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All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/where-top-nfl-free-agents-need-sign
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NFL free agency officially gets started at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, meaning more than 500 players will be looking for employment. While salary cap, team needs, system fit, and other football-related matters drive this process, that doesn’t mean it’s the only criteria that can be applied.

In the interest of having some fun, here are some free agent marriages we would love to see happen. In some cases these player-team pairings actually make some sense on the field, but in many instances these matches are simply too intriguing and/or entertaining to pass up.

Eric Decker signs with the Tennessee Titans
Why this makes some sense: Decker is coming off of a season in which he posted career bests in catches (87) and yards (1,288) and hauled in 11 touchdown passes for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history. Arguably the most attractive free agent wide receiver on the market, the Titans finished 21st in passing offense last season and could use another reliable target to complement Kendall Wright.

Why it probably won’t happen: The Titans have spent high picks on wide receivers in each of the past two drafts. In 2012, Wright was taken with the 20th overall selection and last April, Tennessee traded up to grab Justin Hunter early in the second round. While another weapon in the passing game would certainly be nice, this team has much more pressing issues at other positions.

Why we really want to see this happen: Decker’s wife, Jessie James, is a country artist on Mercury Records. They already have their own reality show (“Eric & Jessie” on E!) and are expecting their first child, so it only makes sense to have the oh-so-photogenic couple working in the same town, no? Also, they could potentially challenge Music City’s reigning sports-entertainment duo – Carrie Underwood and Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher – for the top spot in this category.

Michael Vick signs with the Minnesota Vikings
Michael VickWhy this makes some sense: Have you forgotten the revolving door that was the Vikings’ quarterback situation last season? Christian Ponder (nine games), Matt Cassel (six) and Josh Freeman (one) all started for Minnesota and collectively went 5-10-1 while throwing more interceptions (19) than touchdown passes (18). The Vikings could take a quarterback early in the upcoming draft, but still go with Vick under center to ease the rookie’s transition to the NFL.

Why it probably won’t happen: Vick will turn 34 years old before training camp starts and besides his age being a factor, he also lost the starting job in Philadelphia last season to Nick Foles. Besides nearing the end of his career, Vick has never been a model of durability and his career completion percentage (56.2) is lower than what the Vikings’ trio combined for (59.5) in 2013. And most of all, it's the fact that Minnesota re-signed Cassel to a two-year deal on Friday. One 30-something-year-old quarterback is probably enough for a team that's rebuilding under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.

Why we really want to see this happen: Adrian Peterson has already come out and lobbied for the team to sign Vick and who doesn’t want to make their All-Pro running back happy? Also, it’s not like we haven’t seen this script before with the Vikings. Remember Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre? Both came to Minnesota at the end of their respective careers and nearly led the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Heck, even 37-year-old Gus Frerotte got the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008. Why not let Vick have his chance to try and do the same?

Darren McFadden signs with the Dallas Cowboys
Darren McFaddenWhy this makes some sense: Most teams rely on more than one running back to carry the load these days and in Dallas’ case, having someone like McFadden would mean less wear and tear on DeMarco Murray. Murray rushed for a career-high 1,121 yards last season, but also missed two games because of injury.

Why this probably won’t happen: Murray hasn’t exactly been durable, missing 11 of a possible 48 career games so far, but McFadden’s injury track record is much worse. Since being taken 4th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, McFadden has missed no fewer than three games in any season. In total, he has missed 29 games, including six last year, and also has seen his yards per carry decrease from 5.4 in 2011 to just 3.3 last year. The Cowboys also appear pretty set at running back with Murray and last April’s fifth-round pick, Joseph Randle, among those on the roster currently.

Why we really want to see it happen: Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones is a University of Arkansas graduate who was an offensive lineman on the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship team. He is a proud alumnus and has been known to go with his heart over his head when it comes to personnel decisions. McFadden is the most decorated player to ever play for Jones’ beloved alma mater, as he holds the majority of the rushing records at the school. Jones didn’t have a shot at drafting McFadden back in 2008, so surely he won’t pass on the opportunity now, right?

And besides, how fitting would it be for Jones to overpay to bring McFadden to Big D even though the Cowboys already have a 1,000-yard rusher in Murray? The end result would be just what embattled head coach Jason Garrett doesn’t need – more drama and controversy that he didn’t create in the first place.

Maurice Jones-Drew signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense: Frank Gore will be 31 years old by the time the 2014 season starts and he has averaged 272 carries over the last three seasons alone. Jones-Drew is two years younger and has carried the ball a total of 320 times the last two seasons combined. The 49ers’ other backfield options are either unproven (LaMichael James) or come with injury risks (Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore).

Why this probably won’t happen: The reason Jones-Drew has so few carries the past two seasons is that he missed 10 games in 2012 because of a Lisfranc injury that eventually required surgery on his foot. And although he is younger (29 on March 23) than Gore, there already are concerns that his productive years may be past him. After leading the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011, he’s averaged just four yards per carry over the last two seasons, including a meager 3.4 in 2013. The 49ers also don’t lack for other options with the aforementioned James, Hunter and Lattimore on the roster.

Why we really want to see it happen: Jones-Drew starred at UCLA before being selected by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. This will give the California native a chance to come home and play on the West Coast. Also, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is said to be recruiting him, perhaps because he feels sorry for him. In eight seasons with the Jaguars, Jones-Drew has played in the postseason just once (2007), which also is the only time he’s enjoyed being a part of a winning team. MJD deserves better, no?

Kenny Britt signs with the New York Jets
Why this makes some sense: No team had fewer touchdowns passes than the Jets’ 13 last season and only one team (Tampa Bay) finished with fewer passing yards (2,932). Second-year quarterback Geno Smith needs all the weapons the team is able to surround him with.

Why this probably won’t happen: Tennessee’s first-round draft pick in 2009, Britt’s tenure with the Titans will be remembered more for what he did off of the field than on it. Seemingly on the verge of breaking out in 2011 after posting 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games, Britt injured his knee the next week and things just went downhill from there. He did return to the field in 2012, but his production was never the same and frequent legal issues and other poor decisions became the focus instead. Some team may end up taking a chance on Britt, but it doesn’t need to be the Jets, who have enough other problems to worry about.

Why we really want to see it happen: Come on, these are the Jets we are talking about, do I really need to say anything more? OK, Britt was a former Rutgers star, so maybe a homecoming of sorts will be just what he needs to get his career going again. But the real answer is who better than Britt to help fill the role of the malcontent wideout the Jets always seem to end up with. First it was Keyshawn Johnson than Braylon Edwards and most recently Santonio Holmes. Dare I say this is just meant to be?

Jared Allen signs with the Green Bay Packers
Why this makes some sense: A team can never have too many pass rushers, especially when it finished 24th in that category last season. The Packers had a respectable 44 sacks in 2013, but the most they got from a defensive lineman was Mike Daniels’ 6.5. Allen had 11.5 for Minnesota and he has averaged 14.4 over his last seven seasons.

Why it probably won’t happen: Allen will be 32 years old in April and the Packers’ have plenty of areas to address on a defense that ranked 25th in yards allowed and tied for 24th in points last season. There are probably several other teams that could pay Allen much more than Green Bay could or would be willing to fork out.

Why we really want to see it happen: Chalk this one up to karma. Wide receiver Greg Jennings left Green Bay and signed with Minnesota last season, taking some not-so-veiled shots at teammates, notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the organization on the way out. Should Allen likewise change NFC North allegiances, it would be interesting to see if he would follow Jennings’ playbook or not. Also what sweeter revenge for Allen than to play on a team that has a MVP signal-caller while also guaranteeing him two shots at punishing whomever the Vikings end up with under center.

Golden Tate signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense:
The 49ers’ passing offense was 30th in the NFL last season. Only the Jets and Buccaneers threw for fewer yards while just nine teams finished with fewer than the 21 touchdowns Colin Kaepernick tossed. Meanwhile Tate led Seattle in catches and yards and helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. What better way to hurt the defending champs, not to mention your hated division rival, than to “take” away one of their biggest weapons?

Why this probably won’t happen: San Francisco has already re-signed Anquan Boldin, should have a healthy Michael Crabtree this season and also has an All-Pro tight end in Vernon Davis. Tate figures to be one of the more attractive wide receiver options on the market and will likely cost more than a run-heavy team like the 49ers is willing to spend on the position.

Why we really want to see it happen: Seattle and San Francisco absolutely despise one another, something neither side has had any problems making known. The fact the Seahawks beat the 49ers before going on to win the Super Bowl only adds more spice to this already heated rivalry. Player poaching, if you will, is nothing new to these two teams, but this would be without a doubt the highest-profile instance. I am not the only one who would love to see this happen either, as NFL beat writers, sports talk radio, the blogosphere and social media would devour this whole. And you thought their two NFC West divisional matchups were already intriguing enough? Welcome to the next level.

You can come “home” again?

While their situations may not be as interesting or entertaining as the ones mentioned above, there is something to be said for some other potential “homecomings” that could happen via free agency.

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has seen his production steadily decline in each of the past two seasons, so a change of scenery for this New York Giant may be in order. A potential landing spot for Nicks could be in Carolina, where the defending NFC South champions could use another reliable target in the passing game.

This is especially the case considering Steve Smith is seemingly on the downside of his career, if not on his way off of the Panthers’ roster. Nicks was a record-setting, All-ACC wider receiver when he was at North Carolina, so perhaps a return to the Tar Heel State is just what he and the Panthers need.

Just like Nicks, Justin Tuck also may have played his final game for the Giants. An All-Pro defensive end who has been to two Pro Bowls and has 60.5 sacks in nine seasons, Tuck will turn 31 in a few weeks but he is coming off of an 11-sack 2013 campaign.

A Notre Dame graduate who starred for the Fighting Irish, Tuck could help solve Chicago’s defensive line and pass-rush issues should he end up in the Windy City. After all, Tuck is three years younger and finished with four more sacks than Julius Peppers, the Bears’ high-priced pass-rushing end who could wind up being a salary cap casualty.

And then there’s Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowl safety who is looking to get paid like one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. Prior to Buffalo selecting him in the second round of the 2009 draft, Byrd was an all-conference cornerback at Oregon from 2006-08. And who just happened to be the offensive coordinator for the Ducks Byrd’s last two seasons in Eugene? None other than Chip Kelly, who is now the head coach in Philadelphia and led the Eagles to an NFC East title in his rookie season.

As successful as the Eagles were last season, however, there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially on defense. Philadelphia was dead last in the league in passing defense in 2013, giving up 290 yards through the air per game. Provided the Eagles have the cap space, signing Byrd would be a significant step towards upgrading the secondary while also reuniting a pair of former Ducks. It’s just like I said earlier, sometimes these pairings make sense, both on the field as well as off of it.

Teaser:
Where the Top NFL Free Agents Need to Sign
Post date: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 13:30
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-nebraska-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch
Body:

Fifteen Senior Nights have come and gone in Lincoln without a group of veterans continuing their seasons in the NCAA Tournament.

That could change Sunday against Wisconsin.

The Cornhuskers have been one of the surprise teams in the country, assured of a winning record in the Big Ten. The next hurdle could be their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

Here’s how Nebraska arrived on the bubble and how the Huskers could further their case Sunday and into the conference tournaments.

By the numbers
Record: 18-11, 10-7 Big Ten
RPI: 50
Strength of schedule: 36
KenPom: 50
Best win: Michigan State on the road
Worst loss: UAB on a neutral court

How Nebraska could be in the Tournament: The Huskers add to their top 50 win total
Nebraska stunned Ohio State 68-62 on Jan. 20, which turned out to the the turning point of the season. The win over the Buckeyes was the first top 50 win of the season for the Cornhuskers, which includes a 60-51 win at Michigan State on Feb. 16. The Huskers are 3-7 overall against the RPI top 50, but a win over Wisconsin would be their first against a team in the top 20

How Nebraska could be left out: The Huskers can't escape three bad losses
The Cornhuskers have three losses from which they’d like to hide from: at Purdue, at Penn State and against UAB in the Charleston Classic. Three losses to teams outside of the top 100 isn’t an eliminator — Kentucky and North Carolina have the same — but it’s not a good look.

Nebraska needs to: Beat Wisconsin
The Cornhuskers could be playing with house money in the Big Ten Tournament if they defeat Wisconsin on Saturday. The Badgers, though, have won eight in a row since a 1-5 stretch in January.

Nebraska can’t afford to: Fall out of the No. 4 seed and lose in the Big Ten Tournament
The No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament brings a first-round bye, but the Cornhuskers could slip to a No. 5 or No. 6 with a loss to Wisconsin combined with wins by Ohio State and/or Iowa. Falling out of the top four seeds would draw either Purdue or Northwestern in the first round. A loss to one of those teams could be devastating.

Insight from the beat: Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
“The fact Nebraska is even in consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid is a sign of the incredible coaching job by Tim Miles. In only his second season in Lincoln, Miles has taken a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten Conference and put it on the brink of ending its NCAA Tournament drought, which dates to 1998. Nebraska began the season 0-4 in Big Ten play, including a 31-point loss at Ohio State, but has since gone 10-3 to rise to fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The emergence of sophomore transfer Terran Petteway, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, and a defense that’s held eight straight foes to less than 38 percent shooting have been key. The Huskers have also established a decisive home-court advantage at their new home, sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena, where they’re 14-1. The lone loss came to league champion Michigan by one point.”

Teaser:
Profiling Nebraska: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Funny, nascar tattoos, Overtime, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/21-best-and-worst-nascar-tattoos-ever
Body:

NASCAR fans are a very proud group of people. And they're also very into getting tattoos. So when you combine those two, you get a lot of people willing to put some very large and ornate NASCAR-related tattoos on their bodies. And we're the winners of that combination because we get to see the crazy, funny and insane things people have put on their skin (and most of them are about Dale Earnhardt). 

