Month: July 2015

2015 Sun Belt Conference Preview

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It’s crazy to think about, but college football is only about a month away. It’s gonna be an intense season filled with ups and downs, victories and losses, and plenty of surprises. The second annual College Football Playoff will be hotly contested as Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes attempt to defend their national championship, while the other national powerhouses — Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Baylor, Georgia, Michigan State, and many others — attempt to dethrone them.

Forgotten in the mix of all this is the so-called “Group of Five.” As opposed to Power Five conference schools, these mid-major programs will be doing their best to crash the national title picture. The odds have always been stacked against the Group of Five, but now, it’s become next to impossible for any member of those conferences to run the table, finish undefeated, and land in the national top four to qualify for the Playoff.

Seriously, now more than ever, we need a Boise State type of success story.

So the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West, and the Sun Belt Conference are seemingly destined to slip through the cracks of national relevancy, pressing their noses against the glass, hoping to crash the party that they weren’t invited to.

The Sun Belt has become arguably the strongest conference in the Group of Five.

“What?” you might be saying. “There’s no Boise State, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, or UCF in the Sun Belt!”

A valid point, to be sure. But top to bottom, the Sun Belt has gotten dramatically better, even as NCAA re-alignment has threatened to change the conference’s landscape in the past five seasons. Consider the turmoil the SBC has gone through recently, in football alone:

  • In spring of 2012, the Georgia State Panthers and the Texas State Bobcats announced that they would move from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), respectively, in 2013.
  • Two days after Texas State made that announcement, both North Texas and Florida International jumped ship, heading for Conference USA (also effective in 2013).
  • In November 2012, Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee followed suit, heading to Conference USA.
  • The South Alabama Jaguars completed their NCAA transition requirements in 2013, after starting as a brand-new FCS team in 2009.
  • In March 2013, two FCS powerhouses and longtime rivals, the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Georgia Southern Eagles, announced that they would move up from the Southland Conference to the Sun Belt, beginning in 2013 and reaching full FBS bowl eligibility and the full 85 allotted scholarships by 2015.
  • On the same day, New Mexico State and Idaho, two struggling programs forced to go Independent in 2013 when the WAC dropped football, were announced as two new SBC members — in football only, starting in 2014.
  • Less than a week after that, Western Kentucky went to — you guessed it — Conference USA, effective in 2014.

Still with me? Good.

In all that chaos, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson managed to keep his head above water and bring in several solid programs. While New Mexico State and Idaho are not known for gridiron success (they’ve played in only five bowl games combined in school history), they added a unique dimension to the Sun Belt, and not just because of the weird geography.

Having experienced, veteran coaches certainly helps the ongoing turnaround efforts at both schools. Plus, both schools’ coaches have been there before: NMSU’s Doug Martin was offensive coordinator under former head man DeWayne Walker in 2011, while Paul Petrino spent three seasons at Idaho (1992-1994) under long-time mentor John L. Smith.

And it’s not just the Aggies and Vandals who helped add intrigue to the Sun Belt mix.

Georgia Southern won a record six national titles in the FCS (and the FCS’s predecessor, Division 1-AA) and has a rich history, including several big-time upsets.

Appalachian State, does too — who can forget their all-time stunner of an upset against nationally-ranked Michigan back in 2007??

So, ultimately, the SBC hasn’t missed a beat since adding those four programs. If anything, it’s encouraged more competition for the returning programs, such as Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Currently, there’s plenty of parity in the SBC.

