.

Additionally, the NFL has offered $100 million to assist with solutions in current markets if both teams choose to remain.

WHY NOW?

Los Angeles has been the NFL’s biggest bargaining chip since both the Rams and Raiders left the city following the 1994 season. Each team left for a smaller market thinking it would be better.

But since 1994, 22 of the league’s 32 teams have upgraded their stadiums. All a city needed to hear was, “Well we can always move to LA,” and the money came rolling out. Washington delivered $300 million to keep the Seahawks in 1997, and the Vikings recently got $498 million for a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

This will be the NFL’s first relocation since 1997, and let’s face it, they don’t want two teams in LA. If the NFL has its way, this move will bring out new stadiums for three more of the teams.

Tigers vs. Tide: Fighting an inner battle to predict a winner

And yet another college football bowl season is almost behind us. There is one game standing between today and a long seven month wait: the college football national championship.

After extremely one-sided semifinal match ups on New Year’s Eve, we were presented with the two contenders, the Tigers out of Clemson University and the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

I was beyond excited for the semifinal matchups. I predicted one high scoring extremely offensive game, Clemson vs. Oklahoma; and one low-scoring defensive heavy game, Alabama vs. Michigan State; and, well, I got neither. And above all, both teams I predicted to win fell and fell ugly.

Sometimes I catch myself being that sports fan who loses all interest when my team loses, and currently I am walking the tightrope with that issue.

The only way I have learned to snap out of this mindset is to pick a new team, go all in. Unfortunately that has presented another issue for me. I am not an SEC fan; never have been, and that makes me want to march straight to the Clemson sidelines. But comparing the two teams and having watched them play all year, I just don’t think the Tigers have what it takes to stop the Roll Tide in their tracks.

Despite the fact that Clemson is undefeated, entering the championship game at 14-0, the Tigers are still the underdogs. It comes down to can Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and the rest of the offense get past Alabama’s intense defensive line and then also stop Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry?

Clemson will be the strongest offensive opponent the Tide will face to this date, but Bama displayed against Michigan State that it has the toughest defensive line in the country. Its front seven also all come in with more than one season of experience.

While you can’t say the Tigers don’t have a defense, we can say that they are young. Clemson had the top defensive line in the country in 2014, but then its entire front seven went and graduated. If Alabama’s Jake Coker shows up and completes at least 75 percent of his passes like he did against Michigan State, the Tigers will have a lot more to stop than just Henry.

No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama will meet on the gridiron Monday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The winner will go down as the best team in the 2015-16 season, the loser a strong second, but as my dad always told me, second place is first loser.

With a 40 bowl game postseason, minus the only game that matters, I am 23-17 with predictions. Fifty-seven percent is not the greatest but definitely not the worst either. At least I am above even.

I’m not predicting a blowout by any means, but I think betting against Bama is the wrong decision here. As much as I dislike the SEC and would love for Clemson to win it all, 15-0, Roll Tide whatever the rest of it is.

Prediction: Alabama

Bowl Season: Week 3

The final week of bowl games, and the national championship are upon us. So far bowl season has rendered some upsets and some complete dominations. With the start of the college football playoffs a year ago, New Year’s Day bowl games don’t serve the same hype that they used to, but they still bring some great games. This year the Big 10 dominates the start of the new year with appearances in four of five games on Jan. 1.

I am currently 18-10 on predictions, not counting the games on New Year’s Eve.

JAN. 1

• OUTBACK BOWL: NORTHWESTERN (10-2) VS. TENNESSEE (8-4)

Although Tennessee is on a five-game winning streak, it’s a five game winning streak against weak competition. Northwestern is 10 spots higher in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Wildcats had a season-opening win against Stanford and beat Wisconsin.

The Big Ten opponent has more high profile wins than its SEC challenger. Northwestern has never won 11 games in a season with its No. 7 scoring defense, but it stands a good chance.

Prediction: Northwestern

• CITRUS BOWL: MICHIGAN (9-3) VS. FLORIDA (10-3)

Both programs made it to postseason under first year head coaches. Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater to make some people believe the Wolverines are back to being a power house. UM lost to Utah, Michigan State and Ohio State this season; all top-25 teams.

Florida’s Jim McElwain was recently voted SEC coach of the year for getting the Gators to the SEC championship. They were 10-1 in the season before hitting a two-game losing streak against in-state rivals Florida State and SEC champ Alabama. The Gators’ three losses all come from top-25 teams as well. Their first loss was to LSU.

