I am shutting down jaydawg.sportsblog.com and joining Fansided's dawnofthedawg.com as co-editor. Dawn of the Dawg is a site dedicated to covering UGA sports. I feel like it is a big step up to attaining my future career goals. I am thankful to Sports Blog for the opportunity and thankful for all of my readers. It's been a fun ride, but an even brighter future awaits.

-Jay Hawkins 


NCAA's Mark Emmert Was Right for Once

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA is corrupt. We all know that. Mark Emmert needs to step down, and the whole organization needs to be shut down. However, college athletics has to deal with it. I have not really spoken a lot about my thoughts on Emmert, but I hardly ever see eye-to-eye with him. That has changed on one issue. 

That issue is in the form of one of the most outspoken and controversial men in college football. I'm referring to Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. He's been making headlines lately by planning a spring practice in Florida on UM's spring break. This is technically not against NCAA rules, but Mark Emmert still doesn't think it's right according to an interview with The State (a newspaper in South Carolina).

"There's a difference between not being prohibited and being OK. There is a big debate going on among administrators right now about how to provide more time off for student-athletes so the use of spring break for practices caused a lot of people to be concerned about it, and that's an appropriate concern. We are trying to find ways to dial back the demands on student-athletes, not ramp them up."

Jim Harbaugh is one of the most controversial figures in today's college football landscape.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

I agree with Emmert. Though it might be within the rules, making students practice on their spring break is just not fair. The strain on college athletes, particularly college football players, is enormous, and no one needs to make their life more stressful. I really wouldn't put it past the NCAA to pass legislation banning this in the future.

Don't get me wrong. I love Jim Harbaugh overall. He's a fun guy to have in college football and always seems to find his way into the news. He's an absolutely amazing football coach and is turning the Michigan program back into the power it should always be. Heck, I don't even have a problem with the controversial satellite camps. 

Nevertheless, Harbaugh got this one wrong. Making student athletes practice in Florida on spring break is just not fair. For all the criticism I've had for the NCAA's top dog Mark Emmert, he actually got this one right. One for a thousand is not bad, right? Just kidding, Emmert has no business in college athletics. 

Excitement Grows as ATL UTD's Debut Grows Closer

Atlanta United FC is one year away from its first touch in Major League Soccer, and I, for one, could not be more excited. Yeah, I like soccer. I am a proud US Men's National team supporter/fanatic. I love the Premier League, watching the UEFA Champions League, and keeping up with the beautiful game worldwide. The one thing that has lacked in my fandom thus far, though, is having a local club to support. 

That has changed. My beloved home state of Georgia will finally be getting a soccer team. (Sorry, Silverbacks didn't count in my mind.) Arthur Blank, the NFL's Falcons owner who is pretty well off, announced during the summer of 2014 that Atlanta would be getting an MLS franchise in 2017. The excitement for Atlanta getting an MLS team has been incredible and is growing day by day. Heck, even Ludicris is on board. The team has a name in Atlanta United FC, a sweet logo, and a black, red, and gold color scheme. 

A big topic by future Atlanta United fans is about the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is set to be erected in Atlanta in 2017 as the new home of the Falcons as well as Atlanta United FC. It now sounds like the stadium might not be ready when the MLS season starts in 2017. The current estimated completion date is June 1 of that year. A new partnership between Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Greenfields USA of Union City, Georgia, was reached on Thursday. 

The new stadium will have a synthetic surface made by Greenfields USA, as the retractable stadium does not allow enough sunlight for grass. This kind of synthetic turf has been used in the Netherlands and according to FIFA “closely mimics the shock absorption and energy restitution characteristics.” This basically means ATL UTD will play on the best turf in the business and in a world-class stadium. 

But forget about venues, ATL UTD has signed their first player in goalkeeper Alex Tambakis from one of the most successful clubs in Greece in Panathinaikos. Tambakis is currently on loan at the Charleston Battery, which happens to also be ATL UTD's new USL affiliate.  Tambakis is a dual-national. He grew up in Athens, Greece, to a Grecian father and a mother who was born in California. He has a big 6-2+ frame and is self-described as an all-around goalkeeper. Pertaining to his coming to America, Tambakis told charlestonbattery.com that he was very excited about playing in the US.

