Maybe this sounds ridiculous because all the media expect the Vikings to finish at the bottom of the NFC North. But one factor that should help the team in showing a big improvement over their 3-13 record of a year ago is their very favorable schedule.
The biggest plus for the Vikings in the schedule is that they don't face either the Packers or Bears until Week 12, coming out of their bye. They close out with four of their last six games against either the Packers and the Bears, playing in Chicago on Nov. 25, in Green Bay on Dec. 2, at home vs. Chicago on Dec. 9 and closing out the season at home vs. Green Bay on Dec. 30.
So the Vikings will play at Chicago and at Green Bay on successive weeks and then get the Bears at home. Then they will have road games at St. Louis and Houston before finishing with the Packers.
And another factor in the Vikings' favor is their two games with the Lions.
After opening the season with Jacksonville at home, then playing at Indianapolis, then playing San Francisco at home in Week 3, the Vikings go to Detroit. But they don't face the Lions again until the 10th game of the season.
The first nine games are winnable, except probably the 49ers game, if Christian Ponder has a good year and if the Vikings secondary shows a lot better pass defense.
So if the team can stay healthy and show a lot of improvement in the early part of the schedule, the Vikings could surprise a lot of people and become a factor in the race, before playing a lot of games against division opponents late in the year, after this young team has had time to gel.Bad decision for Williams
It's hard to understand after the district court and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jimmy Williams that the Minnesota Supreme Court would rule in favor of the University of Minnesota.
Maybe Tubby Smith didn't hire Williams on paper, but certainly Williams thought he was going to be Smith's No. 1 assistant men's basketball coach. It wasn't until then-athletic director Joel Maturi decided that having Williams back wasn't a good idea, after he had NCAA violations on his record during his previous Gophers stint, that the hiring didn't happen.
I talked to Williams right after he had talked with Smith about coming to the university. He had quit his job as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State and was all excited about moving back to Minnesota.
Williams was such a perfect hire for Smith because he had done as good a recruiting job as any assistant coach when he was working for the Gophers under Jim Dutcher. Williams was able to beat a lot of top-notch programs to bring some outstanding players here.
But now Williams is short the $1 million that he was awarded, money the University of Minnesota didn't even have to pay because it had insurance.Smith contributes
One thing about Tubby Smith, though, is that he is very involved in community events and spends so much time with underprivileged boys and girls.
For instance on Wednesday, local attorney Ron Zamansky and some 200 volunteers staged the 26th annual Create a Memory event, which Zamansky has been involved with forever. It was held at Target Field for some 500 children from different Twin Cities agencies, including Community Recreation; Jewish Family and Children's Service; Phyllis Wheatley Community Center; YMCA-Minnetonka Heights; West 7th Community Center; Northwest Youth and Family Services, and Kinship of Greater Minneapolis.
The purpose of the event was to give the young participants pleasant memories, and Smith helped it by bringing Gophers players Trevor Mbakwe and Elliott Eliason to the event. The trio stuck around to the end and participated in all of the different events, such as running the bases and tracking down fly balls.
Each kid attending was given a gift bag with baseball cards, baseballs and a kids baseball book. There were other Gophers athletes from nonrevenue sports there as well.
The Twins, who make many contributions to different charities, made Target Field available, and several firms donated pizza, hot dogs, soft drinks and ice cream.
One of the children attending said after the closing ceremony that taking part in the event was the best day of his life.Jottings
• Timberwolves forward Kevin Love enters Friday's Olympic semifinal against Argentina as Team USA's third-leading scorer, averaging 12.5 points per game, behind only Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Love is shooting 63.6 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from three-point range, but he is only 50 percent -- 11-for-22 -- on free throws. Love is also the top rebounder at 7.2 per game, and 20 of his 43 rebounds have come on the offensive end. ... In six games for Russia, Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko is averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 64.8 percent from the floor. Kirilenko had 19 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's quarterfinal victory over Lithuania. Fellow new Wolves acquisition Alexey Shved is averaging 10.7 points and 5.5 assists. He had only four points on 2-for-12 shooting Wednesday, including 0-for-5 on three-pointers.
• ESPN.com recently updated its top 60 boys' basketball players for the 2014 class, and Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones is No. 2. Dave Telep wrote about Jones: "He is the best point guard in his state since Khalid El-Amin and might be the purest floor general in high school hoops since Chris Paul in 2003." Also on the list at No. 12 was Cooper star Rashad Vaughn, whom Telep called "one of the most accomplished scorers in the class."
• Benilde-St. Margaret's product Jordan Taylor signed with Virtus Roma in Italy, although the former Wisconsin All-America point guard said he is not giving up on trying to get to the NBA. Taylor went undrafted after his senior season, then averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 assists in Summer League play for the Atlanta Hawks.
• Going into this season, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is second among active NFL players with 105 career sacks. Atlanta's John Abraham has 112 sacks over 12 seasons.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org