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Path: /college-football/washington-gets-new-uniforms-start-chris-petersen-era
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It’s a new era in Seattle, as Chris Petersen was hired away from Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian. Petersen is regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation, so it’s no surprise there is plenty of excitement around the program in 2014.

The Huskies continued to build on their offseason momentum with the release of new uniforms and helmets for 2014.

And by all accounts, these new uniforms are a hit with the players and fans.

Check out the full gallery of the new uniforms here and below are a few selected images from today’s release:
 

Teaser:
Washington Unveils New Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 21:56
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-18-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for April 18.

• To celebrate the end of the NBA's interminable regular season and the start of the playoffs, here are the dancers of the NBA postseason teams

• Speaking of the playoffs, this is cool: Great playoff moments in rotoscoped animation.

• A minor league baseball team contributed in its own small way to America's obesity epidemic with an insane cupcake mural.

• Think your day's going poorly? Watch a European Tour golfer jump in a lake after 20 hornet stings.

• Frank Haith has cashed in at Tulsa, much to the dismay of his many Twitter detractors.

• In the spirit of the season: One way to salvage those disgusting marshmellow peeps.

• Santa hasn't cornered the market on leaving little kids terrified and screaming. The Easter Bunny brings his own special brand of terror.

• This is not good for MLB's future: Baseball games are getting slower. I didn't think that was possible.

• Headline of the day: "Kentucky Police Searching for Bank Robber with Giant UK Back Tattoo." Doesn't really narrow their search that much.

• Another headline says this basketball fan's Mt. Spursmore haircut is not a good haircut. I couldn't disagree more.

• I thought I knew just how bad the Lions had been. Then I read this article.

• You know how your angry grandpa says he hates the NBA cause they don't play defense? If you watch this James Harden lowlight reel, you might see his point.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 13:23
Path: /college-football/peyton-manning-visits-nick-saban-tennessee-fans-and-nflpa-squirm
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For a day or so, two of the most beloved Tennessee sports figures were in the state of Alabama.

Bruce Pearl, of course, is the new coach at Auburn. And now Peyton Manning and Nick Saban are trading football tips.

Ick.

Athlon Sports will be covering both Iron Bowl spring games.

Follow @DavidFox615 for updates from Alabama and @BradenGall for updates from Auburn and stay tuned for game coverage Saturday and through the week.

Also follow Athlon on Instagram for images from the Iron Bowl rivals.
The former Volunteers quarterback and his Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, spent time with Saban and his staff trading knowledge. Gase worked for Saban at Michigan State and LSU. The meeting, one of several visits Saban said Manning has made in the offseason, was mutually beneficial.

Both Saban and Manning are coming off shocking postseason losses ‚ Alabama losing 45-31 to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and the Broncos losing 43-8 to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

“To be honest with you, he was just trying to learn so he could be a better player,” Saban said at his post-practice press conference. "I think a lot of people would say, 'Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, and certainly from a career standpoint probably about as good as anybody's been in the history of the league.’ After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he's going out and trying to seek more knowledge and understanding of the game of football so he can play better.”

Saban said he talked to Manning about the no-huddle offense and what gives him trouble from a defensive standpoint. Alabama, of course, faces its share of up-tempo teams in the SEC West. Not to mention the team in Knoxville.

Tennessee fans seem to be taking it well:

The real party to be a little upset, though, might be the NFLPA. By meeting with Gase, Manning may have committed a violation of the CBA, according to Pro Football Talk. The Collective Bargaining Agreement forbids players from meeting with their NFL coaches before the official start of the offseason program.

Manning isn’t the only figure to visit. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano also visited Saban and his staff during the spring.

“I guess the best way to answer the question is who's doing who a favor?” Saban said “Sometimes we have people that we ask to come in because we want to learn from them. The goals that you have for next year are basically the things that you struggled with last year. You make a list of those things through your quality control, and then you go out and look for people who might be able to help you develop a little more expertise, a better way to teach, a better way to coach some situation.”

Teaser:
Manning visits Saban; Tennessee fans (and NFLPA) squirm
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 12:51
Path: /college-football/10-things-watch-alabamas-day-spring-game-fans-guide
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Alabama is coming off the kind of disappointing season most teams would envy.

The Crimson Tide were No. 1 and undefeated until Nov. 30 and reached the Sugar Bowl. But the glaring number here is 0-2, as in losses to Auburn and Oklahoma to finish the season.

The theme of spring practice in Tuscaloosa has been to rediscover the magic that started to fade, players say, well before the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. The two-touchdown loss to Oklahoma was the culmination of the complacency that Alabama feared going back to spring 2013.

As spring 2014 comes to a close, Alabama coach Nick Saban is not only looking for a change of attitude in his team, but also some key personnel moves, starting with the replacement of quarterback AJ McCarron.

Athlon Sports will be covering both Iron Bowl spring games.

Follow @DavidFox615 for updates from Alabama and @BradenGall for updates from Auburn and stay tuned for game coverage Saturday and through the week.

Also follow Athlon on Instagram for images from the Iron Bowl rivals.
The final solo audition for Blake Sims
Alabama won’t have a true picture of who will replace career-leading passer and two-time national championship quarterback AJ McCarron until the fall when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrives. Credit senior quarterback Blake Sims, though, for making the most his spring in the spotlight. Alabama coach Nick Saban has praised Sims’ “command” of the offense. This will be Sims’ final audition before competing for the job yet again when Coker arrives. Coker, a Mobile, Ala., native, competed with Heisman winner Jameis Winston before last season at Florida State. Coker is still finishing his final semester in Tallahassee before he’ll be eligible immediately at Alabama.

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the same team
Saban has been generous in his praise of Henry, who was one of the breakout players of bowl season with 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against Oklahoma. He and incumbent T.J. Yeldon are both on the Crimson team for first-stringers on offense. That means Yeldon and Henry will both run into the No. 1 defense. Both are capable of being a feature back — and a star feature back, at that — so the rotation and 1-2 punch will be worth watching.

The unveiling of Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator
One of the more intriguing coaching moves of the offseason was the addition of Kiffin to the Alabama staff as offensive coordinator. By Alabama policy, Kiffin shouldn’t be as much as a lightning rod as an assistant in Tuscaloosa. Alabama assistants do not conduct media interviews. That means the Alabama offense will have to speak for the former Tennessee and USC coach. Receivers, including Amari Cooper, have said Kiffin has a knack for getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. But Kiffin is also one of a dwindling group of college coordinators who embrace the kind of pro-style offense Saban wants to run. How will that manifest itself on A-Day?

The attendance battle with Auburn
Everything is a competition with the Iron Bowl, so why not put the spring game attendance figures head to head. During the Saban era, Alabama has demolished Auburn in spring game attendance, at least until last season when the Tigers set a school record with 83,401 at their spring game. Alabama’s spring game attendance has leveled off to sub-80,000 (by the way, how many coaches are wishing they had a 78,000 at their spring games?). Maybe the added mystery — a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator — and good weather will draw more Alabama fans for the scrimmage. Remember, Alabama set a record in the 2011 spring game, another game after a non-championship year.

Spring Game Attendance
 AlabamaAuburn
201378,31583,401*
201278,53643,427
201192,310*53,209
201091,31263,217
200994,05045,381
200878,20035,000
200992,13831,757
*school record


The fan reaction
Perhaps no fan base in the SEC has had quite the swing in emotions. Alabama went into the Iron Bowl undefeated with hopes of a fourth national championship in five seasons. Then came the Kick Six. Then came the flop against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Hiring Lane Kiffin was puzzling. Is this a fragile fan base? With Auburn on top as well, no state will have a more interesting offseason than Alabama.

The state of the secondary
The secondary is the biggest question on the defense with positions open at spots not manned by safety Landon Collins. This brings up the classic question for spring games — if Sims has a good day passing is that good for him or bad for the defense and vice versa.

Trey DePriest steps up
The defense also needs its quarterback with C.J. Mosley gone. Middle linebacker and multi-year starter Trey DePriest takes over at signal-caller on the defense. He’ll also need to shepherd a young linebacker corps.

Nick Saban, having fun?
The tradition at Alabama, as it is for a handful of schools, is to treat the winning team in the spring game to a lavish dinner while the losing team receives, let’s say, more standard fare. In the case of Alabama, it’s steak with wait service for the winning players and coaches and buffet-style franks and beans for losing team. Saban, the “commissioner” of A-Day, always gets steak. “The players say I have to choose a team because they get tired of me being over there eating steak and not being on team,” Saban said. “But it’s not just the steak. It’s the tablecloth, the roses on every table, waitresses waiting on you. The other side of it is paper plates, one pot, beans, paper towels, plastic silverware.”

Related: What might get under Saban’s skin?
Saban’s not above sending a message through the media, particularly when he’s unhappy. When asked why running backs Kenyan Drake and Altee Tenpenny, two of the tree running backs on the White team, were absent from the open portion of practice, Saban tone ticked up for a bit: “They didn’t do what they were supposed to do in school this week, so I sent them to study table for four hours and they didn’t come to practice,” Saban said. “If they don’t stay over the for four hours, the probably won’t play in the spring game. There’s no update, just a fact. ...

“I’d rather do it now than during the season. You know, all these players need to learn that they have a responsibility and obligation to do the right thing for themselves.”

Freshman offensive lineman Cam Robinson
In a mild surprise, freshman Cam Robinson will play left tackle with the first-team offense on Saturday while Brandon Greene, his competition, will be with the second unit.

See the sights
Colleague Braden Gall ran down a few of the sights he’s looking to take in at A-Day over at Auburn including Toomer’s Corner and tailgates. I’ve covered games at most SEC programs, but Bryant-Denny is a glaring blind spot on my stadium resume. I’m looking forward to taking a stroll around the stadium to check out the national champion coach statues. There has to be a line for taking photos with the Bear and Saban, right?

From the beat:
AL.com reporter Andrew Gribble joined us to talk about what he’s seen around Alabama spring football.

Athlon Sports: A major point at spring practice this season has been rediscovering the edge and attention to detail that derailed last year’s national championship hopes. How much as that been an issue this spring?

Andrew Gribble: I think they realized they lost their identity at some point last season. Many of the players said that happened before the Auburn loss. That’s been the key talking point from Saban and the players. I think he’s been pleased with what they’ve been able to do. The attitude has been better this year. I think they’re still looking for leaders because they lost a few big ones. The vibe has been back on the right path. That’s been the key theme. Last year, they talked about avoiding complacency. That never really happened this year.

Athlon: How has the messaging been different from Saban compared to years past?

Gribble: He entered this year saying they were going to start over. That’s been the theme, and he’s been pretty positive with many of the players. He’s been more open with the quarterback competition than he was with the McCarron and (Phillip) Sims one. He’s been pretty transparent on that. He’s been very high on praise for Amari Cooper and Derrick Henry and guys like that. There’s been moments when he’s been more positive than in past years.

Athlon: What has been the reaction to Lane Kiffin’s hire, both from the team and the fan base?

Gribble: The fan base has bought into it. I think they were skeptical initially. But I think they kind of trust that Saban knows what he’s doing. The players have really responded well to him. Amari Cooper especially has talked about how the offense is simpler and playmaker-friendly. That’s good news for all the running backs and Cooper and O.J. Howard. Kiffin has a good track record with quarterbacks and they recognize that. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve heard a lot about tempo. They’re not going to look like Oregon anytime soon, but there are going to be situations where they pick up the pace a little bit.

Athlon: How much will the quarterback situation change when Jacob Coker gets here?

Gribble: They’re not going to have an answer by the end of spring, and Coker is the main reason for that. It’s kind of clear that Blake Sims has emerged as the top guy for this current group. He’s had a good spring. The players really like him. He worked with a quarterback coach over spring break, so he’s gotten a lot better. But Jacob Coker wouldn’t have signed with Alabama if he wasn’t going to compete. I think he’s still the frontrunner because he has the skills that Alabama likes in its quarterbacks, and he’s mobile, too. It’s really going to get started once fall camp starts. Saban’s said it could go into the season. I don’t know if it’s going to last that long, but he said the same thing with McCarron even though it was pretty clear McCarron was the guy.

Athlon: What are you looking for in the spring game, especially since most of practice has been closed?

Gribble: Quarterbacks obviously is the big one. The quarterback who has been No. 2 to Sims, Cooper Bateman, is going to be on the other side. He’s going to be able to throw a lot. The offensive line, it looks like a true freshman, Cameron Robinson, is going to be with the first team at left tackle. That’s following in the footsteps of Andre Smith in 2006. Secondary is a big issue. The loss of (cornerback) Eddie Jackson was really significant. He was emerging as one of the top corners. I don’t know how much they’re going to do with special teams. Alabama has one kicker now (Adam Griffith), and he’s been inconsistent. He didn’t have many opportunities last year, but he’s going to have to be the guy this year. Outside of what happened in the Iron Bowl, Alabama has been very good on field goals since 2011.

Athlon: How might the Yeldon/Henry tandem play out?

Gribble: I think Henry is going to be very involved in the offense, but Yeldon is very good. I think the ideal situation for Alabama is going to be to replicate what they had in 2012 with Yeldon and (Eddie) Lacy. They both split carries through the season, and when they got to Georgia and Notre Dame, they were fresh and had huge games. Maybe last year, Yeldon carried the ball a lot and he may have run out of gas. Having those two is a good option for them. It’s a good problem to have. I think (Kenyan) Drake is involved as well because he brings a different element with his speed. But Henry has received the most praise of anyone from Saban. He’s had a great spring, and he knows how to play running back now. Last year, he just knew how to run the ball.

Teaser:
10 Things to Watch From Alabama's A-Day Spring Game: A Fan's Guide
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 12:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-quarterbacks-2014
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The Big Ten isn’t particularly deep at quarterback this season, but there’s plenty to like at the top.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller takes the No. 1 spot in the quarterback rankings, and the senior is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 scores in 12 games. The Buckeyes will feature a deep group of receivers and running backs to help Miller, but the departure of four starters on the line is a concern for coach Urban Meyer.

After Miller, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Michigan State’s Connor Cook take the next two spots. Hackenberg was outstanding as a freshman in 2013, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 scores. He also completed 58.9 percent of his throws and should thrive under new coach James Franklin. The Spartans entered last season with uncertainty under center, but Cook eventually claimed the top spot over Andrew Maxwell. Cook threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan State’s Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld/Tre Roberson are other intriguing names to watch in 2014. Gardner has a new coordinator (Doug Nussmeier), but for the Wolverines’ passing game to take a step forward, the offensive line has to develop after struggling in 2014.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the Big Ten's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SR)
There is no doubt about Miller’s overall talent. He is explosive, versatile, accurate, tough and always seems to make the big play when Ohio State has needed one. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year enters his final season with eyes on finally winning a conference title after going 24-0 as a starter in the regular season the last two years. Miller has thrown for 5,292 yards, rushed for 3,054 yards and scored 84 total touchdowns (52 pass, 32 rush) in 36 career games. He needs to prove he can stay healthy, as Ohio State is a national title contender with No. 5 under center. But without him, the Buckeyes wouldn't be the favorite to win the division.

2. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (SO)
From a pure NFL talent perspective, only Jameis Winston is in the same category as Hackenberg. As a true freshman, he set all types of Penn State passing records and will only continue to get better as his career progresses. The Virginia native lost QB guru Bill O'Brien and star safety blanket Allen Robinson at receiver, but gained uber-coach James Franklin and has an elite collection of tight ends and running backs at his disposal. The offensive line will be a concern, but Hackenberg should easily improve on his freshman statline of 2,955 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State (JR)
Michigan State opened last season with major question marks under center, as Andrew Maxwell entered his second year as the tentative starter. By the third week of the season, Cook had wrestled the starting job from all other contenders by throwing four touchdowns and 202 yards in an easy win over Youngstown State. Cook lost only once in his first year as Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback and finished with a sterling 2,755-yard, 22-TD, 6-INT statline. And he saved his best for the biggest stage, throwing for over 300 yards in both the Big Ten Championship game win over Ohio State and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Cook has the chance to mix the talent of Drew Stanton with the leadership and poise of Kirk Cousins — a scary combination for the rest of the league.

