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All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/91-things-never-happened-baseball-until-2016

The 2016 MLB season will forever be remembered for the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series title in more than a century. But that historic ending was just one of numerous baseball “firsts” that occurred last season. Here is a rundown of all the history that was made on the diamond in 2016.


Related: The Weirdest Things That Happened in Baseball in 2016


2016 was the first time in baseball history that a team...

» Won an Opening Day shutout by a margin of as many as 15 runs (Dodgers).

» Was victorious on Opening Day despite getting just one hit (Rangers).

» Was shut out in its first three games of a season and/or in five of the first 10 (Padres).

» Had more strikeouts than hits in each of its first nine games of a season (Twins).

» Hit three pinch-hit home runs in one game (Cardinals).

» Won four consecutive contests after losing its first nine of a season (Braves, Twins).

» Had two starters with three or more wins and a sub-1.00 ERA 20 games into a season (Cubs, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel).

» Used three pitchers who failed to record an out, yet finished with a shutout (Marlins).

» Lost a home game despite erasing deficits in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings (Pirates).

» Was saddled with a bullpen that allowed a run in 23 consecutive games (Reds).

» Got home runs from its first two batters of a game, both of whom were 22 or younger (Rangers, Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara).

» Had four players simultaneously carrying 12-game hitting streaks in home games (Red Sox).

» Got a home run from two Canadian-born players in the same game (Blue Jays, Michael Saunders and Russell Martin).

» Gleaned 52 strikeouts from its pitchers in a three-game series (Astros vs. Orioles).

» Compiled a slugging percentage as high as 1.2051 in a game (Rockies).

» Received multiple-home run performances from four different players in four successive games (Mariners).

» Lost a game despite hitting six more homers than its opponent (White Sox vs. Blue Jays).

» Assembled a streak of 41 strikeouts between walks from its bullpen (Yankees).

» Turned a 3-3-5 triple play (Nationals).

» Got a home run from all four infielders and an assist from all three outfielders in the same game (Indians).

» Struck out 61 opposition batters in a four-game series (Astros vs. Blue Jays).

» Allowed exactly one run, each via a solo homer, in four consecutive contests (Royals).

» Hit four home runs in a game before making an out (Orioles, who lost anyway).

» Collected 17 pinch-hit homers (Cardinals).

» Put 28 players on the disabled list (Dodgers — including Andre Ethier, who broke his leg during spring training).

» Won 76.6 percent of its one-run games (Rangers).

» Connected on multiple home runs in the first inning of three straight games (Angels).

» Allowed 103 home runs by its relievers and/or 258 by its entire staff (Reds).

» Utilized nine pitchers in a shutout of nine or more innings (Indians).

» Won a game in which it overcame multiple two-run deficits with home runs in the ninth inning and later (Mets over Phillies).

» Struck out 1,543 times in one season (Brewers).

» Prevailed in 10 straight win-or-go-home postseason games (Giants).

» Received its first complete game of the year in a postseason contest (Blue Jays, Marco Estrada).

» Threw five shutouts in a single postseason (Indians).


A player...

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» Hit 42 home runs for a 100-loss team (Brian Dozier).

» Who won the batting title the previous year ripped three extra-base hits in his first game of the next (Dee Gordon).

» Produced a multi-homer game in each of his first 14 seasons in the majors (Miguel Cabrera).

» Hit three home runs in a game, one of which was a grand slam in extra innings (Aaron Hill).

» Was walked six times and hit by a pitch in the same contest (Bryce Harper).

» Hitting out of the 9-hole drove in at least six runs in a game for a second time in his career (Jackie Bradley Jr.).

» Homered in each of the first two innings of back-to-back tilts (Mookie Betts).

» With an average below .050 (min. 25 ABs) homered for the sole run of a game (Erik Kratz).

» Tripled and hit a grand slam in the first inning of a game (George Springer).

» Recorded his first 18 home runs of a season in games in which he which he also struck out (Chris Carter).

» Went deep three times and doubled twice in one game (Kris Bryant).

» Reached on catcher’s interference 12 times in a season (Jacoby Ellsbury).

» Batted above .450 with a minimum of 50 at-bats prior to an All-Star Game (Sandy Leon).

» Aged 40 or older batted cleanup in an All-Star Game (David Ortiz).

» Hit safely in each of his first five All-Star Games (Mike Trout).

» Homered off a 16th different Cy Young Award winner (David Ortiz).

» Struck out 221 times in his first 150 major league games (Miguel Sano).

» Fanned four times in a game as both a teenager and a 40-year-old (Alex Rodriguez).

» Did not draw a walk until the 282nd plate appearance of his career (Bartolo Colon).

» Went 5-for-5 or better five times in a two-year span (Yunel Escobar).

» Homered multiple times in a 5-for-5 performance more than once in a season (Kris Bryant).

» Racked up more than 30 hits, with at least 10 of them leaving the yard, in the first 22 games he played in a season (Gary Sanchez).

» Hit a 134th first-inning home run in a career (Albert Pujols).

» Drew 21 walks as a pinch-hitter (Matt Joyce).

» Passed 400 career home runs before hitting his first regular-season walk-off (Mark Teixeira).

» Was batting below .200 for his career at the time he hit his 50th home run (Mike Zunino).

» Struck out 174 times in a 50-stolen base season (Jonathan Villar).

» Amassed as many as 216 hits in a 20-homer/30-stolen base campaign (Jose Altuve).

» Went deep twice hitting out of the 9-hole in a World Series game (Roberto Perez).

» Homered to lead off a World Series Game 7 (Dexter Fowler).


A pitcher...

» Won a third consecutive Opening Day start for a third different team (David Price).

» Pitched a postseason game for a different team in four consecutive seasons (David Price).

» Was removed with a no-hitter as late as the eighth inning only to see a reliever ruin the no-no (Ross Stripling).

» Made two scoreless starts of at least six innings and also won two games in relief, all in April (Logan Verrett).

» Was removed from a no-hitter as late as 23 outs into a game (Adam Conley).

» Lost five decisions out of the bullpen in April (Brett Cecil).

» Struck out at least 10 batters while issuing no more than one walk in six straight starts (Clayton Kershaw).

» With an ERA of 8.00-plus after a minimum of five starts allowed no runs and struck out 12 or more batters in his next one (Matt Shoemaker).

» Threw at least six scoreless innings and allowed three or fewer hits in four straight starts of the same season (Michael Fulmer).

» Pitched six or more innings and allowed fewer than six hits in 12 consecutive games (Marco Estrada).

» Allowed 12 runs in a modern-era start in which he failed to record four outs (Edinson Volquez).

» Gave up only one hit in a start of at least five innings with that hit being a grand slam (Kyle Hendricks).

» Made 43 straight appearances without surrendering an earned run (Zach Britton).

» Saved 56 games prior to his 22nd birthday (Roberto Osuna).

» Walked five or more batters in three consecutive appearances of less than four innings (Brandon McCarthy).

» Roped the first nine hits of his season for extra bases (Adam Wainwright).

» Had issued only nine walks at the time of his 150th strikeout (Clayton Kershaw).

» Retired the first 21 batters of a game, then was yanked (Rich Hill).

» Saved at least 30 games for one team and 15 for another in the same campaign (Mark Melancon).

» Struck out eight batters in the first three innings of a postseason game (Corey Kluber).


A rookie...

» Homered in each of his first three MLB games (Trevor Story).

» Hit 10 home runs in the month of his big-league debut (Trevor Story).

» Homered three times in a game while playing shortstop (Corey Seager).

» Produced an ERA below 0.95 in any 10-start stretch of his debut season (Michael Fulmer).

» Homered in his first MLB at-bat immediately following a teammate who did the same (Aaron Judge, after Tyler Austin).

» Included 38 extra-base hits among his first 50 knocks in the majors (Ryan Schimpf).

» Drove in the first run of four postseason games (Corey Seager).


— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports

91 Things That Never Happened in Baseball Until 2016
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /nfl/top-10-nfl-free-agents-2017

Prior to the start of the new league year in March, NFL teams make out their free agent wish list and check it twice. Some teams must make tough decisions on their own free agents, while others are looking to upgrade the talent on their roster.


Starting on Feb. 15, teams could begin using the franchise or transition tag on one player before the start of the new league year. If a player isn’t tagged by 4 p.m. ET on March 1, they will become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. on March 9.


The franchise tag will guarantee that player a one-year salary for the average of the top-five players at his position or 120 percent of that player’s previous year’s salary, whichever one is greater. The transition tag guarantees the player’s original team the first opportunity to match any deal he may make with another team.


Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousin and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawaan Short are three players that will most likely receive the franchise tag, so they were not considered among the top 10 available free agents. Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwell and head coach Bruce Arians have said multiple times that linebacker Chandler Jones also will be tagged if they cannot come to an agreement by March 1, so he also was not included in this exercise.


So which players will likely be the most sought-after in free agency? Here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents this offseason.


1. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs

It is hard to imagine the Chiefs letting their five-time Pro Bowl safety leave in free agency for nothing, but it is possible. The team used the franchise tag on Berry last year and he has already stated that he will not play under those circumstance again in 2017.


At 28 years old, Berry is in the prime of his career and is coming off of an All-Pro season in which he recorded 77 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. The Chiefs need to lock up Berry not only so he doesn’t go to another team, but also so that they can use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe if they so choose.


2. Dont’a Hightower, inside linebacker, New England Patriots

Hightower emerged as one of the anchors of the Patriots’ defense last season, recording 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 13 games. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI was a huge play that helped spark New England’s historic comeback.


The Patriots have a history of not overpaying for players, but perhaps they will take a different stance with Hightower. After trading fellow linebacker Jamie Collins midway through last season, New England needs to find a way to keep Hightower in the fold although you never know what Bill Belichick is going to do.


3. Brandon Williams, defensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens

Williams’ 2016 stats aren’t exactly attention-grabbing as he recorded 51 tackles and one sack. But he is an excellent nose tackle to help anchor a 3-4 defense, whose contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet. Last offseason, Damon Harrison signed a five-year, $46.2 million contract with the New York Giants and Williams is a similar type of player. There are several teams that could use help up front so the 28-year-old Williams will not lack for suitors.


4. Melvin Ingram, outside linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers

Somewhat quietly last season, Ingram put together an impressive, all-around season with 46 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles. He posted similar numbers in 2015 (52 tackles, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles), so Ingram has established himself as one of the more productive pass rushers in the league and shouldn’t struggle to find a team willing to match his contract demands.


5. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears

If the Bears don’t use the franchise tag on Jeffery, he will be the clear-cut top wide receiver on the market. When healthy, Jeffery is one of the league’s top pass catchers, although he has not been at his best the past two seasons. A combination of injuries and a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances could impact Jeffery’s perceived value in free agency. But again Chicago may not let him get there and either way, Jeffery won’t be without a job for long.


6. Kevin Zeitler, guard, Cincinnati Bengals

Zeitler is one of the NFL’s best guards and it isn’t likely the Bengals will offer him enough money to return in 2017. He has been an anchor on the right side of Cincinnati’s offensive line the past three seasons, playing every snap during that span. Zeitler figures to be the No. 1 free agent offensive linemen on the market and some team will pay him as such once free agency starts.


7. Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end, New York Giants

Last March, the Giants signed Pierre-Paul to a one-year, $10 million prove-it contract. In 12 games, JPP produced to the tune of 53 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles. New York’s spending spree on defense last season may prevent them from bringing him back, especially if another team is willing to offer the 28-year-old pass rusher more.


Pierre-Paul does have some injury concerns, as he’s missed 12 games the past two seasons combined, but he’s already overcome plenty in returning from the extensive hand injuries he received in the July 4 fireworks-related accident from July 2015 and showed last season he has plenty left in the tank.


8. A.J. Bouye, cornerback, Houston Texans

Bouye has said he would like to return to the Texans, but Houston will have plenty of competition for his services. A former undrafted free agent out of UCF, Bouye enjoyed a breakthrough 2016 season in which he recorded 63 tackles, 16 pass breakups, an interception and a sack. The 6-foot, 191-pound cornerback has developed into an all-around defensive back with the ability to shut down an opponent’s top receiver. Look for Bouye to cash in this offseason.


9. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Buffalo Bills

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott must hope the team can find a way to bring back Gilmore this fall, but it could get expensive. According to a report by Sal Capaccio of WGR 560 Sports Radio in Buffalo, Gilmore is seeking a contract that would make him one of the top five cornerbacks in the league, which is around $14 million a year.


Gilmore had a stellar 2016 season as he recorded 48 tackles, five interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

Gillmore has the combination of size (6-1, 190), skills and stats that could result in some team giving him the lucrative contract he’s seeking.


10. Calais Campbell, defensive lineman, Arizona Cardinals

Campbell is a nine-year veteran coming off one of his more productive seasons. Last season he had 53 tackles, eight sacks, a career-best three forced fumbles and also recorded an interception. Campbell has shown he’s effective as both a pass rusher and when it comes to stopping the run.


Arizona has used Campbell in a number of ways in its defensive game plan, so that versatility to play both on the edge and in the middle will increase his value. Campbell’s age (turns 31 on Sept. 1) may prevent him from securing a long-term deal, but some team will be happy to add him to their defense.


Other notable potential free agents: OG T.J. Lang, DT Dontari Poe, WR Terrelle Pryor, TE Martellus Bennett, CB Trumaine Johnson, DE Jabaal Sheard, OT Andrew Whitworth, WR DeSean Jackson


— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Top 10 NFL Free Agents for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-watch-north-carolina-tar-heels-2017

There will be some major changes within the North Carolina football program this year; more than just the departure of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. There will be plenty of moving parts on the field as well.


Finding a replacement for quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be at the top of head coach Larry Fedora's priority list this spring. Along with that battle, there will be openings at wide receiver, running back, and at a couple spots along the offensive line. Defensively, tackle Nazair Jones opted for the NFL and the secondary will need some new pieces.


That creates plenty of opportunities for younger Tar Heels. Here are five newcomers that will push for playing time in 2017.


Michael Carter, RB, True Freshman

UNC loses leading rusher Elijah Hood. But the 5-foot-8, 191-pound Carter will never be a bruiser like Hood and will instead will take over T.J. Logan’s all-purpose role. The Navarre, Fla., native enrolled early and is already part of the program.


J.T. Cauthen, WR, True Freshman

With Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins all moving on, new receivers must be found. Like Carter, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cauthen is on campus and will participate this spring. The Waxhaw, N.C., product was considered a three-star recruit, but he did have an offer list that featured Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State, and Tennessee.


C.J. Cotman, CB, True Freshman

Unlike his classmates mentioned above, Cotman won’t enroll until this summer. But he is a dynamic athlete that could play on either side of the ball. He will most likely start at corner and will also be utilized in the return game.


Jay-Jay McCargo, OT, Redshirt Freshman

McCargo could play inside or he may get a look at the right tackle position that is vacant due to the graduation of Jon Heck. Either way, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder that had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, and Michigan will get a chance to earn quality playing time.


Chaz Surratt, QB, Redshirt Freshman

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder will have competition from Nathan Elliott and fellow redshirt freshman Logan Byrd. Surratt was the highest ranked recruit in the Class of 2016 and is a dual-threat option, meaning that if he is named the starter the Heels’ offense will look more like the one Marquise Williams ran in 2015 than the pro style-oriented attack that Trubisky guided last fall.


— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

5 Newcomers to Watch for the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017

The Big Ten isn’t hurting for talent in its coaching ranks. The duo of Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio ranks as the best in the conference, but Ohio State (Urban Meyer and Thad Matta) and Michigan (Jim Harbaugh and John Beilein) round out a strong top three. And the conference also features some up-and-coming duos, including Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State.


Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.


Ranking the Big Ten's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017


1. Michigan State

Football: Mark Dantonio

Basketball: Tom Izzo


The 2016-17 academic year hasn’t been great for either of the bosses at Michigan State, but Dantonio (who won a total of 65 games from 2010-15) and Izzo (who has been to seven Final Fours) are among the best in the business in their respective sports.


