Tag Archives: houston

The Big 12 is Talking about Expansion Again

Over the course of an eight hour period, the Big 12 conference went from placing expansion on hold to being all in with expansion. The only thing that seemed to have changed within that eight hour window was that the ACC announced their mega media rights deal.

But in its reactionary mindset, the Big 12 now has expansion back on the table.

If you want numbers, Clay Travis has you covered in one of his recent Outkick The Coverage articles. If it’s an opinion on what the hell the Big 12 and these teams are thinking, then hang on and fasten your seatbelts.

Commissioner Bowlsby announced that the league will add two or four teams to the league. Saying that the league announced this is an understatement. It’s more like Texas decided that it was time to expand the conference because they figured out a way of screwing everyone.

So who are the teams being considered for membership in the Big 12 as Texas’ newest peons? The teams include Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU.

First of all, let me say this – Adding teams to the conference makes absolutely zero sense.

Sure, the conference will increase its market share and the geographic footprint that seems to be so important to them, but adding teams to the conference will not add value to the league. I’m sorry/not sorry for bursting the bubbles of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU, but you add no real value here.

The allure of adding any of these teams is so the Big 12 can give the impression that their footprint is larger than the SEC’s. Hey Big 12! Your Napoleon Complex is showing.

And how about Houston and BYU? These are the schools truly vying for the affection of Texas. Surprise, surprise, Texas is at the forefront of this reality dating show. Just who will Texas give its rose to? Tune in next week to find out!

The Longhorns already have the governors of Texas and Utah lobbying for their vote.

Governor Greg Abbott started his wooing campaign on Twitter:


And not to be out done, so did Governor Gary Herbert:


This is all so cute. Houston and BYU are bickering over who gets to be the first to join the dysfunctional family that is the Big 12.

And all for what? To be short changed at the bank? These schools are willing to settle for less as opposed to staying where they are at. Way to sell yourselves short.

Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU have all had their share of success where they are at. No, none of these teams have made a football playoff appearance, but joining the Big 12 wouldn’t have changed that.

As good as Memphis, Houston and BYU in particular have been, they still wouldn’t have sniffed a Big 12 championship and, as a result, wouldn’t have come any closer to a college football playoff appearance.  They are now begging to join a conference that will place them at a financial disadvantage to the other conference members while still not truly being in contention for a football national championship. What are they thinking? Being a member of a Power 5 school for the sake of Power 5 membership is incredibly shortsighted.

Conference expansion makes no sense for the Big 12 or for the teams who are positioning themselves for an invitation. But if the Big 12 stays true to form, all of this expansion talk will evaporate in a few weeks and the conference will go back to figuring out how to make a conference championship work with a 10 team league.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: Twitter

New Bevo, Old Baylor

On Tuesday Baylor finally responded to the reports that Ken Starr has been fired from Baylor University. As of the latest report they still have not made a decision on whether or not they will fire Starr. The spokeswomen for Baylor, Tonya Lewis, said, “we will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the University will provide it. We expect an announcement by June 3.” It is speculated that President Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw will be losing their jobs, but head football coach Art Briles will not. It will be interesting to see if it was just a rumor, but for the sake of Baylor I hope it isn’t.

The University of Texas has selected a new Longhorn steer mascot. The school had to select a new mascot because Bevo XIV, who was on the Texas sideline since 2004, passed away in October 2015. The mascot will be introduced for the 100th anniversary season of its first appearance. The longhorns will play Notre Dame on September 4, the first appearance of Bevo XV.

Nothing has been made official yet but from the sound of it Wil Grier will be able to play for West Virginia the first game of the 2017 season. Grier is enrolled at West Virginia but due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs he may not be able to play until mid season. According to Holgorsen this might change. Holgorsen said, “I fully anticipate him being eligible for the opening game of the 2017 season.” If there is a will there is a way. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow the NCAA waives the rest of his suspension and lets him play the full season with the Mountaineers.

Bev Kearney sued Texas for at least one million dollars in damages in 2013. Kearney was the head track coach and had a romantic relationship with one of her sprinters over a decade earlier. It has taken so long for her to get justice because the University has been appealing the issue. Kearney is saying she was more harshly punished because she is black. A white male football coach did the same thing and was only reprimanded, not fired. Kearney is seeking statements from Mack Brown, former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, former school president Bill Powers and current women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky. The statements they will write are on how exactly they handled the situation at the time it was brought to their attention. This case has been swept under the rug recently due to the Baylor scandal, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

Sylvester Turner an alumni of the University of Houston believes that when Oklahoma comes to town on September 3, the Cougars will beat the Sooners by “14, or possibly 21 points.” Did I mention Sylvester Turner is also the mayor of Houston? He has turned a lot of heads by making this statement and has also provided some locker room motivation for the guys in Norman. The Cougars are coming off of a really great season, but I have a feeling the Sooners will be ready for them, especially after that comment.