4. Devin Gardner, Michigan (SR)
Gardner is perhaps the toughest quarterback to rank in the Big Ten for 2014. While Gardner didn’t meet the lofty preseason expectations, his numbers in conference play weren’t bad. In eight Big Ten games, Gardner led the conference by averaging 269.9 passing yards per contest. He also threw only three interceptions in Big Ten contests last year. Gardner finished the year on a high note by throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns against rival Ohio State but missed the bowl game due to injury. While Gardner had his share of struggles, he wasn’t exactly awful. But in order for the Michigan native to take the next step in his development, Gardner needs more help from a struggling supporting cast.

5. Nate Sudfeld (JR)/Tre Roberson (JR), Indiana
Normally, only one name is supposed to be listed here, but Kevin Wilson has talked openly about using a two-quarterback system. And since the Hoosiers' duo complements each other so well, both make the list. Roberson is the better athlete who can make things happen outside of the pocket with the ball in his hands. Sudfeld is the accomplished pocket passer with better over accuracy and touch. Wilson ran the Big Ten's top passing offense a year ago and the league's No. 2 overall unit, so no one can really doubt what is normally a very questionable strategy under center.

6. C.J. Brown, Maryland (SR)
Heading into 2013, no Terrapin had passed for more than 1,700 yards since 2010. However, that was until Brown finally proved he could stay relatively healthy (he still missed two games). He finished with 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, making his 135.90 passer rating the highest for a Maryland starter since Chris Turner in 2007. While his arm was better than anticipated, his real value was on the ground as he rushed for 576 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. A repeat of that performance would make him one of the more productive players in the Big Ten in 2014.

7. Jake Rudock, Iowa (JR)
Prior to last season, Rudock had yet to take a snap in a regular season game in an Iowa uniform. However, the Florida native quietly had a solid debut, throwing for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns on 204 completions. Rudock tossed 13 picks but completed 59 percent of his throws and added 218 yards and five scores on the ground. Helping Rudock’s cause in 2014 will be a strong offensive line, three steady options at running back, and the return of No. 1 receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Rudock won’t post huge numbers in Iowa’s offensive scheme, but the junior is due to improve on the stat sheet in 2014 and could approach 3,000 passing yards.

8. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska (SO)
Armstrong was placed into a difficult role last year, taking over as Nebraska’s starting quarterback after Taylor Martinez was lost for the year due to a foot injury. Despite the lack of experience and difficult circumstances, Armstrong held up relatively well in his first taste of FBS action. The Texas native completed 68 of 131 passes for 966 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 202 yards and two scores on the ground. With the starting job in hand this offseason, Armstrong will benefit from the opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense in preseason practices. A completion percentage of 51.9 is a potential trouble spot, but Armstrong should be more comfortable in his second year under center. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he will have potential All-Big Ten candidates in receiver Kenny Bell and running back Ameer Abdullah returning in 2014.

9. Joel Stave, Wisconsin (JR)
Stave is coming off a solid 2013 campaign, throwing for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns on 208 completions. However, his spot on the top of Wisconsin’s depth chart is far from certain. The junior suffered a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina and was shut down for the final week of spring practice to allow him time to rehab for the fall. But even if Stave returns at full strength, he isn’t guaranteed to take the first snap of the year against LSU. Junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy had a solid spring and is expected to push Stave again in the fall. McEvoy started his career at South Carolina but transferred to Arizona Western College to play in 2012. McEvoy played some snaps at safety last season but is moving back to quarterback. Wisconsin ranked No. 8 last year in the Big Ten (conference-only games) in passing offense, so whether it’s Stave or McEvoy under center, the Badgers need more out of the passing attack. If we knew who the starter was, they would probably rank a little higher on this list.

10. Wes Lunt, Illinois (SO)
The Illinois’ coaching staff won’t hand out the official starter designation until the fall, but all signs point to Lunt as the No. 1 quarterback. In 2012, Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns on 81 completions at Oklahoma State. The Illinois native transferred from Stillwater after 2012 and spent last season as a redshirt for the Fighting Illini. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Lunt has all of the physical tools necessary to succeed under center. But with less than a season of experience under his belt, Lunt will have a few growing pains at Illinois. However, as a four-star prospect, the future looks bright for Lunt, and with a struggling defense, he could be forced to win plenty of shootouts for the Fighting Illini this year.

11. Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (SR)
Siemian has shared the quarterback duties over the last two years with Kain Colter, but the Florida native is set to assume the No. 1 spot on the depth chart this season. Over the last two years, Siemian has thrown for 3,461 yards and 17 touchdowns and tossed 12 picks. In the season finale against Illinois in 2013, Siemian torched the Fighting Illini defense for 414 yards and four scores. And he also threw for 308 yards against Indiana in 2012. Perhaps dropping the two-quarterback system and allowing Siemian to take all of the snaps will help Northwestern’s offense, especially since he won’t have to look over his shoulder waiting to be removed from the game or wonder when the next snap may happen. Siemian has plenty of talent to work with and should help Northwestern rebound into a bowl in 2014.

12. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota (SO)
With Philip Nelson transferring to Rutgers, Leidner will take control of the Minnesota offense. Although losing a starting quarterback is always a setback, the Golden Gophers’ offense shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with Leidner under center. Last season, the Minnesota native completed 43 of 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns. Leidner also added 407 yards and seven scores on the ground last year. Considering coach Jerry Kill’s background at Northern Illinois and how Minnesota used Nelson over the last two years, it’s safe to say Leidner could approach 700 rushing yards this season. But the bigger concerns for coaching staff are improving the passing attack, which averaged only 148.1 yards per game last year. If he develops as a passer, Leidner should move up this list by the end of the season.

13. Danny Etling, Purdue (SO)
The Boilermakers struggled mightily in Darrell Hazell’s first season, finishing 1-11 with its only victory coming against FCS opponent Indiana State. You have to look hard to find bright spots in a one-win season, but Etling was one of the few promising players for Hazell to build around in 2014. The Indiana native finished 2013 with 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns and completed 55.8 percent of his throws. Etling closed the year on a high note by throwing for 485 yards and four scores against rival Indiana. Although Etling has to make strides as a passer, he also needs more help from his supporting cast. Of the four players that caught at least 25 passes in 2013, only one averaged more than 11.5 yards per catch. The Boilermakers also allowed a whopping 32 sacks in eight Big Ten contests. Etling certainly has upside and should improve with a full offseason to work as the No. 1. However, his upside will be limited until Hazell improves the supporting cast through recruiting or player development.

14. Gary Nova, Rutgers (SR)
Nova threw for fewer yards (2,159), fewer touchdowns (18), a lower completion percentage (54.5%) and nearly as many interceptions (14) in 2013 as he did in 2012 (2,695 yards, 22 TDs, 57.0%, 16 INTs). He was benched for the final three games of 2013 and will need to hold onto the job throughout the offseason if he wants to have the chance to reverse the concerning trend in his production. If he's not going to produce on the ground — Nova has minus-251 career rushing yards and has never had more than minus-44 yards in a season — he has to be excellent through the air. Although the numbers so far are concerning for coach Kyle Flood, the addition of play-caller Ralph Friedgen should help Nova’s development in 2014.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/texas-or-kansas-state-who-finishes-higher-big-12-2014
Body:

Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the favorites in the Big 12 for 2014, but Kansas State and Texas aren’t too far behind.

The Wildcats and Longhorns both finished 8-5 last season, but Texas held a two-game edge in conference play.

Texas defeated Kansas State 31-21 in 2013, but prior to last season, the Wildcats had won five in a row over the Longhorns.

With Charlie Strong taking over, Texas is due for a transition period, but there’s still a ton of talent on the roster.

Kansas State finished 2013 on a tear, winning six out of the last seven games. And with 10 starters back, the Wildcats are a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12 in 2014. The offense should have no trouble scoring points with the return of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, and the defense will get a boost from a couple of key recruits from the junior college ranks.

Even though Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference (in whatever order you prefer), it’s not out of the question Texas or Kansas State could win the Big 12 title if all of the pieces come together.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Texas or Kansas State: Who Finishes HIgher in the Big 12 in 2014?


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tough call. There’s very little separation between these two teams, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kansas State and Texas tie in the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats have a huge schedule advantage by hosting the Longhorns, but Bill Snyder’s team plays at Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Although Texas has to play in Manhattan, its road schedule in conference play seems to be more manageable. Talent certainly hasn’t been an issue for the Longhorns, but this roster has underachieved in recent years. Strong should fix that problem by bringing discipline and a better fundamental, X’s and O’s approach than former coach Mack Brown. But much of Texas’ chances of finishing ahead of Kansas State in the standings will rest on the quarterback position. The Wildcats have a huge edge over the Longhorns in that department, as Jake Waters should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2014. The health of quarterback David Ash is a concern for Strong, but the Longhorns can win games with their stable of running backs and a solid defense. A compelling case could be made for either team in this discussion, but I will give a slight edge to the Longhorns. Yes, the home matchup favors Kansas State, and Bill Snyder on the sidelines is worth an extra win or two every year for the Wildcats. However, Strong should be what Texas needs to maximize the talent on the roster, and the Longhorns should narrowly edge Kansas State for the No. 3 spot in the Big 12. 

Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
The correct answer is neither. Or perhaps both.

I've got Texas projected to finish the year at 6-3 in conference. Wins: Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor. Losses: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State.

Same for Kansas State. Wins: Texas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech. Losses: Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU.

If you want to get all technical about it, the Wildcats would have the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win. Record-wise, however, the two teams tie for third place. Feel the excitement.

Mark Ross
As much as I like the Charlie Strong hire for Texas, I have learned it's never a wise move to count out Bill Snyder. All the man has done as Kansas State's head coach is win consistently with less talent, at least according to the recruiting services, than the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and more recently, Baylor. Over the past three seasons, the Wildcats have won 29 games, gone 20-7 in Big 12 play, including claiming the conference crown in 2012. K-State has enjoyed all of this success due to Snyder's steady hand, solid coaching and the impressive ability to mine the junior college ranks for impact talent on a year-in, year-out basis. That's why even though the Wildcats return just 10 starters, just four of those on defense, I still expect Snyder to find a way to coax enough wins out of this roster to finish ahead of Strong and the Longhorns. For one, Jake Waters is fully entrenched as the starting quarterback and appears to have the same type of dual-threat skill set that thrives in Snyder's offense. Waters also has some playmakers around him, namely All-Big 12 standout wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The defense is inexperienced, but there's talent for the coaching staff to work with and, as always, reinforcements on the way in the form of junior college transfers and redshirt freshmen.

The other reason I like K-State a little better than Texas this season is the schedule. The Wildcats have a big showdown with defending SEC champion Auburn on Sept. 18, but that game takes place in Manhattan, Kan. Likewise, Snyder's team also will welcome Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and, that's right, Texas, to the Little Apple this fall. Road trips to Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia won't be easy, but this schedule appears, at least on paper, more palatable than the Longhorns'. Before Strong even gets his first taste of the Big 12, he will have played both BYU and UCLA in his new home state, the latter coming at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Texas' conference slate has them visiting Stillwater, Lubbock, the aforementioned Manhattan and of course Dallas for the newly re-branded AT&T Red River Showdown with an Oklahoma team that's still smarting from last year's beatdown to the 'Horns. And don't forget home dates with Baylor and TCU. Yes, Texas made a wise choice in tabbing Strong as the successor to Mack Brown, but that doesn't mean he will immediately return the Longhorns to the top of the Big 12. Not with wily old Snyder and Kansas State seemingly flying under the radar for yet another season.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The safe pick is Kansas State. The upside pick is Texas. Kansas State has the more stable quarterback situation with Jake Waters’ development pushing Daniel Sams to wide receiver. Kansas State has the fortuitous schedule with three off weeks and Texas at home. That said, both teams have big time questions that may prevent them from contending for the Big 12. I like Texas’ potential. While the Longhorns don’t have an easy solution at quarterback with the injury-prone veteran David Ash, the upstart Tyrone Swoopes or the potential newcomer Max Wittek, as long as any of them are competent, Texas can win thanks to the run game. Joe Wickline is a quality offensive line coach, and his arrival is huge for Texas. Texas will find some answers there. And even if we don’t know some of the names on defense, Texas has the talent. If I’m feeling safe, I go Kansas State. If I’m feeling lucky, I’ll go with Texas.

 

Teaser:
Texas or Kansas State: Who Finishes Higher in the Big 12 in 2014?
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/athlon-sports-interview-auburn-basketball-coach-bruce-pearl
Body:

On Saturday, the state of Alabama will celebrate perhaps its favorite sport second only to college football — spring football. Even on A-Day at Auburn, the Tigers have reason for optimism beyond the team that reached the BCS Championship Game in January.

Auburn basketball made the biggest splash, so far, in the 2014 coaching carousel by hiring Bruce Pearl after his three-year exile from college sports. The former Tennessee coach brings to Auburn what it has lacked for a decade in college basketball — an established coach and a sorely needed injection of excitement for a program with new facilities and renewed commitment to competing in the SEC.

The hire isn’t without questions, though. Pearl was fired at Tennessee after he admitted to lying to NCAA investigators regarding recruiting violations. The penalties will continue to hamper him early in his tenure at Auburn.

Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall sat down with Pearl to discuss:

• Pearl’s return to college coaching: “It's just me being myself and not having a very high 'edit button,' if you will. We need to engage our students on a college campus.”

• His challenges at Auburn with his NCAA show-cause penalty: “Last weekend, we had an official visitor on campus. I left town just because at this time I've got to be really careful and really diligent about being compliant with my show-cause.”

• His thoughts on Cuonzo Martin’s departure from Tennessee to Cal: “I wish him nothing but success at Cal and if he wasn't happy there and he didn't feel appreciated there, then I'm glad he's not there because I want somebody there that wants to be there.”

[Disclosure: Gall hosts college basketball programming on SiriusXM where Pearl was his co-host periodically during the last three years.]

Athlon Sports: While you were out of coaching, you were an analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM. Is there anything you learned from the other side with your time in the media that can help you in coaching?

Bruce Pearl: No, because I've always been very accessible to the media, so that's not been an issue. People say when you watch practices and you watch basketball, that when you get back into coaching it helped them. But for me all I saw was everybody running the same offenses, everybody running the same defenses and everybody guarding the ball screens the exact same way, and I just know that's not how I want to coach. I've always run different systems and tried to be a little unique. That's one thing I know I won't do; Our team won't look like everybody else's.

Athlon: You are already up to your old tricks with the dunk tank, gaining publicity for your program. How does your personality and energy level set you apart from a lot of other coaches?

Pearl: When I left Dr. Tom Davis after being with him at Boston College, Stanford and Iowa, and it was time for me to go become a head coach. He told me, “Look, do what we do. This is what you know and how to teach and as long as you stay with this and make it your own, you will be successful.” And he was right. But he (also) said, "don't try to be me. Be yourself because you can duplicate that." So whether it's tricks or being out there in the community or having our student-athletes being involved in different things, being out there, truly, it's just me being myself and not having a very high “edit button” if you will. We need to engage our students on a college campus. We need to be involved in the things that they are involved in. What they are doing has got to be important to us because I need them to come to our basketball games to create a homecourt advantage where we can be be successful. And I can't ask them to serve me if I'm not willing, in some ways, to serve them.

Athlon: You were a big part of the changes that took place at Thompson-Boling Arena during your time at Tennessee, making the arena smaller and more intimate, giving the fans a better experience. What do you have to work with at Auburn?

