Mike D’Antoni beat out 11-time championship coach Phil Jackson for the Los Angeles Lakers’ job, replacing fired Mike Brown. And it was quite surprise.Most everyone believed Jackson would make his third stint with the team he won five NBA titles. Reports indicated Jackson would accept the job on Monday pending negotiations. But it never got to that point.“We signed Mike D’Antoni to a multi-year deal,” Lakers spokesman John Black said, mentioning the team’s owner and top two executives. “Dr. (Jerry) Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were unanimous that Mike D’Antoni was the best coach for the team at this time.”D’Antoni, 61, coached the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, but neither to a championship. His style of play promotes a frenetic, speedy tempo with shots going up from all over the court, with no emphasis on defense. His teams in New York were last in the NBA in points allowed and field goal percentage against in all his three seasons with the Knicks.Questions about how such an up-tempo pace would work with the aging Lakers: Steve Nash is 38, Kobe Bryant 34, Pau Gasol 32. And his system calls for sound perimeter shooting, and L.A. does not fashion a lot of long-range marksmen.Still, the Lakers took him over Jackson. D’Antoni, with a three-year, $12-million contract, will officially take over the Lakers within two weeks, depending how quickly he recovers from knee-replacement surgery.The Lakers will introduce their new coach at a news conference as early as Tuesday but more likely later in the week. Bernie Bickerstaff will remain the team’s interim coach for now.Jackson was the overwhelming favorite to return to the Lakers until they heard his informal demands, which included a stake in team ownership, according to a person familiar with the situation.“He was asking for the moon,” said the person, who also declined to be identified because they are not authorized to discuss the situation.The Lakers then moved quickly to sign D’Antoni. He replaces Brown, who was fired Friday after the Lakers began the season 1-4, their worst start since 1993.Earlier Sunday, Lakers guard Steve Nash said it would “be a coup” for the Lakers to bring back Jackson, but he also had kind words for D’Antoni.“Obviously, I think everyone knows how much I love Mike,” said Nash, who played four seasons and won two MVP awards under D’Antoni in Phoenix. “If he were the coach, it would be seamless and terrific for me, and I think the team as well.”Kobe Bryant, who said he “loves” Jackson, was on board with the hiring of D’Antoni. “They know how I feel about Phil. They know how I feel about D’Antoni,” Bryant said Sunday. “I like them both.”D’Antoni’s coaching staff with the Lakers likely will start with two longtime assistants — his brother, Dan D’Antoni, and Phil Weber.The new Lakers coach has a 388-339 coaching record in the NBA. He led the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2006 with Nash running the show.Bryant became familiar as a boy with D’Antoni, who was a star in the Italian league in the 1980s, when Bryant’s father also played in Italy. D’Antoni helped Olimpia Milano win five league titles and two European club titles. D’Antoni also worked with Bryant on the U.S. national team as an assistant.
But although the Yankees like elite fastballs and Paxton has a good one, New York ranked just 16th in four-seam fastball usage last year. The team often uses velocity to set up breaking balls and changeups, which tend to get more swings and misses than fastballs do. And with this strategy, the 2018 Yankees became just the third staff ever to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings (10.10), joining the 2017 Cleveland Indians (10.08) and 2018 Astros (10.44).So it won’t be a surprise if the Yankees help Paxton by getting him to rely on his fastball less. Paxton threw it 55.6 percent of the time last season, ranking 26th in usage in the majors.Paxton’s cutter ranked second in the majors, behind Trevor Bauer, in whiffs per swing, at 37.2 percent. The New York Yankees tried to trade last winter for Gerrit Cole, arguably the top starting pitcher available. They were not willing to to meet the Pittsburgh Pirates’ asking price. Cole landed in Houston. Who knows how he might have changed the Yankees’ 2018 season.This offseason, the Yankees again targeted the top pitcher available. This time, they got him.The Yankees acquired left-handed pitcher James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners on Monday evening for a package of three prospects. While he might not be a household name outside the Pacific Northwest, he offers the Yankees the potential for a second legit ace alongside Luis Severino.Paxton ranks near the top of the leaderboard in nearly every rate statistic that indicates pitcher dominance. Since his breakout 2017 season, Paxton ranks sixth in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings (11.1) among pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings, sixth in strikeout percentage minus walk percentage (23.8 percent) and eighth in wins above replacement per 200 innings (5.7) — a rough measure of what a healthy starting pitcher might provide over a full season — trailing starters Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, Noah Syndergaard and Severino, plus reliever Blake Treinen, who got a lot of work in last year. In other words, the elite of the elite. He ranks seventh since 2017 in fielding-independent pitching (2.95), which is scaled like ERA but factors out how the defense affects pitchers’ stats, and 34th by a more traditional measure, ERA (3.40).Is it enough to close the gap with the reigning World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox?Yankees GM Brian Cashman said adding Paxton may be just a start.“We’ve got one in the fold,” Cashman said. “And at the very worst we’re looking to add another.”And the same way Cole improved with the Astros last season, the Yankees might also be acquiring a pitcher who could get better in his new home. Even a home as hitter-friendly as Yankee Stadium.The Yankees prize velocity. They led the majors with an average fastball of 95.3 mph last season, and the three hardest-throwing staffs of the pitch-tracking era (since 2007) have played in pinstripes. Paxton’s fastball averaged 95.9 mph last season, ranking 15th among pitchers that had thrown at least 100 innings (Severino was second at 97.9 mph).Paxton has one of the game’s top whiff rates (26.1 percent on pitches that drew a swing) on his fastball and he also allows some of the weakest contact in the game. The average exit velocity of balls batters made contact with against him (89.4 mph) ranked in the lowest 4 percent. Here’s an elevated 97 mph fastball that Paxton threw for his 15th strikeout in a May game against the Oakland A’s: He could benefit from using those offspeed and breaking pitches more often, and he might have a fourth pitch if he keeps to his plan to incorporate a changeup.“Oh, I’ve seen it,” Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc told The Athletic in September. “If he were to throw that pitch in games, it would be the best [changeup] on the team.”The problem with Paxton is less quality than quantity. The ace, who is under club control through 2020, doesn’t always contribute volume, as he’s often on the disabled list.He has never thrown 200 innings in major league season, and his 160.1 innings last season were a career high. He’s dealt with an assortment of injuries, including a forearm bruise this past season. So for the Yankees, he’s not without risk, but the asking price wasn’t as steep as it was Cole.The Yankees did part with left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, their No. 1-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America and FanGraphs. Sheffield was acquired in the 2016 midsummer trade that sent reliever Andrew Miller to Cleveland.But Sheffield isn’t the same quality of prospect that Yankees infielders Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar were a year ago, according to some analysts, when the Pittsburgh Pirates demanded one of them in exchange for Cole. Some evaluators believe Sheffield might end up becoming a bullpen arm. Others see him as a mid-rotation starter. Sheffield has talent but his command issues continued in 2018. The Mariners might see more potential to work with in Sheffield, and the team also received powerful righty Erik Swanson and outfielder Don Thompson-Williams.After selling his most valuable asset, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters that the team plans to take a “step back” in 2019 and then take “two steps forward” later, with a focus on 2020 and 2021.That’s an optimistic assessment.The Mariners faded from playoff contention last season, and their average hitter last year was 29.8 years old, tying them with the San Francisco Giants for the oldest position players in the majors. (Their pitching staff was the 10th oldest at 29.0 years). By some measures, they have the game’s weakest farm system. The Mariners depleted their farm in recent years to upgrade the major league roster, but they have not advanced to the postseason since 2001, the longest drought in the majors. They might be waiting a while longer. As for the Yankees, who won 100 games last season but finished eight games behind Boston, a healthy Paxton will help them close the gap in the AL East.The Yankees starters were fifth in WAR last season and tied for ninth in ERA-, which accounts for park effects and the league run environment. Paxton provides a massive upgrade from New York’s weakest link in Sonny Gray (5.26 ERA). The Yankees’ staff was already good, and now it might be great. Opponents hit .145 versus Paxton’s cutter and .235 against his curveball, including this whiff against Josh Donaldson during a no-hitter Paxton threw against the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada, where he grew up:
The 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t played a game yet, but they’re off to a historic start. Not only does the team rank first in the Associated Press’s preseason poll, but it also garnered all 61 possible first-place votes — making it the first time in the 66-year history of the preseason rankings that a team was unanimously voted No. 1.There’s no question that the Buckeyes are bursting with talent, having retained 14 starters (including three All-Americans) from last year’s 14-1 squad that won the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship. The metrics are fond of them as well: The Buckeyes rank No. 1 in ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI), with a 31 percent probability of finishing the season without a loss. (No other team has more than an 11 percent chance of going undefeated.)But as great as Ohio State figures to be, the share of No. 1 votes that a top-ranked team receives hasn’t historically been a reliable indicator of how strong it will be at season’s end.Among top-ranked teams in the preseason since 1992, there’s a passable relationship between the percentage of available No. 1 votes gathered and the team’s eventual end-of-season power rating.1As measured by the Elo-like estimated version of FPI we used here. But that’s almost entirely because voters (sensibly) tend to hand their No. 1 votes to teams that were already good in the first place. If we look at whether the share of No. 1 votes a top-ranked team receives in the preseason predicts the change in its rating from the preseason to the end of the year, there’s essentially no relationship at all.In fact, Ohio State’s accomplishment might actually be more indicative of an overall trend toward consolidation atop the preseason poll. In the five polls between 1992 and 1996, for instance, the No. 1 team accumulated 56 percent of all top votes on average. In the most recent five years, that average was 79 percent, with each of the past three preseason No. 1 teams garnering at least 95 percent of the vote.This year’s Buckeyes should be a treat to watch. But their unanimous No. 1 ranking doesn’t make them any more likely to dominate the season than a team with the same FPI but a less-impressive vote tally.