As the time draws near, it looks less and less likely that the Big 12 presidents are going to vote against the Big 12 expansion. After all of the schools that have sold themselves to try to get into the Big 12 it looks like they will all be disappointed. Apparently, after six years, the Big 12 is not in the “decision-making” stage, so it probably won’t ever be. If no expansion happens I think the Big 12 will fall apart in the next couple of years and Oklahoma will be the first school to leave.


Problems with the Playoff

I can’t pretend like the College Football Playoff didn’t make this season even more intriguing than normal. With the excitement building in the last few weeks of the regular season and culminating in the three playoff games themselves, it’s fair to say the long-awaited experiment was a success. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found some design flaws. There is certainly room for improvement and that’s what I’m here to do.

Irrelevant weekly updates
First off, as Damien Bowman said a year ago, the actual College Football Playoff Rankings should not come out until after the final week of the season when everything is decided. What’s the point of releasing them weekly? Talking points. We’re going to tirelessly discuss the teams vying for the top spots regardless. Plenty of polls and opinions already exist. Leave it to them until you’re sure.

TCU went from five to three all the way down to six in the final three weeks of the season. All they did was win the ballgames on their schedule (I’ll address this separate issue later on). In turn, they were given false hope and punished. Eliminating the Playoff Rankings until the regular season is over will rid us of that ever happening again.

The role of conference championships
This is more of a conference alignment thing but my next point is that the Big 12 got screwed because it lacks a championship game. I do think a round robin approach is ideal, but if every other conference has a title game then you’re hurting yourself by not having one too. I think ultimately the committee couldn’t decide between Baylor and TCU, so they didn’t. Instead they chose Ohio State to be the fourth team in.

Now, some people will say Baylor is clearly the better team because they won the head-to-head matchup. Others will argue that was a dramatic comeback win on a last-second field goal in Baylor’s own stadium that happened half a season ago. The point is that a rematch would’ve settled the score, and the Big 12 wouldn’t have gotten shutout of the playoff.

The fix is simple. Either, add two (or more) teams (Boise State, BYU, Houston, Louisiana Tech?) or make sure your proposal to change NCAA rules gets through so you can keep your cute, little 10-team league.

The SEC showed exactly what’s wrong with the divisional approach to conference play. The West was ridiculously more difficult to navigate than the East was this season. Missouri won the East and earned their rightful spot in the championship game, but they got lucky by drawing Arkansas and Texas A&M as their inter-divisional opponents for this season. They avoided Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, and LSU. It would be gracious of you to write them down for more than one win out of those five.

This is why the divisional format is troubling. The two best teams in the conference don’t always meet up at the end. Unfortunately, in a 14-team conference not every team can play one another, unless you expand the regular season by a couple weeks (good luck with that). So, in the meantime let’s get rid of the fourth non-conference game that many SEC teams use as a glorified bye week midway through their tough schedule. Make them play one more conference foe to further sort out what the standings should look like come season’s end.

What about the little guys?
Remember the few seasons where it seemed like everyone became a Boise State fan just so we could see someone break the BCS and squeak into the national championship game as a little guy? Well, that never happened and now that we’ve got a four team playoff I really don’t see how it ever could.

Florida State had a hard enough time getting into the top four as an undefeated member of the ACC, and the defending national champs. How is Marshall supposed to have a chance at the playoff when the “Power 5” is halfway to autonomy? Boise State, at 20, was the one and only team from a “Group of 5” conference to be included in the committee’s final playoff rankings. Though they showed they definitely deserved it, they should consider themselves blessed to have gotten the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

8 > 4
This is a slippery slope but I think an eight team playoff would be far superior to the four team format we have now. Immediately some will complain about these kids playing in too many games and there not being enough time to play them all. Don’t even. All those players would love to suit up one more time. And surely we could eliminate the three week hiatus between the playoff announcement and the bowls.

An eight team playoff would look like this: the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC champions each receive an automatic bid. Even though I’m a little leery to do that, it’s almost certainly what would happen anyway. The remaining three spots would be at-large bids reserved for the next three most-deserving teams (smaller conference champs, big conference runner-ups, or teams in situations like Mississippi State, who didn’t get a shot).

The Peach, Orange, Fiesta, and Cotton Bowls would be your quarterfinals. The Rose and Sugar Bowls would be your semis. Then you could have your National Championship Game. You could still rotate between the six of them to spread the revenues around.

In conclusion, I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten or overlooked. Please, add your own ideas. Praise me, call me an idiot and offer your own fix, anything. Getting a dialogue going is the only way to arrive at the best possible solution.

Think nobody’s listening and it’s pointless? Well, we finally got our playoff. Now that we’ve taken that daunting first step it’s time to take another.