Pearl: It's one of the nicest facilities in the country — 9,100 seats and not a bad seat in the house. The students are right down on the floor. It looks like it was built yesterday, but it's a few years old. They take unbelievable care of it, and it was done so right. The offices are all here. Two practice facilities are here. The weight room is right off the practice facility. The locker rooms are incredible. I think what Auburn understands is how to treat student-athletes. This is a college town, a college campus, and there's not a ton to do here. There's not a lot of distractions, so therefore, if you are really serious about your books and your basketball, this is a great place, and they will love you to death. That might not be for everybody. They might want a bigger city, might want more clubs and more places to go and more things to do. And that's fine. But if you want to come train and you want to become great, this is a great spot.

Athlon: You talk about the community, the student-athletes and the Auburn family. Obviously, there's a spring game coming up this weekend for the football team, do you have any special plans to get the basketball program involved in the big celebration?

Pearl: Not at the spring game. My coaching staff and our families are going to go over to Coach (Gus) Malzahn's house. He's got a gathering on Friday night and then on Saturday morning, I'm going to attempt to ride 22 miles with Bo Jackson and his crew. They bike around town, and so I'm going to get involved in that.

Athlon: Bo could probably still play, I imagine?

"I wish (Cuonzo Martin) nothing but success at Cal and if he wasn't happy there and he didn't feel appreciated there, then I'm glad he's not there because I want somebody there that wants to be there."
Pearl: I would imagine Bo can do whatever he wants to do. I guarantee it. But you know because of my show-cause that is still in effect as far as recruiting is concerned until Aug. 24 of this year, we will have prospects on campus, but I won't be anywhere near them. I won't be seeing them. I won't be able to talk with them or communicate with them. I am going to be really guarded. Last weekend, we had an official visitor on campus. I left town just because at this time you've got to be really careful and really diligent about being compliant with my show-cause. So I will be probably be a little less visible because of it.

Athlon: It certainly creates some unique challenges heading into your first season. You are here, you're the head coach, but there are certain things you cannot do.

Pearl: When you first take over a program, there are a couple of things you need to do. Number one, you got to work with the players that are returning, and hopefully the guys will look different with the way we are trying to condition them. That's the first goal. That's not a guarantee, but that's what we strive for. The second thing you have to do when you take over is re-work the roster and try to rebuild the roster a little bit. That's something I can't do from a standpoint of evaluating talent or talking to prospects and communicating with them right now. So our record has to speak for itself. This place has to sell itself. My assistant coaches have got to be the ones who are out there communicating. It will be a challenge, but when we win, it will make it all the more gratifying.

Athlon: You are a Northeast guy but you have come back to the SEC. What are some of the challenges with returning to a "football school?”

Pearl: First of all, if you don't have a product to sell you're not going sell much of that product. So right now I'm selling Auburn football. Right now, I'm selling Auburn's fast and no-huddle and everything that Coach Malzahn is doing. I'm selling the other programs, both men and women, how successful they are. But you're right. Football is the bottom line and people are excited about it. Auburn hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years, and I've been there 17 times in the last 19 years. I don't know how quickly we will get it turned around, but we will get it turned around.

Athlon: What kind of style are we going to see from you? Similar stuff from what we've seen from you in the past or will there be some new wrinkles or tweaks you've developed?

Pearl: There are always tweaks every year based on your personnel, but we are going to play fast. We're going to attack in transition. We're going to try to turn people over with our defense. And based on our personnel, and what they're strengths and weaknesses are — something I won't know until the fall — then we will adjust accordingly. But you can't change your system. It is what it is. And we'll plug that in. How fast we make you go, how much we extend the floor will depend on the talent and the depth of the roster.

Athlon: Auburn will lose a couple of really big scorers and that has to be at the top of the list of needs that you need to address.

Pearl: Even in a public setting, when I'm talking about our players, I really can't even talk about our needs and what we need to address because it would sort of be like a form of recruiting. But, yeah, we lost three seniors who played a lot of basketball and scored a lot of points. And so obviously those guys need to be replaced, and there's opportunity. You've got to build a strong foundation, you can't be in a rush. One of the things you do is be patient. Make sure you take guys that can get you to where you need to be in order to be competitive in the upper division of the SEC. That's what our goal is.

Athlon: You've been very open in talking about your experience over the last three years from an emotional and personal level, what have you learned and how have you grown?

Pearl: First of all, the way to handle what we did is to be accountable for it. Apologize for it and ask for their forgiveness and grace but obviously to move forward as well. This isn't a story about sin, this is a story about redemption. I became the vice president of a $4 billion company, the HT Hackey Company, not many guys can say that they did that and I was able to do it. God put it in front of me and I took advantage of it, and I was blessed for that. And then to work with SiriusXM and ESPN. Just keep moving forward. And now to be back in college basketball again, understanding that I was a coach for 33 years, a head coach for 19 years and almost all of them were really good. We run clean programs and I don't mind saying that to anyone. Look them right in the eye and say we run a clean program. We made some mistakes and we paid dearly for it but it is a story about redemption and I am blessed and humbled to have the opportunity to be here at Auburn.

Athlon: I know games are a long way off and the show-cause still has some time to go, but it seems like you're having some fun.

Pearl: It's great to be back. It's a great town and I think my family is going to be really happy here. I am assembling a great staff. Tony Jones, my right-hand man, came with me. Steven Pearl, my son, who played for me, is going to be coaching with me. Todd Golden, who played for me in Israel and played at Saint Mary's for Randy Bennett, (is here). Chuck Person, the Rifleman, has returned to the Plains. I couldn't have hired a better guy to recruit this part of the country. He's been here and done that and believes in this place. He knows what Auburn basketball is supposed to look like. We are not going to settle. We are putting a great group together, and I'm pretty excited about the challenge. We got a lot a work to do now because we are way, way behind a lot of the other clubs in this league, but we will catch up.

Athlon: As far as the SEC as a whole, it took its lumps in the regular season last year, but in the NCAA Tournament things were very different with Florida and Kentucky making it to the Final Four.

Pearl: And Tennessee getting to the Sweet 16 and almost beating Michigan to get to the Elite Eight. I think that there were some definite misconceptions. The one thing the SEC has to be accountable for is we did not do our work in November and December in the nonconference. And that's been the case for the last several years, and as a result, we set ourselves behind the other conferences. I don't know with Kentucky being such a young team early in the year, you couldn't really expect them to do what they did but they had some losses — to Baylor, who actually turned out to be a pretty good team. Florida did everything they could early in the year. They were injured, and Billy Donovan did an amazing job this year and could have been national coach of the year with his injuries and suspensions and things early in the year. The only two teams they lost to were UConn and Wisconsin, two teams in the Final Four. Just an incredible job. Tennessee had a disappointing regular season, and they should have carried the banner a little bit better. Look at how they played late in the year. There are a few other clubs that were capable that didn't get enough done in the preseason. Once that happens, you’ll see way more than three teams in the NCAA Tournament from the SEC, and I think the success Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee had in the Tournament will sit on the committee's mind as related to maybe the league being better than what they got credit for.

Athlon: What were your thoughts when you saw the news that Cuonzo Martin went to Cal?

Pearl: I wasn't surprised. I wasn't. Cuonzo didn't seem to be happy there. I know they talked about the fact that he had to overcome following me, and I understand that we had success, but they still had 18,000 people come to every single game. Overcome that or not, they got great support in Knoxville, great facilities, great university. The embracing needs to work both ways, so I'm happy for Coach Martin. He maintained a level of success that we worked really hard to create. I'm grateful to Coach Martin as a former Tennessee head basketball coach, and a Vol for life, I'm grateful for the job he did because he kept it going. I wish him nothing but success at Cal, and if he wasn't happy there and he didn't feel appreciated there, then I'm glad he's not there because I want somebody there that wants to be there. So I appreciate the job he did and I'm happy for him and his family that they got a chance to move on.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Interview: Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /chicken
Body:
No one will ever know which came first, the chicken or the egg. But one thing we do know: Before the Phillie Phanatic and the Suns Gorilla and Bernie Brewer, there was the San Diego Chicken. In 1974, when Ted Giannoulas first crawled into that fowl costume of his, no one ever imagined that a 5'4" kid from Ontario, Canada, would change the way we like to be amused between plays forever. “I’ve been telling people for years to stop laughing — it just encourages me,” says Giannoulas. Forty years after he hatched, we asked the Chicken to come out of his shell, so to speak.
 
San Diego ChickenSo were feathers and a beak a lifelong dream?
In 1974, radio station KGB in San Diego sent a rep over to my college station at San Diego State. I was hanging out with friends and this guy walked in and said, “We need somebody to hand out Easter eggs this Sunday at the zoo. Any volunteers?” We all raised our hands. Then he said, “Oh, and you need to wear a chicken costume.” We all still kept our hands in the air. He looked around the room, saw me and said, “You, short guy, you’ll fit the costume best. I’ll see you at the zoo tomorrow.” The whole thing took less than 60 seconds.
 
Why a chicken? Why not a monkey or a turkey or a goat?
I asked my boss at the station the exact same question. He just said, “I don’t know, there’s something inherently funny about a chicken.” The irony is, this was supposed to be a one-time thing at the zoo. Then right after Easter, I knew Opening Day for the Padres was coming up and I figured it might be a way to get in for free. So I asked the station management about me going to the game as the Chicken. I literally went to the stadium in the costume and bought a ticket. I sat there as a fan, did a couple of silly things — a soft shoe dance, a little voodoo on the other team. It created some great chaos, and I was on the front page of the newspaper the next day. The station loved it, obviously, because ostensibly, I was a walking billboard. The Padres loved it, too. Ray Kroc, the team owner, had a great sense of humor, and he was delighted because the fans loved it.
 
How many times have you put the costume on?
At least 10,000 times. At least. It wasn’t uncommon for me to make six to eight appearances a day, especially during ratings cycles for the station. 
 
So are you inherently a comedian?
I always wanted to be a comedy writer. I wrote and produced plays in school — it was always a part of me. I was never the class clown, but I always sat next to them.
 
What’s your favorite baseball play?
As a fan, I love watching a long throw from right field to third. There’s nothing more majestic than that. As a chicken, my favorite play is the balk, obviously. Balk. Balk. Balk.

When did you know you truly made it?
The 1978 All Star game in San Diego really put me on the map nationally. But the moment I really knew it was bigger than I ever imagined happened in 1979. I was sitting at home watching the seventh game of the World Series and a commercial promoting Major League baseball came on. Instead of showing some great plays, the entire commercial was me being hatched out of a giant Styrofoam egg. I sat there and thought, “Holy cow, I’ve arrived.”
 
How did you tell your parents donning a chicken costume was going to be your career path?
Honestly, my dad was really upset. He wanted me to be a doctor, engineer. Something. He was a hard-working Greek immigrant. Old school. He didn’t want me to wear a chicken suit — he was embarrassed. My mom loved it and even made my costumes. He never even saw me do my thing until about three months before he passed away; he finally came to see me at a Clippers game. He was taken aback at how much people were entertained. It was really a moving moment. 
 
What are your thoughts on today’s mascots?
I think they’re all designed by corporate committees. They obviously don’t have the leeway I did. I tried to fashion it as a comic, and to me, today’s mascots are more benign corporate symbols.
 
Your favorite mascots of all time, present company excluded?
I love the Florida Gator — those kids do good stuff and have a lot of fun. And the Kansas City Royals used to have a mascot called Slugger. He was a mountain lion. Very fun and creative.
 
What’s your favorite kind of chicken?
Chicken wings. Hot and zesty. Buffalo style. Eating chicken wings also helps me eliminate the competition. If you can’t beat 'em, eat 'em.
 
What's your all time favorite non-sports experience?
I was at an Elvis concert for the station in 1976. It was the year before he died, so y’know, it was Fat Elvis. Anyway, I wanted to do something fun but I was a little nervous, the audience was a little older and well, it was Elvis. All of a sudden he broke into Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On”, and there’s a lyric in the song about “a chicken in the barn.” I knew this was my chance. I walked down the concourse, right in front of the stage and started dancing like a nut. He saw me, he dropped to one knee, and then he stopped singing because he was laughing so hard. The next thing I know, the band started playing softly and his doctor ran out on stage--they thought he was having a stroke. He finally regained his composure, finished the song and said, “I want to apologize for that, folks. There was a chicken dancing in front of me.” Everybody laughed and then he delivered a great line. He said, “I hope that chicken realizes my manager is the Colonel.” I turned around and starting sprinting out of the arena. It was great fun.
 
Did you ever lose your costume?
One time I lost it going to a minor league hockey game in Wichita. My head and tail were with me, though. So I went out on the ice with my head and my tail and promised I’d be back the next week. And I was.
 
Your three favorite players ever?
Oh jeez, I could name a ton. Bert Blyleven had a great sense of humor. Pete Rose was always great with me, too — he was fan of the Chicken before it was cool to be a fan of the Chicken. Johnny Bench was terrific, too. I did a TV show with him for a few years. David Wells. Don Sutton. There are literally hundreds of players throughout the years who have been fabulous, including umpires and NBA refs. 
 
What's your funniest interaction with a player?
One time Ron Guidry of the Yankees asked me to do something with him because his wife loved me, so we set this whole shtick up. Right before we were ready to do our thing, Lou Piniella struck out to end the inning—and he wasn’t very happy. As we all know, Lou had a bit of a temper. Of course I’m not paying attention, so I jumped off the dugout and started goofing around with Guidry for a few seconds on the mound. Next thing I know, a glove comes whistling by my ear. It’s Piniella. He’s screaming at me. “Get away from my guy!” Then he started chasing me. The fans were cracking up thinking it’s an act and it’s totally real. 
 
Do you lose weight during a game?
I lose a little and it definitely keeps me in shape. I did a game in Texas once and Bobby Valentine did a team pool to see how much I’d lose. It was about 105 degrees, and I lost seven pounds. Not a whole lot of chicken meat that night.
 
So when will the Chicken rest?
I’m 60 years old. I didn’t think I’d be doing this for 40 days, let alone 40 years. To quote Satchel Paige: “If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?” I’m just going to keep going until it’s not fun anymore.
 
Do you belong in the Hall of Fame?
One of my costumes is in the Hall, and I’m thrilled about that. But to me, the Hall of Fame is about stats, not lore. My Hall of Fame is when I’m out there performing and people are laughing — I’m in the Hall of Fame of their memory. For me, crowd response is what makes this matter. Having said that, Cooperstown has a players’ wing and a broadcasters’ wing. Maybe one day they’ll have a chicken wing.
Teaser:
No one will ever know which came first, the chicken or the egg. But one thing we do know: Before the Phillie Phanatic and the Suns Gorilla and Bernie Brewer, there was the San Diego Chicken. In 1974, when Ted Giannoulas first crawled into that fowl costume of his, no one ever imagined that a 5'4" kid from Ontario, Canada, would change the way we like to be amused between plays forever. “I’ve been telling people for years to stop laughing — it just encourages me,” says Giannoulas. Forty years after he hatched, we asked the Chicken to come out of his shell, so to speak.
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 16:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-17-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for April 17.

I'm not familiar with Renee Young, but ESPN wants to steal her from WWE, and I can see why.

The Astros are running a buttoned-up organization, aren't they?

Lance Armstrong: bike mechanic. Working his way back up, I guess.

Swimsuit model Nina Agdal has a respectable hoops game.

Nick Saban talks complacency and the humiliation of a two-loss season.

• The Canadiens are carrying the hopes of an entire nation in these NHL playoffs. No wonder their GM looked like he needed an a-- to slap after their overtime win last night

A Knicks lowlight reel set to the mournful sounds of Johnny Cash.

Here's video of the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo hitting meatballs. Actual meatballs.

• Still not had enough Paulina Gretzky? Here's an assortment of GIFs from her Golf Digest shoot.

A cartoonist went for the jugular with FSU. That'll leave a mark.

Jim Rome still gets residual checks from his "Space Jam" cameo.

• Here's an amusing promo for the new movie "Neighbors" featuring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Aaron Rodgers.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 12:41
Path: /college-football/uniform-upgrades-coming-illinois-2014
Body:

Illinois joined the new uniform release party this spring, unveiling helmets and jerseys for 2014 on Wednesday night.

The program is switching to a power “I” design on the helmets, which is a needed change from the simple Illinois underlined on the helmets.

