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Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-defensive-backs-bcs-era
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The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Big 12 is known for its elite quarterback play, record-setting wide receivers and innovative offenses. This tends to put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs and secondary coaches in the Big 12 to stop these powerhouse offenses. Here are the best the league had to offer during the BCS Era.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001)
One of the biggest hitters in college football history, Williams dominated college football during his time in Norman. He helped lead the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for this spectacular play in the Cotton Bowl.

2. Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002)
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.

3. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03)
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead an undefeated (13-0) Sooners team to the BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies as the nation’s top defensive player and top defensive back. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 14 interceptions returned for a Big 12-record 417 yards and three touchdowns. Strait was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

4. Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05)
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. Huff was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS National Championship team and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He posted 87 tackles, 9.0 for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the historic ’05 squad. Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

5. Aaron Ross, Texas (2003-06)
Ross was a bit of a late bloomer but played a key role on the 2005 BCS National Championship squad. He capped his career in Austin with a stellar '06 campaign in which he won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top DB. Ross played 51 games during his career but only started 15 times, posting 205 tackles and 10 interceptions. He also was a dynamic punt returner, finishing his Longhorns career with 893 return yards and three touchdowns. Ross was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

6. Earl Thomas, Texas (2008-09)
Thomas redshirted and played only two seasons in Austin or he could have been the best defensive back in the Big 12 during the BCS Era. He started all 27 games, posting 135 tackles, 10 interceptions, 29 passes defended, five forced fumbles and two return touchdowns. He was a freshman All-American in 2008 and was a consensus All-American in ’09. Thomas skipped his final two seasons in Austin and was the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s finest safeties.

7. Aqib Talib, Kansas (2005-07)
Along with Todd Reesing and others, Talib is responsible for the “glory” years of Kansas football. The two-time all-conference pick won the Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top DB and was a unanimous All-American in 2007 — the year KU went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl. Talib is a troubled individual who has dealt with serious off-the-field issues but his 162 tackles, 13 interceptions and seven total touchdowns (two defense, five offense) made him one of the Big 12’s top playmakers. He was a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

8. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (2007-10)
Quarterbacks stayed away from this flamboyant coverman during his four-year career. After a monster junior season (64 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions), the entire Big 12 avoided The Prince in 2010. His work as a senior earned him consensus All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year recognition. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was a first-round selection by the New York Giants in the 2011 NFL Draft.

9. Jason Verrett, TCU (2011-13)
The star cornerback started 34 of his possible 37 career games at TCU. He posted 160 tackles, 10.0 for loss, 34 passes broken up and nine interceptions during his three-year career after coming to TCU from junior college. Verrett was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in both seasons he played in the league and was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

10. Ralph Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
Brown was a member of the All-Decade All-Big 12 team after being named first-team All-Big 12 three times as a Cornhusker. He intercepted 11 passes for 253 return yards and set a school record with 50 passes deflected. He was a consensus All-American in ’99 for the last Nebraska team to win a conference championship.

Just missed the cut:

11. Quentin Jammer, Texas (1998-2001)
The consensus All-American was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection while at Texas. He finished his career with 195 total tackles and seven picks before being selected fifth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.

12. Mike Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
The Huskers' star safety was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 pick and a first-team selection as a senior on the last Nebraska team to win a league title. He set a school record for tackles by a defensive back with 102 stops as a junior before his stellar final season that featured 96 tackles, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and two sacks. He was a second-round pick by the Bears.

13. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (2006-10)
He played sparingly in his first three years but was an important contributor for the 2008 Big 12 champs that played in the BCS title game. He posted 88 tackles as a junior and 96 as a senior with four interceptions in each of his final two seasons. Carter was a consensus All-American in 2010 and was a fourth-round draft pick in '11.

14. Michael Griffin, Texas (2003-06)
Griffin played a big role on the 2005 BCS title team, posting 100 tackles on that historic squad. He made 88 tackles and picked off four passes as a junior en route to first-team All-Big 12 honors. He had a knack for making big plays — try nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

15. J.T. Thatcher, Oklahoma (1997-2000)
Originally a wide receiver, Thatcher excelled as an All-American defensive back and all-world special teamer. He is one of just three players in Big 12 history to earn the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teams player. He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and a consensus All-American on the historic 2000 Sooners team that won the BCS National Championship.

Best of the Rest:

16. Terrence Wheatley, Colorado (2003-07)
17. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State (2010-13)
18. William Moore, Missouri (2005-08)
19. Nathan Vasher, Texas (2000-03)
20. Josh Bullocks, Nebraska (2002-04)
21. Darrent Williams, Oklahoma State (2000-03)
22. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (2010-13)
23. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (2009-12)
24. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (2009-12)
25. Darcel McBath, Texas Tech (2005-08)

Teaser:
Top 10 Big 12 Defensive Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-not-coach-year-every-major-conference
Body:

Three weeks ago, Athlon Sports profiled the the top contenders for coach of the year in every league. This is not that story.

For every yin there’s a yang, and these are what we’re going to call the Not Coach of the Year for every major conference.

In general, we’ve tried to stay away from programs where things have happened beyond their control such as injuries or coaches of programs expected to be bad this season.

To be a Not Coach of the Year, the coach probably saw his program slip below expectations to a major degree. A few probably won’t return for 2014-15. But others are fine coaches who have just had one of those seasons where anything and everything could go wrong.

League-by-League Not Coach of the Year

ACC
Contenders: Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest), Steve Donahue (Boston College)
Not coach of the year: Donahue
Bzdelik continues to be the king of ACC hot seats, even though Wake Forest defeated both Duke and North Carolina this season. The nod, though, has to go to Donahue despite one of the most out-of-nowhere upsets in 2014 when the Eagles beat then-undefeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Boston College scheduled aggressively in the non-conference, facing Providence, UMass, Toledo, UConn, Purdue, USC, Maryland, VCU and Harvard. BC lost them all. Boston College had two veterans in Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson but few other players able to hold up during the ACC season. Despite hopes for playing in a postseason of some kind, Boston College finished 8-24.

American
Contenders: Fran Dunphy (Temple), Eddie Jordan (Rutgers)
Not coach of the year: Jordan
Even in a rebuilding year, Dunphy had to expect better than 9-22 at Temple. Rutgers and Jordan, though, inched ahead of Dunphy and Temple with a 92-31 loss to Louisville in the American Tournament. The Scarlet Knights had one top 100 win all season — over Canisius on Nov. 18 — and their last three wins were over USF. Jordan, a former NBA coach, now has to take this broken team into the Big Ten.

Big 12
Contenders:
Trent Johnson (TCU), Travis Ford (Oklahoma State)
Not coach of the year: Ford
When Marcus Smart was suspended for three games for a fan altercation, Smart and the Texas Tech fan took plenty of criticism. But Travis Ford didn’t come out of that incident looking great, either. Teammates, not Ford, escorted Smart from the playing surface or from the bench, where he lingered until the end of the game. The combustable situation never escalated beyond the original shove, but the possibility of the incident becoming uglier remained. Since then, Oklahoma State more or less recovered from that incident after Smart’s return, but this has still been a disappointing season nonetheless. Ford dealt with a short bench for most of the season without an injured Michael Cobbins and dismissed Stevie Clark. The result was an 8-10 Big 12 season from a team that expected to contend for the league crown.

Big East
Contenders: John Thompson III (Georgetown), Buzz Williams (Marquette)
Not coach of the year: Thompson
It’s tough enough to contend for a conference title after the do-it-all league player of the year (Otto Porter) heads to the NBA. Georgetown, though, never found a groove this season and wasn’t helped by the dismissal of Greg Whittington in November and ineligibility of Josh Smith in January. With the possibility of the NCAA Tournament still alive, Georgetown flopped against DePaul, handing the last-place Blue Demons their first Big East Tournament win since 2009.

Big Ten
Contenders: Tom Crean (Indiana)
Not coach of the year: Crean
A drop off was inevitable for Indiana, which lost two top-four picks off of last year’s team (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo). Still, this team had enough returning veterans including Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey and a decorated freshman class led by Noah Vonleh to make the NCAA Tournament. After going 17-15, Indiana will head to the NIT only a year after being a No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers found a way to lose to Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska all at home.

Pac-12
Contenders: Ken Bone (Washington State)
Not coach of the year: Bone
In recent decades, only Tony Bennett and Kelvin Sampson have won at the toughest job in the Pac-12. In the last two seasons at Washington State, Bone went 23-40 overall and 7-30 in the Pac-12.

SEC
Contenders: John Calipari (Kentucky), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Frank Haith (Missouri), Johnny Jones (LSU)
Not coach of the year: Calipari
Was the preseason No. 1 ranking premature for Kentucky? Certainly. But it was understandable. The Wildcats brought in the most decorated signing class in college basketball history with six McDonald’s All-Americans with a coach who had won a national title with a freshman-laden class two seasons earlier. This Kentucky team never found a way to play together and became the first preseason No. 1 team to fall out of the rankings since 1980. It’s rare for a preseason No. 1 to fall out of the top 10 during the course of the season. Kentucky hasn’t been there since Dec. 2.

Teaser:
College Basketball's Not Coach of the Year for every major conference
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /68-funny-ncaa-tournament-bracket-team-names
Body:

The NCAA Tournament is about to tip off. And while only one person will win your office bracket pick 'em pool — probably the girl who makes her picks based on colors, mascots and hot dude-bros, not the nerd alert with KenPom.com bookmarked — everyone can have a funny March Madness bracket team name. Here are 68 names that should get a chuckle from the First Four to the Final Four.



Wiggin' Out

99 Problems, Embiid's Back Is One

When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self

Not In Kansas Anymore

Shock It To Me

Shock and Awe

March Mad Men

Fast Breaking Bad

Ball So Hard University

Definitely In My Izzone

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Sparty Party

Final Fourgasm

Cinderella Story

Boom Shaka Shaka

One Man Wolf Pack


Teach Me How to Dougie

Dougie McBuckets

Doug Dynasty

Mr. 3000

Nebrasketballers

Anthony Benedetto's Wahoos

I Left My Heart in Charlottesville

Church of Bracketology

Amoeba Defense

Stretch Final Fours

Backdoor Man

Air Ballers

2-3 Zoners

Jim Boeheim's Jacket

Horace Grant's Nephew

Rakeem Christmas Present


Premature Ejection

Ennis Envy

TV Teddy

Cronin's Valentine

Two Ferns, One POTUS

POTUS > Clark Kellogg

Billy the Kid is the Man

Chomp-ionship Coronation

Greatest Recruiting Class Ever

Calipari's Recruiting Budget

Ashley's Judds

Big Bluegrass Nation

Pitino's 15-Second Drill

Italian Sausage Stuffed Snapper

Russ-lemania

Russ-diculous


Coach K's Stool

Cameron Crazies

Jay Bilas Follows Me

Bo Knows

Bo's Badgers

F--- 'Em Bucky

7-10 Splits

Bubblicious

The Shockers?

Smartacus

Shabazz-er Beater

Slow Mo

Jerry's House Party

Oracles of Omaha

Warren Buffett's Bracket

Billion-Dollar Bracket

Full Metal Bracket

Big Dancin' For Money

One Shining Moment

40and0.com


 

Teaser:
These March Madness bracket team names will make your league laugh.
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 19:00
All taxonomy terms: tall-americans, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/athlon-sports-2013-14-college-basketball-tall-america-team
Body:

College basketball, especially this time of year, is all about mismatches.

In general, that means a power forward with quickness or a big guy who can step out to take a 3.

With 351 teams in college basketball, the sample size leads to size mismatches between a 5-foot-8 guard and a 7-6 center. And we’re not kidding. This is a matchup that actually happened.

That leads us to the Tall-America team, a collection of the best players at every height from a 5-7 point guard to a 7-6 center.

For sake of consistency, we used only the heights provided on school rosters for this season. We’re not ignorant to schools adding an inch or two to each player, but we also don’t have exact heights from the NBA Draft.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

 

Athlon Sports 2013-14 Tall-America Team

5-7 Christopher Anderson, San Diego
Others: Keon Johnson (Winthrop)
San Diego coach Bill Grier has described Anderson with a word associated with most 5-7 players who thrive in college basketball: Fearless. The 150-pound point guard led the West Coast Conference in assists (5.9 per game), tied for the lead in steals (1.8) and shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range.
Photo courtesy of Brock Scott

5-8 Kendall Anthony, Richmond
Others: Johnathan Loyd (Oregon)
The 2012 A-10 Rookie of the Year set a career high with 16 points per game as a senior. With a shorthanded roster, Richmond moved Anthony to the starting point guard spot late in the year.

5-9 Chaz Williams, UMass
Others: Dre Mathieu (Minnesota), Nic Moore (SMU)
The standout career for Williams, who started his career at Hofstra, will finally end in the NCAA Tournament. Williams has shown a knack to take over games with his scoring (15.8 points per game) or passing (7.1 assists, third nationally).

5-10 Jahii Carson, Arizona State
One of the quickest guards in the country, the sophomore Carson is leading Arizona State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009. Carson has averaged 18.7 points per game in his two seasons with the Sun Devils.

5-11 Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Others: Keifer Sykes (Green Bay), Anthony Hickey (LSU)
After coming off the bench for 16 minutes per game as a freshman on Wichita State’s Final Four team, VanVleet is the floor general for the Shockers’ undefeated team heading into the Tournament. VanVleet averages 5.3 assists per game and 3.9 assists per turnover.

6-0 Russ Smith, Louisville
Others: Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Trevor Releford (Alabama)
“Russdiculous” is having a season just as good as last year when the Cardinals won the national title and Smith earned Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year award. The season has included highlights such as the game-winning shot against Cincinnati and 13 assists on Senior Night.


6-1 Shabazz Napier, UConn
Others: Joe Jackson (Memphis), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Scottie Wilbekin (Florida)
The American Athletic Conference player of the year leads the Huskies in points per game (17.8), assists (5.2), steals (1.8) and rebounds (6.0) as a point guard.

6-2 Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Others: Billy Baron (Canisius), Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
Ennis’ torrid pace cooled near the end of the season like the rest of Syracuse’s roster, but there are few players who should be more trusted with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Ennis had more than two turnovers in a game only once in his first 18 games.

6-3 Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Others: Ryan Arcidacono (Villanova), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Nick Johnson (Arizona)
One of the nation’s biggest surprises this season, Thames led San Diego State to a 27-3 season and a Mountain West championship. A role player the last two seasons, Thames emerged to average 16.9 points per game a senior.

6-4 Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Others: DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
Kilpatrick has led Cincinnati in scoring for three seasons, culminating this season with an AAC-best 20.9 points per game.

6-5 Tyler Haws, BYU
Others: Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Jordan Adams (UCLA)
Haws is sixth in the nation in scoring, topping 20 points per game for the second consecutive season. He’ll try for a third season above the 20-point milestone as a senior.

6-6 Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Others: K.J. McDaniels (Clemson), Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Terran Petteway (Nebraska)
The 6-foot-6 group includes both the Big 12 player of the year (Ejim) and the Big Ten player of the year (Stauskas). Our nod will go to Ejim, who averaged 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.

6-7 Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
Others: Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
The UCSB star is the only player in the country averaging better than 20 points and 10 rebounds at 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds.

6-8 Doug McDermott, Creighton
Others: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (Duke), T.J. Warren (NC State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
The 6-8s are loaded: The national player of the year, the ACC’s leading scorer and perhaps the top two players to be taken in the NBA Draft. The nod can’t go to anyone but McDermott, though, who is one of eight players to top 3,000 points in his career.

6-9 Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Others: James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Ryan Anderson (UCLA), Julius Randle (Kentucky)
The Australian forward went from never averaging double figures to averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 per game for a team that finished 24-6.

6-10 Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Others: Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
Payne was injured for parts of 2013-14 but still managed 16.1 points per game. Most impressive has been the addition of long-range shooting to his game in the last year and a half.

6-11 Chad Posthumus, Morehead State
Others: Chris Otule (Marquette), Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Amir Williams (Ohio State)
Posthumus is a fine player (9.7 points, 11 rebounds per game), but the limited group of 6-11ers may indicate most anyone who is close gets rounded up to 7 feet in the media guide.

7-0 Joel Embiid, Kansas
Others: Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)
A shame Embiid may not be available until the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament if Kansas makes it that far. For a stretch this season Embiid was Kansas’ most impressive freshman, not Andrew Wiggins. Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season.

7-1 Alec Brown, Green Bay
Others: Isaiah Austin (Baylor)

Green Bay appeared to be one of the top mid-majors that could make noise in the NCAA Tournament. After losing in the Horizon championship, Brown, who has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, and the Phoenix will try to make noise in the NIT.

7-2 Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
The Pac-12’s career leader in blocks had 24 blocked shots in a three-game span against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona at one point this season.

7-3 Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State
The center from Slovakia averaged 5.9 points per game and 1.9 blocks in his first extended action for the Seminoles this season.

7-4 (Vacant)
Despite efforts, we couldn’t find a top player at the 7-4. Tweet us at @AthlonSports or leave a comment if we missed a good one.

7-5 Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State
At 360 pounds, Bhullar is huge, of course, but he’s also quite productive at 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. He also has a “little” brother on the New Mexico State roster, Tanveer, who is 7-3.

7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine
The center from Senegal led UC Irvine to a Big West championships, averaging 8.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game.
Ndiaye photo courtesy of UC Irvine

 

Teaser:
Athlon Sports' 2013-14 College Basketball Tall-America Team
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 15:30
Path: /college-football/texas-am-and-ucla-schedule-two-game-series
Body:

College football’s new playoff format has encouraged better scheduling among BCS teams, and Texas A&M and UCLA continued that trend with an announcement of a two-game series.

The Aggies and Bruins will play in 2016 at Kyle Field and 2017 at the Rose Bowl.

Assuming both teams continue on their recent trajectory, this should be one of the top non-conference games during those two seasons.

However, let’s also hope this leads to more Pac-12-SEC matchups – especially in the bowl season.

Heading into the new playoff format, there’s no Pac-12-SEC bowl matchup scheduled. Shouldn’t the top two conferences in the nation play each other in a bowl? Even if the postseason matchups don't transpire for a while, it's good to see high-profile teams like Texas A&M and UCLA playing non-conference games.

 

Teaser:
Texas A&M-UCLA Agree to Two-Game Series
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/golf-equipment-2014-whats-hot
Body:

Equipment manufacturers have gone back to the future, dusting off some iconic brands with new versions. Adams Golf has resurrected the Tight Lies fairway wood, the club that took the small company to new heights in the 1990s. COBRA Golf has launched a new line of easy-to-hit drivers, fairways, hybrids and irons for men and women called the Baffler XL, a family of clubs that takes inspiration from the original Baffler driver built 40 years ago. PowerBilt is offering a contemporary version of the Countess, a women's set that originally debuted in 1968. Most intriguing of all, Callaway Golf revived the Big Bertha with two new drivers in 2014, the Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha. Phil Mickelson already has one in his bag.

The retro theme has certainly raised some eyebrows in the golf industry, but new ideas and concepts continue to dominate the marketplace. Here’s a look at a handful of hot products for 2014:

Golf Clubs

Cleveland Golf 588 Woods – The 460cc titanium head of the 588 Custom Driver offers the greatest combination of distance, forgiveness and accuracy of any driver Cleveland Golf has ever made. An adjustable hosel creates 12 different settings to precisely tune loft, lie and face angle. The back of the sole has an adjustable weight screw to optimize swing weight. The line includes 588 Fairway woods and 588 hybrids. Variable face thickness helps both maximize distance and playability. The hybrid features a slightly offset face and Gliderail Technology. Website: www.clevelandgolf.com.

TaylorMade Golf SpeedBlade Irons - The ‘Speed Pocket’ of the SpeedBlade irons is wider and longer than the successful Rocketballz line. The handlebar-shaped slot in the sole of the 3-7 irons enables a large area of the face to flex and rebound at impact, resulting in faster ball speed, higher launch and better feel. This improvement allows shots hit below the center of the face, where most golfers miss, to come out higher and longer. More skilled players might gravitate toward the newer Tour Preferred MB, Tour Preferred MC and Tour Preferred CB irons released in January. Dustin Johnson used the Tour Preferred MB irons at the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Maui. Website: www.taylormadegolf.com.

Adams Golf New Idea Hybrid irons – High handicappers can rejoice that Adams Golf continues to look after their needs. A revolutionary wraparound slot helps these new hybrid irons generate higher ball speeds and more forgiveness, especially on mis-hits. Extensive research revealed that 15-plus handicap golfers make the majority of contact nearly a half-inch toward the toe. These irons enhance the face speed in the area. Adams recently signed Ernie Els to an endorsement contract, proving that its equipment can satisfy the game’s elite, too. Website: www.adamsgolf.com.

Scotty Cameron Futura X Dual Balance mallet putter – Master craftsman Scotty Cameron has created another magic wand that coaxes balls into the hole with striking consistency. The club’s advanced perimeter stability weighting in the head, a 50-gram counterweight in the butt of the shaft and the 15-inch grip that reduces hand action all work together to promote a smoother, more stable stroke. The proper length of a Dual Balance putter is 38 inches, three inches longer than a conventional putter length. Two of the hottest players in golf, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, use Scotty Cameron putters. Website: www.scottycameron.com

Miura K-Grind Wedge – The distinctive fluted sole of this popular 56-degree wedge is known for producing high-spin exits from bunkers. Two new recently introduced lofts, 52 and 60 degrees, make this short-game weapon more versatile than ever. Katsuhiro Miura, a one-man wizard of craftsmanship, has built Miura Golf, Inc., based in Vancouver, Canada, into the world’s preeminent maker of quality forged golf clubs. Its wedges are second to none. Website: www.miuragolf.com.