Ohio State Offense Prolific With or Without OC Herman

The 2014 season has been anything but a smooth ride for Ohio State. With the Buckeyes finding a way to persevere through tragedy and multiple quarterback injuries, it’s time to add one more wrinkle to one of the most unpredictable seasons in school history. After winning the 2014 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is expected to be named the next head coach at the University of Houston, according to FOXSports.com

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Personally, I don’t think this is too big of a deal and frankly, we saw this day coming sooner rather than later. However, this news could leave Herman and the Buckeyes in quite a predicament. Will Herman bolt for Houston right away to get a head start on the recruiting trail or will he remain with Ohio State through the conclusion of the playoff run? The answer is pretty simple. Herman stays for the remainder of the Ohio State season and attempts to win a national championship while he still has the chance. The new playoff system is built for the five power conferences. Herman won’t be winning any national championships at Houston. I can promise you that. The Buckeyes landed a spot in the playoffs despite being down to their third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones. It has been quite a remarkable coaching job by the entire staff and Herman is a big part of it. I would like to think he wants to help finish what he started.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been down this road before with some of his previous top-assistants and it shouldn’t serve as a significant distraction. With everything this team has been through over the past five months, I don’t think anything can distract this group of Buckeyes. Current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen served as the offensive coordinator at Florida under Meyer. Mullen accepted the Bulldogs’ head coaching position prior to Meyer’s second national championship with the Gators in 2008.

When Meyer was introduced at Ohio State three years ago, he vowed that he would assemble one of the best coaching staffs in America so I have little doubt that Meyer will find a suitable replacement for Herman. However, with Jones set to make his second career start in a pretty important game against Alabama, it is certainly less than ideal to have your offensive coordinator possibly working two jobs at once, should Herman decide to stay on with the Buckeyes for the time being.

Lesser programs searching for the next great head coach obviously will target the top-assistants of championship-caliber programs like an Alabama, Florida State or Ohio State. It is nothing short of a compliment to lose a coach like Herman to another school, but the timing of it can make it somewhat rough.

New Florida coach Jim McElwain remained the offensive coordinator for Alabama in the 2012 BCS Championship against LSU after accepting the head coaching position at Colorado State. With both McElwain and Mullen, their respective teams didn’t miss a beat and went on to claim national titles. It didn’t work out so well for Florida State when former offensive coordinator Mark Richt accepted the coaching job at Georgia. Richt stayed with Florida State for the 2000 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma and the Seminoles’ offense struggled mightily. Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2.

However Herman decides to approach the next few weeks, the Buckeyes are a motivated group and if they fail to win the national championship, it won’t be because of Herman. A national championship would be a historic feat for this resilient group of Buckeyes and would be a nice recruiting pitch for Herman to begin his head coaching career.

Back on Campus?

The college football season inches ever closer to its culmination with teams falling by the waste side each with. The coaches of these top teams have mostly worked their ways up the coaching ladder and this week will focus on a few of the head coaches on non Big 5 conferences who will be an asset to any university. Also, I have a coach that may not only be changing addresses but stirring up a whirlwind of change in college and the pros.

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns: He is in his fourth year as the head coach at Louisiana Lafayette and his record of 27-12 speaks for itself but he also had a 66-21 at Division II North Alabama so he can coach that goes without saying. He is a dynamic presence on the sideline on the recruiting trail and can energize even the most stoic fan bases. He is a high priced commodity but will be well worth it. The prevailing winds say he will go to an SEC program but you never know if a Midwest school can lure him away from his roots.

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State Cardinal: Lembo is a winner, plain and simple, bringing Ball State back up after they had fallen on hard times. Last season Wake Forest and Connecticut gave Lembo a solid look to fill their open positions. Ball State is once again a contender to win the MAC title and with Lembo as head coach, they will be a constant contender. He got a big multi-year contract last season, but Lembo will find a spot that he will excel in on the big time stage.

Tony Levine, head coach, Houston Cougars: Levine was a special teams coach before he was handed the reigns at Houston and went 5-8 his first season, but progress and upward mobility are obvious with Levine at Houston. They are making a run at the AAC title this year and will contend as long as the tireless worker Levine is at the helm. Look for Levin to maybe stay with the Cougars a couple more years that get into a Big 5 conference program.

Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State Aggies: An aggie alumnus, Wells has his squad poised to contend for the Mountain West title this year and any year that he is a coach at Utah State. He is able to adapt to any situation, (i.e. his starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton to an ACL midway thru last season and finished 6-2 and barely lost the title to Fresno State). Keeton is back this year and the Aggies are rolling. As I said, Wells is an Aggies alumni, but the lure of a big time program may just get him away from Utah State.

Now for the head coach that if he leaves his current position would create quite a stir, that is current San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh. He is in the fourth of a five year contract with no talks recently and a ball club that was supposed to be great again falling flat. His record is 40-15-1, but the grumbles inside the 49er locker room can’t be ignored. If Harbaugh does leave a couple NFL clubs will certainly approach him, such as the NY Jets, NY Giants or Oakland Raiders where his was the QB coach from 2002-03.

But what if he decides to head back to college? Michigan is the obvious front runner, with Brady Hoke looking to be out, but I propose another option: Oklahoma, yes that Oklahoma home to Bob Stoops. The Sooners were great in Stoops’ first years but have fallen back into the pack in the Big 12. The Sooners were projected to be a title contender but have not even come close to contending this year in their own conference. It could be time for a change, maybe like a Jim Harbaugh kinda change. It’s just a thought, but something to consider as this year rolls on.

