European Group Stages Halfway Through

Both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League are now halfway through their group stages and within both leagues there are interesting storylines from all different parts of the continent.

Champions League Powerhouses

The main traditional powerhouses are dominating their groups like normal.  Rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated Europe for years and they are once again at the top of their groups.  Barcelona have ran a clean sweep through Group D with a goal differential of +6 which includes Italian side Juventus who are currently third in Serie A, the Italian premier division.  Real Madrid have two less points, but have had a much harder group as they tied against Tottenham Hotspur who are third in the Premier League and have had themselves a very good Champions League group stage.  Both Manchester squads have had their way through the first half of the group stage with both sides atop their groups.  Their Premier League counterparts have also done the same surprisingly.

Premier League Dominance

Last year in the Champions League, two Premier League sides topped their groups one of which was Leicester City.  This year halfway through, five Premier League sides top their groups which is a massive improvement.  Two sides are in a tie for the top as Liverpool, even with two draws, are still atop of Group E with Russian side Spartak Moscow.  Chelsea is atop of Group C after a 3-3 draw with Italian side Roma.

Other teams have struggled to make a good impression such as German side Dortmund who only have one point in the difficult Group H with only three goals in their three games.  For some situations, this would be good but they have given up seven goals through those games.  Definitely something needs to happen for them to continue on their Champions League quest past the group stages.  French champion AS Monaco has especially struggled in Group G as they are currently last with only a draw to German side RB Leipzig to their credit as both of the sides from power countries are struggling to keep up.

Europa League

Over in Europe’s second club competition, well known sides have been able to go through their groups with somewhat little resistance.  Group H’s Arsenal, who with a relatively easy group have been able to win each of their first three games within the group stage.  Lazio is also doing well in Group K with all nine possible points through three wins.  Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg also have three wins on their resume.  On the opposite side of the scale, Everton has not done very well as to add to their struggles over in the Premier League they are dead last in Group E with only a measly point to their record.  Group J’s power teams Athletic Bilbao from Spain and Hertha Berlin from Germany are the bottom two teams to lesser sides from lesser countries.  French side Marseille is second only to well known Austrian side RB Salzburg in Group I and should also advance out of their group.  There is not really a real group of death in this year’s Europa League unlike in the Champions League so most of these sides should advance out of their groups.

There will be plenty of other coverage of both the Champions League and the Europa League here following the conclusion of the group stages.

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College Football Mayhem: Upset Weekend

This past weekend, the upsets in full swing as several top ten teams went down to unranked opponents throughout the country at all times of day and even on the haunted Friday the 13th.

Friday the 13th: Haunted Doubleheader

Defending national champion Clemson fell on the road to Syracuse in one of the biggest point spread upsets of the season.  Syracuse simply did more on both sides of the ball as on defense they swarmed Clemson not allowing them to get very many extended drives by stopping them on third down (2-11 Clemson conversation rate) and limiting them to drives of less than three and a half minutes for the entire game.  Syracuse was also the better team on offense as they had a much better conversation rate on third down converting eight of nineteen third downs and both fourth downs that they went for it in the game.  They had twelve more first downs and over 100 more yards of production.  Simply speaking, Clemson was outplayed on the road by a better Syracuse team and will have to rebound next week.

Out west, Washington State proved that maybe all of the hype surrounding them is not what is should be as they fell in dominating fashion to a much hungrier California team 37-3.  Washington State quarterback Luke Falk threw five interceptions in the game.  He currently has seven interceptions for the entire season including those five.  Those five picks were a part of seven turnovers in the game for Washington State.  They also could not get anything going on their running game with 26 carries and only 23 yards which made them predictable for when they needed to pass.  There is no need to mention the California offense because their defense took the game over and the offense converted when they had possession.  A clear whipping in the PAC-12 and the state of Washington was not done yet.