  1. Arkansas State has gone through rapid change in the past five years, with the “one and done era” name getting thrown around without any irony. After a mostly successful nine-year run under the retired Steve Roberts, the Red Wolves’ head coaching job became a revolving door. Hugh Freeze came aboard in 2011, then left for Ole Miss. Gus Malzahn had his turn in 2012 before he returned to Auburn. In 2013, Bryan Harsin led the Red Wolves to a winning season, then bolted for his alma mater, Boise State. Amazingly enough, the Red Wolves made a bowl game all three years and dealt with relatively few transfers until after Harsin’s departure. Afterwards, spread offense guru Blake Anderson rolled into town and helped get the Wolves to yet another bowl game in 2014 — and guess what? He returns this year.
  2. Louisiana-Lafayette has been the model of consistency under fifth-year coach Mark Hudspeth. The Mississippi native has led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-4 record in all four years of his reign, and that includes the first four bowl games in school history. Hudspeth brings a nice resumé to Lafayette that includes assistant coaching gigs at Mississippi State and the Naval Academy, as well as head coaching jobs at a private high school in his home state, and a seven-year run at D2 juggernaut North Alabama.
  3. Georgia Southern scampered to a 9-3 record in their first go-round in the SBC, proving the doubters wrong. Now with a full offseason in coach Willie Fritz’s system and an outstanding recruiting class, the Eagles will continue to threaten for conference titles.
  4. Appalachian State had plenty of question marks heading into their debut FBS season, starting 1-5 and suffering a rough loss to FCS foe Liberty on homecoming night. But something clicked after that, and the Mountaineers had a roaring finish, going 6-0 the rest of the way and derailing Louisiana-Lafayette’s quest for an undefeated conference season. The Mountaineers return 20 starters heading into this fall, and they’ll be competitive with just about everybody.
  5. Texas State has become known for its discipline and methodical schemes under coaching legend Dennis Franchione. At age 64, Franchione shows no signs of slowing down, and his switch to an up-tempo spread offense last year drew praise. He’s had relative stability on his staff in recent years, too.
  6. After starting their football program in 2009, South Alabama has been a factor since they joined the SBC in 2013. Coach Joey Jones doesn’t have a lot of program history or tradition to brag about, but he’s building something special down in Mobile and led the Jaguars to their first bowl game in 2014.
  7. Despite a lackluster 4-8 campaign last year, Louisiana-Monroe has shown that they can compete consistently under coach Todd Berry, who took over in 2010. He’s proven to be an underrated recruiter, too, and his defenses are usually tough.
  8. Historically, one of the biggest names in the SBC has been Troy, who went from cellar-dwellers to perennial bowl contenders under the now-retired Larry Blakeney. But in the last four years of Blakeney’s tenure, the Trojans went 17-31. Something needed to change, so the Trojans reached out to former offensive coordinator Neal Brown, an energetic 35-year-old who has led some exciting offenses in his career (he learned the Air Raid offense from Spike Dykes and Mike Leach). Once Brown has some recruits in place, Troy will be fun to watch.
  9. New Mexico State showed that they had the ingredients for an explosive offense last season. Running back Larry Rose III was a revelation, winning SBC Newcomer of the Year honors, while Teldrick Morgan led all conference receivers in receptions. Now that head coach Doug Martin is calling the plays himself, you can expect even more offense. If quarterback Tyler Rogers can limit his mistakes, the Aggies could be lighting up the scoreboard.
  10. Idaho suffered through erratic quarterback play in 2014, but they’ll continue to rise with a talented group of skill position guys. New defensive coordinator Mike Breske was brought in to streamline what has been a poor, undersized defense, and wide receiver Dezmon Epps is back after an indefinite suspension in 2014.
  11. Georgia State is in its third year under Trent Miles, and he’s got one of the conference’s most prolific QBs in senior Nick Arbuckle. If the defense can improve just a little bit, the Panthers could win a few more games than last season.

QUARTERBACKS

  1. Tyler Jones (Jr., Texas State): Cool under pressure and throws well on the run.
  2. Nick Arbuckle (Sr., Georgia State): Cannon-armed senior was an all-conference pick with 3,283 yards and 23 TDs.
  3. Taylor Lamb (So., Appalachian State): Thrown into the fire as a freshman and delivered, leading the SBC in passing efficiency.

RUNNING BACKS

  1. Matt Breida (Jr., Georgia Southern): Rushed for 1,400-plus yards and was a Doak Walker semifinalist.
  2. Marcus Cox (Jr., Appalachian State): Had only 70 fewer yards than Breida.
  3. Larry Rose III (So., New Mexico State): The electric freshman battled injuries and still rushed for 1,102 yards with nine scores.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  1. Rashon Ceaser (Sr., UL-Monroe): Had 77 catches last year despite lackluster quarterback play.
  2. Teldrick Morgan (Jr., New Mexico State): Caught seven touchdowns in 2014 as a former walk-on.
  3. Jarvis Bentley (Sr., Troy): His numbers have been pedestrian, but he could flourish in the new Air Raid attack.