2. Ohio State

Football: Urban Meyer

Basketball: Thad Matta


Meyer, with national championships at two schools (Florida and Ohio State) and an undefeated season at a third (Utah), is an all-time great. Matta’s program has slipped a bit in the past two seasons, but he has won at a very high level in stops at Butler (one year), Xavier (three years) and Ohio State (13 years).


Related: Early Top 50 Players Returning for 2017


3. Michigan

Football: Jim Harbaugh

Basketball: John Beilein


The 2016 season ended on a disappointing note, but Harbaugh has had an enormous impact in a short time at Michigan. Beilein had a great run at Michigan from 2011-14 (four NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights, one national runner-up finish) but has leveled off in recent seasons. He still is regarded as one of the game’s top coaches.


4. Northwestern

Football: Pat Fitzgerald

Basketball: Chris Collins


Fitzgerald has turned Northwestern into a consistent winner, guiding his alma mater to a bowl game in seven of the last nine seasons. The Wildcats are 11–6 in the Big Ten in the last two seasons. Collins has the basketball team on the verge of its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.


5. Wisconsin

Football: Paul Chryst

Basketball: Greg Gard


Chryst wasn’t the most exciting hire, but he has a combined 21–6 record in two seasons, including a 13–4 mark in league play. That’s pretty strong. Gard has done a great job in a tough spot — replacing the legendary Bo Ryan. The Badgers are as good as ever.


Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017


6. Iowa

Football: Kirk Ferentz

Basketball: Fran McCaffrey


Ferentz takes a lot of heat for his bloated contract, but he has done a solid job in his 18 years at Iowa. He has an 83–64 record in the Big Ten, highlighted by two 8–0 seasons and one 7–1 season. McCaffrey is known for his frequent outbursts on the bench, but he, too, has done a really nice job in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes made the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons (2014-16) but appear to be a longshot to make it this year.


7. Purdue

Football: Jeff Brohm

Basketball: Matt Painter


Painter has recovered from a rough patch (13–23 Big Ten record in ’12-13 and ’13-14) and has the Boilermakers back among the league’s elite. Brohm was a great hire by Purdue. The Bobby Petrino disciple went 30–10 in three seasons at Western Kentucky and did so while running one of the nation’s top offenses. 


Related: Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2017


8. Penn State

Football: James Franklin

Basketball: Pat Chambers


Franklin guided the Nittany Lions to an unlikely Big Ten title in his third season Happy Valley. His most impressive accomplishment, however, is winning a combined 18 games in his final two seasons at Vanderbilt. Chambers is having a tough time turning things around at Penn State (no NCAA Tournaments in five full seasons), but recruiting has been on an uptick and his current team has a talented young core.


9. Maryland

Football: D.J. Durkin

Basketball: Mark Turgeon


After reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons at Texas A&M, Turgeon had some unexpected struggles in his first three years at Maryland. Since the move to the Big Ten, however, Maryland has returned to national relevance. Durkin is off to a strong start with the Terps’ football program, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.


10. Minnesota

Football: P.J. Fleck

Basketball: Richard Pitino


Fleck is unproven at the Power 5 level but is fresh off a great run at Western Michigan. He will bring a ton of energy to a program that has been good — but hardly great — in recent seasons. Pitino, now in his fourth season, is still looking for his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. This should be the year.


Related: 15 Junior College Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017


11. Indiana

Football: Tom Allen

Basketball: Tom Crean


Crean has seemingly never been embraced by the IU faithful, but he has won two outright Big Ten titles in the last four seasons and has made three trips to the Sweet 16 in the past five years. Allen, a widely respected defensive coordinator, is untested as a head coach. 


12. Nebraska

Football: Mike Riley

Basketball: Tim Miles


Riley rebounded from a 6–7 record in Year 1 to win nine games and finish in a tie for second place in the Big Ten West. Still, many wonder if he can win big at a school that still expects to compete for championships. Miles has made the NCAA Tournament one time in four full seasons and finished 10th or worse in the other three.


Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2017


13. Rutgers

Football: Chris Ash

Basketball: Steve Pikiell


Pikiell will try to do what so many before him could not — make Rutgers basketball relevant. He’s done a nice job in Year 1, but this program still has a long way to go before it can be consistently competitive in the Big Ten. Ash’s first season as the football coach did not go well. The Scarlet Knights did not win a Big Ten game and scored seven points or fewer seven times vs. league opponents.


14. Illinois

Football: Lovie Smith

Basketball: John Groce


Groce, who made the NCAA Tournament in his first season (2012-13), has yet to have a winning record in the Big Ten. Injuries have played a key role in the recent struggles, but playing in the NIT simply isn’t the goal at Illinois. Smith, in his first season back in the collegiate ranks since he was an assistant at Ohio State in 1995, went 3–9 overall and 2–7 in the Big Ten.

Ranking the Big Ten's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-usc-trojans-watch-2017

After years of playing non-New Year’s Six games, USC returned to the Rose Bowl this past season with a bang. In one of the best bowl games of the year, the Trojans defeated Penn State 52-49 in a comeback for the ages, at least until the Super Bowl.


The USC Spring Game is set for April 15, but there is a lot of work to be done between now and the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2. With some key players off to the NFL, the incoming recruiting class and members of previous ones will be expected to step up and take the place of those leaving.


While the Trojans continuously put together top-10 recruiting classes, here are five newcomers that could step up and contribute right away.


Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, True Freshman

Of all the recruits USC needed the most, Tuipulotu would be near the top of the list for most experts. What USC got out of Utah grad-transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was nothing short of a miracle. The Trojans’ defensive coaches referred to him as the heart of the defense and that’s exactly the type of role they imagine for Tuipulotu, who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice.


Stephen Carr, RB, True Freshman

With the departure of Justin Davis, Carr has a chance to come in and make an impact alongside Ronald Jones II. Carr has all the physical tools and was a consensus five-star recruit. If he is able to deliver on even half of his potential, USC could have its next great back.


Jay Tufele, DE, True Freshman

A late grab for USC, Tufele was projected to go to Utah when he chose the Trojans. It couldn’t have worked out better for USC, who picture a nice 1-2 punch with Tufele and Tuipulotu. One of the nation’s best defensive tackles, Tufele is going to be expected to come right in and compete for playing time.


Joseph Lewis, WR, True Freshman

The nation’s No.  31-ranked recruit will be expected to come right in and help at the position with the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Lewis has blistering speed and is a bit more polished than some of his peers when it comes to running routes and route concepts. USC is loaded at the wide receiver position, but Lewis is the type of athlete who makes room for himself on the depth chart.


Michael Pittman, WR, Sophomore

This one is kind of cheating since Pittman is not a freshman or junior college transfer, but he didn’t play much last year with USC having options like the aforementioned Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers to throw to. Now that those folks are gone, expect Pittman, who was one of the most physical and gifted prospects in the 2016 signing class, to emerge as one of Sam Darnold’s favorite targets.


— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a Marvel Comics guru. Webb has been writing about USC for Athlon Sports for three seasons now. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.

5 Newcomers for the USC Trojans to Watch in 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/draftkings-golf-lineup-picks-pgas-honda-classic-national-resort-spa-dfs-daily-fantasy

Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (Feb. 23-26) golf tournament: the Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion Course) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.


Adam Scott ($12,200)

We thought that Scott would be less great without the long putter. Proving that length isn't everything, he leads the Tour in strokes gained, putting. The defending Honda champ has a streak of eight rounds of par or better at PGA National.


Russell Knox ($9,000)

Knox has two top-3 finishes in three Honda appearances. Until a missed cut at Phoenix, he had yet to finish outside the top 20 this season. We'll assume Phoenix was an outlier.


Luke Donald ($7,600)

Luke's not the force he once was — remember when he was No. 1 in the world? — but he comes in with consecutive top 25s and has a solid history here (four top 10s).


Scott Brown ($7,400)

Brown cashes checks with regularity (seven made cuts in a row). He is coming off a T2 at the Genesis Open and finished T10 at the Honda last year.


Graeme McDowell ($7,300)

It's been a struggle for McDowell over the last year or so, but that just means he can be had on the cheap this week. He had a T13 in Dubai a couple weeks ago and finished fifth at the Honda last year. 


Ernie Els ($6,400)

Once the gold standard among players not named Tiger, the four-time major winner can be found in the discount bin these days. He lives in the Palm Beach area, so it's a homecoming of sorts, and he did have a T13 in Qatar recently. 


DraftKings Optimal Lineup for golf's Honda Classic

Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/weirdest-things-happened-baseball-2016

Baseball can be a strange sport, especially when you take into consideration that it’s been played professionally for more than 140 years yet continues to provide those “what just happened” moments. Take last season for example. In 2016 the oddball occurrences started in early April and continued up until Game 7 of the World Series.


In fact, some may say the strangest thing that occurred on the diamond last season was that the Chicago Cubs ended the longest championship drought in sports by winning the World Series. But as you will see below, that was just one example of the weirdness that happened during the 2016 MLB season.


MLB's 2016 Calendar of the Weird



April 11 Two guys who had never before played in the majors — Trevor Story and Tyler White — are the season’s first Players of the Week in their respective leagues.

April 16 For the second straight night, the Yankees go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Seattle.

April 17 A pair of Mets relievers — Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed — are credited with two strikeouts apiece in the ninth inning.

April 20 For the first time this season, in their 16th game, the Phillies reach double digits in hits — notching their 10th on a walk-off infield single in the 11th inning.

April 21 Chasen Shreve is the first pitcher in a decade to allow a home run on each of the first two pitches he throws in a game.

April 22 Wil Myers’ season-opening strikeout streak reaches 16 games.

April 26 The Braves fail to go deep for a 15th straight game — ultimately more than double the length of any other team’s streak in 2016.



Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

May 5 Six days after allowing a 12-run inning to the Mets, Giants hurlers are stung for a 13-run frame by the Rockies.

May 6 Reds relievers snap their stretch of being scored upon in 23 consecutive games in which one has appeared, setting a record for a single season.

May 8 With Bryce Harper, who was batting in front of him, being walked six times and getting hit by a pitch, Ryan Zimmerman leaves a record 14 men on base and makes the final out of four innings in Washington’s loss to the Cubs.

May 9 J.T. Realmuto is the first player in 10 years to lose a home run for passing a teammate on the basepaths.

May 13 The Phillies execute three bunt singles and a go-ahead suicide squeeze by pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in a 3–2 defeat of the Reds.

May 14 Thirty-five games into the season, the Braves become the last team to hit a triple and are still hunting for their 10th home run when everyone else has at least 29.

May 16 Jordan Zimmermann is the first pitcher since Lefty Grove faced Babe Ruth’s 1927 Yankees to win a game in which he permits at least eight runs and strikes out nine or more batters.

May 18 A 15th consecutive Phillies victory is by three or fewer runs.

May 19 Erick Aybar misses a game after having a chicken bone removed from his throat.

May 22 Giancarlo Stanton whiffs for the 17th time (tying a record for a six-game span) in his last 20 at-bats.

May 23 The A’s, after a franchise-record 83 games dating to 2015 without one, are the last team of the year to coax a seven-inning start from a pitcher.

May 23 Gio Gonzalez’s longest active streak of starts without allowing multiple homers (44) goes by the wayside when he serves up a second to the Mets — then a third two pitches later.

May 25 The Twins, 46 games into their season, finally have a two-win starter (Tyler Duffey).

May 27 The Elias Sports Bureau informs that, for the first time in 51 seasons, a player (Josh Donaldson) drives in a go-ahead run in four plate appearances in one game.

May 30 The Cubs bullpen provides seven perfect innings — the most in a game since 1917, when Red Sox starting pitcher Babe Ruth was ejected and Ernie Shore completed a no-hitter.



June 1 The Mets plate only one of their 20 baserunners and lose, 2–1, when rotund reliever Matt Albers doubles for the first hit by a White Sox pitcher in 11 years then scores the winning run.

June 1 Exactly one-third of the way into their season, the Cardinals whack their 10th pinch-hit home run, matching their total in the previous four years combined.

June 4 Carlos Correa logs his third game-winning hit in the 12th inning or later in the past 12 days.

June 4 Jeff Samardzija serves up four gopher balls (plus a single and a double) in a span of 28 pitches.

June 9 A Prince Fielder home run ball blows up the cell phone of a fan who had held it up to protect herself from the oncoming missile.

June 13 James Shields is the first pitcher since 1894 to allow at least seven runs prior to the fourth inning in three consecutive starts.

June 15 The Mariners lose for the 17th time in their last 19 games of 13 or more innings.

June 19 The Padres win for the first time in 11 tries on a Sunday.

June 20 The Rockies and Marlins set a record by launching eight solo homers to account for every run of a game.

June 21 After being defeated in their previous seven games while scoring a total of 12 runs, the Phillies lose despite tallying 10 times.

June 22 Washington’s Michael A. Taylor strikes out five times, then commits a three-base error that allows the game-tying and -ending runs to score.

June 25 The White Sox, joining the 1995 and 2004 Tigers, become the second franchise to lose a tilt in which it hits seven home runs.

June 28 Though he’s pitched fewer than 250 innings, J.J. Hoover sets a Reds record by allowing the sixth grand slam of his career.



July 1 For the second time in a week, Bryce Harper forfeits an extra base because he lollygags at the plate watching a drive he thought was going farther.

July 6 Thanks to Chase Utley (on the heels of C.J. Cron and Wilmer Flores), it is the first time in history that three players have six-hit games in a five-day period.

July 8 The White Sox, in their 86th game, turn their third triple play of the season.

July 10 The A’s begin a game having played a franchise-record 15 straight errorless games, then make four (including a game-ender) in a 2–1 loss to the Astros.

July 12 In an All-Star Game managed by Terry Collins of the Mets, none of the four players on his own team appear.

July 17 The lone run of a game scores on a passed ball for the first time since 1986, as the Reds edge the Brewers.

July 17 Farm clubs Bluefield and Greeneville combine for 56 strikeouts in a 20-inning game.

July 19 The Yankees fail to score in the first inning for a 23rd straight contest.

July 23 Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy is knocked out of a game when a TV monitor in the broadcast booth falls on his head.

July 24 Tyler Chatwood is first NL pitcher known to have won a game in which he pitched as few as five innings, did not allow a run and issued at least eight walks.

July 27 Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis commits what will be his only three errors of the season (201 chances) in the span of two innings.

July 28 Jeurys Familia blows his second save in less than 24 hours after converting 52 in a row over the previous 360 days.

July 30 Jameson Taillon is deprived of his first major-league hit when, after lining an apparent single, he is thrown out at first by the right fielder.



Aug. 3 Thanks in part to a three-run homer from Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays are the first AL team to be 20 or more games under .500 and score 12 runs in a shutout of the defending champs (Royals).

Aug. 11 Oakland starts a different pitcher for an eighth consecutive game — the first time in 55 years a team has done that.

Aug. 13 Brandon McCarthy, after walking three or fewer batters in 122 consecutive starts, issues five for the third outing in a row.

Aug. 19 A ninth different batter (Ehire Adrianza) notches the game-winning RBI in the last nine supplied by Giants pinch-hitters.

Aug. 23 Danny Salazar has lasted a total of 11 innings over his last four starts.

Aug. 28 Kevin Gausman wins for the first time in 26 road starts.

Aug. 31 In a major-league first, rookies on opposing teams hit grand slams, as Stephen Cardullo and Andrew Toles connect.



Sept. 2 For the second time in three months, the Mariners cobble together a nine-run inning without the benefit of an extra-base hit.

Sept. 2-4 The Red Sox tie a post-1900 record by scoring at least 12 runs against the same foe (A’s) in a fourth straight meeting... then tally 11... then are shut out.

Sept. 5 Chad Bettis and Ubaldo Jimenez, who enter the day with a combined 5.70 ERA in 52 appearances and no complete games in their last 214 starts, both throw two-hitters.

Sept. 12 The White Sox score in all eight innings against Cleveland, and the Red Sox tally in their first seven versus Baltimore.

Sept. 14 The Diamondbacks are the first team in 86 years to hang a double-digit hit total on a team (Rockies) in 14 consecutive games of one season.