And the overall design of the jerseys is pretty solid. White, orange and blue will be the three jersey colors, and the Fighting Illini will also have three different helmets to choose from.

Check out the photos below:
 

Teaser:
Uniform Upgrades Coming for Illinois in 2014
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/who-sleeper-team-watch-pac-12-2014
Body:

The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has closed the gap in recent years.

And the Pac-12 is expected to remain a close No. 2 in the conference hierarchy for 2014, as Oregon, UCLA, USC and Stanford could all begin this season as top-10 teams. Defending Pac-12 South champions Arizona State isn’t far behind, while the rest of the conference features an interesting group of teams in the next tier.

Washington could surprise with new coach Chris Petersen leading the way, especially with a defense that returns seven starters and could be among the best in the conference. The Huskies aren’t the only sleeper team to watch, as Oregon State is always a darkhorse to watch in the North. The Beavers return quarterback Sean Mannion and one of the top linebacking corps in the Pac-12.

Outside of Washington and Oregon State, keep a close eye on Utah, Arizona and Colorado. The Buffaloes should show significant improvement in Mike MacIntyre’s second season, and the Utes are expected to regain the services of quarterback Travis Wilson in 2014. Arizona is a bit of a mystery, especially with uncertainty at quarterback and running back.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Who is a Sleeper Team to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s tough to call Washington a sleeper team since it finished No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll last year, but I think the Huskies have a chance to challenge either Oregon or Stanford for the No. 2 spot in the North. Chris Petersen comes to Seattle after a successful stint at Boise State, and while he has to prove he can maintain that success at a higher level, Washington seems to have upgraded its head coach position with this hire. Quarterback Cyler Miles did not participate in spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, but he is expected to return by the fall. If Miles continues to build off his solid performance in limited action from 2013, the Huskies should have no trouble scoring points with a solid offensive line and a group of talented receivers. And with seven starters back, the defense could be among the best in the conference. Also, the schedule sets up favorably for Petersen’s debut year. Washington hosts Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State and should go 4-0 in non-conference play. The Huskies do have some personnel departures to address, but they finished two games behind Stanford/Oregon in the North last year. With both of those teams losing a couple of key pieces, Washington has a chance to make a move in the North in 2014.

Mark Ross
With Oregon and Stanford expected to go head-to-head for Pac-12 North supremacy once again and a Chris Petersen-led Washington team lurking, I think it's safe to say that many would be "surprised" should Oregon State end up crashing the party. After all this is a Beavers team that ended last season losing five of their last six games and also will be without all-conference performers wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Scott Crichton and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. However, there is still reason for optimism for Mike Riley's team, thanks in large part to the return of quarterback Sean Mannion, who threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013. If talented yet oft-injured running back Storm Woods can stay healthy, a rebuilt offensive line can keep Mannion upright and some reliable pass-catchers can emerge, Oregon State should be in decent shape offensively. I realize that's a lot of "ifs," but with Mannion running the show, I think the Beavers have at least a fighting chance. The defense lost some key pieces, but it also returns six players, including all three linebackers and both safeties. This unit has plenty of room for improvement, but also gets a slight break schedule-wise by drawing Colorado and Utah in crossover play, while avoiding projected South Division frontrunner UCLA. Road dates at USC and Stanford will be tough, as well as the Civil War regular-season finale against Oregon, but Riley's team gave the archrival Ducks a fight last season in Eugene before losing by one and then finished up its 2013 campaign with an impressive 38-23 win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. Even with the personnel losses and questions on both sides of the ball, bowl eligibility shouldn't be a problem this fall. That said, if some new faces step up and the Beavers get a few bounces or breaks to go their way, the fans in Corvallis could be in store for a surprising season.


Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), CFBHuddle.com and BleacherReport.com
After consecutive 7-win regular-season finishes in each of his first two years at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez just might have the Wildcats ready to take another step. Losing All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey obviously leaves a void, but Rodriguez's offense helps foster productive ball-carriers. To that end, it's worth noting Carey was himself unproven commodity before his breakout performance in the system in 2012.

The Wildcats are again replacing a starting quarterback, perhaps more of a concern than the change at running back. But with the return of Austin Hill to lead a talented wide receiving corps and an experienced offensive line, the learning curve is somewhat shortened.

Arizona's defense made considerable strides in its second year under Jeff Casteel, and should continue to improve in 2014. Linebacker Scooby Wright is a star in the making, Jonathan McKnight is among the Pac-12's most dynamic playmakers in the secondary.

Arizona is not quite ready to compete for the division – preseason favorite UCLA should be as good as advertised – but a favorable schedule means the Wildcats should get past that seven regular-season win plateau. With the right breaks (and a surprise star-turn out of the new quarterback), Arizona could steal nine wins.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Since this league is so deep and is possibly the best in the nation, it's extremely difficult to pick a true sleeper. Arizona, Washington State and Utah could all make bowl games and all three could finish outside of the top seven in the league and outside of the Top 25 nationally. So that makes Washington the truest sleeper in the Pac-12. The Huskies are a team talented enough to make a push for a division crown but not perceived to be good enough to be ranked in the top 10-15 nationally in the preseason. The Dawgs have a great new coach, a loaded roster of developed defensive talent and an offense led by an extremely gifted but unproven signal caller in Cyler Miles. The schedule isn't easy, but the Huskies possess the necessary combination of talent, coaching, leadership and experience to make legit waves out West this fall.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The spoiler in the Pac-12 may end up being the same team it’s been for a few years — Arizona. The Wildcats have a knack for scoring the big upset. They did it against Oregon last year and USC a year before that. Arizona under Rich Rodriguez is classic spoiler material: Good enough to beat a good team on a bad day but not consistent enough to carry it through the season. This year, Arizona is a bit of a mystery, especially on offense. Transfers from USC, Texas and LSU via junior college plus a redshirt freshman are all in the mix at quarterback. The possible starter at running back didn’t play in the spring. And the top receiver is coming back from a torn ACL. None of that is great, but Rich Rodriguez should find an answer. On defense, this group returns six starters, but the Wildcats have improved in each of the last three seasons. No, this team isn’t going to contend for the South, but Arizona is good enough to knock a team out — again. 

Teaser:
Who is a Sleeper Team to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2014?
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The SEC was home to some of college football’s top quarterbacks in the nation last year. However, one offseason later, and the conference is essentially rebuilding from scratch at the quarterback spot.

The list of names departing is heavy: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Missouri’s James Franklin, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

After one of the best seasons from the quarterback spot in recent years for the SEC, it will be tough for the league to match that production in 2014. However, the cupboard isn’t entirely bare, as Auburn’s Nick Marshall is a fringe candidate for All-America honors, and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are primed for big seasons.

The conference also has several intriguing options in Alabama’s Jacob Coker, Vanderbilt’s Stephen Rivers, Kentucky’s Drew Barker and LSU’s Brandon Harris.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the SEC's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Nick Marshall, Auburn (SR)
Marshall’s career path is one of the most interesting stories for a starting quarterback on the FBS level. After playing at Georgia as a defensive back in 2011, he was dismissed from the team and landed at Garden City Community College in 2012. And after one season on the junior college ranks, Marshall landed at Auburn and led the Tigers to a berth in the national championship game against Florida State. Marshall finished 2013 by throwing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding 1,068 yards and 12 scores on the ground – all impressive totals when you consider that was his first taste of action on the FBS level. With another offseason to work under offensive mastermind Gus Malzahn, look for Marshall to take the top spot in the SEC quarterback rankings this year.

2. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (SR)
With 14 starters back, there is plenty of buzz surrounding this Ole Miss team in 2014. With LSU, Alabama and Auburn each losing some key personnel from last year’s teams, the door is open for the Rebels to make some noise in the SEC West. In order for Ole Miss to climb in the division standings, Wallace has to have a huge season. The Tennessee native threw for 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and added 355 yards and six scores on the ground. The senior has thrown for 40 touchdowns over the last two years but has also tossed 27 picks during that span. Finding more overall consistency as a passer, along with eliminating the turnovers will be a key to watch for Wallace in 2014. Of course, it should help that he is now a full year removed from shoulder surgery (see Missouri’s James Franklin in 2013).

3. Maty Mauk, Missouri (SO)
Mauk owns every major high school passing record from his days in Ohio, and his short time under center as a freshman a year ago proved his gaudy prep numbers were no fluke. He isn’t the largest quarterback - cut more from the Aaron Murray cloth rather than the Zach Mettenberger mold - but he has loads of confidence, moxie, leadership and even some athletic ability. He was thrust into a nasty situation on the road against Georgia and delivered a huge win before leading his team to easy wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss. Mauk finished his freshman season with 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions and 229 yards rushing. In Gary Pinkel’s system, Mauk has a chance to blossom into one of the SEC’s best.

4. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (JR)
After coming off the bench to lead Mississippi State to an Egg Bowl victory over rival Ole Miss, and a standout performance in the Liberty Bowl, Prescott is poised for a breakout year. The Louisiana native threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and added 829 yards and 13 scores. Prescott averaged 269.3 total yards per game through eight SEC contests and should build off of those totals with a full offseason to recover from a shoulder injury. There’s a ton of upside with Prescott in 2014, especially with a strong supporting cast at his disposal. If all of the pieces come together at Mississippi State, there’s a good chance Prescott ranks higher on this list at the end of the year.

5. Jacob Coker, Alabama (JR)
Despite not taking a snap in an Alabama uniform until this summer, all signs point to Coker as the frontrunner to replace AJ McCarron in Tuscaloosa. Coker graduated from Florida State this spring, and with Jameis Winston entrenched as the starter, he decided to transfer and play immediately at another school. In two years as a backup with the Seminoles, Coker threw for 295 yards and one touchdown on 21 completions. The Alabama native isn’t short on all of the physical attributes coaches are looking for in a quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Coker is ready to handle the rigors of the SEC. Despite the lack of overall experience, Coker has the talent to make an instant impact at Alabama. And if he fails to claim the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, look for Blake Sims or Cooper Bateman to start in the opener against West Virginia.


6. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina (SR)
Much like Mason at Georgia, Thompson has been in the Gamecocks system for years and is ready to take over as the starter after sitting behind a historically great player. Thompson got a few starts behind Connor Shaw, and his big arm fits the downfield gameplan Steve Spurrier so desperately enjoys. The South Carolina native threw 127 passes in 2012 and 89 a year ago with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in spot duty for South Carolina. He has an elite O-Line returning in front of him and a great back in Mike Davis behind him, so success should find the first-year starter in Columbia.

7. Hutson Mason, Georgia (SR)
Mark Richt was very clear when Aaron Murray was lost for the season against Kentucky with one regular season game left to play: Mason has been ready to be a starter for quite sometime. And after a very shaky start to the Georgia Tech game, Mason proved his coach right by leading a miraculous comeback to top the Dawgs rival in overtime. In his two starts, the Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter senior averaged over 300 yards passing per game and completed over 60-percent of his passes. With a supporting cast that should be even healthier and more talented in ’14, Mason could be poised to pick up right where Murray left off.

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida (JR)
Driskel is obviously not as good as his five-star ranking indicated when he signed with Florida out of Oviedo, Fla. But he also isn’t as bad as fans like to think. He’s dealing with his third offensive coordinator during his college career and has shown the ability to make big plays outside of the pocket (ask Tennessee) — something the new offensive system will foster rather than discourage. Driskel was completing nearly 70 percent of his passes when he was lost for the year in the third game of last season. So if he can prove to stay healthy, his dynamic skillset should flourish in Kurt Roper’s up-tempo, spread scheme.

9. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M (FR)
With Matt Joeckel’s decision to transfer, combined with Kenny Hill’s suspension in the spring, Allen appears to be the likely starter for Texas A&M when it opens the year against South Carolina. Breaking in a true freshman quarterback on the road is never easy, but Allen will have one of the SEC’s top offensive lines blocking for him, along with a talented group of skill players. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete this spring. Expect a few ups and downs as a true freshman. However, the future looks bright in College Station with Allen leading the offense.

10. Justin Worley, Tennessee (SR)
There is little doubt that Worley will be the starter in Week 1 against a talented and upset-minded Utah State squad. He is the most experienced and poised quarterback on the Tennessee roster. That said, he will have to play well against a brutal early schedule to keep his job. Riley Ferguson is regarded as the best pure passer on the roster, but he has yet to play a snap in a college game, while Joshua Dobbs is easily the best combination of athletic ability and maturity. Dobbs' poise, polish, intelligence and work ethic make him a darkhorse to win the job sometime in the first half of the season. Much like last year, fans in Knoxville should expect two — maybe three — starting quarterbacks in 2014.

11. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (JR)
Allen had his share of struggles in his first season as Arkansas’ No. 1 quarterback, but he also didn’t have much help from an inexperienced receiving corps and remodeled offensive line. Allen’s final totals weren’t particularly impressive, as he threw for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns on 128 completions. He also tossed 10 picks and completed just 49.6 percent of his passes – two numbers that have to improve in 2014. With another offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, combined with the development of the offensive line and rushing attack, Allen figures to have more help from his supporting cast and improvement should be noticeable. However, if he struggles, touted freshman Rafe Peavey will be a name to watch this fall.

12. Brandon Harris, LSU (FR)
It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in Baton Rouge. Anthony Jennings has the edge over Harris in experience, but he didn’t claim the starting spot in the spring, so the battle will continue into the fall. Harris – a true freshman – enrolled early to compete in spring practice. And the Louisiana native showed plenty of promise, completing 11 of 28 passes for 195 yards in LSU’s spring game. Jennings didn’t play well in the spring game but guided the Tigers to a touchdown in the final minute to beat Arkansas and helped LSU win the Outback Bowl against Iowa. If neither quarterback claims the job this fall, it’s possible both will see a lot of playing time this year. We will take the upside and list Harris here, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jennings take the opening snap. 

13. Drew Barker, Kentucky (FR)
Barker is a highly-touted four-star early enrollee who had offers from Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisville, Miami and both Magnolia State schools from the SEC. Needless to say, he is a gifted athlete. And his showing in Kentucky’s spring practice thus far has generated plenty of buzz about his ability to handle the rigors of the SEC as just a true freshman. The 6-foot-4 in-state talent will battle with former starter Maxwell Smith and rising sophomore Patrick Towles for the reigns of Neal Brown’s offense in Lexington (Jalen Whitlow has transferred). Barker has the most upside and raw physical talent of the group but is lacking in experience. Should his maturity, confidence and poise develop quickly, he could become one of the nation’s better true freshman signal-callers.

14. Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt (JR)
Assuming all of his T’s and I’s are correct at LSU, Rivers will show up in Nashville this summer as the frontrunner to start at Vanderbilt. The Athens, Ala., prospect has very little experience, playing just four games in his Tigers career but has graduated in three years and will transfer to West End with the best combination of experience and talent on the roster. Derek Mason will give a long look to talented redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, who has loads of talent but has yet to take an SEC snap, while Patton Robinette proved last year that his upside is fairly limited despite winning games for the Dores down the stretch.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Syracuse Orange, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/new-uniforms-coming-syracuse-2014
Body:

New uniforms seem to be popping up for a handful of ACC teams this spring, as Florida State and Miami have already unveiled new looks for 2014.

Syracuse is the next ACC school to get a uniform makeover. The Orange unveiled three new combinations on Wednesday, featuring gray, white and blue jerseys and blue, white and orange helmets.

However, Syracuse’s nickname is the Orange. So why are the orange jerseys not a part of the uniform redesign?

Here’s a look at the uniforms for Syracuse:
 

Teaser:
New Uniforms Coming for Syracuse in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 15:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-16-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for April 16.

Johnny Manziel had some tasty new arm candy at a Rangers game last night in the person of cocktail waitress/model Kendal Kyaire.

• A lady was jealous that her sister met Derrick Rose. She'll be even more jealous when she realizes it was really LeBron James.

Behind the scenes of SI's Boston Strong cover shoot.