Atlanta United also signed a Salvadorian international midfielder in 27-year-old Junior Burgos, who is now on loan with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL. He has previously played for clubs in Germany, Columbia, Chile, and in America's USL and NASL. He's probably most remembered by locals for scoring a beautiful free-kick goal for the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks. The goal was selected as NASL Goal of the Year in 2015. I have included the video of it here for your viewing pleasure.

To sum it up, Atlanta United FC have made a lot of strides in getting ready for their MLS debut in 2017 but expect many more to come. Atlantans know who their first two players are as well as their own brand. Later this year, ATL UTD will begin officially putting a full roster together with the help of the MLS' expansion draft, and in January of 2017, Atlanta will participate in the annual MLS SuperDraft. The season will kick off that spring and a new era will be ushered into the city of Atlanta. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself, fans don't even know where our first games will be played or what big-time international star their team will get. Anyway, it may be quite a whirlwind of change, but everyone knows that the global game will finally be in Atlanta. 

*Photo via Byron E. Small

Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydawg



Don't Get It Twisted; Alabama Will Win Natty

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 CFB Playoff National Championship is not far away at all. Monday night will host the event from Glendale, Arizona, at 8:30 on ESPN. All eyes will be watching the undefeated, top ranked Clemson Tigers led by Deshaun Watson as they take on the powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide. Clemson is very good, but Alabama will hoist the CFB Playoff Trophy on Monday night. 

Alabama has won the most national championships among all active FBS teams. They've won an astonishing fifteen titles. Nick Saban and crew will be obviously seeking their sixteenth championship and fourth by Saban at Alabama. Alabama will win another this time around against Clemson for several reasons.

 One, you have to start with the aforementioned Nick Saban. He is the greatest college coach in the game today. He is not only an amazing recruiter but is second to none in development of his players and preparation. He preaches "The Process," which basically means doing every single thing with excellence. He's a control freak and micromanager, and he's dang good at his job. He will have his team ready for the game against Clemson. 

Second, Alabama will beat Clemson because the Crimson Tide are more talented. It's as simple as that. I'm sorry Clemson; deal with it. No disrespect to the Tigers either, they have talent of their own and have the best quarterback in the country, but overall, Alabama just has better material. The defense for Alabama is absolutely ridiculous. The unit is historically good. 

It's unfair how good the unit is; it's the top stop unit in America after all. As I've said, the Tide have the best front seven in college football. Their defensive line and linebacking corps is amazing, and it's been almost impossible to run on the Tide particularly inside (#1 rush D in CFB). They also have the best pass rush in all of college football. 

Alabama not only has stars on this defense such as All-American DT A'Shawn Robinson, DE Jarran Reed, DE Jonathan Allen, and All-American LB Reggie Ragland, DB Eddie Jackson, etc. Their secondary has taken a major step forward under Mel Tucker this year and went from a weakness in the past to a strength. However, the biggest difference from this defense at Alabama from other years is depth. With all the blue-chip guys Alabama has, they have a rotation that is second to none. They just got so many playmakers that no one gets tired. It's demoralizing for the opposing offense. 

Alabama's Defense Is Nasty and Loaded With Talent

Alabama's offense is very good too, and the unit as a whole doesn't seem to get the credit it deserves. That might be because everyone focuses on running back Derrick Henry and for good reason. He won the Heisman after all and is an absolute animal, workhorse, and stat-stuffer. The powerful, big-framed man is the best pure running back in the game today. 

The Tide have slews of other talented playmakers on offense such as fellow back Kenyan Drake, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, Richard Mullaney, TE O.J. Howard, and others. I believed Jake Coker was one of the most underrated QBs this year. He showed how good he truly is as he lit up the stingy Michigan State defense through the air (286 yards and 2 touchdowns) in the playoff semifinal last week. He had the best performance of his career at Alabama and showed that his team can depend on him. 