Don't Need NO *!$# Committee

In reference to the current playoff system; it’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right. The outcome of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish-Florida State Seminoles’ game and current speculation that Notre Dame is out of serious consideration for a slot in the play-offs is enough to scrap the system in year one. The Fighting Irish played the Seminoles in Tallahassee with an ACC crew calling the game and lost by four points.
In the current AP Poll, FSU is ranked #2; Notre Dame is #7. In the Coaches’ Poll, FSU is #2 and Notre Dame is #8. If the game is played at Notre Dame with neutral officials, a different result would probably have occurred.
This raises two points; first, champions in football should not be determined by voters, nor should the primary method for gaining admission to the play-offs be determined by a committee’s vote. If you like voting for the champions, watch ice skating. Second, one game in the regular season should not determine who is in and who is out when both teams have a successful season and do not play a similar schedule.
The solution is easy. Give every conference champion a seat at the table. Currently there are ten conferences that compete in the FBS. Every conference champion should be in the play-offs. To make the math work, six teams could be given at large berths. A sixteen team field works out so that no team gets a bye. Moreover, a sixteen team field allows teams that are not in a conference fair consideration.
Also, the venue of where the games would be played and how the teams would be paired should be determined by geographic proximity instead of having a panel rank and seed the teams. This serves two functions; first, the less established bowls can be used to host the early rounds of the playoffs. For example, if Florida State Seminoles win the ACC and the Alabama Crimson Tide win the SEC; then the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl could host the playoff game between FSU and Alabama. Similarly, if the East Carolina Pirates win the AAC and the Virginia Tech Hokies wins the ACC; the Belk Bowl could host a play-off game. By having the games hosted in local venues, more fans can attend the games. This benefits the fans and the bowls that currently do not have great attendance. Everybody wins.
Also, think of the classroom time that is wasted when the basketball seeding committee sends a North Carolina team to California to play in the western regionals. Some twelve year old boy that pays more attention to basketball than his studies argues with his teacher that North Carolina must be located in the western United States because the NC State Wolfpack are playing in the western regionals. I wonder, is that why US students do so poorly on geography tests?
The opponents of a true play-off system will point out that contracts are currently in place. Granted, the current system cannot be changed by next year. However, it can be changed. Contracts are not an immutable law of nature.
At this point in the season we pretty much know the selection committee will place Florida State, Alabama, Mississippi State and or Mississippi in the play-off bowls. I agree; these are probably the strongest teams. Just like the Baltimore Colts were strong than the NY Jets in Super Bowl III: just like the University of Houston Cougars were stronger than the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 1983 NCAA basketball championship, just like the Appalachian State Mountaineer football team did not stand a chance against Michigan Wolverines in 2007. Of course, when the aforementioned contests were actually played, the Jets beat the Colts, NC State beat Houston and Appalachian beat Michigan.
Picking the champion, or even the contenders, by a selection committee refutes the fundamental values of the game. Sports are about competition. it’s about the little guy believing he can beat the bigger guy, and frequently he does. Sports are also about settling the argument about who is best on the field or the court, not by the vote of a selection committee.
This year the East Carolina Pirates, even if they win the balance of their games and the AAC Championship, the Marshall Thundering Herd, even if they are undefeated at the end of the season and other deserving teams will not be given a chance to compete for the national championship. The “championship” field will be winnowed down to four teams by a selection committee. The teams that receive enough of VOTES to get into the play-off will then have a leg-up on recruiting for the next year. Pretty soon we assume that certain teams are just better, and they do not have to prove anything.
Frankly, most objective sports minded people do not think East Carolina or Marshall can beat Alabama or Florida State this year. However, most objective football minded scouts did not think that Shane Carden, East Carolina’s quarterback, could play football on the FBS level. Shane just did not know any better and now he owns most passing records at ECU, the same records that were once held by David Garrard and Jeff Blake. Justin Hardy, the Pirates’ leading receiver, did not receive a single scholarship offer from an FBS school. His only offer was from the Fayetteville State Broncos. He walked-on at East Carolina because the objective minded scouts did not think he was good enough for college football and did not offer him a scholarship. Justin did not know any better; he now owns all of the major receiving records at East Carolina.
Before you say it is only East Carolina records, Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and their teammates showed the UNC Tarheels, the Virginia Tech Hokies and many other teams a trick or two.
Now, the experts say ECU cannot run with the Seminoles, Ole Miss Rebles, Mississippi State Bulldogs or Crimson Tide, etc. However, I bet that Shane Carden, Justin Hardy, Coach McNeill, and the rest of the Pirates do not know any better. Open up the play-offs on neutral fields and have a true champion.

Holy Houston… What a Weekend!

A first time pole winner. A first time race winner. A rookie race winner. A double rookie podium – twice. An all Colombian podium for the first time in series history. A 40th career pole for a driver. Three first time podium finishers.