Sept. 14 Five teams with winning records are shut out on the same day for only the second time ever.

Sept. 25 The Mets bat 11 times (including four by Jose Reyes) with the bases loaded in a 17–0 destruction of the Phillies.

Sept. 28 The Twins put up a crooked number after 106 consecutive innings of scoring zero or one run — the longest streak in 74 years.



Oct. 2 The Angels conclude their season as the first AL team in more a century without an extra-inning win.

Oct. 7 Elias notes that, for the fourth time in five years, a left-handed batter who didn’t homer against a southpaw in the regular season did so in the postseason.

Oct. 19 The Indians clinch the ALCS despite everyone other than Francisco Lindor batting .138.

Oct. 25 Roberto Perez, who hit three home runs in 153 regular-season at-bats, goes deep for the third time in his 27th trip of the postseason.



Nov. 2 Three different Cubs catchers drive in a run as Chicago wins Game 7 of the World Series.


— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports

The Weirdest Things That Happened in Baseball in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Kansas City Royals, MLB
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2017-preview-predictions-schedule

Kansas City Royals logoKansas City’s championship window is closing. The cash-strapped Royals set a franchise record with a $131.5 million payroll in 2016, but team owner David Glass instructed general manager Dayton Moore to scale back for 2017. The Royals aren’t in fire-sale mode, but shipping impending free-agent closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler, who is under club control through 2020, clearly was a cost-cutting move. 

With the bulk of its two-time American League championship core — center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar and lefthander Danny Duffy — set for free agency next offseason, the edict to trim spending handcuffed Moore from making a free-agent splash like he did last offseason, when he signed Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy to the richest contracts in franchise history. Still, the Royals, who slipped back to .500 last season, hope for one final run before the expected dismantling.


Unfortunately, Kansas City also will be playing this season with a heavy heart, following the unexpected and tragic death of pitcher Yordano Ventura. The 25-year-old enigmatic fireballer was killed in a car crash on Jan. 22 in the Dominican Republic, his home country.



Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
The Royals ranked 12th in the American League with a 4.67 ERA from the starting rotation. Duffy, a 28-year-old lefthander, emerged as the club’s ace, finishing 12–3 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts after beginning 2016 as a reliever. His continued development as a front-of-the-rotation star will be critical. Kennedy — who is entering the second season of a five-year, $70 million deal — also is locked into the rotation, along with veteran lefthander Jason Vargas. Kennedy pitched to expectations in a solid Kansas City debut, while Vargas has been limited to 12 games during the last two seasons after Tommy John surgery in August 2015. When healthy, he’s been solid for the Royals, going 16–12 with a 3.68 ERA as a 2014 free-agent signing. Vargas’ return fills Edinson Volquez’s hole in the rotation after he signed with the Marlins, but the bigger question is how the team replaces Ventura. A pair of former Cubs, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood, were each signed to two-year deals prior to the start of spring training. Hammel won a career-high 15 games last season, but was left off of the World Series champions’ postseason roster and boasts a career ERA of 4.42 over 11 seasons. Wood will get a chance to start after serving as a bullpen jack-of-all-trades for Cubs manager Joe Maddon last season. Veteran righthander Chris Young and lefthander Matt Strahm, who posted a 1.23 ERA in 21 relief appearances after a late-July call-up, also will battle for those open rotation spots, with lefthander Mike Minor as a dark horse.



The Royals’ relief corps was the backbone of back-to-back pennants, but the glory days of HDH — when a relay from Kelvin Herrera to Davis to Greg Holland dominated the final three innings — are a fleeting memory. Holland sat out 2016 after Tommy John surgery, and Davis, who was set to make $10 million this season, was traded away. The Royals also cut ties with former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar among other bullpen losses. Herrera — who owns a 182 ERA+ the last three seasons, including a 2.75 ERA with 86 strikeouts against 12 walks and 57 hits in 72 innings last season — is the new closer, a role he’s expected to flourish in after saving a career-high 12 games last season with Davis sidelined. Unless he wins a rotation spot, Strahm and veteran righthander Joakim Soria project as the club’s setup men. Soria — a 2016 free agent who signed a three-year, $25 million deal — was a disappointment in his return to Kansas City, going 5–8 with a 4.05 ERA.



For the second time in three seasons, Escobar started all 162 games at shortstop for the Royals in 2016. He set modest career highs with seven home runs and 55 RBIs last season, but he also had the fourth-lowest OPS among qualified batters (.642). The 30-year-old shortstop has slashed .259/.293/.335 the last two seasons, but he remains a solid defensive player at a premium position. Kansas City is hopeful Raul Mondesi can emerge as the everyday second baseman. He’s a slick-fielding speedster and the heir apparent at shortstop, but he’ll only find a regular spot if his bat comes around. If not, Whit Merrifield gets the nod at second base after a solid rookie season.


Kansas City Royals 2017 Printable ScheduleCORNERS

Moustakas and Hosmer served as linchpins for the Royals’ title-winning youth movement, but there’s no chance both will remain in Kansas City beyond next season. Moustakas hit well last season, including a career-best .500 slugging percentage, in 27 games before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee May 22 after a collision with Gordon. The Royals hope he can recapture the All-Star form he first flashed in 2015 when he slashed .284/.348/.470 with 34 doubles, 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. Hosmer, who isn’t an elite fielder despite a Gold Glove reputation, also regressed last season at the plate despite obliterating his career highs with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs. 



The Royals’ outfield defense is stout with Gordon, Cain and Paulo Orlando from left to right field. Cain had emerged as a star in recent years, posting a 118 OPS+ with a .304/.351/.447 slash line in 2014-15. He averaged 47 extra-base hits and 28 steals during that span and also plays sparkling defense at a premium position. However, Cain missed time with hamstring and wrist injuries last season, which tamped down his production. Injuries also derailed Gordon the last two seasons, including lengthy absences due to  groin and wrist injuries. The Royals need Gordon to revert to the player who slashed .281/.359/.450 from 2011-15 after he was a shockingly bad .220/.312/.380 last season. The newly acquired Soler could poach time in right field from Orlando, if first base coach Rusty Kuntz can work a miracle with Soler’s sub-par defense.



Behind the plate, the Royals have a four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner in Salvador Perez, who added his first career Silver Slugger last season. Perez struck out far too much in 2016 and has slashed .256/.286/.421 the last three seasons, but he remains an elite catch-and-throw guy. Drew Butera is Perez’s backup.



Soler projects as the primary DH, but regulars with an injury history — think Perez, Moustakas, Gordon and Cain — could occasionally DH to save wear and tear without sacrificing lineup punch. Utility outfielder Jarrod Dyson was rumored to be on the offseason trade block. Cheslor Cuthbert can play anywhere on the infield except shortstop and proved valuable in extended action as Moustakas’ replacement. Veteran Brandon Moss also will get the opportunity to carve out a role, as his left-handed power (28 home runs in 413 AB with St. Louis last season) could be an asset off the bench or at DH.



Manager Ned Yost, who at 549–550 owns the franchise’s most managerial wins and losses, has shown a steady hand well suited for Moore’s roster, but his decision-making will be tested in 2017 with less certainty in the bullpen. Yost’s unflinching loyalty doesn’t play well with fans when it comes off as stubbornness, as was the case when Soria floundered last season. More flexibility might be required moving forward.



There’s a looming fire sale if Kansas City falls from contention with changes to the collective bargaining agreement that restrict compensation for players lost in free agency. Don’t expect Moore to be as aggressive as 2015 at the trade deadline with a depleted farm system. Health and player development will be keys to squeezing out a playoff push from a roster that’s already demonstrated its championship mettle, and one that also will be dedicating this season to the memory of a beloved teammate.



Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017

The Big 12 has a deep group of coaching tandems in place at all 10 programs. Oklahoma leads the way once again with Bob Stoops and Lon Kruger, but there is plenty of depth in the next group of teams, which features TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State. Kansas boasts the league’s best basketball coach (Bill Self), while David Beaty enters his third season with a rebuilding project on his hands.  


Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.


Ranking the Big 12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017


1. Oklahoma

Football: Bob Stoops

Basketball: Lon Kruger


Stoops is one of the most underappreciated coaches in the nation. He has averaged 10.6 wins in his 18 seasons in Norman and has won 10 Big 12 championships. Kruger is the only coach in history to win an NCAA Tournament game at five schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma).


Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2017


2. TCU

Football: Gary Patterson

Basketball: Jamie Dixon


Patterson is nearly 100 games over .500 in his 16 years TCU and has six league titles (one in C-USA, four in the Mountain West, one in the Big 12) on his résumé. Dixon led Pittsburgh to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in his 13 years at the school and is authoring a quicker-than-expected turnaround at TCU, his alma mater.


3. Texas

Football: Tom Herman

Basketball: Shaka Smart


This pairing looks great on paper, but is more about potential at this point. After making the NCAA Tournament last season (losing in the first round as a No. 6 seed), Texas is headed toward its first losing season since 1998. Herman appears to be a great fit at Texas, but he has yet to coach a game in the Big 12.


Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning in 2017


4. Oklahoma State

Football: Mike Gundy

Basketball: Brad Underwood


Gundy’s success in league play might surprise you; he has a 63–39 record in Big 12 games in 12 seasons (and that includes a 1–7 mark in Year 1). Underwood recorded an astounding 53–1 record in Southland Conference games in his three seasons at Stephen F. Austin. It would be a big surprise if he doesn’t enjoy success at Oklahoma State.


5. Kansas

Football: David Beaty

Basketball: Bill Self


Self, with 12 straight Big 12 titles, is one of the elite coaches in college basketball. Beaty is 2–22 in two seasons in charge of the KU football program. He will be given ample time to turn things around.


Related: College Football's Top 20 Impact JUCO QBs for 2017


6. Kansas State

Football: Bill Snyder

Basketball: Bruce Weber


Snyder oversaw arguably the greatest reclamation project in the history of college football and will be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Weber is regarded as an outstanding coach and average recruiter. The Wildcats appear headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in his five seasons at K-State.


7. West Virginia

Football: Dana Holgorsen

Basketball: Bob Huggins


Huggins has enjoyed a remarkable — and underappreciated — career. He has had only two losing conference seasons in 31 years as a Division I head coach. Holgorsen has been good, but not great, in his six seasons at WVU. He went 7–2 in the Big 12 in 2016.


Related: Big 12's Top 15 Players Returning From Injury in 2017


8. Baylor

Football: Matt Rhule

Basketball: Scott Drew


With Baylor enjoying one of its best regular seasons in program history, Drew is finally earning some recognition for his coaching — not just his recruiting prowess. He will have the Bears in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Rhule did a tremendous job at Temple, winning 10 games in each of the last two seasons. He has a difficult rebuild at Baylor — mostly due to off-the-field issues.


9. Iowa State

Football: Matt Campbell

Basketball: Steve Prohm


The Cyclones won only three games in Campbell’s first season but were painfully close to winning several more and flirting with bowl eligibility. The football program is on the uptick. Prohm has kept Iowa State relevant in the Big 12 following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Fred Hoiberg.


Related: Ranking the Big 12's Football Rosters for 2017 


10. Texas Tech

Football: Kliff Kingsbury

Basketball: Chris Beard


Kingsbury has yet to record a winning record in the Big 12 or finish higher than a tie for fifth in the league standings in his four seasons at his alma mater. Beard did a remarkable job in his only season as the head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock and is an ideal fit in Lubbock.

Ranking the Big 12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview

Future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon has raced against some of the best ever in NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and once, the King, Richard Petty. So last May when Gordon named the best he’d ever faced in his 25-year career, which of the aforementioned legends did he pick?

Jimmie Johnson: 2017 NASCAR Season Driver PreviewNone of them. Gordon picked Jimmie Johnson.

And a few months later, Johnson came to the final restart in the final race of the 2016 season with one last chance to win the race, and with it, the title. Johnson would have to get a jump on — and hold off — faster cars. He was, in essence, the underdog in a title fight. 

And yet, when the green flag dropped, he found a way to win, getting away on the restart and making sure nobody caught him en route to NASCAR immortality.

The 2016 season wasn’t Johnson’s best year in some ways — his 16 top 10s represent a career low. But he did two things exactly right: He won more races than anyone else, and he put himself in the position to take advantage of every opportunity. Those two things were enough to bring Johnson his seventh title on NASCAR’s biggest stage, something that’s been accomplished just twice before, by Hall of Famers Earnhardt and Petty. Johnson's 80 wins are good for seventh all-time.


2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
This year, Johnson will try to defend his title with all the resources of Hendrick Motorsports behind him. That’s an organization with 12 titles in the last 22 years. Hendrick engines are some of the most powerful in the garage, and while that can lead to durability questions (and it has in the past), that hasn’t been the case here. Among the four in-house Hendrick teams, there were zero engine failures in 2016. The team fell a tick behind at times last summer, but its recovery revealed no real weaknesses in the organization. 

Johnson works well with teammates Kasey Kahne and youngster Chase Elliott, but he really meshes with returning shopmate Dale Earnhardt Jr. The two drivers are close in age, have similar driving styles, and their personalities complement each other well. Johnson and Earnhardt are able to share information but also use what they gain from each other. 

Not all teams can use information effectively even if they do share openly, but Johnson and his teammates have mastered the skill.

Johnson’s career is a study in constants. He’s had one sponsor, Lowe’s Home Improvement (and their in-house tool brand, Kobalt). Gordon talked the retailer into taking a chance on Johnson, a relative unknown, in late 2001, and it took some doing to convince them that Johnson was a winner.  Johnson has proven Gordon right 80 times since, and Lowe’s (and only Lowe’s) will be on Johnson’s hood for the 16th year in 2017. In today’s NASCAR, that’s unheard of.

Johnson has also had just one crew chief for the vast majority of his career. Chad Knaus has called 78 of Johnson’s wins (the other two came with substitute Darian Grubb while Knaus was serving a suspension) and all seven of his titles. The two have considered going their separate ways and at times argue like a couple that has been married for 30 years, but in the end the allure of another win — and another title — keeps them together. They communicate superbly, and both have long memories when it comes to recalling things that have worked in the past. Knaus is a strong cheerleader, but Johnson isn’t the type of driver who needs one anymore and lets Knaus know it. 

There is no longer any question of whether Johnson can reach the seven-title mark or whether he’s a Hall of Fame driver. Those are a given. All that’s left to ask is whether he can do what no driver has done and take an eighth. Are you willing to bet against him?

Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:12
Path: /college-football/northwestern-wildcats-2017-spring-football-preview

It may be hard to believe, but Pat Fitzgerald officially begins Year 12 in charge of Northwestern’s football program Tuesday, as the Wildcats commence spring practice. And when better to start camp than on Feb. 21, when Chicago-area temperatures are in the 60s? (Seriously.)


The Wildcats hope to carry some momentum from their Pinstripe Bowl upset over Pitt in December, which lifted them to a 7-6 campaign. That came after a 10-win 2015 season, meaning the ‘Cats have reached postseason play in seven of the past nine years.


There is no shortage of questions this time of the year, especially for a team losing its best player on each side of the ball. So let’s look at the top questions facing Northwestern this spring.


5 Storylines to Watch in Northwestern’s Spring Practice


1. Who steps up in the middle of the defense with Anthony Walker gone?

Walker was a generational player for the Wildcats, as he became the first Northwestern player in 20 years to leave early for the draft after a 105-tackle season in 2016. The middle linebacker also fought through injury to force four fumbles, notch one interception, tally six quarterback hurries and record two sacks among his 10 tackles for a loss. Nate Hall figures to be the first guy to get a chance to fill Walker’s shoes in the middle, as the outside linebacker is coming off a 2016 that saw him tally 73 tackles — six for a loss — to go with a pair of QB hurries.


2. Where does the receiving production come from?

Austin Carr set Northwestern’s single-season receiving yards (1,247) record in 2016, and he tied for the single-season school record with receiving touchdowns (12). His 90 catches were the third-highest single-season mark in program history. Flynn Nagel, the team’s second-leading receiver in 2016, is back after a 40-catch, 447-yard, two-touchdown campaign. But the biggest addition to the receiving corps won’t be on campus until this summer, when Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown arrives after a 19-catch, 318-yard, three-TD season for the Ducks. Best of all, Brown has two years of eligibility remaining.