Golf Balls

Nicklaus Golf Balls – Jack Nicklaus has thrown his hat into the competitive golf ball industry. Forget about launch monitors and ball testing. Players choose their Nicklaus ball — the Nicklaus Black, Nicklaus Blue and Nicklaus White — based on the color of the tees they tend to play from. A percentage of every golf ball sold will be donated directly back to the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation to support pediatric programs and hospitals nationwide. Balls sold through the website listed below will be cheaper — the Black for $32 and Blue and White for $28 — than those sold at pro shops nationwide (costing between $46-$50) to encourage consumers to donate to the cause. Website: www.Nicklaus.com.

NIKE Golf RZN Golf Balls - For the second time in three years, Nike Golf has unveiled another industry first. Building on the success of the 20XI ball, Nike Golf has introduced its innovative Speedlock RZN core technology with four golf balls — the RZN Platinum, RZN Black, RZN Red and RZN White — designed to deliver more distance, better feel and a more consistent, stable ball flight. The new Speedlock RZN core technology features an interlocking core that connects with the compression layer to form a tighter bond. This ‘Speedlock’ harnesses energy for more explosive results. Website: www.nike.com.

Golf Shoes

adidas Golf adizero one shoes – Weighing less than 10 ounces, the second generation of the adizero line weighs 10 percent less than last year’s innovative Tour shoe, already among the lightest in golf. The seven spikes strategically located on the sole are three fewer than the Tour shoe, yet still maintain traction and stability on the ground. Seven flashy color patterns will be available by May 1. Website: www.adidasgolf.com

Ecco Street EVO One – Ecco dominates the casual street shoe market with a stylish look that functions at a high level. The Street EVO One comes in high-grade cow leather or genuine camel leather versions. Both combine the award-winning ECCO-Dynamic Traction System (E-DTS) with an array of stabilization and weather-resistant features. Its design cups and cushions the heel, delivering comfort and support. The Danish company owns its own factories, a key component in delivering a quality product. Website: http://us.shop.ecco.com.

Golf Fashions

Tommy Hilfiger Golf - Preppy, with a splash of attitude, defines Tommy’s fashions. Its spring 2014 golf collection celebrates the energy and spirit of coastal destinations like California’s trendy Monterey Peninsula all the way to the traditional country clubs of East Hampton in New York. A palette of tonal blues and turquoise accents color certain polo shirts and sweaters inspired by the California lifestyle. Other pieces toned in sophisticated greens, navy blues and whites mimic the classic look of East Coast heritage. Special fabrics and cottons combine comfort with performance. Website: www.tommy.com.

TravisMathew – The Spring 2014 Huntington Collection hearkens back to California of the 1960s. As children of the postwar baby boom became teenagers, the so-called “Age of Youth” became a time of freedom and exploration. The Huntington Beach-based golf outfitter wanted to capture what it calls “A Wonderful Time” with its hip patterns, styles and colors. These cool and casual golf outfits can be worn on the course and to the party afterward. Website: www.travismathew.com.

Sunice Pro Sport Collection – This Canadian sportswear company makes cold and wet weather tolerable with lightweight and fashion-driven layering pieces. The new Triberg, a super lightweight and four-way stretch jacket, is the category’s most breathable piece. It’s 100 percent windproof and highly water repellent. The sharp Malaga vest incorporates the same features. The Harvey, York, and Huntley all provide new design options for Sunice’s Windstopper-lined sweaters. Website: www.sunice.com.

Golf Accessories

Sun Mountain H2NO Golf Bags – This line’s popularity in Europe comes down to its walker-friendly design and waterproof characteristics. The integrated handles on top and swinging legs make it easy to pick the bag up or set it down. The E-Z Fit Dual Strap System distributes weight equally across each shoulder. The bag bottom still fits snug into a golf cart for riding. Multiple pockets organize and store items with ease. Website: www.sunmountain.com.

Bushnell Golf – Three new Bushnell products help golfers answer the age-old question: What club should I use? The NEO XS Golf GPS Watch is not only preloaded with over 33,000-plus courses in more than 30 countries, but it also features market-leading battery life and can be used as an odometer on the course or while exercising away from golf. The Pro X7 range finder and the more compact Tour Z6 JOLT use JOLT Technology, where vibrations alert golfers when they’ve hit the pin, and Second Generation E.S.P. (Extreme. Speed. Precision.) for faster, more accurate readings. Website: www.bushnellgolf.com.

Under Armour Fire Sunglasses – Made for the elite athlete such as spokesman Hunter Mahan, the new UA Fire offers a wide field of view through its ArmourSight Shield lenses. Adjustable nose pads create a snug fit. They’re versatile enough for baseball as well as golf. Website: www.underamour.com.

Oakley Belts – Oakley’s unique custom belt program launched last year, allowing customers to mix and match belt buckles with leather straps of all colors. The new aluminum Golf Pro Series Buckles ($25) are interchangeable with the Premium Belt Straps ($70) or the Reversible Leather Belt Strap ($45), which has stripes on one side and a solid color on the other. Website: www.oakley.com.

Practice Aid

SKLZ - Want to hone your game at home? Create your own practice range just about anywhere with the Glide Pad and Quickster Net by SKLZ, an innovative company of sports training equipment located in Carlsbad, Calif. The Glide Pad (costing $99.99) gives way when golfers strike it, allowing them to hit down and through. Its sliding mechanism simulates natural turf movement and helps reduce shock and injury during practice. The 6-foot-by-6-foot Quickster Net ($99.99) is easy to set up and take down. Website: www.sklz.com.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 13:05
Path: /golf/conversation-arnold-palmer
Body:

There have been better players with prettier swings. But there has never been a more important golfer than The King, Arnold Palmer. He almost single-handedly quadrupled purses, grew the game beyond the country clubs and brought it into our living rooms, and assembled an Army of devoted followers. He won — and lost — with more flair than any other athlete.

As hard as it might be to believe, this spring marks the 50th anniversary of Arnold Palmer’s last major championship victory. He won the 1964 Masters at Augusta National, earning his fourth green jacket in seven years and giving him a seventh professional major title.

Although there would be several close calls, there would be no more major titles, although Palmer kept contending for another decade, winning his last PGA Tour event, the 62nd of his illustrious career, at the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1973. He would keep competing into his 50s and go on to support the Champions Tour for years.

Today, at age 84, Palmer remains a top earner in the golf endorsement world and one of the game’s most prominent figures, a beloved elder statesman. In addition to myriad business interests, Palmer hosts his own PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will be contested for the 36th straight year at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando.

Athlon gained an audience with The King to ask him a variety of questions on all manner of subjects.

Athlon Sports: What current player reminds you most of yourself?

Arnold Palmer: I’ve had a lot of people remark on who might be a lot like I am, and the name that comes up most of the time is Phil Mickelson. He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, so we’re not similar there, but the compliments that he gets and the way he treats the fans and a lot of the way he plays the game … I suppose if I look I can see some things I enjoy doing and did in my career. I think he’s a very thoughtful guy, and that is certainly in his favor as far as my thoughts are concerned. And he’s a good closer. He’s had some unfortunate things at the U.S. Open, but he has finished very well most of the time.

Athlon: Speaking of Mickelson, what do you make of his British Open win and the way he won it at Muirfield?

Palmer: That was a great victory. He came on very good. He seemed to be playing with a consistent desire to win the championship. It was positive throughout. That was obvious in his play.

Athlon: What is your take on the anchored putter debate? Such a stroke is scheduled to be banned starting Jan. 1, 2016.

Palmer: I’m a little outspoken as far as the anchored putter is concerned. I’m opposed to it. You shouldn’t need to or be allowed to anchor a club against your body in any part of the golf swing. Of course you can find people who will argue with that and find fault with my opinion. When you touch your body you’re getting an aid that isn’t meant to be in the golf swing.

Athlon: Speaking of the rules, a new Decision (18/4) was enacted for 2014 that stipulates if a high definition video or replay is the only way to determine that a ball moved, the player will not be penalized. (Tiger Woods got a two-stroke penalty under a similar scenario at the BMW Championship.) Do you like this change?

Palmer: I think I go back to the rules of the game. It’s the player's responsibility to charge himself with the penalty. If he thinks he has done something wrong, it’s a penalty — whether he sees it with the naked eye or with HD isn’t the matter. It’s his own opinion of what he did during that transaction.

Athlon: Who is in your dream foursome, among people you have played with?

Palmer: It is very difficult to narrow it down. I certainly have people I’ve enjoyed playing golf with. One of the things I’ve always said is if you play 18 holes of golf with a person, you have an opportunity to really get to know that person. A lot of the people I have played with I have really come to that conclusion; it is a way of getting to learn about a person. So who would they be? My father would be one of the most interesting people in my group. Dwight D. Eisenhower would be one I enjoyed being with and playing golf with. I could go down a list. Jack Nicklaus, of course — people like that. Gary Player. People I have respected and enjoyed through the years. I could name hundreds of people I have enjoyed being with. I think of Bob Hope as another one. These are people I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Athlon: Who’s left that you wish you could play with?

Palmer: I was on my way one time to play golf with Jack Kennedy in Palm Beach. He hurt his back the day before and had to cancel the golf. That was not long before he was killed and I never played with him. I would have enjoyed that and trying to get to know him better.

Athlon: Do you regret that you didn’t get to play with today’s equipment in your prime? Do you think modern equipment has been good for the game?

Palmer: I suppose I have mixed feelings about that. Having played as far back as wooden shafted golf clubs and now seeing what they are doing with shafts alone, titanium … wood is a thing of the past now in golf clubs. So I’m not sure sometimes how things might be different. It’s very difficult to say. One day I did a competition with myself and I used the old model golf clubs with wooden shafts and leather grips and played one ball, and the other I used all the modern stuff, the graphite shafts, the titanium heads and so forth. The difference for nine holes was 2 strokes. But the modern stuff won…

I do think the modern golf ball, the modern shafts, the heads, the technology that has been put into the game is certainly an opportunity to improve your performance. And I think that is good for the game, for those trying to play the game.

Athlon: Do you feel it would still help to have the golf ball reined in?

Palmer: I think there is no question about the fact that some day in the near future we’re going to have to bring the ball back, cut it down. Bring it back to a more playable situation as far as distance is concerned. If technology continues to improve… and that takes in a lot of territory — dimples of golf ball, type of material we use, composition of the golf ball. I feel strongly those things will have to be adjusted.

Athlon: It's a Ryder Cup year. Are you surprised that the Ryder Cup has evolved into one of the biggest events in golf?

Palmer: Not really. I think the Ryder Cup was something that started with the rivalry of the nations involved. It’s a good competition, and I thought it was from the beginning. It will continue to be a good competition. I suppose it will continue to improve, and maybe there will be different rules or means of selecting teams. But that is progress and that will be something that is probably inevitable.

Athlon: Could someone today serve as playing captain as you did? (Palmer was the last U.S. playing captain, at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake.)

Palmer: It was certainly fun for me. It was something where I was thoroughly honored to be the captain and to be playing on the same team. It was a lot of fun. And of course I enjoyed the competition and I enjoyed my team. They were very supportive in the matches that we were playing. I’m not sure how that would work out today.

Athlon: Why do you think the U.S. has struggled in the Ryder Cup? (Europe is 7-2 going back to 1995.)

Palmer: I think golf is becoming more international as days go by. The international community and golf community is certainly getting better and better all the time. The competition will be something that we all have seen grow and take note of, and it’s been great for the Ryder Cup.

Athlon: Do you get into the Ryder Cup as fan?

Palmer: I certainly am interested. Some of these matches, as a fan, you’ve got to have an interest in what’s happening. And if you know the golf courses and those situations, it becomes exciting and interesting.

Athlon: Is the Golf Channel everything you hoped it would be? (Palmer helped found the channel, which launched in 1995.)

Palmer: I always thought the Golf Channel was something that would be great. I have to admit that in the early days I was skeptical of what you would do for 24 hours. Working with that as I did, it was quite interesting. Of course I think the Golf Channel has done marvels for the game and the golfing public. It has been a godsend. And it’s something that will continue to be healthy for the golf public.

Athlon: If you had to pick one career highlight, what would it be?

Palmer: I don’t think there is one. I’ve had some good and bad. Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

 Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

Athlon: Is there a biggest disappointment?

Palmer: I haven’t won the PGA Championship. That is certainly one that I immediately think of. I would have loved to have added it to my resume. But I had a lot of success with the PGA Championship. I had a couple that I finished second in and some other close calls. (Palmer had six top-10s at the PGA, including two runner-up finishes.) I literally just didn’t make the shot that I needed to make at the right time. It’s sort of like how Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open.

Athlon: What is your take on reigning Masters champion Adam Scott’s future?

Palmer: I think he is a wonderful young man. I think he has a fantastic future in the game. He’s got a great golf swing, great personality. He’s learned to compete around the world. I feel very strongly about him. I am very pro Adam Scott.

Athlon: Tiger Woods will be trying to win your tournament for the ninth time at Bay Hill. To what do you attribute his success?

Palmer: I think he knows the golf course very well. He came here and played as a junior and won, won on this golf course as an amateur. He is very familiar with playing golf in the central part of Florida. And of course Bay Hill is a course that is somewhat tuned to his game. That is quite obvious given his number of victories.

Athlon: Do you have a personal recipe for an Arnold Palmer?

Palmer: I made the whole thing. I did it for a special reason and it has worked out very well. I am very pleased with the drink, I am very happy that people have supported it and enjoyed it. I put the combination together originally and that is what we do. And that is a secret!

This interview appears in the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports Golf Annual, on newsstands now. Order your copy today.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-13-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 13.

Enjoy some new video of hurdler from heaven Michelle Jenneke.

Jets fans are handling the Darrelle Revis defection like the mature, level-headed fanbase that they are.

• On the mic for the new college football national championship game: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit.

• The headline says it all: Fans Sue Arena After Video Reveals Large and Small Beers Are Same Size.

It's been 40 years since the greatest game in ACC history — NC State 103, Maryland 100.

• The decline and fall of the Rick Reilly empire continues — the once-great columnist is giving up his online column and will be a strictly on-air personality for the worldwide leader.

• Today's amusing cheap shot: 14 reasons why Phil Jackson will not win a title with the Knicks.

Tip of the cap to Michelle Beadle for this classy move.

Another insane high school buzzer-beater, this one from Michigan. That one doesn't do it for you? Here's another.

Darren Sproles' wife went on a weapons-grade Instagram rant against the Saints on her husband's behalf.

• I know people are tired of Blake Griffin, but I never get tired of watching him do this. 

)

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-23-hideki-matsuyama
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 23: Hideki Matsuyama

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 0 (5 on Japanese Tour)  | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 4 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $771,640 (107th) World Ranking: 22

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Hideki Matsuyama won on the Japanese tour four times in 2013, which is certainly evidence of a good year, but Japan doesn't have the deepest fields, and so players who come from there typically don’t carry that form with them. Which is why what Hideki did last year was so impressive. He finished 10th at the U.S. Open, sixth in the Open Championship (where he was assessed a slow play penalty) and 19th at the PGA Championship. Given that he was only 21 and the fact that Japanese players are loath to travel and be exposed to insane media obligations from their country, Hideki was one of the biggest surprises of 2013. He's long off the tee and possesses a wonderful touch on the greens. Combine those with a seemingly ideal temperament, and he looks poised for greatness.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 5
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T10
British Open - T6
PGA Championship - T19

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T27 (2011)
U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 0

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 10:08
Path: /college-football/top-10-sec-defensive-backs-bcs-era
Body:

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

Defense is king in the Southeast. But it’s not just great defensive ends and tackles that have made the SEC’s defenses so dominant during the BCS Era. The defensive backs have been among the best in the nation as well. In no other league were there so many All-American defensive backs left out of the top 10 than the SEC.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Eric Berry, Tennessee (2007-09)
It didn’t take long for Berry to make his name known as an SEC defender. In 2007, he posted a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended his collegiate career with the the most interception return yards in SEC history. Used on offense and special teams as well, Berry’s superior athletic ability made him the fifth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. For his career, Berry finished with 245 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 14 interceptions.

2. Patrick Peterson, LSU (2008-10)
The supremely gifted Peterson played in every game as a true freshman for the defending BCS champs. One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game and led the SEC with 418 punt return yards. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He was taken fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and finished his career with 135 tackles, seven interceptions, four return touchdowns and 1,356 total return yards.

3. Morris Claiborne, LSU (2009-11)
One of the best pure covermen in the history of the SEC, Claiborne was a lock-down corner for LSU in his two full seasons as the starter. He developed a reputation as a sophomore with five picks and 37 tackles en route to All-SEC honors. After that, no one threw at him. Despite teams staying away from him and a teammate getting more Heisman hype, Claiborne was named the nation’s top defensive back in 2011 as the recipient of the Thorpe Award and was a unanimous All-American. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 regular-season mark, an SEC title, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as his Tigers earned a berth in the BCS national title game. He was taken sixth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

4. Champ Bailey, Georgia (1996-98)
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Champ Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite return man and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS Era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive player. The consensus All-American finished seventh in the Heisman voting in '98 and he was the seventh overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

5. Mark Barron, Alabama (2008-11)
The superstar safety was a three-time All-SEC pick, two-time All-American and helped the Crimson Tide win two BCS National Championships. (2009, '11). After three straight seasons with at least 68 tackles, Barron finished his career with 235 tackles, 13.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks, 12 interceptions and 34 passes defended. Many coaches called him the best player in the SEC in 2011 on what many consider the best defense of the BCS Era. The hard-hitting Alabama safety was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

6. Carlos Rogers, Auburn (2001-04)
The Tigers coverman started 10 games as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. He was a mainstay on the outside of Auburn’s defense for four years and it culminated in a historic 2004 campaign. Rogers started 44 games, registered 182 tackles and picked-off seven passes in his career. Rogers was named the Thorpe Award winner, an All-American and helped Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record, SEC and Sugar Bowl championship. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

7. LaRon Landry, LSU (2003-05)
The LSU safety might be the most physically imposing defensive back of the BCS Era. He started 10 games as a true freshman for Nick Saban and the 2003 BCS National Championship squad. He made 80, 92 and 70 total tackles respectively during his three-year career and was a two-time All-SEC pick. Landry earned consensus All-American honors in 2006 before leaving early for the NFL. The thumper was the sixth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

8. Joe Haden, Florida (2007-09)
Haden was the first true freshman cornerback to ever start opening day for the Gators. He helped lead Florida to the BCS National Championship in 2008 and was named National Defensive Player of the Year in '09. He also was a unanimous All-American that year and went seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

9. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (2009-12)
An excellent all-around football player, Banks was just as good a leader and tackler as he was pure coverman. He was a first-team All-American and Thorpe Award winner for the Bulldogs in his final season when he made 63 tackles and intercepted four passes. He helped lead State to three straight bowl games and finished his career with 221 tackles, 11.5 for loss, four sacks and returned 15 interceptions for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned punts in his final two seasons and was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

10. Reggie Nelson, Florida (2005-06)
After playing at the junior college level, Nelson stepped right into Gainesville and started 25 games in two years. The hard-hitting safety patrolled center field for the BCS National Champions in 2006 with six interceptions and 51 tackles. He was a consensus All-American and Tatum Trophy winner that year as well. Nelson was taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Corey Webster, LSU (2001-04)
Coming to LSU as a wide receiver, Webster moved to defense and blossomed as a star as a three-year starter. He earned All-SEC honors three times and All-American honors twice while leading LSU to the BCS National Championship in 2003. He finished with 115 tackles and 16 interceptions in 29 starts and 50 career games. He was a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

12. Lito Sheppard, Florida (1999-2001)
Playing for Steve Spurrier in his final three years in Gainesville, Sheppard was a mainstay for the Gators' secondary. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and an All-American in 2001. He started 23 of 36 career games with eight interceptions and helped lead Florida to an SEC championship in 2000. He was a first-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

13. Eric Reid, LSU (2010-12)
As physically gifted as any player in any league at any position during the BCS Era, Reid played in all 13 games as a true freshman. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 record and SEC title as a sophomore and made the signature interception against Bama in the 9-6 overtime throwdown in Tuscaloosa. Reid finished with 199 tackles in his career and the 49ers traded up into the first round to draft Reid in 2013.

14. Deon Grant, Tennessee (1997-99)
One of the most important defensive players on the 1998 BCS National Champs, Grant was as big a name for the Vols as any of the elite defensive linemen. Grant was a consensus All-American after leading the nation in interceptions with nine in ’99. Grant made huge plays (SEE: Florida in 1998) for three seasons in Knoxville and was a second-round pick in 2000.

15. Thomas Davis, Georgia (2002-04)
Sort of a hybrid outside linebacker and safety at Georgia, Davis was one of the most physically imposing defensive backs in SEC history. He posted 272 career tackles, 18.0 for loss, 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He was an All-American and two-time All-SEC pick before starring at OLB for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.

16. Dee Milliner, Alabama (2010-12)
He played in 38 games at Alabama and got 29 starts in just three years. He helped win two BCS National Championships and was a big part of what many believe was the best defense of the BCS Era in 2011. A unanimous All-American his final season, Milliner posted 133 tackles, 9.0 for loss, six interceptions, 40 passed defended in his Crimson Tide career and was taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Jets.

17. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (2010-11)
The Honey Badger won the Bednarik Award, was an All-American, made impact plays and was a Heisman finalist. However, he also was suspended multiple times, eventually kicked off the team — costing himself two full seasons — and was abused in the 2011 BCS National Championship game by Game MVP AJ McCarron. It makes him one of the most difficult players of the BCS Era to evaluate. He posted 133 tackles, 16.0 for loss, four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his two-year career.

18. Craig Steltz, LSU (2004-07)
The hard-hitting safety played center field as well as any safety in league history. He started 20 times, played in 40 games and won a BCS national title as a senior All-American. Steltz finished with 184 tackles and 11 interceptions before getting drafted in the fourth round by the Bears.

19. Keiwan Ratliff, Florida (2000-03)
The dynamic playmaker finished his All-American Gators career with school records for interceptions (9) and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by some outlets. The two-time All-SEC pick was a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.