Yunel Escobar2.320.3 Ian Desmond1.52.8-1.3 How Takedown on the Nationals’ collapseSubscribe to the full podcast on iTunes. We also can’t dismiss the impact of chemistry, even if it can’t yet be measured in any rigorous way. Sabermetricians are normally hesitant to entertain such explanations, but there’s some evidence that things were getting tense in the Nationals’ clubhouse. There was a midseason trade for a notorious veteran (closer Jonathan Papelbon), which preceded a stretch of poor performance. Over and above correlation, however, Papelbon has blown several saves and literally tried to choke the team’s best player in the dugout.A similarly undetermined factor is the team’s coaching, in particular manager Matt Williams. Anecdotally, Williams has seen a number of poor strategic decisions cost his team wins, but we lack a definitive stat to measure managerial performance, even at a basic level.Even in a worst-case scenario, the Nationals should have had enough talent to qualify for a wild card spot. Instead, they’ll be watching the Mets compete for the World Series, and they don’t have any one person to blame. Whether by bad luck, injuries, mismanagement or poor chemistry, the Nationals let a chance at contention slip through their fingers in an unparalleled breakdown. NAMEWARPROJECTED WARDIFFERENCE Where to begin with the Washington Nationals? How does a team that was projected to win 95 games finish so far from the playoffs? How does a team with Max Scherzer and two of the best young players in baseball, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, muddle their way through the second half of the season? How does a team allow an inside-the-park grand slam? How does a team watch its imported closer attack its best player and then send the closer back onto the field to finish the game?The Nationals were a consensus pick to win the National League East, both by experts and by statistical analysis. Only 27 other teams since 2003 have had a better win-total projection than the Nationals’ 90.8 this year, according to my calculations.1To calculate this, I used a measure of preseason team strength that my FiveThirtyEight colleague Neil Paine built from a combination of Vegas odds, regressed Pythagorean records from the two prior years, and PECOTA projections. The Dodgers were the only team with a better projected win total than the Nats this season. When you consider that baseball currently lives in an era of unprecedented parity,2In an earlier article, Neil and I found that the spread in team strengths was growing smaller over time, possibly related to the change in playoff structure. the Nationals’ dominance becomes even more pronounced: The Nationals, who were projected to be 1.81 standard deviations better than average, were supposed to be a juggernaut at a time when such teams have become extinct.And yet on Saturday, the Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention. If you examine only teams with preseason win projections as high as the Nationals’ since 2003, just two teams have imploded as much: the 2009 Chicago Cubs and the 2004 New York Mets.3Since this season has not concluded yet, I used the FanGraphs projected full season standings for the actual win totals for the 2015 Nationals and Dodgers. The Nationals are forecast to win 83 games. After adjusting for the smaller spread in team talent in recent years, no team has been projected so high and fallen so far as these 2015 Nationals. But we don’t know exactly why it happened. The breakdown came in a weak division,4All the teams in the NL East combined scored two fewer runs than their opponent per game, easily the worst of any division in the game. and over the second half of the season, the Nationals had the second-easiest schedule in baseball and still managed to run a sub-.500 record.Don’t blame the pitchers, though. The Nationals built a formidable rotation and an adequate bullpen that tallied 20.0 wins above replacement, good for sixth in all of baseball. (All WAR stats in this piece were current as of Monday.) One could argue that even this excellent performance is underwhelming, given preseason hopes. But at least for the starting rotation, the pitching has matched the projections almost exactly.5Using the projection system Steamer, the top five starters were predicted to achieve 15.7 WAR and have managed to get 16.4. Wilson Ramos0.52.8-2.3 Danny Espinosa184.108.40.206 Jayson Werth02.8-2.8 Michael Taylor1-0.11.1 Clint Robinson0.100.1 Anthony Rendon0.93.9-3 Bryce Harper220.127.116.11 Ryan Zimmerman0.63-2.4 Blame the hitters instead. The Nationals’ position players have accrued 19.0 WAR, placing them 15th in MLB, sandwiched between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays. Of this total, more than half has been provided by likely-MVP Harper alone. Arguably the most disappointing years belong to second baseman Anthony Rendon (0.9 WAR), shortstop Ian Desmond (1.5), and outfielder Jayson Werth (0). The trio was predicted to produce almost one Bryce Harper’s worth of value (9.5 WAR) but have thus far combined for only 2.4 wins. Close the deficit between their projections and actual production, and it would be like adding another MVP candidate to the team.
Share on Facebook You’re reading Back of the Envelope, an experiment that aims to bring shorter, quicker content to FiveThirtyEight. Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess grandmaster and No. 1-ranked chess player in the world, is just over two weeks away from defending his world championship in New York City. It’ll be a grueling test, with hours-long games spread out over 19 days, but Carlsen will be the heavy favorite. But rather than poring over potential opening moves or studying the intricacies of endgames, he’s heading to the internet to play some speed chess.Thursday, Carlsen will play Hikaru Nakamura, the four-time U.S. chess champion, in Chess.com’s online Grandmaster Blitz Battle final, which the site is billing as the Ali vs. Frazier of online chess. In the world championship for chess with “classical” time controls, each player gets at least 100 minutes for all his or her moves. But Thursday’s blitz battle will feature a series of games wherein the players get just 5 minutes, 3 minutes and, finally, 1 minute per side.According to the latest FIDE list, a ranking that uses Elo ratings and in-person results, Carlsen and Nakamura are the second- and third-best blitz players in the world, respectively. (China’s Liren Ding is No. 1.) But according to Chess.com’s newly developed Computer Accuracy & Precision Score (or CAPS), Nakamura may have a slight edge in speed games over the world champion. CAPS is based on a comparison between the humans’ actual moves and the moves deemed best by a computer.You can watch the match, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern, on Chess.com and Twitch. And if you can’t wait, here’s an appetizer — the two grandmasters playing a private speed game in a hotel room a few years ago:
Oct. 21, 1973Sun1 (WS Game 7)1235 NUMBER OF GAMES Oct. 30, 2016Sun1 (WS Game 5)1178 Nov. 1, 2010Mon1 (WS Game 5)133 Oct. 17, 1971Sun1 (WS Game 7)1236 Oct. 12, 1980Sun1 (NLCS Game 5)1348 Nov. 1, 2009Sun1 (WS Game 4)1274 Oct. 27, 1985Sun1 (WS Game 7)1315 Oct. 14, 1973Sun1 (WS Game 2)1235 Another sports equinox is in the booksDates on which all four major U.S. sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) had at least one game Oct. 14, 1979Sun1 (WS Game 5)1337 With nine NHL games, three NBA games, an NFL game and an MLB playoff game — made possible by the Chicago Cubs’ victory in Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday — Thursday is your (first) sports equinox of 2017.What’s a sports equinox? As my former colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum wrote on a couple of occasions, it’s when all four major U.S. sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — play at least one game on the same day. Historically speaking, it doesn’t happen often. There have only been 17 sports equinoxes in history, including Thursday: Oct. 19, 1980Sun1 (WS Game 5)1336 DATEDAYMLBNFLNBANHL Oct. 15, 1978Sun1 (WS Game 5)1355 Oct. 15, 1972Sun1 (WS Game 2)1236 Oct. 22, 1972Sun1 (WS Game 7)1235 Nov. 2, 2009Mon1 (WS Game 5)153 Nov. 1, 2015Sun1 (WS Game 5)1275 Amazingly, there was a 15-year period without a single sports equinox, between 1985 and 2001. And after 2001, seven more years passed without it happening. But sports equinoxes have occurred much more frequently in recent years — six have happened in the nine years since 2008. They might become even more common in the future, thanks to Thursday-night NFL becoming a fixture, the World Series often running later than usual, and a new NBA scheduling policy this season that moved the season’s opening night up by a week and a half.If the Cubs can force Game 7 in the NLCS, Sunday will be another sports equinox. As will Oct. 29, if Game 5 of the World Series takes place. But even if those do happen, Thursday’s equinox will be the only one this season with the added bonus of college football — there are two FBS games tonight, including No. 25-ranked Memphis at Houston (A “Super Equinox”?). Good luck finding enough screens to watch it all! Oct. 19, 2017Thu1 (NLCS Game 5)139 Nov. 4, 2001Sun1 (WS Game 7)1374