TIGHT ENDS

  1. Joel Ruiz (Sr., Georgia State): Outstanding hands and physicality; was an all-conference pick.
  2. Darion Griswold (Sr., Arkansas State): Veteran leader who excels as a mismatch at 6’5″.
  3. Deon Watson (Jr., Idaho): Converted receiver is blessed with versatility and athleticism.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

  1. Mykhael Quave, (Sr., UL-Lafayette): An all-conference candidate who can play guard or tackle.
  2. Dalton Bennett, (Sr., Troy): Long-time starting center with toughness and intelligence.
  3. Adrian Bellard (Jr., Texas State): Blind-side tackle with quick feet and excellent leverage.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

  1. Gerrand Johnson (Sr., UL-Monroe): Arguably the best run-stuffer in the conference.
  2. Ronald Blair (Sr., Appalachian State): Could be in line for a huge season after a six-sack campaign in 2014.
  3. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (So., Arkansas State): Freshman All-American racked up eight sacks in his collegiate debut.

LINEBACKERS

  1. Rodney Butler (Jr., New Mexico State): The SBC’s leading returning tackler (119, including 7.5 tackles for loss).
  2. Antwione Williams (Sr., Georgia Southern): Made 67 tackles and could do even better without graduated running mate Edwin Jackson.
  3. Marc Millan (Sr., Idaho): The former JC transfer has made 192 tackles the past two seasons.

CORNERBACKS

  1. David Mims II (Sr., Texas State): Made five interceptions and broke up eight passes last season.
  2. Trey Caldwell (Sr., UL-Monroe): Second in the conference with nine passes defended.
  3. Blaise Taylor (So., Arkansas State): The son of DBs coach Trooper Taylor has electrifying athleticism and should be a full-time starter in 2015.

SAFETIES

  1. Montrez Kitchens (Sr., Troy): Had six interceptions last year, leading the SBC and placing him among the nation’s best.
  2. Mitch Lane (Sr., UL-Monroe): Alternates between safety and nickelback, and is terrific at both.
  3. Kawe Johnson (Jr., New Mexico State): Forced three fumbles and recorded 85 tackles in 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  1. Brandon McKee (Jr., South Alabama): Punter posted the best single-season average in school history.
  2. Austin Rehkow (Jr., Idaho): Accuracy and consistency helped him post an outstanding 47.8 yards per punt.
  3. Wil Lutz (Sr., Georgia State): Can deliver as both a kicker and punter.
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The Interruption System (2013)

Adam Kills Eve was born in December 2006 in Tuscany, Italy, out of a sense of obscurity. All of the founding members had worked in different capacities and played in vastly different rock bands, but they hadn’t known each other very long and just felt like kicking it, making music, and having fun. They assumed it wouldn’t really go anywhere, but they were wrong.

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They started writing material almost immediately, seeking to infuse a synth-based pop sound and soaring vocal melodies alongside harsh screams and heavy breakdowns — into a genre that many of us now know as post-hardcore or electronicore. And it all worked really well, as AKE started gaining underground popularity in nearby Florence and they started playing numerous gigs all over the country by 2007 and 2008. Despite frequent lineup changes, AKE was warmly received due to their fun, energetic live shows and their on-stage intensity.

In late 2008, they entered the Bro Studios in Turin to record their debut EP, called They Almost Killed Us with Their Hypocrisy. AKE began with some fresh ideas and turned the EP into an overnight success, led by their single “Ready, Steady, Save the World.” They embarked on two major tours all over Italy, and a year and a half later, this album came out:

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AKE started writing The Interruption System in late 2009 and early 2010, enlisting the help of longtime friend and notable producer Helio Di Nardo. They started writing songs rapidly, coming up with a more mature lyrical approach while retaining their basic energy and sound from the EP, but the band members weren’t satisfied. Halfway through the writing process, the idea for a science fiction-based concept album was approached, and they went with it. They also hired a new bassist and a new guitarist/backup vocalist to help spur the album towards completion.