So with that, here are the 21 best and worst photos of NASCAR tattoos. We don't feel the need to tell you which ones fall in the "Best NASCAR tattoo" file and which ones fall in the "Worst NASCAR tattoo" file. You'll know them when you see them.

1. The Triple Decker
This looks like what happens when you ask M.C. Escher to design your NASCAR tattoo. Between the depth, the detail and the back skin rolls, you could get trapped staring for hours, like one of those magic eye paintings.

 

2. She’s Got Leg
Not sure if you can have a daughter after getting a tattoo like that. Also not sure if a woman who exists solely as a tattoo can catch an STD, but if it is possible, this one looks like a good candidate to make it happen.

 

3. The Devil is in the Details
That’s a proper tribute to Dale Earnhardt. Because you can’t really say good-bye to a fallen icon without Looney Tunes characters (and a little ass crack).

 

4 R.I.P. Dale Earnhardt
And on the flipside, it’s probably not the best idea to pay tribute to a man who died in a car crash by showing his trademark car number going up in flames.

 

5. Danica Patrick Arm Candy
Two things are very clear here. 1) This guy likes checking out his arms in the mirror. 2) This guy is left-handed.

 

6. Rev Her Up
What’s more offensive: the Confederate flag or the fact that they didn’t even bother to use an attractive chick in the tattoo-porn?

 

7. Face Off
In a race, the checkered flag means the event is over. In this guy’s case, it means any chance of getting health insurance is over.

 

8. Rock Hard Abs
We wonder how many times he’s gotten laid with the line, “Hey honey, check out my six pack.” Actually, we just wonder how many times he’s gotten laid, period.

 

9. Treasure Fail
No man should ever make that part of his mid-section the focus of anything. He could have the cure for cancer tattooed down there and nobody would be able to look long enough to read it.

 

10. Compact Tat
Nothing against the Chevy Impala, but giving it a shout out in arm ink is probably the best way to destroy the “bad-ass” factor of a tattoo. You’d probably look a little scarier with a PT Cruiser on your arm.

 

11. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
Remember, it’s called a “tramp stamp” for a reason. Just because you see the checkered flag, doesn’t mean you came in first.

 

12. Ford, Hear Our Prayer
Nothing pleases the big man upstairs like having his message associated with the logo of a struggling car company that has to recall thousands of its products on a regular basis.

 

13. Is That A Muppet?
Guy walks into a tattoo parlor: “Hey, I'm a NASCAR fan, can you just doodle a little on my arm and see what you come up with?”
Tattoo artist: “I’m kinda busy, can my seven-year old son do it?”
Guy: “Sure.”
Tattoo artist: “So you want him to draw it on there with a marker before we start inking you up?”
Guy: “Nah, just give him the needle and we’ll see what we wind up with.”

 

14. He’s Got A Lead Foot
There goes any chance of wearing Tevas to your daughter’s wedding.

 

15. Back It Up
We’re still not sold on the favorite racer lower back tattoo. It’s kind of like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is quietly smirking at you any time you roll around in the sheets with your special lady.

 

16. In Dale We Trust
A real quality shout out to a legend that includes the three most important things for a tattoo tribute: classy art, bible verse and bacne.

 

17. Puttin’ on the Schlitz
You may have laughed when you first looked at this picture, but think about it for a minute. Doesn’t this guy have life figured out way better than the rest of us? He clearly knows what he wants and knows how to get it.

 

18. Bringing Up The Rear
Ladies and gentlemen, one NASCAR tramp stamp to rule them all! That’s none other than Danica Patrick representing both her country and her sport with a half-American flag, half-checkered flag on her lower back. God bless America.

 

19. King Cobra
Admit it: There was nothing cooler when you were eight years old than snakes and cars. Kudos to this guy for making sure he never stops feeling that way.

 

20. Get Your Head in the Game
At least he can grow hair over that now that Earnhardt changed his car number. What’s that? He’s bald? Oh dear, that’s unfortunate. Wait a minute, is that a Bucs logo on his neck? Man, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

 

21. A Touch of Green...
He's waiting until he gets his next paycheck to get the rest of the colors. 

 

By Vito Pugliese

Teaser:
<p> NASCAR fans really like to put NASCAR ink on their bodies</p>
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 16:51
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-bubble-watch-and-teams-spot
Body:

By the end of the weekend, at least three automatic bids will be sealed with championship games in the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun.

Elsewhere, at-large teams are trying to make their final statements before their own conference tournaments. This includes a key bubble game in the SEC, a Kentucky team looking for respect, teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska putting the final touches on their regular season resumes and teams like Stanford and Pittsburgh trying to hang on.

The week will feature a number of key matchups, but these are the teams that are under the most pressure Saturday and Sunday.

Teams on the Spot this Weekend

Kentucky
The Wildcats stumbled through a 55-48 home win over Alabama on Tuesday. At this rate, that has to count for something. Kentucky will try to salvage what’s already one of the most disappointing seasons for a preseason No. 1 team in decades. Did anyone expect John Calipari to be staring down his 12th SEC loss in two seasons?

Related: Kentucky at Florida Preview

St. John’s
The Red Storm are hanging by a thread to an at-large bid and will need to beat Marquette on the road to set up a chance to make an impression in the Big East Tournament. Marquette may have missed its own opportunity when Davante Gardner’s desperation heave at the end of regulation against Providence was a fraction of second too late. Marquette lost 81-80 in double overtime.

Oklahoma State
A win over Kansas last week did wonders for Oklahoma State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. A win on the road over Iowa State, even one that lost back-to-back games to Kansas State and Baylor, could signal the Cowboys could be a dangerous team in the Tournament.

Stanford
A three-game losing streak has dropped the Cardinal to 9-8 in the Pac-12 and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. A feisty Utah team is probably the last opponent Stanford wants to see in a must-win situation. The Utes took Arizona to overtime and then reeled off three wins over potential NCAA teams Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins may be coaching for his job.

Missouri and Tennessee
If there’s a fourth SEC team heading to the NCAA Tournament, it may be the winner of this game. The home team in this case has all the momentum. Tennessee played like a team with little room for error in blowouts of Vanderbilt (by 38 points) and Auburn (by 28).

Related: Tennessee’s Bubble Profile

Pittsburgh
The Panthers don’t want to invite the NCAA selection committee to look at their resume. As it is, Pittsburgh may be on the bubble after allowing 41 points to T.J. Warren in a 74-67 loss to NC State on Monday. The Panthers don’t have a win against a team assured of a spot in the NCAA field.

Providence
Providence was the beneficiary of some — sorry for this — providence in the win over Marquette. The Friars have played six overtime games this season, half of them settled in double OT. A season sweep of Creighton after Providence won the first meeting 81-68 at home may seal a bid for the Friars.

Iowa
The Hawkeyes are fading fast, primarily because they can’t find a defense to match the offense. Iowa lost 86-76 to Michigan State on Thursday for its fourth loss in five games and third game in the last four giving up more than 80. A home date against Illinois is a chance to regroup ... or sound further alarms.

New Mexico
San Diego State has been the more highly regarded team all year, but New Mexico could win the regular season title in the Mountain West with a win on the road. New Mexico won the first meeting at The Pit 58-44.

Saint Louis
The Billikens’ 25-2 start has been spoiled with three consecutive losses. Saint Louis was one of the best defensive teams in the country until Feb. 27, allowing at least a point per possession in each game and an average of 70 points per game to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes need home cooking in the worst way after road losses to Penn State and Indiana. Ohio State has hit 70 points just once (at home against Northwestern) since Feb. 4.

Nebraska
In a season with three top 50 wins, none would be better than Wisconsin. The Badgers are chasing a No. 1 seed, but Nebraska is looking to seal its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

ACC (5)
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: None

American (5)
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None

Atlantic 10 (6)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: Dayton, George Washington, St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond

Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia

Big East (3)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's

Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Nebraska
Bubble out: Indiana, Minnesota

Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State

Pac-12 (6)
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: Stanford

SEC (4)
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas, Tennessee
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri

West Coast (2)
Feeling good:
None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None

Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East:
Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Irvine
Colonial: Delaware
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Iona
MAC: Toledo
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament Projections, Bubble Watch and Teams on the Spot
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 12:56
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-north-carolina-seeks-sweep-vs-duke
Body:

The ACC Tournament starts next week, and the league seems to have fewer questions than ever at the top.

Will Syracuse pull out of its scoring slump in time? Should we believe in Virginia to make a run? Can North Carolina be trusted in a bracket? And what is the ceiling for Duke?

The latter two questions may be answered in some form or another Saturday night in the regular season finale for Duke and North Carolina.

In the first meeting, Duke squandered a second half lead to lose 74-66 to the Tar Heels. At the time, North Carolina was playing some of its most consistent basketball of the season, and while the Tar Heels haven’t lost since Jan. 20, they haven’t been the most sharp team in recent games.

What’s on the line for North Carolina:
The Tar Heels are looking to secure their first season sweep of Duke since 2007 and end the regular season on a 13-game winning streak. A win over Duke and a strong showing in the ACC Tournament could signal a team ready to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

What’s on the line for Duke:
The Blue Devils are trying to stay in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke ranks eighth in the RPI and has only four top 50 wins this season, which is fewer than fellow No. 1 seed contenders Kansas and Wisconsin. A win over North Carolina and an ACC Tournament championship may be tough to ignore.

North Carolina at Duke
Saturday, 9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

About North Carolina
Record: 23-7, 13-4 ACC
AP: 14
RPI: 20
KenPom: 23
Sagarin: 24

About Duke
Record: 23-7, 12-5 ACC
AP: 4
RPI: 8
KenPom: 8
Sagarin: 6

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: North Carolina 63-61
Braden Gall: Duke 70-60
Mitch Light: Duke 77-70
You’ll tune in to watch: If North Carolina can stay hot
The Tar Heels have gone from a being mystery team early in the season to of the hottest teams in the country. The 12 consecutive ACC wins is the most for the North Carolina in ACC play since 1986-87. The stretch hasn’t been entirely dominant with ugly wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Carolina will need to play at a higher level to end the regular season on a 13-game win streak.

Pivotal player: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Perhaps most interesting about North Carolina’s hot streak is that Paige hasn’t been hitting shots. Earlier in the season, North Carolina had little chance if Paige had an off night. In his last two games, though, he’s 5 of 15 from the field and 2 of 9 from 3-point range, yet Carolina won both.

Biggest question: What is the status of Mike Krzyzewski?
This has been a trying season for Krzyzewski, whose older brother died unexpectedly in December. Krzyzewski then suffered dizziness and lightheadedness that brought him to a knee during Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest. Krzyzewski coached the remainder of the game from the bench but did not speak during postgame interviews. Reports indicated he returned to practice Thursday.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: North Carolina seeks sweep vs. Duke
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 11:21
Path: /nascar/nascar-las-vegas-hendrick-vs-gibbs-showdown-sin-city
Body:

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the debut of a new aero package, Harvick's hot streak, Roush's slow start, Earnahrdt's spotters and a Hendrick vs. Gibbs showdown lead us into the 400-miler at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

1. Las Vegas serves as debut of new aero package
Thursday’s test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a welcome sight to nearly every crew chief in the Sprint Cup garage — it’s not often that a team gets to open a race weekend with a full day of wide-open data collection — but also an important one for the sport as officials search for better racing at 1.5-mile, intermediate tracks. All told, it served as a bit of a last-minute confirmation test of car changes NASCAR mandated after tests in the offseason.

In that list includes a statically set ride height, a squared off edge on the front splitter, adjustments to the side skirts and front fascia plus an eight-inch rear spoiler — up from 7.25 inches. The changes were on the cars a week ago at Phoenix, though with minimal impact.

“(Teams) could probably only harvest maybe 30 to 40 percent of the capability of the package (at Phoenix), so really this will be the first race where we get to see they can fully exploit the aerodynamic and chassis changes,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development.

Kevin Harvick’s lap of 190.148 mph proved fastest during the test. That’s just slightly off of the 2012 pole-winning speed at Las Vegas — 190.456 mph by Kasey Kahne — which was the last Cup qualifying session at the track after the 2013 edition was washed out.



2. Childers, Harvick riding high after Phoenix  Kevin HarvickThat Harvick led the speed charts Thursday was no surprise to his crew chief Rodney Childers. The No. 4 team leader made that much clear this week.

“Our Las Vegas car is even better than our Phoenix car,” Childers told the Associated Press earlier this week.

Those are strong words considering Harvick is coming off leading 224 laps and scoring a dominating win in that Phoenix race. He joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the first two drivers all but qualified in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

If Harvick does go back-to-back with a win Sunday, it’d be his first ever at Las Vegas in the Cup Series and just his fourth top-5 finish. His best result was a second-place run in 2010. Last season, Harvick was ninth at the checkered flag.



3. Weekend off to slow start for Roush Fenway RacingThey didn’t contend at Daytona, and they didn’t contend at Phoenix. Surely, of all places, the Roush Fenway Racing team can find a bit of a groove at Las Vegas, right?

It’s not starting that way.

Carl Edwards, 27th quickest, was the fastest among that camp’s in-house teams during the Thursday test. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle were both 29th or worse.

Vegas was once one of Jack Roush’s strongest tracks — his teams collected wins on the old pavement at the venue in each of the track’s first three seasons — and Edwards won there just three seasons ago. A restoration of that magic couldn’t be more timely for the Ford operation this weekend.

 

Vito Pugliese: Rodney's Renaissance, Scheduling Suggestions & Opportunity
 

4. Odd mix of spotters ends Sunday for EarnhardtTJ Majors’ last appearance on the Sprint Cup spotter’s stand came late on a Florida Sunday night two weeks ago when he helped guide his driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his second Daytona 500 win. The celebrations for Majors — originally hired by Earnhardt to race the NASCAR K&N Series after meeting while racing online — didn’t last long. An intestinal virus sidelined him from joining Earnhardt at Phoenix.

It’s kept Majors away from the track at Las Vegas, too, but Laura Scott from Hendrick Motorsports’ media relations staff tweeted Thursday that Majors would return in time for Sunday’s race. In the mean time, the group filling in for Earnhardt has been quite an eclectic one.

Former champion Bill Elliott covered practice and qualifying for Earnhardt at Phoenix and was scheduled to be on the stand again Saturday when Earnhardt practices the Cup car plus races in the Nationwide Series event. Driver Regan Smith spotted for Earnhardt during Thursday’s series-wide test session at Las Vegas and former Kyle Busch spotter Jeff Dickerson worked last week’s Phoenix race for the No. 88.


5. Race may again come down to Hendrick vs. Gibbs  Matt Kenseth and Kasy Kahne
One year ago, Las Vegas generated a pretty good finish when Kasey Kahne battled Matt Kenseth in the final laps for the top spot. Ultimately it was Kenseth and his then-new Joe Gibbs Racing team who won out over Kahne and the Hendrick Motorspots bunch.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that again.

Last year, five of the top seven finishing positions went to drivers from either of the two teams. It wasn’t an end-of-race fluke either, as the post-race loop data showed Kahne as the best driver overall by average running position (2.6) with Jimmie Johnson second (2.9), Kyle Busch fourth (5.8), Kenseth fifth (6.0), Earnhardt Jr. in seventh (6.8) and Denny Hamlin in 10th (11.9).

Even the long-term loop data skews toward a Hendrick/Gibbs finish. Johnson is shown as the best at Las Vegas by running position (9.5) in the last nine years there while Jeff Gordon is second (10.0) and Kyle Busch (10.3) is third.


Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

 

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Teaser:
NASCAR debuts a new aero package, Kevin Harvick is on a hot streak, Roush Fenway Racing is off to a slow start, Dale Earnahrdt Jr.'s rotating spotters and a Hendrick vs. Gibbs showdown lead us into the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 11:13
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-florida-seeks-record-season-vs-kentucky
Body:

Billy Donovan doesn’t want his team to get too caught up in the past. Meanwhile, John Calipari wants his team to spend plenty of time thinking about the past.

As Florida chases perfection in the SEC, Donovan doesn’t want his team to dwell on the record — what he says is simply a reflection of what’s already been done.

“Up to this point we’ve done a good job, but you don’t want to lose your identity as a team,” Donovan said. “You don’t want to get enamored with a record.”

At the same time, Calipari wants his team to try to rediscover what it had in mid-February. At that point, his team defeated Missouri, Ole Miss twice and played one of their best games of the season in a loss to Florida.

At that time, Calipari’s team held its head high. Losing to Arkansas and South Carolina changed that.

“How do we get our defensive confidence, defensive confidence,” Calipari said. “We just had it 10 days ago. How did that change? What did we do different?”

Whatever the answer to that question, Kentucky needs to find it before the finale in Gainesville.

What’s on the line for Kentucky:
Respectability. The Wildcats have long since lost their chance at the SEC title, and it may take more than a win in Gainesville to drastically improve their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Kentucky needs to show some signs of life. The Wildcats last three weeks have not been pretty: An overtime win over LSU, an overtime loss to Arkansas and an embarrassing defeat against South Carolina in which John Calipari was ejected. Will the Wildcats show any signs they can salvage this year as they enter the postseason?

What’s on the line for Florida:
The 18-0 milestone. The Gators could clinch the SEC regular season title by six games, and a No. 1 seed may be a given. What’s on the line for Florida is the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history. Granted, the SEC has had an 18-game season for only two seasons. But this would be the first undefeated SEC season in school history and only the second in the league since 2002-03.

Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS

About Kentucky
Record: 22-8, 12-5 SEC
AP: 25
RPI: 17
KenPom: 22
Sagarin: 19

About Florida
Record: 28-2, 17-0 SEC
AP: 1
RPI: 3
KenPom: 3
Sagarin: 5

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 72-58
Braden Gall: Florida 70-60
Mitch Light: Florida 68-54
You’ll tune in to watch: A Florida team rounding into national championship form
It’s hard to remember the time early this season when the Gators’ roster was in flux. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season. So was Dorian Finney-Smith. Backup point guard Kasey Hill was hurt at times. Now, the Gators are as balanced as ever with Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather taking their turns leading Florida in scoring in the last six games. Meanwhile, Florida has held opponents to fewer than one point for possession in the last three games.

Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
If Kentucky is going to have any chance to upset Florida, the Wildcats are going to have to crack the Florida defensive pressure. The Gators hold opponents to a 0.71 assist-to-turnover ratio, second to Arkansas in the SEC. Point guard has been an issue all season for Kentucky with Harrison, who averages 1.4 assists per turnover.

Biggest question: Can Kentucky find its shot?
It’s easy for opponents to gang up on Julius Randle when Kentucky can’t make a shot — or takes bad ones — from outside. The Wildcats are shooting 34.4 percent from the floor in the last three games and 15 of 65 from 3-point range. The slump has been team wide with James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress all struggling from the field.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Florida seeks record season vs. Kentucky
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 11:08
Path: /las-vegas-motor-speedway-previewing-kobalt-tools-500
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The Kobalt Tools 400
Las Vegas Motor Speedway


Track Specs
Layout:
1.5-mile tri-oval
Banking/Turns: Progressive (18°-20°), Banking/Tri-oval: 9°, Banking/Backstretch: 3°  Las Vegas Motor Speedway


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Date:
Sunday, March 9
TV: FOX (3:00 pm EST)
Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 190.456 mph (Kasey Kahne, 2012)
Race Record: 146.554 mph (Mark Martin, 1998)
2013 Winner: Matt Kenseth

NASCAR Nationwide Series
Boyd Gaming 300
Date: Saturday, March 8
TV: ESPN2 (4:15 pm EST)
2013 Winner: Sam Hornish Jr.


Crew Chief’s Take
“Track position seems to play more of a role in Vegas than most any of the other 1.5-mile tracks we go to. It’s fast, and aero-issues come into play, which puts passing at a premium. And there’s a fine line between having a good handling car and having one that’s wrecking loose. It’s also different from the other SMI ovals in that it’s a tri-oval and not a quad. I’ve never thought to ask why that is. Of course, everyone loves going out to Vegas — it’s like an early-season working vacation because of the strip and all there is to do. Keeping the team focused is important here.”


Fantasy Stall
Contenders

Carl Edwards Edwards (left) won twice in the last six Las Vegas races (in which he averaged a series-best 6.8 finish) and finished fifth in 2012 and ’13, the latter being an increase over his 8.1-place average running position.

Greg Biffle Despite his four top-10 finishes in Vegas races dating back to 2008, Biffle ­doesn’t have a win to show for his ample production. Still, he has been a frequent frontrunner; he has led in four of the last five races there.

Sleeper
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
 Earnhardt is the only driver to accrue five top-10 finishes in the last six Las Vegas races. His 8.8-place average finish — a series-high in that span — has translated into only one top-5 result. He’s past due for a breakthrough performance.

Runs on Seven Cylinders
Kurt Busch 
Omit a ninth-place finish in 2011, and Busch has averaged a 30.2-place result in the CoT/Gen-6 era at his hometown track. While it’s reasonable to believe that his fortunes would improve driving for SHR, his results there with Penske Racing — three finishes of 23rd or worse — weren’t inspiring.


Classic Moments at LVMS
When the race is on the line, there are few drivers as good as Jimmie Johnson. We found out just how clutch he would prove to be over his career in the 2006 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400.

With crew chief Chad Knaus on the sidelines after a rules infraction at Daytona, many questioned how well Johnson would start the ’06 season. However, he won at Daytona, was a close second to Matt Kenseth at Fontana, and looked like he was going to finish second again at Las Vegas. That was before a caution on lap 265 sent the race into an overtime two-lap dash to the finish.

Johnson stalked Kenseth — who led a race-high 146 circuits — on the first of the two green-flag laps, fading to the inside as they came to the white flag. On the last lap, Kenseth — seeing what Johnson did the previous lap — guarded the low line, but that didn’t matter to Johnson as he powered around the outside to nip Kenseth at the stripe by 0.045 seconds, or about a half a car length.
 

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Teaser:
Previewing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Kobalt Tools 500 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 10:52
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2014-spring-preview
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Nebraska has won at least nine games in each of Bo Pelini’s six years in Lincoln. Despite amassing 58 wins during that span, the Cornhuskers have not played in a BCS bowl and are still looking for a conference title under Pelini. None of those statistics or facts is anything new to Nebraska fans. They want more from this program. Can Pelini and his staff turn the corner and get the Cornhuskers back into BCS bowl or Big Ten title contention in 2014?

There’s enough returning talent for Nebraska to be a top 25 team next season. But there’s also plenty of reasons to be concerned heading into offseason practices. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong needs to take the next step in his development, and the offensive line returns only one starter. The defense needs to find depth in the trenches, while the secondary needs to be retooled after losing both starting cornerbacks.

The Big Ten is set to shuffle its divisions with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. Nebraska will move to the West Division, which is a favorable place to be with Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the East.

Considering Wisconsin – the early favorite in the West – has holes to fill, Nebraska should be a factor for the division title.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: March 8

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 6

Four Things to Watch in Nebraska’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6McNeese State
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

1. Tommy Armstrong’s job to lose at QB?: Taylor Martinez was supposed to have an All-Big Ten type of performance in his final year in Lincoln. Unfortunately for Martinez, he suffered a foot injury early in the season, which limited him to just four games. While it wasn’t easy to replace Martinez’s production, the Nebraska coaching staff got an extended look at Tommy Armstrong Jr. He was the No. 19 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and redshirted his first year on campus. Armstrong Jr. shared the quarterback duties with Ron Kellogg III last season and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 202 yards and two scores on the ground. While Armstrong had his share of ups and downs as a redshirt freshman, there was plenty for the coaching staff to build on in 2014. Now, it’s up to Armstrong to take the next step in his development and secure the starting job this spring. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing dual-threat option and will have a chance to unseat Armstrong over the next two months. True freshman Zack Darlington enrolled in January and is likely to spend 2014 working as the No. 3 quarterback. Will this spring be about Armstrong’s growth as the starter? Or will Stanton turn this into a battle that continues into the fall?

2. New faces on the offensive line: Outside of the quarterback battle, the offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Nebraska coordinator Tim Beck. This unit was hit hard by departures, including center Cole Pensick, guard Andrew Rodriguez and tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Guard Jake Cotton is only returning starter here, but Mike Moudy and Mark Pelini combined for five starts in 2013 and will battle for open jobs on the interior this spring. Chongo Kondolo is a name to watch after spending 2013 as a redshirt in his first season from the junior college and could start at guard or center. The tackle spots are up for grabs with a handful of candidates in the mix. Junior Matt Finnin and sophomore Zach Sterup worked as the backups at tackle last year and would seem to have an inside track on the starting spots. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis is another name to watch at tackle, as he transferred from Boulder after starting all 12 games for the Buffaloes in 2012. Massive redshirt freshman David Knevel (6-foot-9, 305 pounds) is also expected to factor into the mix at tackle. There’s a lot of uncertainty about this group and plenty of names are looking to earn a spot on the two-deep. Can Nebraska finish spring with some clarity in the starting five? Or will this position battle carry into the fall, allowing true freshmen Nick Gates and Tanner Farmer to battle for a starting spot?

3. New faces on the defensive line: The Cornhuskers are set at one end spot with the return of first-team All-Big Ten performer Randy Gregory. In his first season in Lincoln, Gregory recorded 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He will anchor a line that loses three key performers from last season, including honorable mention All-Big Ten end Jason Ankrah. For Gregory to be just as effective as he was in 2013, the rest of the line has to give him some help. The interior appears to be more stable than the depth at end, as Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine return. But the situation at end is slightly more concerning for Pelini. Greg McMullen recorded 16 tackles last season and is the only other end with significant experience on the roster. Recent work on the recruiting trail by Pelini may help here, with junior college recruit Joe Keels in the mix, and redshirt freshman A.J. Natter - the No. 329 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite last year - also ready to contribute. This spring is all about getting players like Natter and Keels acclimated to the defense and ready to play in 2014.

4. Rebuilding project in the secondary: Nebraska’s secondary was hit hard by departures this offseason. Gone are starting cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and safety Andrew Green also expired his eligibility. The pass defense was a strength for the Cornhuskers last season, allowing just eight touchdown tosses in Big Ten play. Can Nebraska quickly reload in the secondary? Safety Corey Cooper returns after starting all 13 games last season and should be the leader for the defensive backfield in 2014. Josh Mitchell made six starts and recorded 31 stops last year and is expected to finish spring atop the depth chart at one of the cornerback spots. Junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell could be the answer at the other cornerback spot, but junior Jonathan Rose played in nine games last year and will factor into the mix this spring. New defensive backs coach Charlton Warren certainly has his hands full over the next two months. The Cornhuskers have options, but Jean-Baptiste, Green and Evans will be tough to replace.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9

Nebraska is an intriguing team to watch this spring. Armstrong and Stanton could both be productive options at quarterback, and whoever wins the job will be handing off to one of the top running backs in the nation in Ameer Abdullah. Assuming the line and quarterback play stabilizes, this team should be in the mix to win the Big Ten’s West Division. Even though the defense loses a handful of key players, Pelini should be able to keep this unit in the top half of the Big Ten in yards allowed. But the key to 2014 could be what transpires in road games. Nebraska plays Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa away from Lincoln. For the Cornhuskers to claim the division title, November road tests against the Badgers and Hawkeyes are must-win contests.

Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2014 Spring Preview
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-7-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 7.

An entirely subjective ranking of the top 10 cheerleader squads in the NFL. Spoiler alert: The Dolphins are ranked No. 1.

A UCSB bro lost his mellow and stormed the court during the game with Hawaii to let Warriors coach Gib Arnold know what it's like.

Frank Jobe, savior of countless pitchers' careers, has died. They should find a spot in Cooperstown for him.

Super slo-mo footage of a hawk attacking a water balloon.

Another week, another 20 funny tweets.

So Bob Costas' disgusting eye condition at the Winter Olympics was reportedly the result of botox. Should have stopped with the rug.

Wade Phillips dissed Jason Garrett via Twitter in classic passive-aggressive fashion.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is learning to embrace the suck, out of necessity.

Tiny Tim Lincecum and colossal Kameron Loe traded uniforms yesterday.

• Wow. A couple of female Bruins fans ended up bloodied when the netting fell.

The 50 greatest sports movie quotes. One of my favorites: "You're gonna eat lightning, and you're gonna crap thunder!"

• The Clippers dealt the Lakers their worst loss in franchise history. There were a lot of Clipper highlights. A lot.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 10:24
Path: /college-basketball/fatal-flaws-could-sink-13-title-contenders-ncaa-tournament
Body:

First off, congratulations to all the teams on the following list. Each of the 13 teams on the list below looks like a team that could win the national title.

Now that we're finished with the formalities, Athlon Sports is going pick out each team’s biggest weakness.

No team in college basketball is perfect, not even the one sitting in Kansas with the perfect record. In a one-game elimination scenario just one opponent needs to exploit one soft spot to end a top team’s national championship bid.

For teams like Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, Duke and more, these are the things that might doom a title bid. These are the fatal flaws.

Arizona
Fatal flaw: Free throw shooting

At one point, Arizona’s biggest weakness looked like it might be the absence of 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley. After a couple of stumbles, the Wildcats are back to their early season form even without Ashley in the post. One of the Wildcats’ major flaws instead is free throw shooting. Arizona converts only 66.2 percent of free throws, which puts the Cats just inside the top 300 nationally.

Creighton
Fatal flaw: Game-altering defense

Opponents facing Creighton will admit that Doug McDermott is going to get his 25 points or more. And Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will snap out of their 3-point shooting slump sooner or later. The issue for Creighton is what it’s been every season of the Doug McDermott era: Defensive play. While the Bluejays may be the best offensive team in the country, they’re outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency. Their block rate, steal rate and defensive turnover rate are among the worst in the Big East.

Duke
Fatal flaw: Lack of a big body

Duke has two of the most versatile 6-8 forwards in the country in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. What those two can’t do, though, is defend around the rim. Duke is a far better defensive team than it was early in the season, but the Blue Devils could run into trouble against a team with a good post presence. Seven-footer Marshall Plumlee, though, is gaining more and more playing time to give Duke some size to go with the 6-9 Amile Jefferson.

Florida
Fatal flaw: Who is the go-to scorer?

What a problem Billy Donovan has: His team is almost too balanced. The top five scorers average between 14.5 and 9.3 points per game. Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ most important player, but Casey Prather, Michael Frazier or even Dorian Finney-Smith may end up taking the last shot.

Kansas
Fatal flaw: Inexperience

Few teams have grown up more than Kansas from the non-conference season to the conference tournaments. With five new starters, three of which are freshmen, Kansas had room to grow. In the Jayhawks’ three Big 12 losses, freshman Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor, particularly from long range. If that occurs in the later rounds of the Tournament, Kansas could be upset. However, this team still won the Big 12 regular season title and may be a No. 1 seed. Experience might be overrated.

Louisville
Fatal flaw: No Gorgui Dieng

Montrezl Harrell has had a fine season, contributing in unexpected ways in the offensive end. Harrell went 11 of 17 from the field against Memphis, including a rare 3-pointer. After the 6-8 Harrell, though, there’s a major drop off tot he next two big men in the 6-9 Stephan Van Treese and the 6-10 Mangok Mathiang. The absence of Dieng on defense was a major question to start the season and remains that way.

Michigan
Fatal flaw: Defense around the basket

This is where Michigan will miss Mitch McGary, one of the key cogs to the trip to the championship game last season. Michigan may be a better offensive team that it was a year ago, especially after Caris LeVert has given the Wolverines an additional weapon. But can Michigan defend well enough around the basket for a run in the Tournament? Big Ten opponents shoot 52 percent from 2-point range against the Wolverines.

Michigan State
Fatal flaw: The team we’ve seen is the team we’re going to get

The line on Michigan State all season has been that as soon as the Spartans get healthy, this team can challenge for a title. An intact roster hasn’t happened yet. Even as Branden Dawson returned, point guard Keith Appling’s ailing wrist remained an ongoing concern. Meanwhile, Gary Harris has shown signs of a player who has been asked to carry the team for weeks. There’s a likelihood not everyone will be healthy and rested for the Tournament run, and the team Michigan State has had in the last month will be the one that goes to the postseason.

Syracuse
Fatal flaw: Frontcourt depth

With Jerami Grant injured and DaJuan Coleman already out for the season, Syracuse against Georgia Tech had to go with a lineup starting Tyler Robinson, a freshman who had played 130 minutes all season. Unless Rakeem Christmas gets going, Syracuse  doesn’t have a reliable scorer in the post. And without depth, foul trouble or another injury could hit this team hard.

Villanova
Fatal flaw: Size in the frontcourt

The easiest answer for Villanova’s fatal flaw is “Creighton,” a team that drilled the Wildcats for two of their three losses this season. The other answer for Villanova’s most glaring weakness is the lack of a big body in the frontcourt. Villanova has big guards — James Bell and Darrun Hilliard are both 6-6, Josh Hart is 6-5. But the only regular taller than 6-7 is Daniel Ochefu, a 6-11 forward who averages 21.3 minutes per game.

Virginia
Fatal flaw: Tempo

Teams that run at a slower pace often run into trouble in the NCAA Tournament, and the Cavaliers rank 342nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. The Cavaliers are still able to score in spurts, but a team that rarely tops 70 points could have a ceiling in the Tournament.

Wichita State
Fatal flaw: 3-point shooting

Oddly enough, the same thing that propelled Wichita State to last year’s Final Four may hold Wichita State back in a bid to repeat. The Shockers hit 14 of 28 3-pointers to upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the round of 32 last year. Now, long-range shooting may be one of Wichita State’s few weaknesses. The Shockers shoot 33.7 percent from 3.

Wisconsin
Fatal flaw: Defense

The instinct is to say the Badgers’ style of play and limited offense could cause them to stall in the NCAA Tournament as they have in years past. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Wisconsin plays a bit faster than it used to, and it has more weapons in the offensive end than it has in some time. Meanwhile, though, Wisconsin’s defense has been ordinary by Bo Ryan standards, ranking 42nd in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin struggles to get turnovers, and its perimeter defense has been suspect at times this season.

Teaser:
Fatal flaws that could sink 13 title contenders in the NCAA Tournament
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, NC State Wolfpack, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-wolfpack-2014-spring-football-preview
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After guiding Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance during the 2012 season, high expectations followed Dave Doeren to Raleigh. NC State wasn’t stocked with proven talent last year, but the Wolfpack had a favorable schedule and most thought this team would at least make a bowl. Instead, NC State finished 3-9 and went winless in conference play.

Doeren and his staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Wolfpack back into the postseason, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround in 2014. For starters, NC State can’t get much worse. The Wolfpack hit rock bottom in conference play by going 0-8, but 12 starters return, and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will take over under center.

A favorable schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0. But back-to-back games against Florida State and Clemson will test just how much the Wolfpack has improved in 2014. If Brissett is as good as advertised, NC State could easily improve to 6-6 or 7-5.

NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in NC State’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Presbyterian
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8
Nov. 15
Nov. 29at 

1. Jacoby’s progress: The Wolfpack had a revolving door at quarterback last season, with five quarterbacks attempting passes. Don’t expect a similar outcome for NC State’s passing offense in 2014. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is clearly the Wolfpack’s No. 1 quarterback and is an upgrade over last year’s options. Brissett has talent (No. 75 player by Rivals in 2011 signing class) but threw only 74 passes in two seasons at Florida and completed 4 of 10 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in NC State’s 2013 spring game. Backup Pete Thomas transferred and Bryant Shirreffs is expected to move to running back, leaving very little in the way of experience behind Brissett. If Brissett isn’t the answer, NC State could be looking at another long season. However, considering Brissett’s lofty ranking coming out of high school, combined with a solid supporting cast, the Wolfpack’s passing game should show major progress on the stat sheet. This spring is Brissett’s first chance to have full control of the offense. It’s always tough to gauge progress in preseason practice, but a good showing by Brissett and the offense will help ease Doeren’s concerns about this unit heading into 2014.

2. Finding answers on the offensive line: Considering the lack of experience behind Brissett, it’s important the Wolfpack keep their quarterback out of the grasp of opposing linemen. With Shirreffs moving to running back, Garrett Leatham, Josh Taylor or true freshman Jalan McClendon could serve as the backup. See how important it is to keep Brissett upright? The line allowed 2.9 sacks per game last season and ranked 106th nationally by giving up 35. That’s the bad news. However, the news isn’t all negative for Doeren. Left tackle Rob Crisp was awarded a medical redshirt for 2013 and will return to the team this summer. Crisp should solidify the left tackle spot, while Joe Thuney (12 starts in 2013) will slide to left guard. Quinton Schooley is back after making 12 starts last year, while Alex Barr (10) and Tyson Chandler (11) are also returning starters. Outside of Crisp and Thuney will any of the spots be up for grabs this spring? Considering last year’s performance, this line needs more talent and consistency in 2014.

3. Improving the defense: Where should we start? When taking into account just conference games, NC State ranked last against the run, 12th in the ACC in yards allowed and 13th in scoring defense. The problems run deeper than just the main statistical breakdowns, as the Wolfpack generated only 12 sacks in ACC games and last in red zone defense. Coordinator Dave Huxtable is going to have his hands full this spring as he tries to find answers on this side of the ball. Of course, it will be easier for the defense if the offense shows progress in 2014. With six starters back, it’s reasonable to expect NC State to make some gains on defense. The line has a promising core intact, including tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman. Linebacker Robert Caldwell was one of the team’s top defenders last season, but he departs after making 105 stops in 2013. However, there is experience returning at linebacker with seniors Rodman Noel, Brandon Pittman and junior M.J. Salahuddin. The secondary allowed only 13 touchdown passes in eight conference games, and much like the defensive line, there’s a good core to build around. Jack Tocho impressed as a freshman, and Hakim Jones and Juston Burris were key cogs in the secondary last year. As we mentioned earlier in this section, the Wolfpack should be better on defense. But how much more can this unit improve? The answers to fixing the defense might not come for another season as Doeren continues to assemble talent on the recruiting trail.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7

There’s no doubt Doeren’s first season in Raleigh was a disappointment. But the future looks bright for this program, as the second-year coach seems to have NC State trending in the right direction. When rebuilding a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before going forward. The Wolfpack are following a similar pattern and could be in the mix for a bowl in 2014. A favorable non-conference schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0 before measuring stick games against Florida State and Clemson open ACC play. Assuming the Wolfpack sweep their non-conference games, home tilts against Wake Forest and Boston College could be just enough to get bowl eligible. 

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Tennessee has posted three consecutive 5-7 seasons and has lost at least seven games in five of the last six years. In the standings, few things have changed in Knoxville despite the hiring of a fourth coach in six years.

However, things could not be more different now that Butch Jones is in charge. Entering his second spring practice, Jones has already accomplished more than his predecessor. He has a win over a top-15 opponent, produced more rushing yards in a season than any Tennessee team since 2004, signed a top-10 recruiting class, moved Tennessee from adidas to Nike apparel and has retained his entire coaching staff.

He also has converted a culture of losing into one with lofty expectations and championship aspirations. Jones talks of “building our identity,” improving “football intelligence,” creating “team brotherhood” and using a “consistent approach each and every day.”

All of that coach speak is important and relevant, especially for a team with 41 losses in the last six years. But behind closed doors, fans can bet his goals for his second spring camp are more specific. Tennessee must find pass rushers, rebuild the offensive line, work in more than a dozen early enrollees and, most importantly, settle on a quarterback.

These objectives are more concrete than “taking pride in the fundamentals” and will go a long way in setting up the Vols for their first bowl game since 2010.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11Chattanooga
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Tennessee Volunteers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 7

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Tennessee's 2014 Spring Practice

Settle on a signal-caller
No one expects this battle to be over when spring camp ends, however, Jones and coordinator Mike Bajakian would feel a lot better about the future of their offense should they break camp with a clear(-er) pecking order under center. Justin Worley has the most experience. Joshua Dobbs has the most athletic ability. And Riley Ferguson, a redshirt freshman who didn’t play last year, might be the most gifted passer of the bunch. Nathan Peterman also is in the mix but appears like a distant fourth in the race for the starting job. Worley isn’t overly talented but has lots of snaps under his belt while Dobbs acquitted himself fairly well as just a true freshman a year ago with his ability to make plays with his legs. Ferguson is the wild card and many believe he might have the inside track on the starting job if he can prove to the coaches that he is ready to step into an SEC huddle. This battle should rage on into the fall but Jones and his staff would sleep better if they can establish at least the framework for a quarterback depth chart this spring.

Find answers in the trenches
All five offensive lineman are gone on offense and essentially the entire defensive line is gone as well. Restocking the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is imperative for success in the SEC. There is a host of young players on defense who will step into bigger roles (Jordan Williams, Corey Vereen) and a few who will eventually return from injury (Jaylen Miller, Trevarris Saulsberry) along the defensive front. And there are probably more than a few fans who would like to see what linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin would look like flying off the edge in blitz packages. So finding pass rushers on defense (ideally) shouldn’t be as difficult as replacing multiple All-SEC blockers up front on offense. Very little starting experience returns at this position for the Vols with Mack Crowder — and his one start — the only player with any starting experience. Crowder, Marcus Jackson and Kyler Kerbyson should get first crack at earning spots but other names will need to develop quickly if Tennessee wants to improve the 102nd-ranked total offense in college football. Going the junior college route is a slippery slope and can be extremely volatile but can also pay off in a big way (SEE: Cordarrelle Patterson). So keep an eye on JUCO early enrollees Dontavius Blair (OL) and Owen Williams (DL). It won’t matter who is under center if Jones and Bajakian can’t stabilize the front line... on either side of the ball.

Find playmakers and work in the youth
With 14 early enrollees, Jones has what amounts to an entirely new roster heading into his second spring camp. And he has repeatedly talked about finding playmakers on both sides of the ball. With Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson returning to the linebacking corps, that shouldn’t be a huge undertaking on defense. However, on offense, Tennessee is in much worse shape and will likely turn to more than one freshman to help create big plays with Pig Howard, Drae Bowles and Brendan Downs not participating in spring camp. Five-star wideout Josh Malone and five-star athlete Jalen Hurd, be it at running back or elsewhere, have elite upside but need to get acclimated quickly to college life if they want to contribute in the fall. The same can be said about junior college wideout Von Pearson and early enrollee freshmen tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf. Jones and Bajakian have a lot of new toys to play with and figuring out how all of those pieces fit together is much easier in the spring than en route to Norman, Okla.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Things are finally pointed in the right direction for Big Orange Nation. While the results on the field are yet to come, Jones has established a winning culture within the halls of the luxurious Anderson Training Center. He has overhauled his roster, improved team speed, gotten stronger and now has a young roster he can mold into a winner. There is a lot of work left to be done before the Vols are competing for SEC titles again — in particular, with a schedule that includes road trips to Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — but the overall trajectory of the program appears to be very positive for the first time in nearly a decade.  

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For only the second time in school history, Clemson is coming off its third consecutive season of at least 10 victories. The Tigers have won 32 games over the last three years, claimed an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State and defeated LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. But a key group of players departed last season, leaving Clemson with just 11 starters returning for 2014.

However, the news isn’t all bad for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers have recruited four consecutive top-20 classes, and true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson appears to be a future star in the ACC. Swinney also scored a huge offseason victory when offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave Death Valley for a head coaching gig. So while Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be tough to replace, the Tigers have enough returning talent to navigate a favorable schedule to potentially 10 victories.

Figuring out the quarterback battle, as well as sorting out the options at running back and receiver are the biggest priorities for Swinney on offense in spring practice. Clemson doesn’t lose much on defense, but the secondary is thin on proven options at cornerback. The Tigers must also spend a little time this spring preparing for the opener against Georgia. Swinney recently announced four players (offensive linemen Shaq Anthony and David Beasley, cornerback Garry Peters and defensive end Corey Crawford) will be suspended for the matchup against the Bulldogs. It’s early, but the coaching staff wants to see other players step up at those positions.

Clemson Tigers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 6

Four Things to Watch in Clemson’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateTime
Aug. 30at 
Sept. 6South Carolina State
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 6at 
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29

1. Replacing Tajh Boyd: It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one of Boyd’s caliber. However, Clemson does have some intriguing options ready to battle for the starting job. Boyd was a model of consistency during his time with the Tigers, throwing for at least 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Senior Cole Stoudt has completed 86 of his 119 career attempts with the Tigers, throwing for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. He enters spring with a slight hold on the No. 1 spot, but sophomore Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson won’t give away the job without a fight. Kelly ranked as the No. 7 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and threw for 58 yards on 10 completions last season. Watson is the name generating the most buzz in spring workouts, as he enrolled early to compete with Kelly and Stoudt. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, expect Clemson’s offense to remain one of the best in the nation. Coordinator Chad Morris returns to Death Valley, and he should have no trouble making the necessary adjustments to compensate for the loss of Boyd. Can Clemson find some clarity at quarterback this spring?

2. The skill positions: Boyd isn’t the only loss on offense. Running back Roderick McDowell expired his eligibility after rushing for 1,025 yards last season, while receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant declared for the NFL Draft. Much like the quarterback position, the cupboard is far from bare. Zac Brooks rushed for 246 yards and caught six passes last season and enters spring practice with a slight edge on D.J. Howard for the starting running back job. C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman are also in the mix, while Tyshon Dye won’t participate in spring workouts due to an offseason Achilles injury. If Brooks doesn’t take a step forward this spring, three incoming freshmen could make an impression in the fall: C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Jae’lon Oglesby. A similar battle is set to unfold at receiver with Watkins and Bryant no longer catching passes in Death Valley. Adam Humphries is back after grabbing 41 passes last year, while Charone Peake is expected to be at full strength in the fall after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. Mike Williams and Gerome Hopper are also back in the mix after showing flashes of promise as freshmen last year. The depth at receiver was bolstered with the addition of Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott in time for spring practice. Another touted freshman (Trevion Thompson) will join the team in time for fall workouts. 

3. New faces on the offensive line: Lost in the discussion of Clemson’s offense as it looks to replace Boyd and Watkins is the line. Three starters are back for 2014, but the Tigers lose tackle Brandon Thomas (second-team All-ACC) and guard Tyler Shatley. How will this group look in 2014? Ryan Norton started all 13 games at center last season and should anchor that position once again. However, the questions begin outside of Norton. Can Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony win the starting tackle spots this spring? Or will Swinney have to take an extended look at Kalon Davis there? At guard, David Beasley will have to earn his starting spot with Davis and Eric Mac Lain slightly ahead on the depth chart as spring practice starts. Finding the right five on the offensive line could require some different combinations this spring. And establishing a starting five as soon as possible is crucial for Clemson to build cohesion in the trenches.

4. Building depth in the secondary: With Vic Beasley returning at end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive lines in the ACC next year. The linebacking corps is also set despite the loss of Spencer Shuey, as Stephone Anthony returns as a likely All-ACC performer, and Kellen Jones should be 100 percent in the fall after a knee injury limited him to three games in 2013. While the front seven is set, question marks litter the cornerback spot. Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins (out this spring) are the most-experienced options, but redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander is expected to play a significant role in the pass defense in 2014. Coordinator Brent Venables will likely call on redshirt freshmen Adrian Baker and Marcus Edmond, along with sophomore Cordrea Tankersley to fill out the depth at cornerback. With a matchup against Georgia to open the year, this unit will be tested from the opening snap.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10

There's no doubt Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be missed. However, Clemson’s offense should score plenty of points with Morris calling the plays, while Watson’s improvement will be one of the top spring storylines in the ACC. With road games at Georgia and Florida State in September, the Tigers will be tested early. A 1-2 start is likely, but the schedule lightens up after the first month, with a Nov. 29 showdown against South Carolina perhaps the only other game Clemson won’t be favored to win. The Tigers should be picked No. 2 in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State this year, but Clemson is a top 25 team in 2014.

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

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

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

Having dissected every season of every major conference from the BCS Era, I think I can safely say that the Big 12 had the best quarterbacks. Four Heisman Trophy winners, seven BCS National Championship Game appearances from six different signal-callers and two national titles say as much — and that’s just the top 10 in this league. The Big 12 also boasts who I believe is the best player regardless of position in college football over the last 16 seasons.

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

1. Vince Young, Texas (2003-05)
Stats: 6,040 yds, 44 TDs, 28 INTs, 61.8%, 3,127 yds, 37 TDs

The Texas quarterback was the most unstoppable single force of the BCS Era. Just ask Kansas. Or Colorado. Or USC even. He earned Rose Bowl MVP honors following his ridiculous performance against Michigan to finish his sophomore season. It was a sign of things to come as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. The Longhorns' offense averaged more than 50 points per game, he was a consensus All-American, led the Big 12 in passing efficiency, won the Davey O'Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards while finishing second on the Heisman ballot. His smooth running skills led to an all-time Big 12 career record 6.8 yards per carry. And no one will ever forget his second Rose Bowl MVP performance against USC in the greatest game of the BCS Era, returning the national championship to Austin.

2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 10,366 yds, 78 TDs, 17 INTs, 67.1%, 2,254 yds, 33 TDs

Right alongside Andrew Luck will always be RG3, as the duo will forever be linked in football history. Griffin III beat out the Cardinal signal-caller to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy while leading Baylor to back-to-back bowl games. He led the NCAA in passing efficiency (189.5) — a Big 12 single-season record — and posted the fourth-best season in terms of total offense in conference history (4,992 yards, the most by any non-Texas Tech quarterback). He was a consensus All-American and won the Davey O'Brien and Manning Awards to go with his stiff-armed trophy. In fact, few players at any position in any league have meant more to their school than Griffin III. His impact on Baylor Bears football is immeasurable and could continue for decades. Had he been healthy for his entire career — he missed nine games in 2009 — his numbers might have been the best the BCS Era has ever seen.

3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2007-09)
Stats: 8,403 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 67.6%, 5 rush TDs

It didn't take long for the three-star recruit to establish himself as one of Oklahoma's best of all-time. He set a school record for yards in a half in the first half of his career and broke another school record for consecutive completions the next game (22) — still a Big 12 record and two shy of the NCAA mark (Tee Martin). By season's end, Bradford owned the NCAA's all-time freshman passing touchdowns record (since broken) with 36. He also won the Big 12 championship. The following season, Bradford led the Sooners to the BCS title game against Florida and beat out Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy for the Heisman Trophy. He won Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien honors as well. Bradford owns the NCAA record for career quarterback efficiency at 175.6 making him the most efficient quarterback in the history of the game. He also owns the NCAA mark for yards per play (8.7) and 86 of his 88 career touchdown passes came in just two seasons.

4. Colt McCoy, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 13,253 yds, 112 TDs, 45 INTs, 70.3%, 1,571 yds, 20 TDs

Few players got more out of their abilities than McCoy. He was a two-time consensus All-American as a junior and senior, finishing second in the Heisman as a junior and third as a senior. McCoy was the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and claimed the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Manning, Unitas and Davey O'Brien Awards over his last two seasons. En route to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, he produced 30 touchdowns and over 3,900 yards of total offense on the unbeaten Big 12 champs. He left school with more wins than any quarterback in NCAA history (since broken), owns the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (76.7) and is the most efficient passer in Big 12 history (70.3 percent). 

5. Josh Heupel, Oklahoma (1999-2000)
Stats: 7,242 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 63.8%, 43 yds, 12 TDs

He wasn't the most talented quarterback to play in Norman but he might have the best understanding of the position. He won AP Player of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, earned the Walter Camp Trophy, finished second in the Heisman and led the NCAA in completion percentage (64.7) in 2000. More importantly, he led Oklahoma to arguably the biggest win in program history over Florida State in the BCS championship game in 2000. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 3,400 yards passing and 27 total touchdowns.

6. Brad Smith, Missouri (2002-05)
Stats: 8,799 yds, 56 TDs, 33 INTs, 56.3%, 4,289 yds, 45 TDs

Smith is one of only five players in the 6,000-4,000 club after becoming the first player to accomplish the feat back in 2005. He is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the history of the program and was nearly unstoppable in the backfield. His 799 rushing attempts are fifth all-time in Big 12 history and his 4,289 yards rushing are fourth while his 45 touchdowns rank ninth all-time. All of this on the ground from a guy who also ranks ninth all-time in passing yards, sixth in attempts (1,484) and seventh in completions (835).

7. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (2008-11)
Stats: 9,260 yds, 75 TDs, 27 INTs, 69.5%, 1 rush TD

The Pokes quarterback set all the important school passing records in 2011 and then returned to Stillwater in '12 and surpassed his previous benchmarks. His 4,742 yards passing in 2011 is the best single-season by a Big 12 quarterback not from Texas Tech. He led Oklahoma State to its first-ever Big 12 title and first-ever BCS bowl win. His 69.5 percent completion rate is third all-time in Big 12 history and he ranks eighth in league history in passing yards and ninth in touchdowns in just two seasons as a starter. Weeden went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft.

8. Eric Crouch, Nebraska (1998-2001)
Stats: 4,481 yds, 29 TDs, 25 INTs, 51.5%, 3,434 yds, 59 TDs

The Nebraska signal-caller continued the long run of elite running quarterbacks in Lincoln with a Heisman Trophy season that ended with a trip to the BCS title game against Miami. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year also claimed Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp honors and led the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns three consecutive seasons. The four-year starter won three straight Big 12 North titles as well as the most recent conference title of any kind for Nebraska (’99). His 59 rushing touchdowns are a record for any QB in NCAA history and are third all-time in the Big 12 record books.

9. Jason White, Oklahoma (1999-2004)
Stats: 7,922 yds, 81 TDs, 24 INTs,  63.3%, 2 rush TDs

The list of awards and accomplishments is long for White. He was AP National Player of the Year, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Unitas, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell winner and claimed the 2003 Heisman Trophy. He led his team to two BCS National Championship Games and a perfect 13-0 Big 12 title in 2004 (before getting hammered by USC). He finished third in the Heisman voting in his senior season. White had over 7,000 yards passing and 75 touchdown passes in two seasons as the starter.

10. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2005-08)
Stats: 15,611 yds, 134 TDs, 34 INTs, 69.8%, 12 rush TDs

No player in Big 12 history has thrown for more touchdowns than Harrell and only two players in NCAA history (Case Keenum, Kellen Moore) can top his 134 scoring strikes. The Red Raiders QB has two of the top three passing seasons in Big 12 history and three of the top nine. His career completion percentage of 69.8 is second all-time in league history behind only McCoy and no one has completed more passes in NCAA history than his 1,403 connections. Before ending his career, Harrell was awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 2007 and the Unitas Golden Arm Award in '08 when he nearly led Tech to what would have been its only Big 12 title game appearance to date.

Just missed the cut:

11. Chase Daniel, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 12,515 yds, 101 TDs, 41 INTs, 68.0%, 971 yds, 10 TDs

Like many names on this list, Daniel was more than just big stats and awards. He elevated his program to a new level of competition. Missouri won a school-record 12 games (since tied) during Daniel’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist (4th) season of 2007. He then won 10 games in ’08, posting two of the three double-digit win seasons in school history at the time. He also led Mizzou to its only two Big 12 title game appearances while setting every major school passing record along the way. Daniel is fourth all-time in passing yards and one of only four players with 100-plus TD passes in Big 12 history.

12. Todd Reesing, Kansas (2006-09)
Stats: 11,194 yds, 90 TDs, 33 INTs, 63.8%, 646 yds, 15 TDs

Exactly like Daniel, Reesing carried his program to levels never before seen in Lawrence. Before Reesing arrived, Kansas had won 10 games just twice in more than a century of football (1905, '95). In just his first season, the Kansas signal-caller threw for 3,486 yards, 33 TDs and only seven interceptions en route to a school-record 12 wins. The Orange Bowl victory that year was the only appearance the Jayhawks made in any BCS bowl during its 16-year run. Reesing had three straight seasons with at least 3,400 yards passing and is sixth all-time in league history in both yards and touchdown passes.

13. Collin Klein, Kansas State (2009-2012)
Stats: 4,724 yds, 30 TDs, 15 INTs, 61.3%, 2,485 yds, 56 TDs

He certainly isn’t a conventional quarterback but he was equally effective and just as successful as any of the pro-style pocket passers on this list. Klein tied a Big 12 record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2011 and is fourth all-time in Big 12 history with a total of 56 — just three shy of the NCAA record. He literally carried Kansas State to a Big 12 championship, was named Big 12 Player of the Year, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and finished third in the Heisman voting in his final season on campus.

14. Michael Bishop, Kansas State (1997-98)
Stats: 4,401 yds, 36 TDs, 13 INTs, 1,314 yds, 23 TDs

Any place that Klein is mentioned in Kansas State or Big 12 lore, Bishop needs to be right alongside. Both were dual-threat talents who carried their Wildcats to the Big 12 championship game during an award-winning senior season. Bishop was a consensus All-American, Davey O’Brien Award winner and finished second in the Heisman voting when he posted this season: 2,844 yards, 23 TDs, 5 INTs, 748 yards rushing, 14 TDs.

15. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State (2006-09)
Stats: 8,317 yds, 66 TDs, 31 INTs, 1,858 yds, 22 TDs

One of the more underrated players in league history, Robinson took a four-win team the year before he arrived and led the Pokes to four winning seasons. He started the last three of those seasons and capped his career with back-to-back nine-win campaigns. His ability to make plays with his legs is often forgotten as his 10,175 yards of total offense rank ninth all-time (ahead of Vince Young). 

16. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (2009-12)
Stats: 16,646 yds, 123 TDs, 52 INTs, 63.6%,  3 rush TDs

Very few players in history have four 3,000-yard seasons on their resume but Jones is one of them. Jones is No. 3 in NCAA history in passing yards and No. 5 in touchdown passes, but also threw more interceptions than any player in Big 12 history (52). He won 40 games in his career, including one outright conference championship in 2010, but never took Oklahoma to the national title level.

17. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (1999-02)
Stats: 12,423 yds, 95 TDs, 40 INTs, 5 rush TDs

Kingsbury led the nation in completions for three consecutive seasons and owns the Big 12 record for completions in a game (49). He capped his career by leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns with 5,017 yards and 45 in 2002. His is one of just three players in Big 12 history to top 5,000 yards and is one of just 10 players in NCAA history to reach 5K passing. And let’s face it, the ladies love them some Kingsbury.

18. Major Applewhite, Texas (1998-01)
Stats: 8,353 yds, 60 TDs, 28 INTs, 57.4%, 3 rush TDs

A cult hero in Austin, Applewhite battled blue-chip, NFL offspring Chris Simms for playing time most of his career. Starting as a sophomore, Applewhite threw for 3,357 yards and 21 scores en route to being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He left school as the record holder for passing yards in a career and season (since broken) as well as consecutive games with a TD pass (19).

19. Bryce Petty, Baylor (2011-present)
Stats: 4,340 yds, 33 TDs, 3 INTs, 62.4%, 237 yds, 15 TDs

This is really just a starting point for a player who could quickly rise in the Big 12 QB ranks with another huge season in 2014. In just one year, however, Petty led Baylor to its only Big 12 championship, its only BCS bowl bid and he won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was responsible for 46 total touchdowns, rolled up 4,409 yards of offense and threw only three interceptions in ’13.

20. Geno Smith, West Virginia (2009-12)
Stats: 11,662 yds, 98 TDs, 21 INTs, 342 yds, 4 TDs

He only played one season in the Big 12 but it was a monster season. He threw for 4,205 yards and an NCAA-best 42 touchdowns. His overall career numbers stack up with most of the Big 12’s best and he led WVU to an Orange Bowl romp over Clemson. He owns the Big 12 record for consecutive completions without an interception (273), the Big 12 single-game TD record (8) and the Big 12 single-game total offense record (687). Smith was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Best of the rest:

21. B.J. Symons, Texas Tech (2000-03): 6,378 yds, 59 TDs, 25 INTs, 64.4%, 208 yds, 6 TDs
22. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (2008-10): 6,822 yds, 40 TDs, 18 INTs, 60.9%, 458 yds, 8 TDs
23. Bret Meyer, Iowa State (2004-07): 9,499 yds, 50 TDs, 41 INTs, 58.0%, 923 yds, 12 TDs
24. Nick Florence, Baylor (2009-12): 6,301 yds, 41 TDs, 22 INTs, 61.8%, 651 yds, 14 TDs
25. Zac Taylor, Nebraska (2005-06): 5,853 yds, 45 TDs, 20 INTs, 57.3%, 2 rush TDs
26. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (2009-12): 8,636 yds, 69 TDs, 26 INTs, 69.0%, 54 yds, 6 TDs
27. Ell Roberson, Kansas State (2000-03): 5,099 yds, 37 TDs, 26 INTs, 48.9%, 2,818 yds, 40 TDs
28. Seneca Wallace, Iowa State (2001-02): 5,289 yds, 26 TDs, 27 INTs, 57.7%, 912 yds, 15 TDs
29. Josh Freeman, Kansas State (2006-08): 8,078 yds, 44 TDs, 34 INTs, 59.1%, 343 yds, 20 TDs
30. Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M (2002-05): 6,992 yds, 44 TDs, 23 INTs, 54.6%, 1,889 yds, 15 TDs

Teaser:
Top 10 Big 12 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Ernie Els, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-27-ernie-els
Body:

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

No. 27: Ernie Els

Born: Oct. 17, 1969, Johannesburg, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 19 (28 on the European Tour)  | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,173,761 (74th) World Ranking: 29

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Ernie Els may be in his mid-40s and struggling with his putting, but his golf swing and resume are just too hard too ignore. His fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open last year was his 34th top ten in a major, and this year's major venues will no doubt play into the hands of the veterans who have played there in the past. The Open Championship is Ernie’s best event, and this year’s venue is at Hoylake, where he finished third in 2006. As he showed at the close of the oldest championship in golf in 2012, sometimes it just boils down to who has been there in the past, and there is hardly anywhere in golf that Ernie hasn't been.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 84
Wins: 4

2013 Performance:
Masters - T13
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T26
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 2 (2000, 2004)
U.S. Open - 1 (1994, 1997)
British Open - 1 (2002, 2012)
PGA Championship - 3/T3 (1995, 2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 34
Top-25 Finishes: 51
Missed Cuts: 16

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

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 17:34
All taxonomy terms: Missouri Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/gary-pinkel-receives-raise-and-contract-extension-missouri
Body:

Coming off a successful 12-2 season and an appearance in the SEC title game, Missouri has extended Gary Pinkel’s contract.

Pinkel will receive a raise to $3.1 million a season, and his pool for assistant coach salaries has been increased. Pinkel's contract will run through 2020, which includes a $450,000 bonus if Missouri wins the national championship.

In 13 years at Missouri, Pinkel is 102-63 and has only one losing season since 2005.

 

Teaser:
Gary Pinkel Signs Extension at Missouri
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 16:21
Path: /college-football/notable-names-will-be-snubbed-college-football-hall-fame
Body:

If AJ McCarron ends up in the College Football Hall of Fame, the credit won’t go entirely to his two national championships and 36 career wins.

Instead, the former Alabama quarterback can thank the Walter Camp Foundation. That organization voted him its first-team All-America quarterback during his senior year, thus making him eligible for the Hall of Fame.

(Remember, this makes McCarron eligible, but does not guarantee he'll be on the ballot or voted into the Hall. The late Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas is in his fourth year on the ballot for one of the more egregious snubs in recent years.)

That’s just one illustration of the rules that govern eligibility for the college hall. A player must be voted a first-team All-American by one of the major services to simply be eligible.

Seriously, the Hall puts it in all caps:

"FIRST AND FOREMOST, A PLAYER MUST HAVE RECEIVED FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA RECOGNITION BY A SELECTOR RECOGNIZED BY THE NCAA AND UTILIZED TO COMPRISE THEIR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICA TEAMS.”

In most modern cases, this is first-team recognition by the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Sporting News. And this makes sense. To be in the Hall of Fame, at least one service should deem a player to be the best at his position in one season, right?

But there’s only one spot for a quarterback as a first-team All-American, and McCarron’s time coinciding with Heisman winners Robert Griffin, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston has made the first team tough to crack.

Coaches have their own requirements: 10 years and 100 games as a head coach with a .600 win percentage. Sure, a Hall of Fame coach should probably win better than 60 percent of his games, but not if he cut his teeth, and eventually won, at tough jobs.

These rules are — putting it kindly — problematic. Here's who would not be eligible for the Hall of Fame:

Howard Schnellenberger
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: In his 277-game career, Schnellenberger gets penalized for taking over hopeless college jobs at Miami and Louisville, plus building Florida Atlantic from the ground up. That makes him the architect of three programs. He led Miami to its first national title in 1983 and Louisville to the Fiesta Bowl in 1990. All that time at tough jobs causes him to fall short of the win percentage requirement (51.4 percent). Even if Schnellenberger retired in 1994 before a 5-5-1 season at Oklahoma and a 41-56 run at fledgling FAU, he still would fall short of the 60-percent mark (56.2 percent at Miami and Louisville).

Reggie Bush
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: “Citizenship”
Why he should be in: The Hall of Fame doesn’t forbid players who received NCAA sanctions to be enshrined, but it does say a player’s “post-football record as a citizen is also weighed.” On the field, Bush would be an easy pick for the Hall of Fame, but it may be tough for a player who had to return his Heisman to crack the College Football Hall of Fame.

Pete Carroll
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few seasons
Why he should be in: The criteria states a head coach must work for a minimum of 10 years. Carroll coached nine with seven consecutive top-five finishes, two national titles and five Rose Bowls.

Pat White
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Noticing a trend with quarterbacks circa 2006-08? There were a lot of good ones, and White ends up getting squeezed out. He was the most successful West Virginia quarterback since Major Harris, he became the first quarterback to start and win four bowl games, and he holds the record for career rushing yards for a quarterback (4,480).

Joe Tiller
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Tiller brought the spread to the Big Ten and made Purdue relevant along the way. The Boilermakers endured 12 consecutive losing seasons before he was hired and reached the Rose Bowl (albeit with an 8-4 record) by his fourth season). He went to bowl games in 10 of 12 seasons at Purdue, but finished his career with a 57.8 win percentage in Lafayette and at Wyoming. It’s worth noting Tiller’s best quarterback, Drew Brees, also doesn’t meet Hall of Fame criteria by never being a first-team All-America selection.

Rich Brooks
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Go ahead and be underwhelmed by Brooks’ career losing record (45.5 percent) in 290 games as a college coach, but go ask about him in Eugene and Lexington. Without Brooks, there’d be no Mike Bellotti or Chip Kelly at Oregon. In 1994, Brooks led Oregon to its first Rose Bowl since the 1919 season. And at Kentucky, he and Bear Bryant are the only coaches with four consecutive winning seasons.

Colin Kaepernick
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Chris Ault -- who was already in the College Football Hall of Fame as an active coach -- invented the Pistol offense years earlier, but Kaepernick brought it to the masses as a collegian and a pro. He led Nevada to its best season as an FBS program while becoming the only quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in his career.

Case Keenum
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Passing for 19,217 career yards at the Conference USA level wasn’t enough to make Keenum a first-team All-American among a loaded group of quarterbacks from 2007-11.

Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few games
Why they should be in: The two coaches defined the Pac-12 for the post-Pete Carroll era in divergent ways. Harbaugh’s physical, balanced teams produced two Heisman finalists (Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart) and the best Stanford season since 1940. Kelly’s Oregon teams were the best at running the no-huddle spread on the way to three conference titles. The NFL came calling for both, meaning Kelly (53 career games) and Harbaugh (50 FBS games, plus 35 at FCS San Diego) don't meet the 10-year or 100-game requirement. Harbaugh, however, is eligible as a player.

Big 12 quarterbacks
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not first-team All-Americans
Why they should be in: Let’s name the names: Landry Jones, Chase Daniel and Collin Klein. Jones is the career-leading passer for the Big 12 and Oklahoma. Daniel was Heisman finalist who led his team to two Big 12 title games and the brink or the ’07 national championship game. Klein finished with 86 total touchdowns (56 rushing, 30 passing) and went 21-5 his last two seasons. The problem? Contemporaries like Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel for Jones and Klein and Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford for Daniel relegated these quarterbacks to second-team status or lower.

Teaser:
Notable Names that will be Snubbed by the College Football Hall of Fame
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 12:04
All taxonomy terms: Charl Schwartzel, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-28-charl-schwartzel
Body:

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

No. 28: Charl Schwartzel

Born: Aug. 31, 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (9 on European Tour)  | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,256,723 (25th) World Ranking: 16

Brandel Chamblee's Take

With his Masters title and his beautiful golf swing, one would expect Charl Schwartzel to contend more often, but his ball-striking stats contradict the aesthetics of his swing, which is why he has just two top 10s in majors, albeit one of them is a win. Still he has a knack for being just outside contention and close enough, often enough, to make one wonder when, or if, he will go on a run. If he's on the range, I can’t help but watch him swing, and if he gets on the leaderboards more often in 2014 maybe his resume will be as pretty as that swing.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - T25
U.S. Open - 14
British Open - T15
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2011)
U.S. Open - T9 (2011)
British Open - T14 (2010)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 11
Missed Cuts: 9

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

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-6-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 6.

• Katherine Webb is trying modeling. If nothing else, she has attractive co-workers.

Some guy who looks a lot like Tupac was at a basketball game last night.

• This is great: 2014 college football standings projections for the massive homer in your life.

Watch a hockey player pick his teeth up off the ice. This is why it's the only sport that has team dentists.

Nevada's 6-1 point guard threw down the windmill of the season.

Proposed rules changes by Nick Saban, courtesy of Clay Travis.

• Is Tiger a quitter? Wojo says no. I happen to agree. But he might be facing an opponent he can't overcome.

Swagged-out athletes of the '70s and '80s. I remember them well.

• This is interesting: Mike McQueary might have thrown an unnecessary touchdown pass for Penn State in 1995 simply to cover the spread.

A putt-putt golfer recently rolled a perfect game. (An 18, for those who don't follow competitive putt-putt.)

• Ken Griffey Jr. was interviewed by Linda Cohn. It was...uncomfortable.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 10:36
Path: /college-basketball/12-unlikely-players-who-could-be-ncaa-tournament-heroes
Body:

Becoming a March Madness hero has its perks.

For example, can you pronounce Farokhmanesh? Have you ever had such a hot hand you thought you might try courting Kate Upton in front of the entire world?

That's what it's like for three weeks during the NCAA Tournament for the unlikeliest of stars.

Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh hit four 3-pointers to upset Kansas in the second round in 2010, and for a brief time every college basketball fan could pronounce the name a player who had never even averaged 10 points per game in his career.

And just last year, Michigan’s then-freshman Spike Albrecht briefly became a title game hero with 17 points against Louisville, a total he never exceeded before or since. Things were working out so much for Albrecht he tweeted to swimsuit model Kate Upton, who attended the game in a maize V-neck, “saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again. :)”

Finding the next Farokhmanesh or Albrecht isn’t easy, but we’ll give it a try. Here are a handful of lesser-known players who could become household names for major contenders in the NCAA Tournament.

Gabe York, Arizona
York entered the starting lineup for three games late in the season and immediately gave the Wildcats a boost after their loss to Arizona State. York is a defensive liability, but he is a 3-point shooter on a team without many of them — York has made as many 3s (43) as leading scorer Nick Johnson in 12 fewer minutes per game.

Grant Gibbs, Creighton
Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat have suddenly gone cold from 3, but here’s Gibbs, shooting 7 of 9 in the last three games. The sixth-year senior is the classic glue guy who knows when to take a shot (60 percent from 2, 47.2 percent from 3) or when to pass (four assists per game).

Amile Jefferson, Duke
Remember Brian Zoubek? The Blue Devils center in 2010 helped Duke to the national title thanks to his offensive rebounding prowess. Jefferson isn’t nearly as prolific (77 offensive boards) as the 7-1 Zoubek was (143), but he is Duke’s top offensive rebounding threat this season. Jefferson had five offensive rebounds against Virginia, six against Pittsburgh and six against Syracuse this season.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Here’s the definition of an unlikely NCAA Tournament hero: Finney-Smith is on a loaded team but had slumped to make one 3-point shot in his last 23 attempts. So who gets the ball with an opportunity for a dagger against Vanderbilt? Finney-Smith. The Virginia Tech transfer also grabbed 10 or more rebounds five times this season.

Wayne Selden, Kansas
The Jayhawks will be led by Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, but the five-star freshman Selden isn’t a bad fourth option. He can finish around the rim, and he’s plenty capable of hitting shots from deep. A secondary scorer on Kansas’ record, he’s managed to find a way to top 20 points three times.

Terry Rozier, Louisville
The freshman Rozier briefly started in place of an injured Chris Jones in an eye-opening stint at point guard this season. Rozier has returned to the bench, but he’s still offering better than 20 minutes per game. He can be a bigger option at point guard (6-1) than the starter Jones (5-10).

Spike Albrecht, Michigan
Albrecht already has been the NCAA Tournament X-factor, when he scored 17 points out of nowhere against Louisville in the title game. A second explosion in the Tournament might not have the shock value of the first time, but it would still be surprising. A consistent contributor off the bench this season, Albrecht hasn’t topped 10 points since the title game.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
After the last two weeks, Syracuse perhaps should’t be on a list of teams preparing to play for the title. A major reason has been a lack of inside scoring. If anyone on the roster is going to provide it, Christmas may be the guy since the Orange have few other options. He’s shown flashes with 10 points against Pittsburgh and 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks against NC State.

Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart was briefly one of the nation’s most productive freshmen during an eight-game stretch in December and January when he scored at least 10 points in each game. Hart slumped into Big East play, but he’s showing signs of pulling out of it with 13 points against Marquette and eight rebounds against Butler in the last week.

London Perrantes, Virginia
The Cavaliers freshman point guard has been the key to Virginia’s run to the ACC title and reason the Cavs may be dangerous in March. Not only has Perrantes, who averages 4.8 points per game, been hitting key 3-point shots in wins over Syracuse and Miami, he’s become a more efficient point guard. He has a 5.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during Virginia’s win streak.

Darius Carter, Wichita State
Wichita State has its share of established names — Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton — but Carter may be one of the names that emerges in the Tournament. The 6-7 forward comes off the bench to offer 8.3 points per game, but he’s averaging 18.3 points per 40 minutes, second only to Early’s 22.9. His fresh legs will be an asset.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has its share of impact players — Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust. Of all them, the freshman Hayes may have the highest ceiling. The depth has allowed Hayes to grow into his role to the season where now he’s a consistent threat anywhere inside the arc.

Teaser:
12 Unlikely players who could be NCAA Tournament heroes
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

After a 24-0 record to Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes closed 2013 on a two-game losing streak. Despite the sour end to last year, Ohio State is still in great shape. Meyer continues to reel in elite talent, and quarterback Braxton Miller turned down the NFL for one more season in Columbus.

With Miller back on campus, Ohio State’s offense will be one of the best in the nation. Running back Carlos Hyde will be missed, but Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson should be a potent one-two combination. The biggest question mark on offense is a line that returns just one starter. Meyer is still searching for the right combination on defense after finishing seventh in the Big Ten in yards allowed in 2013. Chris Ash was hired to coordinate the defense with Luke Fickell, while Larry Johnson Sr. comes to Ohio State from Penn State to coach the defensive line.

The Big Ten East Division is shaping up to be a battle between Ohio State and Michigan State for the top spot. Will the Buckeyes take the next step under Meyer and win the Big Ten title in 2014?

Ohio State Buckeyes 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 12-2 (8-0)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

Four Things to Watch in Ohio State’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30(Baltimore)
Sept. 6
Sept. 13
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29

1. The backup quarterbacks: When healthy, there’s no debate Braxton Miller is Ohio State’s No. 1 quarterback. But the senior will miss spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery, leaving Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, Stephen Collier and Luke Morgan as the options vying for the backup role. There’s not much experience in that foursome, as Morgan is an invited walk-on, Collier is a true freshman that enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, Barrett was the No. 137 prospect in the 247Sports Composite last year and Jones played in three games last season and attempted two passes. Jones and Barrett are working as the top two quarterbacks in spring practice, and it’s important both passers get comfortable with the first-team offense. Miller should be 100 percent in fall practice, but after he accumulated 171 rushing attempts last year, the Buckeyes need to have their backup prepared. This is a big spring for Barrett and Jones to prove they are capable of leading the offense should Miller miss any snaps in 2014.

2. Figuring out the supporting cast: The running back and receiving corps aren’t positions of weakness, but Meyer needs to sort out his options in both units. At running back, Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson are slated to replace Carlos Hyde. Elliott may not match Hyde’s 1,521 yards from last season, but he should receive the bulk of the attempts. Wilson is suited for an all-purpose role, and coordinator Tom Herman needs to get the ball to him more in 2014. The Buckeyes also have Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn fighting for carries. Can Herman and Meyer develop a pecking order here? At receiver, the Buckeyes are still searching for the right mix. Corey Brown is gone after leading the team with 63 receptions last season, leaving Devin Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman as the top options. Evan Spencer is also in the mix after catching 26 passes last year. There’s no shortage of talent here, including Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, talented incoming freshman Johnnie Dixon, Corey Smith, Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Greene and James Clark. Which players will emerge as starters or potential go-to options for Miller? With backup quarterbacks taking reps this spring, it may be tough to get a read on this group.

3. Rebuilding the offensive line: The Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation last year. Fast forward to 2014 and this group is facing a rebuilding project. Taylor Decker is the only returning starter from last season and will likely flip from right tackle to the left side. Pat Elflein made one start in 2013 and is penciled in at one of the guard spots. The other three positions are up for grabs. Redshirt freshman Billy Price and Jacoby Boren appear set to battle to start at center, while Darryl Baldwin could be the answer at right tackle if he holds off talented redshirt freshman Evan Lisle. Helping Elflein at guard could be a couple of different names, potentially converted defensive lineman Joel Hale. Replacing four starters in the trenches is no easy task. How long will it take this unit to find the right mix?

4. Fixing the defense: No, the defense wasn’t completely awful last year. However, it wasn’t quite up to the standard most expect in Columbus. Despite having a first-team All-Big Ten cornerback in Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes ranked 83rd nationally in pass efficiency defense and allowed 20 passing scores (conference-only games). The back seven should receive most of the attention in the spring, as the line could be the best in the nation in 2014. Ryan Shazier’s early departure to the NFL added to the uncertainty at linebacker. Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are back as returning starters, while redshirt freshman Darron Lee opened spring with the No. 1 unit. The name to watch at linebacker is true freshman Raekwon McMillan – the No. 22 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. In the secondary, the coaching staff is counting on Doran Grant to take his game to the next level after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year. Cam Burrows shifted from cornerback to safety and should be a major contributor there in 2014. Plenty of question marks litter the back seven. However, there’s no shortage of talent at the coaching staff’s disposal.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 10-12

Take a look at Ohio State’s schedule. See many losses there? The Buckeyes will miss production from Shazier and Roby on defense, but there’s enough talent to figure things out as the season progresses. As long as Miller stays healthy, Ohio State can simply outscore every team on its schedule – with one exception. The Nov. 8 road date at Michigan State is a revenge game for the Buckeyes and a matchup that should decide the East Division. If Ohio State wins at Michigan State and takes the Big Ten Championship, this team should be in college football’s playoff.

Teaser:
Ohio State Buckeyes 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/arizona-wildcats-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

The first two years of the Rich Rodriguez era at Arizona have produced the exact same results. In both 2012 and ’13 the Wildcats have gone 8-5 overall, finished fourth in the Pac-12 South Division with a 4-5 mark and ended the season on a high by winning their bowl game.

If RichRod and his team want to make it three-for-three in Tucson, it will have to be with a lot of new faces stepping up. The Wildcats return just 12 starters, six on each side of the ball, as they are practically starting over on offense and also must replace several key defenders.

There are a bevy of redshirt freshman and JUCO transfers coming in who will vie for the available openings and other spots on the depth chart, which only makes this spring practice period even more critical for Rodriguez and his staff.

Arizona Wildcats 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 8

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in Arizona’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 29
Sept. 4at
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Oct. 2at
Oct. 11
Oct. 25at
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8
Nov. 15
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 28

1. Quarterback competition. In his one and only year as the starter, B.J. Denker produced nearly 3,500 yards of total offense and 29 (16 pass, 13 rush) total touchdowns. Now that he’s graduated, Rich Rodriguez must identify his new starting quarterback from a group of options that didn’t take a single snap for Arizona last season. Jesse Scroggins and Anu Solomon both were part of the team, the former a junior college transfer who did not play in 2013 while the latter sat out as a redshirt freshman. Both were highly touted dual threat quarterback prospects coming out of high school and appear well suited to run Rodriguez’ spread offense. They will be joined in the quarterback competition by Texas transfer Connor Brewer and junior college transfer Jerrard Randall, who started his college career at LSU. It’s entirely too early to tell who the leader is at this point and while there may be some degree of clarity by the time the spring game rolls around, Rodriguez has already said he fully expects this battle to continue into the fall.

2. Starting over in the backfield. Entering spring, the quarterback and running back situations are very similar, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. As important as Denker was to Arizona’s success last season, a bigger loss was when Ka’Deem Carey decided to forego his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. An All-American who put together back-to-back 1,800-yard rushing seasons and scored 44 total touchdowns in that span, Carey’s jump to the pros leaves the Wildcats with one player who had more than 100 yards on the ground in 2013. Jared Baker is the leading returning rusher (127 yards), but he won’t be back on the practice field until the fall at the earliest as he’s recovering from a torn ACL. Rodriguez won’t lack for options to carry the ball this spring, with redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green and Myles Smith available as well as true freshman Jonathan Haden, who enrolled in January. Cormier is probably the slight leader in the clubhouse at this point, but with Baker expected to return in the fall along with incoming freshman Nick Wilson, don’t be surprised if the backfield remains a fluid situation leading up to the Aug. 29 season opener against UNLV.