All newsletters Things That Caught My EyeDraft Day!It’s the first day of the NFL draft, meaning that enormous financial concerns are about to publicly gamble in prime time television, which is always pretty cool. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the top running back prospect in this year’s draft and will likely go very early in the evening. But a team betting on a workhorse running back isn’t always the sure bet it was once considered. From 2006 to 2015, there were only three running backs drafted in the top five, and to some extent they never really panned out for their teams. Since then, we’ve had the phenomenal Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott going each at 4th. Barkley could join them if he joins the Giants at No. 2 or Browns at No. 4. [FiveThirtyEight]‘The Blind Side’ is overIn the aftermath of “The Blind Side,” which extolled the virtues of the left tackle position and lead to a commensurate skyrocketing to the value of those players, teams appeared to undervalue guards compared to tackles. In the 32-team era, 62 tackles were drafted in the first round of the draft compared to 14 guards. That may be changing, since 2013 the total value of draft picks for left tackles has been essentially in free fall since the post-2006 highs. [FiveThirtyEight]Oldest sport adapts to new realitiesThe International Association of Athletics Federations, which governs the world of track and field, will implement new regulations regarding testosterone levels for elite female athletes. Most women have testosterone levels ranging from 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles per liter, while most men have 7.7 to 29.4 nanomoles per liter. The regulations — which will undoubtably fuel controversy from literally every angle, and that’s okay — will impact women who have testosterone levels above 5.0 nanomoles per liter, and would require them to choose between hormone therapy, not competing internationally, or competing against men. [The New York Times]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?Winnipeg, city of miseryA new calculation for the quantified metropolitan sports misery score that counts not only the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL but also the MLS and Canadian Football League puts the Canadian city of Winnipeg over perennial sports drought cities like Cincinnati and Buffalo to have the most yearning-for-a-win fans. [The 10 and 3]Tsunami of corruptionA draft report published Wednesday by the Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis follows up on earlier investigations from the BBC and BuzzFeed to find evidence of match-fixing in the sport, particularly at lower levels. The report found 20 unnamed high-level players who lost at least one suspicious match from 2005 to 2008. [BuzzFeed]World Cup getting called from statesideFox Sports is rolling out details about its play calling teams for the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia. Given the lack of an American presence at the cup — the United States failed to qualify — Fox elected to pare back its footprint in Russia proper and will have only one of five announced crews actually in Russia. [World Soccer Talk, The Associated Press]Big Number(s)161.4Looking at a stat called five-year approximate value, the hoarde of valuable draft picks held by the Cleveland Browns is truly formidable. Overall, the Browns have a total draft expected value of 161.4, which is head and shoulders above their nearest competitors, the Bills (124.3), Colts (122.1) and Broncos (116.4). The Browns are poised for a guaranteed consequential couple of days, for better or for worse. [The Washington Post]Leaks from Slack: neil:MLB Now talking about 8 teams currently being on pace for 100+ losses…. wonder how that compares to other seasons via something more rigorous like Elo?natesilver:we have two teams projected for 100+, and 2 more for 99plus one at 97 and one at 95seems like a lot for this early in the seasonneil:TankFest ’18Predictions NBA Oh, and don’t forgetThe past few weeks of the Overwatch League have been outstanding We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe See more NBA predictions
sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): The NFL’s 2018 regular season is finally in the books. Before the playoffs get rolling, let’s look back on an interesting Week 17 and preview next weekend’s wild-card round. We’ll end with giving our Super Bowl predictions again, just to keep us honest.Salfino (Michael Salfino, contributor): I will have to revise my Saints-Steelers Super Bowl pick.sara.ziegler: LOLThe AFC had all the drama yesterday, so let’s start with the Ravens/Steelers/Colts/Titans business.neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I was very much hoping for that Colts-Titans tie. But alas.sara.ziegler: If the NFL were scripted, we would have ended the regular season on a tie.neil: Particularly this of all regular seasons.Salfino: What’s interesting to me about the Ravens is that teams are not punishing Lamar Jackson for running.joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I’m unclear on why teams don’t force Jackson to beat them with his arm as well. It’s worked in the past against other highly mobile QBs, and there seems to be no great reason why it won’t work again.neil: That’s part of what makes the Ravens so interesting, that their second-half playoff push basically coincided with the QB change and this rush-heavy identity that seems so different in a league that set new records for passing in 2018.Salfino: Yes, the Ravens and the Chiefs are the offenses you really can’t prepare for in a week, IMO. I have no idea how a team can prepare for Jackson in one week. But LAC at least just faced him. Is that advantage Chargers? To me this is the most interesting game of the wild-card round.sara.ziegler: The Ravens nearly let Sunday’s game slip away, though.Salfino: The problem is that it’s so hard to stay disciplined and not chase him. Defenses are taught to be aggressive.Jackson allows the offense to play 11 on 11, and all of defense is predicated on the defense playing 11 on 10.joshua.hermsmeyer: Also strange is that we can make legit comps between Jackson and Josh Allen. Bill Belichick kept Allen in the pocket during Week 16 knowing the main danger he poses is from his legs. And New England won.Salfino: Yes, the Patriots are just taught to be super disciplined so they can counter that probably better than most teams.sara.ziegler: Did the Browns figure that out a little bit too against Jackson? The Ravens rushed for 8.5 yards per carry in the first half and just 4.5 in the second.Salfino: Maybe as the game wore on, but by then the damage was done. The Browns were just getting gashed. The Ravens were running on 3rd-and-long and converting. It was like a college game — old-school college before the passing explosion.joshua.hermsmeyer: Credit as well to the play-calling, I think. It’s a very creative scheme the Ravens are rolling out.Salfino: Is the Ravens defense overrated? Where are the blue chip players? They are just coached so well. Wink Martindale should get interviews.neil: And Jackson’s own speed is really something to behold. On that first TD Jackson scored, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon.Salfino: Jackson also looked like he was playing at video game speed even on the shorter second TD run. He just darted into the end zone like everyone was standing still.I think the Ravens offense is underrated and their defense is overrated.sara.ziegler: In the other afternoon AFC game of note, the Steelers came out incredibly flat before rallying for the win, which wasn’t quite enough.neil: Pittsburgh’s season will go down as one of the all-time collapses, I think?Salfino: The Steelers have to be the most disappointing team in recent memory. They were top 10 in all the key defensive stats except interception percentage — which is fluky, but man that killed them. They have Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 5,000 yards, two All-Pro WRs, and the running game was fine. Yet they just blew one game after the other.joshua.hermsmeyer: Antonio Brown has been inefficient this year, but he was missed.Salfino: The Steelers were sixth in yards per play and sixth in yards allowed per play and didn’t make the playoffs. This is almost impossible. I thought it was impossible.neil: After Week 11, we gave them a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs.sara.ziegler: I was surprised all season that they were as high in Elo as they were.Salfino: Being third in sack rate and 28th in interception rate defies conventional wisdom that pressure creates turnovers. Maybe PIT was super unlucky, too.sara.ziegler: They reeled off six wins in a row, but they never looked dominant.neil: Some of that was probably residual, Sara, from last year, when they had Le’Veon Bell, etc. But the narrative all first half was how they didn’t need Bell.sara.ziegler: Yeah, and James Conner filled in well for them!Salfino: Is MIN more disappointing than PIT? This is going to be a brutal offseason for Kirk Cousins. No player in memory is going to be under more pressure than he will be next year.neil: This is a fraught question for Sara ….sara.ziegler: I can’t even talk about it.neil: Yep.sara.ziegler: Well, Mike, we all know how well Cousins does with pressure.neil: 😬Salfino: I really thought Cousins was a franchise QB. He did pretty well with just garbage offensive talent in 2017 in WAS, and this year he just never really could get it going. He played so tight.neil: Sunday was sort of symbolic of the whole 2018 Vikings.They controlled their destiny at home (granted against the Bears).Cousins goes 4-for-11 for 2.1 yards per attempt and two sacks on third and fourth down.Terrible overall performance.Salfino: It seemed like Cousins averaged about a yard per attempt. If I were the coach of the Vikings, I’d tell him to take chances and not care about INTs. They’re overrated.neil: The Minnesota defense was uncharacteristically bad on third down, too. Allowed 57 percent conversions after giving up only 28 percent all season before Sunday.sara.ziegler: sara.ziegler: 🤣Salfino: I think the Bears just crush the Eagles. This spread is all Foles-narrative-driven, and I don’t believe in fairy tales.sara.ziegler: Wow, Mike.LOLneil: Anybody picking the Eagles probably does have visions of this being yet another Bears team that got into the playoffs on defense with a weak QB performanceAnd promptly lost. But that’s not really this team. Trubisky has been progressing.