1.With Tracy Claeys being fired, who will want the Golden Gophers head coaching job and are they a better option?
Kras: As far as who will want the job, it is hard to believe that any coach would want to try and “tackle” the issues that come of Claeys’s dismissal. Any high caliber coach will not want to deal with the drama the U of M seems to constantly find itself in. Based on that, the second part of the question would be a NO. Even if they were to get a Les Miles type, would that really be a better option? The team had Claeys’s back throughout this process and vise versa. Now without Claeys, what will the fallout be from the players? How will they respond? My guess is they will not be happy and it will cause more friction between the players and the administration at the U of M and will likely cause some of the players to transfer and play else where. It will be an interesting saga to follow and a topic that I am sure we will revisit more than once. What I think Mark Coyle should do is take a run at Chip Kelly. He is freed up from the NFL and most likely headed back to the college ranks. Minnesota would be nice starting point for a coach looking to rebuild as well.
Nate Leer: I think this was the right move for Minnesota and, whether the new coach is actually “better” is not really relevant. Claeys was not AD Mark Coyle’s hire so it was likely only a matter of time before Claeys was replaced. While the Gophs had a good season record-wise, their schedule was as easy as it gets so realistically they should have done even better. As soon as Claeys had a less than .500 record and/or there was another scandal he would have been fired. Plus, Coyle’s assertion that Claeys was essentially insubordinate means that working relationship was probably beyond repair. Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck or, my long-shot, former U of M coach Glen Mason could help jump start recruiting so let’s get to it!
2. What was the highlight of the Vikings season finale winning against the Chicago Bears?
Kras: I think getting Sam Bradford through the season healthy has to rate quite high on the list but the main highlight of the game was the same as it has been all year, and that was the D. The Vikings made Matt Barkley into a turnover machine and made it look easy against the Bears. The Vikings will have a lot of work to do before next year but the D should be in good shape. On O, they will be where they need to make the majority of the changes to help this team grow. Whether through free agency or the draft they need to help protect whoever the QB will be and that means lots of O-linemen.
Nate Leer: I thought the highlight was the continued success of the downfield passing game. WRs Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson as well as TE Kyle Rudolph have been getting better and better working with QB Sam Bradford. Bradford has brought an ability to throw the ball around the field that Minnesota has not seen since Bret Favre’s great year in 2009. I am excited to see how this O can develop with a rebuilt O-line next year.
3. Will the Minnesota Timberwolves be able to play well enough to sneak into the playoffs?
Kras: As bad as the Wolves have played to start the season, they are only 4.5 games out of the 8th and final spot in the West and are very much in play. The Wolves are a 5-game win streak away from being right in the thick of the race. I don’t think the T-pups will get into the playoffs this season but I do think they will grow, compete, and get better as the season goes along. I think they will just miss out on the playoffs this year. If the Wolves can finish the season just missing the playoffs, I think that would go a long way for the confidence of this team heading into next season.
JJ Bens: No, currently the Wolves are 13th in the west with a 11-23 record while the Thunder are currently the 7th seed with a 21-14 record. If the Wolves go on a streak winning 10 in a row I would say their chances improve. However, they haven’t shown they can finish games even though they outplay a team for 3 quarters.
1. Who do you think will be the first new NFL coach hired, and to what team?
Kras: If I had to venture a guess I would pick the Buffalo Bills and I think there new HC will be their current OC and interim HC Anthony Lynn. Lynn has expressed interest in the Buffalo job and he has been credited with the success of the resurgent run game of the Bills. It would be a pretty smooth transition for the Bills to make and for a franchise that has been in flux now for several years a familiar face that continues to guide this team may be what they need. Oh, that and a new QB.
Nate Leer: So, the first hire could be Tom Coughlin to Jacksonville as that seems like a good fit and Coughlin is probably raring to get started. However, I think LA is the most interesting opening for a head coach. If rumors that former Super Bowl winning HC Jon Gruden could be interested are true, that could happen first. Many of the new head coach candidates will come from playoff teams, including both NE coordinators, Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan and others, who can be tricky to bring on board a new team as long as their former team is in the playoffs. So Gruden to LA could happen first or Saints HC Sean Payton could be moved across the country to fill the vacancy. However, if the Rams and/or other teams are hot for a guy such as NE OC Josh McDaniels, they may have to wait a bit to interview and hire him.
2. Will Alabama win the National Championship, again this year?
Kras: It will be a rematch once again this year and it is my belief that the Tide will roll once again in Tampa Bay. I do think it was impressive what Clemson did to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. However, it was debatable whether OSU should have even been in the playoff. Alabama on the other hand is on the verge of winning back to back Natty’s which will further cement Nick Saban’s legacy as an all-time great. Bama has proved they can stop Deshaun Watson and the Clemson O so it will be up to the Clemson D to stop Bo Scarbrough and the rushing attack of the Tide. Regardless of who wins, it should be a good game to watch with plenty of talented, NFL-bound players to start looking at.
JJ Bens: I believe that Clemson has a good shot to dethrone the reigning champions. If the Tigers offense can take care of the ball I believe the defense can load up against the run and force Bama into throwing the ball which isn’t their strong suit. I would say it will be a close, but low scoring game, unlike the Rose Bowl. 20-16 Tigers!
3. What was the biggest sports story of 2016?
Kras: With the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs both winning championships that have been long overdue for both the franchises and the cities they reign in, I would like to give them both an honorable mention but to me they are not the biggest stories of the year. To me the biggest stories of the year had to be the deaths of Muhammad Ali, Jose Fernandez, and Arnold Palmer. Ali and Palmer being the legend’s that they were and Fernandez being the growing and budding star that impacted many is a far bigger story than any championship can bring to a city. These three individuals had a positive impact on millions of people around the world every day without ever meeting most of those people. R.I.P. to 3 of the best to ever compete.
Nate Leer: My first thought is that the answer to this question is obviously the Cubs winning the World Series. However, a look around the sports world reveals some other contenders: The Cavs bringing the first title ever to Cleveland, Michael Phelps dominating again in the Olympics and some big-time losses of sports icons are all huge stories as well. That said, I still come back to the Cubs winning as the biggest story. Baseball is still America’s 2nd favorite sport and for many, especially older, Americans it is 1st. So, ending the longest “curse” in baseball, and the way it went down in thrilling fashion, make this such an important story to so many people that I think it deserves the top slot on a list of 2016 sports stories.