3. Clayton Thorson’s growth

Thorson is on pace to be the rarest of breeds in college football: A four-year starting quarterback. As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Thorson became the fourth player in school history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season (3,182) and set a school single-season record with 22 TD passes. He already has a lot of football under his belt, and having a stabilizing presence under center is a luxury. Northwestern was an impressive fourth in the Big Ten last season in passing offense.


4. What does Justin Jackson do for an encore?

Jackson may be the king at making something out of nothing, and his 224 rushing yards in a Pinstripe Bowl MVP performance left viewers wondering if he might leap to the NFL early — something Jackson and Fitzgerald playfully discarded at the postgame press conference. Still, with Carr gone, other playmakers need to step up, or else the Wildcats risk relying too heavily on Jackson, who has three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.


5. Can the ‘Cats’ secondary capitalize once again?

Northwestern picked off 16 passes in 2016, tied for third in the Big Ten. And players accounting for 15 of those picks return in 2017, meaning this could be an opportunistic unit once again. Of course, so much goes into forcing turnovers, so it’s hard to predict these types of seasons. But with junior corner Montre Hartage (five picks in 2016), redshirt junior safety Jared McGee (three) and senior safety Godwin Igwebuike (two) all back, this secondary could be very, very difficult to make plays against. Igwebuike in particular is a star coming off a season that saw him lead the team in tackles (108) and break up seven passes — while also showing the ability to blow up plays in the backfield, with six TFLs.


Northwestern's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Big Ten


The Big Ten West is usually a crapshoot. You can typically pencil in Wisconsin as a reliable annual contender, and in any given year, Northwestern, Iowa or Nebraska is capable of making a run at the division crown, too — albeit rarely all in the same year. There’s no reason to think that the Wildcats can’t make a run in 2017, as they return a seasoned QB and a very talented defense. The biggest questions will be if the offensive line matures and if enough playmakers step up to take a load off of running back Justin Jackson. But with Purdue and Minnesota breaking in new head coaches and with Illinois very young, the Cats have to feel good about their place in the division pecking order — amid a crowded but vulnerable top half, all with a chance of breaking through and stealing the crown that has belonged to the Badgers in two of the past three years.


— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Northwestern Wildcats 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/way-too-early-ranking-most-intriguing-acc-non-conference-games-2017

Duke started spring practice on Feb. 3, so there’s really no excuse for you slackers to not be looking ahead to the 2017 college football season, is there?


Related: Way Too Early Ranking of the Most Intriguing Big Ten Non-Conference Games of 2017


As spring dates inch closer for more and more ACC teams, we’ll take a look at the top non-conference games awaiting the league once the fall finally arrives.


10. UConn vs. Boston College (at Fenway Park), Nov. 18

Boston College won this game 30-0 last season, so the on-field product may not exactly be the biggest selling point here. Luckily for both programs, though, this game will be played at historic Fenway Park, and anyone who saw the Eagles face Notre Dame at the Red Sox’s home in 2015 knows how cool of an environment that truly is.


9. Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Sept. 4

It’s the Labor Day night game, which always delivers. Additionally, it’s opening weekend at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which may or may not be a de facto home game for the Yellow Jackets, depending on how well Volunteers fans travel. Regardless, the winner will have a great momentum boost after both went 9-4 in 2016.


8. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (at FedEx Field), Sept. 2

Justin Fuente had a very successful Year 1 in Blacksburg, replacing a legend by capturing the Coastal division and winning 10 games. But the Hokies will have plenty of new faces offensively, and the Mountaineers will provide a stiff test in this neutral-site matchup in Landover, Md., after a 10-win season themselves.


7. Louisville vs. Purdue (at Lucas Oil Stadium), Sept. 2

Indianapolis will host Jeff Brohm’s first game coaching the Boilermakers, after a brilliant run with Western Kentucky. Brohm, of course, played his college ball at Louisville. This also will be the first encore act for reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.


6. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11

Notre Dame won the first on-campus meeting between the two in 26 years, in 2016. This will be the programs’ first meeting in South Florida since 1989. And, given the late-season date, there could be a lot on the line here.


5. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 25

The Seminoles have won four straight against the Gators, matching a program-best mark in the series (1977-80). Though one-sided in recent years, you can throw out the record books when these two meet. And with FSU on the short list of early 2017 title favorites, there could be plenty at stake here.


4. Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 25

This rivalry has grown extremely heated in recent years, with Clemson winning three straight after dropping five in a row from 2009-13. The Gamecocks will be out for blood in Year 2 under Will Muschamp, who had a surprising 6-7 year in 2016 but lost in Death Valley by a 56-7 score.


3. Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 9

Auburn’s Tigers came awfully close to stunning Clemson’s Tigers in last year’s opener, so they know they can play with the defending national champs. This also will be the first real test for Clemson with a new starting quarterback, whoever that may be.


2. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 9

Pitt jumped on Penn State early and held on for dear life in a 42-39 win last season, which was what most expected going in. But when the Nittany Lions ended up winning the Big Ten and were on the cusp of the College Football Playoff, well, guess which team was all-too-happy to take responsibility for keeping them out? Narduzzi-Franklin II should be a fun one.


1. Florida State vs. Alabama (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Sept. 2

What more needs to be said? These two teams are widely considered to be the front-runners for the 2017 national title. They will christen Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, while providing immediate clarity to the College Football Playoff picture. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard: Jimbo Fisher used to work for Nick Saban.


— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Way Too Early Ranking of the Most Intriguing ACC Non-Conference Games of 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 09:30
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Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-head-coach-hires-2017

College football’s 2016-17 coaching carousel featured 21 changes and several big-time hires. Texas (Tom Herman), Minnesota (P.J. Fleck), Oregon (Willie Taggart) and Purdue (Jeff Brohm) were just a few of the biggest winners from this year’s cycle. While no hire can be judged accurately prior to the first game or even after the completion of a full season, this year’s cycle didn’t produce any bad moves by the 21 programs changing coaches. On the lower end of the rankings, San Jose State (Brent Brennan), Georgia State (Shawn Elliott) and Nevada (Jay Norvell) each seemed to hire a coach that’s a good fit at the program.


Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 21 new coaches for 2017:  


Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2017

1. Tom Herman, Texas

Previous Job: Houston Head Coach

Career Record: 22-4 (Houston 2015-16)


Texas has slipped from the ranks of a national power in recent years, but the program found the right coach to get it back on track. Herman arrives in Austin after compiling a 22–4 record in two years at Houston. The Cougars went 13–1, claimed the American Athletic Conference title and earned a Peach Bowl trip in Herman’s first year. Injuries derailed Houston’s hopes of another AAC title in 2016, but the Cougars still finished 9¬–3 with victories over Power 5 opponents Louisville and Oklahoma. The successful stint at Houston was just another step in Herman’s fast rise through the coaching ranks. The California native has several ties to the state of Texas from stops as an assistant at Texas Lutheran, Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. Herman also worked as Iowa State’s offensive coordinator for two years (2009-11) and called the plays for Ohio State from 2012-14. Additionally, Herman was hired as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown at Texas from 1999-2000. While Texas has recorded three consecutive losing seasons, Herman isn’t stepping into a complete rebuilding job. He has the right demeanor to handle the off-field responsibilities at Texas — including forming relationships with the state’s high school coaches — and he runs a style that meshes well with many of the state’s prospects. The Longhorns have a wealth of promising young talent and return 17 starters for 2017. Herman is the right hire at the right time for Texas. He will win big in Austin.


Final Grade: A+


Related: College Football's Early Top 25 for 2017


2. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Previous Job: Western Michigan Head Coach

Career Record: 30-22 (2013-16 Western Michigan)


After a successful four-year stint at Western Michigan, Fleck is taking his “Row the Boat” mantra to the Big Ten. Under Fleck’s direction, the Broncos reached new heights in 2016. Western Michigan finished 13–1, No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll and earned the program’s first trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl (Cotton). The 2016 season was the culmination of a relatively swift rebuild in Kalamazoo. The Broncos went 1–11 in 2013 but finished with 8–5 records in each of the next two seasons. Fleck is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail, and the Broncos inked the MAC’s best class from 2014-16. In addition to his time at Western Michigan, Fleck worked as a graduate assistant at Ohio State (2006) under Jim Tressel, spent three years at his alma mater Northern Illinois (2007-09), worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers (2010-11) and spent a year in the NFL with the Buccaneers (2012). The Big Ten’s West Division provides an easier path to compete than the East. Fleck should increase the school’s recruiting profile and has already proven that he can be the CEO of a program. The energetic 36-year-old coach is a great fit at Minnesota.


Final Grade: A


3. Willie Taggart, Oregon

Previous Job: USF Head Coach

Career Record: 40-45 (2010-12 WKU, 2013-16 USF)


Armed with standout facilities, the backing of Nike and a young cast of talent, it shouldn’t take long for Taggart to rebuild at Oregon. That’s a significant change from his first two opportunities to be a head coach. At WKU, Taggart returned to his alma mater and inherited a program struggling to transition to the FBS level and was coming off a winless 2009 campaign. After a 2–10 mark in his debut, Taggart guided WKU to back-to-back 7–5 seasons, which included the program’s first bowl bid in 2012. Taggart left for USF prior to the 2013 season, which was a natural fit for the Bradenton, Fla., native. The Bulls struggled through Taggart’s first two years (6–18) but went 18–7 the next two seasons — largely due to the development of the team’s up-tempo “Gulf Coast Offense.” While most of Taggart’s coaching experience is from WKU, he also spent three years (2007-09) as a running backs coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh. Adapting to Taggart’s style on offense should be a relatively seamless transition for the Ducks, and the addition of Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator should provide an immediate spark for that side of the ball. As evidenced by his track record, Taggart is a program builder. But considering what’s already in place in Eugene, it won’t take long for Oregon return to national prominence.


Final Grade: A-


Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning in 2017


4. Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Previous Job: WKU Head Coach

Career Record: 30-10 (2014-16 WKU)


Joe Tiller took Purdue to 10 bowl games in his 12 seasons (1997-2008), but the program has since slipped to the bottom of the Big Ten food chain. The Boilermakers have just two bowl trips since 2009 and only one winning record during that span. Additionally, Purdue has won a total of three Big Ten games in the last three seasons. There is, however, finally some hope — thanks to the arrival of one of the top young coaches in the country. In three years at WKU, Brohm guided the Hilltoppers to 30 wins and back-to-back Conference USA titles. Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive mind; WKU is the only team at the FBS level to average at least 40 points per game in each of the last three years. Prior to taking over as the Hilltoppers’ head coach, Brohm worked under Bobby Petrino for one season at WKU (2013) and four seasons at Louisville (2003-06). He called the plays at UAB in 2012 and also had a stint at Illinois (2010-11). Purdue increased his financial commitment to make this hire and has recently announced facility improvements. That’s a winning formula. 


Final Grade: A-


5. Matt Rhule, Baylor

Previous Job: Temple Head Coach

Career Record: 28-23 (2013-16 Temple)


Considering most of Rhule’s coaching experience came on the East Coast, it’s a bit of a surprise he landed at Baylor — a program trying to pick up the pieces from a major scandal. Rhule does lack natural ties to the state, but he’s a proven head coach and is off to a good start after salvaging a recruiting class that featured only one commitment in early December. After a 2–10 record in his first year at Temple, Rhule guided the Owls to three consecutive non-losing seasons. Temple went 6–6 in 2014 but finished 20–7 over the last two years, including a 10–3 regular-season mark in 2016 highlighted by an American Athletic Conference title. Rhule was a former linebacker at Penn State, so it’s no surprise Temple ranked as one of the top teams in the AAC on defense. But he also is well versed in offense, as he spent three seasons as Temple’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and worked for one season as an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants in ‘12. Attrition hit Baylor’s 2016 signing class hard after Art Briles was dismissed, so it may take a year or two for Rhule and his staff to rebuild the roster.


Final Grade: A-


Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2017


6. Charlie Strong, USF

Previous Job: Texas Head Coach

Career Record: 53-37 (2009 Florida interim head coach, 2010-13 Louisville, 2014-16 Texas)


Strong inherited rebuilding projects at his last two head coaching stops (Louisville and Texas), but that’s not the case at USF. With 16 returning starters — including dynamic quarterback Quinton Flowers — the Bulls should be one of the top Group of 5 teams in the nation in 2017. Strong’s stop at Texas ended in disappointing fashion, but the Arkansas native is returning to familiar territory. He spent more than 10 years as an assistant coach at Florida, including a stint as the team’s defensive coordinator from 2003-09. Strong was hired at Louisville after the Cardinals suffered through three disappointing seasons under Steve Kragthorpe. U of L showed marked improvement in Strong’s first season, finishing 7–6 in 2010, followed by another 7–6 campaign in ‘11 and an 11–2 mark in ‘12. Strong left Louisville for Texas but never managed to put all of the pieces in place in Austin. The Longhorns did not post a winning mark in any of Strong’s three seasons and declined to a 3–6 record in Big 12 play in 2016. Additionally, Strong’s side of the ball — the defense — regressed over his three years in Austin. While Strong’s performance in Austin can’t be ignored, USF seems to be a much better fit. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t enjoy success in Tampa.


Final Grade: A-


7. Mike Sanford, WKU

Previous Job: Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0


WKU has nailed its last three coaching hires — Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm — and there’s little reason to believe Sanford won’t follow the same path as the last three coaches to roam the sidelines in Bowling Green. At 35 years old, Sanford will be college football’s youngest head coach in 2017. Despite his youth, he has an impressive résumé that includes stops at UNLV (2005-06), Stanford (2007-08, ‘11-13), Yale (2009), Boise State (2014) and Notre Dame (2015-16). Sanford also worked for one year in 2010 under Willie Taggart at WKU and held the offensive coordinator tag at Notre Dame for the last two seasons. A young, up-and-coming coach with a background on offense? Sanford sure seems like a home-run hire for the Hilltoppers.


Final Grade: A-


8. Lane Kiffin, FAU

Previous Job: Alabama Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 28-15 (2009 Tennessee, 2010-13 USC)


Kiffin to FAU is the most polarizing hire of the 2016-17 coaching carousel. The 41-year-old arrives in Boca Raton after a successful three-year stint under Nick Saban at Alabama. Under Kiffin’s direction, the Crimson Tide’s offense transformed from a pro-style attack to more of a no-huddle or spread approach and ranked near the top of the SEC in all three seasons. The stint in Tuscaloosa helped Kiffin rebuild his image after an early dismissal at USC and a memorable (for the wrong reasons) exit from Tennessee following the 2009 campaign. Kiffin was fired by former USC athletic director Pat Haden following the fifth game of the 2013 season, ending his tenure in Los Angeles with a 28–15 mark. NCAA sanctions hurt USC’s depth and overall talent, but Kiffin was just 10–8 over his last 18 games. He went 7–6 in his only season at Tennessee, with three of those losses coming by 10 points or less, including a two-point defeat to eventual national champion Alabama. While Kiffin has had previous experience as a head coach and knows how to develop an offense, he also comes with plenty of baggage. Can Kiffin avoid some of the mistakes from his previous jobs? If so, FAU will be a contender in Conference USA in the near future.


Final Grade: B+


Related: College Football's Top 15 Teams on the Rise for 2017


9. Randy Edsall, UConn

Previous Job: Detroit Lions Director of Research – Special Projects

Career Record: 96-104 (1999-2010 UConn, 2011-15 Maryland)


Six years after leaving UConn for Maryland, Edsall is returning to Storrs. Edsall is the winningest coach in program history after recording 74 victories from 1999-2010. He inherited a program transitioning to the FBS level in 1999 and guided the Huskies to a bowl trip in 2004 — their first year in the Big East. UConn later earned four consecutive bowl bids from 2007-10, won the 2010 Big East title and played in the Fiesta Bowl that season. Edsall’s tenure at Maryland got off to a rocky start with a 6–18 record through the first two years. The Terrapins showed modest improvement, winning seven games in each of the next two seasons, but he was fired after a 2–4 start to the 2015 season. While Edsall may not be the most exciting hire, he’s a proven coach, has a good eye for finding talent and should provide stability for a program that won just 11 games in three years under previous coach Bob Diaco.