Third, Alabama will win it all because of the team's mentality and leadership. They've been on this stage before and want revenge from going out in the playoffs last year. Alabama always has to fight against complacency as they have had such great success. That is not a problem this year. This team is different. The leadership is strong by these players, and they are focused and working their hardest. A team of this magnitude with a focus this powerful is a scary combination. 

I've seen nearly all of Alabama's games this year and even watched them in person. They have been nothing but impressive. They are so talented, and this might be the best team Nick Saban has ever had. I don't think anyone can beat this team if Alabama plays like they are capable of. The Clemson defense has been very underrated and is very good, but they simply won't be able to handle Alabama. The Tide are so balanced on offense and can hurt you in so many ways. Deshaun Watson is a heck of a quarterback, but he hasn't faced a defense near as good as Alabama. Clemson's offense will not do enough to beat the Crimson Tide. 

The 2016 CFB Playoff National Championship game has a lot of storylines and features the best two teams without a doubt in college football. Dabo Swinney has done an outstanding job at Clemson this year and has built the Tigers into a college football power. He has the best quarterback in the land (and Heisman finalist) in Deshaun Watson as well as other talented playmakers and a stingy defense. Nick Saban is the greatest coach in the country, and this team might be the best he's had ever in Tuscaloosa. This team has been a thrill to watch this year. This game should be fun to watch and very competitive, but don't get it twisted; Alabama will win its 16th national championship on Monday night. 

*Images via Getty Images

Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydawg

Ultimate CFB Playoff Preview

It's here. The 2nd edition of the College Football Playoff is upon us. Two semifinal games between four deserving and talented teams will take place on New Year's Eve and will determine who will go on to the National Championship and be crowned the best in this great sport. First at 4 PM ET, #4 Oklahoma will take on #1 Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Then at 8 PM, #3 Michigan State will face #2 Alabama in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Here at jaydawg.sportsblog.com, I have laid out a comprehensive preview of each team, profiled the top player from each team, and looked at the two semifinal games. Hope everyone has a good holiday season and enjoys what should be a very entertaining New Year's Eve. 


#4 Oklahoma Sooners 

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 11-1 (Big 12 Champions)

Head Coach: Bob Stoops

Many people forget that Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was on a very hot seat in Normon, Oklahoma, this season. I, for one, thought he was a lame duck coach. Anyway, his Sooners have had a remarkable season. The main credit for the 2015 success goes to two men - Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley. 

Lincoln Riley was brought in to be Oklahoma's new offensive coordinator last offseason to install his new up-tempo spread offense in Norman. Riley at 32 is one of the youngest and brightest offensive coaches in the college game. He is definitely a candidate to get a head coaching job of his own especially with what he has done with the Sooner offense this season. 

The other big reason and maybe the biggest reason for Oklahoma reaching the CFB Playoff is the emergence of Baker Mayfield. Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma from Texas Tech in the offseason, won the starting quarterback job, and has been simply sensational. He's a strong armed, dual-threat quarterback that is one of the best signal-callers period. He is a dynamic player, and the Sooners wouldn't be where they are now without him. In my mind, he should have been a Heisman finalist (more on Mayfield later).

It's not all Mayfield though. This Oklahoma team is ultra-talented particularly on the offensive side of the ball. You don't have to look far to see the playmakers. They're in the same backfield. The one-two punch of backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon have proven to be a formidable pair. They have combined for 2,469 yards and 27 touchdowns either rushing or catching passes out of the backfield. Probably the biggest weapon besides Mayfield on this offense is his favorite target in the passing game, leading receiver Sterling Shepard. He's caught 79 passes in 2015 for 1,201 yards and 11 scores. Pass-catchers Dede Westbrook and Durron Neal have made significant contributions in the passing game as well.

This offensive unit as a whole is one of the best in all of college football. They rank in the top 20 in the major offensive categories, but what really stands out is that this unit is 3rd in the country in points per game. The defense is not quite as stellar, but a major portion of that can be attributed to playing in the high-powered offensive landscape that is the Big 12. 