(The defense is still amazing, of course)joshua.hermsmeyer: You can dink and dunk on Chicago. This will be the defining image of the season for me.Salfino: Cousins showing Thielen how to run routes was both hilarious and sad.joshua.hermsmeyer: One silver lining for the Vikings is that the situational football we typically use to judge Cousins as a disappointment is among the least predictive of future performance in all of football: throws under pressure, third-down conversions. Kirk deserves his share of the blame, but the entire offense looked out of sync yesterday and for a lot of the second half of the season.sara.ziegler: Cousins has his redemption narrative all set for next season, LOL.Salfino: The Eagles benefit from the Vikings’ struggles. I can’t believe that the Bears are only 6-point favorites.neil: Particularly with Nick Foles not necessarily 100 percent.sara.ziegler: The Eagles don’t even need Foles, Neil!neil: Carson Wentz? Nick Foles? Nate Sudfeld? No problem.sara.ziegler: Well … Wentz? Some problems.Everyone else? Fine.neil: Philly was always a backup QB’s dream city during the McNabb era. Some of that has carried over, I guess.Salfino: Foles has got to be the most volatile QB in NFL history. We should quantify that. He’s below average for his career and is treated like a franchise QB based on about 16 games, if we include all of 2013.neil: Yeah, the gap between his best 16 and worst 16 starts has to be one of the biggest ever.Salfino: I can’t even imagine the Bears losing to the Eagles. They are just going to chew Philly up. The Eagles’ best playmaker is still 100-year-old Darren Sproles, who is amazing, but come on.joshua.hermsmeyer: I can’t think of Foles without wincing that he lost $1 million because of four snaps.This is just brutal.sara.ziegler: Ooof.Salfino: Foles is going to get $100 million in about three months, so I will not feel sorry for him.joshua.hermsmeyer: hahsara.ziegler: LOLThe one other meaningful game yesterday — aside from the games that cost coaches their jobs — was Colts-Titans. Anyone surprised that the Colts dominated that one?neil: I mean, Blaine Gabbert was starting for Tennessee, Sarasara.ziegler: FairSalfino: Titans-Colts is QB wins to me. Luck vs. Gabbert. Come on. Murder. She. Wrote.joshua.hermsmeyer: Oh gawd not QB WinzSalfino: YES!!!Give me the better QB, and I’ll take my chances.joshua.hermsmeyer: smhMarlon Mack outrushed Derrick Henry, so why not RB winz?Salfino: No RB winz because winning yards per carry gets you nothing in win probability.Josh, you and I agree broadly but just quibble about how much credit quarterbacks get in the passing game.joshua.hermsmeyer: This is true.neil: Either way, it’s been great to see Andrew Luck bounce back from the injury and lost season to play well and lead a playoff push.sara.ziegler: I’m still amazed by the Colts’ turnaround.They were at 4 percent to make the playoffs on Oct. 15.Salfino: Luck should be in the MVP conversation. I understand it’s Patrick Mahomes. But Luck has done a lot with a lot less than Mahomes. Luck does seemingly have great coaching now though. Frank Reich, who the Colts backed into, was the hire of the offseason. I think better than Matt Nagy even.joshua.hermsmeyer: Luck truly played himself back into game shape. Early on, his throws were routinely Derek Carr short, and by the end of the season he was mostly back to the old Luck.sara.ziegler: So let’s turn to this weekend’s games.Colts-Texans and Seahawks-Cowboys on Saturday, Chargers-Ravens and Eagles-Bears on Sunday.Which underdog has the best chance?neil: Three of the 4 underdogs are +2.5 per Vegas.Salfino: Colts-Texans is the game of the week to me in terms of having no idea who will win. The Texans are a strange team with great strengths (QB, pass rush) and crippling weaknesses (offensive line, pass coverage).On paper, the Colts are a terrible matchup for the Texans because Luck led the league in lowest sack rate as he completely transformed his game to protect his health. So smart.neil: Indy also also beat Houston in Houston less than a month ago.Salfino: I am going to fade the Seahawks: 25th in yards allowed per play and 31st in sack rate allowed. That’s so bad. I can’t believe they even made the playoffs.neil: Ironically, our Elo gives Seattle the best chance of any wild card weekend team. 😉Elo has a tendency to react strongly to recent hot streaks, for better or worse.Seattle has won six of its past seven, including a win over Kansas City.Salfino: If you have Russell Wilson, anything is possible. I will stipulate.joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Seattle for my part. Turnovers are wildly unpredictable, and that drove their defensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average for much of the season, but they are built to win close games like this one where both teams appear to want to “establish the run.”Salfino: The football story of the week when it comes to the chess aspect of the game and coaching is whether the Chargers having experienced the Ravens offense can now shut it down. But they don’t really do much on defense except play that Seattle, straight-up style. So do they even have a bag of tricks?sara.ziegler: Seems strange to me that the Ravens are favorites over the Chargers.Baltimore is hot right now, but L.A. has been solid all season.Salfino: Well, Baltimore has had the best home-field advantage in football when you factor in road vs. home record. So LAC are up against it.neil: Never underestimate the extra value of home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs, too.sara.ziegler: Yeah, that all makes sense.I still like the Chargers. I’m being obstinate, LOL.neil: Well, this is a little bit of a counter to the QB Winz debate from above. L.A. clearly has the better QB.joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Philip Rivers and the Chargers as well. Particularly if the Chargers keep Jackson in the pocket.Salfino: No Super Bowl team has won a road game since the 2012 season. But I’ll say that the most likely road winners this week in order are the Colts (they win), Chargers (I can see it but don’t think they adjust defensively), Seattle (Wilson gives them a chance) and Eagles (no chance unless Mitch Trubisky craps the bed).sara.ziegler: 🔥joshua.hermsmeyer: The Baltimore defense prevents completions, that’s their best skill. But Rivers has completed passes at 1.8 percent over expected this season.Salfino: New England really gets tested if the Colts win. (They would have to play the winner of Baltimore-LAC.) If the Texans win, Houston is just made for an easy Patriots victory in the divisional round.Little worried about how Rivers has looked of late. But probably just random variance. There’s not much data on QBs this old late in the season and into the postseason other than Brady.sara.ziegler: I’m worried about how Rivers looks, too — at least in this Mina Kimes drawing: joshua.hermsmeyer: looolneil: That’s still accurate.I loved that segment on NFL Countdown Sunday, where they talked about Rivers’ trash talk. Which somehow never includes swearing.sara.ziegler: I’ve always really liked him. A perfect fantasy football QB.Salfino: Philip Rivers is great. A Hall-of-Famer IMO. But unbelievably he has as many career playoff wins as Mark Sanchez. He needs more pelts on the wall.sara.ziegler: Very fair.Is anyone taking the Eagles over the Bears?neil: I recuse myself.LOLsara.ziegler: Wait, we can’t make predictions about our favorite teams?I’ve literally been picking the Vikings to lose all season.neil: I gotta hand it to you, those were accurate predictions.sara.ziegler: LOLneil: As opposed to this one: Salfino: Remember, Foles was LUCKY to beat the Falcons last year. He had a ball go off a Falcon’s knee, or they probably lose that game. Then he turned into Cinderella, and I have no idea how or why.sara.ziegler: He did get to face the Vikings last year — that undoubtedly helped.joshua.hermsmeyer: If Foles can be efficient and healthy, and the Eagles are patient, I can totally imagine a game where Biscuit implodes and the Eagles move on. I think the spread has some of that in it.Salfino: I do not believe in the Eagles defense at all. But I also don’t like how Nagy hasn’t given Tarik Cohen consistently more touches than Jordan Howard. And the Bears are all banged up now at WR.I agree with Josh on Trubisky, but the Bears and Nagy can’t put him in a position to lose that game. The Eagles have no playmakers. Dare them to score.sara.ziegler: Yeah, it could be closer than it seems. Of course, if Foles can’t play, then the Eagles will REALLY need a fairy tale.All right, let’s wrap this up with our Super Bowl predictions, so we can continue to look ridiculous when our picks all lose.Salfino: I’m going Saints-Chiefs, but that’s predicated on the Colts beating the Texans and giving the Patriots a nightmare matchup in the divisional round. It’s so public to fade the Chiefs that I’m fading the public. Offense!Mahomes wins MVP and Brees wins Super Bowl MVP. Seems fair.neil: I’ve been saying New Orleans over K.C. for these past few chats, and that’s still possible, so I’m sticking with it. (Despite the defensive concerns!)sara.ziegler: I took the Bears last time, and now having watched them flatten my own team, I probably need to keep them. Bears-Chiefs, Chiefs take it down.joshua.hermsmeyer: Chiefs-Rams rematch, Chiefs win. Because that would be the best ending to the best offensive season in the NFL probably ever.neil: What’s the score on that one, Josh? Is it the first Super Bowl whose score will be mistaken for an Arena Bowl?joshua.hermsmeyer: 36-35 with the game decided on a 2-point conversion.neil: Ooh, going low. I like it.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Pitching. It’s a common denominator in baseball. Everyone from high school coaches around the country to major league managers often claim pitching as the No. 1 reason why they’re succeeding or failing.The Ohio State baseball team is no exception. While the Buckeyes appear to have a strong, balanced lineup and an athletic team in the field, questions surround the pitching staff. OSU returns its top two starters and top setup man, but doubts remain regarding the rest the Buckeye pitchers. Of course, OSU has one pitcher they can rely upon.The numbers junior right-hander Alex Wimmers put up last season were quite remarkable. The 2009 first-team All-American and Big Ten co-Pitcher of the Year went 9-2 and led the Big Ten with 136 strikeouts last season. Wimmers held batters to a .211 batting average and opposing batters hit a measly .193 against him with two outs.Furthermore, on May 2 against Michigan, Wimmers fanned 14 Wolverines and threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in the 125-year history of OSU baseball. Wimmers worked hard in the offseason to prepare to shoulder the load again for the Buckeyes.