Final Grade: B


10. Ed Orgeron, LSU

Previous Job: LSU Interim Coach

Career Record: 22-29 (2005-07 Ole Miss, 2013 USC, 2016 LSU)


The term “dream job” is tossed around by a lot of coaches, but it’s an accurate description for Orgeron at LSU. After going 10–25 at Ole Miss from 2005-07, Orgeron is getting a second chance in the SEC. Once known for his gruff and aggressive demeanor, the Louisiana native seems to have mellowed a bit since his first stint in the SEC. Orgeron replaced Lane Kiffin early in the 2013 season at USC and went 6–2 as the program’s interim coach. However, he was not retained by Steve Sarkisian and spent 2014 out of football. Orgeron was hired by Les Miles at LSU in 2015 and was promoted to the top spot after Miles was fired in late September. Orgeron guided the Tigers to a 6–2 record over the last eight games, with the two losses coming against the SEC’s division champs — Alabama and Florida. Miles was frequently criticized for the performance of the offense. Under Orgeron’s watch, things improved; the Tigers averaged 32 points during the final x games, though there was one very costly snafu late in the loss to Florida. There’s no question Orgeron knows how to recruit, but attracting talent hasn’t been a problem for LSU. He will have to prove he can win at a high level at a program that is just 25–15 in SEC play over the last four years. Trading Miles for Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada seems like a positive step forward for LSU — but is it enough to catch Alabama?


Final Grade: B


Related: SEC's Best Players Returning from Injury in 2017


11. Tom Allen, Indiana

Previous Job: Indiana Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-1 (2016 Foster Farms Bowl)


Indiana athletic director Fred Glass didn’t have to look far for a replacement for Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers parted ways with their former head coach in early December after allegations of player mistreatment surfaced. Allen was hired following the 2015 season to coordinate Indiana’s defense and made a significant impact in his first year with the Hoosiers. Defense has been a weak link for Indiana in recent seasons, but Allen’s group allowed 27.2 points per game — a significant decrease from the 37.6 mark in 2015. Allen is no stranger to the Hoosier State, as he’s an Indiana native who earned his master’s degree from IU in 2002. Allen worked under Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State in 2011 and again at Ole Miss from ‘12-14. He coordinated USF’s defense under Willie Taggart in 2015 and helped the unit take a step forward. The 2017 season will be Allen’s first as a head coach at the FBS level and his first in this role since 2006 at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Allen seems to be a solid hire, but Indiana will have a tough time taking a step forward in the rugged Big Ten East.


Final Grade: B-


12. Geoff Collins, Temple

Previous Job: Florida Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0


Few programs have changed their outlook as much as Temple has in recent years. After 18 consecutive losing seasons from 1991-2008, the Owls have played in four bowl games since 2009 and have posted only two losing marks during that span. The last three hires by this program – Al Golden, Steve Addazio and Matt Rhule – left the program for Power 5 jobs. Temple hopes it continue its upward trend with Collins taking over following Rhule’s departure to Baylor. Collins has been considered a rising star in the assistant ranks over the last 10 years, including stops at UCF, FIU, Mississippi State and Florida. Collins also worked for one season in an off-field role at Alabama in 2007. In six years as a defensive coordinator in the SEC, Collins’ defenses never allowed more than 25 points per game on average and his 2016 unit at Florida ranked third in the SEC. In addition to his standout defenses, Collins is known for his aggressive mentality, garnering the nickname “Minister of Mayhem.” He’s also regarded as a good recruiter. The only concern about this hire is Collins’ lack of head coaching experience, and he’s spent most of his career in the Southeast.


Final Grade: B-


13. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Previous Job: Ohio State Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 6-7 (Ohio State interim head coach in 2011)


Not many coaching hires in the 2016-17 cycle have a better match in geography than Cincinnati and Fickell. The state of Ohio is where Fickell has spent nearly his entire life, including a playing career at Ohio State from 1993-96, a stint as Akron’s defensive line coach from 2000-01 and as a coach — in various roles — with the Buckeyes from 2002-16. He served as the Buckeyes interim head coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel resigned due to an NCAA investigation and guided the team to a 6–7 record. While he was not hired as the full-time coach, Urban Meyer retained him in a co-defensive coordinator role prior to the 2012 season. In addition to his lifetime ties to Ohio, Fickell is regarded as a good recruiter and should connect well with the state’s high school coaches. Considering all of the NCAA turmoil surrounding Ohio State in 2011, it’s tough to read too much into the six-win season. However, the 6–7 record was the Buckeyes’ first losing mark since 1988. 


Final Grade: B-


Related: College Football's Top 20 Impact JUCO Transfer QBs for 2017


14. Butch Davis, FIU

Previous Job: ESPN analyst

Career Record: 79-43 (1995-2000 Miami, 2007-10 North Carolina)


It’s a homecoming of sorts for Davis, as he returns to the sidelines six years after his firing at North Carolina in 2010. The Oklahoma native has ties to the state of Florida from a stint as Miami’s defensive line coach (1984-88) and again as the program’s head coach from 1995-2000. Under Davis’ watch, the Hurricanes overcame significant NCAA sanctions to finish 51–20, highlighted by a No. 2 ranking in 2000. Davis left Miami for the NFL prior to the 2001 season and guided the Browns for four years, recording a 24¬–35 mark in that span with one playoff trip. After spending two seasons out of coaching, Davis was hired as North Carolina’s head coach. The Tar Heels showed steady progress in his tenure, finishing 28–23 with three consecutive bowl trips. However, Davis was fired after an investigation into academic misconduct and improper benefits with the program. Davis was never penalized by the NCAA but has not worked on the collegiate level since his departure from Chapel Hill. FIU is a program with potential, and Davis’ previous success in the area, along with recruiting ties to the state should help the Panthers take a step forward in Conference USA.


Final Grade: B-


15. Justin Wilcox, California

Previous Job: Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0


California was the last school to make a coaching change in the 2016-17 carousel, firing Sonny Dykes in early January and replacing him with Wilcox x weeks later. Wilcox, an Oregon native, is no stranger to life in the Pac-12. He played at Oregon under Mike Bellotti from 1996-99 and later worked as an assistant coach at California (2003-05), Washington (2012-13) and USC (2014-15). In addition to his Pac-12 stops, Wilcox spent time at Boise State (2006-09), Tennessee (2010-11) and Wisconsin (2016). Wilcox has worked as a defensive coordinator every season since 2006, and his ‘16 defense at Wisconsin finished fourth nationally by limiting opponents to just 15.6 points per game. Wilcox does not have any previous head coaching experience, but he has surrounded himself with an excellent staff, which includes former Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter (defensive coordinator) and Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin (offensive coordinator). California has not finished higher than eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense since 2011. Wilcox should help improve that side of the ball, while the arrival of Baldwin will keep California near the top of the Pac-12 on offense.


Final Grade: B-


16. Major Applewhite, Houston

Previous Job: Houston Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-1 (2016 Las Vegas Bowl)


Applewhite was promoted to head coach after Tom Herman left for Texas. The Louisiana native should ensure a seamless transition from the Herman era after spending the last two years as the program’s offensive coordinator. Under Applewhite’s direction (and some help from Herman), Houston finished No. 10 nationally in scoring offense in 2015 and No. 26 in ‘16. In addition to his stint as Houston’s pla -caller, Applewhite worked at Texas under Mack Brown from 2008-13, served as the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007 and had one-year stops at Rice (2006) and Syracuse (2005). Applewhite’s debut in the Las Vegas Bowl did not go well, as Houston suffered a 34–10 loss to San Diego State. However, it’s tough to read too much into the one-game showcase. With standout lineman Ed Oliver and transfer quarterback Kyle Allen leading the way, Houston will be picked near the top of the American Athletic Conference. Keep in mind, however, that expectations are very high at Houston. Going 7-5 or 8-4 at Houston isn’t enough.


Final Grade: C+


Related: Early Top 50 Players Returning for 2017


17. Tim Lester, Western Michigan

Previous Job: Purdue QB Coach

Career Record: 0-0


P.J. Fleck guided Western Michigan’s program to new heights in 2016 with a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl and a 13-win campaign. With Fleck off to Minnesota, it’s up to Lester to build off that momentum and keep the Broncos near the top of the MAC. Lester is well-equipped to handle this job, as he played quarterback in Kalamazoo from 1996-99 and threw for 11,299 yards and 89 touchdowns. Lester did not play in the NFL but bounced around in the XFL (2001) and Arena Football (2001-02) before going into coaching. In 2004, Lester went 7–4 as the head coach at Division II Saint Joseph’s, followed by a two-year stint as Western Michigan’s quarterback coach. He later worked at North Central College for one season, spent five years as the head coach at D-III Elmhurst and landed back at the FBS level for stops at Syracuse (2013-15) and Purdue (2016). Lester hasn’t worked as a head coach at the FBS level, but his record at Saint Joseph’s and Elmhurst is a respectable 40–23. With a background on offense, familiarity with the program and a solid foundation in place, Lester should be able to keep Western Michigan relevant in the MAC.


Final Grade: C+


18. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State

Previous Job: Washington Offensive Consultant

Career Record: 82-57 (California head coach 2002-12)


Fresno State enjoyed a considerable amount of success under Jim Sweeney (1980-96) and Pat Hill (1997-11), but this program slipped considerably after winning 20 games in Tim DeRuyter’s first two years (2012-13). Since winning 11 games in 2013, the Bulldogs have managed only 10 victories over the last three seasons (2014-16). Considering the talent in Fresno State’s recruiting territory, it won’t take long for his program to return to the top of the Mountain West. And the Bulldogs have a familiar face leading the way, as Tedford returns to the Valley. The California nave played at Fresno State from 1981-82 and later coached under Sweeney from 1992-97. Tedford had a four-year stint at Oregon (1998-2001) before his hire as California’s head coach in 2002. During Tedford’s 11-year run in Berkeley, the Golden Bears went 82–57 and earned seven consecutive bowl trips from 2003-09. However, California slipped at the end of Tedford’s tenure. Since his dismissal at California, Tedford has spent time with the Tampa Bay Bucs (offensive coordinator), British Columbia Lions (head coach) and the University of Washington (offensive consultant). With deep ties to the school, Tedford appears to be a good fit for Fresno State, though it will take time to rebuild the roster.


Final Grade: C+


19. Brent Brennan, San Jose State

Previous Job: Oregon State WR Coach

Career Record: 0-0


With only three bowl appearances since 1991, it’s no secret San Jose State is one of the Mountain West’s toughest jobs. But the Spartans are hoping to change their fortunes with a familiar face and a coach with extensive ties to the state of California taking over the program in 2017. Brennan is a California native and grew up in Redwood City, which is less than 30 miles from San Jose. He also played at UCLA from 1991-94 and later worked as an assistant at Cal Poly and at San Jose State under Dick Tomey (2005-09) and Mike MacIntyre (2010). Brennan left the Spartans to work under Mike Riley at Oregon State from 2011-14 and remained on staff as a receivers coach under Gary Andersen from 2015-16. Brennan is regarded as an excellent recruiter who developed several standouts at receiver during his career as an assistant. The lack of head coaching experience is the biggest concern about this hire.


Final Grade: C+


Related: Early Look at College Football's Top 25 Games for 2017


20. Jay Norvell, Nevada

Previous Job: Arizona State WR Coach

Career Record: 0-0


After a lengthy career as an assistant coach with stops in the college and NFL ranks, Norvell landed his first head coaching opportunity at Nevada at the age of 53. Norvell has gained valuable insight from some of college football’s top coaches, including Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez (1989-94), Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops (2008-14) and under Iowa’s Hayden Fry as a player 1982-95 and a graduate assistant from 1986-87. While the experience is there, Norvell’s results as an assistant are a mixed bag. UCLA finished 92nd nationally when he worked as the offensive coordinator in 2007; Oklahoma’s offense improved following his departure in 2014; and Texas averaged just 25.3 points in Big 12 games after he took over as interim play caller in ‘15. Nevada does not have the same resources as some of its Mountain West counterparts but has still made 10 bowl games over the last 12 seasons. Surprisingly, Brian Polian was let go after taking Nevada to two bowl games in three years, and the division isn’t getting easier with recent improvement by UNLV and Hawaii. Norvell will be expected to win right away.


Final Grade: C+


21. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State

Previous Job: South Carolina OL Coach

Career Record: 1-5 (South Carolina interim head coach in 2015)


In just its fifth season at the FBS level, Georgia State is going through a significant transition. After sharing the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers will play their games in 2017 at a renovated Turner Field (now called Georgia State Stadium). And in addition to the new home field, Georgia State has a new coach. Elliott spent the last seven years at South Carolina and previously worked at Appalachian State from 1997-2009. The South Carolina native was hired as the Gamecocks’ offensive line coach in 2010 and remained in that role until ‘15, when he was promoted to interim head coach after Steve Spurrier’s retirement. Elliott guided the Gamecocks to a 1–5 mark to finish the 2015 season, with all five losses coming by 10 points or fewer. He was retained by Will Muschamp in 2016 and continued to coach the offensive line. Elliott’s offensive lines had their share of ups and downs during his tenure with the Gamecocks, but he was a solid assistant for a program that won at least nine games every year from 2010-13. He also worked under current Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb from 2005-09 at Appalachian State.


Final Grade: C+


(Tom Herman photo courtesy of, J.P. Fleck photo courtesy of @GopherFootball)

Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/florida-state-qb-deondre-francois-chucks-football-over-frat-house-pike-seminoles

Ever heard the expression "he's got a cannon for an arm?" Well they must've been talking about Deondre Francois.


The Florida State quarterback had a little fun on campus over the weekend and gave a sample of his superior arm strength by throwing a football clear over a frat house on campus.




The upcoming season can't get here soon enough for Seminoles fan. 

Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 14:55
Path: /nfl/25-greatest-tight-ends-nfl-history

It could be argued that no position has changed more in the NFL’s history than the tight end. Once primarily a sixth offensive lineman who would catch the occasional pass, tight ends have become key cogs on offense.


Some tight ends are so critical to a team’s passing attack in the current NFL that entire packages are designed to fit their individual skill sets. The extra emphasis placed on the position today causes us to look back at some of the greats who played the position historically and decide how they measure up – both from a statistical sense as well as in the simple “eye test.”


The changes at the position are impacted by how many players from the current era make this list, including a new addition that’s knocking on the top 10, but there is still plenty of representation from the past as well.


25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History


25. Jeremy Shockey

New York Giants 2002-07; New Orleans 2008-10); Carolina 2011

First-team All-Pro (2002), 4-time Pro Bowler

2 Super Bowl rings (XLII, XLIV)

136 games –  547 catches, 6,143 yards (11.2 ypc), 37 TDs


There was a period of two or three years early on in his career where he was Gronk before there was such a thing as Gronk.


24. Brent Jones

San Francisco 1987-97

4-time Pro Bowler

3 Super Bowl rings (XXIII, XXIV,  XXIX)

143 games – 417 catches, 5,195 yards (12.5 ypc), 33 TDs


A complete tight end who showed up and did his job while surrounded by legends.


23. Jay Novacek

St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals 1985-89; Dallas 1990-95

First-team All-Pro (1992), 5-time Pro Bowler

3 Super Bowl rings (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)

158 games – 422 catches, 4,630 yards (11.0 ypc), 30 TDs


Novacek was the perfect complement to the “Triplets” (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin) during the Cowboys’ epic ruin in the early 1990s.


22. Riley Odoms

Denver 1972-83
2-time first-team All-Pro, 4-time Pro Bowler

153 games – 396 catches, 5,755 yards (14.5 ypc), 41 TDs; 25 carries, 211 yards (8.4 ypc), 2 TDs


You could make the argument that he was Denver's best player for nearly a decade.


