No clear favorites creates an interesting NCAA tournament field

By Sam Cowan

It feels like Kentucky’s nearly-undefeated season in 2015 was a long time ago with all the top-ranked teams suffering losses this season.

Last year, the Kentucky Wildcats took college basketball by storm and came two tournament wins away from the first perfect season since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.

This year, it seems like we can’t go a week without a top-5 team dropping a game or two.

The most recent casualty was No. 3 Virginia who dropped a game to No. 12 Miami on the road Monday. Granted a loss like that is barely an upset, but it is still indicative of the atmosphere of this season which has featured teams sliding up and down the polls weekly.

In total, top-5 teams have suffered 33 losses this season and that number is only going to go up with conference schedules winding down. In total, 13 teams have been ranked in the top-5 this season.

With the beginning of conference tournaments seven days away, there have been six different teams to hold the No. 1 spot in the polls this season.

The longest-reigning No. 1 this season has been Michigan State at four weeks and the current-reigning No. 1 Villanova is right behind them entering their third week at the top. This could potentially be the first season since polls began in which no team holds the top spot for five consecutive weeks.

No. 1 teams have gone a combined 20-6 this season while ranked in the top spot. In neutral and home games, they are actually a perfect 14-0, but a mediocre 6-6 record on the road is what has doomed big name programs like North Carolina, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

The Villanova Wildcats have been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball winning their last seven games, but with a game on the road against No. 5 Xavier on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CST, they could be the next No. 1 to fall.

That game, which Xavier is a slight favorite in, actually represented a double whammy because if Villanova wins, we have another top-5 loss, but if Xavier wins, we will likely have yet another new No. 1 team.

What does all this mean for college basketball fans? Well, it means we could see one of the more intriguing NCAA tournaments in a while.

With no clear favorite, the debate over seeding will be interesting enough as it is and the potential for upsets in the early round is high.

There may not be a juggernaut in the NCAA like Kentucky last season, but the intrigue surrounding the tournament should still be very high.

Should Peyton Manning retire?

By Sam Cowan

If Super Bowl 50 was the final game of Peyton Manning’s career, then he didn’t go out with quite the flair expected from the most prolific passer in NFL history.

Manning looked every bit like a 39-year-old in the twilight of his playing career at times on Sunday and finished with a pedestrian 141 passing yards, no touchdown and an interception.

Luckily for him, the Denver Broncos didn’t need much offense for Manning to get the second ring of his career. The Broncos defense smothered the top-scoring offense of the Carolina Panthers to help bring the franchise its third Super Bowl victory.

It was a stark contrast to the last Super Bowl appearance for Manning and the Broncos in 2014. Manning was coming off a record-breaking regular season for both passing yards and touchdowns, but the Seahawks dominated the Broncos in a 35-point blowout.

This year, the Broncos would not be denied as the defense put on a showcase all season which places them alongside the aforementioned Seahawks, the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears among others as one of the best defenses in NFL history.

However, despite the season the defensive unit had, all the focus in the weeks leading up the Super Bowl and even after the game finished was on Peyton Manning and questions of whether his retirement was imminent.

For his part, Manning has yet to say for certain whether he will be in the league in 2016. Even when asked directly about it after the game, Manning said he hadn’t decided yet and would need more time to think about it.

Manning has certainly enjoyed a lot of success in his 18 years in the NFL. Manning is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns while also being just second in passing attempts and completions.

Manning also has a habit of bringing his team back in games and holds the NFL record for game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime with 56 on his career. The only current player close to that is Manning’s eternal rival Tom Brady who has 46.

The value of Manning has also been highly recognized in his career as demonstrated by his five MVP awards. No one else in NFL history has more than three.

The win adds several more records to the illustrious career of Manning. Manning is now the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two separate teams and in addition to being the oldest quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, he is also now the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

The win was also the 200th of Manning’s career including regular season and postseason, which broke a tie with Brett Favre for most all-time.

It will be a while before anyone comes close to matching these records and it is obvious Manning has left a big mark on the game.

With all he has accomplished, it might seem odd to end his career on such a down personal note, but it might be the perfect way to end his career.

Manning was banged up all season and it is obvious his body is beginning to break down on him. However, for one last run from the end of the regular season to the Super Bowl, Manning was able to do just enough to help his teams win.

The defense brought the team to victory, but Manning did enough for himself to make sure he didn’t let himself or the team down by the end of the game.

For a player who has been among the most valuable in NFL history, it feels somewhat appropriate that he goes out a winner in an overall team effor

Predicting the Super Bowl

By Sam Cowan

After 266 total games, the NFL season all comes down to this.

For the third year in a row, the No. 1 seeds for each conference will meet up to determine the champion of the football world.

After finishing the regular season 56 games above .500, I’ve hit a stumbling block in the playoffs with a 3-7 record heading into the final game. Here’s hoping I can close out the season with a win.

Without further ado, here is my extended, slightly rambling prediction on what will happen.

Panthers over Broncos

These two teams have taken slightly different paths to the big game.

The Denver Broncos have made a living off winning close games. They set a record for most wins by seven points or less in a single season with an 11-3 record including both of their playoff games thus far.

Denver was led by its defense which allowed the fewest yards of any team in the NFL. However, the offense of Denver finished just 16th in the NFL in yards gained with Peyton Manning having one of the worst overall years of his career.

The Carolina Panthers also had some close games throughout the year, but were bolstered by blowouts during the season. Nine of the Panther’s wins this season were by double digits including a 35-point thrashing of the Cardinals in the NFC championship game.

Cam Newton came into his own as a quarterback this season, leading a Panthers offense which led the NFL in points scored. The defense of the Panthers was also top-notch and finished sixth in yards allowed this season.

In 1975, the NFL began basing home-field advantage for playoff games off regular season records. This year’s Super Bowl will be just the 12th matchup between two No. 1 seeds since the change. Historically, the history of 1-seeds facing each other favors the Panthers as the NFC has won eight of the previous 11 matchups.

Nine of the 11 1-seed games have also been decided by double digits, which is another factor in favor of the Panthers.

With that being said, I have to go with the Panthers here. Every single historical precedent favors them and as good as the Broncos defense is, it will be difficult for the Broncos to overcome an offense that often becomes stagnant.

Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe Peyton Manning finds a way to drag himself and the offense down the field for a few touchdowns. Maybe the defense steps up big and forces Newton to throw a few interceptions.

However, I don’t see it happening. I see the Panthers powering through the Broncos on offense and the defense of Carolina shutting down pretty much anything the Denver offense tries.

This game won’t be as bad as the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl from 2014, but it won’t be close either.

Final Score: 34-17, Panthers

Regular season: 156-100

Postseason: 3-7