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On September 4, 2011, AKE performed their biggest gig yet — the I-Days Festival in Bologna. There they played alongside international bands like The Offspring, Simple Plan, and Taking Back Sunday, and were well-received from the get-go. AKE seeks to reach every country with their music and have fun along the way.

The album itself is really fun. Combining post-hardcore elements with space rock and occasional acoustic bits, AKE showcases their diversity with every song, and they’ve developed a smart approach to keeping things interesting in what has become a stale genre over time. They have serious talent, and they utilize it well on The Interruption System. The first single, “Maybe In Space,” was the first AKE song I had listened to, and I really, really enjoyed it, and the album sure doesn’t slow down from there.

I give The Interruption System an 8.5/10. Looking forward to getting more material from AKE in the future!

Track Listing:

  1. Intro (0:56)
  2. Maybe In Space (3:29)
  3. Paralysis 2.0 (3:35)
  4. The Bottom of My Heart News (interlude) (2:03)
  5. Ms. Destruction (2:57)
  6. The Love Life Beneath (3:33)
  7. The Log-Out Therapy (3:54)
  8. Paralysis 1.0 (interlude) (0:53)
  9. A Little In-Between (2:45)
  10. The Revised Hedgehog’s Dilemma (3:14)
  11. More Than the Sum of Our Parts (3:26)
  12. The Completion System (3:34)

Adam Kills Eve is:

Federico Bini — vocals

Giovanni Macca — guitar/backing vocals

Francesco Agozzino — guitar

Alessandro Gavazzi — bass

Oscar Gigli — drums

Fracture (2007)

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Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is a wealthy, intelligent engineering magnate. After he discovers his wife has been unfaithful, he sits at home, waits for her, and when she gets home, he asks her for a hug.

Then he shoots her in the face.

The police show up, and the lead investigator is Lt. Rob Nunnally (Billy Burke), who — ironically enough — is Mrs. Crawford’s lover. Crawford confesses to the crime, and once Nunally discovers who the victim is, he attacks Ted Crawford and draws the attention of the other cops, who restrain Nunally and place Crawford under arrest for attempted murder (his wife, amazingly, survives and ends up comatose).

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Crawford’s case draws the attention of Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a hotshot deputy district attorney. With a 95% clearance rate, Beachum is ready to move up in the world, and has recently accepted a lucrative offer from Wootton Sims, a major corporate firm. Beachum romances his attractive new boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), and with only a couple of weeks left working for DA Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), he gives little thought to the Crawford case, viewing it as an open-and-shut matter. Crawford has already confessed to the crime of attempted murder.

When the trial comes around, Crawford waves his right to an attorney and represents himself. He reveals that the arresting officer, Nunally, was having an affair with his wife, assaulted him during his arrest, and was present during his interrogation. Therefore, the previous confession is thrown out.

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Further complicating matters is the fact that the gun that Crawford used has been wiped clean of prints and appears to have never been fired, despite the obvious loss of four bullets from the gun case. The casings were never found, and there was no blood or powder residue on Crawford’s clothes when he was arrested. Therefore, Beachum is thrown two curveballs at once, and Lobruto tears him a new one when he gets back to the office.

It appears that Crawford has committed the perfect crime, and Beachum is left with little evidence, a woman in a coma, and a new job that may not be there for him in the end. Things are going south for Beachum in a hurry, and he’ll have to put all his legal knowledge to the test to figure out how Crawford is getting away with it.

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This film is a pulsating, smartly-written legal drama, pitting the screen legend Hopkins with the emerging star Gosling, and the result is remarkable. Helped by talented co-stars Pike and Strathairn, Fracture succeeds in what it intends to do, and I consider it a must-see in the legal-thriller genre. It’s a treat to see Hopkins and Gosling go at it together, and there’s plenty of twists along the way.

The main thing about this story is how Beachum, our unlikely hero, behaves. He’s not really a good guy — he prefers to play fast-and-loose with ethics, he has a contentious relationship with certain colleagues, and he’s sleeping with Gardner in order to gain ground in his new job. He’s only the protagonist because he’s slightly better than a guy trying to get away with shooting his wife. Gosling excels in this challenging role.

Fracture is an engaging and intelligent ride that manages to be highly-rewarding viewing. I give it an 8.5/10 based on its script, acting, and originality.