21. Jimmy Graham

New Orleans 2010-14; Seattle 2015-Present

First-team All-Pro (2013), 4-time Pro Bowler

105 games – 499 catches, 6,280 yards (12.5 ypc), 59 TDs


When healthy, few can match Graham’s dominance – especially in the red zone.


20. Vernon Davis

San Francisco 2006-2015; Denver 2015; Washington 2016

2-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl 50 Champion

164 games – 505 catches, 6,424 yards (12.7 ypc), 57 TDs


Davis is one of the better pure athletes to ever play the position.


19. Heath Miller

Pittsburgh 2005-15

2-time Pro Bowler

2 Super Bowl rings (XL, XLIII)

168 games – 592 catches, 6,569 yards (11.1 ypc), 45 TDs


Miller was a model of consistency over his 11-year career with the Steelers.


18. Dallas Clark

Indianapolis Colts 2003-11; Tampa Bay 2012; Baltimore 2013

First-team All-Pro (2009), Pro Bowl (2009)

Super Bowl XLI Champion

143 games – 505 catches, 5,665 yards (11.2 ypc), 53 TDs


He was the unsung hero of the dominant Peyton Manning-led Colt offenses.


17. Keith Jackson

Philadelphia 1988-91; Miami 1992-94; Green Bay 1995-96

3-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

129 games – 441 catches, 5,283 yards (12.0 ypc), 49 TDs


Probably the most complete tight end in history.


16. Todd Christensen

New York Giants 1979; Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1979-88

2-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

137 games – 461 catches, 5,872 yards (12.7 ypc), 41 TDs


He was a Raider favorite who thrived despite being in the huddle with a handful of other legendary skill position players.


15. Charlie Sanders

Detroit 1968-77

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2007

3-time first-team All-Pro, 7-time Pro Bowler

128 games – 336 catches, 4,817 yards (14.3 ypc), 31 TDs


The other legendary Sanders to play in Detroit was a serious deep threat at the position.


14. Ben Coates

New England 1991-99; Baltimore Ravens 2000

2-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

158 games – 499 catches, 5,555 yards (11.1 ypc), 50 TDs


He was a key cog in the Drew Bledsoe-led Patriot offenses that put up huge numbers in the 1990s.


13. Jerry Smith

Washington 1965-77

First-team All-Pro (1969), 2-time Pro Bowler

168 games – 421 catches, 5,496 yards (13.1 ypc), 60 TDs


One of the most underrated players in NFL history.


12. Jackie Smith

St. Louis Cardinals 1963-77; Dallas 1978

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994

5-time Pro Bowler

210 games – 480 catches, 7,918 yards (16.5 ypc), 40 TDs; 38 carries, 327 yards (8.6 ypc), 3 TDs


Smith is sadly remembered mostly for his dropped pass in the end zone during Dallas’ 35-31 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII. But that one missed opportunity shouldn’t overshadow the fact he was a solid and at times dominant force throughout his Hall of Fame career.


11. Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears 2007-2010, Carolina Panthers 2011-Present

3-time Pro Bowler

158 games – 622 catches, 7,365 yards (11.8 ypc), 52 TDs


Olsen has quietly grown into one of the most prolific pass catchers in the league over the past five seasons. In 2016, he became the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.


10. Dave Casper

Oakland 1974-80, ’84, Houston Oilers 1981-83; Minnesota 1983

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2002

4-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

2 Super Bowl rings (XI, XV)

147 games – 378 catches, 5,216 yards (13.8 ypc), 52 TDs


Casper was the premier tight end in pro football during the 1970s, leading to his immortal status in the eyes of Raider Nation.


9. Jason Witten

Dallas 2003-Present

2-time first-team All-Pro, 10-time Pro Bowler

223 games – 1,089 catches, 11,888 yards (10.9 ypc), 63 TDs


Witten may be the last of the old-school tight ends – a big-bodied guy who blocks as well as he runs routes and catches passes. He has been the Cowboys’ cornerstone for 14 seasons. His stat line speaks for itself and because of those numbers, Witten will one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


8. John Mackey

Baltimore Colts 1963-71; San Diego 1972

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1992

3-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

139 games – 331 catches, 5,236 yards (15.8 ypc), 38 TDs, 19 rushes, 127 yards (6.7 ypc)


The John Mackey Award is given to the best tight end in college football annually. That alone should tell you how great he was in his time. Mackey was one of the premier offensive weapons in the NFL during his prime. Perhaps most impressive – he missed only one game during his 10-year career.


7. Rob Gronkowski

New England 2010-Present

4-time first-team All-Pro, 4-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl XLIX Champion

2014 AP & PFWA Comeback Player of the Year

88 games – 405 catches, 6095 yards (15 ypc), 68 TDs


Going by the eye test, it's tough not to call Gronkowski the greatest ever at the position. Injuries seem to be the only thing holding him back. Unfortunately, those injuries appear to be taking a toll, and it looks as if his days as an impact player in the NFL are numbered.


6. Mike Ditka

Chicago 1961-66; Philadelphia 1967-68; Dallas 1969-72

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1988

2-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

Super Bowl VI champion (Cowboys)

158 games – 427 catches, 5,812 yards (13.6 ypc), 43 TDs


Long before he was Da Coach in Chicago and the subject of a legendary series of SNL skits, Ditka was the focal point of the Bears' passing attack in the 1960s. He brought the same toughness to the offense that teammate Dick Butkus brought to the defense, making Chicago one of the most feared and respected franchises in the NFL.


5. Ozzie Newsome

Cleveland 1978-90

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1999

First-team All-Pro (1984), 3-time Pro Bowler

198 games – 662 catches, 7,980 yards (12.1 ypc), 47 TDs


Newsome was one of the premier tight ends of the 1980s along with Kellen Winslow. He was a favorite target of Bernie Kosar's on a Cleveland Browns team that fell agonizingly short of two Super Bowl appearances at the hands of the Broncos. Newsome's football IQ set him apart, and that is what has made him one of the elite general managers in the game today.


4. Kellen Winslow

San Diego 1979-87

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1995

3-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowler

109 games – 541 catches, 6,741 yards (12.5 ypc), 45 TDs


Winslow is the guy many people immediately picture when they hear the words "tight end." He was the first real deep threat at the position, making an already prolific Dan Fouts-led passing attack that much more lethal. Many will likely eclipse his stats, but nobody will ever replace the iconic image of Winslow's teammates carrying him off the field after exhausting himself -- mentally and physically -- in a playoff game in Miami's Orange Bowl in 1982.


3. Shannon Sharpe

Denver 1990-99, 2002-03; Baltimore 2000-01

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2011

4-time first-team All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

3 Super Bowl rings (XXXII, XXXIII, XXXV)

204 games – 815 catches, 10,060 yards (12.3 ypc), 62 TDs


Sharpe's stat line speaks for itself, but it was his immeasurable impact as John Elway’s and subsequently Trent Dilfer's security blanket in the passing games of two championship teams that set him apart from others at his position. He was the first of the oversized natural wide receivers who assumed the role of tight end.


2. Antonio Gates

San Diego 2003-Present

3-time first-team All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler

204 games – 897 catches, 11,192 yards (12.5 ypc), 111 TDs


Like Tony Gonzalez, Gates is a former college basketball player who has used his rare athletic ability to create problems for opposing defenses. The two are fittingly tied for the most touchdown catches by a tight end with 111 each, and Gates also is the Chargers’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. He and Philip Rivers share the record for the most prolific quarterback-to-tight end touchdown scoring combo in NFL history with 84 end zone hookups.


1. Tony Gonzalez

Kansas City 1997-2008; Atlanta 2009-12

6-time first-team All-Pro, 14-time Pro Bowler

270 games – 1,325 catches, 15,127 yards (11.4 ypc), 111 TDs


Gonzalez pioneered the trend of basketball players making the transition to the tight end position. His frame combined with his athleticism created unique matchup problems for defenses, revolutionizing schemes on both sides of the ball. Statistically, he has far and away the greatest resume of anyone who ever played the position.


— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on,, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/oregon-state-beavers-2017-spring-football-preview

Signs of progress abounded in Gary Andersen’s second season at Oregon State. The Beavers closed 2016 with a pair of victories over Arizona and Oregon and doubled their win total from Andersen’s first year at the helm. Oregon State loses a few key playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the Beavers are positioned to build on the progress made last season.


If Oregon State can stay healthy, the Beavers should challenge for the team’s first bowl bid since 2013. Reaching that bowl goal hinges on Oregon State figuring out who will run the offense and on the Beavers getting improved production from the defense in several critical areas.


5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon State’s Spring Practice


1. Who will be Oregon State’s quarterback heading into fall?

The starting quarterback job is up for grabs heading into spring practices for a third consecutive season. Five different players are in the mix to be the starter – including highly touted junior college transfer Jake Luton.


Senior Darrell Garretson started the first six games last season before a broken leg against Utah cut his season short. Garretson struggled to move the chains while healthy. He threw for only 617 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Marcus McMaryion started the final six games in Garretson’s absence with some success. McMaryion threw for 1,286 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions last season.


Luton could come in and seize the reins before spring football is done. The 6-foot-7 quarterback put up some impressive numbers at Ventura (Calif.) College last season, throwing for a school-record 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. If his passing abilities translate to the FBS level, Oregon State’s offense could be much more dangerous this season.


2. Will new receivers emerge? 

Oregon State will be a bit thin at receiver during the spring.  Seth Collins will sit out after being hospitalized with a serious illness last November. Kolby Taylor also is out with a leg injury and Jordan Villamin will see limited reps because of a knee injury.


It opens the door for some younger receivers to step forward and get a chance to move up the depth chart going into fall camp. Isaiah Hodgins is one such player who could step in and contribute right away. Hodgins has good hands and is explosive off the line. His 6-foot-4 frame also gives him good enough size to be a mismatch with many defensive backs.


Returning receivers Hunter Jarmon, Timmy Hernandez and Trevor Bradford should all have larger roles in the offense. Hernandez totaled 241 yards and a touchdown on 19 catches a season ago.


3. Which players will step up in the secondary?

Replacing cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell will be no simple task for the Beavers. The duo formed the heart and soul of the secondary last season and they proved to be valuable playmakers. Decoud tallied 58 tackles, 10 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Chappell finished with 77 tackles, seven pass breakups and six forced fumbles.


Xavier Crawford gives Oregon State a reliable anchor at one cornerback spot. Crawford enjoyed an impressive freshman debut, totaling 70 tackles, 10 pass breakups and an interception. Dwayne Williams and Jay Irvine could be in the mix at the other spot if they can overcome the injury issues that plagued them in 2016. Brandon Arnold and Jalen Moore are the leaders to step up and play bigger roles at the safety positions.


4. Can the defensive line improve? 

Oregon State could not stop opponents from running the ball down its throat last season. The Beavers ranked 10th among Pac-12 teams in rushing yards allowed per game (218.0). Oregon State gave up 5.32 yards per rushing play and allowed 25 rushing touchdowns. The Beavers also struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They totaled just 18 sacks for 90 yards – the worst of any Pac-12 team a season ago.


Chad Kauha’aha’a will take over as defensive line coach again this season after Andersen oversaw the position in 2016. Kauha’aha’a has plenty of experience with this position group, having coached the defensive line for a decade during coaching stops at Weber State, Utah State, Utah and Wisconsin, as well as his first season at Oregon State. Kauha’aha’a wants to bolster pass rushing by establishing a more pronounced hard-nosed, aggressive mentality with his three-man front.


5. How will injuries impact key position groups?

The two-deep roster come the fall could end up being wildly different than what Oregon State fans anticipated before spring camp. Many expected contributors are expected to miss all 15 spring practices or see limited reps because of injuries.


Seth Collins (illness), Bright Ugwoegbu (foot), Joah Robinett (shoulder), Jay Irvine  (shoulder) and Landry Payne  (knee) are all sidelined during the spring. Jordan Villamin (knee) is among a group of several players who will see limited reps. It gives a chance for younger players to step up at receiver, linebacker and defensive back and earn a serious look going into fall camp.


Oregon State’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12


In some ways, Oregon State is following the same trajectory that Utah State followed when Gary Andersen rebuilt that program from 2009-12. The Aggies had two sub-.500 campaigns before finally breaking through and reaching a bowl game in Andersen’s third year. Oregon State showed potential to turn the corner a season ago. The Beavers won three Pac-12 games after going winless in league the previous season and had two other league games decided by five points or less. The guess is Oregon State can take another step forward in 2017. 


— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Oregon State Beavers 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, College Football, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/arizona-wildcats-2017-spring-football-preview

Each of Rich Rodriguez's first three seasons as University of Arizona head football coach produced at least one signature win.


In 2012, defeats of Oklahoma State and USC established Arizona Stadium as a perilous venue for visitors. The 2013 campaign brought a blowout of Oregon, after which Rodriguez promised even greater things in the future. His team delivered in 2014, beating the Ducks in Autzen Stadium and sealing a Pac-12 South divisional title with a dramatic win over rival Arizona State.


But struggle marked the past two seasons. Injuries piled up, and so did losses. Arizona scrapped to a disappointing 7-6 finish in 2015, and endured an eight-game skid en route to a 3-9 mark last season. Forget the worst mark of the Rodriguez era; 3-9 was the worst final record of any Arizona team since Mark Stoops' 2004 debut.


Related: What Went Wrong for 6 Power Five College Football Programs in 2016 and How to Fix Them


However, the Wildcats closed an otherwise dismal season with a silver lining – literally. Arizona ran circles around Arizona State to claim the silver-plated Territorial Cup for the second time in Rodriguez's tenure, denying the Sun Devils a bowl bid and giving some cause for optimism heading into the offseason.


Arizona opened its spring practices on Feb. 16, aiming to build off the promise of a season-saving win.


5 Storylines to Watch in Arizona Spring Practice


1. Building the Faith

Arizona's 2016 didn't derail immediately. The Wildcats were just a late-game field goal against BYU and an overtime loss to Washington in their Pac-12 opener from opening 4-0.


Add a lead at Utah in Week 6, and Arizona showed promised in a 2-4 start. That eroded with a blowout loss Week 7 against USC. The ensuing weeks brought lopsided beatdowns against Stanford, Colorado Oregon State and a 69-7 rout at Washington State that signified rock bottom for the Rodriguez era.


Despite the brutal final month Arizona endured, Rodriguez and his staff need to use the finale against Arizona State as a building block for a new season. Spring sets the tone.


2. Brandon Dawkins in the Driver's Seat

Injuries derailed the once-promising Arizona career of quarterback Anu Solomon. A series of starts-and-stops in the lineup gave way to Dawkins, who showed flashes of brilliance behind center.


Solomon opted to transfer to Baylor in the offseason, leaving the offense firmly in Dawkins' hands heading into 2017.


The dual-threat Dawkins will face competition from Khalil Tate, a highly touted prospect out of Southern California who saw significant playing time midway through the 2016 campaign before sustaining his own injury. The two provide similar skills sets, though Dawkins' passing touch proved more refined a season ago.


3. A Replenished Running Back Corps

To call Arizona's running back situation a season ago dire would be a vast understatement. Talented but snake-bitten Nick Wilson missed all of seven games and significant portions of more contests. J.J. Taylor wowed early, averaging nearly seven yards per carry, but went down in the first month.


Both return in time for the spring at 100 percent, providing Arizona with a thunder-and-lightning combination not unlike successful running back platoons of Rodriguez's past. If both are healthy, they could be comparable to the Steve Slaton-Noel Devine one-two punch from West Virginia.


Look for early enrolled, 4-star prospect Nathan Tilford to also establish himself in the rotation during spring practices.


4. Year 2 of Marcel Yates

Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack struggled mightily in 2015 without All-American linebacker Scooby Wright there to mask from deficiencies. The Wildcats ranked No. 101 nationally in rushing defense in 2015, and No. 106 in scoring defense.


Rodriguez made the switch to Yates, a former Boise State assistant with a more aggressive scheme. Arizona actually dipped to No. 117 in scoring defense last season, but Yates' system showed promise. Playing personnel better suited for the blitz-heavy 3-4 base will be crucial in the scheme's development.


