Sports: The Year in Review

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NCAA Football

In 2015, the year started with the first ever college football playoffs. The inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship pitted the top 4 teams in a bracket system. The first semi-final game was the Sugar Bowl, where #4 Ohio State upset  #1 Alabama 42-35 on New Year’s Day. In the National Championship game the Buckeyes faced the #2 Oregon Ducks who had defeated the 2014 National Champion and undefeated Florida State, in the Rose Bowl 59-20.

The 2015 College Football National Championship game was the first since 2006 that did not have at least one SEC team. Ohio State defeated Oregon in the big game 42-20, giving the Buckeyes their 8th national championship and first since 2002.

Ohio State began the 2015 season as the top rated team, however after falling to Michigan St. they were knocked out of the college playoffs. Alabama was the only team to qualify for a second year to play in the 2016 playoffs. After the Spartans of MSU defeated Ohio St., they went on to defeat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and play the Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Unbeaten #1 Clemson will face #4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, also on Dec. 31st.

After 5 years of Heisman Trophy winners being quarterbacks, Alabama’s running back Derrick Henry won the 2015 award given to the top American football college player. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney won The Associated Press college football Coach of the Year Award after leading his Tigers to an undefeated season and the longest run as the top ranked team in the country in school history.

NFL

If someone had said that Tom Brady would be the main story in the NFL in 2015, it probably wouldn’t have surprised anyone. Being named Super Bowl MVP wouldn’t be far fetched either. Brady success wasn’t surprising. The way his team won the big game was though. With only a few seconds left on the clock, one of the biggest bonehead calls of all time came from the coaching staff of the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch was the league’s rushing leader in the regular season, and with the game on the line and their team on the one yard line giving the ball to “beast mode” was a no brainer; that is, unless you are Pete Carroll. He decided that Russell Wilson should throw a one-yard pass. New England won Super Bowl XLIX when cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted that pass in probably the most infamous play to end a Super Bowl ever. Brady won the MVP award, but that wasn’t the big story featuring Tom Brady in 2015.

One of the biggest stories in 2015 was “deflategate,” far and away the most publicized story of the year. Unless you are totally isolated from sports news, you already know the story of the under-inflated footballs in the Patriots – Colts playoff game. Due to earlier allegations of misconduct, such as “spy-gate,” the league set out to make an example of anyone involved. As evidenced by the score New Engand really didn’t need any help in defeating the Colts, but the issue wasn’t about the score, it was about cheating. Roger Goodell decided to make an example of Brady and suspended him 4 games. When the dust settled, Brady was not suspended and the only thing that came out of the incident was an immense hatred for Goodell.

One of the only balls from that game to make it into the public domain was a ball given to Laura and Matt Nichols in the stands after a Patriot touchdown. In July that ball sold at auction for $43,740, the highest price paid for a used NFL game ball. As far as the Patriots blemished reputation, winning makes people forget, and the Patriots keep winning.

In 2015, New England has had the best start of any AFC team and has clinched the AFC East. Cincinnati also had a great start in the North, but lost their star quarterback, Andy Dalton, to injury. Things weren’t decided in the AFC South until the end of the season. The Jets and Steelers appear to be the wild card teams as we head into the new year.

In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers (14-0) are hoping to go into the playoffs undefeated, but are facing Atlanta and Tampa, who pose little threat. It looks like the NFC playoff picture won’t be clear until the final games after the new year.

College Hoops

The 2015 NCAA Tournament had some close contests making March Madness very exciting. Tournament favorite #1 Kentucky fell to Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Big Ten had a strong showing as 7th seed Michigan St made it to the Final Four before falling to Duke. Duke then pulled out the win in a nail-biter against Wisconsin for the national championship.

Michigan St. kept their basketball dominance going this year and retains their top ranking. The 2015-16 season has already seen the “big boys” lose games early. Along with the #1 Spartans, SMU (18), Xavier (6) and Oklahoma (3) ended 2015 undefeated.

NBA

In the NBA, 2015 was definitely the year of the Golden State Warriors who defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs made their 18th straight playoff appearance, while the Atlanta Hawks (8th straight) and Golden State (3rd straight) entered the playoffs as the first seeds of their respective conferences.

The first round of the playoffs saw a record six teams take a 3-0 commanding lead over their opponents. For fans of teams that hadn’t seen the playoffs in years, it was a great season as none of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs had previously won an NBA championship in this century.