Saturday’s Top Ten Upsets

Two more upsets on Saturday within the top ten shook up the college football landscape even further.  Out west, Arizona State somehow pulled out a good defense against Washington to pull off the biggest upset of the entire day on Saturday night.  Both teams struggled to get anything going on the running game with a combined 131 rushing yards which made their passing games important and Arizona State had the better one by far.  Both teams also went for a surprise 5-5 on fourth down conversions.  Arizona State simply was better on the day a similar situation to the Clemson-Syracuse contest the night before.

In the south, LSU is trying to uphold their credibility with a nice win at home over then then tenth ranked Auburn in a four point contest and a nine yard game between the offenses in which LSU barely won that battle.  Possession was also just as riveting as Auburn barely won that battle as well.  LSU did what they had to do in the fourth quarter with 13 fourth quarter points.  Auburn could not put anything up in the second half with drives either ending on punts or on downs.  Auburn learned a tough lesson in that it is the second half that defines a game and Auburn came out flat.

Group of Five Shakeup

The non-power conferences also had a few upsets on the day to make things interesting.  San Diego State was in the driver’s seat to try and get a spot in the New Year’s Six bowls for the Group of Five conferences but after a loss to Boise State, that will no longer happen the way they planned it to.  The American Athletic Conference will surely grab that spot after Boise State became the more balanced offense that threw the San Diego State defense for a loop.  The numbers cannot really separate the two teams that well and Boise State just took advantage of the opportunities that had on offense more than San Diego State.  Navy, who was making their season debut in the polls, also lost to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference.

Many more upsets could have happened all over the country.  USC, Miami, Michigan State, Michigan, and Oklahoma all won by a touchdown or less.  As it is, the polls are shaken up as the teams that did lose all fell five or more spots in the polls this week and even Michigan dropped a couple of spots.  Next week could once again produce this same outcome as Michigan goes on the road to Penn State and USC goes to Notre Dame in a doubleheader of Saturday night potential classics at the same time that main event the day’s action.  Newly ranked Memphis plays on Thursday night against Houston on the road.  If next weekend provides the same drama as the last, there will surely be a lot of chaos in the polls for weeks to come.

Houston and New York into ALCS

Both the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees won their respective ALDS series to advance into the ALCS.  Both teams had two greatly different series to be four wins away from the World Series which for both teams would make history.

Astros vs Red Sox

The Astros used two blowout in the first two games of the series to build momentum towards finishing off the Red Sox in four games.  Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel were vital in getting the job done in the first two games of the series.  Verlander did struggle a little bit in Game 1 as he only had three strikeouts with two walks, but he got his job done with the circumstances given to him as with a very healthy lead to protect for most of the game, he went six innings with only two earned runs.  Keuchel was even more masterful the next night as he went five and 2/3 innings and with seven strikeouts and only one earned run, he allowed the momentum for the Astros’ offense to continue.  The Red Sox could not get a grip on both of these pitchers in the early games with only 15 combined hits in those two games and a combined 4 for 13 with runners and scoring position, and it came back to haunt them later on in the series.

Game 3 was the exact opposite of that as with David Price coming on in relief for Boston, they were able to hold off the Astros for at least another night with a big 10-3 win in Fenway Park.  David Price was impressive in his relief outing pitching four innings with four strikeouts with only one walk and four hits.  The only reason why Price was called from the bullpen was because of the horrid start from starting pitcher Doug Fister with three earned runs over the course of one and one third innings.  The bullpen for the Astros was not as effective as after starting pitcher Brad Peacock exited the game after pitching two and two third innings with minimal success, the game opened up as over the course of the next four and a third innings the Astros’ bullpen would give up seven earned runs with two home runs and only four strikeouts which all came from Lance McCullers who did pitch three of those four and two third innings.

Game 4 was a lot closer than the previous three games were, but the Astros finished off the Red Sox in a 5-4 game with a lot of excitement late in the game.  The two teams scored four runs combined in the last two innings of Game 4.  A Carlos Beltran double in the top of the ninth inning to give the Astros much needed insurance in the ballgame.  Rick Porcello and Chris Sale disappointed many Red Sox fans with four earned runs combined and the double in the ninth did not help after a very good game played by both sides.  What is even more interesting is that the Red Sox fired their manager afterwards and that is a very interesting decision.  Sure the pitching staff could have been better throughout the first two games of the series, but the Astros just played better than the Red Sox for most of the series and deserved to advance to the ALCS.

