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Path: /mlb/mlb-2015-american-league-predictions
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The American League champion has won just one of the past five World Series. Will the 2015 MLB season produce a different result for the Junior Circuit? Last season, the Kansas City Royals put an end to their 29-year playoff drought in dramatic fashion, venturing on a magical postseason run that came just one game shy of winning it all. This season, the Royals figure to have a tough road just to get back to the playoffs, as they must navigate a crowded AL Central.

 

The AL East features a little bit of everything – a team that spent big in free agency this offseason, one that’s pinning their hopes on several young players, another that’s hoping their aging superstars can turn back the clock, and a franchise that’s going through a makeover both on the field and in its front office.

 

The AL West has seen plenty of change too, as one team that’s made it to the playoffs three straight years could take a few steps backward in 2015, while the team that strung together three consecutive 100-loss campaigns from 2011-13 is slowly making its way back towards respectability.

 

Related: 2015 National League Predictions

 

Here is how Athlon Sports sees the AL shaking out in 2015, including a look at the leading candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

 

2015 American League Predictions

 

 

AL East

AL Central

AL West

1

2

3

4

5

Wild cards: Cleveland, Seattle

 

ALCS

    over    

 

World Series

    over    

 

 

AL East Breakdown

From last place in 2012 to World Series champs in ’13 and back to the basement last season, Boston is looking to go from worst to first yet again. The additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval along with the emergence this spring of dynamic leadoff hitter Mookie Betts gives the Red Sox the deepest lineup in the majors. Now it’s up to the pitching to hold up their end of the bargain. Elsewhere, defending division champion Baltimore stood relatively pat, while Toronto is banking on several young, unproven players and the addition of third baseman Josh Donaldson to end its 21-year playoff drought. Derek Jeter has retired, but the Yankees don’t lack for veteran leadership, while Tampa Bay is under new management both on and off the field, and could struggle to score runs in support of the Rays’ underrated starting rotation.

 

AL Central Breakdown

Detroit has won the last four division crowns, but don’t be surprised if this ends up being a four-team race. The Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but neither are getting any younger and underwent surgery in the offseason. Justin Verlander will start the season on the DL, putting even more pressure on David Price, and the bullpen is suspect at best. Cleveland looks to have the pitching, fronted by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and finished off by closer Cody Allen, so it will be up to the offense to take care of the rest. Chicago was the most aggressive team in the offseason, adding Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera to its one-two punch of Cy Young contender Chris Sale and MVP candidate Jose Abreu. Kansas City was the story last season, but the Royals lost more than they added and will rely on their pitching, defense and team speed even more in 2015. Minnesota should be a better team, but this may not be reflected in the win column due to the depth of this division.

 

AL West Breakdown

Los Angeles is still smarting from last year’s brief playoff stay, but the Angels have a pair of MVPs in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to lead their offense and appear to have enough pitching and depth to defend their division crown. Seattle has its own award contenders in Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, and has added enough pieces that should make the Mariners a thorn in the Angels’ side all season long. Texas is healthier, but has already suffered a big blow in the loss of ace Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery). If Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo bounce back and Adrian Beltre stays productive, the Rangers should at least surpass last year’s win total (67). Houston may not be able to match it’s 19-win improvement from last season, but the Astros have plenty of budding superstars that bear watching, starting with Jose Altuve and George Springer. Oakland won the division in 2012 and ’13, but this is a completely different A’s team, as GM Billy Beane cashed in on most of his valuable assets this offseason in hopes of building a team that can contend for many years in the future. In other words, don’t be surprised if the A’s take their lumps in 2015.

 

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels

Trout won his first MVP award after two runner-up finishes his first two seasons, and he did so with arguably his worst numbers (.287-36-111, 115 R, 16 SB). Just 23 years old, the sky is seemingly the limit for the best player in the game.

2. Robinson Cano, Mariners

3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

4. Jose Abreu, White Sox

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

6. Michael Brantley, Indians

7. Victor Martinez, Tigers

8. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

9. Adam Jones, Baltimore

10. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

 

AL Cy Young

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

The 2010 recipient finished a close second to Corey Kluber last season despite posting career-bests in ERA (2.14), strikeouts (248) and WHIP (0.915). As long as he stays healthy, Hernandez should receive enough offensive support to challenge his high-water mark for wins (19 in 2009).

2. David Price, Tigers

3. Chris Sale, White Sox

4. Corey Kluber, Indians

5. Alex Cobb, Rays

 

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox

Similar to NL Rookie of the Year favorite Kris Bryant, Castillo will start the season in AAA. However, the only thing that stands between the Cuban import and the necessary at-bats to flash his power/speed potential is 34-year-old Shane Victorino, who underwent back surgery in August.

2. Steven Souza, Rays

3. Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays

Teaser:
MLB 2015 American League Predictions
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/mlb-predictions-2015-national-league
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is here with the San Francisco Giants in place as defending World Series champions for the third time in the last five seasons. There is no lack of National League teams aiming to knock the Giants from their perch, starting in their own division. The NL West was transformed during this offseason thanks to a flurry of trades.

 

The team to beat in the Senior Circuit could come from the NL East, thanks in part to the addition of Cy Young winner to an already formidable starting rotation. And the NL Central could end up being the toughest division in all of baseball, depending on the healthy return of some key players and how one new manager fares with his young charges.

 

Related: 2015 American League Predictions

 

Here is how Athlon Sports sees the NL shaking out in 2015, including a look at the leading candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

 

2015 National League Predictions

 

 

NL East

NL Central

NL West

1

2

3

4

5

Wild cards: Pittsburgh, San Francisco

 

NLCS

    over    

 

World Series

    over    

 

 

NL East Breakdown

The Nationals made the biggest splash in free agency this offseason, signing Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner gives them a starting rotation built for October. However, postseason success has eluded Washington to this point, and a rash of injuries during spring training has only added pressure to the team many are expecting to not just get to the World Series, but win it. Elsewhere, the Marlins and Mets bear watching as both teams hope the return of their aces from Tommy John surgery can propel them into playoff contention. The Braves began their rebuilding project in earnest this offseason while everyone is still waiting for the Phillies to do the same.

 

NL Central Breakdown

This could end up being the most competitive division in the majors, as it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both wild card teams come from the NL Central. While the Cardinals and Pirates remain the class of the division, the Cubs, Brewers and Reds are each capable of defying expectations and emerging as a playoff contender. Chicago’s extensive rebuilding project overseen by Theo Epstein and company could finally bear fruit with manager Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester among the new faces for an organization that has a wave of talented prospects waiting in the wings.  Milwaukee’s fate is largely tied to the health of Ryan Braun’s right thumb, while Cincinnati is hoping for bounce-back years from the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.

 

NL West Breakdown

The Giants are the reigning champs, but the Dodgers revamped their infield in their continued pursuit of getting back to the World Series. No team was busier this offseason, however, than the Padres, as first-year general manager A.J. Preller overhauled his roster through a series of trades, landing Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers (and Craig Kimbrel on Sunday), as well as signing free agent workhorse starter James Shields. The Diamondbacks just want to get off to a better start this season, while the much of the focus on the Rockies will be on Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Will either or both All-Stars finish their season on the DL and/or with another team?

 

NL MVP

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

The runner-up last season, Stanton is the reigning NL home run champion and could get the extra benefit of playing for a team in playoff contention. As long as he stays healthy, Stanton’s numbers should be MVP-worthy with better lineup protection (Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Mike Morse added in offseason) around him.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

4. Buster Posey, Giants

5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

6. Bryce Harper, Nationals

7. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

8. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

9. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

10. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

 

NL Cy Young

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

The winner three of the past four years and the reigning NL MVP to boot, the Cy Young probably belongs to Kershaw as long as he stays healthy. Don’t forget he missed more than a month last year and still placed the majors in wins (21), ERA (1.77) and complete games (six).

2. Max Scherzer, Nationals

3. Madison Bumgarner, Giants

4. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals

5. Johnny Cueto, Reds

 

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Kris Bryant, Cubs

The best prospect in baseball will start in the minors, but it shouldn’t be long before he takes his place in the heart of the Cubs’ lineup. Bryant should still get more than enough at-bats and hit enough tape-measure home runs to get the votes at season’s end.

2. Joc Pederson, Dodgers

3. Jorge Soler, Cubs

Teaser:
MLB 2015 National League Predictions
Post date: Monday, April 6, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/kentucky-fans-are-taking-saturdays-loss-pretty-hard
Body:

Every NCAA Tournament loss stings.

 

When the loss marks the end of an attempt to go 40-0 and that team is Kentucky, well, the final defeat stings more than most.

 

Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison had to apologize after his choice remarks were caught on a hot mic. This fan, however, probably speaks for all of Big Blue Nation:

 

 

 

Other Kentucky fans were less constructive. As many as 29 people were arrested on State Street in Lexington, Ky., and at least three were taken to the hospital, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

 

That said, the celebration after a potential win Monday night might have been just as eventful.

 

Here was the scene on State Street on Saturday night and early Sunday morning:

 

 

 

And, finally, the obligatory Ashley Judd/Villanova piccolo girl meme:

 

Teaser:
Kentucky Fans Are Taking Saturday's Loss Pretty Hard
Post date: Sunday, April 5, 2015 - 10:43
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/kentuckys-andrew-harrison-apologizes-obscene-remark-caught-hot-mic
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Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison apologized for obscene language directed toward Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky caught on a live microphone during Saturday’s postgame press conference.

 

After a question directed toward Karl-Anthony Towns about Kaminsky, Harrison can be heard uttering an obscenity and a racial slur under his breath in front of the hot mic.

 

Here’s the video as it was captured on ESPN.

 

Warning: Bad Language Ahead.

 

 

 

By Sunday, Harrison apologized for the incident and apologized to Kaminsky:

 

 

 

 

Teaser:
Kentucky's Andrew Harrison Apologizes for Obscene Remark Caught on Hot Mic
Post date: Sunday, April 5, 2015 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/forget-40-0-why-mondays-wisconsin-duke-championship-game-matters
Body:

The most serious bid for 40-0 to date is complete and unsuccessful.

 

At the hands of Wisconsin’s 71-64 win over Kentucky, the Wildcats will be merely the only team in college basketball history to go 38-0 in a season. That season ended at 38-1.

 

History — at least for that round, undefeated number and the first unbeaten season since 1976 — will have to wait.

 

On Saturday, Kentucky lost for the first time since last year’s national championship game. What this loss means is tough to say. It was not a massive upset. It wasn’t the most unexpected result.

 

The word is probably significant. Kentucky was the most significant team to lose in the NCAA Tournament since the last bid for an undefeated season ended in UNLV’s 79-77 loss to Duke in the 1991 Final Four.

 

This is one of Kentucky’s greatest teams in program history, but the Wildcats’ most lasting note in the history of college basketball will be alongside that UNLV team — a great team ultimately doomed to find the one team that could be better on one particular Saturday.

 

Kentucky and its bid to go undefeated were the main draws for this season, but the final game of 2014-15 shouldn’t be defined by Kentucky’s absence. Wisconsin and Duke will meet Monday night for their own legacies

 

Only two decades ago, Wisconsin was an afterthought, and finally this program is seeking its first national title since 1941. 

 

Dick Bennett took the Badgers to one Final Four in 2000. Bo Ryan has taken Wisconsin to two more with this group. If he wins Monday night, the four-time Division III champion at Wisconsin-Platteville will become the first coach in NCAA history to win titles in two divisions.

 

T-shirts get made for attempts at 40-0, but Wisconsin’s record as far as Kentucky is concerned is far more important.

 

This Badgers team is an offensive force. Think about what Wisconsin has done the last two games. Arizona and Kentucky are two of the nation’s best defensive teams, and Wisconsin sliced through them. Against Arizona, Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 in the second half, including 10 3-pointers. No team in two years had scored 80 points on Arizona. Wisconsin scored 85.

 

Kentucky allowed more than one point per possession three times entering the NCAA Tournament and never more than 1.069. Wisconsin averaged 1.246. Kentucky hit more than 50 percent of its shots for most of the game and finished shooting 48.1 percent and still lost.

 

Wisconsin is that good.

 

Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating on KenPom.com is 128.5. The previous high since 2002 was last year’s Michigan team at 124.1. That qualifies as shattering a record.

 

On the other side, Duke’s bid for a championship is just as significant.

 

This year alone, Mike Krzyzewski has surpassed 1,000 career wins, passed Dean Smith for career ACC wins and tied John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances. A championship Monday would give him five titles, putting him in sole second place all time behind Wooden’s 10 championships.

 

This would also be Duke’s first title since Krzyzewski embraced the one-and-done era. His last championship team in 2010 was dominated by juniors and seniors. This year’s team starts three freshmen.

 

After the game, Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein likened this Tournament to a movie when the main character suddenly dies.

 

This much is true about this championship game. The supporting cast, though, is ready for its moment.

 

Teaser:
Forget 40-0. This is why Monday's Wisconsin-Duke Championship Game Matters
Post date: Sunday, April 5, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/national-championship-game-preview-and-predictions-duke-vs-wisconsin
Body:

As Kentucky lost its first game of the season Saturday night, the comparisons to the 1991 NCAA Tournament were apparent.

 

That year, 34-0 UNLV, a team mthat like this year’s Kentucky seemed unstoppable. lost to Duke 79-77 in the Final Four.

 

Both Wisconsin and Duke in 2015 hope history repeats itself.

 

If this year’s Final Four looks like the one 24 years ago, Duke will hope it’s because the Blue Devils will win a national title.

 

If this year’s Final Four looks like the 1991 semifinals, Wisconsin will hope it’s because the team that toppled the unbeaten — in this case, the Badgers — will win the national title.

 

This may not be the national championship game that many envisioned, mainly because Kentucky is back in Lexington, but the championship game has plenty of storylines to make it a classic.

 

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is going for his fifth title, putting him in sole second place behind John Wooden, and to do it, he’ll have to win a championship starting three freshmen. And Wisconsin will go for its first title since 1941. Bo Ryan is also going for his fifth title, but his first outside of Division III.

 

Duke is here with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Wisconsin is here with none. Duke is all business. Wisconsin may as well be a comedy troupe.

 

By Monday night, only one will be a champion.

 

Related:

Forget 40-0, This is Why Wisconsin-Duke Matters

31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

 

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

Time: 9:15 p.m. ET, Monday

TV: CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Even

 

Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker vs. Duke’s Justise Winslow

The championship game will match up the two hottest players in the NCAA Tournament, potentially with Most Outstanding Player on the line. Winslow is averaging 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and three assists per game in the Tournament, but his defense (1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game) will be the key against Dekker. The 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 20.6 points and shooting 61.3 percent in the Tournament.

 

Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Okafor had a quiet regional, scoring 15 total points against Utah and Gonzaga. The All-America center roared back for 18 points against Michigan State. He’ll need more of that Monday night. The question, though, might be more on the defensive end. Wisconsin was able to solve Kentucky’s size by getting Kaminsky into better matchups away from Willie Cauley-Stein. Duke held Kaminsky to 17 points and 5-of-12 shooting in the matchup back in December, but Wisconsin has shown an ability to adjust.

 

Trending: Duke's defense

Duke is playing its best defensive basketball of the season in the last five games, and the Blue Devils will need it against the Badgers. Duke’s opponents are shooting 41.2 percent from 2-point range in the Tournament (compared to 46.3 percent during the season as whole) and 26.9 percent from 3 (compared to 31.4).

 

Number of Note: 5-of-11

That’s combined 3-point shooting for Arizona (2-of-6) and Kentucky (3-of-5) against Wisconsin. The Badgers don’t give their opponents many looks at 3-point shots, and they don’t put their opponents at the free throw line very often, either. Duke will have to score around the basket, or the Blue Devils will have to do what Arizona and Kentucky couldn’t and hit shots from beyond the arc.

 

Duke will win if...

The Blue Devils get an all-around offensive effort. John Calipari was astounded. His team shot 48.1 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line, it turned the ball over only six times and still lost. Wisconsin did everything right in the margins — the Badgers got 12 offensive boards and had more than twice as many 3s. Wisconsin is a historically efficient team, so Duke will have to make every trip down the court count.

 

Wisconsin will win if...

The ride isn’t over. Wisconsin now feels like the team Kentucky once was, only the wave the Badgers are riding is on the offensive end rather than the defensive end. Wisconsin has averaged better than 1.1 points per possession in 12 consecutive games and 1.25 points per possession in the NCAA Tournament. Kaminsky and Dekker are both averaging better than 20 points per game, and they’re doing it against two of the best defensive teams in recent years. This is a historical run.

 

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Wisconsin 78-75

Braden Gall: Duke 73-70

Mitch Light: Duke 77-73

Jake Rose: Wisconsin 76-72

Teaser:
National Championship Game Preview and Predictions: Duke vs. Wisconsin
Post date: Sunday, April 5, 2015 - 02:17
Path: /college-basketball/15-best-teams-did-not-win-ncaa-tournament-2015
Body:

The best team doesn’t always win the NCAA Tournament. Many of greatest rosters ever assembled failed to cut down the nets in the one-and-done, single-elimination Madness of March. These are the 15 best teams that never won the NCAA Tournament.

 

RELATED: Top 10 Arenas in College Basketball


1. 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

(34–1, 18–0 Big West)
Coach Jerry Tarkanian
Lost to Duke, 79–77, in Final Four

Vegas was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world in college basketball before falling to Duke in a rematch of the 1990 title game, in which the Runnin’ Rebels humiliated the Blue Devils, 103–73. With three 1991 NBA Lottery picks — national player of the year forward Larry Johnson (No. 1 overall), wingman Stacey Augmon (No. 9) and point guard Greg Anthony (No. 12) — and the reigning Final Four MOP in Anderson Hunt, UNLV was as intimidating as it was dominant.


2. 1975 Indiana Hoosiers

(31–1, 18–0 Big Ten)
Coach Bob Knight
Lost to Kentucky, 92–90, in Elite Eight

Bob Knight and Joe B. Hall nearly went to blows during a 98–74 IU win over UK in December 1974. The Hoosiers were riding a 34-game winning streak heading into their rematch with the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. But without a full strength Scott May — who scored two points due to a broken arm, after scoring 25 in the first meeting — undefeated Indiana fell to Kentucky, a team that went on to lose the national title to UCLA in John Wooden’s final game.


3. 1983 Houston Cougars

(31–3, 16–0 Southwest)
Coach Guy Lewis
Lost to NC State, 54–52, in NCAA title game

Texas’ tallest fraternity, “Phi Slama Jama” was led by a pair of future Hall of Famers in shot-swatting big man Akeem Olajuwon and high-flying Clyde “the Glide” Drexler. The middle of three straight Final Four appearances and first of two national title game runner-up finishes was the most painful, as NC State pulled off one of the greatest Cinderella upsets in Big Dance history.


4. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas

(35–3, 14–2 Big East)
Coach John Thompson
Lost to Villanova, 66–64, in NCAA title game

The Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas were runner-up to North Carolina in 1982, national champs in 1984 and heavily favored to repeat as champs in 1985. But the overwhelming edge in talent for Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Co. was no match for the magical shooting night of Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats, who shot 22-of-28 from the field to beat “Hoya Paranoia” on April Fools’ Day.


5. 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels

(28–3, 14–0 ACC)
Coach Dean Smith
Lost to Indiana, 72–68, in Sweet 16

On paper, this was Dean Smith’s most talented team, on the court and on the bench. National player of the year Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and freshman Kenny Smith headlined a loaded roster, while Roy Williams, Bill Guthridge and Eddie Fogler served as assistant coaches for a group of Tar Heels that couldn’t even make it to the Final Four.

 

6. 2015 Kentucky Wildcats

(38-1, 18-0 SEC)

Coach John Calipari

Lost to Wisconsin, 71-64, in Final Four

 

Kentucky was the first team in history to go 38-0 as it reached the Final Four on a mission to become the first team to hit that magical 40-0 number. The Wildcats’ stifling defense and imposing big men met their match against the historically efficient Wisconsin offense. This UK team didn’t have the star power of perhaps other teams on this list, but it was among the deepest teams of the modern era.


7. 1993 Michigan Wolverines

(31–5, 15–3 Big Ten)
Coach Steve Fisher
Lost to North Carolina, 77–71, in NCAA title game

The sophomore season of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — produced the same (since vacated) results as their freshman campaign. Michigan marched all the way to the national title game with their signature baggy shorts, black socks and swagger, only to lose to ACC power UNC, after losing to Duke in the championship game the season before.


8. 1997 Kansas Jayhawks

(34–2, 15–1 Big 12)
Coach Roy Williams
Lost to Arizona, 85–82, in Sweet 16

KU had it all, with NBA size down low in Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, clutch shooters in Paul Pierce, Jerod Haase and Billy Thomas, and steady point guard play from Jacque Vaughn and Ryan Robertson. But Roy Williams’ Jayhawks could not close the deal against Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and eventual champion Arizona.


9. 1973 NC State Wolfpack

(27–0, 12–0 ACC)
Coach Norm Sloan
Banned from postseason play

David Thompson and Tommy Burleson led NC State to an undefeated regular season but were unable to go dancing after being banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. When the ban was lifted, the 1973-74 Wolfpack went 30–1 cut down the nets following a national championship.


10. 1974 UCLA Bruins

(26–4, 12–2 Pac-8)
Coach John Wooden
Lost to NC State, 80–77 in 2OT, in Final Four

The next-to-last team coach by the Wizard of Westwood ended UCLA’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA titles. Despite being led by Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, the Bruins were unable to outlast NC State in double-overtime in the Final Four.


11. 1954 Kentucky Wildcats

(25–0, 14–0 SEC)
Coach Adolph Rupp
Elected not to participate

Coach Adolph Rupp chose to take a stand against the NCAA by keeping the unbeaten Wildcats out of the Tournament after Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsioropoulos were ruled ineligible due to a graduation rule that is no longer in place.


12. 1999 Duke Blue Devils

(37–2, 16–0 ACC)
Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Lost to Connecticut, 77–74, in NCAA title game

One of Coach K’s most talented teams was anchored by No. 1 overall pick Elton Brand, sharpshooting senior Trajan Langdon, point guard William Avery and athletic freak frosh Corey Maggette — all of whom went in the top 14 of the 1999 NBA Draft.


13. 1962 Ohio State Buckeyes

(26–2, 13–1 Big Ten)
Coach Fred Taylor
Lost to Cincinnati, 71–59, in NCAA title game

Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek are two of the greatest players in Ohio State history, playing in three consecutive NCAA title games — losing the last two trips as a heavy favorite against in-state rival Cincinnati.


14. 1957 Kansas Jayhawks

(24–3, 11–1 Big Seven)
Coach Dick Harp
Lost to North Carolina, 54–53 in 3OT, in NCAA title game

Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain was unable to follow in the championship footsteps of San Francisco’s Bill Russell — who led the Dons to titles in 1955 and '56. The Stilt lost in triple-overtime in what old timers have called the greatest game ever played.


15. 1963 Cincinnati Bearcats

(26–2, 11–1 Missouri Valley)
Coach Ed Jucker
Lost to Loyola-Chicago, 60–58, in NCAA title game

In their fifth straight Final Four appearance, the Bearcats were aiming for a three-peat before the term existed. But back-to-back champion Cincinnati was shocked by underdog Loyola-Chicago in the final.

Teaser:
These teams were dominant, but none were able to win it all in the NCAA Tournament.
Post date: Saturday, April 4, 2015 - 23:49
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-power-rankings-april-edition
Body:

1. Golden State Warriors (62-13)

The Warriors are winning at a rate that puts them up there with the best squads in league history, and the question of whether they’re title favorites need to be answered with a clear “yes” by now. The real ask is whether you’d take them or the field to win the Finals.

 

2. Atlanta Hawks (56-19)

The Hawks have been laggard for weeks, but that all seems to be part of coach Mike Budenholzer’s plan. They’re a napping giant, resting their bones, and they’re still the team to beat in the East.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (49-27)

LeBron James and Co. look better with every day, and only Atlanta appears good enough to beat them in the East. A seven-game series between the two might see Cleveland take the super-talented pieces of their game to an unbeatable stratosphere, though.

 

4. Houston Rockets (52-24)

James Harden’s MVP campaign is the spearhead at the center of the Rockets’ surprising season. And with Dwight Howard back as the defense’s final line, they seem like the team to meet Golden State in the conference finals.

 

5. San Antonio Spurs (49-26)

A rejuvenated San Antonio squad is the biggest remaining threat to the Warriors’ throne. The defending champs have regained form behind the amazing play of Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, and it should surprise no one if they shock the world in the playoffs.

 

6. Los Angeles Clippers (50-26)

Chris Paul is having one of the least noticed MVP-worthy seasons within recent memory, and the Clippers’ starting five remains one of basketball’s very best units. They’ve still got glaring holes all over their bench, though.

 

7. Memphis Grizzlies (51-24)

After looking the part of a championship fighter for much of the season, the Grizzlies have underwhelmed since the All-Star break — they essentially been a .500 team. Memphis hopefuls are praying that the postseason will ratchet their intensity back up.

 

8. Portland Trail Blazers (48-26)

The Blazers have won a surprising amount of games with Wesley Matthews out for the year. But the numbers (and the eye test) have turned out terrible results for their defense without Wes, and their Western Conference peers will know just how to attack them in the postseason — on the perimeter.

 

9. Chicago Bulls (45-30)

The Bulls continue to struggle through identity issues and fall short of the ideal dream their hyper-talented roster offers. But if they reach their ceiling in the playoffs, watch out.

 

10. Toronto Raptors (45-30)

The Raptors might be on the verge of an overhaul, if they experience another first-round exit this spring. General manager Masai Ujiri isn’t one to sit on his hands with a middling collection of talent.

 

11. Dallas Mavericks (46-30)

Rajon Rondo is starting to look like his scrappy, creative old self as the postseason approaches, and that’s great news for the Mavericks. Now if only they could get Monta Ellis in the right mood…

 

12. Washington Wizards (42-33)

John Wall is one of the best point guards in the game, but it’s hard to see him overcoming his coach’s strange, nostalgic court vision and a mediocre, aging supporting cast to push Washington deep into the second season.

 

13. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-33)

How far can Russell Westbrook’s insanity take the Thunder? Without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka… probably not very far, especially seeing as they’re likely to draw the Warriors in the first round. But it’s still impossible not to get drunk on Westbrook’s inspired play.

 

14. New Orleans Pelicans (40-34)

Anthony Davis has had as good of a season as any 22-year-old ever has. Maybe next year, he’ll have the coach and supporting cast to help him take New Orleans Pelicans to the postseason.

 

15. Utah Jazz (34-41)

The Jazz have had arguably the NBA’s best defense since the All-Star break, and things are looking way, way up for them as soon as next season.

 

16. Milwaukee Bucks (37-38)

Time will tell whether the Bucks made the right moves at the trade deadline, reshuffling the deck of their youth. For now, though, they’ve lowered their ceiling demonstrably.

 

17. Miami Heat (34-41)

Goran Dragic hasn’t been the shot in the arm to the Heat’s offense that they were hoping for, but they’ve still got enough firepower to make things interesting in a likely first round matchup with LeBron and the Cavs.

 

18. Phoenix Suns (38-38)

The future is dubious for the Suns, who’ve had a tragic, tough-to-stomach season by losing Dragic and an unheard-of number of games decided in the waning seconds.

 

19. Brooklyn Nets (34-40)

The Nets are a team about nothing, with management more concerned with saving lost money than making playoff noise, and no visible plan for team-building success in place.

 

20. Boston Celtics (34-41)

The Celtics are the friskiest, most fun candidate for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. Of all the cores fighting to get blown out by the Hawks, the one with a progressing Marcus Smart is the most compelling.

 

21. Charlotte Hornets (32-42)

The Hornets, like the Nets, are stuck with a bunch of questionable investments, and look to have no way out of them anytime soon. Optimism isn’t easy, here.

 

22. Indiana Pacers (32-43)

Paul George’s return looks less and less likely every day, and there’s really no reason for it as Indiana falls further and further away from postseason contention.

 

23. Orlando Magic (22-53)

Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo have established themselves as perhaps the most exciting young backcourt in the NBA. Now the Magic need to solidify the future with the right coaching hire this summer.

 

24. Sacramento Kings (26-48)

DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most intriguing talents in the game, and he deserves a consistent culture to grow in. Hopefully George Karl can finally provide that for him next season.

 

25. Detroit Pistons (29-46)

Stan Van Gundy has tinkered with his roster a ton this season, which has resulted in a lot of inconsistent play. But he’s shown an encouraging knack for player development.

 

26. Denver Nuggets (28-47)

The Nuggets, like the Magic, need to nail their coaching hire to get fans excited again. A lot is resting on what they do during this offseason.

 

27. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-59)

The Timberwolves are right where any young team should be: at the bottom of the standings, ready to add another potent piece to their already terrific farm of talent through the draft. The future looks real fun up north.

 

28. Philadelphia 76ers (18-58)

Nerlens Noel isn’t getting enough attention in the Rookie of the Year race. He’s been on a tear that puts him among the very best rim protectors of the game, but the constant moral outrage over the Sixers’ tanking endeavor has covered it up.

 

29. Los Angeles Lakers (20-54)

What’s new, here? Nothing. The Lakers are terrible, and the only way out seems to be another big-name signing in free agency. Does L.A. still have enough glamorous appeal to pull one off?

 

30. New York Knicks (14-61)

The Knicks are awful, and Phil Jackson has his work cut out for him to prove he’s the man to shift their sorry trend. If New York still sucks in 2015-16, will his legend start to diminish?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 15:09
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-game-preview-and-predictions-wisconsin-vs-kentucky
Body:

In many ways, Kentucky-Wisconsin isn’t a rematch.

 

The coaches are the same, the jerseys are the same and many of the players are the same from the Wildcats’ 74-73 win in last year’s Final Four. But at the same time, these are two different teams meeting in the national semifinal.

 

The most obvious change is with Kentucky. The Wildcats reached last year’s Final Four without an injured Willie Cauley-Stein and before freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis arrived.

 

And for Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes — now one of Wisconsin’s top three players — logged only seven minutes in last year’s Final Four game.

 

Even the returners are different, says Kentucky coach John Calipari.

 

“I just saw (Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky) out in the hallway, and I said, ‘Look, I'm so tired of looking at your tape right now,’” Calipari said. “I said to Bo how much better he's gotten in a two-year period is almost scary. He and (Sam) Dekker both. They both have a swagger about them, they both have a high belief in their teams. They know how they're going to play.”

 

The development of Kaminsky and Dekker and the presence of Cauley-Stein and Towns sets up one of the most anticipated Final Four matchups in several years.

 

The nation’s top offensive team and top defensive team in terms of efficiency will face off Saturday, and only one of those teams hopes history repeats itself.

 

Related:

31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

 

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

Time: 8:49 p.m. ET, Saturday

TV: TBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Kentucky by 5

 

Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker vs. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein

Wisconsin has two big guys who can run the floor, play the perimeter and score down low. Kaminsky and Dekker are a combined 87-of-236 (37 percent) from 3 this season. Cauley-Stein, though, is different from most defenders. He’s a seven-footer who can defend the perimeter. Kaminsky and Dekker were a combined 7-of-11 from the field with 23 points in last year’s meeting, and that was when Cauley-Stein didn’t play.

 

Player on the Spot: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns had a miserable game against West Virginia — scary, considering Kentucky still won by 39 — and John Calipari didn’t let it slide. Towns responded to his one-point performance with a dominating 25-point game against Notre Dame. Towns finished 10-of-13 from th efield and 5-of-6 from the line with four assists, to boot.

 

Trending: Wisconsin’s offense

Anyone who says Wisconsin can’t score is not paying much attention. No, the Badgers aren’t one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, but they are the most efficient this season (a year after they ranked fourth). Ask Arizona if Wisconsin can score. Arizona is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and the Badgers shredded the Wildcats in the second half of the Elite Eight. Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 from the field and 10-of-12 from 3 in the final 20 minutes against the Wildcats.

 

Number of Note: 439

Free throw attempts for opponents against Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the most stingy fouling teams in the country. Opponents get 4.5 field goal attempts for every free throw against the Badgers, the best rate in the country. Kentucky is a good free throw shooting team (72.5 percent), especially from its big men. If the game is close, Kentucky’s trips to the line will be watched closely.

 

Kentucky will win if...

Aaron Harrison hits big shots. Harrison hit the key shots against Wichita State, Louisville and Wisconsin in last year’s Tournament, and he did it again against Notre Dame. Wisconsin allows its share of open 3s. Teams shoot 37. 1 percent from 3 against the Badgers, ranking 301st nationally. But those shots are earned. Wisconsin allows 3-pointers at the sixth-best rate of any team this season.

 

Wisconsin will win if...

The Badgers can stretch the Kentucky defense. This game is between the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency and the No. 1 team in defensive efficiency. The difference may be from 3-point line. Kaminsky and Dekker against Cauley-Stein and Towns will be a game-long battle. If Wisconsin can stretch the court and hit 3s, Kentucky may have to ease up on Kaminsky, Dekker and Nigel Hayes. Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser are a combined 11-of-27 from 3 in this Tournament. If that’s going to change, it will happen against the best 3-point defending team in the country (26.7 percent).

 

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Kentucky 68-63

Braden Gall: Kentucky 72-70

Mitch Light: Kentucky 72-66

Jake Rose: Wisconsin 68-62

Teaser:
Final Four Game Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-game-preview-and-predictions-michigan-state-vs-duke
Body:

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is trying to play coy that his team was not a Final Four contender from the start. 

 

True, this was a Blue Devils team that lost three of six during a stretch in January, including a loss to Miami at home. But this was also a preseason top-four team that only solidified those credentials with 10-point wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin by early December, both away from Durham.

 

“I don't know who expected us to be here,” Krzyzewski said. “We have eight guys and four freshmen. I think at times you expect a program to be here instead of looking at a team.”

 

That’s not entirely true, but if Krzyzewski is going to try to play up the underdog card, he’s going to have a tough time pulling it against Michigan State.

 

Last year’s Spartans team was the one that seemed preordained to go to the Final Four. Every senior who played four years for Tom Izzo to that point had reached the Final Four, and Izzo had two seniors who had never been to the Final Four.

 

The trend ended with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling reaching merely the Elite Eight. This team lost Payne, Appling and Gary Harris and lost five games before the new year, including a home game against Texas Southern.

 

Nevertheless, Michigan State has put it together in the last few weeks and now the Spartans are where they’d be expected to be many years — in the Final Four.

 

“Maybe it wasn't as expected — we had a little rougher run during the year,” Izzo said. “When you get your program to a certain level, I think that's our expectations, that's what we want our kids' expectations, the media and fans.”

 

Related:

31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

 

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Duke

Time: 6:09 p.m. ET, Saturday

TV: TBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Duke by 5

 

Matchup to Watch: Michigan State’s Travis Trice vs. Duke’s Quinn Cook

This is a question of which senior guard is going to get baskets at critical times. Of course, this is a more pressing matchup for Trice, who does not have the luxury of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow (though Spartans Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are very good). Trice is averaging 19.8 points per game in the tournament (more than four points better than his season average). Cook is averaging 14.5 points per game in the Tournament and hitting 12-of-14 from the free throw line in the last two games.

 

Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Opponents in the regional did a good job of containing the damage from Okafor. Mind you, that’s at the expense of Winslow having his way on both ends of the court against Utah and Gonzaga. Okafor scored a combined 15 points in two games last week and shot 7-of-16 from the field. Okafor averaged 17.5 points and shot nearly 67 percent during the season. He’ll need to approach that if Duke is going to win a title.

 

Trending: Michigan State’s free throw shooting

The Spartans free throw shooting was the weak link during the season, and history suggests that it will bite them during the Tournament. Yet Michigan State recently found its stride at the line. The Spartans hit 6-of-6 free throws in crunch time against Oklahoma and then went 15-of-20 against Louisville. Michigan State shoots 63.2 percent from the line this season, ranking 338th overall.

 

Number of Note: 22-to-6

Justise Winslow has raised his game during the NCAA Tournament, but let’s not overlook point guard Tyus Jones. The freshman has 22 assists and six turnovers during the Tournament. He’s averaging 3.7 assists per turnover in the last four games compared to 2.8 during the regular season. He’s also thrown in two steals per game in the Tourney.

 

Michigan State will win if...

Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello play out of their minds against Okafor. Michigan State’s big men aren’t the first names anyone considers when it comes the Spartans this season. Now, they’re in the critical spot against Okafor. Can they contain him like Utah and Gonzaga did and can they get some baskets agains Okafor’s suspect defense? Michigan State needs that to pull the upset.

 

Duke will win if...

Michigan State’s time is up. The Spartans are a great story and deserve credit for beating the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the East region. But this is a No. 7 seed that didn’t hit its potential until late in the year. Duke perhaps hasn’t played its best game of the Tournament and still ended up beating Gonzaga by 14, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-10 in the final 10 minutes.

 

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Duke 70-61

Braden Gall: Duke 78-62

Mitch Light: Duke 68-57

Jake Rose: Duke 73-70

Teaser:
Final Four Game Preview and Predictions: Michigan State vs. Duke
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 13:37
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical
Body:

Tiger's decision regarding The Masters dragged on into the 11th hour, much like waiting through a boring Oscars telecast for the Best Picture announcement. We finally know that he will, in fact, be on hand for the season's first major.

 

Although he's decided to tee it up at Augusta National on Thursday, he's clearly not the steely-eyed golf machine he once was, having displayed an all-too-human vulnerability to an aging body and decaying confidence. We never thought we'd say this, but we hope he doesn't embarass himself come Thursday.

 

Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental?

 

Participants

Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC

Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer

Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio

Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig

Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd

Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett

Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred

Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli

Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski

Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander

 

Are Tiger's problems mental or physical?
Mental       4
Physical    1
Both          6

 

Comments
• Started mental as the scandals ended his aura of invincibility and led to a loss of confidence in every aspect of his life, even the swing.

 

• He's worn out between the ears after nearly two decades of carrying the game on his shoulders.

 

• Mental. Everybody but him seems to know it.

 

• It's 90 percent in his head and 50 percent physical. Yeah, the math doesn't add up, but that's how I see it.

 

• He will never be 100% healthy physically, but his mental game pulled him through. Now with his mental game in flux his game in general is substandard.

 

• He’s in a vicious circle right now. He needs to play a lot of golf to get out of his funk, but his body isn't healthy enough to do that.  

 

• Based on his play this year, he obviously has some confidence issues. He admits to being less focused than he was in the past and his physical problems hinder his ability to practice, much less play frequently. Not a good combination.

Both, I believe. If you have back or knee troubles, in golf or baseball (or tennis), well, they are games of swinging. And once doubts creep into the mind, you have what you had in Phoenix, the former greatest golfer in the world  chili-dipping and blasting long. That's a man untrusting of his game at the current time.

 

• Both. His back problems might be better, but he was still away from the game for long period of time and he needs to practice. In the meantime, he changed coaches, altered his swing and saw those problems creep into his short game. For one of the best ever around the greens, it is surely more than physical. There are issues of confidence and doubt that have come along with all the other changes.

 

• Tiger's struggles are more physical than mental. His inability to perform physically is hurting the mental part, however.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-greatest-opening-day-moments-2015
Body:

Monday marks Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season, although the games actually begin with Sunday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Whether Opening Day ever becomes an official national holiday, something more than 100,000 Americans supported via an online petition posted on the White House’s Web site last year, remains to be seen, but it’s clear the first day of the baseball season holds a special place in the hearts of the fans of America’s pastime.

 

Related: Ranking the National League Ballparks in 2015 (Expert Poll)

 

Besides signaling the start of a new season and the opportunity to cheer on their favorite team and/or player, Opening Day also has been the catalyst for some of baseball’s most historic moments and impressive achievements.

 

The Day Baseball Changed Forever

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, 28, played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in MLB’s modern era in the process. By breaking the color barrier, Robinson forever changed America’s pastime and this also represented the start to his eventual Hall of Fame career. Even though he went hitless (0-for-3) in his first game, Robinson’s impact on the game is unmistakable, as evidenced by the fact his No. 42 has been retired permanently.

 

“The Judge” Holds Court in the Dugout and at the Plate

Similar to Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right. A Hall of Fame player with 586 career home runs, two MVP awards and a Triple Crown, Robinson debuted as player-manager of the Cleveland Indians back on April 8, 1975, becoming the first African American manager in major league history.

 

Facing the New York Yankees at home, Robinson batted second as the team’s DH and gave the fans at Cleveland Stadium something to cheer about early when he homered off of Doc Medich in the bottom of the first. The Indians would go on to win 5-3, giving Robinson the first of the 1,065 wins he would amass in his 16 seasons as a manager. Robinson also was no stranger to going deep on Opening Day. His eight career Opening Day home runs are the most in history, a mark he shares with Ken Griffey Jr.

 

Presidential First Pitch

Twelve U.S. presidents have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch of the MLB season. The first to do so was William Howard Taft back on April 14, 1910. A noted baseball fan, Taft attended the Washington Senators’ opener at Griffith Stadium. While several other presidents, including Woodrow Wilson (pictured above in 1916), preceded Ronald Reagan in fulfilling this duty, he is the first Commander-in-Chief credited with throwing out the first pitch from the mound rather than the stands. Reagan did so in 1984 as part of an unscheduled appearance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

 

Since Reagan, each of the sitting presidents have participated in at least one Opening Day, the most recent being Barack Obama’s appearance at the Washington Nationals’ season-opener in 2010 — the 100th anniversary of the presidential first pitch.

 

The Bambino Christens His House

It was known as “The House That Ruth Built” and if there was every any doubt as to why, just go back to what happened on April 18, 1923. On the first Opening Day in Yankee Stadium (the original, not the one that opened in 2009), Ruth fittingly produced the first home run – a three-run shot into the right field bleachers. This blast helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, Ruth’s former team, and was the first of 259 home runs Ruth would hit at his house.

 

Related: Ranking the American League Ballparks in 2015 (Expert Poll)

 

The Hammer Ties the Bambino

On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron forever etched his name into the record books when he hit a three-run home run off of Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham in the top of the first inning at Riverfront Stadium. Besides staking his Atlanta Braves to an early 3-0 lead, it represented the 714th home run in Aaron’s career, tying Babe Ruth for the most in MLB history. Aaron finished his Hall of Fame career with 755 home runs, a mark that many still acknowledge as the all-time record.

 

Feller’s No-No

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his career, including one on April 16, 1940. Taking the mound for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox at the original Comiskey Park, Feller made one run stand, holding the home team hitless while allowing five walks and striking out eight. This remains as the only no-hitter thrown on Opening Day.

 

Going the Distance

On April 13, 1926, the Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s opened their season by needing 15 innings to decide the winner. While on the surface that may not seem that impressive, consider that the two starting pitchers – Walter Johnson and Eddie Rommel – were on the mound for the entire game!

 

Johnson, the Hall of Fame righty who is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, allowed just six hits and struck out 12 in his 15 innings of work for the Senators. Opposing him was the knuckleballer Rommel, who surrendered nine hits and walked five. The Senators broke through in the bottom of the 15th, giving Johnson a 1-0 win in a pitching matchup for the ages.

 

In fact, Johnson owned Opening Day in many ways, as the man known as “The Big Train” took the mound for 14 season-opening starts. In those starts, he went 9-5 with 12 complete games, including three that went to extra innings. Seven of his nine victories were shutouts, and he struck out more batters (82) than hits allowed (81) in 124 innings pitched.

 

Opening Day Power

Toronto’s George Bell hit three home runs off of Kansas City starter Bret Saberhagen on April 4, 1988 to become the first player to do so in his team’s opener. Chicago Cubs outfielder Tuffy Rhodes was the next to accomplish this feat when he took New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden out of Wrigley Field three times exactly six years later. Rhodes’ power display was certainly unexpected, as he entered that game with just five home runs in four seasons and wound up with a total of 13 in 590 career at-bats.

 

The most recent to go yard three times on Opening Day was Detroit’s Dimitri Young, who tamed Comerica Park with three home runs on April 4, 2005. Two of Young’s taters came off of Kansas City starter Jose Lima, while he victimized reliever Mike MacDougal with two outs in the bottom of the eighth for his third round-tripper.

 

Giving Fans Their Money’s Worth

Those in attendance at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012 got to see plenty of baseball action. The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays battled for 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in MLB history. Although the home team lost, 7-4, those that stuck around for the entire game basically got a two-for-one deal with their ticket.

 

Saving Their Best For Last

In 1901, the Detroit Tigers, playing their first-ever game, trailed the Milwaukee Brewers 13-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth. The home team mounted a monumental rally, tallying 10 runs to beat the Brewers, 14-13. More than 110 years later it remains the greatest Opening Day rally in major league history.

Teaser:
Baseball's Greatest Opening Day Moments
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/florida%E2%80%99s-billy-donovan-might-be-headed-nba
Body:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

 

University of Florida’s long-tenured head coach, Billy Donovan, is said to be looking for an opportunity in the NBA. The 49-year-old saw his Gators disappoint this season, finishing below .500 and missing the NCAA tournament, so now he’s reportedly peering toward the pros for his next campaign.

 

Donovan’s most likely landing spot could be with his in-state Orlando Magic, a team that already has a coaching vacancy lined up for the summer.Donovan would, in theory, be a terrific fit with the team’s young core, including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic.

 

The Magic may be hesitant to get involved with Donovan, though — he’s left them feeling burned before. In 2007, Orlando and Donovan went so far as to introduce Billy as their new head coach at a press conference, only to have Donovan retract his agreement in the coming days, after having second thoughts about leaving the college ranks.

 

The Denver Nuggets will also have an opening on their bench, and the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls are candidates to follow suit.

 

Donovan’s friend Rick Pitino believes the 49-year-old is ready to make the jump after nearly two decades in Gainesville. "I think Billy has looked at it,” Pitino said on ESPN Radio, “I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA — a strong desire to coach in the NBA — and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that, with that type of personality, will do very well.

 

“If Billy doesn't do well, he can go back to college. Brad Stevens can go back to college. When you get to be our age, Tom [Izzo] and my age, where are you going back to? The McBurney's YMCA on 37th Street or 34th Street? If you're happy where you're at, it's a good place to stay."

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-4-dustin-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — 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. 4: Dustin Johnson

 

Born: June 22, 1984, Columbia, S.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 9 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,249,180 (12th) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats:

      Driving Distance: 311.0 (2nd)

      Fairway Proximity: 27’9” (1st)

      Par Breakers: 23.39% (4th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Starting with his rookie year in 2008, Johnson has won in eight consecutive seasons on the PGA tour, which is something very few players have done. In fact, going back over 50 years, only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have matched this feat, putting the South Carolinian in Hall of Fame company. That Dustin is amongst the most talented golfers in the world is no question — he gets so much for free, it seems — but just as big as his talent are the questions that follow his commitment to the game and his off-the-course activities. In taking a leave of absence for professional help with personal problems late in 2014, Dustin missed the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, the latter being the second major he has missed in recent years for questionable reasons. His return to the PGA Tour is accompanied by a lot of buzz, and for good reason, since he’s one of the longest and straightest hitters in the game. Nobody on tour hit their approach shots closer to the hole on average in 2014, and with the improvement he made in his short shots and putting, only Adam Scott ranked higher than him in the All-Around category. He could be one of the greatest players of all time if he respected his talent the way his peers do.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T12
PGA Championship - DNP

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2013)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 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, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:17
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2015-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

A new era of football begins in Lincoln this season as Mike Riley takes over at Nebraska.

 

The Huskers boast the best roster in the division and could be considered the front-runner in the West. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska hasn't gotten any favors from the schedule and that could once again be an issue in 2015.

 

If Riley's bunch makes it to the B1G title game, however, it will have earned it and could have an outside shot at a playoff spot.

 

Related: 2015 Nebraska Spring Football Preview

 

2015 Nebraska Cornhuskers Schedule

 

Bye: 12, * - Fri.

 

WkOpp.DateLocation
1.Sept. 5Lincoln, NE
Sneaky Good Opener Generally, Week 1 is the best weekend of non-conference action nationally and this one in Lincoln is sneaky good. BYU and Nebraska have never played, but the blues and reds will look great on the turf of Memorial Stadium.
2.Sept. 12Lincoln, NE
For the second straight week, the Huskers will face a team they've never played before. South Alabama is a tricky out after reaching a bowl game a season ago.
3.Sept. 19Miami, FL
Historic Rivalry Aside from Nebraska's 41-31 win last season in Lincoln, this matchup has carried with it national title implications. The five previous meetings came in a national title situation beginning with the infamous two-point try to cap the 1983 season. Nebraska leads the all-time series 6-5.
4.Sept. 26Lincoln, NE
These two have met only five times (all since 1999) and Big Red faithful will never forget what took place in 2004. Southern Miss' lone win in the series came in a 21-17 upset in Lincoln. The Huskers have crushed the Eagles in two meetings since (2012-13).
5.Oct. 3Champaign, IL
Nebraska hasn't lost to Illinois since 1924 and is 9-2-1 all-time in the series. As Big Ten foes, the Huskers outscored the Illini 84-33 in two blowout wins the last two seasons. This will be the first visit to Champaign since 1986.
6.Oct. 10Lincoln, NE
Big Red Clash A huge divisional showdown between what should be the top two teams in the West could decide one half of the B1G title game by early October. The Badgers have won four of the last five meetings, but are 0-3 all-time in Lincoln. Nebraska has allowed 129 points in the last two meetings.
7.Oct. 17Minneapolis, MN
Road Test Possibly the biggest road game of the year for Mike Riley's bunch. This old-school Midwest rivalry has been rekindled since NU joined the Big Ten and last year's heart-breaking loss at home was an instant classic. The Huskers won every meeting from 1963-2012 (16 games) but have now lost twice in a row to the Gophers.
8.Oct. 24Lincoln, NE
Weird things happen when these two get together. Nebraska leads the all-time series (6-2), but this budding rivalry has seen its share of bizarre occurrences. The Wildcats impressed in Lincoln in 2011, Taylor Martinez erases a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in Evanston a year later and, of course, the Hail Mary of '13. Buckle up, folks.
10.Oct. 31West Lafayette, IN
These two have met a total of three times, as Nebraska has crushed the Boilermakers twice since joining the Big Ten. Purdue has been outscored 79-21 in the past two matchups.
11.Nov. 7Lincoln, NE
Season-Defining Moment Nebraska could still win the West and the Big Ten title if it loses this game, but how it plays in this game will define the Huskers '15 campaign. The last three meetings have been exciting and close. The Cornhuskers won the first seven meetings in the series but have lost the last two get-togethers. 
11.Nov. 14Piscataway, NJ
Trap Game There will be a lot of red on the field in New Jersey when Nebraska plays its first-ever game in Piscataway. Rutgers fell 42-24 a year ago in Lincoln and appears to be trending in the wrong direction, but NU will be coming off a massive battle with MSU the previous week.
13.Nov. 27*Lincoln, NE
Rivalry Game Nebraska exacted some revenge on Iowa a year ago with a thrilling comeback in Iowa City. The Big Red is 29-13-3 all-time against Iowa and has won three of the four meetings since moving to the B1G. However, the only loss came in a 38-17 embarrassment in Lincoln two years ago.

 

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Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2015 Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/31-reasons-will-be-best-final-four-ever
Body:

For a sport that’s supposed to be in a state of crisis, college basketball has given us a doozy of a final weekend.

 

Criticism of the sport has been almost as big as the season itself in 2014-15. The game is too slow. The final minutes of the game stretch on forever. The officiating is inconsistent. The game has few household names actually playing the game.

 

All of these will be lingering issues, but not until Tuesday.

 

For now, we have an epic Final Four to watch.

 

This year’s Final Four is poised to give the sport a final weekend for the ages, perhaps approaching the legendary status of 1979, 1985, 1991 or 2008.

 

We’ve counted down the ways this will be possibly the greatest Final Four of all time — 31 ways to be exact, one for each Final Four since the field expanded to 64 in 1985.

 

1. 40-0

Kentucky already has The Unforgettables and The Untouchables. The Wildcats are looking to add The Unbeatables. No team in college basketball has been 38-0. No team since UNLV in 1991 has made it to the Final Four undefeated (34-0). And no team since Indiana in 1976 has finished a season undefeated (32-0). Kentucky is chasing basketball immortality.

 

2. Wire-to-wire great teams

The NCAA Tournament is random, and even teams that were great all season lose before the final weekend. It’s a statistical improbability that four of the best teams during the season actually make it to the Final Four. Three No. 1 seeds are in the Final Four for the first time since all four made it in 2008 and only the fifth time since seeding began in 2008. Not only are Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin No. 1 seeds, they have been consensus top-five teams for most of the season. Kentucky has been No. 1 all year. Duke has been in the AP top five all year. And Wisconsin spent one week ranked seventh this season and never lower than that.

 

3. A Kentucky-Duke title game

Not that we’re rooting for a Kentucky-Duke national championship game — upsets of either would be monumental on their own — but the prospect of an all-blue title game is tough to resist. They’re two of the most polarizing teams in the country. Someone will surely pit John Calipari’s vacated Final Fours against Mike Krzyzewski’s “doing things the right way” (even though Coach K has had his share of one-and-dones). The game has the baggage of Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot in overtime of the 1992 Elite Eight. 

 

4. People are watching

The game is still facing an existential crisis in terms of year-round popularity and the quality of product. That said, it’s tough to call the game “unwatchable” when so many people are watching. Kentucky-Notre Dame was the highest rated college basketball game in cable history. An increase of 2 percent compared to last season was still enough to give the NCAA Tournament its biggest audience since 1993. Maybe it’s Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin. Maybe it’s the availability of every Tournament game on basic cable. Maybe it’s the ever-increasing access to streaming games. Whatever the reason, the Final Four is viable water cooler conversation.

 

5. The Big Men

The national semifinal is going to give us Frank Kaminsky trying to navigate the stout defense of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. And the winner of that battle may draw Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the national championship game. A Towns-Okafor matchup in the title game would be the first time the top two picks in the draft met in the national championship game. UCLA’s Bill Walton and NC State’s David Thompson faced each other in the 1974 title game but were selected No. 1 overall in separate drafts. The top two picks (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the 2012 draft played in the same title game, they just played for the same team (Kentucky).

 

6. Pro Prospects

Beyond Okafor and Towns as the consensus top two picks, the Final Four is full of future pros. As many as nine players in the Final Four are in DraftExpress’s most recent first-round projection and five in the lottery: No. 1 Towns, No. 2 Okafor, No. 5 Justise Winslow of Duke, No. 6 Cauley-Stein of Kentucky, No. 10 Kaminsky, No. 16 Sam Dekker of Wisconsin, No. 17 Devin Booker and No. 19 Trey Lyles of Kentucky, No. 26 Tyus Jones of Duke.

 

7. All-Americans

There’s plenty of star power here with three first-team All-Americans in the Final Four in Okafor, Kaminsky and Cauley-Stein. This is only the third time in the last decade three first-team All-Americans have played in the Final Four.

 

8. The coaches

Every coach in the Final Four has won a national championship — Bo Ryan’s came in Division III, but more on that later. Still, we’ve got a combined 2,532 career wins, 203 NCAA Tournament wins, 27 Final Fours and six Division I championships in this group. All four coaches were ranked in the top 10 of Athlon’s preseason coach rankings, including each of the top three.

 

9. Coach K’s historic year

The big number for Krzyzewski is 1,000 as he became the first men’s college basketball coach to 1,000 career wins with a Jan. 25 victory over St. John’s. The season has been historic in a handful of other ways. He’s now tied with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (12), moving ahead of Dean Smith’s 11. A championship would give him five titles, breaking his tie with Adolph Rupp and moving him to No. 2 to Wooden’s unbreakable 10 titles. He’s also tied Jim Boeheim for the most Tournament appearances (31), and he passed Smith’s record for career ACC wins (432).

 

10. The Hall of Fame

The two coaches facing each other Saturday — in their second consecutive Final Four — are both up for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s not certain either or both will get in, but they will get in eventually. Krzyzewski is already in. Izzo is a virtual lock, meaning this Final Four in history’s eyes will have four Hall of Famers. The last time we can guarantee such a thing was 2001 when Krzyzewski, Izzo, Arizona's Lute Olson and Maryland's Gary Williams were in the Final Four.

 

11. Bo Ryan’s bid for history

To think, there was a time when the knock on Ryan was that he couldn’t win in the Tournament, never mind that he won four Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville from 1991-99. If Ryan wins a Division I national title, he’ll be the first coach in NCAA history to win championships in multiple divisions.

 

12. Michigan State is the underdog

No Final Four is complete without an unlikely team, and in this group of three No. 1 seeds and power teams, Michigan State gives the national semifinal an appropriate underdog. The Spartans have only one McDonald’s All-American (Branden Dawson) and few highly rated pro prospects. Remember, last year’s team with Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling seemed destined for a Final Four. This Michigan State team was on the bubble at one point his year.

 

13. Tom Izzo

College athletics need more big-time coaches who don’t take themselves too seriously and aren’t afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve. In just the last year, Izzo dressed like Gene Simmons at Midnight Madness and crumpled in embarrassment when his team missed free throws in a win over Indiana.

 

 

14. Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein is a defensive whiz, the most experienced player on a potential 40-0 team and an eminently quotable college basketball player. He’s also a rarity in the sport. He’s an All-American averaging 9.1 points per game, making him the first All-American to average fewer than 10 points per game since 1944-45. That player? Notre Dame’s Bill Hassett, who averaged 8.6 points per game that year. 

 

15. Kentucky’s unselfishness

Not only is Cauley-Stein a rare All-American in terms of scoring, the entire Kentucky team would be an oddity if the Wildcats win a national title. Since the field expanded in 1985, only six national champions didn’t have a 15-points per game scorer. The lowest-scoring top scorers on a title team in the 64-team era are Kansas’ Brandon Rush in 2008 and Florida’s Taurean Green in 2007, both at 13.3 points per game. At 11 points per game, Kentucky’s top scorer Aaron Harrison would shatter that mark.

 

16. Aaron Harrison’s clutch shots

No one was more emblematic of Kentucky’s title game run last season than Aaron Harrison, who hit game-winning shots in the final seconds against Wisconsin in the Final Four and Michigan in the Elite Eight and a go-ahead shot against Louisville in the Sweet 16. With a go-ahead shot against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight this season, Harrison has proven he still has it.

 

17. Quinn Cook’s humility

Kentucky’s players aren’t the only ones who had to learn to put ego aside to reach the Final Four. Quinn Cook had been Duke’s starting point guard for two seasons before Krzyzewski recruited Tyus Jones. In essence, Coach K was asking his senior point guard to move to shooting guard to make room for a freshman. Cook did it without complaint and both have flourished as a result. The result was moments like this:

 

 

18. Justise Winslow’s emergence

He’s managed to upstage Okafor and Jones as Duke’s best freshman in the Tournament. His all-around play hasn’t been a revelation necessarily — he’s been a great scorer, rebounder and defensive presence all year — but it has been the critical piece of the puzzle for Duke.

 

19. Sam Dekker’s emergence

It wouldn’t be fair to say Dekker hadn’t reached his potential at Wisconsin, but he never was an overwhelming player for the Badgers, either. That has changed as Dekker has twice set career highs (23 points against North Carolina, 27 against Arizona) in the regional. The 6-9 forward was unstoppable in the second half against the Wildcats with 5-of-5 3-pointers.

 

20. Tyler Ulis

At 5-foot-9, Tyler Ulis is already one of the smallest players for a major program. Playing on a team with Kentucky’s size only makes his stature more pronounced. He doesn’t back down, though, as evidenced by this exchange with Auburn’s 7-2 center Trayvon Reed.

 

 

21. Nigel Hayes

Every Tournament introduces America to a character who happens to play college basketball. Nigel Hayes is that year’s player. Hayes messed with a stenographer and got caught on a hot mic admiring a lady in the room.

 

22. Karl-Anthony Towns

A potential No. 1 overall pick who photobombs his coach? Sure.

 

 

23. Wisconsin’s laid-back team

Seriously, this is just about every press conference for this team. No one is having more fun than Wisconsin right now.

 

 

24. An All-Big Ten title game?

A Wisconsin-Michigan State championship game would require two upsets on Saturday, which on its own would be monumental. Those upsets would also set up a title game involving two teams from the same conference, something that’s happened only twice in the 64-team era (Kansas over Oklahoma in 1988, Villanova over Georgetown in 1985). It would be the first all-Big Ten final since Indiana beat Michigan in 1976.

 

25. Travis Trice’s mom

Do you hear that banshee-like scream when Michigan State’s opponents are attempting free throws? That’s Travis Trice’s mom.

 

26. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

That’s the name of Michigan State’s freshman guard. His given name Lourawls is from his father, who was named for the 60s-70s singer Lou Rawls. “Tum Tum” is from a character the 1992 kids movie 3 Ninjas. That’s how you end up with a Louralws “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

 

27. The NCAA has a social conscience

The NCAA and its members are still trying to tackle many issues, from violence against women to compensation for players and more. Credit the NCAA for leaving no wiggle room on its position on Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On the eve of the Final Four taking place in Indianapolis, the NCAA was one of the first of many national entities to condemn the law and threaten to move events to other states.  

 

28. Bill Raftery

Bill Raftery is one of the nation’s most beloved college basketball color commentators, but for various reasons, he’s never called a Final Four until this season. Send it in...

 

29. Rematches

The matchups don’t need any more juice than they already have, but there’s plenty of familiarity here. Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 in the Final Four a year ago. The Wildcats lost to Michigan State in Chicago early in the 2013 season. Duke beat Michigan State 81-71 in November. Of course, Wisconsin and Michigan State are conference foes, but they played an epic overtime bout in the Big Ten championship game.  

 

30. Vicarious wins

Congratulations, Texas Southern, Rutgers and Miami, you beat teams in the Final Four.

 

31. Crowd-watching

We’ve got Ashley Judd (Kentucky), Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn (Wisconsin), Magic Johnson (Michigan State) and members of the Dallas Cowboys (Duke) sharing the arena with guys like this...

 

Teaser:
31 Reasons This Will Be the Best Final Four Ever
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Florida State Seminoles, Oregon Ducks, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-2015-why-pro-days-are-completely-useless
Body:

The only thing worse than the NFL Combine is a pro day.

 

It’s like the Combine but with home-field advantage. And no defense.

 

Jameis Winston’s 2015 pro day was rather uneventful and did very little to change his stock as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. That’s good because a pro day shouldn’t do much of anything to anyone’s stock.

 

Winston completed 92-of-102 passes against air and a few household cleaning items.

 

A week earlier, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota drew mixed reviews during his workout at the Ducks’ facility.

 

BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

 

The short answer is nothing.

 

Related: 2015 AFC Team Needs

 

Winston is still a big-armed, NFL-ready pocket passer with above average athleticism, a track record for winning games and questionable off-the-field decision-making skills.

 

Mariota is still a quiet, unassuming, electric athlete with a strong arm but very little experience reading defenses and running a pro-style offense.

 

We pretty much knew all of this stuff because, get this, we watched them play college football.

 

The lesson here is that pro days actually mean less than the Combine. At least at the Combine, you have an equal measuring stick for every player from around the nation regardless of exercise or conference or position.

 

A pro day is a contrived group of drills using teammates and coaches that are extremely well-known in the comfort of a familiar facility against no opposition whatsoever.

 

Need more?

 

I give you JaMarcus Russell and Teddy Bridgewater.

 

According to NFL Network scouting guru Mike Mayock, Russell produced “the best pro day I’ve ever seen.” Throwing a football 70 yards through some goalposts on one knee is extremely impressive but I have yet to see it happen in a game. But his pro day workout cemented Russell atop the 2007 NFL Draft.

 

Mayock touted Bridgewater’s pro day as “average at best” with “a lot of flutters and a lot of inaccuracy.” It caused Bridgewater to drop to the last pick of the first round last spring.

 

Related: 2015 NFC Team Needs

 

Russell went 7-18 as an NFL starter in three seasons, throwing 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions while completing just 52.1 percent of his passes. That’s epically bad for a No. 1 overall draft pick.

 

In just 12 career starts, Bridgewater has nearly matched Russell’s career stats and has clearly proven he belongs under center in the NFL. He won six of his 12 starts as a rookie, throwing 14 touchdown passes and completing 64.4 percent of his passes.

 

Russell was a freakish athlete with a huge arm and tendency to turn the ball over. Bridgewater is a tough leader who helps his teams consistently win games.

 

But no one needed a pro day to see that. No, all you needed was a TV and some free time on Saturdays.

Teaser:
NFL Draft 2015: Why Pro Days Are Completely Useless
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 12:09
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-2015-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

Expectations are soaring into the summer for the Tennessee Volunteers.

 

Butch Jones has had as big an influx of young talent in the last two years as any team in the nation. Which is why so many might be quick to prematurely mention his team as a possible contender in the SEC East.

 

Either way, Big Orange Nation will get its money's worth in 2015 with a schedule loaded with marquee games

 

Something Rocky Top hasn't been accustomed to in years.

 

Related: 2015 Tennessee Spring Football Preview

 

2015 Tennessee Volunteers Schedule

 

Bye: Week 7

 

WkOpp.DateLocation
1.Sept. 5Nashville, TN
The first-ever meeting with the Falcons should be a nice warm-up for the Sooners. That said, Bowling Green could test the Vols' defense after averaging 432.9 yards and 30.0 points per game last year.
2.Sept. 12Knoxville, TN
Marquee OOC Showdown The Sooners topped the Vols 34-10 in Norman last year in just the third meeting between the two blueblood programs. In Knoxville, an upset for Tennessee wouldn't be a shock and could catapult the Big Orange into a big 2015 campaign.
3.Sept. 19Knoxville, TN
This game gives Tennessee a well-timed, lower-tier opponent between two physical showdowns. This will be the first-ever matchup against Western Carolina, one that should have the Vols healthy and ready for a huge trip south to Florida.
4.Sept. 26Gainesville, FL
Elimination Game The once vaunted SEC rivalry appears to be on the way back into national relevance, as the winner could become the top challenger to Georgia in the East. The Gators have won 10 consecutive meetings and haven't lost at home to the Vols since 2003.
5.Oct. 3Knoxville, TN
A sneaky awesome early October matchup could feature two surging unbeaten programs. It will be the third physical matchup for Tennessee's defense in the first five weeks. The Vols are 13-4 all-time against the Hogs and haven't lost at home in the series since 1992. Arkansas won 49-7 in Fayetteville in 2011 in the last meeting.
6.Oct. 10Knoxville, TN
Divisional Showdown Georgia was lucky to escape Neyland Stadium the last time it visited and Butch Jones' group hasn't forgotten. The Dawgs have won five straight in the series but the all-time series is tied 21-21-2. The winner likely takes control of the East.
8.Oct. 24Tuscaloosa, AL
Third Saturday in October The historic SEC rivalry has been a series of streaks for decades. Alabama is currently on an eight-game winning streak over Tennessee, including five consecutive blowouts. Bama has won those five by an average of 28.4 points per game.
9.Oct. 31Lexington, KY
Tennessee has won 30 of the last 31 meetings with the Wildcats, but the last four in Lexington have been tight, including Kentucky's lone win since 1984. Mark Stoops' squad is getting better but couldn't hang with the Vols a year ago in a 50-16 loss.
10.Nov. 7Knoxville, TN
Butch Jones is 2-0 against Steve Spurrier, including a historic, comeback win in Columbia last season. Tennessee leads the all-time series 24-7-2 but the series has been very even for a decade, as the two have split the last 10 matchups.
11.Nov. 14Knoxville, TN
Cupcake Alert Like many SEC teams, the Vols host a cupcake in November. The Mean Green have faced the Vols once in history — a 21-14 Tennessee win in Knoxville in 1975.
12.Nov. 21Columbia, MO
A budding SEC East rivalry has gone the way of the Tigers every time these two have met. Mizzou has won all three meetings with the Vols by a total score of 111-72. The only meeting in Columbia was a 31-3 drubbing two years ago.
13.Nov. 28Knoxville, TN
The in-state rivalry has long been a one-sided affair for the Vols (74-29-5). But the Dores have been extremely competitive of late, winning in both 2012 and '13 and losing a close one to Big Orange (24-17) last year. Tennessee generally gets Vandy's best shot every year.
Teaser:
Tennessee Volunteers 2015 Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-15-quarterbacks-hot-seat-2015
Body:

Quarterback is easily the position with the most pressure in any college football season. Whether it’s a quarterback fighting to keep a starting job, replacing a standout from the prior season or just looking to elevate their overall play, signal-callers will be securitized and watched closely all offseason.

 

With spring practice underway, quarterback play is under the spotlight and battles across the nation are up for grabs. Which 15 quarterbacks head into 2015 with big expectations as they replace a big name? And which quarterbacks are fighting to hold onto the job this offseason?

 

Here are 15 names to consider as names on the hot seat (for various reasons) in 2015: 

 

Six Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat…Fighting to Remain a Starter

 

Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech

Brewer experienced his share of ups and downs in 2014, and the pressure is on the Texas native to take a step forward. In 13 games last season, Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores and led the Hokies to an upset win over Ohio State. However, he also tossed seven picks in ACC play, passed for only 80 yards in a loss to Miami and threw for 126 yards and one interception in a 6-3 defeat against Wake Forest. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defenses, and a talented group of skill players returning in 2015. If Brewer cuts the number of interceptions and plays with more consistency, the Hokies can challenge for the Coastal title. If Brewer stumbles, Brenden Motley appears to be next up on the depth chart.

 

Jake Coker, Alabama

Coker was expected to win the starting job after transferring from Florida State to Alabama last season. However, Blake Sims held off Coker for the No. 1 spot and threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores. With Sims expiring his eligibility, the job is Coker’s to lose this spring. The senior will see competition from freshmen David Cornwell and Blake Barnett and junior Alec Morris. With an elite defense and rushing attack, Alabama doesn’t need Coker to be an All-SEC passer. But can he deliver with the game on the line and make enough timely throws to elevate the Crimson Tide into the national title?

 

Anthony Jennings, LSU

According to the recruiting rankings, LSU has one of the SEC’s best rosters. But even with a roster loaded with raw talent, the Tigers won’t contend for the West Division title unless the quarterback play improves in 2015. Jennings completed only 48.9 percent of his passes last season and finished 2014 by averaging only 110.4 yards in SEC contests. Jennings is locked into a tight battle for the starting job, as sophomore Brandon Harris ranked as the No. 75 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in eight games last year.

 

Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Settling the quarterback job is the top priority for new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners have ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing offense in back-to-back seasons and averaged only 184.8 yards through the air in conference contests in 2014. Knight appeared to be a rising star after his performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but he finished with just 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last year. Knight will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas this spring. Can he find the form that propelled the Sooners to a bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 2013 season? Or will Knight lose the battle to start under center?

 

Joel Stave, Wisconsin

Defense and the stellar play of running back Melvin Gordon led the way for Wisconsin last season. The Badgers averaged only 150 passing yards in Big Ten games, with Stave throwing for 1,350 yards and nine scores. He also tossed 10 picks and completed 53.4 percent of his passes. Even though Gordon is off to the NFL, the rushing attack should be strong with Corey Clement in a full-time role. But how much of a difference will new coach Paul Chryst make with the passing attack? Tanner McEvoy moved to defensive back, leaving Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins and freshmen Alex Hornibrook and Austin Kafentzis as candidates to push Stave for the starting job. The sluggish passing game isn’t all Stave’s fault, as Wisconsin has to develop more weapons at receiver this offseason.

 

Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

A similar storyline is set to unfold at Texas in coach Charlie Strong’s second season. The Longhorns will be strong on defense and enter the year with question marks on offense. Swoopes finished 2014 with 2,409 passing yards and 13 scores and added 262 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Texas plans to make a few tweaks to its offense in 2015, which includes utilizing the quarterbacks more on the run. Swoopes will be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard this spring and needs to show marked improvement in order to stay at the top of the depth chart for 2015.

 

Five Players Under Pressure At National Title Contenders

 

Vernon Adams, Oregon

Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy. However, that’s the task ahead for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich this offseason. Adams is transferring from Eastern Washington but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. The California native was one of the top players on the FCS level over the last three seasons and should be a good fit in the Ducks’ high-powered offense. Adams is a dynamic playmaker and could be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2015. How quickly will he pickup the offense and adjust to play on the FBS level?

 

Jeremy Johnson, Auburn

All signs point to Johnson as the next breakout star at quarterback. The junior is at the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense and played well in limited action through the first two seasons of his career. Johnson is a different quarterback than his predecessor Nick Marshall. The Montgomery native is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. Johnson certainly isn’t a statue in the pocket, but the quarterback runs under Marshall likely won’t be as prominently featured in 2015. If Johnson lives up to the hype, Auburn could win the SEC title and rank among the four teams for a playoff bid.   

 

Sean Maguire, Florida State

Maguire has the monumental task of replacing Jameis Winston after one of the best two-year runs by a starting quarterback. While losing Winston to the NFL was a huge blow to Florida State, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top offensive minds in the nation and a noted quarterback guru. Maguire made his first career start against Clemson last season, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. The New Jersey native is expected to claim the starting job this spring and will have a strong supporting cast at his disposal in 2015.

 

Brice Ramsey, Georgia

Out of the quarterbacks in this section, Ramsey is the one with the least amount of job security. The sophomore entered spring as the frontrunner to replace Hutson Mason but will face competition from Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. In eight games last season, Ramsey completed 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards and three scores. Will Ramsey emerge as the favorite under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? The Bulldogs have one of the nation’s top running backs in Nick Chubb, along with a defense that should be better in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. Contending for a national title could hinge on how quickly Georgia settles its quarterback situation.

 

Seth Russell, Baylor

Russell saw significant action last year, which included one start while Bryce Petty was dealing with a back injury. In eight appearances, Russell completed 48 of 85 throws for 804 yards and eight scores. Coach Art Briles is one of the best in the nation at finding and developing the next star at quarterback, and Baylor’s offense won’t miss much of a beat with Russell under center. However, if he stumbles, Jarrett Stidham – the No. 38 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite – will be ready to push for snaps.

 

Not in Danger of Losing the Starting Spot…But Has to Play Better

 

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

If Armstrong develops as a passer under coach Mike Riley and Nebraska’s new offense, the Cornhuskers can win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015.

 

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan turned in two solid performances at the end of 2014, and it’s critical for Stanford’s offense to shoulder more of the load in 2015 with several key players departing on defense.

 

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota

Leidner is a good fit for Minnesota’s offense with his mobility (452 yards and 10 scores in 2014), but he has to improve his completion percentage (51.5).

 

Maty Mauk, Missouri

Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes in SEC games last season. Improving that number is critical to Missouri’s hopes of winning the East once again in 2015. However, the Tigers must replace their top three receivers from last year.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 15 Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat for 2015
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Jordan Spieth, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-5-jordan-spieth
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — 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. 5: Jordan Spieth

 

Born: July 27, 1993, Dallas, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,342,748 (11th) World Ranking: 4

2014 Key Stats:

      Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage: 34.24% (2nd)

      Total Birdies: 389 (2nd)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 62.01% (9th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Spieth, after having a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2014 Masters, went on to finish second, and in doing so became the youngest-ever runner-up at the year’s first major. One month later, he very nearly captured The Players Championship. For most of the rest of the year his play was not as spectacular, but it’s what he did in the brief offseason that turned heads and dropped jaws. There is no bigger predictor of superstardom than contending in majors at an early age and winning tournaments by a wide margin while one is still in their early 20s. Though Jordan didn’t win The Masters, his play there left no doubt that major wins are in his future, and his six stroke win at the Australian Open and 10-stroke blowout at the Hero World Challenge in December showed a gear that no one knew he had. For the year, he led the tour in one-putt greens and was 13th in scrambling but struggled with his driver until an offseason fix by his teacher Cameron McCormick put him on track. It is that change and his runaway wins that put him among the favorites to win multiple times this year. His play thus far in 2015 — a win at Valspar, a runner-up at the Valero Texas Open and three other top-7 finishes — has done nothing to diminish those expectations.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T2
U.S. Open - T17
British Open - T36
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2014)
U.S. Open - T17 (2014)
British Open - T36 (2014)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 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, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:14
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-wildcats-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Bill Snyder is a mad scientist when it comes to building a roster and developing talent.

 

His challenge this offseason for Kansas State might be one of his biggest, however, as the Wildcats lose a glut of elite senior leaders.

 

Will Kansas State likely outperform their preseason expectations anyway? Probably. But that will require more wizardry from Snyder this spring.

 

Related: 2015 Big 12 Spring Primer and Power Rankings

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Kansas State’ Spring Practice:

 

1. Who replaces Jake Waters at quarterback?

Waters wasn’t an elite talent but he was a great leader and consistently willed his team to wins. He must be replaced this spring. Joe Hubener will have the first crack at earning the starting job as he brings a similar skill set to the table as Waters and previous starter Collin Klein. However, Jesse Ertz and early enrollee Alex Delton will be in the mix this spring.

 

2. Find pass catchers

Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton both topped 1,000 yards receiving last season, the first time a WR duo had done so in Kansas State history. Both are gone along with dependable tight end Zach Trujillo. Kody Clark has some upside and played well in a supporting role last fall. Deante Burton, Judah Jones, Stanton Weber and Andre Davis should all get plenty of looks on the outside. Someone needs to step up as KSU looks to find dependable pass catchers.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

3. Plug holes in the front seven

End Ryan Mueller and leading tackler Jonathan Truman are both gone along with tackle Valentino Coleman and linebacker Dakorey Johnson. Mueller will be the toughest one to replace, so finding a pass rusher is a top priority this spring. Jordan Willis needs to take the next step. There are plenty of linebackers on the depth chart prepared to step in and fill voids — Will Davis, Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore — but setting the depth chart this spring is key. 

 

4. Find a consistent running game

All-American center B.J. Finney needs to be replaced up the middle on an offense that ranked just 104th nationally in rushing offense last year. Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson return to the left side of the line but this unit must improve on the ground. Leading rusher among running backs Charles Jones is still around, but there is no experienced depth behind him. Settling the O-line, finding some backs and getting a push up front needs to be a focus this offseason.

 

5. Junior college contributors

Snyder has made a living on providing instant depth with junior college transfers during his time in Manhattan. Kansas State didn’t enroll a single JUCO prospect this spring, but a large group that failed to contribute much last season could be ready to step into prominent roles. The aforementioned Davis, offensive lineman A.J. Allen, nose guard Terrell Clinskcales and cornerback Jesse Mack could be the top names to watch from a ’14 class that included nine JUCOs.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Kansas State:

 

Kansas State is always better than most expect. But this team has major holes to fill at key positions after losing historically great players. Quarterback and the defensive front seven are big areas of concern but there are options in the cupboard for Snyder. Should these two areas come into focus, the Wildcats could once again surprise in the Big 12.

Teaser:
Kansas State Wildcats 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nba/san-antonio-spurs-are-beautiful-again
Body:

After a season spent lying about with a championship hangover, the San Antonio Spurs finally look like title contenders again.

 

Following a 12-3 March campaign, they seem like the only legitimate Western Conference threat to the dominant Golden State Warriors. The Spurs have regained their dazzling, selfless form — the giant has awakened from its slumber, with no game more telling than their recent 114-95 road spattering of the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Atlanta has been the apple of the league’s eye for much of the year, running out to the East’s No. 1 seed with a formula that coach Mike Budenholzer brought over from the decade-plus tenure he had under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But the Spurs quickly reminded the league that no one plays their brand of ball as well as they do, with the win.

 

At the center of their resurgence is Tony Parker, who shot 56 percent from the field through March — an almost unheard-of figure for a point guard. Parker had shot around 40 percent for the previous two months, clearly exhibiting some malaise and creaky body issues, but now he’s back to being the dark horse leader that’s fueled the Spurs’ offense for years.

 

Alongside Parker’s rise back to prominence has been the continued improvement of Kawhi Leonard, who missed games with various injuries throughout the year but now looks more and more every day like he’s eclipsing Carmelo Anthony, to enter the rare air of top-three NBA small forwards — Kawhi’s still got work to do to stand up to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Leonard’s relentless length on defense is difficult for any team to account for.

 

The ever-steady Tim Duncan, meanwhile, continues to amaze. The soon-to-be-39-year-old has been the Spurs’ most consistent player in 2014-15, netting the seventh best defensive real plus-minus in the league — Leonard’s is fourth.

 

Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, is the rejuvenation of the league’s most consummate postseason wild card — Boris Diaw. Parker’s French friend is the crazy glue that turns the Spurs into something unstoppable, and that’s just what San Antonio might be again… even against the Warriors.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 16:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/five-perfect-nfl-draft-fits-new-england-patriots
Body:

This offseason there seem to be more holes than usual in the New England Patriots' personnel. With the departure of both starting cornerbacks and long-time stalwart Vince Wilfork, as well as questions at guard and unproven depth at running back, the Patriots could have a number of rookies immediately step into starting slots.

 

The other concern is at linebacker, where both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are recovering from injuries and might not be ready to go at the start of the season. The Pats pursued Rolando McClain to reinforce the position, but he ended up re-signing with Dallas.

 

Usually the Pats have at least a serviceable starting 22 by the draft, but now, in early April, questions still remain.

 

Here are five potential draft picks that would be great fits in New England.

 

1. Eddie Goldman - DT - Florida State

The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round last year and he showed some promise before being shut down to get fully recovered for the 2015 season. Easley is a penetrator and would make a great pairing with Goldman, one of the top defensive tackles in this year's draft class. Goldman is not Wilfork, but has the size to be effective both as a two-gapper and getting up field after the quarterback.

 

Versatility is key in Bill Belichick's defensive scheme, where the base nickel package has two space-eating defensive tackles at the heart of it. Stopping the run with a six-man box is vital, and Goldman would immediately become a significant part of a rotation with Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and veteran Alan Branch.

 

2. A.J. Cann - OG - South Carolina

There might not be another position in more need of a youthful talent infusion than guard and this draft class is rich with prospects who could immediately step in. With captain Dan Connolly still taking free agent visits, the need at the position is almost unheard of at this point in the offseason. Cann could immediately step in and start at left guard, just as Logan Mankins did a decade ago.

 

Cann's experience, disciplined play and toughness all check key boxes for the Patriots' draft requirements. He would instantly solidify a huge need and form one of the best young interior offensive line tandems with second-year starter Bryan Stork at center.

 

3. Byron Jones - CB - UConn

With the departure of both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner many are now clamoring for a cornerback in the first round, but the Patriots' standards are extremely high. The last cornerback they took in the first round was Devin McCourty, thought by many to be more of a special teamer than cornerback prospect at the time. However, what he turned into was a four-down player who made the Pro Bowl both as a cornerback in this rookie year and as a safety last season.

 

Jones has shot up the draft boards with impressive performances at both the combine and UConn's pro day. He's the ultimate leader, something the Patriots definitely look for in prospects. Like McCourty, he could be a four-down player and contribute immediate value, even if he doesn't immediately lock down a starting spot on defense. His athleticism and size would be a welcome addition to the secondary.

 

4. Duke Johnson - RB - Miami

With Stevan Ridley's likely departure, the Patriots do have some need at running back, although second-year player Tyler Gaffney, plucked off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers, should compete for a role. LeGarrette Blount is a solid piece, but the Pats prefer a committee of running backs and Blount won't be asked to carry the load.


Enter Duke Johnson, an explosive running back, who would immediately bring a new dimension to the Patriots' backfield. Johnson is a downhill runner who will break initial contact and pick up extra yards. He's also a capable receiver and while his protection skills might keep him off the field early in his career, he'll be protected in this respect via the backfield-by-committee philosophy.

 

5. Bernardrick McKinney - ILB - Mississippi St.

With Mayo and Hightower questionable for the start of training camp, and no experienced depth behind Jamie Collins, the Patriots must bring in some talent to their linebacker corps. They will continue to look at free agent options, but they'll also look at the rookie crop long and hard.

 

McKinney isn't a flashy choice, he's the kind of player that plays within the defense and makes plays. He has excellent size and length, and runs well enough to not be a major liability in the passing game. While it's always preferable to ease a rookie linebacker in, McKinney would carve out a role even with the eventual return of Mayo and Hightower.

 

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
With notable departures in free agency, the Pats still have some holes to fill. Here are five instant starters.
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/tiregate-defines-nascar-season-following-denny-hamlins-victory-martinsville
Body:

As NASCAR prepares for its Easter break, the mood around the garage had turned optimistic. Martinsville, long one of the circuit’s best tracks produced an excellent finish between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. After weeks of dominance by Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota flexed some muscle as some new faces made their way to the front. It seemed like the biggest news item this week would simply be following Kyle Larson doctor visits after the young driver fainted and was taken to a Charlotte hospital.

 

Then, out of the blue NASCAR dropped an anvil straight on an unsuspecting sport. Ryan Newman was docked 75 points Tuesday night when his team was found to make improper adjustments to his tires during the race. According to officials, holes were being poked in his Goodyears to slowly “bleed air pressure” during a run, increasing grip and allowing the handling of his car to stay more consistent. The advantage was costly, as crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 and suspended for six races. Tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen have been suspended for the next six races as well.

 

Officials had been sniffing around with tires the last few weeks, confiscating them from several top teams following races but had not found anything out of the ordinary, until now. The Newman penalty, while affecting the No. 31 team directly, serves as a stern warning for everyone else. NASCAR has done a lot of work the last few years trying to carve out any type of “gray area” in what was a rulebook that once appeared to be written in invisible ink. The sport is preaching parity and any modifications to major pieces, like tires and engines will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

 

At the same time, for Newman the penalty could have been far worse. Early in the season, a six-week suspension gives them plenty of time to recover and regain rhythm before the Chase. While dropping to 27th in the standings, a win will be all it takes for Newman to still gain entrance into the postseason field (he was last year’s championship runner-up). Richard Childress Racing has shown plenty of speed, with its single-car alliances of JTG-Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing posting top-5 and top-10 performances, too. Opportunities will be there for Newman to cash in over the spring and summer, making tiregate a distant memory.

 

It was the easiest way for NASCAR to fire a warning shot, with Newman the example they’re trotting out in front of the masses. In a year where passing is difficult, teams are trying every which way to get the slightest advantage that will push them through traffic during a long, green-flag run. But playing with fire will come with a steep price, one they won’t want to risk during the postseason. That message was the sport’s Easter egg gift to America.

 

Let’s take a look back at what else we should focus on heading into NASCAR’s off week.

 

FIRST GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing back on track

 

Hamlin’s Martinsville victory, his fifth at the track, led a strong effort by the sport’s top Toyota outfit. Teammates Matt Kenseth and David Ragan also wound up inside the top 5, the first time that’s happened all season. It was a strong response to the news that team President J.D. Gibbs is undergoing treatment for issues impacting brain function.

 

“It was about 12, 13 years ago when J.D. happened to just show up at a Hickory test where we were running some late models,” Hamlin explained. “He made a phone call to his dad and thought maybe he had something there that was special. [JGR] signed me up, and J.D. was the key to making that happen.”

 

As the team has rallied together, prepared to support Gibbs through the illness there’s also signs of recovery from Kyle Busch’s devastating leg injury at Daytona. While Busch keeps pushing through rehab, Ragan seems to have finally gotten comfortable with the No. 18 team in his absence. His first top-5 finish makes it more likely he’ll be in the car for a longer period rather than handing off the reins to youngster Erik Jones.

 

SECOND GEAR: Hendrick’s horrible day

 

This year, Hendrick Motorsports cars have flashed the most speed to compete with defending champion Kevin Harvick. But Martinsville, traditionally a strength with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, turned out to be a huge bump in the road. Johnson was never a factor, getting involved in wrecks and failing to lead a lap en route to 35th. Gordon, on the other hand was in position until a late penalty for speeding sent him to the back of the lead lap during the race’s final caution. He fought his way to ninth but that was small consolation for a car that was one of the fastest in the field.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at Martinsville last fall, was a mess all day. Suffering from multiple broken shifters, he wound up plowing into a wreck and finished one spot behind Johnson in 36th. Young Chase Elliott, making his Sprint Cup debut had a similar problem, a chain-reaction incident leaving him a whopping 73 laps down in 38th. Only Kasey Kahne, who ran 11th avoided significant problems on the day.

 

“You can’t do anything about bad finishes like this,” explained Earnhardt. “You just have to learn from everything that happened to us and come back here a little stronger next time.”

 

THIRD GEAR: 1, 2, 3, Contact

 

After a series of questionable debris cautions, the yellow flag waved 16 times Sunday for (mostly) legitimate reasons. Martinsville lived up to its short track reputation, with three wrecks involving five or more cars dwindling the number of lead-lap finishers to 21. Among the big names involved included Earnhardt, Elliott, Newman and Justin Allgaier.

 

It was a carnage-filled event but one that harkened back to the old-school days of NASCAR, when you could bump each other and not worry about losing speed or the dreaded “aero push.” During a season where there’s been so little contact, drivers creating their own personal space shortly after a restart the bumping and grinding was nice to see.

 

FOURTH GEAR: Danica hanging in there

 

A seventh-place finish, for some would be a drop in the bucket toward building a Chase-contending resume. But for a driver like Danica Patrick, simply looking to survive in the Sprint Cup Series it’s a huge confidence boost for her and crew chief Daniel Knost.

 

“It’s a disaster to be off and struggling with the car and it’s really fun to have a good car,” she explained, claiming her top-10 finish was a dogfight. “We had both of them today. I don’t think I’ve really been in that situation before.”

 

Patrick, in the final year of her contract desperately needs to put some finishes together and show she can succeed in Cup over the long-term. Stewart-Haas Racing, pairing her with the inexperienced Knost hadn’t done her any favors but suddenly, their little group is making a bit of noise. If the season ended today, Patrick would be tied for the final Chase spot and she’s done a better job of making the most of her situation each week. In theory, the speed is there to get the job done, especially with teammate Harvick dominating nearly every week. Her position in points, however tenuous, makes her a story to keep an eye on.

 

OVERDRIVE

 

Harvick, who led a race-high 154 laps Sunday saw his streak of eight top-2 finishes end. He wound up eighth, shrinking his lead in the points over Joey Logano to just 24… The 31 lead changes we saw at Martinsville, a season high, were more than the last two races combined… Martin Truex Jr. now has six top-10 finishes to start the season with Furniture Row Racing. That’s a career high for him and more than he scored with FRR all of last season… Carl Edwards, 17th on Sunday, still has yet to register a top-10 finish with his new team over at Joe Gibbs Racing.

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Tiregate Defines NASCAR Season Following Denny Hamlin’s Victory at Martinsville
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

For the second time in five seasons, Oregon came up 60 minutes short of a national championship.

 

This time the Ducks have to rebuild without arguably the greatest player in the history of their program. Five starters are back on defense and seven are back on offense, but the loss of Marcus Mariota obviously cannot be understated.

 

Mark Helfrich still might have the team to beat in the Pac-12 but will have to address some major issues with his roster this spring if he wants to win a second consecutive conference title.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon’s Spring Practice:

 

1. Keep the seat warm

Vernon Adams threw for 10,438 yards, rushed for 1,232 and accounted for 121 touchdowns in three years at Eastern Washington. He’s likely Oregon's next starting quarterback but won’t show up until June. That leaves Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and Taylor Alie to run the offense this spring. Having a backup plan ready before Adams arrives would be advised. Keep an eye on true freshman early enrollee Travis Jonsen as well.

 

2. Fill massive gaps along the line

Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher all earned All-Pac-12 honors and all three must be replaced this spring. Tyler Johnstone returns to anchor the unit but the rest of this group is extremely inexperienced and unproven. Look for guys like Doug Brenner, Matt Pierson and Jake Pisarcik to step into bigger roles this offseason. This might be the biggest concern for Helfrich this spring.

 

3. Develop the secondary

Veterans Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are gone at cornerback while Erick Dargan departs at safety. And the backups stepping into bigger roles are very young. Reggie Daniels needs to be a leader while Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Khalil Oliver and others will need to step up. Even true freshman early enrollee Ugo Amadi and former wide receiver Charles Nelson could see first-team reps this spring. 

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

4. Defensive line rotation

DeForest Buckner is back for Oregon and could be the best player on the entire roster. He likely won’t be a part of spring ball, as he recovers from an unknown leg injury, so Don Pellum needs to establish a defensive line rotation. This unit is stacked with depth but needs to replace Arik Armstead and Sam Kamp while accounting for Buckner’s absence. Alex Balducci and Tui Talia are excellent veterans, but the rest of the unit needs to be organized this spring.

 

5. Keep playmakers happy

Oregon has a lot of guys who will touch the football this fall and keeping them all happy will be important. Organizing the workload in the backfield is an enviable task with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and hybrid Byron Marshall returning. Bralon Addison returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury and will fight for reps with a deep collection of young playmakers on the outside. There is only one football and the Ducks have 8-10 guys who could be stars with the ball in their hands.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Oregon:

 

The Ducks are loaded with young talent and are returning a core group of players who have won a ton of games. But critical positions — quarterback, offensive line and defensive back — are glaring concerns for Helfrich and staff that need to be addressed this spring. In a brutal conference with loads of quality programs, the Ducks might still be considered the front-runner, provided they can answer a few questions this spring.

Teaser:
Oregon Ducks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 11:30

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