“Conditioning-wise, I improved my stamina, I worked hard in the weight room,” said Wimmers, a projected first-round pick in June’s MLB draft. “What I like to do is to put a lot of pressure on myself in carrying this team. I do the best I can and try to stay in there as long as I can on Friday nights to set the pitching for the rest of the weekend.”The 2010 preseason All-American and undisputed staff ace has some lofty goals for the upcoming season.“I want to repeat as [Big Ten] Pitcher of Year. I’d like to lead the country in strikeouts if I can,” Wimmers said. “I want to limit my walks and have an ERA under three.”Coach Bob Todd, in his 22nd year coaching the Buckeyes, admits he might have to rely a bit more on Wimmers this season given the pitching staff’s uncertainty.“We’ve talked about that. We’re never going to do anything to hurt him. He’s got too much of a bright future,” Todd said. “If we can nurse an extra inning or so out of him, we’re certainly going to do it. It’s all going to depend on pitch counts, especially earlier in the season.”Anchoring the No. 2 spot in the rotation is junior Dean Wolosiansky. The 6-foot-5-inch, 225 pound right-hander went 11-2 last season with an ERA of 6.04. However, Wolosiansky is 12-2 in his career in conference play and has shown a knack for escaping trouble, as he induced 14 double plays last year.The Buckeyes lost a big piece of their bullpen from last season with the departure of senior closer Jake Hale. A first-team All-American who was drafted in the 27th round of last June’s draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hale saved 18 games last year for OSU. Hale also had an ERA of 1.31 and struck out 67 in 55 innings pitched.For now, Hale’s replacement will be right-hander Drew Rucinski. Last season, the junior led OSU with 12 wins and was second in the Big Ten in appearances. Todd thinks Rucinski could contribute in a number of roles.“For the first couple of weeks he is going to be our closer, [however] at some point in time he might be our No.3 starter.” Todd said. “We used him as our setup guy last year, so he’s really been flexible. We feel comfortable wherever we put him.”The team might also have to rely on younger players to eat up innings during the season. Brett McKinney, a freshman right-hander from Hamilton, Ohio, who impressed coaches during last fall’s Scarlet and Gray World Series, might see substantial action early in the season.“McKinney is going to be the key.” Todd said. “You never know what you’re going to get out of freshmen, but what he showed us in the fall is that he is going to have a chance to contribute and contribute quickly.”
The Ohio State wrestling team will have two tough tests this weekend as it faces No. 19 Illinois and No. 4 Minnesota on consecutive days. First up for the Buckeyes is a match at Illinois (3-4-1, 1-3-1 Big Ten) at 8 p.m. Friday. Right after the meet, the team will drive back to Columbus to prepare for the Golden Gophers (13-3, 4-0 Big Ten). The Buckeyes (2-7, 1-3 Big Ten) say they know they’re in for a tough weekend, and they will be looking for upsets throughout it to pull off a victory. “We have to upset a couple of their high-ranked athletes,” coach Tom Ryan said. “We need a couple surprises; the team knows that.” Ryan said he feels his team matches up better with Illinois and feels it has a better chance at victory in the first dual. “If our guys fight,” he said, “we match up fairly well with the rest of the teams.” Peter Capone, a redshirt freshman who wrestles at 197 pounds, said he knows a sweep this weekend would be great for the team. “It would mean a lot,” he said. “It would be huge for the program.” The most difficult part, Capone said, is going to be the travel back from Illinois right after the dual finishes. “It’s going to be hard,” he said. “We’re going to be really tired on the way back.” If the Buckeyes can manage to win both duals this week, Ryan said he believes the team will earn a much-needed confidence boost heading into its final two meets. Redshirt junior captain Sean Nemec, 157 pounds, said the back-to-back duals are different from what he is used to. The team usually will have duals Friday and Sunday, but because of the Super Bowl, Ryan said, this week’s duals are Friday and Saturday. Nemec said the biggest problem for wrestlers is when they aren’t smart about their weight, but to prevent that, OSU will be back in the gym Saturday before it faces Minnesota. “Come back, try and get a little sleep,” Nemec said. “Then come back in, work out a little bit and try to get your weight back down.” While team members say they hope to beat Illinois, they know the odds of pulling out a victory against Minnesota are slim. “You’ve got to have your mind made up before you step on the mat,” Ryan said. “This isn’t something that I’m not going to try to do. I’m going to get this done.” As the 2010–11 season wraps up, the team prepares for the Big Ten Tournament in March. The back-to-back duals will help the team build up its endurance for the tournament, which will have multiple matches in a day. “It’s a good opportunity for our guys to get used to a couple of the key tournaments at the end of the year,” Ryan said. Despite the Minnesota meet being the day after OSU wrestles Illinois, Ryan said, fatigue should not be a factor for his team. “You wrestle for seven minutes,” he said. “We’re not talking about a Hawaiian triathlon. They’ve been training their whole life for this.” Nemec said he believes if his team can manage to pull out victories over the two ranked teams this weekend, it could help the Buckeyes build momentum toward the end of the season. “It’ll be real big,” he said, “especially to get momentum going heading into the end of the season.” OSU will travel to Champaign, Ill., to wrestle Illinois at 8 p.m. Friday; then the team is scheduled to return to Columbus to host Minnesota at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Monday’s Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game between No. 1-ranked Louisiana State University and No. 2-ranked Alabama was the capstone of the 2011-12 NCAA college football season. The blowing of the final whistle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La., also brought about an end to postseason play, and there are mixed reactions about how the Big Ten conference fared during this past bowl season.Big Ten teams posted a combined 4-6 record in bowls this year with Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan claiming wins in their respective bowls. Those victories were outnumbered by the losses posted by Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.The Buckeyes fell, 24-17, against the Florida Gators in the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. in Jacksonville, Fla.The Big Ten’s 2011-12 bowl-win total puts it in a three-way tie for second place among all Football Bowl Subdivision conferences behind only the Southeastern Conference’s and the Big 12’s six bowl triumphs.The Big Ten shares second place with Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference, whose teams both posted 4-1 postseason records.Jack Park, an OSU football historian, said the Big Ten’s most recent postseason performance is indicative of a trend away from the dominance of years past.“The Big Ten is no longer a dominant conference. In the 1950s, typically, you’d have three or four Big Ten teams in the top 10 of the country every year,” Park said. “Today, in my opinion, the SEC has certainly become the dominant conference in the country.”Doug Lesmerises, a sports writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said Big Ten teams exceeded his expectations this past bowl season.“I think, actually, you take 4-6,” Lesmerises said. “I thought three (wins) would have been my guess.”During the 2010-11 bowl season, eight Big Ten teams competed in bowl games and tallied a combined 4-4 record. However, OSU’s 31-26 win against Arkansas was later vacated along with the entire 2010 season for NCAA rules violations.This year, Big Ten advanced 10 teams to the postseason — the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision conference — and posted a 1-1 record in BCS games as Michigan beat Virginia Tech, 23-20, in the Sugar Bowl while the conference champion Badgers fell to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.With time to prepare for Oregon, Lesmerises said Wisconsin’s bowl loss hurt the Big Ten. He also said that Michigan’s win against the Hokies, while valuable to the conference, was not convincing.“It’s a very good win for Michigan, a good win for the Big Ten to get a BCS win,” Lesmerises said. “I think the Oregon thing hurt a little bit, for Wisconsin not to beat Oregon. People were looking for Wisconsin to win that game.”Oregon rushed for 345 yards against the Badgers and compiled 621 total yards of offense.Park agreed, saying Wisconsin was unable to cope with Oregon’s speed.“I thought the speed of the Oregon team was pretty much what dominated that game,” he said.Despite the Big Ten’s collective step back from an apparent bygone tradition of postseason excellence, Park said Big Ten football is still very good.“I like the type of football we play in the Big Ten,” Park said, “but there’s a lot of other schools that have passed us up a little bit.”Lesmerises agreed.“Overall, I think (the Big Ten) was OK,” Lesmerises said, “but I think there were some opportunities to be even a little better this year. Also … opportunities to be worse.”
OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) pushes past Michigan defenders during the second half of the Buckeyes’ 30-27 win on Nov. 26. Credit: Lantern File Photo“The Game” returns Saturday.Having already punched its ticket to the Big Ten Championship game, No. 9 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) will travel north to take on its rival, No. 24 Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten), to finish the regular season. The two teams will clash for the first time since the first-ever overtime game between the rivals last season in which Ohio State won 30-27 on a walk-off touchdown in double-overtime by H-back Curtis Samuel. Ohio State offense vs. Michigan defenseOne of the top offenses in the country will square off against one of the top defenses in the nation Saturday, with Ohio State’s potent offense (third in the nation in scoring) and Michigan’s stout defense (11th in the nation in fewest points allowed) pinned against one another. The heart and soul of the Wolverines’ defense this season has been its ability to stifle opposing aerial attacks. Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense has allowed 144.4 yards per game and the third-fewest yards per attempt at 5.7. Only once this season has Michigan allowed more than 200 passing yards and it has yet to allow multiple passing touchdowns in a single game.That passing defense has been carried by the performance of two of its starting safeties, Khaleke Hudson and Tyree Kinnel. The pairing are No. 2 and 3 in total tackles on the team, respectively, and both have a pair of interceptions so far this season. Hudson also has forced two fumbles while Kinnel returned an interception for a touchdown. This secondary will be tested Saturday, however, against the top passing offense it will face all season. Before Ohio State, only Penn State cracked the top 25 in passing yards per game at No. 24, and Ohio State sits firmly six places ahead of them at No. 18. The Penn State offense put up 282 passing yards and a touchdown against Michigan’s defense.Michigan’s front seven, led by Butkus semifinalist linebacker Devin Bush, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and defensive end Rashan Gary, will apply pressure to the offensive line and quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Wolverines are tied for seventh in sacks per game with 3.27, and Bush, Hurst and Hudson all have more than five sacks. However, Ohio State’s offense has gone away from the passing game lately, posting its two fewest pass attempts over the past two games. That is why so much of this game will come down to Michigan’s ability to stop the run. The Wolverines have been one of the top teams in the nation at stopping the run, allowing the 15th-fewest yards per game (116.8) and 17th-fewest yards per carry (3.41). However, that rush defense has been either boom or bust for the Wolverines this season. It has often been suffocating, allowing just 11 yards on 27 attempts to Florida and less than 100 yards in five other games. At times, it also has been exposed. Michigan has allowed more than 150 yards on the ground five times, including a 224-yard, five-touchdown outburst from Penn State, led by its star running back Saquon Barkley. That has been a trend for the Wolverines this season. They have have allowed an average of 3.13 yards per carry to unranked opponents, but 4.9 yards per carry to ranked opponents. And against the Buckeyes, they will be tasked with trying to stop the second-best rushing offense they have faced all season. Ohio State has the 12th-most rushing yards per game and is tied for seventh-most yards per carry. The Buckeyes also are an offense that is clicking as of late, having put up its two highest rushing totals of the season at 335 and 325 yards against Michigan State and Illinois, respectively. Ohio State defense vs. Michigan offenseThe flip side of the matchup does not appear to be quite the same battle. Michigan’s offense has struggled this season, posting only the 101st-most yards per game at 360.4 and is tied for the 82nd-most points per game at 26.3. Ohio State’s defense, on the other hand, has done its part to keep opposing offenses at bay, allowing the 22nd-fewest points (19.8) and eighth-fewest yards per game (291.5).If the Wolverines are to find any success, it will have to come on the ground. Their rushing offense ranks 35th in the nation in yards per game at 194.2 and has the 52nd-most yards per carry at 4.64. The bulk of that production has come from junior running back Karan Higdon, who has rushed for 874 yards on 136 carries and 10 touchdowns. Michigan also will lean on running backs Chris Evans and Ty Isaac,who have both rushed for more than 500 yards and have combined for eight touchdowns. Unlike Michigan, Ohio State has been consistent in stopping the run this season. The Buckeyes have only allowed more than 150 rushing yards three times and have held teams to under 100 six times this season. Even matched up against ranked opponents like Penn State, Michigan State and Oklahoma, Ohio State has only allowed 2.4 yards per carry. Where Ohio State struggles most defensively also happens to be where Michigan struggles the most offensively. Ohio State has looked incapable of defending against the pass at times, even if the 15th-fewest passing yards per game appear to tell a different story. But the Wolverines also have struggled to pass with any consistency. They have only three games with more than 200 passing yards, and they have just eight touchdowns to seven interceptions.The biggest question mark for the team will come down to the man under center since Brandon Peters had to enter concussion protocol after taking a hit against Wisconsin. Peters had shined in his five games played, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions. And with last season’s starter Wilton Speight still questionable for the game, Michigan might have to turn to John O’Korn, who has a 53.2 percent completion rating and one touchdown pass to five interceptions.The latest edition of the rivalry does not appear destined for a shootout. Michigan’s offense does not appear to have the firepower to rack up gaudy point totals, but its defense could provide Ohio State with one of the Buckeyes’ toughest challenges of the season.Predictions:Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 28-20Colin Hass-Hill: Ohio State wins 34-21
Giving a description of Ms Bailey to the call operator, the father-of-two said: “She’s a children’s author and she writes books, she’s very good.”She lost her husband just over five years ago, that’s how I met her because I lost my partner. We met in a bereavement group.”Mr Stewart said Ms Bailey was not involved in or had been subjected to crime.Describing her to the call handler, Mr Stewart said she is “slim, with long off the shoulder black, going grey hair and 5ft 10 but that is probably a guess”. Helen Bailey was found in a septic tank inside an old-fashioned well beneath her garage’s concrete floorCredit:Hertfordshire Constabulary/PA Helen Bailey at home in Royston, Hertfordshire, with her dachshund BorisCredit:Hertfordshire Police/PA Helen Bailey was found dead in the grounds of her sprawling £1.5m Hertfordshire property three months after going missingCredit:JOHN McLELLAN The man accused of murdering his fiancée Helen Bailey, the children’s author, spoke of her in the past tense during a call to police before correcting himself, a court heard.Ian Stewart, 56, told a call handler he had no idea where his partner was when he called 999 on April 15 last year to report her missing.The writer was found three months later in a septic tank beneath the garage of the couple’s home in Royston, Hertfordshire, alongside the body of her dachshund Boris.Stewart is accused of drugging and killing Ms Bailey to get his hands on her £4million fortune promised to him in her will. Helen Bailey with her partner Ian Stewart, who is accused of her murder At St Albans Crown Court on Tuesday, the 999 call in which he reported her missing to the police was played to the jury.In it, Stewart said: “She [Helen] had talked about wanting space because things just haven’t been going well for her recently, or for us.”We were planning to get married, well, we are planning to get married and the venue went wrong.”He told police he had “literally checked everywhere” in their “large” house to try and find his fiancée, the court heard. He said he had no idea where his partner was when he called 999 on April 15 last year to report her missing. However, Miss McGarry said they found it “weird” that neither Mr Stewart or Ms Bailey had told them they were engaged.She said: “Ian would often come and talk to me, ask me how I was and what I’d been up to that day.”At some point Oliver had seen one of Helen’s blog posts and she had mentioned something along the lines that they were engaged. Oliver found it quite weird that he hadn’t been told this.”Mr Stewart denies the murder of Ms Bailey, one count of fraud, preventing lawful burial and three counts of perverting the course of justice.The trial, which is expected to last up to seven weeks and is being overseen by Judge Andrew Bright, continues. In the call, Mr Stewart said: “My partner has been missing since Monday and hasn’t contacted anyone. I decided I should report it.”She’s self-employed but she works from home. She left a note saying she needed space and time alone, and that she was going to Broadstairs. She said please don’t contact her in any way.”It’s a little cottage we’ve got down there. Neighbours and I have been down there and she’s not there.”Her phone is dead, it just doesn’t ring. It goes straight to answer machine. Someone’s been to the house yeah, her brother went.”It didn’t look like anyone’s been in there. She’s left her car here. She did take her dog with her, a dachshund.”During the call, Mr Stewart could be heard putting the operator on hold as he checked Ms Bailey’s date of birth, before giving his own details. Helen Bailey’s body was discovered in a septic tank beneath the garageCredit:Hertfordshire Constabulary/PA We have got quite a large house, but I have literally checked everywhereIan Stewart in 999 call Artist’s sketch of Ian Stewart in the dock at St Albans Crown Court Credit:Elizabeth Cook/PA After Mrs Bailey’s disappearance was reported on April 15 last year, Miss McGarry described Mr Stewart as seeming “sad” that Helen was missing.She told the jury: “I thought deep down Helen had gone away to get some space, or had gone away completely and was hidden away from everyone so that no one could find her. Or potentially I thought she may have committed suicide.”When I saw [Mr Stewart] he looked sad, quite