Released 2007

Directed by Gregory Hoblit

Produced by Charles Weinstock

Screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers

Story by Daniel Pyne

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, Emberth Davidtz, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton

Rated R for language and some violent content.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: John Krasinski

Once strictly known for playing the goofy, personable paper salesman Jim Halpert on the critically-acclaimed American adaptation of The Office, John Krasinski has since become one of Hollywood’s established leading men, working in a variety of genres and with numerous talented people.

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He was born John Burke Krasinski in Newton, Massachusetts (10 miles west of Boston) as the youngest of three boys. His dad, Ronald, and his mom, Mary Clare, were both in the medical fields, and raised him and his brothers in the Catholic faith.

In sixth grade, Krasinski made his stage debut in a school production of Annie. Although he enjoyed the experience, Krasinski focused on other endeavors at Newton South High School, playing basketball and focusing on academics. However, in his senior year (1996-1997), Krasinski took up acting again in order to help out his longtime friend B.J. Novak, who had written a satirical play for their senior show.

After graduating, Krasinski spent a semester teaching English in Costa Rica. Following that adventure, he enrolled at Brown University, majoring in English literature with an emphasis in playwriting. Krasinski penned his honors thesis, entitled “Contents Under Pressure,” and also participated in Out of Bounds, a student sketch comedy group. In his free time, Krasinski coached youth basketball at The Gordon School in nearby East Providence, and also got a brief shot as a script intern on Late Night With Conan O’Brien.

Krasinski graduated from Brown in 2001 and moved on to the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. He also received additional training at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK and at The Actors Center in NYC.

Krasinski moved to NYC full-time shortly afterwards, working as a waiter while also doing some commercial gigs for companies like Kodak and Pepsi. He also read for off-Broadway plays and got bit parts on TV shows.

In 2004, casting calls were held for The Office , soon to be adapted into the U.S. version by executive producer Greg Daniels. The stakes were high due to the huge cult popularity of the British version of the show (starring Ricky Gervais). As a big fan of the UK version, Krasinski was worried that the the American producers would totally screw up the show, and while waiting for his audition, he voiced his concern to the guy sitting next to him — who happened to be Greg Daniels!

ca. 2006 --- John Krasinski --- Image by © Michael Muller/Corbis Outline

Despite getting off on the wrong foot with Daniels, Krasinski came away with the role of Jim Halpert, even though he had limited on-screen experience. While preparing for his role and hoping that the show would be a success, Krasinski reunited with his old friend, B.J. Novak — who by now, was a writer and producer on the show and also played ambitious former temp Ryan Howard onscreen.

“He was the same natural he was in high school,” Novak says. “You can’t tell he’s acting. I’m actually convinced that he doesn’t really know how to act.”

All joking aside, Krasinski’s performance as Jim was met with praise, especially his chemistry with co-star Jenna Fischer, another relative newcomer who played love interest Pam Beesly.

Soon enough, film roles came pouring in. To date, Krasinski has appeared in dozens of films — directed by people such as Sam Mendes, Bill Condon, and Nancy Meyers — and he has worked with such diverse talents as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Eddie Murphy, and the late Robin Williams. He’s also been featured in animated films, voicing Lancelot in Shrek the Third and Frightening Frank McCay in Monsters University, in addition to providing voiceovers for commercials by E-surance, Apple TV, and Verizon Wireless.

In 2006, Krasinski wrote and directed Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, based on a collection of short stories written by David Foster Wallace, and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He also co-wrote and co-produced the 2012 drama film Promised Land with actor (and fellow Bostonian) Matt Damon.

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After The Office finally concluded in 2012, Krasinski has found work on several other films, and has started a family with his wife of five years, British actress Emily Blunt. Their daughter, Hazel, was born on February 16, 2014.

Both Blunt and Krasinski will be voicing characters in the upcoming animated film Animal Crackers, and Krasinski is also the star and director of the 2016 drama film The Hollars, co-starring Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Josh Groban, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

However, Krasinski has admitted that he’s worried about being typecast as the nice, laid-back guy.

“With the show coming to a close, my identity of being that character is going to be over. Basically I’ll be relying on what I’ve built and what I am and who I’m trying to be,” he says. “So there’s a total terrifying fear there. There’s also the terrifying fear of writing something and being like, ‘This is actually who I am and who I’ve always wanted to be—I hope you guys accept that.’ That’s terrifying,” Krasinski concedes.

Be that as it may, John Krasinski has found a place in Hollywood, and I predict that he’ll continue to succeed due to his effortless charisma, smarts, and work ethic.

Summer updates

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This past week was Sun Belt Media Days in New Orleans, featuring representatives from the 11 football participants in the conference, including NMSU. Head coach Doug Martin was there, along with quarterback Tyler Rogers and linebacker Rodney Butler, both juniors and team captains.

Back in Las Cruces, the Aggies are getting ready for the upcoming season. As returning players participate in summer classes and work to study their playbooks, the new freshmen have arrived as well.

“I think this freshman class won’t have as much demanded of them, but they will still have to play a good role,” Martin said, when asked to compare his 2014 class with the class he signed this past February. 

With scholarship numbers down in 2014, 22 true freshmen were forced into action, including nearly a dozen on defense. But now, several players are able to be redshirted, including the three freshman offensive linemen that Martin and his staff brought in back in February.

The defense, due to youth, inexperience, and lack of ideal size, was dreadful last season, and the returning players are looking to spark a turnaround under new defensive coordinator Zane Vance, a longtime Martin assistant who was promoted in February.

“You can feel the intensity and hunger on the defense. They had all been criticized, and you can hear it in their voices that they want to be better. It’s exciting to be a part of that. You can feel how excited they are about getting back on the field just to prove themselves,” said Javahn Ferguson, a true freshman linebacker and a highly-rated recruit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Ferguson also spoke highly of the growing depth and competition at all defensive spots on the field.

“I’m coming from high school so it’s cool being able to connect with the players because they were just freshmen last year,” Ferguson said. “They teach me a lot more than they probably would if they were all juniors and seniors.”

Martin has also spoken highly of the four defensive linemen that he signed, all of whom hail from the state of Texas.

“What is exciting about those guys is the height and length at 6’4″ and 6’5″,” Martin said. “That is bigger than what we had in the past. At least three of them will play but we have to rely on them, at least for some depth.”

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And it’s not just the defense that has improved competition. The offense has some exciting players at the skill positions. Wide receiver Tyrian Taylor, a former JUCO All-American, enjoyed a great spring camp, and he’ll be working out of the slot with senior Josh Bowen and explosive true freshman O.J. Clark.

Another face to watch is 5’7″ Royce Caldwell, who can help out at running back and in the return game. A former high school sprint champion, Caldwell signed last year but voluntarily grayshirted in order to boost his grades. He could bring some explosion to the offense.

Caldwell says it was encouraging to watch fellow freshman Larry Rose III excel last season. Rose was named the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year and rushed for over 1,100 yards, scoring nine touchdowns.

“Showing that (Larry) can come out and put out the effort that he did, and watching his hard work made me feel like I can do the same thing. We have a little of the same skill set with the ability to make people miss and change direction. I think both of us are home run hitters,” said Caldwell.

Clark, meanwhile, draws comparisons to Taylor as a smaller slot receiver who has great open-field moves. He says he’s learned a lot from veterans on the team. Meanwhile, JUCO transfer Clayton Granch had a great spring and looks to lead a revival of the tight end position at NMSU.

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The pressure is on quarterback Tyler Rogers to improve. His struggles were well-documented last year, but Martin sung Rogers’s praises all spring, saying that Rogers has continued to show rapid improvement and is dedicated to watching film of himself and analyzing his own weaknesses.

“The quarterback position, if you have that guy, you have a chance to succeed, and if you don’t, you’re going to struggle. I don’t care how good the rest of your team is,” Martin remarked at Media Day. While speaking highly of Rogers’s experience and athletic ability, Martin mentioned that if Rogers cuts down on his mental mistakes, he could be a really effective player.

I’d like to believe that. Watching the spring game, I noticed that Rogers has vastly improved from last season, but he still is battling the stigma of throwing 23 picks last year, leading the nation. Redshirt freshman Nick Jeanty continues to compete for the starting job, and he’s had his moments too, but Rogers still appears to be the frontrunner heading into the fall.