20. Jason Allen, Tennessee (2002-05)
Starting at both corner and safety during his career, Allen is one of the more versatile players to come through the SEC. He was an All-American in 2004 when he led the team in tackles with 123 stops during his junior year. Allen would be even higher on this list had his final season not ended early due to his severe hip injury.

Best of the rest:

21. Ko Simpson, South Carolina (2004-06)
22. Fred Smoot, Mississippi State (1997-2000)
23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (2011-13)
24. D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (2006-08)
25. Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina (2004-05)
26. Javier Arenas, Alabama (2006-09)
27. Greg Blue, Georgia (2002-05)
28. Casey Heyward, Vanderbilt (2008-11)
29. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (2009-11)
30. Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina (2006-08)

Teaser:
Top 10 SEC Defensive Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-can-kansas-win-title-injured-joel-embiid
Body:

One of the nation’s best freshmen with a bright future and national title contending team received season-altering news this week when center Joel Embiid sustained a stress fracture in his back.

At first, Embiid was held out of the last two games of the regular season as a precautionary measure, but the news worsened when it was announced he’d be held out of the Big 12 Tournament and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The news could impact Embiid’s NBA Draft hopes, where he was a contender for the No. 1 spot, in addition to Kansas’ national championship hopes. With Selection Sunday a little more than a week away, our editorial staff ponders the latter.

Will Joel Embiid’s back injury prevent Kansas from contending for the national championship?

David Fox: An absence by Embiid won’t prevent Kansas from getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which is when the seven-foot big man is set to return. The Jayhawks likely will be a No. 2 seed, and barring a bad matchup in the round of 32, KU is good enough to get to the Sweet 16 riding Andrew Wiggins. If Embiid can’t return or is limited — certainly possible given the nature of back injuries — Kansas might not be able to make it to the Final Four. Embiid averaged 11.5 points in Big 12 play, but his impact was more on the defensive end. He accounts for 40 percent of Kansas’ blocked shots when the next best contributor accounts for 16 percent. And he makes up 20 percent of Kansas’ rebounds, though Wiggins claims a better share of offensive rebounds. Simply put, Embiid is too big a piece and one with a dangerous skill set to not be a critical absence.

Braden Gall: My Kansas prediction for the first game — should it be a 2-15, 3-14 or 4-13 matchup — won't be affected at all by Joel Embiid's absence. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I am going to have the Jayhawks reaching the second weekend and the Sweet 16 regardless of matchups. But from there on, all bets are off if Embiid doesn't play or isn't at full strength. A championship run is incredibly fragile as it takes not only a great collection of talent and coaching but also some luck to win The Big Dance. And while Kansas has loads of depth and quality front court talent to pick up where Embiid left off (Perry Ellis, Tariq Black), this is a totally different team without an Olajuwonian presence in the lane. Could Kansas play their way to North Texas and the Final Four without their star freshman center? Possibly. Do I consider this team (sans Embiid) capable of winning six straight games in the tourney? I'll say no.

Mitch Light: Depends on our definition of contender. Without Embiid, Kansas is still in a group of about 10-12 teams that can win a national championship. But I don't believe the Jayhawks can be considered a favorite to win the title — or each the Final Four without the freshman big man in the lineup. This team still has plenty of talent, but Embiid is such an important piece to the puzzle in every facet of the game. He is known for his defense and rebounding, but he also has proven to be a skilled offensive player who can deliver team 10-14 points per game. If he is not able to play, there will be more pressure on KU's three other double-figure scores — Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.  

Nathan Rush: Of course Kansas is still a national championship contender without 7-foot freshman phenom Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks have a 21–7 record with Embiid and a 2–1 mark without him. And the Embiid-less loss at West Virginia came on the same day that KU's "other" freshman, Andrew Wiggins, poured in a Kansas freshman record 41 points (although, don't forget Wilt Chamberlain played JV as a frosh, which was the style in 1955). Coach Bill Self's team still has all the pieces in place to cut down the nets at AT&T Stadium (the architecture formerly known as Cowboys Stadium). Kansas has a legitimate superstar in Wiggins, solid guard play from Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason, wing scoring from Wayne Selden Jr. and plenty of size down low with Perry Ellis (6-8, 225), Jamari Traylor (6-8, 220) and Tarik Black (6-9, 260). No one should cry for KU heading into March Madness; they should fear the chant "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."
 

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Can Kansas win a title with an injured Joel Embiid?
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Bill Haas, Brandel Chamblee, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-24-bill-haas
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 24: Bill Haas

Born: May 24, 1982, Charlotte, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,475,563 (14th) World Ranking: 31

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Bill Haas has won five times in the last four years on some of the Tour's best courses and against some of the best fields and yet has failed to record even one top ten in a major championship. This lack of success in the game's biggest events can only be temporary, as Bill is just too talented not to start contending in majors. Winning last year at Tiger’s event, the AT&T National, might have been all the evidence he needed to convince himself what everyone who has seen him swing a club has been convinced of: that he is one of the best players in the world.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 17
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - T20
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T25

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T20 (2013)
U.S. Open - T23 (2011)
British Open - T19 (2012)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 5
Missed Cuts: 6

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:52
Path: /mlb/cleveland-indians-2014-preview
Body:

Was 2013 just a nice little season by the Indians or a springboard to bigger things? AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona asked that question in December at the winter meetings at Disney World, and the answer has yet to reveal itself. The Indians caught MLB looking last season when they won 92 games and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 by claiming the AL’s first wild card spot. They have not had consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01, and based on the pitching defections, that streak may stay intact through 2014. In the rotation, the Indians lost 13-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez and 10-game winner Scott. They released closer Chris Perez, third in franchise history in saves, and lost key relievers Joe Smith and Matt Albers to free agency. Most of the offense that finished fifth in the AL in runs last season returns. To make up for the pitching losses, the Indians need more production from Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who signed big free-agent contracts before the 2013 season but turned in subpar performances.

 

Rotation
Justin Masterson, coming off a career season, will once again be the No.1 starter, followed by Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister. The fifth spot will be determined among Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. To compensate for the loss of Jimenez and Kazmir, it’s imperative that Masterson, Kluber and McAllister stay healthy. Masterson was knocked out of the rotation by an oblique injury in early September, and Kluber and McAllister missed time because of finger injuries. Salazar, the Indians’ most exciting home-grown starter since Bartolo Colon, has never pitched a full season in the big leagues. Carrasco and Tomlin are rebounding from Tommy John surgery, while Bauer spent most of 2013 at Class AAA Columbus trying to rework his delivery.

 

Bullpen
John Axford lost his closer’s job with the Brewers last April and spent the rest of the season pitching in a setup role with Milwaukee and St. Louis. The Indians signed him to a one-year $4.5 million deal to replace Perez as closer, a role in which Axford earned 105 saves for Milwaukee from 2010-12. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will be Axford’s top setup men with Allen probably getting the first shot at closing if Axford falters. Outfielder Drew Stubbs was traded to Colorado for Josh Outman, who should replace Rich Hill as the Tribe’s left-handed specialist. Marc Rzepczynski has the inside track to be the second lefty in the pen, while righthander Vinnie Pestano will try to re-establish himself as one of the AL’s top setup men after struggling last season with a sore elbow.

 

Middle Infield
Three years ago, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was the Indians’ best overall position player, but his game has slipped the last two seasons. Now that title belongs to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance. The only thing holding back Kipnis, who led the Indians in runs, hits, RBIs and steals, is a tad more consistency at the plate. Cabrera, who has seen his OPS drop for three straight seasons, is entering his walk year after batting a career-low .242 last season. Cabrera is sure-handed with a good arm but ranks low on most defensive metrics. Mike Aviles is an experienced backup in the middle infield.

 

Corners
While Swisher will be at first base, third base could be a revolving door. Swisher, who played a career-high 112 games at first last season, watched his OPS drop below .800 (.763) for just the second time in the last eight years. He led the Indians with 22 homers but was bothered by a sore left shoulder and couldn’t handle the pressure of batting cleanup. Last season ended with Lonnie Chisenhall and Aviles platooning at third. The Indians want Chisenhall to seize the job. Catcher Carlos Santana, Swisher’s main backup at first, could get some at bats at third after playing the position in winter ball.

 

Outfield
In their big free-agent signing of the winter, the Indians added left-handed-hitting David Murphy to platoon in right field with Ryan Raburn. Murphy is coming off a bad season with Texas — he hit only .220 with 13 home runs — but the Indians believe he’ll improve their stats against righthanders. Murphy is a .280 lifetime hitter against righties but struggled against them last year. Bourn, coming off surgery on his left hamstring, will open his second season in center. In his first year in the AL, Bourn stole just 23 bases and had an on-base percentage of .316, down 32 points from his final season in Atlanta. Left fielder Michael Brantley hit .375 with runners in scoring position and played the entire season without making an error. He doesn’t have much power — 16 home runs in 1,220 plate appearances the past two seasons — but he does have a respectable 133 RBIs over that span.

 

Catching
Yan Gomes took the starting job away from Santana last August even though he didn’t make the team out of spring training. Not only did Gomes handle the pitching staff and throw out 41 percent (20-for-49) on the basepaths, but he also batted .294 (86-for-293) with extra-base power. It remains to be seen how Gomes handles the burden of catching full-time. The emergence of Gomes makes Santana the backup at catcher, first and third base and the primary DH. He is coming off a solid offensive season and showed he could handle batting cleanup.

 

DH/Bench
Last year the bench players named themselves the Goon Squad and were one of the best units on the club. On the Goon Squad, all roads lead to Jason Giambi, 43, the part-time DH and clubhouse Yoda. Giambi played only 71 games last year, but hit nine homers with 31 RBIs. Aviles can play second, short, third and the outfield. Raburn, who is especially effective against lefties, hit 16 homers and drove in 55 runs in just 243 at-bats. If Santana doesn’t start at third, he’s expected to be the regular DH and backup catcher. Should the Indians go with three catchers, veteran Matt Treanor will get a look. Justin Sellers has been a pleasant surprise in the spring and could make the team as an extra infielder.

 

Management
Francona made GM Chris Antonetti, the man who signed him to a four-year deal in October 2012, look good in 2013. One area in which the Indians need to improve this season is their play against good teams. They went 8–31 last year against Detroit, Boston, the Yankees and Tampa Bay and 84–39 against everyone else. Antonetti believes the Indians have a better roster entering the 2014 season than they did a year ago. He is especially high on the starting pitching, noting the improved depth behind Masterson, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. It would help if he hit on a couple of minor-league free agents as he did last season with Raburn and Kazmir.

 

Final Analysis
The Indians had a chance to build on their momentum with another winter of signings and trades. But that didn’t happen. After shaking things up with the signings of Swisher and Bourn for a combined $104 million before last season, they moved cautiously this offseason. In signing Swisher and Bourn, they spent against this year’s revenues from MLB’s national TV contracts, which somewhat depleted their resources. Issues with attendance could be another reason ownership may have chosen not to make a bigger play on the free-agent market. Despite being in contention from late April, the Indians drew only 1.6 million fans, second-fewest in the big leagues. The Rays, who beat the Indians in the wild card game, were the only team that drew fewer fans. Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.


Lineup
CF Michael Bourn (L)
His .316 OBP was his lowest in five years as he had trouble adjusting to the AL.
1B Nick Swisher (S)
Hit .263 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in September stretch run.
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
Hit .307 (114-371) with 25 doubles and nine homers from June 5 through the end of the season.
DH Carlos Santana (S)
The Indians went 33–15 with Santana batting in the cleanup spot.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
Hit just .209 (54-for-258) at home compared to .276 (69-for-250) on the road.
LF Michael Brantley (L)
Made at least one start in every spot in the lineup except No. 9.
RF David Murphy (L)
He’s a career .365 (27-for-74) hitter at Progressive Field, his new home ballpark.
C Yan Gomes (R)
Ranked third in OPS (.826) for MLB catchers who had at least 275 plate appearances.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
Helpless against lefties, hitting .111 (4-for-36) with one homer and six RBIs.


Bench
INF Mike Aviles (R)
Replaced injured Asdrubal Cabrera for 19 straight games at shortstop in June.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Veteran slugger has six pinch-hit, walk-off homers, the most in MLB history.
OF Ryan Raburn (R)
His 1.020 OPS against lefthanders ranked fifth in AL for hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.
INF Justin Sellers (R)
In 82 games with the Dodgers over the past three seasons, he batted .199 with three homers and a stolen base.


Rotation
RH Justin Masterson 
Went from 15 losses in 2012 to career-high 14 victories in 2013.
RH Danny Salazar 
Opened year at Class AA and ended it by starting the AL wild card game against the Rays.
RH Corey Kluber
Won four of his last five starts after coming off the disabled list in September.
RH Zach McAllister
Former third-round pick of the Yankees pitched five or more innings in 19 of his 24 starts.
RH Josh Tomlin
Didn’t walk a batter in 29.1 combined innings last year as he rebounded from Tommy John surgery.


Bullpen
RH John Axford (Closer)
Appeared in 75 games last season, but none as a closer after April 7.
RH Cody Allen
Finished second in the AL with 77 appearances as a rookie, second-most in club history
RH Bryan Shaw
Went 5–0 with a save and did not allow a run in 13 September appearances.
LH Josh Outman
Lefties hit just .198 (22-for-111) against him last year with the Rockies.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
After he was acquired from St. Louis on July 30, the opposition hit just .159 (11-for-69) against him.
RH Vinnie Pestano
Went 6-for-9 in save situations, but other than that 2013 was a nightmare.
RH Carlos Carrasco
The Indians love his arm and want him to start, but he seems more comfortable in the pen.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Clint Frazier, CF
The Indians selected the 19-year-old high schooler with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and sent him to the Arizona Rookie League after signing him for $3.5 million. Frazier homered in his first professional at-bat, tripled in his second and drove in four runs. Frazier hit .297 (51-for-182) with 11 doubles, five triples, five homers and 28 RBIs in 44 games for Arizona. He swung and missed a lot (61 times) and drew just 17 walks. Look for him to play next season at Class A Lake County. In his senior year at Loganville (Ga.) High School, Frazier hit .485 with 17 homers, 45 RBIs and 22 steals. He hit a school-record 63 homers at Loganville. The right-handed-hitter, has power and speed, but is still probably four to five years away from the big leagues. In Arizona, he hit .318 (14-for-44) against lefties, but all five of his homers came against righthanders.

 

Top Prospects
OF Tyler Naquin (22)
The center fielder/leadoff hitter put together a nice year at Class A Carolina and Class AA Akron. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, too.
SS Francisco Lindor (20)
Lindor hit .303 overall at Carolina and Akron, but his season ended prematurely with a stress fracture in his back.
1B Jesus Aguilar (23)
He hit 16 homers and drove in 105 runs at Class AA Akron before tearing up winter ball in Venezuela.
SS/2B Jose Ramirez  (21)
The speedy infielder was a September call-up from Class AA and made the wild-card roster.
SS Dorssys Paulino (19)
Son of former big leaguer Jesus Sanchez can hit for average and power.
RHP Cody Anderson (23)
Named Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a strong season at Class A Carolina.


Beyond the Box Score
Walk this way Jason Giambi, 42, became the oldest man in history to hit a walk-off homer on July 29 when he beat the White Sox. Almost two months later, Giambi broke his own record with another walk-off homer, once again against the White Sox.
Now that’s a scoop The Indians officially announced the signing of outfielder David Murphy to a two-year $12 million deal on Nov. 25, but it was old news by then thanks to his five-year-old daughter, Faith. On Nov. 19, Faith was at her Dallas-area preschool listening to teachers talk about Thanksgiving and the roles played by the Pilgrims and Indians. Faith piped up and told the teachers, “My dad is going to the Indians.” A couple of hours after Murphy confirmed the news to teachers and some parents when he picked up Faith at school, word of the signing appeared on Twitter.
Feel the beet Catcher Yan Gomes had a career day on May 20 as he went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a walk-off 10th-inning homer against Seattle. Asked what he credited his performance to, Gomes said, “I drank a bottle of beet juice before the game.”
Ying and yang The Indians went 4–15 against Detroit last season and 17–2 against the White Sox. They must do better against the defending Central champs.
Is Brody home? On June 4 a small amount of marijuana was delivered to the residence of Chris Perez, the Indians’ former closer, in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River. Police and drug enforcement agents followed the package and arrested Perez and his wife, Melanie, on misdemeanor drug charges. The packages  were addressed to Brody Baum, the Perez’s dog. Baum is Melanie Perez’s maiden name.
Help me In the early morning of Sept. 27, Scott Kazmir was returning to his Minneapolis hotel room when his elevator got stuck on the 27th floor. Kazmir called Mike Seghi, director of team travel, who alerted the hotel and fire department, but it took them an hour-and-a-half to get Kazmir free. He didn’t enjoy the wait. “I sat down, fetal position pretty much,” said Kazmir. “I was just sitting in the corner rocking.” On Sept. 28, Kazmir struck out 11 in six innings in a 5–1 victory over the Twins. “It was nice being on the mound in all that wide open space,” he said.

Teaser:
Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:45
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2014-preview
Body:

During their first 50 seasons in Minnesota, the Twins had a total of two seasons with 95-plus losses: 1982 and ’99. After averaging 97 losses the past three seasons, fans were demanding change, but it didn’t come in the form of a managerial firing. That hasn’t happened for this franchise since Ray Miller gave way to Tom Kelly with 23 games left in the 1986 season. Ron Gardenhire returns for a 13th season at the helm, and this time his trusted pitching coach, Rick Anderson, will have some talent in the rotation. Whether it leads to a quick turnaround remains to be seen, but the days of “Pitch to Contact” appear over. Meanwhile, for all their starting pitching woes, the Twins’ offense posted the third-most strikeouts in history and finished with just 614 runs in 2013. That was the lowest run total in any full season for the Twins since 1968, the year before the pitcher’s mound was lowered.

Rotation 

The Twins, who rank last in the majors in rotation ERA over the last three seasons, threw some money at the problem. First, they signed workhorse righthander Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal that ranks as the richest the Twins have ever given in free agency. Of the 31 active pitchers with more than 1,000 innings since the start of 2008, Nolasco ranks third in fewest walks per nine innings (2.0). Next, they reeled in former Yankees mega-prospect Phil Hughes for $24 million over three years. Hughes had fallen on hard times in New York, but if his troublesome back holds up, he is primed for a return to prominence. As much as the fans wanted them to clean house, the Twins couldn’t bring themselves to cut righthander Mike Pelfrey loose after his stabilization year post-Tommy John surgery. They handed him a two-year, $11 million deal that could grow to $14.5 million if he hits all his incentive targets. Add it up, and the Twins guaranteed $84 million to three righthanders in hopes of climbing back to respectability sooner than expected. Workaday righthander Kevin Correia returns as well, but the fifth slot in the rotation is up for grabs. Ideally at some point in 2014, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester and thrust into the rotation for years to come. For now, however, it will be a battle among lefties Scott Diamond and Kris Johnson and righties Kyle Gibson, Samuel Deduno and Vance Worley.

Bullpen 

As bad as the Twins’ rotation was in 2013, the bullpen was pretty solid. First-time All-Star Glen Perkins, the closer, continued to nail down 90 percent of his save chances. He’s signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, so if the Twins can just get him the ball with a few more leads, the victory total should climb. Veteran setup man Jared Burton struggled at times with command issues, but journeyman Casey Fien stepped in to help carry the burden of the eighth inning. Former independent leaguer Caleb Thielbar roared past Brian Duensing to claim top situational lefty honors. Failed starter Anthony Swarzak settled nicely into his long relief role and led all major-league pitchers in relief innings. Rule 5 pickup Ryan Pressly came flying out of the gates but scuffled at times over the final three months. He could face a challenge from towering righty Michael Tonkin.

Middle Infield 

Failed 2012 shortstop Brian Dozier overcame a slow first half and blossomed into a power-hitting second baseman over the final three months. Dozier needs to improve his on-base abilities if he wants to stay near the top of the lineup, but he throws his body around on defense and seems to be one of the club’s few unquestioned positional building blocks. He also works well with shortstop Pedro Florimon, the deceptively strong defender who ranked behind only Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons in defensive runs saved at the position in 2013. The switch-hitting Florimon still needs work with the bat, but he’s wiry strong and still has enough upside at age 27 for the Twins to stick with him for at least another year.

Corners 

The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. Just as the Twins were getting set to trade former American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh, Joe Mauer was suffering the serious concussion that ultimately caused him to give up catching for good in November. Mauer, 30, has made 54 starts at first base over the past three seasons and should have no trouble making the transition. Less wear and tear also could boost his offensive production, not that he needs too much work in that area anyway. Versatile Trevor Plouffe returns at third base, but most believe it’s only a matter of time before he’s on the move again, this time to make way for 20-year-old slugger Miguel Sano. Issues in his throwing elbow have slowed Sano’s progress a bit, but he could start knocking on the door with a strong first half in the minors.

Outfield 

Defense could again be a concern unless former first-rounder Aaron Hicks can re-assert himself and win a spring battle with Alex Presley. The Twins are lumbering at the corners with Josh Willingham in left and bat-first slugger Oswaldo Arcia in right. Presley is slightly above average as a defender, but he needs to prove he can get on base against major-league pitching and use his speed more productively as a base-stealer. Willingham is coming off a frustrating season interrupted by cleanup surgery on his left knee. This is the final year of a three-year, $21 million deal that had been the largest the Twins ever granted to an outside free agent. The streaky Arcia struggles to hit lefties, but his upside and potential importance are obvious, especially for a power-challenged lineup.