Yankees vs Indians

Game-by-game, this was a much more competitive series in which the Yankees came out on top to shock the Indians after they had a two games to none lead in the series.  Game 1 was a 4-0 victory in which Trevor Bauer dominated for the Indians over six and two thirds innings.  He allowed only two hits with eight strikeouts and only one walk.  Andrew Miller and Cody Allen backed him up with three strikeouts each to preserve the shutout.

Game 2 was much more compelling over 13 innings with the Indians again coming out on top 9-8.  Indians starter Corey Kluber had a miserable start as over the course of only two and two thirds innings he allowed six earned runs including two home runs and only four strike outs.  Most of the bullpen came up clutch for the Indians as except for Mike Clevinger, who gave up two earned runs, no one else gave up a single run.  As for the Yankees, CC Sabathia was not too bad over the course of five and a third innings, but once he got out things really got out of hand quickly for the Yankees bullpen.  In the end, things worked out in the favor of the Indians as they were the ones to strike in extra innings.

Games 3 and 4 in Yankee Stadium proved how much playing on your home field this time of year can mean.  Starting pitching in Game 3 was great on both sides.  Masahiro Tanaka was fantastic over the course of seven innings with seven strikeouts and only one walk.  For the Indians, Carlos Carrasco did not give up a run either over five and two thirds innings with seven strikeouts and three walks.  Both pitchers gave up three hits each.  Greg Bird hit a solo home run in the seventh inning off of Andrew Miller to provide the only offense of the entire game.  Game 4 had a lot more offense involved as in a 7-3 contest, the Yankees kept their season alive once more.  Aaron Judge, even with four strikeouts in the game, got a huge two RBI hit.  Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer just was not able to keep up with the Yankees offense as he did not last two innings.  Yankees pitcher Luis Severino made up for his poor outing in the AL Wild Card Game as he went seven innings with nine strikeouts allowing three earned runs which does include two home runs.  The dangerous Yankees offense would set the stage for Game 5 in Cleveland.

Game 5 proved to be quite competitive until the ninth inning where the Yankees would run away with the game and the series.  Cody Allen would prove to be the downfall for the Indians who gave up the two runs in the ninth to cost the Indians any shot of easily making a comeback.  The bullpen for the Yankees actually proved to be the best that they have been all season with David Robertson impressively going two and two thirds innings and closer Aroldis Chapman going two more innings with four strikeouts to close the deal against Cleveland.

Houston will have an obvious edge against the Yankees with great starting pitching and a good offense.  New York, though, will not be denied easily as their resolve has been tested and they have won four elimination games this postseason.  Another great series is in store between these two teams that have proven that they are at or near the top of the American League.

CFB Week 5 Featured: MAC Shootout Makes History

Last Saturday, history was made within the Mid-American Conference with a six overtime game between Western Michigan and Buffalo that had the country capitvated during the overtime periods.  Let’s first go over the game stats. 

The main shootout actually took place during the overtime periods as regulation ended at 31-31.  After the six overtimes had been played, both teams had gained over 600 yards in the game.  Given their scoring output this is the only game this season with both teams having accomplished what Western Michigan and Buffalo did this past Saturday.  The teams did their work in different assets of the offensive game.

Different Approaches

Western Michigan used the running game to accomplish their work with 376 rushing yards and four touchdowns, one of seven such performances on the week.  Two different players did most of the work in the running game as Jarvion Franklin ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns and LeVante Bellamy ran for 131 yards and 1 touchdown on only 11 attempts for an average of nearly 12 yards per carry.  With the total yardage and yards per carry in mind, he was only one of four players on the week to put up those numbers.