Sep 27, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; New Mexico State Aggies quarterback Tyler Rogers (18) before a game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“That was my first year of Division 1 football, and there was definitely a learning curve. But I think I’ve made it and I’m ready to improve this next year,” said Rogers. “We’re getting a lot of extra work in with our receivers now, just trying to get our timing and chemistry down.”

If Rogers improves even slightly, the Aggies will have the ingredients for an explosive offense, highlighted by a deep group of receivers, a dynamic running back in Rose, and a seasoned offensive line that has four returning starters.

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Despite youth and inexperience in the front seven, the Aggies’ secondary was a team highlight last year, with Winston Rose placing among the Sun Belt’s best cornerbacks with five interceptions.

In Coach Vance’s new scheme, the safeties play higher up and are used in run support frequently, while using pressures and zone blitzes. Coach Martin moved wide receivers coach Todd Littlejohn to cornerbacks coach, and hired Brian Bell from Division 2 Minnesota State to coach the safeties.

Depth has been lacking on the back end, but a couple of promising freshmen could play a big role. Veterans Winston Rose and Lewis Hill are penciled in as starters, but Hill was pushed in the spring by sophomore Jerrion Burton, who drew praises from Littlejohn.

“This defense fits Burton,” Littlejohn said. “He’s used to playing quarters like we are playing with a man emphasis. It’s in his background. The technique they were asked to do last year was more open up and shuffle out. Backpedaling has become a lost art, so we are emphasizing it — staying square to your target and being able to plant and drive. It’s in Burton’s comfort zone, so the other guys have to be reintroduced to it.”

At safety, Littlejohn also said that he likes the potential of Jacob Nwangwa, who played in spot duty last season, and Malik Demby, a 6’2″ California native who redshirted last season. Junior King Davis III played well at safety last year before suffering a shoulder injury. He was kept out of spring practice, but looks to be ready to go soon enough.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1)

Jake Peralta is a young NYPD cop with a carefree attitude. His goofy-but-brilliant demeanor gives him a knack for closing cases and making arrests, and he’s helped by his oddball colleagues:

  • Rosa Diaz is — in a word — scary. Fiercely competitive and brutally honest, Diaz is a capable detective who might be hiding a softer side (if anyone can access it, that is).
  • Sergeant Terry Jeffords is a big-time case-closer. A fitness enthusiast who works well with his co-workers, Jeffords is a good cop, but frequently suffers from anxiety due to his dangerous line of work, and having a young family to support.
  • Amy Santiago is the opposite of Peralta — severe and by-the-book. She frequently is annoyed at Peralta’s arrest record and lack of regard for the rules, and they have an ongoing friendly rivalry.
  • Charles Boyle is a middle-aged detective who is optimistic but clumsy. Despite this, he displays enthusiasm for his work and keeps a good spirit in a tough job.
  • Gina Lenetti is the 99th precinct’s civilian administrator who displays a relaxed attitude and a sarcastic wit. She is an old friend of Peralta’s, who originally got her the job.

This mixture of personalities evolves after Ray Holt becomes the precinct’s new captain. Deadpan, strict, and by-the-book, Holt brings discipline and intelligence to his role, which alienates Peralta. Santiago, however, finds it endearing, and uses her ambition to attempt to impress Holt, with varying degrees of success. A new era under Holt begins — with hilarious and thrilling results.

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This is an awesome series, and might be the best comedy on mainstream TV right now. Brooklyn Nine-Nine balances laugh-out-loud humor with a likable cast and smartly-written dialogue. Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg delivers as Jake Peralta, and Andre Braugher is very solid in the polar-opposite role of Captain Holt. Comedy mainstay Terry Crews, along with relative newcomers Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, and Stephanie Beatriz, round out the rest of the cast.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, who both achieved mega-success as producers and writers with The Office and Parks and Recreation on NBC. Now, they make the move to Fox, with a freshly-delivered show that is knock-out entertaining. The strength lies in the terrific writing and Samberg’s performance, in a role that helps him deliver surprising depth as an actor. I’m definitely looking forward to subsequent seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

SPORTS SPOTLIGHT: Tony Sanchez

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The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) football team has never been good — far from it, in fact. In 2010, Bobby Hauck, who had led the Montana Grizzlies to serious success at the lower-level FCS, was hired as the head coach of the UNLV Rebels. Fans had hoped that Hauck’s success at the lower levels of Division 1 would spark an on-field turnaround for the Rebels, who hadn’t tasted the postseason since 2000.