Catching 

Rookie Josmil Pinto is the first option after a breakout season in 2013, including a highly productive September audition in the majors. However, his defensive limitations and nagging issues in his throwing shoulder caused the Twins to dump Ryan “No Mitt” Doumit on Atlanta and use the savings to sign veteran Kurt Suzuki as insurance. Now it appears the club is cashing in on the insurance and committed to going with Suzuki as the regular. Suzuki’s power and throwing numbers have dropped off, but he can still handle a pitching staff and blocks balls with the best of them. The most likely scenario is that Pinto will be sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning, but the hard-working Venezuelan should return by midseason.  Either journeyman Eric Fryer or versatile Chris Herrmann will serve as Suzuki’s backup until then.

DH/Bench 

Former Twins standout Jason Kubel was brought back on a minor-league deal that could pay him up to $3 million if he reclaims his former hitting prowess. Kubel’s brother-in-law is Tonkin, the hard-throwing relief prospect for the Twins. With Mauer’s move to first, former first-rounder Chris Parmelee and indy-league survivor Chris Colabello must battle for playing time. Eduardo Escobar is an energy guy with a better glove than you think at shortstop. Another ex-Twin, Jason Bartlett, was brought back on a minor-league deal as well after missing the past season-and-a-half with knee issues.

Management

Twins president Dave St. Peter proudly calls Terry Ryan “the most disciplined general manager in the game,” a title that remains even after the targeted spending of this offseason. Organizational stability is of vital importance to the Pohlad family, a belief shown once more by the decision to give Gardenhire a two-year extension coming off 291 combined losses the past three seasons. Ryan, 60, essentially has a lifetime contract after building the clubs that reeled off six American League Central titles in nine seasons from 2002-10. The highly respected GM has brought back trusted scouting associates such as Wayne Krivsky and Larry Corrigan since returning to the role in November 2011.

Final Analysis 

After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Sano and Meyer begin to arrive. A frustrated fan base has filled more seats than you might expect at well-regarded Target Field, but they will need to see another winning product before too long. What’s more, Mauer’s prime years are being wasted.   


Lineup
CF    Alex Presley (L)     

Has a career .377 OBP in 1,242 Class AAA plate appearances, but just a .304 OBP in the majors.
2B    Brian Dozier (R)     

His 18 homers broke Tim Teufel’s 29-year-old franchise mark for most homers by a Twins second baseman.
1B    Joe Mauer (L)     

His career .323 average leads all active players by nearly two full points. Albert Pujols is second.
LF    Josh Willingham (R)     

Combined on-base/slugging percentage of .709 was lowest of his career when playing 13 or more games.
DH    Jason Kubel (L)    

Before falling off in 2013, he had posted adjusted OPS between 105 and 137 for six straight seasons.
3B    Trevor Plouffe (R)     

His WAR (per Baseball Reference) nearly doubled (to 1.9) despite seeing homer total drop from 24 to 14.
RF    Oswaldo Arcia (L)    

Streaky slugger torched Oakland and the White Sox for combined eight (four apiece) of his 14 rookie homers.
C    Kurt Suzuki (R)     

Hit 11 homers combined past two seasons after averaging 14 from 2009-11 with Oakland.
SS    Pedro Florimon (S)     

Trailed only Braves Gold Glover Andrelton Simmons for Defensive Runs Saved (12) among shortstops.


Bench
UT    Eduardo Escobar (S)     

Showed league-average range at shortstop last season but was poorly rated defensively at third.
OF    Darin Mastroianni (L)     

Surgery on his left ankle limited him to 30 games in 2013, but he can handle all three outfield spots.
INF    Jason Bartlett (R)     

Hasn’t played since May 2012 but says his knee is fully recovered.  
C    Josmil Pinto (R)     

Posted an adjusted OPS of 165 in dazzling 21-game September audition.


Rotation
RH    Ricky Nolasco     

Has thrown more than 1,151 innings over the past six seasons, 24th in MLB.
RH    Phil Hughes      

Has gone 34–21 over past two even-numbered seasons, 9–19 in past two odd years.
RH    Kevin Correia     

ERA and adjusted ERA have dropped three straight years even as innings have climbed.
RH    Mike Pelfrey     

Fielding Independent stats were more encouraging than his 5.79 home ERA.
LH    Scott Diamond     

His 3.57 K/9 rate ranked fourth-worst out of 496 pitchers with at least 20 innings.


Bullpen
LH    Glen Perkins (Closer)     

First-time All-Star had only four save chances over the final 25 games.
RH    Jared Burton     

WHIP spiked by 37 percent to 1.258 after career year in 2012.
RH    Casey Fien      

Had a 1.016 WHIP with 73 strikeouts in 62.0 innings pitched last season.  
LH    Caleb Thielbar     

Held left-handed hitters to .482 OPS, among the best for any situational lefty.
LH    Brian Duensing     

Lefties hit 40 points higher (.303) against him than right-handed hitters in similar number of chances.
RH    Anthony Swarzak     

Long reliever’s WAR (1.7) per Baseball Reference trailed only Perkins on the Twins.  
RH    Ryan Pressly     

Rule 5 pick stuck all year but struggled to 5.59 ERA after mid-June (28 outings).


2013 Top Draft Pick
Kohl Stewart, RHP
A star quarterback from Houston, Stewart passed up a chance to follow Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. The Twins took Stewart fourth overall and signed him for a $4,544,400 bonus. A Type 1 diabetic, Stewart missed close to three weeks in the Gulf Coast League after cutting his foot on a seashell. He was shut down for the final two weeks of the Appalachian League season due to shoulder soreness and was kept off the mound at instructional league, but he should be fine for spring training. Stewart’s fastball touches 96 mph with above-average life and command. He puts hitters away with a mid-80s power slider. His curve and change are improving, meaning he could brandish four above-average big-league pitches.

Top Prospects
CF Byron Buxton (20) 

Blessed with all five tools, the No. 2 overall pick blew through Class A in his first full pro season and swept Minor League Player of the Year honors.
RHP Kyle Gibson (26) 

Taken three spots before Mike Trout, Gibson also had to overcome Tommy John surgery en route to 10 uneven big-league starts (6.53 ERA) last season.
3B Miguel Sano (20) 

The Dominican super prospect pounded 35 combined homers last season at Class A and AA.
RHP Alex Meyer (24) 

A shoulder strain cost him 10 weeks last season, but he was hitting 100 mph again in the Arizona Fall League.
2B Eddie Rosario (22) 

The former fourth-rounder was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse for the second time.
RHP Jose Berrios  (19) 

The highest-drafted pitcher from Puerto Rico has a fastball that touches 95 mph, but he struggled with his command in the Midwest League.
LHP Lewis Thorpe (18)

Used a 95-mph fastball to dominate Team USA at the 18U World Championships in Taiwan.


Beyond the Box Score
Franchise player Even while missing the final 39 games after suffering a concussion on Aug. 19, Joe Mauer still finished second in the American League with a .324 batting average. His .404 on-base percentage ranked third in the league. The Twins went 49–61 (.445) with Mauer in the starting lineup and 17–35 (.327) without him. Good thing they have him signed through 2018 at $23 million per season ($115 million total).
Escape from New York Phil Hughes, a former 18- and 16-game winner, had little trouble handling the pressures of New York. A bigger issue for the 27-year-old righthander was his former workplace, Yankee Stadium. While going 4–14 in 2013, Hughes posted a 6.32 home ERA that ranked fourth-worst among the 184 pitchers to work at least 40 home innings. On the road, his 3.88 ERA ranked 78th out of 165 pitchers with at least 40 innings. Hughes’ home OPS allowed was .909 compared to .735 on the road. To put it another way, that was the difference between the OPS of National League MVP Andrew McCutchen (.911) and ex-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (.734).
Short list In bringing back Ron Gardenhire after three straight 90-loss seasons, the Twins hope to repeat history as well as buck it. Of the past eight managers brought back after three straight 90-loss seasons since World War II — according to Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research — just one has ever managed that team to another winning record: Tom Kelly. Gardenhire’s predecessor and mentor followed four straight 90-loss seasons (1997-2000) with an 85–77 record and a second-place finish in 2001 before retiring at age 51.
Back for more Ricky Nolasco’s only previous career start at Target Field came last April 23 in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader necessitated by a snowout the previous day. Originally scheduled to pitch the afternoon game, Nolasco switched places at the last minute at the insistence of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who didn’t want rookie phenom Jose Fernandez pitching in extreme cold. It was 42 degrees at first pitch for the second game, which Nolasco won after allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk over five innings.

Teaser:
After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer begin to arrive.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:39
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-12-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 12.

It says at this link that Leticia Cline is Kentucky basketball's hottest fan. I'm not going to argue.

• Some guy wasn't doing anything useful with his back, so he covered it with a giant LeBron tattoo.

Dwight Howard unselfishly gave up the rock — to a guy on the bench.

So Floyd Mayweather allegedly had some guys beaten over some missing jewelry.

• Remember Rex Chapman? Somebody does. He has a stalker.

A guy beat a robot at ping-pong. Humans are still in charge. For now.

Twitter's a great way for famous people to show the world how stupid they are.

Karl Malone's hanging on to his flip phone for when it comes back in style.

Best athlete movie cameos. "What the hell is Brett Favre doing here?"

SI replicated its famous Larry Bird Indiana State cover with Dougie McBuckets.

• NFL Free agent news is flying. Click here to keep up.

• A concerned MMA mom jumped into the ring to check on her son. I'm thinking he won't tell her where his next bout is.

)

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:37
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-2014-preview
Body:

Over the winter, the Tigers underwent the type of overhaul befitting a disappointing loser, not a 93-win division champ that came within two wins of a second straight World Series berth. They switched managers, traded their cleanup hitter, jettisoned their starting shortstop and swapped a front-line starting pitcher for a trio of younger players. Not every move made sense on its own (the return for righthander Doug Fister seemed egregiously light), but taken as a whole, the Tigers got younger, more athletic and more versatile — traits that could serve them well in 2014, when they should again be favorites in the AL Central. When your roster includes the best hitter in the game (Miguel Cabrera) and two of the last three AL Cy Young winners (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer), you have a very good head start.

Rotation 

The Tigers, looking to shed a starting pitcher for some usable pieces and payroll flexibility, may have preferred to move righthander Rick Porcello, but everyone else wanted Fister. And so, it was Fister who was sent to Washington for two young lefty pitchers and a utility infielder. Hard as it was to say goodbye to a pitcher who had won 32 games in two-plus years in Detroit — plus three more in the postseason — the Tigers have the pieces to make fans forget Fister, as long as things go according to plan. This is still a formidable rotation, headed by Scherzer and Verlander, and with Anibal Sanchez and Porcello slotting in as Nos. 3 and 4. At the back end, the trade of Fister gives young lefty Drew Smyly, whom the organization is very high on, the chance to move from the bullpen to the rotation as the fifth starter.

Bullpen 

The loss of Joaquin Benoit to free agency and the signing of veteran Joe Nathan to a two-year deal means the Tigers will be sporting their fourth closer in three years in 2014. Nathan may be 39 now, but he is coming off a resurgent season that saw him post career bests in WHIP (0.897) and home run rate (0.3 per nine innings). Flamethrowing phenom Bruce Rondon will be back in the eighth inning role, and while Smyly’s move to the rotation will cost the bullpen its top lefty from 2013, the Tigers hope Ian Krol, acquired in the Fister trade, can handle that role. Veteran Phil Coke and 25-year-old Jose Alvarez present additional options from the left side. And on the right side, free-agent signee Joba Chamberlain, returning from elbow surgery, is an intriguing addition, joining Rondon, veteran Al Alburquerque and Luke Putkonen.

Middle Infield 

The Tigers are basically starting over here, after letting double-play combo Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta walk away via free agency and replacing them with Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. The former, a three-time All-Star in Texas, was acquired in November in the blockbuster Prince Fielder trade, while the latter won the Tigers’ trust with his excellent fill-in work during Peralta’s 50-game PED suspension in 2013. Perhaps most important, the Tigers got a combined nine years younger up the middle with these moves, and both Kinsler and Iglesias are better defenders than the men they replaced — which should go over well with the Tigers’ pitching staff.


Corners 

The combination of Cabrera and Fielder sounded great in theory when the Tigers added the latter via a nine-year megacontract in January 2012. But in reality, the lack of defensive range at the corners was difficult to overcome, especially when Fielder’s power fell off a cliff in 2013 (a career-low .457 slugging percentage). By trading Fielder over the winter, the Tigers allowed Cabrera to move back to first base, his natural position, while opening third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos. The rising star, just 22, completed his minor-league apprenticeship with a .276/.343/.450 season at Triple-A Toledo in 2013. Together, the Castellanos/Cabrera combo at the corners should be significantly better defensively than the Cabrera/Fielder combo it replaces.

Outfield 

The Tigers’ plan to return the same outfield they used in 2013 was derailed by Andy Dirks’ back injury, which led to surgery. He’ll be out until June. Supersub Don Kelly and speedster Rajai Davis will share the duty until Dirks in healthy enough to play everyday. Austin Jackson is still in center and veteran Torii Hunter in right. Of immediate concern is stopping Jackson’s offensive slide, which saw his OPS suffer a 100-point fall in 2013 over the year before. At his best, Jackson is a top-flight leadoff man. But he hasn’t been at his best in while. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jackson batting fifth with Kinsler leading off. Meantime, like clockwork, you can put Hunter down for his usual .300 batting average, 15-to-20 homers and above-average defense in right field.

Catching 

Since his spectacular 2011 breakthrough (.295/.389/.506), Alex Avila has seen his OPS fall nearly 200 points. Now, at 27, he is best described as a decent-hitting catcher, good for a dozen homers or so and a respectable .700 OPS. Avila’s real value, though, is behind the plate, where he has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best game-callers in baseball. Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez all saw their ERAs rise by a half-run or better whenever someone other than Avila caught them in 2013. He may never have another year at the plate like he did in 2011, but the Tigers don’t necessarily need that.

DH/Bench 

Victor Martinez, now two years removed from the knee injury that cost him all of 2012, returns as the Tigers’ primary DH and occasional spot-starter at first base and catcher. He is now Cabrera’s personal protector. The team made solidifying its bench a major part of their offseason plan, and the additions of Davis (as a fourth outfielder or possibly the right-handed half of a platoon in left field) and Steve Lombardozzi (as a utility infielder) have accomplished that mission. One other key: Davis can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, something they sure could have used in the 2013 postseason. These additions also should make the Tigers less reliant on Kelly — who remains useful, but in limited quantities. Because Lombardozzi isn’t a great option to back up at shortstop, the Tigers could also give infielder Hernan Perez a roster spot. At backup catcher, the Tigers appear poised to go with organizational man Bryan Holaday, after Brayan Pena was allowed to walk via free agency.

Management 

The Jim Leyland/Dave Dombrowski duo produced four playoff berths, three division championships and two American League pennants in eight years together in Detroit, and while the lack of a World Series title will taint that legacy in some minds, there were few GM/manager combinations in this generation that worked better together or produced more success. While Leyland retired, Dombrowski remains — at least for now. (He is considered to be a candidate to replace Bud Selig as commissioner.) In Brad Ausmus, the Tigers have a young and highly inexperienced manager, but one for whom communication appears to be a strong suit. Ausmus has a long way to go to match Leyland’s 1,769 career wins, but even Leyland had to start somewhere.

Final Analysis 

The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future. It will be difficult for them, in the short term, to replicate Fielder’s power, Fister’s consistency and Leyland’s grizzled brilliance. But they also got better in some small (and not-so-small) ways, most notably the improved infield defense and the increased versatility of their bench. In the AL Central, the Indians made a surprising run at the Tigers’ dominance in 2013 and figure to be right there again in 2014, along with the emerging Royals. The Tigers’ ability to hold them off for another year will probably depend on the health of those horses at the front of their rotation and the big fella at first base.


Lineup
CF    Austin Jackson (R)    

With Ian Kinsler also capable of leading off, Jackson needs to produce to keep spot.
2B    Ian Kinsler (R)    

Career .349 on-base percentage will play well at top of Tigers’ lineup.
1B    Miguel Cabrera (R)    

Two-time defending AL MVP is best right-handed hitter in the game.
DH    Victor Martinez (S)    

Cleanup spot is key because of protection for Cabrera; was mostly Prince Fielder in ’13.
RF    Torii Hunter (R)    

Batted primarily in No. 2 spot in ’13, but can be run-producer further down.
C    Alex Avila (L)    

Now three years removed from career year in ’11, but he’s still a capable hitter.
LF    Don Kelly (L)    

Jim Leyland favorite can play all three outfield spots, plus first, second and third.
3B    Nick Castellanos (R)    

Tigers think he’s ready to play every day; Fielder trade opened up third-base spot.
SS    Jose Iglesias (R)    

Filled in admirably for Jhonny Peralta in ’13; now gets the everyday job.


Bench
INF     Steve Lombardozzi (S)    

Versatile infielder can hit from both sides and also play some left field.
OF    Rajai Davis (R)    

Could start in left field against lefties, and should have great value as pinch-runner.
OF    Ezequiel Carrera (L)
  
Played everyday for Indians during last two months of 2012 hitting a respectable .272.
C    Bryan Holaday (R)    

Has only 46 plate appearances in big leagues, but played well in spot duty.


Rotation
RH    Max Scherzer    

Moved from front-line starter to true ace with Cy Young season in ’13.
RH    Justin Verlander    

Wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA+ were all five-year lows for veteran ace.
RH    Anibal Sanchez    

Had career year in first full season with the Tigers; fourth in Cy Young voting.
RH    Rick Porcello    

In fifth big-league season, had career-bests in  WHIP and K rate.
LH    Drew Smyly    

Tigers hope his swing-and-miss stuff as reliever in ’13 translates to rotation.


Bullpen
RH    Joe Nathan (Closer)    

Four years removed from elbow surgery, appears to have regained stuff.
RH    Bruce Rondon    

Hard-throwing youngster will close someday, but not in ’14.
LH    Ian Krol    

Part of Doug Fister trade, he will try to reprise Smyly’s role as lefty setup man.
RH    Al Alburquerque    

Struggled for consistency in ’13, but has big arm and misses bats.
RH    Joba Chamberlain    

Former Yankees phenom gets new chance in new organization.
LH    Phil Coke    

Veteran swingman had an awful ’13 — career-high 1.670 WHIP — but he’s valuable when on his game.
RH    Luke Putkonen    

Performed well in sixth- and seventh-inning roles in spot duty in ’13.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathon Crawford, RHP
After not having first-round draft picks in 2011 or 2012, having the 20th overall pick in 2013 felt like a luxury, and the Tigers made a relatively safe pick by choosing Crawford, a righthander out of the University of Florida. While Crawford doesn’t have enormous upside, he projects as a No. 3 starter in the big leagues and could get there relatively quickly. He possesses a fastball that touches 95 mph, but his best pitch is probably his slider, which he throws in the mid-80s and can throw in any count. He had a successful pro debut in 2013, posting a 1.89 ERA in eight starts in the short-season New York-Penn League, and could start 2014 in Low-A ball. It’s not out of the question that he could make the big leagues in 2015.

Top Prospects
RHP Jake Thompson (20)

Strong showing in Low-A (3.13 ERA, 9.8 K/9 IP) and new curveball made 2013 a solid year for this second-round pick.
C James McCann (23) 

Made big strides at plate (.277/.328/.404) and was rewarded with spot on Futures Game roster. Likely to start in Class AAA but could earn a roster spot in bigs at some point.
3B Nick Castellanos (22) 

Organization’s top prospect hit his way to big leagues in 2013, gets everyday third-base job in 2014 thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s move to first.
LHP Robbie Ray (22) 

Centerpiece of the Tigers’ haul from Nationals in Doug Fister trade; has front-line-starter upside.
OF Steven Moya (22) 

Massive (6'6", 230 pounds) specimen has top-flight power, but struggled with strike zone at High-A, whiffing 106 times in 388 plate appearances.
SS Eugenio Suarez (22) 

Took step forward with strong showing at Double-A, but projects as more of a utility type in majors.
2B Devon Travis (23) 

Great athlete, emerged as prospect during strong 2013 (.351/.418/.518, 22 steals in Class A).
RHP Corey Knebel (22)
The former University of Texas closer took the Midwest League (Low-A) by storm last summer. He held opponents to a .133 average and whiffed 41 over 31 innings.


Beyond the Box Score
Health watch Miguel Cabrera’s health will continue to be a major concern for the Tigers. Though he played in 148 games in 2013, it was the fewest since his rookie season of 2003, as he dealt with nagging injuries to his hip, back, groin and abdominal wall. He underwent surgery after the ALCS to repair a sports hernia and is expected to be ready for spring training. But he’ll be 31 in April, and for a player with his size, any minor problem can quickly become a major one.
Solid fit Rajai Davis was the perfect addition as an extra outfielder, given his ability to hit lefties (.294/.354/.425 for his career). He will likely wind up in a platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, given the latter’s struggles against lefties (.234/.306/.325 last season).
Planning ahead Part of the Tigers’ motivation for their big offseason moves (the trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister) was to gain some payroll flexibility, in anticipation of the looming contract battles with Cabrera and Max Scherzer, both of whom could become free agents after the 2015 season. Including the $30 million they paid to Texas, the Tigers saved about $76 million in the Fielder trade alone.
Bullpen woes The Tigers’ bullpen issues in 2013 were laid bare in the postseason, when, in 11 total games, they gave up 18 runs after the sixth inning — including 12 to the Red Sox in the six-game ALCS, essentially costing them a World Series berth. The Tigers initially targeted Brian Wilson as a closer candidate but were rebuffed and turned their attention to Joe Nathan, whom they eventually signed to a two-year deal.
Veteran closer Can Nathan fix the Tigers’ ninth-inning problems? He did have an excellent year in 2013, but that was partly attributable to a difficult-to-sustain .228 BABIP. Few closers in history have had success at such an advanced age (39). In fact, since 2000, only three pitchers — Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Todd Jones — have finished 50 or more games at age 39 or older.
Questionable deal Many industry observers ripped the Tigers for the Fister trade, arguing that they didn’t get enough in return for a pitcher whom they perhaps undervalued. Indeed, as measured by fWAR, Fister was the ninth-most valuable pitcher in the game from 2011-13, just behind David Price and just ahead of Cole Hamels.