A tennis player got a warning for some salty language. Apparently, "son of a biscuit" qualifies as salty.

A long-form essay from a fight-fixer. Always knew boxing was dirty, but this is still eye-opening.

Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez ogled a female fan, Musberger-style.

Yasiel Puig posed and admired his long fly-out.

Vin Scully's magic pipes enhanced a classic Jackie Robinson story even further.

A rundown of the failed Jameis Winston investigation.

• Got a minute and 10 seconds to kill? Enjoy the behind-the-scenes video of Paulina Gretzky's Golf Digest shoot.

Singer Lorde met up with George Brett, the inspiration for her song "Royals."

• Watch 7-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye throw out the first pitch at a UC Irvine baseball game.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 11:48
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/10-things-watch-auburns-day-spring-game-fans-guide
Body:

I’ve been to spring football games and I’ve been to an Auburn game (albeit 15 years ago).

But I’ve never been to the Auburn Spring Game, affectionately known as “A-Day” down in The Yellowhammer State.

But for a program with a BCS National Championship, an epically bad winless season, a coaching change followed by a worst-to-first season filled with fluke plays and historically ridiculous moments, I cannot wait to be in attendance for the 2014 Tigers Spring Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend.

Here are the most important, vital, interesting things, players and storylines I am looking forward to this weekend as I travel down to Auburn, Ala., to record and share the sights, sounds and stories of Auburn's spring celebration.

• The battle in the backfield to replace Tre Mason
Rising seniors Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne are the two most obvious choices to replace Mason’s prolific and record-setting 2013 season that included 1,816 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. But Grant (647 yards, 6 TDs) and Artis-Payne (610, 6) are both fully capable of producing in Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced running attack. Each has experience and the talent to be, together, nearly as productive as Mason. Toss in others like Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway and the Tigers should be in great shape at tailback.

• How will the D-line develop through the offseason?
Dee Ford was the heart and soul of the defensive line as he posted 29 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and 10.5 sacks a year ago. But his loss isn’t nearly as concerning as it should be. Auburn’s defensive guru Ellis Johnson still has talented options at his disposal up front in elite 2013 recruits Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel, along with rising senior Gabe Wright. Watching these youngsters develop into All-SEC stars should be fun to watch this weekend.

Athlon Sports will be covering both Iron Bowl spring games.

Follow @DavidFox615 for updates from Alabama and @BradenGall for updates from Auburn and stay tuned for game coverage Saturday and through the week.

Also follow Athlon on Instagram for images from the Iron Bowl rivals.
• My visit to Toomer’s Corner
The last time I visited Toomer’s Corner was in 1999. I was a high school student taking visits to campus and was, like most, drawn in by the charm of the massive oak trees and colorful campus intersection. I will never forget it. However, and for all the wrong reasons, I am anxious to see what has happened to The Corner since the infamous and tragic tree-poisoning incident. No matter what has (or will) happened to Toomer’s Corner, I am excited to get back to this historic campus locale.

• Who will replace Greg Robinson?
Robinson might be the safest pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He is an elite athlete with massive upside and tremendous overall athletic ability. And he was a huge part of the vaunted Auburn zone-read option attack last season. Replacing him at the second-most important position on the team (QB) will easily be Malzahn’s tallest order this spring. Finding a suitable replacement at left tackle will go a long way in helping Auburn repeat as SEC champions this fall.

• Will Nick Marshall throw the ball?
Honestly, if I was Malzahn, I’d have Marshall doing his best Jameis Winston impersonation and have him throw it 56 times. He’s not allowed to be hit by the defense, he’s facing live competition in the secondary and likely won’t face too many blitzes. Why not have him get as many reps as a passer as possible against an SEC defense — even if it is the second-teamers? What’s the the harm? We already know what he can do with his legs, I want to see how he has developed as a passer. Unfortunately, odds are Marshall plays three series and is pulled before the end of the first quarter.

• Nova’s Jordan-Hare flyover
It is one of college football’s greatest traditions and I, for one, can’t wait for the crowd to erupt when War Eagle VIII — named Nova — takes flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday afternoon. One of the greatest stadiums in the nation mixed with one of the nation’s top mascots taking part in one of the nation’s greatest traditions? What’s not to get excited about? (Assuming, of course, that the majestic bird will be a part of the A-Day activities.)

•  Find leadership in the back seven on defense
Ryan Smith, Ryan White, Chris Davis and Jake Holland were all senior starters (and stars) for the Auburn defense a year ago. The secondary and linebacking corps has plenty of talent returning but needs to address leadership and develop experience at these position. Sophomore linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have all the talent to become stars in the SEC while guys like Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie could do the same in the secondary. Watching this group come together during practice will be an enjoyable process for this football junkie.

• How many plays will Auburn run?
And better yet, how many points does Malzahn want to score? This offense runs plays faster than anyone else in the conference and it was borderline unstoppable a year ago. What is Malzahn’s goal for this spring game? Florida’s new offense under Kurt Roper ran 111 plays and 16 different receivers caught passes. Malzahn should easily be able to run 120 plays on offense. And that would make for a fun afternoon in my opinion.

• Can Auburn top last year’s attendance record?
Auburn set an SEC record with over 83,000 people at last year’s spring game. And that was before Malzahn led his team to an SEC championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game while shattering rushing records along way. So the question is has the last 12 months only added to the raw excitement that is A-Day or will it be impossible to match the astounding mark set a year ago? Only time will tell.

• The Tailgates
There are a lot of fantastic places in this country to tailgate. Seattle, Columbus, Norman, Eugene, Madison and Blacksburg are just a few. But as an SEC alum, I am partial to the pregame festivities of the Southeastern Conference. And I can’t wait to stroll through the RV caravan, E-Z Up tents, BBQ smokers, red Solo cups, and, of course, the “gorgeous scenery” on Saturday morning. Part of what makes college football a much better gameday experience than the NFL is a beautiful Saturday morning tailgate. And Auburn does it as well as anyone in the nation.

Note: If you think your tailgate is the best, hit me up on Twitter (@BradenGall) and I will be happy to swing by and cast my vote.

Teaser:
10 Things To Watch at Auburn's A-Day Spring Game: A Fan's Guide
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 09:50
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The ACC isn’t the deepest conference in terms of quarterback talent for 2014, but it clearly has the No. 1 passer in the nation in Florida State’s Jameis Winston. After a standout freshman season, Winston heads into 2014 with potential to lead the Seminoles to back-to-back national titles, as well as repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

While Winston is clearly the No. 1 quarterback, the rest of the rankings in the ACC are up for grabs.

North Carolina’s Marquise Williams and Duke’s Anthony Boone take the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Athlon’s 2014 rankings, but there’s plenty of upside among Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik, Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, Louisville’s Will Gardner and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett. 

Miami is expected to turn to Kevin Olsen after Ryan Williams was injured in the spring with a torn ACL, while Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer could win Virginia Tech’s starting job this fall.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the ACC's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Jameis Winston, Florida State (SO)
After one of the best seasons by a freshman in the BCS era, the bar is set high for Winston in 2014. Despite losing receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, Winston should be one of the frontrunners to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner and will have Florida State back in the mix for the national title. In 14 games last year, Winston threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns and tossed only 10 picks on 384 attempts. He completed 66.9 percent of his throws and averaged 15.8 yards per completion. As if those numbers, a Heisman Trophy and All-ACC honors weren’t impressive enough, Winston connected on 25 passes of at least 30 yards and was picked as the offense’s most valuable player in Florida State’s victory over Auburn in the national championship. It will be hard for Winston to top last season, but here’s a scary thought for the rest of the ACC: He still has room to improve and can be a more complete quarterback in 2014.

2. Marquise Williams, North Carolina (JR)
It happened one calendar year earlier than Larry Fedora likely expected, but Marquise Williams got his feet wet as a starting quarterback in the ACC a year ago. And frankly, he showed more ability to produce and play efficient football than most first-year guys thrown into action by injury. He started six games and played in 11 as just a sophomore, and he brings a different dimension to fast-paced offense that Bryn Renner could not. Williams passed for 1,527 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air but added 490 yards rushing and six more scores on the ground. His 469 yards of total offense against Old Dominion was a school record and his five touchdown passes tied a school benchmark. With a year of off-season conditioning, preparation, study and development, Williams could be the ACC's best signal caller without a Heisman Trophy on his mantle. Of course, that's assuming he holds off a challenge from Mitch Trubisky this preseason.

3. Anthony Boone, Duke (SR)
There were some questionable showings for Boone in his first full season as the starter. Try 7-for-25, 104 yards, 0 touchdowns and four interceptions against Virginia Tech. But like the rest of the Duke squad, the Boone figured out a way to win that game and it catapulted the Blue Devils quarterback into an impressive stretch to the end the year. He threw eight touchdowns and just four interceptions over the final four games. With David Cutcliffe still leading the way on the sideline, Boone has a chance to take a major step forward. And backup (and touchdown vulture) Brandon Connette won't be breathing down his neck any longer on the depth chart after deciding to transfer, which should allow Boone to easily improve on last year's numbers.

4. Cole Stoudt, Clemson (SR)
With Chad Morris calling the plays, Clemson’s offense will be one of the best in the ACC once again. And yes, that’s even with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and standout receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Stoudt is set to replace Boyd, who guided Clemson to 32 wins over the last three seasons, including a No. 8 finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2013. In three years as a backup at Clemson, Stoudt has thrown for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. Although limited playing time or a backup role isn’t the best way to judge how a player will perform once he’s the starter, it’s important to note Stoudt has completed 72.2 percent of his passes over the last three seasons and has only one pick in 119 attempts. The senior also has good mobility and should serve as a mentor for incoming freshman Deshaun Watson. With Georgia and Florida State on the schedule early in the year, Stoudt’s experience will be valuable for Clemson as it hopes to record another 10-win season.


Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.

 

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 


5. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh (SO)
Many believed Voytik would be a perfect fit for Paul Chryst's offense when the four-star quarterback signed with Pittsburgh out of Cleveland, Tenn. The rising sophomore got very little experience behind Tom Savage a year ago, throwing just 11 passes during the 2013 campaign. That said, his quick release and elite high school pedigree give most confidence that is his fully capable of running Chryst's offense — especially, given the return of potential All-American wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Look for Voytik to be a pleasant surprise at quarterback in a league devoid of proven options under center.

6. Will Gardner, Louisville (SO)
Replacing Teddy Bridgewater is a difficult task for any quarterback, but it appears the Cardinals are in good shape under center with Gardner. It’s tough to read too much into spring performances, but Gardner’s numbers in Louisville’s spring game are certainly encouraging. The Georgia native completed 32 of 37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinals’ spring game and is poised to have a huge season with Bobby Petrino calling the plays. In his first taste of FBS action last year, Gardner threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns on eight completions. With a solid group of receivers – including likely All-ACC target DeVante Parker – along with a backfield that features former Auburn standout Michael Dyer, Gardner has a good supporting cast in place. Petrino always finds a way to maximize his talent on offense, so expect Gardner to have a solid overall year in his first season as Louisville’s No. 1 quarterback.

7. Jacoby Brissett, NC State (JR)
The Wolfpack offense is desperately looking for a spark after averaging only 16.9 points in eight ACC contests last year. Second-year NC State coach Dave Doeren won’t have to look far for an answer, as Brissett is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from Florida. During his two seasons in Gainesville, Brissett completed 41 of 74 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns. The junior closed spring practice by throwing for 365 yards and two scores in NC State’s Red vs. White game. Brissett was regarded as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks coming out of high school, but he has only two starts under his belt. Considering this is his first year as a full-time starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Brissett should be a major upgrade over Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell for NC State in 2014.

8. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse (JR)
Syracuse opened the Scott Shafer era with a quarterback battle between Hunt and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen. Allen started the first three games before Hunt claimed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and the New York native finished the year on a high note by throwing for 188 yards and adding 74 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Hunt ended 2013 with 1,638 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, while adding 500 yards and seven scores on the ground. In a positive sign for Syracuse in 2014, Hunt was arguably playing at his best in the final three games and completed over 60 percent of his passes during that span. Hunt threw only three touchdown passes and tossed eight picks in ACC games, but he should improve on those totals in 2014 with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback.

9. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech (SO)
In one of the most bizarre exits to a program in history, Vad Lee inexplicably decided he didn't want to run the triple option any longer and left the team. Luckily for Paul Johnson, Thomas is not only talented but got plenty of experience a year ago behind Lee. He played in 10 games, rushing for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a backup. He will have to prove he is a capable passer, but his athletic ability should set up nicely as the next successful and productive Yellow Jackets' triple option spearhead.

10. Kevin Olsen, Miami (FR)
Stephen Morris is gone, and Ryan Williams is hurt. That leaves the highly touted but completely unproven Olsen as the frontrunner to win the Hurricanes starting QB job this summer. The four-star recruit from New Jersey enters his redshirt freshman season with loads of pressure but all the talent to make an impact right away. He is total unknown for Al Golden entering a critical year on the sidelines and the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder will have to beat out Gray Crow and touted freshman Brad Kaaya to earn the keys to the Miami offense.

11. Tyler Murphy, Boston College (SR)
Steve Addazio has plenty of work ahead this offseason as he hopes to get Boston College in another bowl game in 2014. Rebuilding the offense is the top priority this spring with the departures of quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon. Murphy transferred from Florida at the end of the 2013 season and is eligible to play immediately for the Eagles. Last season, Murphy threw for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for three scores. The Connecticut native is a solid option for Addazio, especially until freshman Darius Wade is ready to take the No. 1 spot. Don’t expect huge numbers, but Murphy should be a solid starter for Boston College in 2014.

12. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech (JR)
Mark Leal is the only returning player at Virginia Tech with any experience at quarterback, and he threw four passes (29 overall if you caount the bowl) during the regular season a year ago. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who only threw 58 passes in Lubbock (but completed 70.7 percent of them), will arrive in Blacksburg this summer behind the curve when it comes to learning the Hokies offense. However, he is easily the most proven and talented pocket passer on the roster and it may not take long for him to pass Mark Leal and Brenden Motley — who is currently listed as the No. 1 on Frank Beamer's depth chart. Should the world be expected of Brewer right out of the gate? No. However, his pure throwing ability should give him a significant edge at earning the starting spot for the Hokies.

13. Greyson Lambert, Virginia (SO)
Mike London is in desperate need of a positive season in Charlottesville and that begins and ends with quality quarterback play. Lambert, a redshirt sophomore from Jesup, Ga.,
has the inside track on winning the starting job and will be faced with the pressure of a coaching staff squarely on the hot seat. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound passer played in seven games a year ago, throwing for 340 yards and on touchdowns on 33-of-75 passing. He got some college experience but needs to take major steps forward in his development process if he expects to lead Virginia to more than just two wins.

14. Tyler Cameron, Wake Forest (SO)
The No. 1 spot on the quarterback depth chart for new coach Dave Clawson is up for grabs. Cameron and junior Kevin Sousa are vying for the starting spot this spring, and this battle could extend into the fall. Both quarterbacks have limited game experience, as Sousa has yet to throw a pass on the FBS level, and Cameron completed only 7 of 24 passes for 85 yards and three interceptions last year. In addition to finding a quarterback, Clawson needs to find more playmakers at running back and receiver. All signs point to 2014 as a transition year for Wake Forest, and there could be plenty of growing pains at the quarterback spot unless Cameron or Sousa claims a clear hold on the starting job.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Texas A&M Aggies, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-football-how-many-sec-games-will-aggies-win-2014
Body:

The SEC West is arguably the top division in college football, featuring two likely top-10 teams in Alabama and Auburn, while LSU always has one of the nation’s top rosters, and Ole Miss is a team on the rise under Hugh Freeze.

As we peek ahead to 2014, Texas A&M might be one of the biggest wildcard teams in the nation. The Aggies have recruited well under Kevin Sumlin, the cupboard is stocked with young talent ready to emerge.

