By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
When the New Year rang in at 12:00 midnight on Jan. 1 what thoughts flooded your mind? Are you a resolution person, hoping to make some life-altering changes like less Taco Bell and more reading for pleasure? I can still vividly remember the reserved chaos surrounding Y2K, the eve of 2000, thinking that computers would crash, there would be apocalyptic anarchy sweeping the streets and hoarding cases of bottled water. Well, we all know nothing (really of significance) came of it, but flash forward to 2017 and I’m left wondering how much of the future is really here. I mean, isn’t this the year we are supposed to have flying cars like in Back to the Future and Blade Runner? Or at least handheld devices that we can communicate with people within a nano-second, or look up information at our fingertips. Oh wait, we do! What a time to be alive!
Anyway, the Year of Our Lord 2017 is filled with much promise, and in the sports world there’s little difference. We live and breathe rooting for our favorite teams (professional and college) and our beloved high schools, and if yours is having a rough stretch, there’s always this thing called hope (think Chicago Cubs fans). So, here’s to you and believing what is to come.
End of season for Raiders, asking what if?
Oh boy, was that Oakland Raiders playoff game difficult to watch. The Silver and Black looked like the wind was taken out of their sails even before the game started at Houston – and who could blame them? MVP candidate and beloved Central Valley icon Derek Carr broke his fibula two weeks earlier against the Colts, regulating them to back-ups at quarterback – the most important position in sports.
We all know how the game ended, a 27-14 loss with rookie and third-string Connor Cook getting the start, the first time a rookie’s first NFL start had ever been in the playoffs. It was tough sledding from the get-go; the poor dude threw three picks and understandably looked dazed and confused.
The game ended a remarkable season for the Raiders, a season filled with so much hope in their 12 wins; a team that had Super Bowl aspirations. With Carr, they had a legitimate shot of at least taking on the New England Patriots, the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Without Carr, they were rudderless, lost without their best player and leader. Playmaking wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were rendered ineffective at Houston as was running back Latavius Murray.
The easy question to ask would be: what could have been if not for that ill-fated Derek Carr injury? However, perhaps a better question would be: How will the Oakland Raiders respond moving forward?
In short, there’s a lot to look forward to if you’re a Raiders fan as the team is headed in the right direction, evidenced by their record improving from 3-13 to 7-9 to 12-4 the past three years. And there’s little doubt they have their franchise quarterback with Carr and his 28-6 touchdown to interception ratio and 3,937 passing yards . If fact, there’s a good chance he’ll get “Andrew Luck money” this offseason (six years, $140 million). They’ll return a respectable defense led by linebacker Khalil Mack, but possibly needing a replacement for Murray, who is free agent.
In other news, the San Francisco 49ers fired their general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly. In the shortest sentence summarizing a huge story – the Niners are big, hot mess.
How ‘bout those Los Angeles NBA teams?
Remember those times when the Lakers ruled and the Clippers were an afterthought? Most remember the glory days of Showtime in the 80s with Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, Rambis and their five titles in a nine-year span. Then the Kobe and Shaq era from 1999-2004 (it seemed longer didn’t it?), stretch when they won three straight titles from 2000-2002. The Clippers during this time were the ugly stepsister, a professional franchise many considered the worst of the 1980s.
The tide seemed to turn in 2010 with the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, then added Chris Paul in 2011 and finally good role players like DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Reddick. Fans started to show up at the Staples Center, and hey, these Clips were actually kind of fun to watch. But, being stuck in good-mediocrity has become the norm; the Clippers, despite four straight seasons of 50 or more wins, have yet to advance to even the West Conference Finals. 12 trips to the playoffs in the franchise’s history with nary a trip to the Finals.
And with Griffin (who I’ve always thought of as overrated) out since Dec. 19 because of a knee injury and surgery, the Clippers are 6-6 … more mediocrity. On the other hand, the Lakers are 15-26 and have a young nucleus of talent that includes DeAngelo Williams, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram – all recent draft picks. The Lakers also a young, first-year coach in Luke Walton, a well-respected player’s coach who loves the up-tempo.
The Kobe era ended last season with very few victories (38-126 from 2014-16), but if I were to have some sort of insight, I would predict in two years we’ll see the Lakers back on top of the Clippers at least in the standings. One can only think the window has closed for one franchise while the Lake Show will once again reign supreme in the City of Angels.
In other California NBA news, the Sacramento Kings are still the Kings, and haven’t won more than 44 games since 2005-06, and mired in a 15-22 record this season. Like the Lakers at least they have some young talent, oh wait, let me scan their roster … nope, they don’t.
Caleb Kelly shines in Oklahoma bowl win over Auburn
Caleb Kelly was an impressive player to watch, and talk to, during his remarkable career at Clovis West. The accolades were many – high school All-American, TRAC Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award winner among many – so when he decided to attend Oklahoma, all of the Central Valley’s eyes were upon him, hoping and wishing for the best. One of ours was taking his talents to the big-time.
However, it took five games before the freshman linebacker Kelly made his first start and if you really think about it, a true freshman starting for a top program is pretty darn rare. And through it all, Kelly saved his best for last – a big one – the Sugar Bowl against Auburn on Jan. 2. And on that day the beast was unleashed.
Kelly tallied 12 total tackles in the No. 7-ranked Sooners 35-19 win over the No. 14 Tigers on national television, showing the country just how talented a player the 2016 Clovis West is. Among those 12 tackles, eight were solo. He pressured, he flew all over the field, he was doing all those things on the field we saw dressed in the maroon and gold.
Oklahoma finished the season with 10 straight wins and a Big 12 championship. Kelly didn’t play a down in the Sooner’s 45-24 loss at home to Ohio State, and it was an admittedly difficult time for the high school All-American. But to his credit, instead of pouting and sulking, he dug deep and kept believing in his abilities.
“After a couple starts I was told by the coaches, ‘You can’t be playing like a freshman and you can’t make mistakes. You’ve got to play like a veteran,’” Kelly told The Oklahoman after the bowl win. “I finished the season out strong, probably played my best game of the season tonight so getting to end it like that, I’m real happy with it.”
Kelly made himself a household name with his standout performance, and color commentator Jesse Palmer had high praise for the 18-year old after pressuring the Auburn quarterback into a hurried throw: “This run defense of Oklahoma got so much better in the second half of the season and I think a big reason why is because they started to play Caleb Kelly more.”
For those that heard, I’m sure your heart swelled a bit hearing that.
In his performance, Kelly broke the Oklahoma freshman record for tackles in a bowl game. He was also named freshman all-American by PFF and on the season recorded 36 tackles, three for loss and one sack.
If this game was just a precursor of things to come, we can’t wait for the encore.