stressed, very tired, but he was still very friendly and came and said hi to me.”Oliver told me that his dad was even struggling to reach up into the cupboards and get food out after his operation.”When I saw him, he wasn’t doing a lot of physical activity due to his health problems.” When asked Ms Bailey’s eye colour, he said: “Oh my God how do you forget these things? It’s terrible. I don’t know.”He said Ms Bailey would typically wear jeans and a shirt before giving the call operator her phone number.The jury also heard Mr Stewart described as “such a lovely man” by his son Oliver’s girlfriend, Alexandra McGarry.Giving evidence, Miss McGarry told the court: “[He] is a very nice man, kind and patient. It seemed he would do anything for anyone.”I got the impression he loved Helen very much and they seemed very happy with each other.”Helen and Ian weren’t touchy-feely, but everything seemed fine and they would do things together. Ian is such a lovely man.” He went on to tell the operator: “The last time I saw Helen was on Monday afternoon (April 11) at 2.45pm. She said nothing unusual before I went out.”I got home just before 5pm and that’s when I saw the note on her desk. It was a shock, she has talked about it but it is still a shock. She’s never done anything like this before.”She has been very anxious and very worried about lots of things, she is a worrier.”Mr Stewart was asked if Ms Bailey would be thinking about suicide, to which he replied “no”.The call operator said it might be a silly question, but asked if Ms Bailey could be at home.”We have got quite a large house, but I have literally checked everywhere,” Stewart replied. 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He said Eilidh’s mother was “distraught” when he spoke to her, adding: “She has been to all the hotels where girls who have become separated from their parents or guardians have congregated. My heart aches for them and all those caught up in this. Laura, is a close friend of my daughter so it has been difficult.“It is unbelievable. They sent a text to say it was the last song and Marion went off to get them. She went off to get them and when she got to the building the people were rushing out. Everybody is very worried.”Mr Manford said Eilidh was a bright and “highly motivated” girl who was looking forward to a special treat with her friend. Mr MacIntyre wrote on Twitter: “Please…please retweet. Looking for my daughter and her friend. Laura MacIntyre and Eilidh MacLeod”. She had failed to reappear after the concert with her school friend Eilidh MacLeod, 14, who was still unaccounted for last night.Eilidh’s mother Marion had travelled with them from the Isle of Barra and was due to meet them outside the arena.She mounted a frantic search of hotels and hospitals and was asked by police for detailed descriptions of the girls’ clothing in a bid to help locate them.As her husband Roddy, and Laura’s parents, Michael and Nan, arranged to fly to Manchester, islanders in the close-knit community of around 1,000 feared the worst.But Angus MacNeil, the SNP general election candidate and a close friend of the families, learned early on Tuesday night that one of the teenagers had been found.He said he understood Laura was suffering from very serious burns, suggesting the pair may have been close to the blast, and added that the whole island was “still numb with shock” and extremely worried about Eilidh. Cecilia MacFadyen, Laura’s grandmother, said at her home on the island: “Laura is alive and in hospital. I don’t know anything about Eilidh.” They travelled to Manchester from the picturesque island in the Western Isles as a birthday treat for the younger girl, and as a reward for doing well in their examsLaura’s father Michael said earlier that it was his daughter’s first concert and a birthday present for Eilidh and the pair were “big fans” of Ariana Grande.He added: “Laura was so happy to be going down there with her friend.“It was Laura’s first concert. I was a bit hesitant about her going to a concert so far away but she seemed so happy.”The girls are third year pupils at the 170-pupil Barra Community School and their families have long connections with the island, which is famed for its white sand beaches and is almost crime-free.Mrs MacLeod’s last message from the pair was a text message to say that the last song had started and they would be out soon.She set out to the arena and when she arrived people were running out of the building. She then began a frantic search for the girls, visiting hotels and calling hospitals in a bid to find them. Before leaving Barra, which has a population of around 1,100, many of them Gaelic speakers, the families issued frantic appeals for help in finding them. Please…please reetweet. Looking for my daughter and her friend . Laura Macintyre and Eilidh Macleod #manchesterattack pic.twitter.com/1N0cikPQEf— micheal macintyre (@leanish8) May 23, 2017 Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Eilidh’s aunt Margaret MacNeil wrote on Facebook: “My niece and her friend were at the Ariana Grande concert tonight and there has been no contact since the explosion. Please let us find the girls safe and well.”Mr MacNeil, who knows both families well, also took to social media to appeal for help in locating the girls.He said he was “worried sick” about the pair and revealed later that Laura had been found. Mr MacNeil went to school with Eilidh’s father Roddy, a merchant seaman, and his daughter is a close friend of Laura. He drove Eilidh’s father Roddy to the airport on Benbecula, further north in the Western Isles, so that he could catch a flight to Glasgow and then Manchester.Mr Manford said: “He is distressed but he is a very strong individual and they are a very strong family. We are extremely grateful for the understanding and help the family has received from all quarters although I wish we could have some good news.“It was a treat, a reward for them for their own hard work with their exams. They were very excited and were looking forward to an enjoyable time.“Eilidh is a very bright, highly motivated person. She is also a highly talented piper in a pipe band on the island.” One of two missing teenagers who travelled to the concert from a remote Scottish island has been found seriously ill in hospital after a desperate search that lasted almost 20 hours.Laura MacIntyre was located in intensive care in Manchester suffering from serious burns after her distraught parents flew to the city to join the search for her. Donald Manford, an island councillor and Eilidh’s grand uncle, said that after so many hours with no information it was a “tremendous relief” to Laura’s family that the teenager had been found alive. He added that relatives were still praying for news of Eilidh.
Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Britain’s Liverpool airport was evacuated earlier on Tuesday while a bomb disposal team dealt with a suspect package and now it is safe and it is “business as usual”, a spokesman for the airport said.The spokesman said the evacuation was a precautionary measure and now flights were coming in as usual.
Lydia Carey was diagnosed in October 2017 with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer notorious for the agony suffered by its victims, and was just 60 when she died on November 27 He worked alongside men removing or applying asbestos lagging to pipes, and he recalled seeing workers mixing asbestos powder to paste.At times he had to “walk through, kneel or lie on asbestos dust and debris on the floor to carry out his work”, the barrister claimed.“He swept asbestos dust and debris from the floor using a dustpan and brush”.Mr Carey claims Vauxhall neglected to warn him of the dangers linked to asbestos and should have provided him with protective equipment.And Mrs Carey’s indirect exposure to dust and fibres over a three-year window between 1976 and 1979 was enough for asbestos to do its deadly work, argued Mr Swoboda.But Vauxhall’s QC, Paul Bleasdale, suggested other sources for Mrs Carey’s fatal illness.Even if Mr Carey was exposed to asbestos when working for Vauxhall, it would have been “very occasional if not minimal”, he argued. The car firm denies that Mr Carey was exposed to hazardous amounts of asbestos whilst working for Vauxhall or that he would have “disturbed asbestos in the fabric of the building”. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. A car factory worker who says he unwittingly poisoned his wife with asbestos dust trapped in his moustache and clothing is suing his former employer for £1m over her death.Lydia Carey’s husband, John, 60, says that, from the day they met in 1976, she breathed in asbestos fibres trapped on his work overall, hair, moustache and sideburns.He escaped unharmed, but Lydia died, aged 60, on November 27 this year from asbestos-linked lung cancer, the High Court heard.Asbestos fibres were transmitted from husband to wife during the habitual rituals of daily life, said Mr Carey’s barrister, John-Paul Swoboda.“All through the period she and John Carey would hug and kiss upon seeing one another,” he told Judge Karen Walden-Smith.“As well as the asbestos on his clothes, Mr Carey had a full head of hair, a moustache and sideburns in which asbestos dust would be trapped until liberated by movement from – say – a hug,” he added.Mr Carey, from Toddington, Bedfordshire, is now claiming damages from Vauxhall Motors, at whose Luton and Dunstable sites he worked between 1973 and 1979. Mr Swoboda told the court fibres lay dormant in Lydia Carey’s body for 40 years before she developed lung cancer.She was diagnosed in October 2017 with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer notorious for the agony suffered by its victims, and was just 60 when she died on November 27.Vauxhall says all asbestos-related work at the plants was done by specialist external contractors and it operated an overalls washing scheme for its employees.But, Mr Swoboda said the company had charged extra for the laundry service, and insisted that Mr Carey worked in close proximity to asbestos dust.The couple wed in 1978, the court heard, and Mrs Carey regularly washed her husband’s work overalls, he told the judge.His work clothes were at times “black with dust”, he added, which even penetrated into the turnups of his trousers.“Once married, Mr Carey would change from his work clothes when he came home so as not to make the house dirty,” said Mr Swoboda.“Mrs Carey would knock and brush the dust off his work clothes, and she remembered washing his blue overalls.”Much of Mr Carey’s work was carried on at Vauxhall’s Dunstable plant, and Mr Swoboda claimed the factory was polluted by “huge quantities of asbestos”.