How did they get here? Well, they navigated through a Big 12 schedule with only one regular season loss. That loss was the fifth game of the season - a fluky disappointing result to big rival Texas. From that point on, Oklahoma ran the table beating four teams in the top 25 highlighted by wins over #6 Baylor, #18 TCU, and #11 Oklahoma State. They ended up winning the Big 12 outright and were considered one of the top four teams in the country and worthy of a spot in the CFB Playoff. 

#3 Michigan State Spartans

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-2 (Big Ten Champions)

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio 

Probably the most disrespected team in the playoff, the Michigan State Spartans are seen by many as a long shot to win it all. Make no mistake; this team is pretty darn good. They are very deserving as well.   They got here by winning the Big Ten Championship a few weeks ago against over then #4 and undefeated Iowa, 16-13. The Spartans were down 13-9 late in the 4th, and Connor Cook and the MSU offense marched down the field on a 22 yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown to win the football game. 

It was a gusty drive, and it is the reason the Spartans are here. Oh yeah, they also went 11-1 in the Big Ten with wins over #7 Oregon, # 12 Michigan and an upset win with a backup QB over defending National Champions and previously undefeated Ohio State in Columbus. That was the biggest moment of the season without a doubt.

Connor Cook is one of the top pro-style QBs in the country and is the leader of the Spartans. Combine that with a tenacious defense that the Spartans have been known for under Dantonio, and you've got a good chance to be pretty good. Michigan State under Dantonio has their own certain style. They like to play physical defense and run the football. 

The main guy they use to tote the rock is L.J. Scott with 691 yards rushing. Gerald Holmes is second on the team with 534 yards on the ground. Connor Cook's main target is star receiver Aaron Burbridge. Burbridge has 80 receptions for 1,219 yards and seven touchdowns. 

The defense is not bad either. It has only given up an average of 20.5 points per game, which ranks in the top 20 in the country. Riley Bullough leads the team in tackles with 95 total tackles. Probably the best pro prospect on this defensive unit is DE Shilique Calhoun, who leads the Spartans in getting to the QB with 9 sacks and numerous tackles for loss. 

#2 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 12-1

Head Coach: Nick Saban

Alabama is Alabama again. It looked like the Tide wouldn't be in this position right now if we had asked many after Week 3 of 2015. The Crimson Tide had just lost 43-37 at home against Ole Miss and looked bad doing it. They turned the ball over five times but still almost came back and won thanks to a late rally by Jake Coker. This game turned out to be a fluke as Alabama proved how dominant they were afterwards. This served as Jake Coker's first big statement that he was worthy of the starting job at Alabama. 

The Tide ran the table the rest of the year behind a Heisman winning running back and a dominant defense. The highlights were a blowout win over then #8 UGA, an 18 point victory over #9 Texas A&M, a blowout of then Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette and #2 LSU, and an SEC championship victory over #18 Florida. 

Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. Yeah, he's better than Urban Meyer. He's hoping to get his fourth national title ring at Alabama, and he's got a great chance to do this. Like aforementioned, the defense is amazing. It's one of the best that Saban and DC Kirby Smart (UGA head coach next year) has had in Tuscaloosa. It ranks as the #2 overall defense in the country. They also only allow an average 14.4 points scored on them a game, which is one of the best in the sport. 

The front seven is the best unit in the nation and is filled with NFL talent. The defensive line is beyond stout, and it's virtually impossible to run up the middle on them. I guess that's is why they rank first in rushing defense. The line is led in the middle by 6-4, 312 pound defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson who is bookended by two other monsters in Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen (team sack leader with 10). The linebacking corps is led by inside linebacker and leading tackler Reggie Ragland. Ragland is so fun to watch, shows relentless pursuit, and is a tough tackler. 

The defense has really been helped by the secondary's performance this year under new defensive backs coach Mel Tucker. He has taken this unit from one of weakness to a strength. Eddie Jackson leads the team with five interceptions and Marlon Humphrey is second with three. This defensive unit is truly special and should be remembered as one of the best Alabama has ever had. 