Buffalo used its passing game coming up three yards shy of 600 passing yards and seven touchdowns, the best passing performance in a single game against a fellow FBS school since Texas Tech’s 734 passing yards and five passing touchdowns against Oklahoma in late October of last season.  What makes the performance even more impressive is that QB Drew Anderson did all of the work on the passing game, making him only the second quarterback since 2000 to put up those kind of numbers.  Only Geno Smith back in 2012 against Baylor has accomplished those numbers.  Three different receivers had over 100 yards with one of them, Anthony Johnson, falling three yards short of 200 receiving yards.

Points Scored

Both teams nearly doubled the scoring outputs of anyone else within the Mid-American Conference this past week.  The game is the only one this season where both teams scored 68 or more points.  Memphis the day before had actually scored 70 on Connecticut.  More historically, since the turn of the century, it is the only game in college football in which two teams have scored more than sixty points and the difference in the game was less than touchdowns.  This was certainly a game that might not have the same type of scoring action and length again as both teams could be extremely tired after having played a high pressure conference game for four quarters and six overtime periods.

The Lone Unbeaten in the Wild West

After a 42-34 win over the Texans, the Kansas City Chiefs remained the only undefeated team in the National Football League.  New faces have shined brightly while QB Alex Smith has had one of his best seasons to date.  Defensively, the Chiefs have also excelled.  There a lot of different variables that are making the Chiefs one of the best teams in the NFL right now, so let’s take a look at a few of these variables.

Alex Smith’s Elite Play

QB Alex Smith is having a phenomenal season compared with the rest of the league with nearly 1,400 passing yards ranking him third in the NFL.  He is also tied with Tom Brady and Dak Prescott at third in passing touchdowns in the league with 11.  He also is the top in the NFL with a 125.8 passer rating which is far above second place Tom Brady at 112.  At this point, Smith is pacing for 4,451 passing yards and 35 passing touchdowns.  There were only two quarterbacks in the league last year that put up those numbers last season, which is impressive.  His weapons have also been great and one running back in particular is making defenses look foolish.

Breakout Star Hunt

Perhaps the biggest breakout player in the National Football League, Kareem Hunt is leading the league in rushing yards by over 130 yards.  Hunt is averaging 6.3 yards per carry which is second in the league.  He is pacing for a remarkable season of 1,948 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  These numbers have only been accomplished by 3 different players over the course of the last two decades and one of them is now a Hall of Famer in Terrell Davis with his incredible 1998 season.  Hunt is quite simply leading the second portion of an incredible Kansas City offense that is among the league’s best.

 

Top Teams in NFL Perform to Expectations

Most of the top teams in the National Football League found a way to get a victory on Sunday as week five of the NFL had plenty of turns including another Aaron Rodgers game winning drive and three teams going to 0-5.

Rodgers Does it Again

Aaron Rodgers found a way again in a 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the waning seconds.  Despite being dominated in time of possession, all Rodgers needed was a single minute to give the Packers an important victory to reign solely at the top of the NFC North.  For the Cowboys, three turnovers did not do them well but it did not cost them the game as their defense ultimately could not stop Rodgers from connecting with WR Davante Adams.  For the Cowboys, over the last few weeks they have scored but have not gotten the job done despite it.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are now the second team in NFL history lose back-to-back games at home despite scoring thirty or more points joining the Detroit Lions from five years ago who ended up going 4-12.  The big difference between the occurrences is that the Lions were almost out of the hunt at that point and were trying to ruin things for postseason contenders.  For the Cowboys, they just have to get things out of their head.

Eagles Stay Hot

Carson Wentz has stayed hot for Philadelphia with four passing touchdowns, three of them coming in the first quarter, to lead the Eagles to a rout of the Arizona Cardinals.  Wentz is now sixth in the NFL with ten passing touchdowns and three behind the league leader Aaron Rodgers.  Wentz is consistently in the top ten in the league in most passing stats which makes the Eagles dangerous almost every single week.  The Cardinals killed themselves on offense with a poor third down conversation rate (4-14), a huge imbalance between the popular passing game and the running game making them slightly predictable to read, and just flat out being not good on both sides of the ball.  The running game only got 31 yards on 14 attempts, a lackluster showing at all levels of the game.