The Chancellor’s announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the Government to recognise the issue of what campaigners have termed “period poverty”. The government has already pledged to remove VAT on sanitary products – the so-called “tampon tax” – when the UK leaves the European Union. Currently it channels the revenue it raises to good causes. From July, hospitals will be ordered to supply free tampons and sanitary towels to patients, following a campaign by doctors.Medics had said it was unfair that some hospitals would provide men with razors and shaving foam but not offer women sanitary products. The organisation has joined campaigning efforts to remove taboos around menstruation and help girls who struggle to afford products such as pads and tampons.A new programme of activities designed by the charity WaterAid will see girls devise a drama to set out how they would deal with situations such as what to do if their period leaks onto their underwear or clothes while they are not at home. Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt Earlier this month, Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, unveiled a £2 million fund to tackle “period poverty” around the world. According to the Department for International Development (Dfid) around half of women and girls in developing countries cannot afford sanitary products and are forced to use rags, grass and paper to manage their periods. The Government Equalities Office also announced a task force, which will include government departments as well as manufacturers, retailers and charities, to help tackle period poverty in the UK. Last year, the Girl Guides announced that they are introducing a “period poverty” badge as they encourage girls to discuss menstruation. Sanitary products are to be given out for free in secondary schools across England from September, the Chancellor has confirmed.Announcing the move in the Spring Statement, Philip Hammond said it followed concern from headteachers that girls are missing school because they cannot afford the products. The Department for Education will lead work to develop a national scheme to ensure the provision of free sanitary products to girls in secondary schools.Mr Hammond told MPs: “In response to rising concern by headteachers that some girls are missing school attendance due to inability to afford sanitary products, I have decided to fund the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year.”In response to a question in the Commons, Mr Hammond added later that he was “quite open to sensible suggestions” for how to address the issue in primary schools.School leaders welcomed the move, with the National Association for Head saying it was “the right thing to do”.Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed but added that much more needs to be done to tackle the general issue of poverty among pupils.He said it is “extremely disappointing” that there is no extra cash for schools which are “creaking under the strain of funding pressures”. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
“However, on the date of the accident, the metal grenade was thrown by an actor, but hit the claimant in the face, knocking her to the ground, and causing her to hit her head and injure her back.”In court documents filed at Central London County Court, the Alan Goldsmith Organisation has denied negligence. Its lawyers insist it had nothing to do with managing the spectacle at the Norman-style fortress, which was restored by Alan Goldsmith in the 1980s. The defence statement also states that Miss Westerman, of Hammersmith, west London, sent text messages after the incident describing it as an “accident” and “just an incredibly unlucky event”.”Following this incident, not even Miss Westerman considered the event to be anything other than a mistake by the other actor involved, despite the assertions now made,” the company added.A trial will take place at Central London County Court on a date yet to be set. A “zombie” actress who says her face was scarred for life in a freak accident during a Hallowe’en show is suing the company that runs the castle where it was staged for £100,000.Helena Westerman, 24, claims she was left with five fractured teeth and permanent facial scarring after she was hit by a deactivated grenade at Mountfitchet Castle in Stansted, Essex.She said the prop, thrown by another actor, struck her in the mouth while she was portraying a “mad scientist and zombie” character in an interactive show in October 2015.Miss Westerman was shuffling out of the shadows in full costume and makeup to terrify a fee-paying audience in the moments before the accident, court documents say.The writer and theatre producer claims she had to undergo six months of intensive dental treatment and suffered depression, anxiety and an “adjustment disorder” due to the incident. She has now sued the Alan Goldsmith Organisation Ltd – the firm that runs the castle – accusing it of failing to provide a safe system of work.Her solicitor, Nicola Hall, said: “On previous nights, she pretended to fall to the ground, giving the impression that the explosion had killed the zombies, and she would then get up shortly after. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
“There were 11 hours in which she could have been diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis and received appropriate surgical treatment short of amputation,” he added.Although she would have suffered damage to her arm in any event, she would have escaped the horror of amputation, he continued.”She would have been left with a cosmetically unattractive arm which would have been very weak and very restricted at the elbow, but it would have had some useful, if restricted, function,” he added.The case will return to court at a later date for an assessment of the amount Mrs Austin will receive in damages, if not agreed. A pensioner who lost her arm after catching a flesh-eating bug at church hall pilates class has won her claim in negligence against the NHS at the High Court.Patricia Austin, 78, contracted necrotising fasciitis after injuring her arm at a resistance band workout at a church hall in Aylesbury, on August 8, 2012.Mrs Austin may now receive up to £150,000 in compensation.Having hurt her arm, Mrs Austin saw her GP and – by then very sick – her daughter later called 999, but a paramedic declined to take her to A&E immediately.Instead, the paramedic decided she did not need hospital treatment, in the belief she had an abdominal condition, and advised her to take painkillers, the High Court heard.Mrs Austin had initially thought she had tweaked a tendon during her class, but after eventually getting to hospital the next day, was diagnosed with the flesh-eating bacteria and the arm was removed.She sued the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, claiming her limb would have been saved if the paramedic had taken her to hospital on the previous evening.And after ruling that the delay in getting her to hospital was a breach of the duty owed to the patient, a judge today awarded Mrs Austin the right to damages which could reach £150,000. Mrs Austin’s lawyers argued that the paramedic was wrong not to take her to hospital and that that led to her losing her arm to amputation.Ruling on the case Judge Geoffrey Tattersall QC said the paramedic had decided it was “not necessary” to take Mrs Austin, who had seen her GP earlier that day, to hospital.”She advised that Mrs Austin should continue taking paracetamol and rehydration fluids and that she or her family should contact her GP if the symptoms persisted, or call the ambulance back if they were concerned,” he added.The medic focused on Mrs Austin’s abdomen as the source of her symptoms, he said, and took no steps to examine her patient’s affected arm.”Given the history of pain, it was in my judgment not reasonable for the paramedic not to examine the arm,” the judge found.Mrs Austin, although still conscious and communicating, had lost control of her bladder and bowels and was therefore in a serious condition, the court heard.The judge added: “My finding that she had lost control of her bladder and bowels is sufficient to justify my conclusion that the paramedics were in breach of their duty of care owed to Mrs Austin by failing to arrange for her immediate transfer and admission to Stoke Mandeville.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)RelatedAngelina Jolie urges world powers to do more for Syrian refugeesMarch 15, 2016In “World”Over 58,000 children ‘face death’ in drought-hit SomaliaFebruary 9, 2016In “World”1.1 million children affected by Venezuela crisis — UNICEFApril 5, 2019In “latest news” Five-year-old Mohannad Ali sits in hospital in Yemen in December. His younger cousin – aged just two – died of hunger (UNICEF)(BBC) The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations says, issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe”.UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.Unicef has already warned 1.4m children could starve to death this year.Mr O’Brien said $4.4bn (£3.6bn) was needed by July to avert disaster.“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”“Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”Mr O’Brien’s comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month.At that time, he revealed the UN had only received $90m (£74m) so far in 2017, despite generous pledges.Like Mr O’Brien, he urged more financial support for the four countries. But why are they in such dire need?The pictures were among the most shocking of last year: emaciated children, clinging on to life with what little strength they had left. Four-year-olds not bigger than infants. And mothers unable to do anything to stop their children dying.It is thought a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half-a-million children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.The UN estimates some 19 million people – or two thirds of Yemen’s population – is in need of some sort of humanitarian help following two years of war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.What’s hampering aid?Continuing fighting, lack of rule of law, poor governance, under-development.A naval embargo imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, fighting around the government-controlled port of Aden and air strikes on the rebel-held port of Hudaydah, have severely reduced imports since 2015.A lack of fuel, coupled with insecurity and damage to markets and roads, have also prevented supplies from being distributed.UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan, while a further million are classified as being on the brink of famine.It is the most acute of the present food emergencies, and the most widespread nationally.Overall, says the UN, 4.9 million people – or 40% of South Sudan’s population – are “in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance”.What’s hampering aid?Continuing fighting in the country that now has been at war since 2013, lack of rule of law, under-development.Some UN officials have suggested President Salva Kiir’s government has been blocking food aid to certain areas – a claim denied by the authorities.There have also been reports of humanitarian convoys and warehouses coming under attack or being looted, either by government or rebel forces.The UN has described the unfolding disaster in north-eastern Nigeria as the “greatest crisis on the continent” – the full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back.It was already known the Islamist group had killed 15,000 and pushed more than two million from their homes. But as they retreated, it became clear there were thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in urgent need of help.The UN estimated in December there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered “severely food insecure”.What’s hampering aid?Boko Haram attacks, lack of rule of law, under-development.There are still areas under the control of Boko Haram, which aid agencies cannot reach.Thee have also been allegations of widespread aid theft, which are being investigated by Nigeria’s senate.The last time a famine was declared in Somalia – just six years ago – nearly 260,000 people died.At the beginning of March, there were reports of 110 people dying in just one region in a 48-hour period.Humanitarian groups fear this could be just the beginning: a lack of water – blamed partially on the El Nino weather phenomenon – has killed off livestock and crops, leaving 6.2 million people in urgent need of help.What’s hampering aid?Continuing attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabab, lack of rule of law, under-development.Piracy off Somalia’s coast impeded shipments in the past – however attacks have reduced significantly in recent years.