However, Texas A&M’s defense struggled mightily last year and is still a huge concern going into 2014. With the departure of quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, it’s unlikely the Aggies will average 38.4 points per game in SEC contests this season. With Manziel gone, it’s up to the defense to help cover for the losses on defense and help to keep Texas A&M in the mix for a spot among the top three teams in the West Division.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

How Many SEC Games Will Texas A&M Win in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with four. Even though quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews are gone to the NFL, the cupboard is far from bare in College Station. Kevin Sumlin has recruited back-to-back top-10 classes, so there’s plenty of promising young talent. But that’s part of the problem for Texas A&M. The Aggies are young on defense, and the best quarterback on the roster could be a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Progress should be noticeable on defense in 2014 after allowing 6.4 yards per play last season. However, can the defense make enough progress to offset the loss of Manziel and Evans? Probably not. The opener at South Carolina, a mid-October road trip to Alabama and an early November game at Auburn are the only games I would pencil in an loss for Texas A&M. With swing games against Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU at home and later in the season, it should give the Aggies plenty of time to solidify some of the questions on the depth chart and make a run at repeating last year’s .500 mark in SEC play. When a coach is in the process of rebuilding a program, a small step back may be necessary in order to take a step forward. With all of the young talent on the roster, Texas A&M is only going to get better with each snap and will be a dangerous team heading into 2015.

Adam Cribbs (@AdamCribbs), RockMNation.com
Well first, let's get the obvious part out of the way. Johnny Manziel made Texas A&M a difficult team to beat. There was plenty of talent around him the past couple years in Mike Evans, Christine Michael, Ryan Swope, etc. but the offense would not have been the juggernaut it was without the unpredictability and unbelievable playmaking ability of Johnny Football. Now that he's gone, we'll see if Kevin Sumlin just lucked into finding a guy to carry his team through their first two years in the SEC or if Sumlin deserves more credit than he's been given.

Before Manziel, Sumlin was coaching Case Keenum at Houston. Keenum was putting up MONSTER numbers that year, having thrown for 5,631 yards and 48 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. My point is that Manziel isn't the first QB under Sumlin to put up ridiculous numbers, so maybe we should respect Sumlin's contribution to the offense as much as Manziel's. Having said all of that, you have to question just how quickly the Aggies can replace not only a guy like Johnny Manziel, but others like Jake Matthews and Mike Evans and still have success in the powerful SEC West. (Note, I'm only talking about the offense because I honestly don't have much to say about the Aggie defense this last season. They would have won 2-3 more games, including Alabama, if they had any kind of defense in 2013.)

I like the talent A&M has coming up on the offensive line with four returning starters including senior G Jarvis Harrison. At QB, there is a wealth of talent competing for the starting position including Kenny Hill and incoming five star early enrollee Kyle Allen. Malcome Kennedy and Sabian Holmes at WR will have big shoes to fill with Mike Evans on the way out, but it's not a weak receiving corps by any means. Even with this talent returning, the 2014 schedule is not an easy one. I think the Aggies will probably be right around the four win mark again this season, with wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss (because it's at Kyle Field) and one more win coming from either Missouri or LSU. If the defense finds a way to make massive strides from 2013's poor performance, that number could go up, but that would mean some massive improvement.

Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
The season opener at South Carolina is a big test for both teams. The Aggies and Gamecocks are both introducing new quarterbacks. But South Carolina appears to have the advantage with Dylan Thompson, who has more starting experience than whichever quarterback Texas A&M chooses. I’ll give the nod to South Carolina. Games at Alabama and Auburn should be the most challenging for Texas A&M, which lost to both teams last season. That should be two more losses for Texas A&M. I have the Aggies finishing with a 5-3 record in the SEC after they end the season with home wins over Missouri and LSU.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
A season-opening road trip to South Carolina and two midseason visits to the State of Alabama to play Auburn and the Crimson Tide are as sure fire a trio of losses as any team in the nation may have in 2014. A home date with Arkansas needs to be a sure fire win for Kevin Sumlin. Otherwise, the rest of the SEC schedule is a bunch of potentially very entertaining swing games for Texas A&M. The Aggies should be able to win at least one - with a very outside shot at two - home tilt against LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri all in the second half of the season. The trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 4 will likely determine SEC West pecking order this fall and could be the difference in a very impressive rebuilding year or a sixth-place finish in the division. At this point, three league wins would be considered an excellent season and two is the most likeliest scenario.

Mark Ross
Texas A&M went 4-4 in SEC play last season and that was with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews on the roster. These three were first team All-SEC performers on one of the nation's most explosive offenses who are pretty much assured of hearing their names called when the first round of the NFL Draft takes place in less than a month. These three also represent the three biggest holes that Kevin Sumlin and his staff have to fill this season. The Aggies' offensive line should be fine with four starters returning and there are some talented pass-catchers on the roster as well. However, Manziel was the engine that made this offense hum the past two seasons and there doesn't appear to be a clear-cut leader when it comes to the next guy who will line up behind center. Yet even with a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and an explosive wideout like Evans making plays down field, Texas A&M finished .500 in conference play in 2013, as the fourth-ranked offense in the nation out-gained its SEC peers by a mere 15 yards per game. The Aggie defense was a disaster, finishing dead last in yards allowed and second-to-last in points. While this unit may return eight starters and has some promising recruits coming in, most notably defensive end Myles Garrett, there's no guarantee it will turn things completely around and it won't have Manziel or Evans on offense to help bail it out. The Aggies' margin of error has shrunk drastically, and with a schedule that includes the season opener at South Carolina, a crossover game against Missouri, along with trips to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State, three SEC wins would have to be considered a successful start to the post-Manziel era in College Station. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Sumlin's squad finishes with just two conference victories, as Arkansas appears to be the only "sure" SEC win given all of the question marks associated with this team.

Teaser:
Texas A&M Football: How Many SEC Games Will the Aggies Win in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: USC Trojans, College Football, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-picks-cody-kessler-its-starting-qb-2014
Body:

There’s little doubt quarterback competitions are the position battle scrutinized the most in preseason practices. However, at USC, the quarterback battle is officially over - for now.

First-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian has picked Cody Kessler as the team’s starting quarterback. Kessler was competing with redshirt freshman Max Browne for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Sarkisian hasn't ruled out Browne unseating Kessler in the fall, but all signs point to Kessler opening the season as USC's No. 1 quarterback.

Browne ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in the 2013 signing class and redshirted his first season on campus.

Kessler edged Max Wittek for the No. 1 job last year and finished 2013 with 2,968 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.

Although there’s plenty of time to sort through a depth chart before the season opener, this seems to be a good move for Sarkisian.

If Kessler has outplayed Browne all spring, there’s no sense in waiting to pick a quarterback. Kessler seemed to make significant progress late last season and should have a chance to build on that in 2014 with a solid group of receivers returning to Los Angeles.

Teaser:
USC Picks Cody Kessler as its Starting QB for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 00:03
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-2014s-first-year-counterparts
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

Today, David compares the drivers in this year’s rookie class to the rookie seasons of active NASCAR competitors.


There isn’t an age limit for rookies in NASCAR. Greg Biffle was a 32-year-old rookie. Joey Logano was 19. Both were participants in last year’s Chase. In terms of development and readiness, there isn’t one right answer. Because of this, comparing drivers in style, traits and results can be tricky.

This year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie class has completed eight races and gets a well-deserved weekend off. Now might be as good of a time as any to reach for the always-loved, yet harder-than-you’d-expect-to-make driver comparisons.

For the sake of the exercise, I’m throwing out age, style and traits and focusing solely on the results our current rookie crop has amassed through the first eight races. The drill is to find an active NASCAR driver with a similar first eight races in their rookie season. While I don’t believe one driver’s start foreshadows the career of another, I do think it represents an individual benchmark of sorts for the rookie in question. Also, it’s fun. Sometimes we should just write, say and do things because they’re fun.


Kyle LarsonKyle Larson is 1993 Jeff Gordon
A lofty comparison, but the two former USACers started their Cup Series careers in similar fashion. In 1993, Gordon burst onto the mainstream racing scene with a win in his qualifying race at Daytona and four finishes of eighth or better in his first eight points-paying races (the other four races ended with a crash or a mechanical failure). Gordon did two things well: qualify and pass. Larson, who earned four top-10 finishes in his first eight races — only one ending with a crash — hasn’t had the qualifying chops (16.4-place average start), but is certainly displaying an elite passing ability, with an adjusted pass efficiency of 53.07 percent that ranks fifth in the series.

Ironically, a 42-year-old Gordon currently ranks first in adjusted pass efficiency.


Austin DillonAustin Dillon is 2006 Clint Bowyer
Bowyer’s highs were a bit higher and lows a bit lower, but his initial eight-race slate is similar to Dillon’s in that he was finishing races, all the while emerging as a darkhorse Chase contender. Qualifying proved troublesome for both. Omitting his best two qualifying efforts in the first eight events, Bowyer averaged a 29th-place start, while the same drill for Dillon results in a 24th-place average. Interestingly enough, it was Bowyer’s crew chief, Gil Martin, who helped him close out races — he finished sixth, 14th and 15th after being non-factors in his first three starts. Martin is now Dillon’s head wrench and helps comprise the best closing unit in the sport.


Justin AllgaierJustin Allgaier is 2000 Dave Blaney
Both drivers cut their teeth on dirt — Blaney is actually better known for his dirt accolades than his stock car effort and was 37 years old when he made the full-time leap to the Cup Series — and both were mid-20s fixtures through the first eight races of their rookie season. Allgaier averaged a 25.4-place finish in his first eight races, roughly two positions better than Blaney’s effort in seven of the first eight (he failed to qualify for the second race of the season at Rockingham). They had one highlight race in the span of races in question; Blaney scored a 20th-place finish at Atlanta and Allgaier finished 17th at Bristol.

Unlike Blaney, Allgaier has time to develop. At age 27, he is still eight years away from the average prime production window for modern day Cup drivers (ages 35 to 39).


Michael AnnettMichael Annett is 2003 Casey Mears
Tommy Baldwin Racing isn’t the multi-series stalwart Chip Ganassi Racing was in 2003, so Annett’s 30.9-place average so far this season is more impressive than what Mears was able to accomplish (an average result of 28.5) early that year. Mears finished 15th at Las Vegas — his only finish inside the top half of a field in the first eight races — and sprinkled results across the bottom half of fields in his remaining starts. He crashed minimally (for a rookie), exiting just one race due to accident (a plate race at Talladega). A plate race (Daytona) was also the culprit for one of Annett’s two DNF-accidents, and he has similarly gathered finishes all across the bottom half of fields. Annett’s lone finish inside the top 21 came at Fontana.


Cole WhittCole Whitt is 2008 Regan Smith
There are two major differences here. First, from a pure driver production standpoint, Smith had a horrendous rookie season (a replacement-level Production in Equal Equipment Rating of -0.306). Second, Smith’s equipment, from the post-Dale Jr. era Dale Earnhardt, Inc., was far better than anything Whitt has had to drive this year with Swan Racing. Acknowledging those differences, their numbers through eight races are eerily similar. Smith averaged a 31.3-place finish, with just one result coming in the top half of the field (a 14th-place run at Martinsville). Whitt averaged a 30.9-place finish through eight, also with just one finish (an 18th-place effort in Fontana) coming in the top 21. Amazingly, Smith went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. Whitt will be lucky to have his 2014 season remembered by even the most nuanced observers of the sport.


Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR coverage to the web


Parker KligermanParker Kligerman is 2007 David Reutimann
One of the few drivers that could truly sympathize with Kligerman’s rough, unlucky and crash-filled start to his rookie season is Reutimann, who joined a revamped Michael Waltrip Racing organization with Toyota power and high hopes. In the first eight races of 2007 MWR was embroiled in the infamous Daytona jet fuel incident. Reutimann failed to qualify for three of the first eight races, crashed out of two and couldn’t finish better than 32nd. Kligerman, who has finished just four of eight races, holds a best result of 29th. Reutimann’s 35.6-place average was only two positions better than Kligerman’s 37.2.


Alex BowmanAlex Bowman is 2008 Michael McDowell
Based on his NASCAR Nationwide Series production last season (a serviceable 1.594 PEER that could have improved this year with more seasoning) and his age (just shy of 21), one could make a convincing case that Bowman wasn’t totally ready to enter the Cup Series this year. That absolutely could be said for McDowell who, back in 2008, jumped straight from the ARCA Series to Cup with Michael Waltrip Racing. McDowell and first-time crew chief Bill Pappas (a name we haven’t heard since that ’08 campaign) struggled in their first eight races, which actually started with Martinsville, finishing no better than 26th. McDowell’s best finish that season was 20th at Richmond. It won’t come as a major surprise if Bowman and his BK Racing team (led by first-time crew chief Dave Winston) emulate McDowell’s season-long rookie results. Bowman’s best race to date is a 22nd-place finish in Fontana.


Ryan TruexRyan Truex is 2011 Andy Lally
Lally and Truex entered the Cup Series with relatively new race teams. Both underwent crew chief changes (Lally from Jay Guy to Paul Clapprood, Truex from Dale Ferguson to Doug Richert) in the first eight races. Both struggled to break into the top 30 of the running order. It took the Talladega draft for Lally to score a 19th-place finish. Truex didn’t even qualify for the Daytona 500, a race that could’ve padded his stat line, and Talladega is still three weeks away. Lally returned to the world of Sports Car racing following his rookie season and if Truex doesn’t register any blips on the results radar, he too might find himself looking for a new home at season’s end.


David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
 

Teaser:
This season's NASCAR Rookie of the Year drivers draw parallels to rookie drivers of the last 20 years.
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 16:45
Path: /college-basketball/potential-candidates-replace-cuonzo-martin-tennessee
Body:

Stop if you’ve heard this before: Tennessee is looking for a high-profile coach. Since 2008, the Volunteers have needed to hire seven football and men’s basketball coaches.

And that doesn’t count the retirement of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. Bruce Pearl, now the head coach at Auburn, is the only men’s coach since 1989 to last more than five seasons.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will have his work cut out for him on a number of fronts. The departure of Cuonzo Martin to Cal in mid-April is one of the latest hires in the coaching carousel. With the deadline for players to pull out of the NBA Draft approaching and recruiting for 2014-15 nearing an end, many coaches are already preparing for next season.

And then there’s the nature of Martin’s departure. Many Tennessee players congratulated Martin on leaving for Cal as the Volunteers never embraced the coach who led UT to the Sweet 16 in his third season.

So Tennessee — again — will be hiring a coach under less than ideal circumstances. Here’s a look at potential contenders:

Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle has led Colorado to three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, the first time the Buffaloes have done so in school history. Last year’s team may have been his best before point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the remainder of the season.

Rick Byrd, Belmont
The Knoxville native was a contender for the job when Martin was hired. Byrd will be 61 by the time the 2014-15 season starts, and he’s never coached above the Ohio Valley level. Still, Byrd is nearing the 700-career win mark and is considered one of the nation’s top coaching minds at any level of college basketball.

Chris Mack, Xavier
Mack took a phone call for the Cal job that eventually went to Martin. The Xavier coach reiterated his commitment to the Musketeers, but his willingness to listen was nonetheless eye-opening for a coach with such deep ties to Xavier. Mack has reached the NCAA Tournament four times in five seasons at Xavier, but the last two seasons included a First Four loss and no postseason appearance altogether.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Tennessee has looked his way twice already. Clearly, Marshall’s situation is different than it was years earlier, thanks to a trip to the Final Four and a 35-1 season. Marshall’s salary is approaching $2 million whereas Martin was paid $1.35 million at Tennessee. Wichita State also has plenty of fan and administrative support to be a national power. This may be too close to a lateral move, or worse, from Marshall’s point of view.

Archie Miller, Dayton
Miller watched his brother jump from Xavier to Arizona, and now Archie may be poised for a similar leap after reaching the Elite Eight in 2014. With the fan support and recruiting base for Dayton, Miller could build a successful program with the Flyers for several years. As with Marshall, there may be little incentive for Miller to jump to a second-tier SEC job.