Chargers Finally Win

The Los Angeles Chargers finally won over the trainwreck New York Giants in a five point victory.  Both teams went about very different ways on offense as the Chargers opted for, predictably, a passing favored offense while the Giants were a little more balanced.  LA was much more efficient in their plan as Phillip Rivers threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns despite having an interception.  Eli Manning for the Giants on the other hand would just get sacked when he tried to throw the ball as great pressure all day long from the Chargers defense forced the Giants’ hands into more of the running game from which the Giants only got six yards per carry.  That s actually a pretty good stat line to have, but when the game came down to it the Giants did not have much.  The Chargers need wins like this to start popping up more as over the last three seasons they have gone 5-19 in games decided by less than a touchdown and three of those wins were in 2015.

Chiefs Stay Undefeated

The Kansas City Chiefs won a big one in primetime over the Houston Texans as they used explosive second and fourth quarters in a 42-34 victory.  Kansas City dominated the time of possession battle with over 38 minutes of possession.  Alex Smith was impressive with three touchdowns and 324 passing yards.  Five field goals were also scored by the Chiefs to keep their perfect season alive.  The Texans were also not bad as QB Deshaun Watson had five passing touchdowns to save face as Houston’s quarterback of the future.  However, going three for ten on third down is not a good idea if you want to knock off the lone undefeated team in the National Football League.

Tonight, a NFC North battle in Chicago will take place as Mitchell Trubisky will debut with the Bears against the Minnesota Vikings in a must win game for Chicago to keep pace with the rest of the divison.  Midweek, the Chiefs will be showcased here for their good work over the course of the first five games of the season.

Upsets Shake College Football’s Landscape

Another college football Saturday is in the books and with multiple upsets across the country, the AP poll is destined to look a lot different for next week as the mighty fell and others at the middle of the poll looked strong and will pick up a few spots.  Here are some of the major games from a crazy Saturday.

Michigan vs Michigan State

The Spartans once again knocked off the Michigan Wolverines on the road in a 14-10 shocker in Ann Arbor.  Statistically, Michigan hurt themselves more than anything as they had five turnovers which should never win a game period.  Michigan State basically kept the Wolverines in the game with a poor third down conversation rate (2 of 14).  No individuals stood out from either side as it was Michigan’s turnovers that were the biggest factor in an upset that could of and should of been worse.

Iowa State vs Oklahoma

The biggest upset of the weekend came in Norman where Iowa State knocked off possible Playoff contender Oklahoma on a fantastic second half performance.  Every single drive for the Cyclones of Iowa State ended in points which is critical for any offense.  In addition, the final three drives ended in touchdowns.  For Oklahoma, they just were not clutch enough down the stretch on defense to come up with a key stop to defend their home field.  Now the Sooners are going to have to stay undefeated the rest of the way including a conference championship if they want a shot at being one of the top four teams with a shot at a national championship.

Alabama vs Texas A&M

Alabama was given a run for its money against the Aggies of Texas A&M but ended up surviving in a 27-19 win.  Alabama controlled the game through their running attack as with an average of 5.3 yards per carry over the course of 44 attempts which controls the clock as well as wears down a defense.  Texas A&M had more time of possession and did their work through the air with only 237 passing yards which means that they could have definitely been more effective and with a little more effectiveness maybe the Aggies would have been able to pull off the upset but no dice here.

TCU vs West Virginia

The biggest key for TCU in a big win over West Virginia was points off turnovers as they were able to take West Virginia’s two turnovers into two touchdowns in a 31-24 result.  West Virginia were able to keep themselves in the game as long as they possibly could with a good fourth down conversation rate of three for four.  TCU had less production, but were a little more balanced in the game and scoring off of the West Virginia turnovers really helped their case out a lot in a game that now catapults them to the top contender for the Big 12 for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

There will be a couple of games that will have midweek features including a fourth quarter slugfest in which Miami came out on top over Florida State and a seven overtime thriller within the MAC.