Youngsters and newcomers will see ample opportunity to work into the lineup over spring practices. That includes 3-star freshman Jose Ramirez, one of five early enrollees. Veterans like Jack Banda and Luca Bruno have the spring to establish the tone.


5. Rodriguez Approaching a Pivotal Season

Rodriguez saw measurable improvement through his first three seasons at Arizona, peaking in 2014 with the program's first 10-win campaign since ‘98. However, college football coaching can be a thankless profession, and the pressure is on Rodriguez to lead Arizona to marked improvement over last season's dismal showing.


The ante upped further just last month, when athletic director Greg Byrne left for the same job at Alabama. A new regime will evaluate the state of the athletics programs, including the most profitable of them all (even in basketball-mad Tucson), football.


Arizona’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12


Arizona enters a season of uncertainty. How much improvement can Marcel Yates' defense show with more experience? Will a clearer quarterback situation stabilize a volatile offense? And, after the last two seasons, the big question: Can Arizona stay healthy throughout the fall?


While the Wildcats address lingering questions, Rich Rodriguez and Co. can take some solace in the general upheaval ongoing around the Pac-12 South.


USC has a legitimate national title contender, but otherwise, none of the other five teams show significant separation ahead of 2017. Utah should remain its dependable self, but defending divisional champion Colorado faces turnover. Arizona State and UCLA face similarly murky futures as Arizona. The opportunity for considerable improvement exists.


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Arizona Wildcats 2017 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Detroit Tigers, MLB
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-2017-preview-predictions-schedule

Detroit Tigers logo newWhen a team with an aging roster and a bloated, luxury-taxed payroll in excess of $200 million fails to make the playoffs, as the Tigers did in 2016, a change in philosophy is warranted. Thus, when GM Al Avila vowed at the start of the offseason to do something different — then quickly traded away outfielder Cameron Maybin, and his $9 million contract option — it surprised exactly no one. Judging from all the trade speculation surrounding the Tigers — with everyone from superstars Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander to valued run-producers Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez said to be available — many expected the tear-down to continue. But as the offseason wore on, and as some division rivals went all-in on shedding payroll and hoarding prospects, the Tigers stayed relatively quiet, hanging on to their vets and giving the impression of a team looking to take one last shot with its core. The Tigers in 2017 could occupy that middle ground of hoping somehow to get into contention but prepared to sell off pieces at the trade deadline if it doesn’t happen.



Athlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
On paper at least, the Tigers’ rotation looks like a powerhouse around which to build a contender. Verlander was the 2016 AL Cy Young runner-up. Michael Fulmer was the Rookie of the Year. Jordan Zimmermann is a two-time All-Star with 67 wins the past five years. And young lefties Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd took steps forward in 2016. But the rotation is not without its concerns, particularly the health of Zimmermann and the issue of the $24.8 million owed in 2017 to Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez, a pair of veterans showing signs of deep decline. The fact that Boyd has minor-league options remaining could doom him to Triple-A to start the year, if, say, Sanchez shows signs of a renaissance. At its best, this could be one of the top rotations in the AL. The question is whether — or for how long — it will be at its best. 



Despite all the talk of trading veterans, the team quietly exercised closer Francisco Rodriguez’s $6 million option for 2017, intending to keep the veteran righthander on board for another year. In 2016, Rodriguez finally plugged the massive black hole at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. While this bullpen ranked just 24th in the majors in ERA, the back end was fairly dependable, with Rodriguez anchoring a late-inning relay of righthanders Shane Greene and Bruce Rondon and lefty Justin Wilson. Wilson, though, was a subject of rampant trade rumors throughout December, and the Tigers took a lefty, Daniel Stumpf of the Royals, in the Rule 5 Draft as an apparent hedge. Like many teams, the Tigers have work to do in the middle innings.



Kinsler and Jose Iglesias were thought to be two of the Tigers’ most appealing trade pieces this winter — a 34-year-old second baseman coming off his best offensive season in five years, and his first Gold Glove to boot, and a 27-year-old shortstop who was an All-Star as recently as 2015. But as of late December, and despite rampant trade speculation, they were both still in Detroit. Kinsler’s advancing age and Iglesias’ offensive regression in 2016 (his first season playing in more than 130 games) would be concerns for any team, but both are relatively affordable and — at least in Kinsler’s case — plenty productive. It would be understandable if the Tigers felt they needed to be blown away to trade either.



Detroit Tigers 2017 schedule printableThe 2016 season brought the breakout season the Tigers have long envisioned for third baseman Nick Castellanos. At age 24, he produced a .285/.331/.496 slash line and established himself as a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Tigers’ stacked lineup — at least until getting hit on the left hand by a pitch in August and missing an entire month. Though he is never going to win a Gold Glove, he is among the least of the Tigers’ worries for 2017. As for Cabrera, the Tigers may have trumpeted his availability via trade, but they also knew that his age (34 in April) and massive contract (seven years and $220 million remaining) made him essentially untradeable. Barring that, the Tigers would gladly sign up for another year of 38 homers, 108 RBIs, a .956 OPS and especially 158 games played.



This is where Tigers fans envisioned massive change, with Martinez (heading into his walk year) presumed to be one of the team’s most appealing trade targets, and center field in perpetual flux. But by late December, Martinez was still around, and center field, following the trade of Maybin, appeared to be a battle between Anthony Gose and prospect JaCoby Jones. And then there’s Justin Upton. The Tigers’ left fielder, who signed a six-year $132.75 million deal prior to 2016, was a disaster for most of the season before exploding for 18 homers in his final 37 games. It is not much of a stretch to say the Tigers’ 2017 fortunes could be tied to which Upton shows up this year.



James McCann is a capable No. 1, with an excellent throwing arm behind the plate (a 45 percent caught-stealing percentage in 2016), but he regressed offensively last season, posting a paltry .629 OPS. In addition, the Tigers appeared ready to cut ties with veteran backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the pool of potential replacements was thin. One of the candidates, in fact, was Alex Avila, the former Tigers starter and the son of GM Al Avila.



The Tigers made a nice, sentimental move in December, adding veteran infielder Omar Infante on a minor-league contract, 15 years after Infante made his big-league debut with the Tigers. If he makes the team, it would be his third stint in Detroit. The question is, can he still play? If so, he could unseat Dixon Machado as the presumed utility infielder. Otherwise, the bench appears fairly well set, with Austin Romine back as a jack-of-all-trades reserve and Steven Moya, Tyler Collins and Mike Mahtook (acquired from Tampa Bay in January) around as extra outfielders. As for DH, the Tigers have been writing in Victor Martinez’s name there for five years now, and he remains a middle-of-the-order fixture.



Avila appears to embrace the notion of a major, youth-focused overhaul, if not an outright rebuild, but acting on those impulses has proven harder to do. Then, too, plenty of observers expected him to fire Brad Ausmus as manager following the disappointment of 2016. But here is Ausmus, back for a fourth season after the Tigers picked up his option. He has no job security, however, and a bad start could portend trouble.



The Tigers lost to the Indians by eight games in the AL Central in 2016, and it’s difficult to envision where they expect to make up those eight games, given their lack of impact additions. Perhaps the Tigers saw the White Sox and Royals shift into rebuild mode and decided to go for it one last time with this core. But it still seems more likely that the Tigers, as currently constructed, will take a big step backward than a big one forward. By July, an out-of-contention Tigers team could look vastly different than the one of April. 



Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 10:34
All taxonomy terms: Joey Logano, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/joey-logano-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview

Forgive Joey Logano if he has a secret love-hate relationship with the elimination-style Chase format. In the three years in which this system has determined the title, the Team Penske driver has won 14 races and scored 76 top-10 finishes. He’s had three straight years of championship-caliber racing — but no championship. 

Joey Logano MENSC driver statisticsIn 2016, Logano came tantalizingly close. With just a handful of laps remaining in the final race, Logano was battling Carl Edwards for position and a possible title. A late crash set up what looked like a perfect scenario for Logano, closing him up to within spitting distance of Edwards for the restart. 

The green flag dropped, Logano charged — and Edwards blocked him until there was no more room and the pair spun. Logano escaped major damage but lost too much track position. He was relegated to a runner-up finish in the championship hunt.  

Still, after winning three races and leading more than 700 laps last year, Logano keeps himself firmly near the top of the list of favorites for 2017. If he continues to put up the numbers he’s amassed in the last three years, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t win a title — or three — before he’s done. After eight full seasons in NASCAR’s top series, it’s easy to forget that Logano will be just 26 years old when the 2017 season kicks off. Think about that for a second: He’s easily got another 15 years of racing and probably more, meaning he could well post Hall of Fame numbers before he hangs up his helmet.  

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
The best move of Logano’s still-young career was moving to Team Penske in 2013. He clicked with teammate Brad Keselowski — just like Keselowski suspected he would when the team’s senior driver pitched him to owner Roger Penske in the first place. 

Adding Logano to the lineup gave the team something it had been lacking compared to other title contenders: teamwork. Information sharing and working together on the track have elevated the organization as a whole as well as helped jump-start Logano’s career. In four lackluster seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, he won only two races and never finished higher than 16th in points.

Another person with whom Logano clicked at the start of his stint with Team Penske was crew chief Todd Gordon, who returns for his fifth year as head wrench for the No. 22 team. Gordon has blossomed into one of the top crew chiefs in the Premier Series in the four years that he’s been with the team. He’ll call the shots knowing he’s got strong equipment to work with. Penske’s Fords are the strongest on track right now, the Roush Yates power under the hood is both competitive and durable, and the team will continue to work with Wood Brothers Racing to gain even more information.

When Logano came on board with the No. 22 team, sponsor Shell-Pennzoil was looking for a driver who could give them long-term stability as well as one who could contend for wins. After a stormy year with Kurt Busch and a follow-up season that saw driver AJ Allmendinger let go midway through the season after a failed drug test, the sponsor needed a driver who could win races without ruffling too many feathers. While Logano has had some run-ins on the track, he’s brought the stability that his team and sponsor were looking for, and he’s delivered the wins as well. The company returns for another go-round in 2017, along with AAA and, who will sponsor the car in select races.  

It would certainly appear that all systems are go for Logano and the No. 22 team kicking off 2017. He’s been close the last three years, and he won’t merely be close forever. If Logano can keep the focus on the season and not on his past disappointments, he’s in excellent position to seal the deal on a championship.

Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 10:33
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-florida-state-seminoles-watch-2017

Florida State’s dominance over the rest of the ACC continued earlier this month as the Seminoles brought home the top class in the conference for an eighth straight year, which is every season under head coach Jimbo Fisher. Despite key losses including the program’s all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook and fellow consensus All-American defensive end DeMarcus Walker, FSU is optimistic heading into 2017.


The Seminoles carried the momentum from a five-game winning streak and Orange Bowl victory to close 2016 over to the recruiting trail. FSU brought in another top-10 class headlined by the National Signing Day addition of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.


With the departure of Walker and three other players declaring early for the NFL Draft, the Seminoles will have some voids to fill and in some cases, they will rely on newcomers. In this case, “newcomer” refers to incoming freshmen, players who were redshirted as freshmen last season and junior college transfers. Here’s a look at the five newcomers who will make the biggest impact in Tallahassee this season:


Cam Akers, RB, True Freshman

The Mississippi native is one of two five-star running backs and one of three total tailbacks that come to FSU this fall. Akers has incredible burst, great agility and exceptional vision. While Jacques Patrick, a junior, will be the early favorite to replace Cook as the starter, Akers is too good to keep off the field. An early enrollee, expect Akers’ role to grow as the season goes on.


Related: College Football's Top 15 Impact True Freshmen for 2017


Joshua Kaindoh, DE, True Freshman

Kaindoh is one of four five-star players to be part of Florida State’s 2017 class. Kaindoh (6-6, 250) has a chance to alleviate some of the void left behind by Walker. At his current weight, Kaindoh is probably best suited to play FSU’s “BUCK” position, but as he fills out, he could move to a more traditional defensive end. Like Akers, Kaindoh is an early enrollee and should make an immediate impact.


Baveon Johnson, OL, Redshirt Freshman

After receiving a redshirt last year, coaches really like the way Johnson has worked himself into shape. A former four-star center recruit out of Lakeland, Fla., Johnson could find himself competing with incumbent Alec Eberle at center or Cole Minshew and Derrick Kelly at guard.


Marvin Wilson, DT, True Freshman

The third five-star prospect to make the list, Wilson is another true freshman that should contribute right away. It’s unlikely that Wilson will start, but he should provide meaningful depth up front behind Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas. Despite his size (6-4, 330), Wilson moves very well and should help the Seminoles both as a run-stuffer and pass rusher.


DJ Matthews, WR, True Freshman

With only five scholarship receivers returning, Matthews could eventually work himself into the lineup for FSU. The Seminoles are losing Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield and Matthews may be the perfect candidate to replace Whitfield in the slot. Another area where Matthews could see time is in the return game. While the Seminoles do return five scholarship players, only Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate have any real experience at the position.


— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.  

5 Newcomers for the Florida State Seminoles to Watch in 2017
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: 2017 NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2017-nfl-mock-draft-updated-first-round-predictions-one-more-shakeup-combine

The NFL Scouting Combine will without question lead to some alterations, but until then, there are still a few things that have changed since our first mock draft.


Related: 2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0


For one, now we know the draft order after the playoffs ended in spectacular – or, if you're a Falcons fan, utterly disastrous – fashion. Second, the Senior Bowl has come and gone, helping the stock of a few prospects that may have been on the bubble previously. Heck, the Chargers moved to Los Angeles. Life, indeed, comes at you fast.


So let's take another few shots at the dartboard before the next shakeup. We've got another two months of this, so we should pace ourselves. But that wouldn't be any fun, would it? Agreed, so on to the mock.


1. Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

This is a pick that will likely stick unless something crazy happens, so no need to dwell too much on it. Garrett is a beast edge rusher who will be on everyone's preseason rookie of the year lists regardless of where he lands.


2. San Francisco 49ers

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Another thing we did not know in our first mock was who the 49ers’ head coach would be post-Chip Kelly. Well, it's Kyle Shanahan, and the safe bet is the ex-Falcons offensive coordinator will want to find his Matt Ryan. Trubisky might not be that, but there is no such thing as a sure thing at quarterback in this draft.


3. Chicago Bears

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Opinions vary wildly on this two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and maestro of back-to-back eviscerations of Alabama defenses in the College Football Playoff, the second of which brought the Tigers their first national championship in more than 30 years. His accuracy is not always there, but his intangibles are off the charts, which should count for something.


4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

It's tough to draw an adequate comparison to any current or past NFL player for Allen, who had an utterly dominant 2016 for the Crimson Tide. For now, let's just call him really, really good and maybe the best interior defensive line prospect Nick Saban has produced at Alabama. Yes, that includes Marcell Dareus.


5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams)

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

A wide receiver here makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, because it's a glaring need for an otherwise promising offense. Two, because it's not an especially deep draft for the position. The Titans could go defense here and be fine, but Williams or someone like Western Michigan's Corey Davis might work best.


6. New York Jets

Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

This may be a little high for a position that one could get good value on later on, but the Jets need to address their shortcomings on defense here. As stated, this is an excellent cornerback class, but Tabor has the highest ceiling and the Jets would be smart to grab a replacement for the declining Darrelle Revis, who is now facing some serious off-the-field troubles.


7. Los Angeles Chargers

Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State

Grabbing an offensive lineman here would not be the worst idea given the Chargers' sorry state on that unit, but that may be a reach this high in a class that is underwhelming at tackle. For someone who doesn't even have a whole lot of experience in the sport compared to his counterparts, Hooker's football IQ is exceptional.


8. Carolina Panthers

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Fournette did not play in LSU's bowl game, to which the Panthers are likely to say, "Who cares?" if he falls this far. So long as Fournette's ankle injury doesn't become too much of a concern, this would be a slam dunk for the Panthers, whose offense might return to 2015 levels with him in the backfield.