The offense can hold their own too. Nick Saban has always loved to run the football and has a Heisman winning running back at his disposal. Derrick Henry is a massive man to say the least. He leads the country in rushing yards this season and is the focal point of their offense. The rest of the offense is good too.  

The QB position was a question at Alabama in the offseason and even up until the game against Ole Miss. Jake Coker stepped to the plate and has certainly done an underrated job in Tuscaloosa. He has thrown for almost 2,500 yards with a 65.7 completion percentage and seventeen touchdowns. 

The receiving talent around him certainly helps. Dynamic newcomer Calvin Ridley leads Alabama in receiving with 75 catches for 893 yards and 5 touchdowns. ArDarius Stewart, Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney, and TE O.J. Howard have also been very important to the success of the passing game. This dimension of Alabama is in my opinion underrated due to Derrick Henry's presence and the Tide usually sticking to running the ball. 

However, they can kill you both ways. Watch out for backup running back Kenyan Drake. When healthy, he is one of the most explosive and versatile players on this team. Alabama is truly hard to beat and is my pick to win it all this year.

#1 Clemson Tigers

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-0

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney 

What a season it has been for Clemson. Head coach Dabo Swinney deserved monstrous credit for the play of his Tigers and has been voted as AP Coach of the Year in college football. This Clemson team is different from others under Swinney. It is supremely confident and hasn't lost a game they shouldn't or fallen apart in the clutch like seasons gone by. Swinney has been in the process of turning his team into a college football power, and he has certainly done just that. 

It doesn't hurt though to have a guy leading the team at quarterback Deshaun Watson that was a Heisman finalist. Swinney has nothing but praise for Watson, and Clemson wouldn't be where they are today without the Gainsville, GA, native. The dual-threat quarterback leads the team in passing and is currently second in rushing. He plays with a remarkable calmness in high-stress situations and stellar in the clutch. 

Running back Wayne Gallman leads Clemson on the ground with 1,332 yards and ten touchdowns. Artavis Scott leads the Tigers in receiving yards with 805 yards on 85 catches with five scores.   Wideouts Deon Cain, Charone Peake, and TE Jordan Leggett have also made significant contributions in the passing game. They've combined for over 1,500 yards this season. 

Clemson's defense has been excellent this year under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Look for that name to be mentioned as a hot commodity in the coaching world in the coming years by the way. Anyway, his unit ranks seventh in the nation in thwarting opposing offenses. Clemson's defensive line is strong as well as their linebacking corp. Linebacker B.J. Goodson leads his team in tackles with 91 and fellow linebackers Ben Boulware and Shaq Lawson have also been instrumental in this stop unit. The secondary is solid as the Tigers boast the #5 pass defense in the country.

This Clemson Tiger team might be the most overshadowed undefeated team in Power-5 history. This team is really good. There's not a weakness that I can see on this entire team. There is a reason they are the top seed in this playoff. 


QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Mayfield has brought new life to the Oklahoma football program. He is one of the most prolific playmakers in all of college football. Mayfield has passed for 3,389 yards with a 68.6 completion percentage and 35 touchdowns. Besides his strong and accurate arm, Mayfield can makes plays with his legs as well. He has added 420 yards and 7 scores on the ground. He is the biggest reason the Sooners are in the playoff this year. 

QB Connor Cook, Michigan State

Cook has NFL prospect written all over him. His health could be an issue though. Anyway when healthy, he's one of the best pocket passers period. He can make all the throws and has give Michigan State more of a downfield threat. This year he has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 scores despite missing the entire game against Ohio State. 

RB Derrick Henry, Alabama

The 2015 Heisman Winner was truly worthy of the award. He was the best running back in college football this year. He seems to be an even better person as well. Henry is a big back with a 6-3, 242 pound frame. Henry is extremely powerful, who hardly ever goes down with the initial tackler. Henry has very underrated speed, and when he gets started, he is a nightmare to bring down. He broke Hershel Walker's single-season rushing record in the SEC this year with 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns. Henry has had four games rushing over 200 yards. The freak of nature has certainly been fun to watch this year.

QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Watson is probably the perfect player to build a team around. I remember saying he would be a Heisman candidate one day after watching his first college game. He's surprised even me as he was a Heisman finalist this year and has more chances to win this award. Watson has accumulated 3,512 yards through the air this year as well as being the second leading rusher at Clemson with 887 yards. 


Capital One Orange Bowl:#4 Oklahoma vs. #1 Clemson-Dec. 31 at 4PM on ESPN

When it was announced by the CFB Playoff committee that Oklahoma would play Clemson in a CFB Playoff semi in the Orange Bowl, I was ecstatic. This should be one entertaining affair. Both offenses know how to light up the scoreboard. The QB matchup will be fun to watch as well. Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield are probably the two best quarterbacks in the college game. (Yes, I hear your expletives, TCU and Boykin fans.) Both players will have something to prove in this game. 

For Mayfield, he shouldn't be too happy about his Heisman snub, and Watson should be motivated by the fact that a current OU player said TCU QB Trevone Boykin is better. Not only do these two QBs want to prove themselves as the best, but Bob Stoops and Dabo Swinney will seek to lead their team to another victory and once again destroy the stigma that they can't win the big ones. 

Oklahoma has to have a balance offensive attack and rely on Perine and Mixon's running abilities as well as Mayfield's arm. This Clemson defense is very stout after all, and defending the pass is one of their specialties. For Watson and Clemson, they just have to do what they do and try to manage the game and keep the formidable Sooner offense off the field as much as possible.

The Sooners have the better offense stat wise in this game, but it's close. I think both teams will come in with a chip on their shoulders and with something to prove. This one should be a dandy, and I feel like this one should see a solid amount of points on the scoreboard. This game is probably the toughest of the two games to pick. I definitely could see either team winning this football game. 

Cotton Bowl-#3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama-Dec. 31 at 8PM on ESPN

To finish the night off, the Michigan State Spartans will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic to cap off New Year's Eve. Alabama is the powerhouse, name-brand program, and most are picking the Tide to win this game. Be wary though, Mark Dantonio has made this Michigan State team into a perennial player on the big stage. He's done an outstanding job in East Lansing and should be commended. Nick Saban's teams are always tough to beat, and Dantonio knows it. It's weird how similar these two teams are in style. They both love to be physical and play good defense and run the ball. To me, Alabama just does it a bit better. 

As you've read previously, this Alabama team is supremely talented. Their game plan in this ball game will to hopefully continue to play solid defense and run the ball with Derrick Henry behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation. The difference in this Spartan team than Dantonio has had in the past is that he has a superstar quarterback in Connor Cook. 

Cook has struggled with injuries this year, but if he's healthy, he's one of the best. The way to beat Alabama is with an on-fire QB. The Tide must not let Cook beat them through the air and dictate the game to them like what happened in last year's Sugar Bowl against Cardale Jones and Ohio State. This Alabama defense will also be have to be careful to have a guy blanketing top receiver Aaron Burbridge the entire game. 

For Michigan State, the keys to winning this game are simple. Spread the ball out in the passing game, be balanced on offense, and force Alabama quarterback Jake Coker to beat you. They have to try to stop or at least slow down Derrick Henry in this game. Good luck. Even if they do for a while, most teams Alabama has faced have been worn down eventually because the Tide will throw Henry at you play after play. 

Even if they do manage to neutralize Henry, I think Jake Coker has been underrated, and with the receiving corps that the Tide has, they can still move the ball. This still has to be the game plan for MSU. I think Alabama will ultimately prevail in this game, but it will be a tight defensive struggle. If you are like me, this is the kind of football I love. 

Overall, I am really looking forward to these two playoff games. These games will feature four exciting, talented, and worthy teams. It should be very entertaining. So on New Year's Eve, sit back on the couch, enjoy the holidays, and have fun watching what promises to be some very good football . 

*All Images Via Getty Images, collegefootballplayoff.com, or orange bowl.com unless otherwise noted

**All times eastern

Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydawg