Olympics will show off more than just London


Olympics will show off more than just London

From Comcast SportsNet
HAMPTON COURT, England (AP) -- Medieval cottages crowned with thatched roofs. King Henry VIII's storied riverside palace. A wind-swept naval fort that helped to defend Britain's coastline during World War II. Away from the bustle of London's Olympic stadium, the Summer Games will also showcase the country's postcard perfect rural charms, and highlight centuries of its history. While it was Britain's vibrant capital that won the right to host the 2012 Games, events aren't confined to London. Spectators will flock to Wales and Scotland, to verdant hills in southern England, and even to a working farm -- where rare breed sheep must make way for Olympic cyclists. "It might be called London 2012, but really it's a countrywide event. There are places right across the country which are getting a chance to taste the Olympics," said Beverley Egan, of the Salvation Army charity, which owns a swath of eastern England countryside where the Olympic mountain bike competition will take place. Egan, the organization's director of community services, lives close to the site, the 950-acre Hadleigh Farm, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the London stadium, where cattle graze amid the ruins of a 700-year-old castle. Sports fans can head to 10 venues outside Britain's capital. Canoeists will slalom through bubbling rapids at Lee Valley White Water Center just beyond London's northern outskirts, while rowing crews will compete on a lake at Eton Dorney, set inside a tranquil 400-acre park about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital. On England's southern coast, visitors will watch sailing events at Nothe Fort -- a 19th century naval defense post. During World War II, troops fired the fort's heavy guns in warning on two suspicious ships, but later found the vessels were carrying refugees fleeing the Channel Islands, the only corner of Britain to come under Nazi occupation. Quaint images of rolling hills will provide a quintessentially British backdrop to events beamed around the world. However lovely, they are also critical to the country's plans for capitalizing on the Olympics, which have cost Britain 9.3 billion pounds (14.6 billion) to stage. Ministers hope prospective visitors will be captivated as they see historic landscapes and landmarks and book a vacation. They also hope potential investors can be wooed. Competitors in road cycling races will travel into England's picturesque countryside as they compete for gold medals. Their route -- 156 miles (250 kilometers) for men, 87 miles (140 kilometers) for women -- begins outside Queen Elizabeth II's Buckingham Palace home, but quickly swaps London streets for tree-fringed country lanes. Their path winds through fields of grazing deer in Richmond Park, bringing the Olympics into the southern England county of Surrey and to the historic Hampton Court Palace. Home to Henry VIII from the mid-1500s, the palace sits at the heart of his scandalous personal life. It was here that he and his aides plotted England's break with the Roman Catholic church to allow the king to divorce. The king married two of his six wives here, too. Two were accused of adultery and beheaded. Road race cyclists will flash by, headed toward the spine of chalk hills known as the North Downs -- but competitors in time trial events will start and finish their races inside the palace grounds, where William Shakespeare and his company of actors once performed for King James I. During the road race, athletes will continue past the ruins of the 12th Century Newark Priory, on through woodland copses shaded by canopies of trees and down heart-stopping, twisting slopes. Alan Flaherty, a highway engineer at Surrey County Council and a road cycling fanatic since he first visited the Tour de France in 2004, helped to devise the course once organizers chose to take the event outside London. Olympic authorities had planned for the route to snake through the capital, but the sport's governing body wanted a course that would better challenge riders and show off more iconic British views. Flaherty was tapped to share some of his own favored paths. "I literally went out with my rucksack, a camera and a pen and paper and looked at the whole route and then reported back," he said. The final course offers a checklist of famous British images -- from Westminster Abbey to sheep-filled meadows -- and some competitors have already interrupted training rides with Flaherty to snap pictures with their smartphones. "It does manage to go past all the main tourist sites in London, starting and finishing on The Mall, and also takes in a huge amount of Surrey," Flaherty said. "It's a real contrast -- all the countryside shows another element of Great Britain to the rest of the world." Spectators, though not the riders who will speed by, can admire a vision of English nostalgia nestled along the course at Shere, an unspoiled village with a 12th century church, tea house, gently gurgling stream and cluster of thatched roofed cottages. Nearby at Box Hill, a favorite southern England picnic spot and vantage point, competitors face a grueling ascent up the aptly named Zig Zag Road, an energy-sapping climb which men will complete nine times and women twice. The summit will host about 15,000 spectators, while tens of thousands more are expected to pack along the remainder of the course. Flaherty said that since he helped to finalize the route scores of enthusiasts have taken to the course with their own bikes -- meaning he must find new paths for his own peaceful weekend cycle rides. "I've been cycling around here for about 25 years and one of the things I liked is that it's always really quiet," Flaherty said, ruefully. "Then I got involved with the Olympics and now there are hundreds of people out on the route every weekend. The lesson is to be careful what you wish for."

Toppling mighty Buckeyes, James Franklin finally gets his big win at Penn State


Toppling mighty Buckeyes, James Franklin finally gets his big win at Penn State

James Franklin finally has himself a win over a ranked opponent.

And what a win it was.

Franklin hadn’t taken down any team with a No. 1 through 25 in front of its name since he arrived at Penn State ahead of the 2014 season. But wins don’t get much bigger — and opponents don’t get much better — than the Nittany Lions’ stunning upset of the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night in Happy Valley.

Franklin was hired to take Penn State back to the top of the college football mountain, and because college football fans and observers are impatient, he hasn’t appeared to make much progress toward that goal in his two and a half seasons at the helm. The first two campaigns finished in 7-6 records, and that kind of mediocrity doesn’t really fly at Penn State, even if Franklin is still doing the work of dragging the program out of the shadow of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In the preseason, Franklin looked at this season as one where the effects of that scandal start to get shed a little bit. He boasted about decisions made to redshirt players over the past two seasons, despite the Lions needing the depth, beginning to pay off.

When Penn State lost to Pitt in a game that was very entertaining but saw the Lions’ defense absolutely gashed and then to Michigan by a 39-point margin, it looked like the middle level was all Franklin would be able to deliver for yet another season. Those losses even spurred hot-seat talk. Remember the point about college football fans and observers being impatient?

But Saturday, questions about Franklin’s job status were deemed null and void.

You can look at the way the Lions won the game: returning a blocked field goal attempt 60 yards for a game-winning touchdown in the game’s final five minutes and wonder if this wasn’t more a product of college football magic than it was a product of Penn State turning some kind of corner. But the Lions did play very well, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, on Saturday night. Despite some good yardage totals for Ohio State, Penn State’s defense persistently flustered Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett and sacked him six times, including on the Buckeyes’ final two offensive plays.

Ohio State had huge advantages in most offensive categories. A small sample: Barrett completed 20 more passes than Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, and the Buckeyes were 10-for-24 on third and fourth down while the Lions were just 2-for-14.

But special teams are special for a reason, right? Even before the wild play that ended in the game-winning touchdown, Penn State blocked an Ohio State punt that turned into three points. Ten points off blocked kicks? That’ll do.

Again, does all this mean that the Lions are finding their footing under Franklin and resuming their ascent back to the top of the Big Ten?

The fairer question might be: Was that even possible in the first place?

Taking nothing away from Franklin, he was handed the mighty difficult task of getting back to competing for conference and national championships while playing in a division loaded with some of the best programs in college football. When he arrived ahead of the 2014 season, it was Ohio State and Michigan State slugging it out for those titles on an annual basis. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up in Ann Arbor and flipped the Wolverines back into title contenders overnight.

Whether the Sandusky scandal had a crippling effect on this program or not, the sheer quality of those three annual opponents made Franklin’s task look almost impossible.

But now one of those Goliaths has been slain. Cry not for the Buckeyes, their title hopes are still very much alive after suffering just their first defeat of the season. Instead, look at this as the next step for Franklin, the next step toward where he wants Penn State to be. Look at this as him getting the monkey of not beating a ranked team off his back. You want a win over a ranked team? How’s the No. 2 team in the country sound?

And while the Lions aren't suddenly anyone's trendy pick to make a surprise run to the national championship, take a look at the Big Ten standings. Penn State's 3-1 conference record places it second in the East Division, behind only undefeated Michigan. Of the five teams with 3-1 or better marks in the league, three were ranked in the top 10 coming into this past weekend. Penn State has the same overall record as the Wisconsin Badgers, a top-10 team which still has hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. So pretty good company to be in for the Lions.

Penn State might not be challenging for the conference championship this season or in the next one, but this is one big thing checked off Franklin’s to-do list.

Buckeyes stunned in Happy Valley, but myriad title hopes still alive


Buckeyes stunned in Happy Valley, but myriad title hopes still alive

Ohio State is no longer undefeated, and that’s a real bummer for the Buckeyes.

But the thing is, it’s true what Urban Meyer says: His team’s goals are all still in front of it.

“Every goal is still alive,” Meyer said after Saturday's game. “We’re just not a great team right now. We’ve got to regroup and get guys healthy and get back and keep swinging.

“I talked to the team, and then Raekwon McMillan and some of the other leaders talked to the team. Let’s go, time to get to work.”

The Buckeyes lost in shocking fashion Saturday night, upended by Penn State when the Nittany Lions returned a blocked field goal try 60 yards for a touchdown.

At first glance, you’d think this flips the Big Ten on its head, and it is true that Ohio State can no longer be considered the favorite for the crowns it chases: the Big Ten East Division title, the Big Ten title and the national title. The favorite for those first two championships, at least, is now Michigan, which sits at 7-0, having dominated all but one opponent this season, while Ohio State dropped to 6-1 on Saturday night.

But until the Buckeyes suffer defeat No. 2, there’s really nothing stopping them from competing for and winning all those titles.

There are currently seven undefeated teams hailing from Power Five conferences: Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, Baylor and West Virginia. That’s Ohio State’s competition for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Plenty will happen between now and when the selection committee picks the sport’s final four, meaning that list will be trimmed, if not completely emptied.

But the main point here is that as long as the Buckeyes take care of the rest of their business prior to the regular season’s final week — easier said than done, of course, with Nebraska still remaining on the schedule — things will come down to The Game, just as it they were going to before Saturday’s loss in Pennsylvania. If Ohio State enters its end-of-season date with rival Michigan with one loss and the Wolverines boast a spotless record, a win in The Game will still send the Buckeyes to Indy and could make all the difference in sending them to the Playoff.

Now, of course there’s no more room for error. Be it Nebraska or some other upset-minded opponent, Ohio State cannot trip up one more time, or its destiny will be out of its control.

And no longer do the Buckeyes look like the favorite for The Game. They might've prior to Saturday, and certainly last season's result is still in our minds. But the Wolverines are now not just equals with the Buckeyes, they're the favorites.

But as things stand, a one-loss group of Buckeyes with wins over Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and whichever team comes out of the West Division in the Big Ten title game will most definitely warrant a spot in the Playoff field.

As for Saturday? A heck of a college football game and a heck of a moment for Penn State. But Ohio State is still on pretty much the same path it was on before.