9. Cincinnati Bengals

Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

In our first mock, Thomas was all the way back at 32 to the Patriots. Ever since then, Thomas' stock has done nothing but shoot skyward, and for good reason. His performance in bowl season against North Carolina was as good as it gets for a defensive lineman, and his scheme versatility also is a big plus.


10. Buffalo Bills

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

This is the point in the mock where players show up who likely will be gone already. The more scouts watch Adams, the more they like him. And once they see how much of an absolute film rat he is, they'll like him even more. If he does somehow fall this far, the Bills will gladly scoop him up.


11. New Orleans Saints

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

It's no secret that the Saints will be drafting defense here, as they should, because that side of the ball has been a hot mess in New Orleans for years. There will be plenty of promising prospects to choose from here, and you can't go wrong with an edge rusher in Charlton whose stock has steadily risen throughout the process.


12. Cleveland Browns (From Eagles)

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

If you believe every worst-kept secret/rumor about Jimmy Garoppolo, then the Browns might trade this pick to get the Patriots' backup quarterback and New England will be picking here. Short of that, though, Hue Jackson could grab the best available signal-caller, who could be just about anyone at this point given the utter lack of consensus on which quarterback is the best in this class.


13. Arizona Cardinals

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

Don't rule out a quarterback here like Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, whose stock continues to rise, but for now, the Cardinals may wait until next season to choose Carson Palmer's successor. In the meantime, Foster is a terrific way to get more athletic at the linebacker position.


14. Indianapolis Colts

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

You think there is a lack of consensus about quarterbacks in this class? That's nothing compared to when you ask scouts about Peppers. He is either a terrific athlete with no set position at the NFL level or a terrific athlete who can play virtually every position at the NFL level. Let's split the difference and say the Colts lean more toward the latter.


15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings)

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

The good news for the Eagles is they have what looks to be a solid answer at quarterback in Carson Wentz. The bad news is the weapons around him leave a lot to be desired. A receiver here could be smart, but if Cook is still around, which he may not be, then it would be even smarter to grab this speedster who also is a weapon as a pass catcher.


16. Baltimore Ravens

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

A lot of different picks here could fit well here, and don't be surprised to see the Ravens grab one of the many quality edge rushers still available. But some believe Lattimore is the best corner in this class, and in a draft that is absolutely brimming with good ones, that's saying quite a bit.


17. Washington Redskins

Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

McDowell has some red flags, and his film may be a little too hit or miss for some. But when he's on, he has enough talent to be an immediate impact player. Perhaps his biggest strength is to be effective along any spot up front, which should overshadow some of his inconsistencies.


18. Tennessee Titans

Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

The thinking here is that the Titans already grabbed their top wideout early and will go after someone who can shut down their opponents' with their next pick. Tabor may have the highest ceiling, but Wilson was probably more consistent for the uber-loaded Gators secondary last year.


19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

One of the host of still-on-the-board defensive players could be the right move here. However, there are plenty of scouts who like Davis as the top receiver in the class, so if he falls this far, grabbing another weapon to put on the other side of the field from Mike Evans would make Jameis Winston very happy.


20. Denver Broncos

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

No, the current Mile High quarterback duo of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch didn't set the world on fire last season, but it's doubtful that the Broncos will address that here. The offensive line needs work, and Ramczyk could step in and upgrade that unit immediately.


21. Detroit Lions

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

The Lions did well in their first year post-Megatron, so this will probably be a defensive pick. There are plenty of places where the Lions could improve on that side of the ball, and Barnett was a productive pass rusher in his time with the Volunteers.


22. Miami Dolphins

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

A good linebacker like Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham would certainly fill a need, but the Dolphins have consistently had trouble finding a true red zone threat for Ryan Tannehill. Miami's David Njoku should be an absolute star at the Scouting Combine, so if the Dolphins want a tight end here, either Howard or Njoku would work.


23. New York Giants

Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah

Like the Dolphins, a playmaking linebacker would fill a need. However, the hole on the offensive line might be more pressing, as it has been underperforming for years now. Bolles may slide into the second round, but could help the Giants start piecing that unit back together sooner rather than later.


24. Oakland Raiders

Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

There are so many good, young building blocks in place already, but the defense could still use another one in the middle. A defensive tackle would not be a bad direction to go, but Davis is a physical tone-setter who would be a nice centerpiece for a defense that could use one.


25. Houston Texans

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Maybe the Texans feel comfortable with another year of Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, but the thought here is that Bill O'Brien and Co. roll the dice on Mahomes. The failures of Texas Tech quarterbacks in the NFL are well-chronicled, but Mahomes is a tremendously gifted escape artist and has a cannon for an arm.


26. Seattle Seahawks

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

Although Russell Wilson bails it out a lot with his feet, the Seahawks' offensive line could use a fresh face or two to help keep him from having to constantly run for his life. Robinson's stock has dropped precipitously over the past year, but he's still someone who could improve the unit.


27. Kansas City Chiefs

Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA

This is another team that might dip its toes in the quarterback pool, and if Mahomes isn't off the board by this point, then things could get a little interesting. But McKinley is a player who blew up this past season, and his pass-rushing skills would be valuable on a Chiefs team that was 28th in the league in sacks last season.


28. Dallas Cowboys

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

The Randy Gregory pick (not surprisingly) backfired on the Cowboys, so grabbing a good, young edge rusher should be the priority here, especially in a class full of them. Harris is highly thought of after a strong career at Missouri, which has churned out plenty of quality defensive linemen over the last several years.


29. Green Bay Packers

Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Injuries late in the season aside, the Packers were not all that great at cornerback when they were healthy. Depending on how the dominoes fall, Jones could be long gone by this point, but assuming he's still around, he'd be an easy choice.


30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

The number one winner of the Senior Bowl was Reddick, who showed off his versatility as someone who could flourish at any linebacker spot. From rushing the passer to dropping in coverage, he would not have to come off the field, and that type of skill set would pair nicely with Ryan Shazier.


31. Atlanta Falcons

Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida

The Falcons have drafted well on defense in recent years, and there's no reason why they shouldn't keep hitting that button this time around. Brantley has tremendous strength and is one of the more difficult interior linemen in the class to double-team.


32. New England Patriots

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

If the Patriots feel like either Dont'a Hightower or Martellus Bennett won't be in New England next year, then maybe they don't draft an edge rusher here. But Lawson, who has battled some injuries in the past, stayed healthy last season and at his best can be a dominant force both rushing the passer and providing help against the run.


— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

2017 NFL Mock Draft 2.0: One More Shakeup Before the Scouting Combine
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-football-basketball-coaching-duos-2017

The ACC isn’t hurting for talent in the coaching ranks. Some of the nation’s top coaches in college basketball or on the gridiron with college football reside in this conference. With Mike Krzyzewski and David Cutcliffe leading the way, Duke once again ranks as the top coaching tandem by Athlon Sports from the ACC. Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech round out the top four, with Florida State, Clemson and Miami bringing up the next batch of teams.


Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. It’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.


Ranking the ACC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos 2017


1. Duke

Football: David Cutcliffe

Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski


The Blue Devils took a step back on the football field in 2016, but Cutcliffe’s résumé still shows a combined 27 wins in a three-year period from 2013-15. Krzyzewski is one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.


Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2017


2. Louisville

Football: Bobby Petrino

Basketball: Rick Pitino


Petrino has won at every stop (in the college game) and has an impressive 17–7 record in ACC play in his three years since returning to Louisville. Don’t forget: He went a combined 12–4 in the SEC in his final two seasons at Arkansas. Pitino has won over 750 games in stops at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.


3. North Carolina

Football: Larry Fedora

Basketball: Roy Williams


The Williams critics point out that he’s been a head coach at Kansas and North Carolina — two schools where it’s hard NOT to win — but the fact remains that he’s averaged a staggering 28.0 wins in 28 seasons. Fedora’s career has been highlighted by two very good seasons (12–2 at Southern Miss in 2011 and 11–3 at UNC in 2015). He’s averaged a rather ordinary 7.2 wins in his other seven seasons.


4. Virginia Tech

Football: Justin Fuente

Basketball: Buzz Williams


Fuente did a great job in his first season at Tech, guiding the Hokies to the ACC Coastal Division title. Williams, who led Marquette to the NCAA Tournament five times in six seasons at the school, is on the verge of taking the Hokies to the NCAAs in Year 3. 


Related: Ranking the ACC's Football Rosters for 2017

5. Florida State

Football: Jimbo Fisher

Basketball: Leonard Hamilton


Fisher is on the short list of active college football head coaches with a national championship. He has a 78–17 record in seven seasons. Hamilton, in his 15th season at Florida State, will have the Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Prior to this recent slump, FSU went to the NCAAs every year from 2009-12.


6. Clemson

Football: Dabo Swinney

Basketball: Brad Brownell


Swinney silenced his critics by winning the 2016 national championship — one year after losing in the national championship game. Brownell is a highly respected coach who has struggled to break through at Clemson. The Tigers could be headed to the NCAAs in 2017.


7. Miami

Football: Mark Richt

Basketball: Jim Larranaga


Richt did a nice job in his first season at his alma mater. That followed a 15-year run at Georgia in which he went 83–37 in SEC games — but failed to win a league title in his final 10 years. Larranaga, who is 20 games over .500 in the ACC in his five-plus seasons at Miami, is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches.


Related: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2017


8. Syracuse

Football: Dino Babers

Basketball: Jim Boeheim


Babers thrived at his first two stops as a head coach (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green) but went 4–8 in Year 1 at Syracuse. He will be given time to turn things around. Boeheim has won one national championship and been to five Final Fours in his storied career at his alma mater.


9. Virginia

Football: Bronco Mendenhall

Basketball: Tony Bennett


Mendenhall went 2–10 in his first season at Virginia, the first time in his career he’s had a losing record. He will have to prove he’s the right fit at Virginia after winning 99 games in 11 seasons at BYU. Bennett and Arizona’s Sean Miller are battling for the title as the top coach in college basketball who has never been to a Final Four. 


10. Georgia Tech

Football: Paul Johnson

Basketball: Josh Pastner


Johnson bounced back from his first losing season at Georgia Tech to win nine games in 2016. He’s 70–48 overall in nine years with the Yellow Jackets and has won or shared the Coastal Division title four times. Pastner has done a tremendous job in his first season at Tech after an underwhelming seven-year run at Memphis. 


11. Pittsburgh

Football: Pat Narduzzi

Basketball: Kevin Stallings


Narduzzi, who has a combined 11–5 record in ACC games in two seasons, appears to be a really good fit at Pittsburgh. Stallings’ tenure is off to a rough start. Barring a late-season miracle, the Panthers will miss the NCAA Tournament for only the third time since 2001.


Related: Grading College Football's New Coaches from 2016


12. Wake Forest

Football: Dave Clawson

Basketball: Danny Manning


Clawson has successfully rebuilt four programs in his career as a head coach that includes stops at Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green and Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons went 7–6 in 2016. Manning has upgraded the talent at Wake in his two-plus seasons as the head coach and is starting to show progress on the court. 


13. NC State

Football: Dave Doeren

Basketball: Mike Gottfried (gone after the season)


Despite leading the Pack to a bowl game in each of the past three seasons, Doeren’s seat will be slightly warm in 2017. The reason? A 9–23 record in ACC games, with three consecutive 3–5 seasons. Gottfried guided NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons, but the Pack slumped to 5–13 in 2015-16 and was 3–11 through 14 ACC games this season when the school announced he would not return next season.


14. Boston College

Football: Steve Addazio

Basketball: Jim Christian


Addazio greatly improved his job security by leading the Eagles to a 7–6 record in 2016. Still, he’s 2–14 in ACC games in the last two years. Christian was a curious hire — and it’s no surprise that he is struggling at Boston College.

Ranking the ACC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos 2017
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /news/printable-nascar-schedules-monster-energy-truck-xfinity

With the NASCAR season upon us, it can be hard to keep up with all the main series'—Monster Energy, XFINITY and Camping World Truck—schedules. To help make life easier, click on the downloadable and printable schedule below. 


Printable 2017 NASCAR Schedule - Monster Cup, xfinity, truck

Post date: Friday, February 17, 2017 - 15:37
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/podcast-ranking-17-rosters-and-glorifying-coaches

Mitch Light and Braden Gall to breakdown the latest in college football. Don't forget to subscribe here and rate us if you like (or don't like) what you hear!


- Why are we obsessed with Jim Harbaugh? And does Harbaugh just need to get used to it?


- This leads us into a bigger discussion about the glorification of college coaches and the impact it has on our communities. Why does the media (and fans) deify college coaches unlike the pro version? Is there any solution to the problem?


- Before spring practice begins, it's important to know where each roster stands in terms of talent. The guys rank the top rosters in the nation based on the last five recruiting classes and how it may shape 2017.


- Lastly, did we like the NCAA Tournament selection committee stealing its ranking idea from college football?




Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @AthlonMitch or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on and our podcast RSS feed.

Podcast: Team Recruiting Rankings, the Death Penalty and Steve Sarkisian
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2017 - 13:13
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/10-greatest-defenses-nfl-history

Success on defense in the NFL can be fleeting if you lose a key player or an offensive coordinator finds a vulnerability in your scheme. For these reasons, it is best to go by seasons in determining the best defenses of all time. In compiling this ranking, one most factor in both statistics and postseason play. With those areas in mind, here are the 10 best defenses in NFL history.


10. 2015 Denver Broncos

Time and time again this defense delivered when it needed to do so, as the Broncos won 11 games by seven points or fewer on their way to become Super Bowl champions. The top-ranked defense in the league during the regular season, this unit saved its best for last. In three playoff games, the Broncos allowed just four offensive touchdowns while forcing seven turnovers and picking up 14 sacks. League MVP Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers’ offense found out just how good Von Miller and company were in Super Bowl 50.


9. 1991 Philadelphia Eagles

Having lost quarterback Randall Cunningham to a knee injury for the season in Week 1, the 1991 Eagles’ defense banded together and led the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. A loss to the Dallas Cowboys late in the season prevented this team from making the playoffs. Tragically, defensive tackle Jerome Brown died in a car accident in the offseason and the defense was never the same.


8. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

Dick LeBeau’s finest defense led the league in yards and points at just 13.9 per game. A 99-yard interception returned for a touchdown by James Harrison (right before halftime) in Super Bowl XLIII proved to be the difference in the Steelers’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals.


7. 1972 Miami Dolphins

The No-Name Defense led the league in points and yards allowed. This unit was the foundation of the only perfect season of the Super Bowl era.


6. 1962 Green Bay Packers

Vince Lombardi’s greatest defense featured five eventual Hall of Famers and held opposing quarterbacks to a 43.5 passer rating. The 267-point differential (19.1 per game) between the Packers and their opponents is the best of any team of the 1960s.


5. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In addition to dominating opponents, the 2002 Buccaneers were always a threat to take interceptions to the house. They did so three times in their Super Bowl win over the Oakland Raiders.


4. 2013 Seattle Seahawks

The Legion of Boom and the rest of the 2013 Seahawks defense led the league in points, yards and turnovers. And, of course, this defense completely shut down Peyton Manning — who was having the best season of his career — and Denver’s record-setting offense in Super Bowl XLVIII.


3. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Facing an unbelievable number of injuries on offense, the 1976 Steel Curtain picked up the slack. The defense pitched five shutouts and at one point did not give up a touchdown for 22 straight quarters. If the team had not lost to Oakland in the AFC Championship Game, this defense may have topped the list.


2. 2000 Baltimore Ravens

The 2000 Ravens may be the worst team offensively to ever win a Super Bowl. Why did they win? Because they allowed an average of 9.4 points in 16 regular season games and four playoff games.


1. 1985 Chicago Bears

The success of this team is almost mythical. The ’85 Bears led the league in yards, points, first downs and turnovers en route to a 15-1 regular season. In the playoffs they shut out both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams and did not allow a touchdown for 11 quarters. They finished things off with a 46-10 dismantling (123 total yards allowed, 7 sacks, 6 takeaways) of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.


— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.


(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

10 Greatest Defenses in NFL History
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2017 - 12:00