Donnie Tyndall, Southern Miss
Tyndall picked up where Larry Eustachy left off at Southern Miss, leading the Eagles to back-to-back NIT appearances. Southern Miss is 25-7 in Conference USA the last two seasons, both years making a push for an at-large NCAA bid. Before Southern Miss, Tyndall twice led Morehead State to the NCAA Tournament, including an upset of fourth-seeded Louisville in 2011.

Mike White, Louisiana Tech
White is only 37, but he has plenty of SEC experience as an assistant at Ole Miss. He’s spent three seasons at Louisiana Tech, leading the Bulldogs to two NIT appearances in the last two. Louisiana Tech is 56-15 in the last two seasons.

A few names from deep range:

Tommy Amaker, Harvard
His name has appeared on coaching candidate lists before and will continue to appear as long as Harvard is rolling.

Derek Kellogg, UMass
The John Calipari disciple broke through after six seasons on the job at UMass. He also lost to Martin and Tennessee in the round of 64.

Greg Lansing, Indiana State
If not for Wichita State, Lansing’s record in the Missouri Valley would be more impressive. Even while battling the Shockers, Lansing has four postseason appearances in four seasons, including the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Eric Musselman, former Arizona State assistant
Three sub-.500 years as an NBA head coach is still NBA experience. The ex-Sun Devils assistant was in the mix for the Cal job.

Steve Prohm, Murray State
Prohm hasn’t come close to matching his 31-2 campaign in his debut season, but the Racers have won 46 combined games the last two years.

Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
The former Frank Martin assistant at Kansas State and South Carolina went 32-3 and reached the round of 32 in his first season as a head coach.

Teaser:
Potential candidates to replace Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 15:40
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/redrafting-first-round-2013-nfl-draft
Body:

I’m giving the entire NFL a mulligan.

With about a month left before the 2014 edition of the NFL Draft, Athlon Sports looks back at last year’s first round and tries to correct some mistakes. With a year of knowledge, game tapes, awards and injuries, what would the 30 teams (sorry Seattle and Washington) do differently if they got a second shot?

Would there still be five trades during the first round? Who would go No. 1? Who would be the biggest reach? Here is how we see the 2013 NFL Draft playing out if the teams had a do-over.

1. Kansas City: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Original Pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

Andy Reid might have overthought his first pick as the Chiefs' head coach, as Luke Joeckel probably should have been the pick at No. 1 a year ago. However, after one full season, a case can be made that Richardson — a five-star recruit coming out of high school — was the best player in the draft. The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year would likely be the top pick for any team if the draft was redone today.

2. Jacksonville: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Original Pick: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Joeckel was the safe and probably best pick for the Jaguars despite missing a huge chunk of the season with an injury. He should bounce back to have an excellent career. That said, Fluker proved his All-American pedigree was up to snuff. His upside at left tackle isn’t as high as Joeckel’s, but there is zero downside at right tackle. Fluker played more than 1,000 snaps in 15 games for a playoff team.

3. Miami: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Original Pick: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

Jordan was a project and all upside entering his rookie year and he played like it. He posted 19 tackles and 2.0 sacks in his first year and likely wouldn’t go in the first round based on that production. With massive OL issues swirling around South Beach all year, the Dolphins would be smart to trade up, this time to acquire Joeckel — who would be as safe a pick as there is in the 2013 NFL re-Draft.

4. Philadelphia: Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
Original Pick: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

The Eagles needed OL help and Johnson was solid as a rookie. While he was solid in the running game, the former quarterback showed why he was considered a project in the passing game. Warford was a three-time All-SEC pick and was a stud for the Lions last season. The third-round pick would jump both Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack on most big boards at the guard position and appears to be a stalwart for the next decade in the league.

5. Detroit: Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU
Original Pick: Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU

The first pick that would be repeated after one season is the lanky talented pass rusher from Provo. He still has a ways to go in terms of development but he led all rookies with 8.0 sacks and proved he will be effective against the run as well. If the Lions return to the postseason it won’t be a result of the powerful passing game in Detroit. It will be because of the elite defensive line that is coming together in the Motor City.

6. Cleveland: Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon
Original Pick: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU

Mingo was considered a huge risk at No. 6 and that proved to be the case after 29.0 tackles and 5.0 sacks as a rookie. He has some upside but no one delivered at outside linebacker/defensive end like Alonso. He posted an absurd 159 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four interceptions.

7. Arizona: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Original Pick: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

Cooper wasn’t/isn’t a bad selection here for Arizona. The Cardinals desperately need some OL help and unfortunately, Cooper missed the entire season with a broken leg. With that knowledge in hand, Johnson then becomes the pick with his upside, athleticism and versatility for a team that desperately needs help up front.

8. St. Louis: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Original Pick: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

Jeff Fisher knew he needed to get Sam Bradford and his offense some playmakers and that is why he traded up to get this pick. He just took the wrong guy at No. 8. Allen was clearly the top wideout in the class (after one year, granted). The former five-star recruit is a sure-fire, top-flight talent and proved why he has been a superstar at every level of play. Allen led all rookies in catches (71), yards (1,046) and touchdowns (8).

9. NY Jets: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Original Pick: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Milliner was a solid pick for the Jets in a class that appears to have been loaded with productive cornerbacks. The rookie from Alabama posted 56 tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes deflected in just 13 games (12 starts). He should still be the top rookie coverman off the board.

10. Tennessee: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Original Pick: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

The All-American from Utah made his living in college stuffing the run and that is exactly what he did for the Panthers a year ago. He started all 16 games, pressured the quarterback 23 times, posted 3.0 sacks and registered 48 total tackles for a team that won its division. The Titans got a good player in Warmack but Lotulelei could be a force up the gut for the next decade and they simply cannot  pass on his talent, not this time.

11. San Diego: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Original Pick: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

The Chargers got a ton of value with Fluker here but since he would go much higher, they will settle for another All-American Alabama blocker. Warmack started all 16 games for the Titans and would have been a solid upgrade for the Bolts as well. The rebuilt O-line was a huge part of San Diego’s trip to the postseason.

12. Oakland: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Original Pick: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston

The Raiders stayed true to their Silver and Black roots by taking an over-hyped speed guy who had no business going where he did in the draft. Hayden made two starts as a rookie, posting 26 tackles and one interception. There are half-a-dozen cornerbacks not named Hayden who Oakland should have taken with the 12th pick.

13. NY Jets: Kawann Short , DT, Purdue
Original Pick: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Since the Jets got the steal of the draft at No. 13, the odds of Richardson falling outside of the top 2-3 picks in a redraft are slim and none. And with Lotulelei already taken, Short quickly becomes the next best nose guard on the board. The 44th overall pick in the draft played in 16 games for the Panthers' much-improved defense.

14. Carolina: Eric Reid, S, LSU
Original Pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Reid was probably the best defensive back prospect in the ’13 Draft class. He was a monster hitter and physical presence patrolling the back end for the near-NFC champion 49ers a year ago. He started all 16 games, registering 91 tackles and four interceptions for one of the best defenses in the league. The Panthers would have a star safety for the next 15 years… if Reid falls to them at 14th.

15. New Orleans: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Original Pick: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

If Reid was still on the board, most would agree he should’ve been taken ahead of the Texas safety. That said, Vaccaro posted a solid first year in NOLA. He started 14 games and collected 79 tackles with one sack and one interception. His upside isn’t as high as Reid’s, but he appears to be a dependable NFL starter for years to come.

16. Buffalo: EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Original Pick: EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

The only team that really had eyes on a quarterback likely wouldn’t change that game plan if it had a re-do. Mike Glennon and Geno Smith got plenty of snaps but Manuel was obviously the most game-ready and talented signal-caller in this class. He completed 58.8 percent of his passes while averaging more than 200 yards of total offense per game in 10 starts. On a bad team, Manuel appears to be the answer under center (if he can stay healthy).

17. Pittsburgh: Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
Original Pick: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

If it could do it all over again, Pittsburgh would still take a Georgia outside linebacker but it would be Ogletree instead of Jones. Ogletree started all 16 games for the Rams, making 117 total tackles, forcing six fumbles, collecting 1.5 sacks and posting one 98-yard INT returned for a touchdown. Jones has a chance to be a good player but Ogletree made a much bigger impact as a rookie.

18. Dallas: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
Original Pick (SF): Eric Reid, S, LSU

Since Reid is already off the board, Jim Harbaugh won’t be forced to trade up to draft a safety. Instead, the Cowboys would keep this pick and even Jerry Jones would be hard-pressed to pass on the Pro Bowler Long. Dallas needed to address it O-line and did so with the 30th pick (Travis Frederick), but Long was one of the few that played as well (if not better) than the Wisconsin interior blocker.

19. NY Giants: David Bakhtiari, OT, Colorado
Original Pick: Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

Pugh wasn’t a terrible pick at 19th overall but Bakhtiari might have been the best value at O-line in the entire ’13 Draft. All the fourth-round pick out of Colorado did was protect Aaron Rodgers' blindside, starting all 16 games at left tackle for the Packers. He appears to be the real deal at left tackle and would be a stalwart for Eli Manning and the G-Men.

20. Chicago: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Original Pick: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon

Long is already off the board so the next best option is likely Cooper. There is a reason he went with the eighth overall pick last year and his fluke injury shouldn’t impact his long-term potential much. The Bears hit a home run with Long and wouldn’t be taking a big step back with Cooper.

21. Cincinnati: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Original Pick: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

Many were surprised with the Eifert pick considering the Bengals took a tight end in the first round just a few years ago. So knowing what he would get from Bernard, Marvin Lewis wouldn’t pass up the chance to secure his prized, do-everything playmaker earlier. The former Tar Heels all-purpose star ran for 695 yards, caught 56 passes for 514 yards and scored eight times as a rookie.

22. Atlanta: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Original Pick: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

The Falcons would still be in the market to trade up to get a cornerback even with Trufant already off the board. With Mathieu sitting there, the Atlanta brass still makes the flip with the Rams to get a playmaker for the secondary. Offensive line and rush end also would be a possibility with this pick.

23. Minnesota: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Original Pick: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

The Vikings still land their guy in Patterson but would have to use the first of their eventual three first-round picks to get him instead of with the 29th overall selection. The freakish athlete is as naturally gifted a playmaker as there was in the class but is still a work in progress in terms of becoming a true No. 1 target. That said, he wouldn’t make it pass the Colts with the next pick if the Vikes don’t select him here.

24. Indianapolis: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Original Pick: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

If Patterson is still on the board, the Colts wouldn’t hesitate to take the star athlete from Tennessee. However, Hopkins is the next best option after catching 52 passes for 802 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Texans a year ago. With an aging Reggie Wayne and little depth behind T.Y. Hilton, Hopkins would give Andrew Luck an elite target moving forward.

25. Minnesota: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Original Pick: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Rhodes showed a lot of growth and development over the course of his rookie year and, with elite size and speed, should develop into one of the better cornerbacks in this class. He played in 13 games and posted 48 tackles for a defense in desperate need of depth in the secondary.

26. Green Bay: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Original Pick: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA

This one is a no-brainer as Lacy won Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Packers a year ago. Lacy probably has a short shelf life due to his physical style of play,which is why he lasts until the 26th pick. But Ted Thompson — who was supposedly targeting Lacy with this pick a year ago — wouldn’t take the huge risk of letting him slip past here again.

27. Houston: Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin
Original Pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

With Hopkins off the board already, the Texans turn to the offensive line. Dallas’ pick of Frederick at the end of the first round was heavily criticized when it happened but the Badgers' interior blocker turned into one of the best values from the ’13 Draft. The Texans' O-line needs to be rebuilt and Frederick can play multiple positions.

28. Denver: Sio Moore, OLB, UConn
Original Pick: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

Cornerback and defensive line are both areas of need for the Broncos but the issues at outside rush linebacker could be solved instantly with the physical prospect from UConn. Moore played in 15 games for Oakland with 49 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. He would be an excellent edge rusher in the Broncos' system moving forward.

29. Minnesota: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Original Pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

With Patterson and Rhodes already in the fold, the Vikings again trade with New England to get the 29th pick to take what many people believed was a sure-fire top-10 pick in Floyd. Floyd was solid but uninspiring in his rookie year, yet he still boasts way too much upside to pass up (a knee injury early slowed him down). Even if the Patriots stayed put and picked, Floyd would be a likely selection.

30. St. Louis: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Original Pick: Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia

The Rams and Steelers swap Georgia outside linebackers in this exercise. Fisher still gets a dynamic outside tackler, although Jones has more of a pedigree as a pass rusher rather than true linebacker. Jones has the talent to be excellent and showed signs of life later in the season but adding bulk and toughness will be key for him moving forward.

31. San Francisco: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Original Pick (DAL): Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin

Since the 49ers don’t trade with Dallas to move up to grab Reid at No. 18, head coach Jim Harbaugh takes the next best option in Florida’s hard-hitting safety. Elam showed maturity in his first season, posting 77 tackles in 15 starts for the then-defending Super Bowl champs.

32. Baltimore: Jonathan Cyprien, S, FIU
Original Pick: Matt Elam, S, Florida

With Elam snatched up one pick earlier, the Ravens “settle” for the next best option in Cyprien. The FIU playmaker was the 33rd overall pick in last year’s draft and he did nothing to disprove his ability with 102 tackles as a rookie.

2013 First-Rounders who dropped out: Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo, Tavon Austin, D.J. Hayden, Justin Pugh, Tyler Eifert, Bjoern Werner, Datone Jones, Sylvester Williams

Other potential first-rounders: Zac Stacy, Jordan Reed, Logan Ryan, Johnthan Banks, Mike Glennon, Terrance Williams, Manti Te’o, Geno Smith, Zach Ertz, Jonathan Bostic, Jamie Collins, D.J. Swearinger, Micah Hyde
 

Teaser:
Redrafting the First Round of the 2013 NFL Draft
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 11:40
Path: /college-football/2014-acc-rankings-preview-athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast
Body:

The debate concerning preseason rankings has started around the Athlon Sports offices, and we’re giving you an inside look at all the things that will shape the 2014 countdown.

Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan take you inside the process of the rankings meeting as they talk through the teams in the ACC.

Will anyone challenge Florida State in the Atlantic? Will Louisville be a factor in Bobby Petrino’s return? And how do we sort out the mess that is the Coastal Division?


The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall, @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven on Twitter or email podcast@athlonsports.com.

 

Teaser:
2014 ACC Rankings Preview: Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 11:10
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-15-2014
Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:28
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-how-many-games-will-cardinals-win-2014
Body:

After Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, the ACC maintained its 14-team setup by adding Louisville from the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals were one of the top programs in the old Big East and went 23-3 over the last two years.

As with any team transitioning to a new conference, Louisville will face a new set of challenges, but this program is equipped to compete at a high level in the ACC.

The Cardinals return 11 starters from last year’s 12-1 team, including receiver DeVante Parker and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Parker caught 55 passes last season, while Mauldin recorded 9.5 sacks and will be a valuable pass rusher in new coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach.

Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a huge challenge, but Louisville appears to be in good hands with Will Gardner. The Cardinals are also deep at the skill positions and have four starters back on the offensive line.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

How Many Games Will Louisville Win in 2014?: Over/Under on 8.5

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’ll take the over. Sure, Louisville has some personnel concerns and is going through a transition on the conference and head coach side. But there’s still plenty of talent on the roster, and although schedule does have some challenging games, I think this team has more than enough returning to overcome those concerns. Bobby Petrino is one of the nation’s best coaches, and his return to Louisville should keep the Cardinals in the mix to win 10 games in 2014. Quarterback Will Gardner appears to be a capable replacement for Teddy Bridgewater, and he will have plenty of help at the skill positions from receiver DeVante Parker and running backs Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown. The Cardinals also return four starters on an improving offensive line. The defense is a bigger concern with the departure of Marcus Smith, Calvin Pryor, Preston Brown and Hakeem Smith. However, former coach Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, especially with names like Sheldon Rankins, Keith Brown and Gerod Holliman ready to step up in 2014. On paper, road tests against Clemson and Notre Dame, along with a home date against Florida State will be the only games Louisville isn’t favored to win. If Gardner proves to be a capable replacement, and the defense adapts to Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach, the Cardinals could push Clemson for the No. 2 spot in the Atlantic Division.