Teaser:
The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:16
Path: /mlb/chicago-white-sox-2014-preview
Body:

Rebuild and restructure are words the Chicago White Sox have preferred to avoid for decades, primarily because that has not been the game plan. They were a Go For It franchise. Maybe these two words fit better for the Sox strategy for 2014 — overdue overhaul. The message was pretty clear long before the Sox finished with 99 defeats and went 26–50 inside the AL Central. General manager Rick Hahn moved briskly to shed payroll, dealing Jake Peavy and Alex Rios in July, and then got more determined to build a younger, more athletic team during the offseason. It’s unlikely to translate into a 2014 contender, but if the young players Hahn collected from the Tigers (Avisail Garcia), Diamondbacks (Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson), Rangers (Leury Garcia) and Cuba (Jose Abreu) deliver, then the White Sox already have the young pitching to become factors in the AL Central soon.

Rotation 

There is a reason Chris Sale finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting with a losing record (11–14). Sale averaged better than a strikeout per inning and limited opposing hitters to a .230 average. He’s the most dominant lefthander in a rotation that will feature three lefties — and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is convinced that Sale, 25, is the best southpaw in the league. Sale has pitched in consecutive All-Star games, winning the 2013 game while pitching two hitless innings. The White Sox lefthander who is not as well known is the staff’s second starter — Jose Quintana. He pitched 200 innings, 64 more than his rookie season, but finished 9–7 because Sox hitters didn’t do their part. He mixes four pitches well, walking less than two batters per start. The top rotations excel at spots three, four and five, and that’s where the White Sox have work to do. John Danks, another lefty, leads the rotation on payday ($14.25 million) but is working to regain velocity after 2012 shoulder surgery. Although Danks recovered to make 22 starts, he allowed an alarming 27 home runs in 138.1 innings and didn’t match his pre-surgery strikeout ratio. If his velocity does not improve, his control must. The final two spots opened with the trades of Peavy (Red Sox) and Hector Santiago (Angels). Erik Johnson is a durable righthander who dominated the Southern League and also excelled in the International League before getting five solid September starts. Andre Rienzo was actually promoted ahead of Johnson. He throws harder with less command. That pair and former Royal Felipe Paulino, on the mend from 2012 elbow surgery, are the top righthanders. The White Sox signed former Giant Eric Surkamp, which means they are considering a four-lefty rotation.

Bullpen 

The Sox sent Addison Reed and all 40 of the team’s saves to Arizona, but Cooper never worries about finding a closer. He’ll remind you that the 2005 World Series champs used three. Nate Jones is likely to move his triple-digit fastball from the eighth inning to the ninth. But if he’s not ready for prime time, veterans Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario have pitched in the ninth inning. The Sox have two other young powerful right-handed arms in Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka. Cooper would love to see Mitchell Boggs rediscover his command that allowed him to collect 34 holds and strand 83 percent of inherited runners for the Cardinals in 2012. Manager Robin Ventura likes to have left-handed specialists, so the Sox acquired Scott Downs. Donnie Veal has the edge for the second spot, but if his control disappears, watch for rookie Charlie Leesman.

Middle Infield

Shortstop Alexei Ramirez delivered the strangest season of his six-year career, stealing a career-high 30 bases while hitting a career-low six home runs and making a career-worst 22 errors. The Sox need more pop and reliability. Second baseman Gordon Beckham started fast and then suffered a fractured hamate bone. He failed to hit with power and did not deliver on Gold Glove predictions, either. If the Sox deal either veteran at some point this season, they will have to rely on a fading Jeff Keppinger or rookies Luery Garcia or Marcus Semien.



Corners 

The corners are not as settled as the middle. Paul Konerko’s 15-season reign as the team’s first baseman will end as he moves to a part-time role. The Sox expect Abreu, a 27-year-old free agent from Cuba, to replace Konerko’s middle-of-the-order power. His next big-league game will be his first professional game in the U.S. There is also a plan for third base, but the transition might not be as swift. Davidson, the MVP of the Futures Game, should be the guy by midseason, but he might not be ready in April, so look for Conor Gillaspie (lefty) and Keppinger (righty) to share the spot in a strict platoon.

Outfield 

Hahn was not thrilled with much from his outfield last season — hitting, baserunning, catching the ball, thinking the game. So he has started almost completely fresh. Avisail Garcia was a prize in the Tigers’ system, and the Sox expect him to grow into a 25-homer, 100-RBI middle of the order stud who will play an All-Star right field. In a perfect world, Garcia also steals 20 bases. The expectations for center fielder Eaton are different, but equally high. Hahn sees an on-base machine who will take walks and pepper the gaps. Eaton’s arrival moves Alejandro De Aza into a left-field platoon with Dayan Viciedo. De Aza’s power spiked last season with 17 home runs, but he struck out 147 times and was repeatedly thrown out on the bases. Viciedo’s power took a vacation. He slipped from 25 home runs to 14 while driving in 56 and also making fielding mistakes. The Sox expected more.

Catching 

Hahn has work to do here if Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley struggle again. Flowers failed to hit and lost the spot to Phegley in July and then underwent shoulder surgery in August. Phegley started fast, hitting three home runs in his first five games. But pitchers took advantage of his aggressiveness. He hit .206 with five walks in 204 at-bats. Neither was great defensively; the Sox were second in the AL with 21 passed balls. Adrian Nieto, a 24-year-old switch-hitter is a remote possibility this season. He spent last year in Single-A.

DH/Bench 

Can a team win with two first basemen/designated hitters on its bench? The White Sox will find out, because Konerko’s move to part-time player means he is likely to share the DH role with Adam Dunn, a free agent in 2015. With three guys (add Abreu) who can only play first base, the Sox will need flexibility from their other reserves. That’s good news for Leury Garcia, a swift middle infielder who can also play third and the outfield. Gillaspie can also play first and Keppinger can play across the infield. Jordan Danks could win the 25th spot because of his left-handed bat.



Management

Ventura learned the realities of managing last summer. In 2012, he was calm and consistent. When the White Sox nearly won the division, he was credited with transferring those qualities to his players. In 2013, Ventura was calm and consistent. When the White Sox disappeared, he was blamed for not stirring any energy within the group. Ventura remains perplexed by the team’s defensive meltdowns. For a team with solid starting pitching and offensive issues, Ventura knows that fixing the defense must be a spring training priority. He and Hahn are working to address another issue — a smarter approach to hitting. The Sox ranked last in the AL in walks and next-to-last in on-base-percentage. Hitting coach Jeff Manto was fired with one game left in the season, replaced by Todd Steverson. He arrives from Oakland where he served as the minor-league hitting instructor for an organization that preaches on-base percentage daily.

Final Analysis 

After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Sale, Quintana and Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL. The bullpen has a nice mix of young power arms and veterans but lacks a proven closer. But offense and defense are the issues. With their reliance on pitching, the Sox have to catch the ball the way they did in 2012 — and hope that Avisail Garcia, Abreu, Eaton and Davidson begin to form the core that will make this franchise contenders in 2015 and beyond.

Lineup
CF    Adam Eaton (L)    

Hit .252 with 17 extra-base hits in 250 at-bats while battling injuries with Diamondbacks.
2B    Gordon Beckham (R)    

Started fast, but wrist and leg injuries erased his power, limiting him to 24 RBIs and five home runs.
RF    Avisail Garcia (R)    

Has been compared to his pal, Miguel Cabrera, and showed a nice bat during his stint with the Sox.
DH    Adam Dunn (L)    

Still the team’s primary power threat (34 homers, 86 RBIs) but those Ks (189) crush too many rallies.
1B    Jose Abreu (R)    

Signed six-year, $68 million contract thanks to power he flashed for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
SS    Alexei Ramirez (R)    

Sox need him to hit more than six home runs and make fewer than 22 errors while continuing to steal 30 bases.
3B    Conor Gillaspie (L)    

Hits righties (.261) considerably better than lefties (.159), which makes him a perfect platoon candidate.
C    Tyler Flowers (R)    

Had first crack at replacing A.J. Pierzynski, but 94 Ks in 256 at-bats (plus eight passed balls) a major red flag.
LF    Alejandro De Aza (L)    

Making overdue shift from center field and bringing his 48 extra-base hits and 84 runs scored with him.

Bench
1B    Paul Konerko (R)    

Power numbers slipped to 12 home runs and 54 RBIs, but plans to make a rousing farewell tour.
UT    Leury Garcia (S)    

Can play six positions but will never secure any of them hitting .204 without power.
OF    Dayan Viciedo (R)    

Sox expected 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but he gave them 14 and 56 with sub-par defense.
INF    Jeff Keppinger (R)    

Makes consistent contact but failed to score (38) or drive in (40) nearly enough runs.
C    Josh Phegley (R)    

Started with three home runs, eight RBIs in his first five games; added one HR and 14 RBIs in final 60 games.


Rotation
LH    Chris Sale    

Will be a prime Cy Young contender if he continues to strike out 226 hitters in 214.1 innings with a 3.07 ERA.
LH    Jose Quintana    

Contender for Mr. Unappreciated finished 9–7 while allowing 188 hits in 200 innings with 164 strikeouts.
LH    John Danks    

Made determined return from shoulder surgery with drop in velocity that resulted in 28 home runs in 138 IP.
RH    Erik Johnson    

Looked major-league ready in five September starts, winning three games and striking out 18 in nearly 28 IP.
RH    Felipe Paulino    

Struggled at two minor-league levels in the Royals organization in first season back from Tommy John.


Bullpen
RH    Nate Jones (Closer)    

Has shown he can deliver more than a strikeout per inning, getting 89 in 78 last season.
RH    Matt Lindstrom    
Possible closer because of his ability to generate double plays (15) and keep the ball in the park.
LH    Scott Downs    

Durable veteran returns for 13th season because of his ability to retire left-handed hitters.
LH    Donnie Veal    

The Sox loved the 29 strikeouts in 29 innings but worry about the 16 walks.
RH    Ronald Belisario  

Inconsistent veteran makes his American League debut after striking out 49 in 68 innings with the Dodgers.
RH    Daniel Webb    

Looked promising during September call-up, striking out 10 in 11.1 innings


2013 Top Draft Pick
Tim Anderson, SS
The White Sox have always been a franchise attracted to players with tools, and they proved that again when they drafted Tim Anderson, a shortstop from East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., with the 17th overall selection. Anderson grew up playing basketball in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and did not seriously pursue baseball until his junior year, one reason SEC programs did not heavily recruit him. The White Sox hope that he develops as a leadoff hitter who can steal bases. Many scouts evaluated him as the fastest player in the draft, and Anderson showed that speed by stealing 24 bases in 68 games in Low-A ball. He hit .277 with little power and will have to improve his contact rate after striking out 78 times in 267 at-bats. Anderson prefers to play shortstop, but many believe that he’ll have to move to center field.

Top Prospects
OF Courtney Hawkins ()
The youngest player in the Carolina League, Hawkins showed power, but struck out in nearly 42 percent of his at bats.
RHP Erik Johnson (24)
Powerful 6'3" righthander struck out 149 across three pro levels and went 3–2 with a 3.25 for the big club in 2013.
3B Matt Davidson (23)
Futures Game MVP launched 17 home runs in Class AAA and three more with the Diamondbacks.
2B/SS Marcus Semien (23)
Southern League MVP showed solid glove and speed while hitting .261 in September call-up.
RHP Chris Beck (23)
The 6’3” righthander walked only three in 28 innings after promotion to Class AA.
2B Micah Johnson (23)
Led the minor leagues with 84 steals while advancing from Low-A to Class AA.

Beyond the Box Score
Face of the franchise The White Sox acquired Paul Konerko from the Reds before the 1999 season, and by 2000 he replaced Frank Thomas as the team’s everyday first baseman. Now he's embarking on a farewell tour. This season, officially his last, Konerko will have three official roles — part-time first baseman, part-time designated hitter and full-time clubhouse sage. Konerko has officially served as the team’s captain since 2006. He says the primary reason he decided to return for his 16th and final season was to serve as a mentor to younger players and re-create the winning culture the Sox lost in 2013.
Cuban ambassador Minnie Minoso’s popularity has never subsided with White Sox faithful — and neither has his legacy. Minoso, who made his debut with the Sox in 1951, was the team’s first Cuban-born player. Now 88, Minoso remains a White Sox ambassador as well as a guy who has helped the franchise become a favored destination of three key Cuban players. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez joined the Sox in 2008. Left fielder Dayan Viciedo followed in 2010. This season the Sox should have a threesome because first baseman Jose Abreu elected to sign with Chicago over other interested franchises.
Latin America's Team Cuba won’t be the only Latin American country with baseball fans trying to track White Sox games. When righthander Andre Rienzo pitched against Cleveland last July 30 he became the first Brazilian-born player to pitch in the major leagues. Rienzo added to his resume by winning his first game against the Royals on Aug. 21. He finished 2–3 and will compete for a spot in the Sox rotation. Don’t forget the folks in Colombia, either. With 15 career wins, Jose Quintana has more victories than any pitcher from that nation.
Forecasting the future Conor Gillaspie is in a battle to keep his job as the White Sox third baseman. He’s not ready to give in. But when the time comes for Gillaspie to try something else, he’ll be ready. Gillaspie is a confirmed weather nerd. He studied meteorology at Wichita State and loves a complex Midwest forecast. “I love blizzards, heavy snow,” Gillaspie says. “I love that stuff. You have to find something you are interested in outside this game just in case.”

Teaser:
After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:11
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2014-preview
Body:

This is the year, finally, the Royals believe that everything comes together after an often-tortuous reconstruction project over the last seven-plus years under general manager Dayton Moore. The youthful core showed signs of blossoming last year in compiling a 43–27 record after the All-Star break, which enabled the Royals to play meaningful games in September for the first time in a decade. This offseason saw Moore address the club’s three biggest questions by signing two free agents, pitcher Jason Vargas and second baseman Omar Infante, and acquiring right fielder Norichika Aoki in a trade from Milwaukee. So everything appears in place, but the clock is ticking. Staff ace James Shields, acquired a year ago in a franchise-defining trade that sent outfielder Wil Myers to Tampa Bay, will be a free agent after the 2014 season.

Rotation 

Vargas arrives on a four-year deal for $32 million as the replacement for Ervin Santana, who chose free agency by rejecting a qualifying offer. While Vargas projects as the unit’s No. 2 starter behind Shields, which is where Santana slotted, club officials dismiss that label. They simply want Vargas to make 30 starts, give them 200 innings and give the team a chance to win every time out. In effect, they want him to be a left-handed Jeremy Guthrie, who achieved a career high last season with 15 victories by pitching to contact and using the Royals’ magnificent defense (and the spacious Kauffman Stadium dimensions) to his benefit. Beyond Shields, Vargas and Guthrie, the Royals will hold a spring audition to determine the final two slots. It figures to be a high-quality battle with three of the organization’s prize prospects — Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer — in the mix. Club officials prefer that at least one of them (Duffy is the best bet) breaks camp with the club. Once again the Royals will bring back veteran Bruce Chen. Over the past four seasons, the lefthander is 44-33 (.571). During that time the club has played at a .457 clip, so he must be doing something right. The only other real alternative at this point is Wade Davis, who struggled as a starter, but excelled as a reliever. Another youngster, Chris Dwyer, could also pitch his way into consideration. Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer all have front-of-the-rotation potential. If one of them reaches that level, and Vargas, Guthrie and Chen effectively become the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 guys, this could be an imposing rotation.


Bullpen 

All-Star closer Greg Holland will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2013 success (a 1.21 ERA in 68 games, 47 saves in 50 chances and 103 strikeouts in 67 innings) but, even if he slips from superhuman to stellar, he still provides the bullpen with an air-tight anchor. Beyond Holland, the Royals have an enviable mix of power arms from both sides in righties Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow and lefty Tim Collins; tough side-armers in righthander Louis Coleman and lefty Donnie Joseph, and a number of other guys — such as lefty Francisley Bueno and righty Michael Mariot — who would be prime setup guys on other clubs. And that doesn’t even include Davis, who is likely to be the unit’s top setup reliever. Luke Hochevar held that role at the end of last season, when he fashioned a 1.92 ERA in 58 games. But he went under the knife with Tommy John surgery in early March, so the Royals won’t see him throwing in earnest until this time next season.

Middle Infield

Utilityman Emilio Bonifacio blossomed last season when installed as the regular second baseman after arriving in an August trade from Toronto. He batted .285 with a .352 on-base percentage in 42 games while adding a speed element with 16 steals in 18 attempts. He also helped stabilize the lineup by serving as the No. 2 hitter. That seemed to solve a longstanding problem. So what did the Royals do? They upgraded by signing Infante to a four-year deal, with a club option for a fifth year, at $30.25 million. Infante batted .318 last season in Detroit, and his arrival made Bonifacio expendable. Alcides Escobar regressed sharply last year at the plate, falling from a .293/.331/.390 slash to .234/.259/.300, but he remains one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. If Infante and Aoki perform as expected, it probably won’t matter what Escobar hits. But, yes, the Royals are hoping for an offensive rebound.

Corners 

First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are, no pun intended, the two most visible cornerstones of Moore’s effort to rebuild the Royals through the draft. Hosmer appeared to find himself last season after a disappointing sophomore slide in 2012, but Moustakas remains more potential than production. That potential is still considerable, and the Royals likely will continue to show patience in waiting for it to emerge, but that patience isn’t endless. They made a proactive move in December to get Danny Valencia from Baltimore for outfielder David Lough. Valencia batted .304 last season in 52 games, primarily against left-handed pitchers.

Outfield

An already crowded outfield grew still more crowded — prior to the Lough trade — when the Royals acquired Aoki from the Brewers for lefty swingman Will Smith. Really, though, that deal did much to stabilize the roster and lineup. Aoki becomes the right fielder and leadoff hitter, which enables All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon to shift lower in the lineup, where the Royals need additional pop. Gordon, the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft, might never be a star, but he should provide 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs on a consistent basis. Oft-injured Lorenzo Cain, when healthy, is one of the game’s top defensive center fielders. Those injury concerns mean the Royals probably will hold onto speedy Jarrod Dyson as a hedge. That puts Justin Maxwell at risk, although he performed well in a platoon role — slugging .505 in 111 plate appearances — after arriving in a July 31 trade from Houston.

Catching 

Salvy Perez is well on his way to becoming the face of the franchise as an All-Star who, at age 23, combines offensive pop (a .301 career average and growing power) with Gold Glove defensive skills. His contract also might be the most club-friendly in baseball — a combined $5.25 million over the next three seasons with club options totaling for $14.75 million for 2017-19. The only issue, and it’s a major one, is that he’s already missed time for concussions — primarily from taking foul tips off his mask.



DH/Bench

Billy Butler drew scads of criticism from Royals’ fans after showing a sharp decline from 2012 and, yet, he still led the club with a .374 on-base percentage and 82 RBIs. The Royals also showed a willingness to trade Butler as they worked to refine their roster; a trade loomed as likely if they had succeeded in signing free-agent Carlos Beltran. A desire to free up the DH role in future years, to keep Perez’s bat in the lineup (for example), probably means Butler’s future with the Royals is limited. Still, he’s a potent bat and, in a go-for-it year, a commodity worth holding onto. The backup catcher figures to be Brett Hayes. If he plays more than a handful of games due to a Perez injury, it will be a problem. That leaves space for three other reserves if, as expected, the Royals go with 12 pitchers. Dyson seems to be a near-lock because of Cain’s injury history. That leaves the final spots likely to go to Valencia and Maxwell.

Management

Moore and his staff loaded up this season for a big roll of the dice because Shields and Aoki are pending free agents. The Royals probably overpaid, at least in terms of years, to sign Vargas and Infante. The hope is that both will be sufficiently productive in the first few years to make that gamble pay off. So, the Royals took some risks, but they needed to do so. This franchise hasn’t tasted the postseason since its 1985 World Series title.

Final Analysis 

This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.


Lineup
RF    Norichika Aoki (L)    

Newcomer provides lineup with true leadoff hitter. He stole 50 bases over last two seasons with the Brewers.
2B    Omar Infante (R)    

Should fill club’s long-time hole at second base after hitting .318 with the Tigers in 2013.
1B    Eric Hosmer (L)     

Shows signs of blossoming into a genuine star. Hit .302 with 79 RBIs last season.
DH    Billy Butler (R)    

Homers dropped from 29 in 2012 to 15 in ’13, but he should benefit from better lineup protection.
LF    Alex Gordon (L)    

Dropping down aids need for mid-order pop. Has been durable, with 600-plus ABs in three straight seasons.
C    Salvy Perez (R)    

Only concern, really, is whether Perez — one of the team’s three ’13 All-Stars — avoids concussions.
3B    Mike Moustakas (L)    

Pivotal year for former top prospect — the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft — whose clock is ticking.
CF    Lorenzo Cain (R)    

Can he stay healthy? That’s all that matters for one of the game’s elite defensive outfielders.
SS    Alcides Escobar (R)    

Glove alone makes him a plus, but more bat needed. Dropped to .234 after hitting .293 in ’12.


Bench
C    Brett Hayes (R)    

Fine as a backup who is needed only once a week — as long as Perez is healthy.
OF    Justin Maxwell (R)    

Last season he hit. 347 when ahead in the count, .210 when even or behind.
3B    Danny Valencia (R)    

Offers a solid alternative if Moustakas struggles at third. Hit .304 with the Orioles last season.
OF    Jarrod Dyson (L)    

Speed and defense make Dyson a nice extra outfielder. Stole 34 bases in 2013.


Rotation
RH    James Shields    

Proved last year — his first in Kansas City — to be staff leader the Royals had long needed.
LH    Jason Vargas    

A contact lefty who should benefit from superb defense. On his third team in last three years.
RH    Jeremy Guthrie    

No reason he can’t repeat last year’s success, when he won a career-high 15 games.
LH    Danny Duffy    

Former third-round pick has all the tools to be an impact starter.
LH    Bruce Chen    

The Royals were 9-6 in his 15 starts last season, all coming after July 11.


Bullpen
RH    Greg Holland (Closer)    

Is there a better closer in the American League? Gave up 40 hits in 67 innings last season.
RH    Wade Davis    

Got hit hard last season, but the guess is he gets one more chance as a starter.
RH    Kelvin Herrera    

Rebounded well last year after rough first half. Allowed 15 hits in final 23.1 innings.
LH    Tim Collins    

When he has command, he dominates. Strikeout rate dipped from 12.0 per 9 IP in ’12 to 8.8 in ’13.
RH    Aaron Crow    

Royals’ first-round pick in 2009 has the tools, just needs to throw strikes.
RH    Louis Coleman    

Seems to get overlooked despite 3–0 record, 0.61 ERA in 2013.
LH    Donnie Joseph    

Third-round pick of the Reds in 2009 could be that situational lefty that all clubs covet.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Dozier, 3B
It raised eyebrows when the Royals chose Dozier, a shortstop from Stephen F. Austin, with the eighth overall pick when he was generally viewed, at best, as a late first-round talent. By getting Dozier to agree to a below-slot price, the Royals had enough pool money left to grab lefty Sean Manaea — a top college lefthander who dropped due to injury concerns — with the 34th overall pick. Dozier then made the maneuver look masterful with a breakout pro debut that helped short-season Idaho Falls win the Pioneer League crown. Dozier also spent a few weeks at Low-A Lexington, where he shifted positions to accommodate shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi, one of the organization’s top prospects. Now, Dozier is a fast-track third baseman who could be ready to challenge for big-league time within two years.

Top Prospects
RHP Kyle Zimmer (22) 

Turned dominant last year after a small tweak in his delivery seemed to unlock his potential; will get a long look in big-league camp.
OF Bubba Starling (21)

Club officials insist they’re pleased by the progress of this raw-but-toolsy player, but it’s time for him to take a major step forward.
RHP Yordano Ventura (22)

Even if he isn’t the next Pedro Martinez (and he might be), there’s no longer talk of shifting him to bullpen because of diminutive size.
SS Raul Adalberto Mondesi (18) 

Scouts continue to rave over his advanced skills and label him a virtual can’t-miss as an impact shortstop.
LHP Sean Manaea (22)

Was a potential No. 1 overall pick last June before dropping due to pending hip surgery; he could be an absolute steal.
OF Jorge Bonifacio (20)

Missed time last year because of a broken hand, but his potential is a big reason the Royals were willing to trade Wil Myers.
RHP Miguel Almonte (20)

Shows advanced stuff and poise; could move quickly after strong first full season of stateside ball.

Beyond the Box Score
All-Star talk The Royals had three players selected last season to the All-Star Game for the first time since 1988. All three took the field in the seventh inning at Citi Field in New York — catcher Salvy Perez, left fielder Alex Gordon and relief pitcher Greg Holland. Further, Perez’s single in the eighth inning marked the first All-Star hit by a Royals player since Bo Jackson went 2-for-4 with a homer and a stolen base in the 1989 All-Star Game at Anaheim, Calif.
Moore extended General manager Dayton Moore received a two-year contract extension in late November, which binds him to the club through the 2016 season. Moore took the post in June 2006 and will, if he remains in place for the full term of his extension, become the longest-serving GM in franchise history.
Gold Standard The Royals had three Gold Glove recipients for the first time in franchise history. Gordon won a third straight award in left field, while Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer were first-time recipients. The Royals also had two players who were finalists at their position — shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
Record Payroll It’s getting harder and harder to cast owner David Glass as a penny-pinching tightwad. The Royals set a franchise record for payroll for the second straight year at an estimated $95 million. The payroll was $38.2 million as recently as 2011.
Revamped staff Manager Ned Yost received a new two-year contract after the season and revamped his staff by adding two ex-managers and one long-time manager from the club’s minor-league system. Former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu is the new bench and catching coach; former Cubs manager Dale Sveum is the new third-base and infield coach; and Mike Jirschele, who spent the last 11 seasons as the manager at Class AAA Omaha, will fill unspecified duties on the big-league staff.
Extra sauce DH Billy Butler introduced his own brand of barbecue sauce last spring to barbecue-mad Kansas City as a fund-raising project for his Hit-It-A-Ton foundation, which provides food for needy families. Butler also contributes with his bat: a ton of food (roughly $250) for every homer and a half-a-ton of food (roughly $125) for every double.

Teaser:
This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/conference-tournament-primer-dark-horses-every-major-league
Body:

Conference tournament time is back, serving as a reminder that essentially any team has a chance to play for a national championship in college basketball.

Of course, that’s not realistic, but for most of the teams in the country starting last week, the only thing that separates them from the NCAA Tournament is three, four or five wins in a row.

Last season, Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament to clinch an NCAA bid. Colorado came from obscurity two years ago to win the Pac-12 Tournament and knock regular season champion Washington to the NIT.

In our look at potential dark horses for conference tournament titles, not all of them need to win out to get into the NCAA field, but they’re certainly not the favorites to cut down nets by Saturday or Sunday.

Others, though, are conference tournament or bust and just might have the ability to catch a hot streak all the way to Selection Sunday.

ACC: NC State
The Wolfpack have been average at best for most of the season, but sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been one of the top scorers in the nation of late. He scored a total of 83 points in the final two regular-season games to power him to ACC Player of the Year honors.

American: Memphis
The Tigers lacked consistency throughout much of the regular season, but they will have the luxury of playing the tournament on their home floor, the FedExForum. Josh Pastner’s team won its final seven AAC home games.

Atlantic 10: Dayton
The hottest team in the league started 1-5 but finished 10-6. Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, doesn’t need to win the A-10 Tourney to get in the field, but it could happen anyway.

Big 12: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a losing record in league play, but this is probably the second-most talented roster in the Big 12. Marcus Smart is capable of leading his team to four wins in four days.

Big East: St. John’s
In an honest moment, most coaches in the league will tell you that St. John’s might have the most talented team in the league. The Red Storm rallied late to finish 10–8. This is a dangerous team.

Big Ten: Nebraska
Tim Miles has done a tremendous job making Nebraska basketball (or Nebrasketball) relevant in the Big Ten. The Huskers won nine of their final 10 games to earn the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis.

Mountain West: Nevada
The Wolf Pack are a streaky group with an elite point guard who can take over in Deonte Burton. The Pack finished with a losing record overall but won three of their last four, including wins over Boise State on the road and UNLV.

Pac-12: Oregon
It was a strange season for the Ducks, who lost five in a row in January and then ended the regular season with seven straight wins. This team has a ton of weapons.

SEC: Tennessee
It’s always dangerous to pick Tennessee in the SEC Tournament — the Vols have not advanced to Saturday since 2010 — but this team is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.

Teaser:
Conference Tournament Primer: Dark Horses for every major league
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/conference-tournament-primer-picks-every-major-league
Body:

Picking No. 1 seeds is no fun. It’s not fun on your NCAA bracket and certainly not fun in the conference tournaments.

Not to mention it’s statistically impossible for all No. 1 seeds to advance all the way to a tournament championship.

All of the teams at No. 1 in the league tournaments have their NCAA bids wrapped up and some, including Florida and probably Arizona, already have No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs in play. In other words, a few No. 1 seeds don’t have much more they need to accomplish in the conference tournaments.

How much will that come into play this season? We’ll find out this week.

ACC: Virginia 
The Cavs will enter the ACC Tournament with something to prove. They won the regular-season title but probably have not been given proper credit due to their relatively soft league schedule. Tony Bennett will have his team ready to play.

American: Louisville 
Russ Smith and the defending national champs head to Memphis on a mission. A No. 1 seed is probably out of reach, but a title this weekend could vault the Cardinals to a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Atlantic 10: VCU
Top-seeded Saint Louis is in a cold snap and few of the league’s bubble teams look like they can pull of tournament championship. VCU’s offense doesn’t always click, but the havoc defense is a difficult matchup in a tournament setting.

Big 12: Iowa State
The Cyclones are built for postseason success. They have star power (three players average at least 16 points per game), experience (two senior starters) and are very well coached.

Big East: Creighton
The Bluejays have some deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor, but they score with tremendous efficiency. This team, led by senior Doug McDermott, will be eager to shine on the big stage of Madison Square Garden.

Big Ten: Michigan
The Big Ten is loaded with elite coaches, but Michigan just might have the best game day coach in the business in John Beilein. He will find a way to lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Tournament championship since 1998.

Mountain West: New Mexico
The Lobos routed top-seeded San Diego State the first time around in Albuquerque and controlled the rematch until the Aztecs switched defensive game plans in the second half. New Mexico won’t be caught off guard if these teams meet a third time around.

Pac-12: Arizona
The Wildcats have only lost three times this season — all on the road. On a neutral court, Arizona is by far the best team in the league. Look for Sean Miller’s team to coast to the title.

SEC: Florida
Florida doesn’t have a ton to play for — the Gators have already secured a No. 1 seed — but Billy Donovan has done a great job keeping his team motivated this season.

Teaser:
Conference Tournament Primer: Picks for every major league
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-basketball/bubble-teams-most-gain-conference-tournaments
Body:

The NCAA selection committee likes to remind us that a team’s entire body of work is being judged on Selection Sunday.

Why, then, does it seem that last impressions matter every season?

The conference tournaments give every team another chance to prove why they’re worthy of an NCAA Tournament slot or show why they were on the bubble in the first place.

Roughly 10 spots in the field may be up for grabs as the major conference tournaments begin Wednesday and Thursday. With 17 teams in play for those spots, these games could make all the difference.

The spotlight primarly will be on the Big East and SEC where the most teams could play their way in or out of the field, but those aren't the only leagues with bubble teams in critical spots.

On the Spot Thursday

Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest
The Panthers have lost two of their last five games to Florida State and NC State and needed overtime to beat Notre Dame and Clemson. That’s not the issue as much as a paltry non-conference schedule. The Panthers’ schedule strength ranks 74th nationally, contributing to an RPI rank of 45 despite 23 wins. Both Notre Dame and Wake Forest are outside of the RPI top 100. Losing to either could be the end of Pitt.

SMU vs. Houston
SMU didn’t challenge itself in the non-conference schedule, so the Mustangs may sweat a bit even thought they defeated UConn twice and Cincinnati and Memphis in the conference schedule. After the No. 5 seed in the tournament the American has no other RPI top 100 teams, so a loss to Houston would qualify as a bad one. SMU has already lost to two such teams in the bottom half of the AAC in Temple and USF.

Dayton vs. George Mason
The Flyers have defeated Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational and A-10 regular season champion Saint Louis. Avoiding a bad loss in the first game of the league tournament may be all Dayton, 9-6 against the top 100, needs to seal a bid.

Kansas State vs. Iowa State
Here’s the good news: Kansas State has seven RPI top 50 wins. Here’s the bad news: They’re all at home. K-State is 0-6 against the top 60 outside of Manhattan. The wins may be enough to get the Wildcats into the field, but a win over Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals would help Bruce Weber sleep easier.

St. John’s vs. Providence
This traditional Big East matchup sets up the first tournament in the league’s new alignment. It’s an important game, too, as a potential elimination game for both teams, but certainly for St. John’s. The RPIs just outside the top 50 and schedule strength are similar, but St. John’s has fewer top 50 wins (one) than Providence (two) and more bad losses (again, 2-1). St. John’s will be playing on its homecourt at Madison Square Garden.

Xavier vs. Marquette
A pair of double overtime heartbreakers against Providence and St. John’s ended Marquette’s hope to climb onto the bubble. Xavier may have the third-best NCAA profile in the Big East after Villanova and Creighton, but the Musketeers have too many losses (Seton Hall twice, USC) to think they can lose to Marquette and still feel safe in the field.

Minnesota vs. Penn State
All three of Minnesota’s big wins this season (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa) have taken place in Minneapolis, so the Gophers’ goals will be two-pronged. First, beat Penn State again after crushing the Nittany Lions 81-63 in the regular season finale and then defeat the Badgers in the quarterfinals for a top 50 neutral site win. Defeating Penn State is a must. In the event of a loss to Wisconsin loss Friday, Minnesota will have to hope its seventh-ranked strength of schedule will hold up.

Arizona State vs. Stanford
The Sun Devils are yet another team that has a few good wins, but all of them at home. Arizona State is probably pretty safe given that one of those home wins is over Arizona, but beating Stanford on a neutral floor would be a nice final touch.

Arkansas vs. South Carolina
Arkansas flopped in a major way with an 83-58 loss to Alabama in the last day of the regular season. With an RPI of 60 and schedule strength of 80, the Razorbacks have all their hopes pinned on the sweep of Kentucky. Probably not a great idea to follow that Alabama loss with another defeat to Auburn or South Carolina, both ranked outside of the RPI 150.

Missouri vs. Texas A&M
If the 72-45 loss to Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t an eliminator for Missouri, a loss to Texas A&M certainly would be. Missouri may need to upset Florida in the semifinals to get back into the field. Good luck, Mizzou.

On the Spot on Friday

Tennessee vs. South Carolina/Arkansas
Beyond Florida, no team in the SEC has been hotter to close the season than Tennessee. The Volunteers may be safe after the rout of Missouri, but a potential quarterfinal matchup with Arkansas should have both teams under pressure.

St. Joseph’s vs. Dayton/Fordham
The best case for St. Joe’s, who received a bye to the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, could be to face Dayton. A win for the Hawks would be the third this season over a fellow bubble team in the Flyers. A home loss to La Salle in the regular season finale — a fourth loss outside of the top 50 for St. Joe’s — put pressure on the Hawks to win an A-10 Tournament game.

Nebraska vs. Ohio State/Purdue
The Cornhuskers may have done enough with a win over Wisconsin in the regular season finale to seal an NCAA bid. Nebraska has three top 50 wins (Ohio State, at Michigan State) and three losses outside of the top 100 (at Penn State, at Purdue, UAB). A loss to Purdue — which faces Ohio State in the first round — would be the worst-case scenario for Nebraska.

Teaser:
Bubble Teams with the Most to Gain in the Conference Tournaments
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-acc-defensive-backs-bcs-era
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The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Dre Bly, North Carolina (1996-98)
Not only one of the coolest names in college football but one of the coolest customers on an island all by himself. Bly set the ACC single-season record with 11 interceptions in 1996 and left school with an ACC record 20 INTs in his career (both since broken). He was a consensus All-American as a freshman and sophomore (one of few in NCAA history to accomplish the feat) and was a second-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

2. Anthony Poindexter, Virginia (1995-98)
He was a leader and one of the hardest-hitting players to ever play the game — and made one of the most famous tackles in NCAA history. He set a school record with 98 tackles as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior in 1997. Despite getting injured late in the year, Poindexter earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and became a two-time All-American. He was the only defensive back in the ACC to win conference Defensive Player of the Year honors during the BCS Era. The three-time, first-team All-ACC pick finished his career with 12 interceptions.

3. Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech (2002-05)
Playing multiple positions all over the defense, Williams entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. He was a first-team All-ACC pick as a junior while leading Tech to an ACC championship with a league-leading five interceptions and 19 passes defensed. In 2005, Williams was a unanimous All-American and Jack Tatum Trophy winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He was a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

4. Antrel Rolle, Miami 2001-04)
He only played one season in the ACC but it was a good one. Along with Sean Taylor, Rolle was one of just four true freshmen to play on the dominant 2001 BCS National Championship team. He was an All-Big East pick as a sophomore and a unanimous All-American in the ACC in 2004 as a senior. He played safety in the NFL after being selected eighth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but he was an elite college cornerback, shutting down names like Larry Fitzgerald (3 rec., 26 yds) and Calvin Johnson (2 rec., 10 yds) during his career.

5. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest (2005-08)
The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick led the ACC in interceptions and passes defended in both 2007 and '08. He totaled 15 picks and 38 passes broken up over that span. He was a consensus All-American as a senior and his 21 career interceptions is an ACC all-time record. Additionally, he scored on four INT returns, tying Randy Neal of Virginia for the all-time ACC record. 

6. David Amerson, NC State (2010-12)
When it comes to interceptions, few have been better in the ACC than Amerson. The Wolfpack coverman set an ACC record and led the nation with 13 interceptions in his 2011 sophomore season. His 18 career picks rank third all-time and his 287 return yards are fourth all-time in ACC history. Amerson won the Jack Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top defensive back and was a first-team All-American as well. He finished with 177 tackles and three INT touchdown returns for his career. Amerson was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

7. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (2009-13)
There wasn't much that Joyner didn't accomplish while at Florida State. The five-star recruit played 55 career games, won two ACC titles and a BCS National Championship while earning back-to-back first-team All-ACC honors. Joyner finished with 197 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks, eight interceptions and 1,260 return yards.

8. Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech (2004-07)
One of best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL, Flowers started the final 27 games of his career before leaving early for the NFL Draft in 2008. He played on two ACC championship teams and was an All-American in 2007. He finished his career with 157 tackles, 17.0 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in three seasons on the field before Kansas City took him in the second round.

9. Robert Carswell, Clemson (1997-2000)
A leader both on and off the field, Carswell is one of the Tigers' greatest players. He was named to the first-team All-ACC squad twice, started 41 consecutive games and is the all-time tackle leader for any defensive back in Clemson history with over 373 stops.

10. Victor Harris, Virginia Tech (2005-08)
The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick helped lead Tech to back-to-back ACC championships during his junior and senior seasons. His 15 career interceptions are a school record and good for 15th all-time in ACC history. His 278 return yards are tied for fifth all-time in ACC history. Harris posted 128 total tackles and scored on five return touchdowns.

Just missed the cut:

11. Tay Cody, Florida State (1996-2000)
Cody played on three consecutive teams that made it to the BCS national title game and was a consensus All-American on the 2000 squad that lost to Oklahoma. He finished his career with 12 career interceptions and was a third-round NFL Draft pick.

12. Tye Hill, Clemson (2002-05)
After playing running back as a freshman, Hill switched to cornerback and excelled for three seasons on defense. He eventually earned All-ACC honors and was a consensus All-American and Thorpe Finalist in his final season at Clemson. He had 114 total tackles in three full seasons as a starter.

13. Ross Cockrell, Duke (2010-13)
As one of the senior leaders for the Blue Devils, Cockrell helped his program reach unprecedented levels of success on the field. He was a two-time, first-team All-ACC pick on the only back-to-back bowl teams in Duke history. He posted 233 tackles and 12 interceptions during his career, but he will always be remembered for being a key part of the first 10-win in school history.

14. Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech (2007-09)
Few players can match the raw talent of the current Packers' starting safety. He was a three-year performer for Tech and posted 235 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 32 passes deflected and 14 interceptions before leaving early for the NFL Draft in 2010.

15. John Talley, Duke (2003-06)
Talley was a two-time, first-team All-ACC pick and is the ACC’s all-time leader with 395 interception return yards. His 18 career interceptions rank third all-time in ACC history and he earned All-American honors following a senior campaign that included an ACC-leading seven INTs along with 42 tackles (5.5 for loss).

16. Chase Minnifield, Virginia (2008-11)
After playing all 36 games in his first three seasons for bad UVa teams, Minnifield helped return the Cavaliers to their only bowl game in the last six seasons. He was a two-time, first-team All-ACC selection and finished his career with 151 tackles, 12.0 for loss, 13 interceptions, 30 passes defensed and nearly 1,200 return yards.

17. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (2009-11)
He played in all 39 games of his career, starting for two full seasons and earning first-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore. His nine interceptions that year are a Tech single-season record and are fourth all-time in ACC history. He also sits 15th all-time in the ACC with 815 punt return yards. Hosley posted 109 tackles and 12 INTs in his three-year career.

18. Jamie Silva, Boston College (2004-07)
One of only a handful of consensus All-Americans from the ACC at DB, Silva earned that honor with a league-leading eight interceptions in his final season. He was a three-year starter in ACC play (one year in the Big East) and had 269 tackles, 15.0 for loss and 13 interceptions in three ACC seasons.

19. Terrence Holt, NC State (1999-02)
A three-year starter and special teams force, Holt was a two-time All-ACC first-teamer and had a unique knack for blocking kicks. He posted 12 career blocks — eight field goals and four punts — and collected 307 career tackles.

20. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (2007-10)
The troubled Clemson defensive back was a freshman All-ACC pick in 2007 and a two-time, first-team All-ACC pick as a junior and senior. Despite major off-the-field issues, McDaniel finished with 275 tackles, 20.0 for loss and 15 interceptions.

Best of the rest:

21. Dexter Reid, North Carolina (2000-03)
22. Lloyd Harrison, NC State (1996-99)
23. Kelly Jennings, Miami (2002-05)
24. Josh Gattis, Wake Forest (2003-06)
25. Chris Hope, Florida State (1999-2001)
26. Kenny Phillips, Miami (2005-07)
27. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (2010-12)
28. Brandon Harris Miami (2008-10)
29. Antwan Edwards, Clemson (1995-98)
30. Stanford Samuels, Florida State (2000-03)

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-all-128-college-football-coaching-jobs-2014
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Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.

So what exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherit advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State.

Debating the best job in the nation or any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program.

With all of this in mind, we have tried to rank the jobs in college football based on the attractiveness from a coaching perspective. As we mentioned above, many factors were considered. Tradition, facilities, location, budget and recruiting ability are just a few things we considered. But in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach if we had a blank slate and all of the jobs were open?

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking College Football's Coaching Jobs for 2014

1. Texas

Pros: Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. Also, it’s located in a state that treats high school football like a religion.

Cons: Texas has a ton going for it (see above), but the Longhorns are only 25–14 in the last three seasons. The program is not immune to losing. And while Texas is a recruiting power, there are three other AQ conference schools in the state, and virtually every other national power dips into Texas to recruit as well.

Final Verdict: It’s easier said than done — just ask David McWilliams and John Mackovic — but everything is in place to win big on a consistent basis at Texas. Yes, the Longhorn Network creates a few headaches for the coaches, but elite talent is close in the recruiting ranks and money isn't a problem. And without a conference championship game, there's a favorable path to a spot in college football's playoff format.
 

2. Florida

Pros: Location. Location. Location. Florida is a public university in a state that produces a tremendous amount of top-flight talent. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers one of the best atmospheres in college football, and the fan base is as rabid as there is in the nation.

Cons: Expectations are sky-high at a school that won two national championships in three seasons from 2006-08. If you don’t win — and win big — things can turn ugly very quickly. Just ask Ron Zook or even Will Muschamp after 2013.

Final Verdict: Florida presents one of the elite coaching opportunities in college football. You have everything at your disposal to compete for national championships on an annual basis. There is no excuse not to be good at Florida.
 

3. Alabama

Pros: Tradition. With the possible exception of Notre Dame, no school in the country has more tradition than Alabama. The Tide have won 23 SEC championships and (depending on who you ask) 15 national titles. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Coaching football at Alabama is arguably the most stressful job in collegiate athletics. It’s takes a certain kind of coach to deal with that type of scrutiny.

Final Verdict: Alabama is unquestionably one of the premier jobs in the nation. The coach who can deal with the demands of the job — like Nick Saban — will win at a very high level in Tuscaloosa.
 

4. USC

Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.

Cons: USC is the top job in L.A., but the city does have another program with tremendous potential. It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town.   

Final Verdict: If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
 

5. Ohio State

Pros: There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one school named The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have been a consistent force on the field and in recruiting since Woody Hayes took over in the early 1950s.

Cons: Expectations are extremely high in Columbus. Consider the case of John Cooper: In 13 seasons, Cooper went 111–43–4, winning 10 games or more five times. But he went 2–10–1 against Michigan and lost his job after the 2000 season.

Final Verdict: Everything is in place to win a national championship at Ohio State. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate, and the recruiting base is outstanding. Just don’t lose to Michigan.
 

6. Oklahoma

Pros: Oklahoma has been a dominant force in college football dating back to the late 1930s. The program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players on an annual basis. The Big 12, with no Nebraska and no conference title game, offers an easier path to a national championship for OU.

Cons: The state does not produce enough talent to stock the Sooners’ roster with the type of players needed to compete for championship. Recruiting at a high level out of state is a must.

Final Verdict: Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma — John Blake went 8–16 in three seasons (1996-98) — but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. Winning a national championship is well within your reach.
 

7. Notre Dame

Pros: Notre Dame has three unique advantages compared to almost every school in the country — a national following, its own television contract and an unparalleled history that includes 11 consensus national titles.

Cons: Brian Kelly has returned Notre Dame to national prominence, but there was a long stretch in which the Fighting Irish struggled to compete at an elite level. From 1998-2011, ND went 99–72 with an unthinkable six non-winning seasons. The school’s relatively high academic standards can make recruiting more challenging. Also, Notre Dame lacks the home-state recruiting territory of other national powers. Indiana is not great state for high school football.

Final Verdict: Notre Dame might not be the same job it was 20 years ago, but this is still a great situation for the right coach. You can win a national title with the Fighting Irish.
 

8. Georgia

Pros: Georgia has tremendous tradition and is located in arguably the finest college town in America — Athens. The Peach State might not produce talent at the same rate as Florida, Texas or California, but metro Atlanta is always strong, and small towns such as Columbus, Valdosta and Warner Robins consistently produce elite talent.

Cons: There are really no negatives to be found at Georgia, other than the fact that you are competing in the very difficult SEC, and you have a fan base that demands you win at a high level.

Final Verdict: Georgia is a great situation, but you clearly have to have the right guy in place to win big. After Vince Dooley won the third of three straight SEC crowns in 1982, the Bulldogs went nearly two decades — and went through two more coaches — before their next league title, won by Mark Richt in 2002.

9. LSU

Pros: It’s become a bit of a cliché, but there really is nothing like being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in the fall. That environment is one reason the Tigers are able to recruit so well. The other? The state of Louisiana is arguably the most underrated talent producer in the nation.

Cons: LSU has so much going for it, but why have so many coaches failed to win at a high level in Baton Rouge? From 1971 though 2000, the Tigers only won one outright SEC championship, in 1986 under Bill Arnsparger.

Final Verdict: It’s hard to find a reason why LSU would not be a desirable coaching position. Sure the competition is tough and the fans are demanding, but that comes with the territory. The school has won two national titles in the past 11 seasons.
 

10. Michigan

Pros: Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The Wolverines have been a national power since the 1890s and they play in one of the largest venues in the country, 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation have allowed Michigan to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally.

Cons: Michigan is an old-school program that is very set in its ways. A coach who comes in with a new philosophy — for example, Rich Rodriguez — will have a tough time being accepted.

Final Verdict: Michigan is no doubt an elite job, but as we saw in the Rodriguez era — he won a total of 15 games in three years — you have to be the right fit to win big in Ann Arbor.
 

11. Florida State

Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year? A new indoor practice facility was a needed addition for the Seminoles to keep up in college football's arms race.  

Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles were chasing a national championship, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons. Could that hurt Florida State in the new playoff format? Probably not, but we have to be nitpicky when talking about one of the top 10-15 jobs in the nation.

Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning isn't automatic, but the Seminoles are coming off a national championship, and Jimbo Fisher clearly has steered this program back on track.
 

12. Oregon

Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.

Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged nine wins per season since 1994.

Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money, Mike Bellotti’s recruiting and Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry transformed this program. It is now clearly one of the most-desirable positions in the country.
 

13. Texas A&M

Pros: Texas A&M’s facilities are among the very best in the nation. Kyle Field was a bit on the old side and is being renovated, but as far as the facilities for recruiting — football complex in the south end zone, the indoor practice facility — A&M has very few rivals. The recruiting base is among the best in the country, and the Aggies, the only SEC school in the state of Texas, should be able to battle the University of Texas for the best players in the state. 

Cons: Even with so much going for it, Texas A&M has had trouble sustaining success throughout its history.   

Final Verdict: Texas A&M is a very intriguing position. It has everything you would want in a job — great facilities, strong following, tremendous recruiting base — but the competition in the SEC West is fierce. If you win at A&M, you will have earned it.
 

14. Penn State (Note: These rankings do not take NCAA sanctions into consideration.)

Pros: Penn State is an enormous state university in an extremely fertile recruiting area. The Nittany Lions play in the second-largest facility in the country (Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282), and they have won two national championships in the past 30 years

Cons: Penn State recovered nicely in the latter half of the 2000s, but it’s a bit disconcerting that a program with so much going for it was capable of having four losing seasons in a five-year span like Penn State did from 2000-04. Truly elite programs should not suffer through prolonged droughts.

Final Verdict: Penn State is difficult to evaluate at this point. Sanctions are not supposed to affect these rankings, but Penn State is a unique case. This is a great job, but the program will not compete at a high level until the sanctions are over.
 

15.  Auburn

Pros: Auburn and Georgia are the only two schools in the SEC with at least five winning conference seasons in each of the past four decades. Clearly, this program can be a consistent winner in the nation’s most difficult conference.

Cons: Auburn is a state school with a great following, but it will always be No. 2 in Alabama behind the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa.

Final Verdict: If your ego can handle being the second most important coach in the state, then Auburn can be a destination job. The school — with its fine tradition, strong facilities and outstanding recruiting base — has proven over time that it can compete on a national level. The Tigers, after all, won the BCS crown in 2010 and played for the title in the 2013 season.
 

16. Tennessee

Pros: Who wouldn’t want to recruit to picturesque Neyland Stadium, with its 100,000-plus orange-clad zealots cheering on the Vols each week? And while Tennessee has struggled in recent years, the program enjoyed tremendous success in the not-too-distant past. From 1989-2001, the Vols went 80–20–1 in the SEC and claimed four league titles. During that span, they were ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll seven times.

Cons: The Vols must recruit nationally because the state of Tennessee does not produce enough BCS conference players to stock the school’s roster. This is not a concern for UT’s chief SEC rivals Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama.

Final Verdict: Tennessee is a great place to coach, but the Vols have slipped down the SEC food chain over the past decade. We now have Tennessee as the No. 7 job in the SEC.
 

17. Nebraska

Pros: Strong tradition. Amazing facilities. Passionate fans. Those three things don’t guarantee success, but they are a nice place to start. The Big Ten West Division has some good programs — Iowa and Wisconsin — but Nebraska should be in position to compete for a division title on an annual basis.

Cons: The Huskers won three national titles in the 1990s, but the program slipped a bit over the past decade. The state of Nebraska does not produce many high-end BCS conference players each year, and the program no longer has the sex-appeal to steal elite players from the East Coast like it did in the 1970s and 80s.

Final Verdict: Nebraska is a unique coaching position. You have everything in place to win big — except a local recruiting base. How big is that hurdle? Significant but not insurmountable. The Huskers are no longer a top-10 job but still very desirable.
 

18. UCLA

Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC. The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.

Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.

Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC and Oregon are the only programs that have enjoyed sustained success in the past 15 years. The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.
 

19. South Carolina

Pros: South Carolina is home to arguably the most loyal fans in the nation. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Gamecock fans routinely filled 80,000-seat Williams Brice Stadium even though their team averaged only six wins per season. In addition, the facilities are great, and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Steve Spurrier has broken through in recent years, but South Carolina football has historically been one of the nation’s most underachieving programs.

Final Verdict: South Carolina has won 18 SEC games in the past three seasons — by far its best stretch since joining the league — but we’re still not ready to put this program on the same level as SEC royalty like Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida.  
 

20. Clemson

Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many of its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.

Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles since 1990. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why has this program frequently underachieved?

Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, is willing to pay big for a coaching staff and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
 

21. Miami

Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.

Cons: Miami has a small fan base and has struggled to fill its stadium. Last season, the Canes ranked 36th in the nation in attendance, averaging 53,837 per game (according to the NCAA at least) at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.

Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
 

22. Oklahoma State

Pros: T. Boone Pickens is a very wealthy man, and he’s a big fan of Oklahoma State football. As a result, the Cowboys boast some of the best facilities in the nation. And these facilities help the O-State coaches tap into a fertile recruiting ground in nearby Texas.

Cons: Since Oklahoma State joined the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have finished ahead of Oklahoma five times. The school will always be the No. 2 program in the state.

Final Verdict: In a vacuum, Oklahoma State would be a wonderful place to coach, but if you have your sights set on competing for a national title on a regular basis, Stillwater might not be the place for you. There’s a reason the school has only won two conference titles since the mid-1950s.
 

23. Washington

Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.

Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags signficantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.

Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
 

24. Wisconsin

Pros: Wisconsin has been transformed into a football school over the past two decades. Badger faithful pack 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium each week and create one the best environments in the nation. Madison also is a great place to live.

Cons: The school’s local recruiting base isn’t strong; the state has not produced a national top-100 player since 2007. Also, the Badgers have only been relevant on the national scene since the early 1990s. Wisconsin lacks the tradition of many of its Big Ten rivals.

Final Verdict: Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin from a Big Ten afterthought to a significant player in college football. But the Badgers’ place as a top program is far from secure. Wisconsin, more than most of the other schools in the Big Ten on this list, needs the right coach in place to remain successful.
 

25. Arkansas

Pros: Recently renovated Reynolds Razorback Stadium — with its 72,000 seats and upgraded LED video screen — is one of the most underrated venues in the nation. Arkansas is the only BCS program in the state, giving the school an advantage in recruiting homegrown talent.

Cons: The Hogs have found it tough to win consistently since bolting the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s. Arkansas is 85-95-2 in the SEC and has only once had back-to-back winning seasons in the league.

Final Verdict: Arkansas is quite similar to several of the non-elite coaching positions in the SEC. It’s a good job, but it’s not a destination job for a coach with national title aspirations.
 

26. Michigan State

Pros: Michigan State seemingly has everything in place to be a major player in the Big Ten — great fan support (averaged 72,328 per game in ’13), good facilities, strong recruiting base and decent tradition.

Cons: Despite all of the positives listed above, Michigan State has only won two Big Ten titles — in 2009 and 2013 — in two decades and has only averaged 6.1 wins in the 47 seasons since claiming a share of the 1966 national championship. Also, there’s the Michigan thing: No matter how much success the Spartans enjoy, they will always be the second school in the state behind Michigan.

Final Verdict: Michigan State has been an underachiever and will never be the No. 1 program in its own state. Still, it’s a good job. If you can change the culture in East Lansing —which Mark Dantonio has apparently done — there is no reason Michigan State can’t contend for Big Ten titles on a semi-regular basis.
 

27. Virginia Tech

Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.

Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic when Beamer steps aside?

Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Prior to a 7-6 mark in 2012, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in the previous eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
 

28. North Carolina

Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.

Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.4 ACC wins.

Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-90s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
 

29. Louisville

Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC. This article is more of a long-term reflection of the job, but it's hard to ignore Louisville's athletic department, which could be the best in the nation.

Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most top 25 programs possess. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game. Moving to the ACC is a huge plus for the program, but Louisville also is moving into a harder league in a division featuring Clemson and Florida State. The Cardinals went from the No. 1 program in the American to the No. 6 job in the ACC.

Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the ACC, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong won 37 games in four years. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles. The move to the ACC helps with stability and the long-term outlook for this program, making the Cardinals a fringe top 25-30 job in the nation.
 

30. Ole Miss

Pros: Historically, Mississippi produces as many Division I prospects per capita as any state in the nation. There is plenty of competition for these recruits (Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, etc.), but a good coach will be able to keep the Rebels stocked with solid talent. Support for Rebel football is also very strong; the Rebs averaged 59,303 per game in 2013. Also, Ole Miss’ facilities have improved tremendously in the past five years.

Cons: You have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time in which Ole Miss was a major player in the SEC. The Rebels haven’t won a league title since 1963, and they are only team in the West (outside of SEC West newcomer Texas A&M) that has not played in an SEC Championship Game.

Final Verdict: Ole Miss has made the commitment to its football program, but it takes more than a commitment — and more than one top-10 recruiting class — to beat the elite SEC programs on a consistent basis. This job has great potential, but Ole Miss hasn’t “arrived” yet.
 

31. Missouri

Pros: Missouri has an underrated recruiting base. There is a solid crop of instate talent every year, and Mizzou does a decent job landing players from Texas and Illinois.

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Missouri. Dating back to the days of the Big Eight, the Tigers have only had eight winning seasons in league play since 1983. The SEC East presents several huge challenges on an annual basis.

Final Verdict: Missouri is a good job — but not a great job. You can average eight wins per season and go to decent bowl games. Can the Tigers be a consistent threat to win the SEC East? Coming off a division title in 2013, can Missouri maintain its place at the top of the SEC East. Or will programs like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee rise back to the top?
 

32. Iowa

Pros: Three key elements make Iowa an attractive job — it’s the top school in the state (sorry, Iowa State), it has a strong tradition of excellence (five Big Ten titles since 1981, two BCS bowls since ‘03) and it has great fan support (67,125 per game in ’13).

Cons: Iowa might be the top dog in the state, but the hunting grounds aren’t very fertile. To remain competitive, the Hawkeyes’ staff will always have to go into other teams’ home states to recruit.

Final Verdict: It’s difficult for a school that doesn’t have a strong local recruiting base to compete for national title. It can be done — Nebraska won three titles in the 1990s — but that is a very big hurdle to climb.
 

33. Stanford

Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.

Cons: Until recently, sustained success had been tough to achieve on The Farm. From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Stanford was unable to string together more than two straight wining seasons. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.

Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that has emerged as a national power in recent years. 
 

34. Baylor

Pros: Baylor’s recruiting base has always made it an intriguing job. There is more than enough talent in the state to stock a talented roster, even with Texas and Texas A&M grabbing most of the elite players. The school will open a new, 45,000-seat Stadium on Brazos River in 2014. It will be among the nicest facilities in the nation.

Cons: Baylor will always be down low on the food chain among the FBS schools in the state of Texas. As a small, private school, support will always be an issue. In 2012, on the heels of a 10-win season that produced a Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor only averaged 41,194 per game to rank last in the Big 12.

Final Analysis: Art Briles is proving that Baylor can compete in the Big 12. The Bears have won 29 games in the past three seasons — the best three-year stretch in school history. The new stadium and the university’s commitment to the program should allow Baylor to remain relevant if Briles ever bolts for greener pastures.
 

35. West Virginia

Pros: West Virginia has an SEC feel to it. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with in the Mountain State; the Mountaineers are the game in town.

Cons: West Virginia’s recruiting base isn’t as strong as many of its rivals in the Big 12. The state simply doesn’t produce many elite-level prospects.

Final Verdict: History tells us that West Virginia is a very good job. The school has won at least 10 games six times since 1988. But it’s not a job without its challenges. It’s a strange geographic fit in the Big 12, which presents some difficulties on the recruiting trail.  
 

36. BYU

Pros: BYU has been one of the most consistent winners in college football over the past four decades. Since 1973, the Cougars have only had three losing seasons — all in the 2000s under Gary Crowton — and they have a national title (1984) on their resume. The school’s LDS Church affiliation gives it an inside track to land the elite Mormon recruits from all over the country.

Cons: The recruiting pool, while national to some degree, is somewhat limited at BYU; the school has trouble attracting black players. BYU’s decision to bolt the Mountain West and become an Independent will be a move to watch over the next 10 years. Does it hurt in terms of the playoff picture? Can the Cougars challenge for a spot in one of the top bowl games?

Final Verdict: BYU is a unique position. For the right coach, it’s a great job. You can win a bunch of games in Provo, but it remains to be seen if the Cougars can become a national player as one of only four FBS independent schools.
 

37. Pittsburgh

Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 15 of the 32 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.

Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
 

38. Arizona State

Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. And recently, the program began its renovation project on Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.

Cons: While the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-12 seasons only twice since John Cooper bolted in 1987.

Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC, Oregon and UCLA will always the top jobs in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
 

39. Arizona

Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-12 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.

Cons: Since 1995, Arizona has only had a winning Pac-12 record three times — 1998, 2008 and 2009.

Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
 

40. Maryland

Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with Under Armour is a positive.

Cons: The move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.

Final Verdict: Maryland was a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape, especially in a division that features Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
 

41. Texas Tech

Pros: Texas Tech has proven it can win consistently. Prior to 2010, the Red Raiders had been .500 or better in league play — SWC and Big 12 — 22 times in the previous 25 seasons. The school has recently invested in the program with an $84 million renovation to Jones AT&T Stadium.

Cons: While the program has managed to remain competitive, winning titles has been very difficult in Lubbock. The school has not won an outright conference title since 1955, when it claimed its third straight Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. Also, recruiting to Lubbock — the outpost of the Big 12 — can be a bit difficult.

Final Verdict: Texas Tech might be the fourth most attractive job in its own state, but it’s still a very good program that has proven it can’t remain relevant in the Big 12.
 

42. TCU

Pros: TCU is located in the heart of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. The Horned Frogs have vastly improved their facilities over the past five years and now are a member of one of the nation’s top conferences.

Cons: TCU is now back in a power conference, but it’s still a small private school (8,000-plus undergrads) in league comprised mostly of massive state schools. The fan base will never be as large as many of its rivals.

Final Verdict: Perhaps no school other than Boise State has improved its national profile in the past 5-10 years as much as TCU. The school is back in a power conference after bouncing around for 16 years in the mid-major ranks (WAC to C-USA to MWC). This is not an elite job — TCU will always take a back seat to Texas, Texas A&M and even Texas Tech in its own state — but it’s a much better opportunity for a coach than it was 10 years ago.
 

43. California

Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, have recently received a major upgrade.

Cons: Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.

Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
 

44. North Carolina State

Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.

Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only six winning league seasons since 1990.

Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC. 
 

45. Boise State

Pros: Boise State has dominated its league like no other school in the nation over the past decade. The Broncos won at least a share of the WAC eight times in the their final 10 years in the league, and they are 31–7 in their first three seasons in the Mountain West. The school has also been able to crash the BCS party two times in the past eight seasons.

Cons: The move from the WAC to the Mountain West is a plus, but the Broncos’ schedule strength — or lack thereof — will continue to be an issue as it fights for respect in the polls.

Final Verdict: With its blue turf and its deep bag of trick plays, Boise State has created a brand for itself on the college football landscape. This is a cozy job for someone not interested in all of the perks that come with coaching at a school with an SEC-type fan base.
 

46. Georgia Tech

Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.

Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second-most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.

Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, '90) and national (1990). 
 

47. Kentucky

Pros: Kentucky, after firing Joker Phillips, has made a commitment to football. The school has announced facilities upgrades, and the pay scale for the new staff is significantly higher. And while the state of Kentucky doesn’t produce many SEC-level players, Kentucky should be able to recruit nearby Ohio and still can dip into Georgia and Florida because of the school’s membership in the SEC.

Cons: Football, while important, will always be the No. 2 sport at Kentucky. And even though the school has some recruiting advantages — see above — it’s tough to win at a high level in the SEC when you can’t depend on stocking your roster with in-state talent.

Final Verdict: The level of competition in the SEC is better than ever. For example, Vanderbilt has climbed ahead of UK — for now — on the food chain. Mark Stoops is off to a great start, but it will difficult to win consistently at Kentucky.
 

48. Mississippi State

Pros: Mississippi State has shown an ability to field a competitive team on a semi-regular basis in the past two decades. The Bulldogs have had a winning overall record in 11 of the 22 seasons since the first wave of SEC expansion in 1991. That’s not great, but it’s better than most college football fans might expect. Support for Mississippi State football is at an all-time high; the Bulldogs averaged 55,695 (101.1 percent of capacity) at Davis Wade Stadium last season.

Cons: Recruiting top players to Starkville can be difficult. Not only does MSU have to battle Ole Miss for the best of the best in the state, but Alabama, Auburn and LSU are almost always in play for Mississippi’s top players.

Final Verdict: This is the toughest job in the SEC West — and maybe the entire league. Good coaches have shown the ability to remain relevant in the league, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Mississippi State can win a division that includes Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. 
 

49. Vanderbilt

Pros: Vanderbilt is an elite academic institution located in a great city. The school is spending more money than ever on athletics, from salaries for the coaching staff to the new indoor practice facility. While there is pressure to win at every school, expectations — even now after back-to-back nine-win seasons — will never be as great as other programs in the league. You aren’t going to get fired at Vanderbilt after one bad season.

Cons: Even with the recent upgrades, Vanderbilt trails the rest of the SEC in the facilities arms race. As the only private school in the SEC, the Commodores have the smallest fan base in the league — by far. Also, the academic requirements make recruiting that much more difficult for a staff that already has to overcome many hurdles. There is a reason that Vanderbilt went 29 years (from 1983 through 2011) without enjoying a single winning record in the SEC.

Final Verdict: James Franklin proved that a recruit can have the best of both worlds — get a Vanderbilt education and win games in the nation’s best conference. Still, this is a very difficult job, maybe the toughest of any school in an AQ conference. Can Derek Mason continue to build on what Franklin accomplished?
 

50. Rutgers

Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to High Point Solutions Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt. Moving from the Big East/American to the Big Ten is a huge opportunity for Rutgers and certainly helps the overall appeal of this job.

Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.

Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East/American. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers. In a division that features Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights have an uphill battle to compete for a division title on a yearly basis. But with the right coach, Rutgers can consistently compete for winning seasons.
 

51. Virginia

Pros: Virginia is a great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS-level recruits.

Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and '90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively stringent academic standards.

Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program. 
 

52. Illinois

Pros: Illinois’ local recruiting base — from Chicago down into St. Louis — is among the best in the Big Ten. The facilities (weight room, practice facility, locker rooms, etc.) are strong, and the stadium has received some renovations in recent years.

Cons: Basketball is — and will always be — the top sport at Illinois. Football, for whatever reason, has never been much of a threat to break into the upper echelon of the league. Also, the fan support at Illinois isn’t as strong as the top programs in the Big Ten. Last year, the Illini averaged only 43,787 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Despite being the fifth most populous state, Illinois checks in No. 10 in our list of the Big Ten’s most attractive coaching positions. There is a lot to like about the job, but there are also reasons why the school has only won three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s.
 

53. Colorado

Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.

Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. The Buffaloes recently announced a $170 million facility upgrade proposal, which is a step in the right direction. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.

Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program — which it claims to be doing now — CU cannot be considered an elite job.


54. Oregon State

Pros: This is not longer the Oregon State of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The program has proven it can be relevant in the Pac-12 for an extended period of time.

Cons: Oregon State is No. 2 program in a state that does not produce a high volume of Pac-12-quality players. The school has improved its facilities, but they pale in comparison to what the University of Oregon — funded by Nike — has to offer.

Final Verdict: This job is far more attractive now than it was in 1997, when Mike Riley began his first stint as the boss in Corvallis. But it’s a difficult job. Almost every school in the league has more going for it — from tradition to fan base to recruiting base — than Oregon State.
 

55. Utah

Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 8.7 wins over the past 10 years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. As a member of the Pac-12 South — along with USC and UCLA —  the Utes should enjoy success recruiting in Southern California.

Cons: Utah is a decent state for high school talent, but there aren’t nearly enough high-level players to stock the rosters both at Utah and BYU. 

Final Verdict: Utah had carved out a niche as one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. The move to the Pac-12, however, changed the profile of the program. It’s uncertain if Utah can be a significant player in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis. The Utes are just 5-13 in the Pac-12 over the last two seasons. It’s tough to envision this program being a more desirable destination than USC, UCLA and both of the Arizona schools.
 

56. Minnesota

Pros: The Gophers have a relatively new stadium that provided a significant upgrade from the outdated Metrodome. As the only Division I (FBS or FCS) program in the state, Minnesota should land its fare share of in-state recruits.

Cons: Minnesota is a tough sell for out-of-state recruits. The weather is bad and the program lacks tradition. 

Final Verdict: Minnesota is a program with a ceiling — and Glen Mason hit that ceiling (winning five to eight games in most seasons with an occasional 10-win breakthrough).
 

57. Purdue

Pros: Purdue is a program that has experienced consistent success in the Big Ten during the BCS era. The Boilermakers went 48–32 in league play during the first 10 years of the Joe Tiller era. Support is solid when the program is winning.

Cons: Purdue is one of three BCS programs in a state that does not produce a high volume of elite recruits.

Final Verdict: Coaching is important at every school, but Purdue is the type of school that can win consistently with the right man in place (Joe Tiller) but will struggle with the wrong man (Danny Hope). Is Darrell Hazell the right coach to get this program back on track? 
 

58. Syracuse

Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Scott Shafer did a nice job in his first season, continuing to provide traction for a program that seems to be taking steps in the right direction. There's also discussion about a new stadium for the Orange.

Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only four winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been great, either. In the first year of ACC play, Syracuse averaged just 38,277 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure elite recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast. Much like Louisville and Pittsburgh, moving to the ACC provides long-term stability for this program. 
 

59. Northwestern

Pros: As the only private school in the Big Ten, Northwestern can be an attractive option for a top-flight recruit from the Midwest who is looking for an elite academic institution. The university approved a $225-250 million facilities overhaul for all of the athletic programs in 2012. Football will no doubt be a huge beneficiary.

Cons: It will always be a struggle to keep up with the elite programs in the Big Ten, from a recruiting and facilities standpoint.

Final Verdict: You can win at Northwestern, but it will always be a challenge.
 

60. Boston College

Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from 1999-2009 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.

Cons: Similar to Syracuse, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting elite players from outside its region. There's talent in the Northeast, but it's not enough to consistently compete with Florida State and Clemson for division titles in the Atlantic Division. 

Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College slipped to the bottom of the ACC food chain under Frank Spaziani. However, this program is back on track under Steve Addazio. The Eagles made a bowl in 2013, and Addazio reeled in a solid recruiting class to add to the foundation. Again, this ranking isn't about 2014 or '15. However, Addazio seems to be the right guy to get the program back on track, which should help Boston College become a consistent bowl team once again in the ACC.
 

61. Kansas State

Pros: Kansas State has averaged 8.4 wins over the past 20 years and been ranked in the final AP poll 11 times over that span. Support for K-State football is very strong, especially when the team is winning.

Cons: Only one man has been able to win at Kansas State. This might be more of an indictment of Ron Prince than the program, but the Wildcats went a combined 9–15 in the Big 12 in the three seasons between Bill Snyder’s two tenures.

Final Analysis: It’s tough to evaluate this coaching position. There are seemingly a bunch of hurdles — poor recruiting base, remote location, lack of tradition prior to the 1990s — but Snyder has managed to win at a high level on a consistent basis. Can another coach succeed in Manhattan? We’ll find out soon enough.
 

62. Cincinnati
Cincinnati is in a prime location when it comes to recruiting, being in Ohio and relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Despite the program's recent success, fan support has remained tepid at best and despite the school's best efforts, the Bearcats appear stuck in the American Athletic Conference for the forseeable future. Still, this is a place where the right man can win, as five different coaches have won at least seven games twice since 2000.

63. Washington State
Only four Pac-12 schools have played in the Rose Bowl in the past 11 seasons. USC, Oregon, Stanford and … Washington State. That, along with the fact the Cougars won 10 games in three straight seasons (2001-03) proves that you can win games in Pullman. However, Pullman is the most remote outpost in the Pac-12. It can be difficult to attract prospects from California to play collegiately in Eastern Washington. The school has upgraded facilities in recent years, but it still lags behind most schools in the league on this front. Washington State’s biggest hurdle is its location. In a league that includes four teams in California, one in Phoenix, one in Seattle and one just outside Denver, it’s tough to remain relevant when your school is 280 miles from the nearest big city (Seattle).

64. Iowa State
Cyclone fans sure love Iowa State football. Last season, the school averaged 55,361 fans per game (100.6 percent of capacity) at Jack Trice Stadium. Not bad for a school that has had one winning season since 2006. The school is second on the food chain in a state that does not produce many FBS-caliber recruits. Dan McCarney enjoyed a nice run in the early 2000s, but it’s been very difficult to sustain success in Ames. Outside of the strong support for a passionate fan base — though that does carry significant weight — it’s difficult to find too many positives about the coaching position at Iowa State. There’s a reason the school has not won more than seven games in consecutive seasons since the late 1970s.

65. Houston
Houston is an elite area for high school talent, as is the whole state of Texas, but there also are plenty of mouths to feed and the Cougars are near the back of the line. New stadium is a plus for Houston as it enters its second season in the American Athletic Conference.

66. UCF
UCF is located in the heart of the talent-rich Sunshine State and near the bottom of the pecking order after Florida, Florida State and Miami. Clearly a program on the rise and should be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference on an annual basis.

67. South Florida
South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base, and the Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner inn the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10. However, South Florida does not have an on-campus stadium and will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.

68. Kansas
While it’s difficult to win at Kansas, it can be done. Glen Mason won 10 games in 1995, and Mark Mangino won 12 — and played in a BCS bowl — in 2007. The school has invested in facilities over the past decade. The weight room is top notch. Crowds at Phog Allen Fieldhouse are arguably the best in college basketball, but support for Kansas football is not nearly as strong. Last season, the Jayhawks ranked 63rd in the nation in attendance with 37,884 per game at Memorial Stadium. Also, KU is second on the food chain in a state that doesn’t produce many high-level recruits. Kansas is one of the toughest AQ conference jobs in the nation when you factor in the recruiting base, lukewarm support and the fact that no coach since the 1950s has enjoyed sustained success in Lawrence.

69. Indiana
The school has increased its commitment to the football program in recent years, most notably an upgrade in facilities that includes a new weight room, a new scoreboard and an academic center, among other things. Basketball is king at Indiana University and in the state of Indiana. The school’s recruiting base is weak, and there are two other BCS programs in the state. There’s a reason Indiana hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons 1993 and ’94 and hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967. It’s tough to win in Bloomington.

70. Fresno State 
Prime location makes it the second-best job in the Mountain West.

71. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe has been the only one to win consistently at the academic-minded, small private school since the early 1950s.

72. Duke
Basketball, academics and a lack of support are the main obstacles to sustained success on the gridiron in Durham, N.C. Did the program turn a corner with the Coastal Division title in 2014?

73. East Carolina
Solid program with good support, recruiting base and tradition.

74. SMU
SMU's location and recruiting base are the only reasons why the Mustangs aren't lower as brand recognition, tradition and fan base support are basically non-existent.

75. San Diego State
Sleeping giant has shown signs of life in recent years.

76. Connecticut
Conference realignment has not helped the Huskies when it comes to attracting the Northeast's top recruits.

77. Southern Miss
No member of the reconfigured C-USA has a stronger tradition of winning.

78. Northern Illinois
Recruiting base will ensure that you will always have a talented roster at NIU.

79. Colorado State  
There is plenty of tradition, but the Rams have had two winning seasons since 2004.

80. Tulsa  
It’s the third best job in a decent state for high school talent.

81. Navy  
The Midshipmen have emerged as the best option of the Military Academies.

82. Toledo  
Each of the last nine coaches have won at least eight games in a season at Toledo.

83. Utah State  
Aggies are a distant third in their own state, but Gary Andersen proved you can win in Logan.

84. Nevada  
Move to the Mountain West has made it harder to win in Reno.

85. Marshall  
Herd should be able to stock roster with players from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

86. Ohio   
Frank Solich is the first coach to win consistently since the 1930s.

87. Air Force  
The Falcons are always good but never great. 

88. New Mexico  
Great location — unless you have to recruit.

89. Wyoming
Pokes have few built-in advantages, which makes it hard to sustain success. Tough place to attract talent.

90. Memphis
This program has plenty of room to grow. Move to the American Athletic Conference is an upgrade, and with the right coach, the Tigers can make some noise in their new league.

91. Miami (Ohio)  
The Cradle of Coaches has lost its luster.

92. Louisiana Tech  
Great talent base to recruit. Move to Conference USA is a plus for a program that was a misfit in the WAC.

93. Temple
Upgraded by moving from MAC to the American Athletic Conference, but this program has a long ways to go in terms of tradition, fan support and national perception.

94. Bowling Green  
Urban Meyer isn’t walking through that door.

95. UTEP  
Still in Texas, but El Paso is a long way from everything.

96. North Texas  
There are plenty of players, but it’s the ninth-best job in the state.

97. UL-Lafayette   
Ragin’ Cajuns should be able to consistently compete for Sun Belt titles. UL-Lafayette led the Sun Belt with an average attendance of 25,976 per game.

98. Hawaii   
It’s tougher to recruit at Hawaii than most would imagine and facilities are an issue.

99. UNLV   
Getting players never seems to be an issue. Winning is.

100. San Jose State  
Great location and plenty of talent available in California to recruit.

101. FAU   
Strong recruiting base and a new stadium have raised FAU’s profile.

102. Middle Tennessee  
Decent location, but fan support has been low despite strong success.

103. Western Kentucky   
Hilltoppers have made a steady climb since joining the FBS ranks.

104. Arkansas State   
Red Wolves have been able to hire good coaches. Retaining them is next step.

105. Troy  
Should be one of the top jobs in the Sun Belt on an annual basis.

106. Central Michigan  
Good coaches have proven they can win big at CMU.

107. Rice   
It’s one of the toughest jobs in an elite state for talent.

108. UTSA   
The Roadrunners are in a better league (C-USA) than Texas State (Sun Belt). A program on the rise.

109. Army   
Kids would rather play for Navy and Air Force.

110. Western Michigan  
It’s No. 4 in its own state and No. 4 in the MAC West.

111. Tulane   
Move to the American Athletic Conference and new stadium will raise Tulane’s profile. However, it's still a tough job.

112. Akron  
Zips have one league title in school history.

113. Kent State   
Only two winning seasons since 1987.

114. ULM   
2012 was the school’s first with a winning record since joining FBS ranks.

115. Ball State   
It’s the fifth-best job in its own division.

116. Georgia Southern
Good tradition and a solid location in a state with plenty of talent. Should be one of the top programs in the Sun Belt. 

117. Texas State  
It’s got the potential to be one of the best jobs in the Sun Belt.

118. South Alabama  
Jaguars will have to start stealing some recruits from in-state Sun Belt rival Troy.

119. Old Dominion

Restarted football in 2009 after a 69-year absence. Monarchs have a strong recruiting area, and a new stadium could be on the way. There's a lot of potential here. 

120. Buffalo   
Turner Gill (and Jeff Quinn in 2013) proved winning is possible at Buffalo. Improvements appear to be coming to UB Stadium.

121. Appalachian State
Remote location, but picturesque campus. Won three consecutive national championships from 2005-07.

122. Georgia State  
Panthers will move up the food chain if they can recruit well locally. 

123. FIU   
Great location. Little tradition. Questionable leadership in the athletic department. 

124. UAB   
UAB desperately needs an on-campus stadium. There's enough talent in the state of Alabama for the Blazers to succeed.

125. UMass   
Attendance is an issue at Gillette Stadium, but a renovated McGuirk Stadium should help this program grow in the MAC.

126. New Mexico State   
At least Las Cruces is a nice place to live. Moving to the Sun Belt should help this program in terms of overall stability.

127. Idaho   
Moving to the Sun Belt is a positive, but this program has just one winning season in the last 14 years.

128. Eastern Michigan  
Attendance is a concern, especially with the University of Michigan less than 10 miles down the road.

Teaser:
Ranking All 128 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-learning-art-passing-cup-series
Body:

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

Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each driver in this year’s rookie class.


With the haves and have-nots of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series firmly delineated, the act of passing for position has shifted from “option” to “skill,” a proposition that the rookies of the division are finding difficult.

Measuring passing in a NASCAR race comes with a side dish of caveats. One would have to weed out all of the positions gained and lost during green-flag pit cycles and omit any losses due to pass-thru penalties – pit road speeding penalties are becoming as regular as a ticket for speeding on your local highway – that skew the NASCAR-issued passing numbers. The result is adjusted pass efficiency, which measures the amount of passes compared to pass encounters with all the fluff extracted.

To sweeten the pot, surplus passing value – finding the difference in a driver’s adjusted pass efficiency versus the expected efficiency from a car in a similar average running position – tells us how drivers fare in the passing game relative to the cars around them.

Both adjusted pass efficiency and surplus passing value play significant roles in this week’s ranking.


Kyle Larson1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1) His deviation in clean lap times at Phoenix was wildly inconsistent compared to other drivers and his 48.46 percent average adjusted pass efficiency across Phoenix and Las Vegas wasn’t stellar, but Larson is still holding steady as the top rookie thanks to his rally from a pit road speeding penalty in Vegas (that cost him 18 positions) that culminated in a 19th-place result. The burst back into the top half of the field was highlighted by a 50.71 percent adjusted pass efficiency – a surplus value of plus-1.23 percent – that netted him 71 spots over the course of the 400-mile race. He heads into Bristol this weekend where he finished a close second last year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.


Austin Dillon2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 3) Dillon’s 16.3-place average finish is tops among Cup Series rookies, but average finish is a full-on team stat. Independent of his race team, the reigning Nationwide Series champion is slowly making progress. In his last two races, his passing – something that was a struggle in his 11 Cup Series races last year (46.24 percent) – was subpar compared to his high average running positions. He averaged a minus-4.28 percent surplus passing value between Phoenix and Las Vegas. The good news is that Dillon and team are qualifying well, helping to increase their chance at high finishes – his 9.7-place average starting spot is the second best in the entire series.


Cole Whitt3. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 4) Whitt has crew chief Randy Cox to thank for jumping him from 31st to 26th on the final green-flag pit cycle during the Phoenix race, helping him score a 27th-place finish that hovered well above his 32.7-place running position for the afternoon. His good showings with upstart Swan Racing continued at Las Vegas when he notched the race’s second-best passing value (a plus-9.48 percent mark, trailing only Kevin Harvick’s plus-12.23 percent). Unfortunately, all Whitt could muster was a 36th-place finish, six laps off of the lead.


Parker Kligerman4. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 (previous: 2) Kligerman’s street cred earned him a second-place ranking in this column two weeks ago, but a malady of issues kept him performing at that caliber. He blew an engine at Phoenix with 86 laps left in the event. At Las Vegas, he finished 27 laps down, suffering through ignition troubles during the race after swapping out the motor following Saturday’s practice session. Because of this, he was a high-speed traffic cone, getting passed in over 60 percent of his pass encounters. Better days are undoubtedly ahead, but to win the game, he must first play in it. Kligerman has been riding the pine, so to speak, and thus takes a tumble in the ranking.


Justin Allgaier5. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 6) With all due respect to Larson, the most aggressive rookie thus far this season is Allgaier, who has been borderline reckless the last two weeks. He crashed during knockout qualifying in Phoenix and again during the race, which sparked a venom-fueled microphone rant from Danica Patrick. In Las Vegas he avoided wrecking, but, as noted by Slugger Labbe, crew chief for Paul Menard, he and Marcos Ambrose were “trying to wreck.” The heightened level of aggression does have perks, though. He is averaging a plus-4.78 percent surplus passing value and is the only rookie with an adjusted efficiency of over 50 percent, which means he is passing more than he is being passed.


Michael Annett6. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 7) Annett might be the most pleasant early surprise of this year’s rookie crop. In his past two races, he averaged running positions of 34.8 and 29.6, but don't misconstrue that as “riding around in the back.” Based on an average passing surplus of plus-10.2 percent, tops among rookies, we know that Annett is passing adeptly relative to the cars around him (in fact, his plus-16.7 percent surplus at Phoenix was the best passing value of the entire race). Had he not run out of gas in the closing laps of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas, his 29th-place finish could have been around three or four spots better.

 

NASCAR makes changes to qualifying procedure

 

Alex Bowman7. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 5) After being one of two rookies that finished the Daytona 500 (Dillon was the other), Bowman scored finishes of 41st and 37th at Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively. The former was due to a brake issue about three quarters into the race that abbreviated his day. In Vegas, his 44.2 percent adjusted pass efficiency, which came in under his 34.6-place position’s value, wasn’t enough to navigate through traffic. The position jumping effort of crew chief Dave Winston, who earned Bowman two positions during the race’s third and final green-flag pit cycle, also didn’t have a profound effect on the finish.


Ryan Truex8. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 8) A pair of 35th-place finishes are on the table after Truex failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. Outside of a surplus passing effort in Las Vegas – his 48.33 adjusted pass efficiency was 3.66 percent better than the expected value of his 36.5-place average running position – it’s been a rough go for the two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion. His team’s end-of-race efforts have netted a loss of one whole position over the last two weeks.


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

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Teaser:
A weekly ranking of the rookies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 15:25
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Luke Donald, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-25-luke-donald
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 25: Luke Donald

Born: Dec. 7, 1977, Hemel Hempstead, England | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 (7 on European Tour)  | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,930,646 (36th) World Ranking: 25

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Luke Donald finished in the top ten 14 times in 2011, eight times in 2012 and just five times in 2013. As Luke has fought to make changes in his long game — always somewhat of a hindrance — his spectacular short game has become less dependable, and now he seems to be caught in a state of flux. Understandable, however, is his desire to make changes, as he has done just about everything in golf — ascending to the No. 1 spot in the world and winning both the U.S. and European money titles in the same year — except for win a major championship. To this pursuit he has enlisted the help of the teacher Chuck Cook, who has counted the late three-time major champion Payne Stewart and most recently Jason Dufner among his many students. If the changes take hold and Luke’s short game comes back, Donald might finally get that major.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 41
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - T25
U.S. Open - T8
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2005)
U.S. Open - T8 (2013)
British Open - T5 (2009, 2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 15
Missed Cuts: 14

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 11:27

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