Florida’s strength is on defense, but the Gators will fall short in comparison to the defensively ranked No. 4 Wolverines.

Prediction: Michigan

• FIESTA BOWL: OHIO STATE (11-1) VS. NOTRE DAME (10-2)

This matchup brings us two teams that just barely missed the college football playoffs. The defending national champion feels it needs to prove itself after being stuck on the outside looking in with one loss. Running back Ezekiel Elliott will help the Buckeyes to do so. Elliot ran for 1,672 yards with 19 touchdowns in the season. This would be Ohio State’s fourth year with 12 wins.

Prediction: Ohio State

• ROSE BOWL: IOWA (12-1) VS. STANFORD (11-2)

This will be a battle between Stanford’s offense and Iowa’s defense. Stanford had to work its way back into contention after a season-opening loss to Northwestern. If the loss to Oregon had come a couple weeks earlier, Stanford may not have been able to revive itself. Iowa came almost out of nowhere shocking most of the country when the Hawkeyes entered the Big 10 championship as one of two undefeated teams left in college football.

Stanford takes the gridiron with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey. He broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record with 3,496 all-purpose yards. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan looks to lead his team to victory. This season he threw for 2,644 yards and 24 touchdowns and had seven interceptions.

McCaffrey may have some trouble against the Hawkeyes, who only let up 18.5 points per game. Hogan will need to watch out for Iowa junior defensive back Desmond King. King was just awarded the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back in the country.

Prediction: Iowa

• SUGAR BOWL: MISSISSIPPI (9-3) VS. OKLAHOMA STATE (10-2)

The Cowboys are looking to return to the feels they had in the beginning of the season. Oklahoma State won its first 10 games but is heading into bowl season on a two-game losing streak. The Cowboys fell 45-35 to Baylor and 58-23 to Oklahoma.

Although Ole Miss didn’t have the most impressive season, expectations were much higher after upsetting Bama for the second year in a row, but it beat the Tide, Auburn and LSU for the first time all in the same season in 2015. The Rebels offense may be able to run away with a win over a Cowboy defense that has allowed 45 points in three of their last five games.

Prediction: Ole Miss

JAN. 2

• TAXSLAYER BOWL: PENN STATE (7-5) VS. GEORGIA (9-3)

Four of Penn State’s five losses came to top-20 teams, and its fifth loss came to Temple. Georgia hasn’t scored more than 30 points in the last six games. Georgia is also dealing with the loss of head coach Mark Richt, who is headed to Miami. The Bulldogs also lost their defensive and offensive coordinators. Interim coach Kirby Smart would like to start his era off with a win. The Nittany Lions are 3-0 against teams with interim coaches.

Prediction: Penn State

• LIBERTY BOWL: KANSAS STATE (6-6) VS. ARKANSAS (7-5)

Arkansas takes the field with John Mackey Award winner Hunter Henry. The junior has 46 catches for 647 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Kansas State pulled off a narrow 24-23 win over West Virginia to be bowl eligible, and it would like to prove that it does actually belong in the postseason. Although the Razorbacks lost to Toledo and Texas Tech, they pulled off wins against Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU.

Prediction: Arkansas

• ALAMO BOWL: TEXAS CHRISTIAN (10-2) VS. OREGON (9-3)

This is going to be a high-scoring game with neither team having a strong defense. It will be a matchup of quarterbacks with TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Oregon’s Vernon Adams Jr.

Boykin completed 257 passes for 3,575 yards and 31 touchdowns. He had 10 interceptions this season. Adams completed 155 passes for 2446 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had six interceptions.

The Ducks are coming off a six-game winning streak but haven’t played in over a month. TCU, although not playing for a conference championship, had a game that very weekend.

Prediction: Oregon

• CACTUS BOWL: WEST VIRGINIA (7-5) VS. ARIZONA STATE (6-6)

The Cactus Bowl will basically be a home game for Arizona State. The Sun Devils were a top-ranked contender heading into the season but fell short. Their No. 25 ranked offense should be able to find ways to put points on the board against a West Virginia team that has allowed almost 41 points in each of its five losses. If the Mountaineers pull off the win, this would mean ASU’s first losing season in three years.

Prediction: Arizona State