Those are pretty awesome highlights for a race series season. Oh no wait… those were the highlights from one weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series! That weekend was this past weekend in Texas. The series raced in the presence of the Astrodome with a title almost as long as that list of highlights: The Shell & Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers. The doubleheader certainly left us all out of breath & sweaty with racing hearts and veins coursing with adrenaline! Or was that just me in my non-air-conditioned living room in the 90 degree Cleveland, Ohio heat? Hmmm…

Regardless of how you enjoyed the race weekend – in person or at home – I know for certain that you enjoyed it. You had to! It was simply phenomenal. The variety of this series’ drivers (experience, talent, country of origin), the intensity of the ever-changing field positions (during qualifying and race time), the drama with which the passes and crashes occurred, the strategy from green to checkered that came into play unpredictably, and the joy of the victors on both evenings was just too much to NOT fall in love over and over. It’s also worth noting that there are only 4 full-time rookies in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season and they have now all had podium-finishes by their tenth career start. THIS… this is racing. This series is the best form of racing out there right now and I doubt many with an educated approach to the sport could find legitimate grounds to argue that.

I debated for quite a while on how, exactly, I wanted to organize this piece. I decided the best way would be to do a mini-profile on each of the “stand-out” drivers from the weekend in Houston. Now, granted, you and I may have different lists of who was a stand-out, but I think this breakdown will appease most IndyCar fans and readers.

Simon Pagenaud

20140511_162543He started and ended the doubleheader in Houston, from P1. Gaining his first Verizon P1 Award in his IndyCar career, Simon started the first race of the weekend by leading the pack to the green flag. Unfortunately Saturday did not end as well as it had started for Pagenaud, leading only the first four laps of the race and then getting caught up in a collision when Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, #9) went into the Turn 9 wall, ricocheting off and tagging Pagenaud as he careened across the straight to take out teammate Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, #83) before making contact with the inside wall and coming to a stop. Thankfully the tag from Dixon was not day-ending for Pagenaud and he went on to finish the race, finishing as the last car still running in the field in P16, 6 laps back from the leader.

Pagenaud needed to turn the page, refocus and get ready to dominate on Sunday. And boy, did he ever. Pagenaud was in Group B for the qualifying sessions on Sunday morning and it seemed at one point that we would have a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports front row for Race 2! Unfortunately, this was not meant to be as Helio Castroneves beat him out and earned his 40th career IndyCar Series pole position. It seemed that Pagenaud was determined to obtain that P1 & P2 combination with teammate Mikhail Aleshin however; the two drivers achieved this at the end of the race on Sunday, arguably more important than starting it in that order. Pagenaud and Helio were the only drivers to lead the field throughout the day, each twice and ultimately ending with Pagenaud atop the podium.

Mikhail Aleshin

20140510_151902Right next to Pagenaud on the podium on Sunday, was his SPM teammate and the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first-ever Russian driver, Mikhail Aleshin. Aleshin had three career-firsts on Sunday: best starting position (P2) and best career finish (P2) – the latter also giving him his first career podium. He was also one of 4 rookies to make up the 6 podium winners this weekend. The Russian-born driver has proven to the series, his fellow drivers, and the fans that he is not afraid to make his mark. He has shown consistency in the first ten races this season, finishing 7th or better four times. He has also proven, as recently as Race 1 on Saturday in Houston that he is willing to “go for it” when he sees an opportunity presented. The moment I am referring to is when he & Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Racing, #14) made contact with one another and then with the wall in Turn 6.

Now, this was a hot topic of discussion on Twitter, and one that I asked for opinions on from fans. The thread had dozens of responses which you can see here, but the general consensus was this: the sport is called racing, and in racing the faster cars prevail. So, if you come up on someone going slower than you, it only makes sense that you go around that car. Simple enough. From what I saw in live time and then in watching the replays, I came to the conclusion that Aleshin had a faster car than Sato and was taking the outside line to get around him. Sato attempted a block but it was done too late as Aleshin was already next to him. The contact that followed ended up with both of them in the wall and their race days being brought to an abrupt close. Obviously, with any accident, there are a slew of varying opinions, and this one is mine. Aleshin’s comments afterward seemed to back up the scenario that to me, seemed obvious on the screen:

I was trying to gain my lap and I was actually a bit surprised. I was faster than Takuma at this point and I wasn’t even a full lap down so I just needed to get my lap. It was just a strange situation because he was in the inside then I took the outside lane and then he closed the outside as well.

Jack Hawksworth

SAM_4056Making up the third portion of the podium on Sunday, was Bryan Herta Autosport rookie, Jack Hawksworth. The unlikely podium victor was only such because of his starting position – P23… out of 23 qualifiers. This story is exactly the kind we are referring to when we (as Verizon IndyCar Series journalists and fans) say that this series is unpredictable in the absolute best way. Many racing series may non-chalantly say that it’s anyone’s race, but in IndyCar, we actually mean it! Hawksworth slowly and steadily made his way through the field, nearly unnoticed until all of a sudden he became a worthy contender for Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske, #2) at the front of the pack, forcing everyone to take note of him and his talented handling of that BHA Honda.

One of Hawksworth’s sponsors, the Collection Auto Group, is based right here in my hometown of Cleveland. I featured their partnership during the Cleveland Auto Show season and still very much support their work with Bryan Herta Autosport, Hawksworth and the connection to the Verizon IndyCar Series in general. I hope that this sponsorship will prove beneficial to both sides and will continue beyond the 2014 season – I mean, it only seems fitting that Collection, with its high standard of quality product and service are partnered with a series, team and driver who all hold themselves to the same standards of quality in racing – performance-wise, professionally and personally.

Speaking of high standards, Hawksworth achieved his career-best IndyCar finish on Saturday, with a P6 finish. However that record only stood for the young driver for about 24 hours, when he landed on that P3 spot on the podium on Sunday! Quite a weekend to write home about for the Brit!

Carlos Huertas

20140517_093253Let’s continue with the International appeal of the Verizon IndyCar Series and of the weekend in Houston specifically, by taking a look at the podium of Saturday’s Race 1. For the first time in IndyCar Series history, the podium was swept by 3 Colombian drivers! Carlos Huertas, driving the #18 for Dale Coyne Racing, kept a low profile during the very intense and accident-prone race, effortlessly maintaining his ride & keeping out of trouble on the track. On Lap 58, the opportunity for Huertas to advance to the front was presented in the form of a full course yellow, when Team Penske driver Will Power found himself in the tire barrier with his #12 Chevy. The pits opened up for the field on the next lap and the majority of the leaders entered. Huertas stayed out however, as did his Dale Coyne teammate, Justin Wilson in the #19. They paraded for 3 laps before going back to green on Lap 62. The Dale Coyne duo stayed at the front of the pack, showing their speed and prowess for leading an IndyCar field. It looked like Dale Coyne Racing would go 1-2 on the podium that day, but it was not meant to be, as Wilson had to enter the pits for fuel & tires on Lap 74, just 6 laps short of the checkered flag. This move left his Colombian-born teammate to take the lead.

It is worth noting that from Lap 60 through Lap 72, all four Colombian IndyCar drivers (Huertas, Juan Pablo Montoya [Team Penske, #2], Carlos Munoz [Andretti Autosport, #34] and Sebastian Saavedra [KV Racing, #17]) were in the Top 6!

Huertas held onto the lead for those last 6 laps and through one more yellow… or two, if you consider the waved off restart where Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, #15) made contact with the back of Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, #10) a kinda-green-moment-in-time. Huertas ultimately won under yellow and while it was not the fight to the finish everyone loves, it was an historic win and a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender win! He is the first of the 2014 Rookie Class to record a win this season. Something tells me, he will not be the only one to do so.

After all, we still have two months of racing left to do…

The kick off for those last two months of Verizon IndyCar Series racing will be this weekend in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The field of 22 drivers will try their luck at the Tricky Triangle this Sunday, July 6th. If you are in the area (or in the mood for a summer road trip with a destination of awesome), make sure you come enjoy the gorgeous Fourth of July holiday weekend with all of us! The forecast shows partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid to upper-70’s for the short 2-day race weekend. All the information on tickets, parking and events can be found at Pocono Raceway’s website.

If you can’t join the fun in person, there are a variety of other ways to enjoy the race weekend and still be a part of the conversation!

1.)    Make sure you tune in to NBC Sports from 12 Noon – 4 pm EST on Sunday, for full live coverage of the Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled By Sunoco.

2.)    If that seems like too much of a wait, don’t forget that you can now live stream practice and qualifying by going to the Verizon IndyCar Series Race Control site and logging in through your digital TV provider.

3.)    The NBC Sports Live Extra App is also available on iOS, Android & Windows Operating devices. This App provides live streaming (login required), highlight videos and past event features.

4.)    And last but not certainly not least, stay in the loop with everything IndyCar by downloading the IndyCar 14 App with your iOS or Android device, brought to you exclusively from Verizon Wireless & powered by their 4G LTE network.

Make sure you check out the latest Verizon Wireless & IndyCar promotion, #DrivingTechnology:


See that? No excuses to miss out on the race, whether you are at home or on the go! Personally, I will be on the go – covering the event live from Pocono Raceway. So make sure you are following my feeds on Twitter and Facebook for at-the-track perspective and a personalized close-up view of the second jewel in the IndyCar Triple Crown: 500 miles, double the points, and all the glory… let’s go racing.

Is The American Forgotten In the Playoff Era?

Fans and writers alike have quickly forgotten that the American (long the Big East) was a BCS conference. They were a “power” school, one of the big boys. They’ve forgotten the conference’s respectable 9-7 record in BCS games, including UCF handling Baylor, 52-42 last season. The ACC’s record in BCS games, including last season’s banner year, was a pedestrian 5-13.
So what makes the playoff and access bowls so different that everyone seems to be forgetting the American is still a pretty decent conference? There will be new faces, sure. And the conference has undoubtedly lost a lot of its brand identity. But it doesn’t mean that some of the new schools won’t fill the void.
Cincinnati is my favorite example of this, and no, not just because I went there.
Before UC’s arrival in the Big East in 2005, the Bearcats were abysmal on the gridiron. Truly, <i> abysmal</i>. Their small stadium lacked upgrades (or fans, for that matter), no one in the city remotely cared about the team, and they went from 1964 to 2002 without a single conference title. Even the drought in California can’t touch that.
Whether out of some sort of obligation to improve facilities, more money spent on athletics, and/or increased exposure, the Bearcats turned into a contender against programs that were long-considered traditional football schools (Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia). Today, their head coach is someone they ripped away from Texas Tech. Not too shabby.
So who’s to say these new teams won’t elevate themselves in the same manner? Just because Tulane was an afterthought in the Conference USA, doesn’t mean they won’t be a completely new program now that they have a new stadium, TV deal and increased conference revenue.
ESPN and Sports Illustrated like to believe that there is truly a night-and-day competitive difference between the top five conferences and the lower five. They don’t appreciate the grey area. But they grey area is where the American Athletic Conference will thrive. No, I don’t expect a national championship anytime soon, but the teams will hold form against “power” conference competition, much in the same way the Mountain West has always competed well with the Pac-10/12, but still found itself beneath the line.
There’s no good reason for how the American has gotten the short end of the stick in the new selection process. It doesn’t matter how well its champions have performed in major bowl games, it still gets lumped in with the Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA to determine which conference sends a single team to one of these access bowls. So what if there’s an undefeated Boise State and an undefeated UCF in the same season? One of them likely gets to play in a big boy bowl, while they other gets to demolish the sixth best ACC or Pac-12 team.
The American Athletic Conference is going to be competitive, without question, but the Playoff Era isn’t going to be kind to these teams. Win or lose.

IndyCar 2014 – Schedule Preview

In this section of MTAF Wheels IndyCar 2014  preview, I will be taking a look at this season’s schedule.

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule consists of eighteen races at fourteen different venues. The venues include five street circuits, four road courses, three superspeedway ovals which are part of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge, one intermediate oval, and two short ovals. The Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge features the three 500 mile races on the schedule (Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana). A $1 million dollar bonus is awarded if a driver can win all three events during the season and $250,000 if a driver can take two of the three races.

Included in each race is the date, location, race track length, television information, the race events Twitter accounts and  official race hashtags (race hashtags  subject to change), and also a summary of the race and brief commentary on last years event.

March 30th

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete

Albert Whitted Airport; St. Petersburg, Florida

1.8 mile temporary street circuit

ABC 3:30pm



For the eleventh time, IndyCar returns to St. Petersburg, Florida for the “World’s Fastest Spring Break”. Last year saw James Hinchcliffe passing three time St. Pete winner Helio Castroneves on a restart and would eventually hang on to clinch his first IndyCar victory. Hinchcliffe dedicated the win to the late Dan Wheldon, who won at St. Pete in 2005. Turn 10 of the circuit is named “Dan Wheldon Way” in honor of the two time Indy 500 and 2005 IndyCar champion.

April 13th

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Streets of Long Beach, California

1.9 mile temporary street circuit

NBCSN 4:00pm



The 40th running of the longest running street race in the United States, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is often known as the “Monaco of America”. The circuit has hosted IndyCar racing since 1984. Last year’s running saw Takuma Sato leading 50 of the 80 laps and become the second driver in three seasons to win his first IndyCar event at Long Beach joining Mike Conway in 2011. It was AJ Foyt Racing’s first IndyCar win since Airton Dare won at Kansas in 2002.


April 27th

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama

2.3 mile permanent road course

NBCSN 2:30pm



IndyCar heads to this beautiful natural terrain circuit for the fifth time. Team Penske won the first three events at Barber, and last season, 2012 IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay ended  Team Penskes reign by winning the race from the pole holding off a hard challenge from Scott Dixon. The circuit features multiple elevation changes and the famous “Charlottes Web” turn.

May 10th

Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, Indiana

2.4 mile combined road course

ABC 3:30pm



For the first time, IndyCar’s will run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The event will open up the Month of May at the track. During the offseason, the road course was reconfigured to make the circuit more competitive, better for the fans, and suited for IndyCars.

May 25th

98th Indianapolis 500

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, Indiana

2.5 mile oval

ABC 11:00am



The 98th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, the Indianapolis 500 is the marquee event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. Last year’s race saw a record sixty four lead changes and a new race record at an average of 187.433 breaking the old record of 185.981 set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk. The race was won by Tony Kanaan, who finally won the race in his twelfth attempt after so many heartbreaks. The Indianapolis 500 is the first race in the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge.

Photo by Charlie Nye, Indianapolis Star
Photo by Charlie Nye, Indianapolis Star

May 31st and June 1st

Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix

The Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Michigan

2.3 mile temporary street circuit

ABC 3:30pm (both days)



The first of three doubleheaders for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar season. Last year’s doubleheader at Belle Isle saw Mike Conway win his second IndyCar race driving for Dale Coyne, and a first time winner in Simon Pagenaud driving for Schmidt/Hamilton/Peterson racing. It’ll be the fifteenth visit for IndyCar at Belle Isle with the first year being in 1992. From 1989-1991, IndyCar raced in Detroit at a downtown circuit.