Warrior’s Steph Curry was named league MVP and NBA Player of the Year for both Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone Magazine; and he and his team weren’t done winning in 2015. They began the 2015-16 season by breaking the record for wins to start a season at 24-0 before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks.

NHL

As in the NBA, it seemed that 2015 was a year for some “new teams” to make it to the playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets made the playoffs for the first time since moving from Atlanta in 2011. The San Jose Sharks had their playoff streak end after a ten year run. The biggest comeback of the year was when the Ottawa Senators earned the final playoff spot after trailing by 14 points.

The top NHL scorer was Dallas’ Jamie Benn and Carey Price of Montreal was named league MVP. While the New York Rangers were awarded the President’s Trophy, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting to win the 2015 Stanley Cup.

MLB

2015 marked Rob Manfred’s first season as Baseball Commissioner. Manfred got an early look at two of the year’s playoff teams on opening day when the Cardinals defeated the Cubs on Opening Day, 3-0. Along with those two teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates would also come out of the NL Central to make the playoffs, with the Cards winning the division. The Cubs knocked the Pirates from the playoffs in a one-game wild card matchup. Then went on to defeat the Cardinals to face the New York Mets for the pennant. After defeating the Cubs, the Mets represented the NL in the World Series.

In the AL the West representatives came out of Texas. The Rangers and the Houston Astros battled down to the last week for the division with the Rangers emerging as the West champs. Neither Texas team fared well in the playoffs and were eliminated early leaving a Toronto Blue Jays versus Kansas City Royals matchup for the AL pennant. In the end, the Royals played amazing baseball on both sides of the ball and defeated the Mets in the 2015 World Series.

It used to be that years could go by without a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, but in 2015 there were six no-hitters. Along with SF rookie pitcher Chris Heston, Max Scherzer (WAS), Cole Hamels (Tex), Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA), Mike Fiers (HOU) and Jake Arrieta (CHC) also threw “no-nos.” Arrieta’s no-hitter helped him win the Cy Young Award in the NL, while Dallas Keuchel won the award in the AL. The Cubs pretty much swept the major awards in the NL with Kris Bryant winning Rookie of the Year and Joe Maddon winning Manager of the Year honors. Bryce Harper of Washington won the MVP award. Besides winning the AL MVP award and the Hank Aaron Award, The Sporting News also named Josh Donaldson their all around Player of the Year.

On a sad note, baseball lost some of the game’s legends this year. The City of Chicago lost 3 notable players: Billy Pierce (CHW), Minnie Minoso (CHW) and Ernie Banks (CHC). The most notable passing, of course, was that of Yogi Berra. A Hall of Fame player and manager, Berra is famous for his “Yogi-isms.” Here are a few and when reading them, it may feel like “It’s deja vu all over again”. “We made too many wrong mistakes”; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That’s enough Yogi-isms for now, because I need to wrap up this year in review. Like Yogi said, “it gets late early out here”.

NASCAR

There were many great storylines in NASCAR in 2015: Jeff Gordon’s farewell tour, Joey Logano’s winning streak, Kevin Harvick’s run to repeat as Sprint Cup Champion and the amazing comeback from injury by Kyle Busch.

Unfortunately for Jeff Gordon his quest for a 5th title fell short and his anticipated championship celebration was a goodbye party instead. Gordon’s storied career ended with a sixth place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It wasn’t quite the fairy-tale ending Gordon hoped for, but he went out having fun.

Joey Logano looked like the driver to beat with a three-race winning streak entering the final month of the season, but in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth drove into the back of Logano (who was leading at the time) and sent him into the wall. Logano’s season was all but over at that point as he failed to qualify for the finals.

Kevin Harvick was a heavy favorite heading into the 2015 season, and why not? He was the defending champ. However, it seemed that in 2015 Harvick was destined for 2nd place where he found himself in many races.

Kyle Busch’s amazing story started with a horrible crash at Daytona that resulted in many surgeries and grueling rehab. Yet Busch only missed 11 races and completed the ultimate comeback in Miami by winning his first career Sprint Cup Title just nine months after the crash. In addition to his championship Busch was awarded NASCAR’s Driver of the Year Award.

Looking back it has been a fun year in sports in 2015. With the college bowl games and the NFL playoffs only a couple weeks away, it looks like 2016 will start with a lot of excitement as well.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year sports fans.

 

Mike Yost