Mark Ennis, (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
After watching the way Will Gardner threw the ball in Louisville's spring game on Friday night, I'm much more optimistic about Louisville's chances to have a big first year in the ACC. It's never easy to replace a player like Teddy Bridgewater. Nevertheless, having receivers like DeVante Parker, James Quick, and Eli Rogers, a tight end like Gerald Christian, running backs Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer, and the entire offensive line returning should give Bobby Petrino a chance to put up a lot of points in 2014. Getting Miami, Florida State, NC State, and rival Kentucky at home should also cushion the landing in a much more difficult conference. Add to it that Petrino and company will get all summer to prepare for Miami, eight days to prepare for Clemson, and ten days to prepare for FSU, and I could see Louisville over an 8.5 win total.

Ethan Moore, (@LvilleSprtsLive), LouisvilleSportsLive.Net
I would take the under because Louisville will go through the toughest schedule in the history of its program. The Cards will travel to Clemson and Notre Dame and face a Syracuse team on the road returning a lot of experience. UofL opens the season against Miami at home and will welcome the defending champions in Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. With Petrino at the helm, the offense is sure to take off, but questions remain with a defense that will have to replace two veteran safeties. It wouldn't shock anyone to see UofL win 9 games, but given the schedule, coaching change, and replacing Bridgewater, that might be too much to ask.

 



Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.

 

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
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Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The addition of Bobby Petrino more than makes up for the loss of Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and a host of other talented players. The major step up in competition moving from the AAC to the ACC makes returning to double digit wins for a third straight season extremely difficult. That said, nine wins is well within reach in Petrino's first season. Games against Florida State (home), Notre Dame (road), Clemson (road) and Miami (home) appear to be the toughest tests on the slate, but road trips to Boston College, Syracuse and Virginia could be tricky as well. I will tentatively take the over with the season opener against the Hurricanes at home on Labor Day night as the most important swing game of the season. Should Louisville win that game, a 9-3 record is likely. If not, the under is a much better bet. I'll take emotion of the moment to play a huge role in the Cardinals win over The U on Sept. 1.

Related Content: Ranking the ACC Coaches for 2014
 

John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com
Louisville presents one of the more interesting "how will they finish?" cases in the country, if only because of all the change they're experiencing. No more Teddy Bridgewater and no more Charlie Strong means the on-field product will certainly be different. Plus the Cardinals move to the ACC, where the competition is considerably stronger top-to-bottom than what the AAC was last season. But despite the easy schedule and perception hits Louisville took in 2013, that 12-1 record was no joke (see: the 12th-place finish in combined F/+ ratings on Football Outsiders), and even with a new coach and quarterback, there's plenty of hope for similar success. They may not be at the same level as Florida State or Clemson within the Atlantic this year, but beyond that, the Cards should find themselves at least on par with the rest of the division. Still, I see at least three losses on the slate (FSU, Clemson, Notre Dame), and I wouldn't doubt a fourth from one of Miami or Syracuse. So I'll take the under, though 8-4 is far from a disappointment for Louisville this year, and is a nice stepping stone for future success in their new conference.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
As much as Louisville is built to be a competitive ACC program, the Cardinals may struggle early in the league. If the Cardinals were still in the American or even a league like the old Big East, the over would be a slam dunk. Give Bobby Petrino that offensive line, a solid run game and a game-breaking receiver, and he could win nine games in the American. But few teams take a step up in conference affiliation and maintain pace — think of West Virginia, TCU and Utah. With only four starters returning on defense and a new quarterback, hitting the nine-win mark will be tough. Let’s not forget that this was not always a dominant team in the American last season. The Cardinals beat Houston and Memphis by seven points at home and Cincinnati by seven on the road. And that was with Teddy Bridgewater.

Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
The changes in Louisville are numerous. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is off to the NFL, coach Charlie Strong is now in Texas and that’s just the beginning. Former Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino is back after the scandal at Arkansas, the school is now in the ACC and the defense is switching to a 3-4.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t some pieces in place for the offensive guru Petrino to work with. Will Gardner put up Bridgewater-like numbers in the spring game, Michael Dyer — who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record at Auburn in 2010 — should form a solid combination with last year’s leading rusher, Dominique Brown, and DeVante Parker is back out wide after he hauled in 885 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. The margin of error might be thin, but don’t forget how great that defense was last year. They return just four starters on that side of the ball, but when combined with their offense and that schedule, I’m taking the over.

Mark Ross
Bobby Petrino should enjoy a fair amount of success in his return as Louisville's head coach, but I certainly hope fans don't have visions of another 12-1 season in mind. Not only are the Cardinals making the transition from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC, unquestionably a much tougher, more competitive league, they have to begin the post-Teddy Bridgewater era with unproven Will Gardner under center. Charlie Strong didn't leave Petrino with a bare cupboard by any means, but there's no Connecticut, Memphis, Rutgers or Temple on the schedule this fall either. Instead, Petrino and the Cardinals open things by hosting Miami and also will welcome defending national champion Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in late October. These two games along with road dates against Clemson and Notre Dame are enough reasons to cap Louisville's regular-season win total at eight games. Throw in swing games at Syracuse and the finale against in-state rival Kentucky and I would consider 7-5 a respectable second start, if you will, for Petrino.

Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky), NunesMagician.com
You know why people say the expression "history often repeats itself"? Because...history often repeats itself! I mean, look at the Louisville, for example. Go back to the early aughts, a program led by the next "It" coach riding a wave of success from Conference USA to the Big East. Then, well, Bobby Petrino bolted and Steve Kragthorpe happened and the Cardinals football program slid right off the map.

Now? The man that led U of L back to relevancy post Steve Kragthrope has himself bolted for bigger and better things just in time for another massive conference jump for the Cardinals. Sound familiar? And, irony of ironies, Petrino is back at the helm for Louisville.  Actually, the real wonder here is which history is going to repeat? The tank-dive the Cardinals did in the new Big East with a new coach or will they thrive having the football-brilliant, commonsense-less Petrino leading the charge like he did back a few years ago? Losing Charlie Strong to Texas is detrimental, but my guess is having Petrino back "home" will likely be the saving grace to avoiding any Kragthrorpian slide to the dark depths of college football.

But we'll find out a lot about this Cardinals program right away. Game one of Year One, ACC will be the most pivotal: beat Miami and 9 to 10 wins is more than feasible; lose the opener against the Canes and 6 to 7 wins may be more realistic. Of course, catching Miami so early, at home nonetheless, coupled with the excitement surrounding Petrino's re-debut, will be the reason the Cardinals win their ACC coming-out party.

And from that point forward, with Will Gardner doing his best to replace Teddy Bridgewater, and a new defensive scheme designed to handle the Clemsons and Florida States of the world, U of L will whittle its way to nine wins, beating hated rival Kentucky to cinch the over on 8.5 wins. Actually, taking FSU out of the equation, it's not a bad time for Louisville to be jumping into the ACC, seeing as how there will be a lot of change surrounding a number of programs. Nine or more wins won't be easy, but with the foundation seemingly much more solid, there's no reason to think Louisville won't be every bit as competitive as it has been over the last few seasons.

You see, expressions are expressions for a reason: there's truth in them. And everything old in Louisville this season will once again be new, especially the winning, that never gets old.

Teaser:
Louisville Football: How Many Games Will the Cardinals Win in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

Every year, it seems the Pac-12 is home to some of the top quarterbacks in the nation. And it should be no surprise that narrative holds true in 2014, as the league possesses three potential All-American candidates this year.

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is one of the nation’s top signal-callers and should benefit form a full offseason to recover from a knee injury. Mariota is a Heisman contender and should battle Florida State’s Jameis Winston for the top spot on the 2014 All-America team.

After Mariota are two quarterbacks from the Pac-12 South battling for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Athlon’s preseason quarterback rankings. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly should have prolific seasons, while Hundley could be one of the top-10 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Pac-12 has plenty of quality options at quarterback outside of the top three, as USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion all return from solid 2013 campaigns.

This league could get even deeper in 2014 if Utah’s Travis Wilson takes another step forward, while California’s Jared Goff and Washington’s Cyler Myles are two other passers to watch.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (JR)
It was painfully obvious to Oregon fans everywhere just how important Mariota was when a knee injury cost Oregon a Pac-12 championship. Mariota was clearly not at full strength when the Ducks lost on the road against both the Cardinal and Wildcats in a three-week span. When healthy, Mariota might be the best quarterback in the nation (just ask Texas). He owns the Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception, is 23-3 as a starter, has nearly 8,000 yards of total offense and has accounted for 77 touchdowns and thrown just 10 picks. All in just two seasons of work in Eugene. Look for a run at Pac-12 title, playoff berth and Heisman Trophy from the dynamic Hawaiian signal caller.

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (JR)
It’s a close call for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings. Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly are both deserving of this spot, but since we are projecting a bit with these rankings, a slight edge goes to Hundley. The Arizona native decided to turn down the NFL for another year in Pasadena, and UCLA is primed for a run at the Pac-12 title with Hundley back under center. In 2013, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 scores, while leading the Bruins with 748 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. In UCLA’s 42-12 Sun Bowl rout over Virginia Tech, Hundley threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 161 yards on 10 attempts. There’s no question Hundley still has some developing to do as a passer, but the Bruins have a solid collection of options at receiver, and another offseason to work with coordinator Noel Mazzone should help Hundley grow into one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (SR)
Kelly was one of the catalysts for Arizona State’s Pac-12 South title, throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 608 yards and nine scores last year. Kelly’s 28 touchdown passes ranked third in school history for a single season, and the Idaho native earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. In two years as the Sun Devils’ starter, Kelly has thrown for 57 touchdown passes and has back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons. With Arizona State losing a handful of key players on defense, the offense will have to carry this team in 2014. Kelly should have no trouble eclipsing the 3,000-yard passing mark again, especially with a potential All-American at receiver in Jaelen Strong making plays on the outside.

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SR)
Like Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Mannion posted huge numbers a year ago but those totals came with some struggles as well. He was fourth nationally with 37 touchdown passes and second with 4,662 yards. Yet, Mannion threw 12 interceptions in his final five games, and Oregon State won just once after the calendar flipped to November. His electric first half was erased quickly by second-half struggles. That said, Mannion has a chance to join some elite Pac-12 company with another 3,000-yard season. Only three players in league history have three 3,000-yard passing seasons under their belt (Andrew Walter, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart) and Mannion could join them in 2014. However, Mike Riley would trade that honor for a return to the top of the Pac-12 North Division. For that to happen, Mannion will have to be more efficient and take better care of the ball.

5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (JR)
Hogan entered his sophomore season with high expectations, and while his statistics didn’t mean the lofty preseason benchmarks, the Virginia native still led his team to a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth. His completion percentage dropped significantly (71.7 to 61.0) from 2012 to 2013 but his overall production went up (147.87 QB rating to 151.64). He has the ability to win a title against high-level competition as he proved a year ago, but in order to take the next step in his development, Hogan must prove to be more consistent. He threw one total touchdown in Stanford’s three losses a year ago and had four games in which he failed to reach paydirt. If he produces in conference at a more consistent level, the Cardinal quarterback could become one of the league’s best.

6. Cody Kessler, USC (JR)
Kessler and Max Wittek were neck-and-neck for the starting job last preseason, with Kessler eventually securing the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Kessler’s 2013 campaign started slow. In his first two games, Kessler threw for less than 100 yards in both contests and had only three touchdown tosses through the first three games. But as the season progressed, Kessler played better and seemed to benefit from the promotion of Clay Helton to coordinator. Kessler finished 2013 with 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He threw for 288 yards and one touchdown in a 20-17 win over Stanford, while torching Fresno State for 345 yards and four scores in the Las Vegas Bowl. Marqise Lee is gone, but USC still has plenty of talent at receiver. With stability on the coaching staff and a solid ground game to lean on, Kessler is poised to build off his solid finish from 2013.

7. Connor Halliday, Washington State (SR)
Halliday led the nation in interceptions a year ago with 22 picks. He also led the nation in attempts (714), was No. 2 nationally in completions (449), finished No. 3 with 4,597 yards and was seventh with 34 touchdown passes. He also got Wazzu back to the postseason for the first time in a decade and set the NCAA record with 89 pass attempts in a loss to Oregon. Mike Leach will chuck it around again in 2014, and Halliday should post similar numbers once again. Over the final four games of the year, including wins over Arizona and Utah, Halliday threw 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. If Halliday can continue to progress, he could be in for a monster season in Pullman.

Related Content: Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2014
 

8. Cyler Miles, Washington (SO)
Miles was a four-star top-100 recruit who had offers from USC, Arizona State and Arizona among many others when he signed with Washington as the heir apparent to Keith Price. And in spot duty a year ago, Miles did nothing to dispel the idea that he will be an excellent Pac-12 quarterback. He saw action in eight games last fall with a brief stint in the starting lineup and that experience could be invaluable now that he is the full-time starter. Miles completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 418 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions for the season and helped UW defeat Oregon State on the road in his only start. Miles has not participated in spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, but he is expected to return to the team in the fall. Expectations with Chris Petersen and Miles under center will be sky high entering the playoff era.

9. Travis Wilson, Utah (JR)
Assuming Wilson is 100 percent healthy this year, the California native could be one of the most-improved quarterbacks in the conference. In nine games last season, Wilson threw for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 386 yards and five scores. Wilson delivered a solid performance in Utah’s upset win over Stanford, completing 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and two scores. The California native needs to improve his consistency, tossing 16 picks last season and completing only 56.1 percent of his throws. Wilson should benefit from the addition of play-caller Dave Christensen in 2014. Considering the addition of Christensen, as well as another offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, Wilson is due for improvement on the stat sheet. However, his health is still a question mark. Wilson was sidelined the last three games due to health concerns but was cleared for non-contact practices this spring. Assuming Wilson is cleared to participate in game action this year, he’s a quarterback poised to move up the rankings in 2014.

10. Jared Goff, California (SO)
Zach Kline was supposed to be The Guy in Berkeley entering last season, but Goff had other ideas. The freshman beat out Kline and proceeded to attempt 529 passes for the lowly Golden Bears. There were plenty of growing pains, but Goff threw just seven interceptions over the last 11 games of the year, while getting little to no help from his defense. If he can be more proficient throwing the ball — he completed 60.1-percent of his passes — and can pull an upset or two in the league, the California native could create some actual buzz around the Cal program heading into 2015. In the short team, the goal for 2014 should be to show improvement with the football and win a couple of games.

11. Sefo Liufau, Colorado (SO)
Mike MacIntyre needs a little time to rebuild the roster, but the future for Colorado looks bright with Liufau at the helm. As a true freshman last season, Liufau finished the year with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 43 yards on the ground. Liufau tossed eight picks on 251 attempts but averaged 11.9 yards per completion last season. The Washington native finished 2013 playing at a high level, throwing for 364 yards against California and 241 yards against Utah. Most importantly, Liufau’s touchdown total surpassed his interception rate over the final three games of the year (7 to 3). With Paul Richardson gone, Colorado needs a few receivers to emerge to help Liufau develop. However, MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren developed David Fales into a likely NFL draft pick at San Jose State, and Liufau should benefit from another offseason from working with both coaches.

12. Jesse Scroggins, Arizona (SR)
Arizona finished spring practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer appear to be the frontrunners to replace B.J. Denker, but this battle is expected to extend into the fall. Scroggins did not play last season, while Solomon redshirted and Randall spent 2013 in the junior college ranks at Northeast Mississippi Community College. For now, we will pencil Scroggins into the starting role for Arizona, but this could change hands a couple of times in the preseason and even during the year. And although the Wildcats’ quarterbacks rank last in this list, we suspect Rich Rodriguez will turn this into a strength by midseason.

Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 07:15

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