June 7th

Firestone 600

Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas

1.5 mile intermediate oval

NBCSN 8:00pm



Site of the first IndyCar race run under the lights in 1997, Texas Motor Speedway hosts the Verizon IndyCar Series for the twenty fifth time. The race distance has increased to 248 laps from 208 last year making it a 600 kilometer race (372 miles). Helio Castroneves won last year ending an unusual winless streak for Team Penske. Some have labeled Texas as the second biggest IndyCar race of the season in terms of prestige behind only the Indianapolis 500.

June 28th and 29th

Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston

Reliant Park, Houston, Texas

1.6 mile temporary street circuit

NBCSN 3:00pm (both days)



The second doubleheader weekend, the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston moves up to the month of June after racing in October last season. Scott Dixon and Will Power were winners of last year’s doubleheader weekend. The race takes place at Reliant Park, which houses Reliant Stadium and the Houston Astrodome. The temporary street circuit is run in mostly a parking lot.

July 6th

Pocono IndyCar 500

Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pennsylvania

2.5 mile triangular oval

NBCSN 12:00pm



Last year was the first IndyCar race at the Tricky Triangle since 1989. Scott Dixon started his magical run to his eventual third IndyCar title at Pocono as Chip Ganassi Racing swept the podium with Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, and Dario Franchitti. This is the second race of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge and the race distance has increased from 400 miles to 500 miles making all Fuzzy’s Triple Crown events 500 miles in distance. Turn 2, which is called “The Tunnel Turn”, is arguably one of the toughest turns to maneuver in auto racing.

July 12th

Iowa Corn Indy 300

Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa

0.875 mile oval

NBCSN 8:00pm



IndyCar makes it eighth visit to the Hawkeye state for 2014. This year’s race will have a new distance of 300 laps. The previous seven races had a distance of 250 laps. James Hinchcliffe led all but 24 laps in last year’s race for his third victory of 2013. It was his first victory on an oval. The race will return for a Saturday night date after having the race on a Sunday afternoon last year. Iowa Speedway was designed by former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace to resemble Richmond International Raceway.

July 19th and 20th

Honda Indy Toronto

Exhibition Place, Toronto, Canada

1.7 mile temporary street circuit

NBCSN 3:00pm (both days)



The second longest IndyCar street race behind Long Beach, Toronto’s Exhibition Place has hosted IndyCar’s since 1986. This will be the last of the doubleheader weekends in 2014. Last year’s event also saw a doubleheader with Scott Dixon sweeping the weekend by dominating both races. The second race of the doubleheader a year ago saw the return of the standing start, the first time it has been used since the 2008 race at Long Beach.

August 3rd

Honda Indy 200

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio

2.25 mile permanent road course

NBCSN 3:00pm



First hosting IndyCar racing in 1980, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car course is the third road course of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Last year’s race saw a fantastic duel between Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud. Kimball made a daring pass late in the race that had his car partially in the grass but made it work and would go on to win his first IndyCar race. This is the only venue on the Verizon IndyCar circuit to have a separated start and finish line.

August 17th

ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest

The Milwaukee Mile, West Allis, Wisconsin

1 mile oval

NBCSN 3:00pm



The Milwaukee Mile is one of the oldest ovals in the United States. Other than Indianapolis, Milwaukee has hosted the most IndyCar races on an oval. It’ll be the first time since 1982 that an August IndyCar race has happened at the Milwaukee Mile. Last year’s event saw Takuma Sato leading the most laps but an untimely pit stop forced Sato out of sequence with the rest of the field. Ryan Hunter-Reay scored his second straight win at Milwaukee and third overall.

August 24th

GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma

Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, California

2.5 mile permanent road course

NBCSN 4:00pm



IndyCar racing first visited Sonoma in 1970 with Dan Gurney winning with his All-American Racers team. IndyCar racing wouldn’t return to Sonoma until 2005 and has been at Sonoma Raceway ever since. Last year’s event saw a battle between championship contenders Will Power and Scott Dixon. A controversial penalty on pit road cost Dixon a chance for victory and Power would finally get his first win of 2013. It was Power’s third win at the track and has been so far the only multiple winner in the event.

August 30th

MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championships

Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California

2 mile oval

NBCSN 9:00pm



The 2014 Verizon IndyCar season wraps up on Labor Day weekend in Fontana, California. This race is the last leg of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge. IndyCar racing first raced here in 1997 and would do so through 2005. IndyCar returned to Fontana in 2012. Will Power got his first true oval win at last year’s race holding off Ed Carpenter. Scott Dixon finished 5th and clinched his third IndyCar title defeating Helio Castroneves by twenty seven points. Auto Club Speedway holds the closed course speed record that was set in 2000 when Gil de Ferran qualified his Reynard Honda at an astonishing 241.428 mph.


With racing on ovals, road courses, and street circuits, the Verizon IndyCar Series is one of the most diverse racing series on the planet. It all kicks off on March 30th with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete which is a week from Sunday. The long offseason is nearly over.

Are you ready for some racing?


Photo by Chris Trotman
Photo by Chris Trotman


Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.