It didn’t work out. Apart from the 2013 season — in which Hauck led the Rebels to a winning record and a bowl appearance — the Rebels were abysmal, winning only two games apiece in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. It all culminated in Hauck’s resignation last November, following a rough 49-27 beatdown at the hands of the hated Nevada Wolf Pack. Hauck ultimately went 15-49 in five years.

And then, the unexpected happened. UNLV’s athletic director, Tina Kunzer-Murphy, announced the hiring of Tony Sanchez on December 8th, less than two weeks after Hauck’s departure. Sanchez may not be a household name to many of you, but to folks who follow the West Coast high school football scene, the guy was a superstar.

Sanchez, age 41, was raised primarily in California as an Air Force brat. He played junior college ball at Laney College in the Bay Area as a wide receiver before transferring to New Mexico State (my own alma mater) in 1994. He earned his Bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences at NMSU in 1998.

Afterwards, he coached wide receivers at Oñate High School in New Mexico and at Irvin High in nearby El Paso, Texas, before moving back to the West Coast and turning around a cellar-dweller high school program in San Ramon, California (from 2004-2008).

After that, Sanchez was considered a rising star and was hired as the head coach at Bishop Gorman High School, the only private Catholic high school in the city of Las Vegas. In only five years as head coach, Sanchez guided the Bishop Gorman Gaels to five Nevada state championships and assembled a staggering 85-5 record (including a perfect 37-0 record in district matchups). Sanchez’s teams were regularly featured on national TV and Bishop Gorman was considered a juggernaut of a prep program, churning out four-star and five-star recruits and sending them to powerhouse schools. This past recruiting class alone, Bishop Gorman sent kids to Nebraska, Notre Dame, and UCLA, among others. Sanchez won 85 games in five years — UNLV has won 87 games in the past 20 years.

So Kunzer-Murphy, a new AD trying to get more local grassroots support for Rebel football, made a Vegas-style roll of the dice and hired Sanchez. Keep in mind that Sanchez has a grand total of one season (at NMSU in 1996) as a collegiate assistant. He’s never been an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, or anything at the D1 level. In fact, one sports-writer wrote at the time, without a hint of irony, that Bishop Gorman had better weight room facilities and a better stadium than UNLV did. It was — without a doubt — a leap of faith for Kunzer-Murphy to hire someone like Sanchez, and he certainly faces a uphill challenge at UNLV.

But, on the other hand, there has been a recent trend of high school coaches becoming big-time stars — Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Baylor’s Art Briles come to mind. So it may seem like a foolish gamble for now, but Kunzer-Murphy could have struck gold by hiring Sanchez, a coach who oozes enthusiasm and charisma, and who has assembled a veteran staff of assistants to help him out, including former Nebraska assistant Barney Cotton as offensive coordinator and ex-Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer.

And yeah, UNLV is a basketball school, historically speaking. But even basketball powerhouses like Memphis and Kansas have enjoyed occasional gridiron success in the past decade or two, and there’s enough talent in the Vegas area to supplement the Rebels’ lack of rich history or tradition at football. Sanchez believes in what he’s doing, and his staff could surprise — both on the recruiting trail and in terms of X’s and O’s fundamentals. Under Hauck, the Rebels were good at recruiting California and Texas, but rarely, if ever, landed a major recruit from Southern Nevada. Sanchez and his staff are hoping to change that right away.

It may take awhile, but college football is a funny game, so it’s not out of the question to assume that the Rebels won’t be in the basement for too long. It’s unlikely that they’ll reach a Boise State or San Diego State level of mid-major success, but the foundation will be built soon enough. And at the very least, the Rebels will be no worse than they were under previous regimes.

As a fellow former Aggie, I’m excited to see what Sanchez’s Rebels can do. He’s clearly a talented coach, and it will certainly be interesting to see his prowess translate to the big time spotlight. Good luck to him and his team this fall!