3. More progress on defense? In Rodriguez’ first year at Arizona, the Wildcats’ defense couldn’t stop anyone. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s unit finished 102nd or worse nationally in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense in 2012. It then took a huge leap forward last fall, coming in at 39th in the nation in scoring defense and ranking no worse than 70th in the other three major categories. From a points allowed standpoint alone, Arizona went from 35.3 per game in 2012 to 24.2 last season. If this defense is going to replicate that success in 2014, it will have to do so without the services of its top two tacklers (linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers), sack leader (defensive end Sione Tuihalamaka) and a three-year starting cornerback (Shaquille Richardson). Linebacker Scooby Wright and safety Jared Tevis, who each picked up Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 recognition last season, return, but replacing the aforementioned five starters will be no easy task. Just like on offense, a host of redshirts and JUCO transfers are coming in to hopefully fill these holes and round out the defensive depth chart. Included in this group is tackle Jeff Worthy, who started his college career at Boise State before transferring to Santa Ana (Calif.) College.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 6-8
Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff have their work cut out for him this spring. Topping the to do list is finding a quarterback and determining the pecking order in the backfield. While neither of these situations will be completely settled until fall camp, the wide receiving corps should be plenty deep, especially with the return of Austin Hill (above, right), a 2012 first-team All-Pac-12 honoree who missed all of last season after injuring his knee. The offensive line also appears in good shape with four returning starters. The defense made significant improvement in 2013, but now must replace several key contributors.

Schedule-wise, the only thing that changes this season is Nevada replaces FCS member Northern Arizona. Rodriguez has put together back-to-back 8-5 showings in his first two years at Arizona. With all of the uncertainty on this roster, especially at quarterback and running back, a third such finish this fall would be impressive.

Teaser:
Arizona Wildcats 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
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Things started with a bang for Michigan in 2013. Devin Gardner carried his team to victory with a Heisman Trophy-esque performance against archrival Notre Dame en route to a 5-0 start to the season.

Then the wheels fell off the Wolverines' offense.

Gardner turned the ball over too much, the offense never really got on track and Michigan lost five of its last six games. The Maize and Blue were held below 200 yards of offense on three separate occasions and held to negative rushing yards twice.

The same offense that rolled up a record 751 yards against Indiana.

Needless to say, consistency was a major issue and changes needed to be made to the 87th-rated offense. Not only will Michigan now be playing in a tougher Big Ten Division but they will be doing so with a new name calling plays on the offense.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30Appalachian St
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18Bye Week
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at
Nov. 15Bye Week
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Michigan 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: Feb. 25

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in Michigan's 2014 Spring Practice

Doug Nussmeier, meet Devin Gardner
Hoke hired former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in early January. The timing was strange and the way Al Borges was put out to pasture was equally bizarre. But Hoke got his guy and Wolverines fans will be anxious to see how Coach Nuss works with embattled but extremely talented quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner at one point last year was leading the world in turnovers but also set a Michigan single-game record with 584 yards of total offense. Protecting the football and working on becoming a more efficient passer will be the focus of the new offensive duo in Ann Arbor. There were a lot things wrong with the Michigan offense last year but it begins and ends with Gardner’s play. Of course, if Hoke can provide some sort of running game for his QB, that might help…

Rebuild the line and develop a workhorse
Taylor Lewan is gone. So is Michael Schofield. So the best two players are gone from an offensive line that finished 102nd in the nation in rushing and 109th in sacks allowed. The quickest way to ensure success for Gardner in the passing game is to provide balance on the ground. To do that, Nussmeier will have to reverse a very disturbing trend in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s rushing offense has gone from 238.5 yards per game in 2010 to 221.8 in ’11, 183.8 in ’12 and just 125.7 yards per game last year. Replacing those stars up front on the O-line and developing a true workhorse (paging Derrick Green) has to be atop the offensive priority list for the new coordinator. Additionally, figuring out a way to maximize Gardner’s athletic ability in space could help to open up more traditional running lanes for Green.

Find a go-to weapon on the outside
With a defense ranked in the upper half of the Big Ten and returning eight starters, the focus all spring should stay on the offense. Devin Funchess can be a dangerous weapon in open space but record-setting wideout Jeremy Gallon is gone and dependable target Jake Butt is out with a torn ACL. So other than Funchess at tight end, Michigan won’t have any player returning this spring with more than 15 catches on their resume. Amara Darboh will return to the field after missing all of 2013 and Jehu Chesson and Dennis Norfleet have limited experience. Finding a go-to target on the outside would also go a long way in helping to improve Gardner’s production in the pocket.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Despite entering a tougher division in 2014 with a new coordinator calling plays, Michigan fans should have plenty of optimism heading into the spring. Gardner can be a special player when things are going well and Hoke has easily the second-best roster in the Big Ten this season (as usual). Is there a lot of work to be done on the offense? Certainly, but with a manageable early schedule and key swing games coming at home late in the year (Indiana, Maryland), Michigan should find a way to improve on the seven wins from a year ago. Should Nussmeier find a workhorse back and stabilize the offensive line, 10 wins is well within reach.

Teaser:
Michigan Wolverines 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
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The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

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

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

There certainly have been greats that graced the SEC stage during the BCS Era. Every program in this powerhouse league, at one time or another, has had an elite signal-caller — even Kentucky (Tim Couch, Andre Woodson) and Vanderbilt (Jay Cutler). But one name stands above the rest in the SEC when it comes to quarterback play and the BCS Era.

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

1. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
Stats: 9,285 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 66.4%, 2,947 yds, 57 TDs

Four years of huge statistics makes him the all-time SEC leader in total yards, total touchdowns (145), rushing touchdowns and passing efficiency (170.8). He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 as well as the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards when he set an NCAA record with 55 total touchdowns and 4,181 yards of total offense (since broken). He won the SEC Player of the Year, Manning and Maxwell Awards the following year in which he led Florida to its second national championship in three years. Tebow is one of only five players in SEC history to rush for 20 TDs in a season and his 57 career rushing touchdowns are an SEC record. He fell one game shy in 2009 of playing in — and likely winning — three national titles in four years. His speech following the loss to Ole Miss in '08 has been immortalized in Gator football lore and his cult following has only grown since leaving Gainesville.

2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012-13)
Stats: 7,820 yds, 63 TDs, 22 INTs, 68.9%, 2,169 yds, 30 TD
s

Manziel was one of the most unstoppable forces with the ball in his hands. He set the SEC single-season total offense record (5,116) by a large margin during his Heisman Trophy redshirt freshman campaign. His encore performance of 4,873 yards in his second season gives him the two most productive seasons in SEC history. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection, won the Manning and Davey O’Brien Awards and earned two bowl MVP trophies in the Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls. In just two seasons, his 9,989 yards tied Eli Manning exactly for eighth all-time in league history for total offense and his 93 total touchdowns rank fifth all-time. He is the all-time SEC leader in completion percentage (68.9 percent) and is one of only two players in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season (Tim Couch). Six conference losses and some injuries slowed the end of his short career, but Manziel’s excitement, improvisational skills, production and big-play ability are second to none in the storied history of SEC football. Few players ever burst onto the SEC scene quite like Johnny Manziel — despite the horrendous nickname — and few enjoyed the spotlight more.

3. AJ McCarron, Alabama (2010-13)
Stats: 9,019 yds, 77 TDs, 15 INTs, 66.9%, 3 rush TDs

He gets knocked for his vanilla offensive system, extraordinary head coach and talented supporting cast but McCarron is Alabama’s greatest quarterback and is arguably the most successful player in SEC history this side of Tebow (who also had a great coach and elite supporting cast). He earned three BCS National Championships rings — two as the starting quarterback — and is the most prolific passer in school history. He earned BCS title game MVP honors as a sophomore before leading the nation in passing efficiency and winning another title as a junior (175.3). His 77-to-15 TD-to-INT ratio is one of the best in NCAA history as he finished as the No. 4-most efficient passer in SEC history (162.5). McCarron was a Heisman Trophy runner-up, the Maxwell and Unitas Award winner and finished 36-4 as a starter in his career — never missing a game in his four-year, 53-game career. Having Katherine Webb on the resume doesn’t hurt either.

4. Cam Newton, Florida/Auburn (2008, '10)
Stats: 2,908 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 65.4%, 1,586 yds, 24 TDs

Newton's career is an intriguing one that could have been one of the greatest of all-time had he played more than just one season at Auburn. He was essentially kicked out of school, intertwined with a recruiting scandal and left early for the NFL. Yet, his one season in 2010 was one of the best in history. He single-handedly carried Auburn to a BCS title, won the Heisman Trophy as well as Davey O'Brien, Archie Manning, Maxwell, Walter Camp and AP Player of the Year honors. He set (since broken) the SEC’s single-season record for total offense with 4,327 yards and is one of just five players ever to rush for 20 TDs in an SEC season. Had he played more than one season, Newton could have challenged Tebow as arguably the best player to play in the SEC during the BCS Era.

5. Aaron Murray, Georgia (2010-13)
Stats: 13,166 yds, 121 TDs, 41 INTs, 62.3%, 396 yds, 16 TDs

When it comes to statistics, no SEC player in history was more productive than Murray. He owns the SEC record for passing yards and touchdown passes. His 137 total touchdowns trail only Tebow and his 13,562 yards of total offense bested Tebow’s record by a large margin (12,232). He is one of only three Georgia quarterbacks to beat Florida in three straight seasons and he posted at least 3,000 yards passing in four consecutive seasons. He is No. 1 all-time in SEC history with 921 completions and is No. 2 all-time with 1,478 attempts. He started 52 consecutive games, missing only the final two games of his senior season. His final record was 35-17 with two SEC East titles and the lack of a conference championship is the only missing piece to Murray’s otherwise sterling resume.

6. Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2000-03)
Stats: 10,119 yds, 81 TDs, 35 INTs, 60.8%, 5 rush TDs

The third and final Manning to play quarterback in the SEC elevated Ole Miss to its highest levels of success during the BCS Era. He claimed the Unitas and Maxwell Awards, along with SEC Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2003. He owns the Ole Miss single-season records for yards (3,600) and touchdowns (31) and is eighth all-time in SEC history with over 10,000 yards passing. He is clearly one of this generation's greatest talents and of all the other greats to play in the SEC, Manning might have had the least talented supporting cast. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

7. David Greene, Georgia (2001-04)
Stats: 11,528 yds, 72 TDs, 32 INTs, 59.0%, 5 rush TDs

Greene helped restore the winning ways in Athens and it started in his first season as the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2001. He led the Dawgs to their first SEC title in two decades as a sophomore and was named an All-SEC passer in each of his upperclass seasons. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with 42 wins in his career. He was the SEC’s all-time leading passer until Murray broke his record in 2013.

8. Tim Couch, Kentucky (1996-98)
Stats: 8,435 yds, 74 TDs, 35 INTs, 4 rush TDs

The consensus All-American and No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft brags two of the top four passing seasons in SEC history. He and Manziel are the only two players to top 4,000 yards passing in any season and his 4,275 yards in his junior season in the first year of the BCS system are still an SEC single-season record. His 37 touchdown passes in 1997 are tied for third all-time and his 36 scoring strikes the following year are tied for fifth.

9. Rex Grossman, Florida (2000-02)
Stats: 9,164 yds, 77 TDs, 36 INTs, 61.0%, 6 rush TDs

Grossman was a consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year nationally and finished second in the Heisman voting in 2001. His 3,896 yards passing in 2001 are a Florida school record and sit at No. 3 all-time in SEC history (Couch, Manziel). His 77 TD passes in just three years are ninth all-time and he was a first-round pick of the Bears in 2003. He led the Gators to two BCS bowls and his 146.8 passer rating is 10th all-time in SEC history.

10. Chris Leak, Florida (2003-06)
Stats: 11,213 yds, 88 TDs, 42 INTs, 61.4%, 137 yds, 13 TDs

Leak is third all-time in SEC history for passing yards and was the all-time leader in completions (895) until Murray came along. He started as a freshman and set SEC freshman passing records before three consecutive seasons with at least 2,600 yards and 20 TDs. As a senior he earned BCS Championship Game MVP honors after dismantling the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2006 title game. Florida won 37 games and went to four bowl games during his time in Gainesville. Leak won’t ever be confused with the most talented to ever play the game but his resume is as complete as any in the history of the sport.

Just missed the cut:

11. Andre Woodson, Kentucky (2004-07)
Stats: 9,360 yds, 79 TDs, 25 INTs, 61.9%, 5 rush TDs

From 1985-2005, Kentucky went to three bowl games. Woodson led the Wildcats to bowl wins in 2006 and '07 while setting several SEC single-season records in the process. He is the only SEC quarterback to ever throw 40 touchdown passes in a season (40) and his 79 career TD passes rank seventh all-time in league history. Woodson is one of four SEC quarterbacks with two seasons of at least 3,500 yards (Manziel, Couch, Ryan Mallett). Woodson owns the SEC record for consecutive attempts without an interception at 325.

12. Jason Campbell, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 7,299 yds, 45 TDs, 24 INTs, 64.6%, 307 yds, 9 TDs

He never threw for 3,000 yards but Campbell was extremely efficient and led his team to an SEC championship and unbeaten season as a senior in 2004. He won SEC Player of the Year and SEC title game MVP honors and finished seventh in the Heisman voting after 2,700 yards passing and 23 total touchdowns.

13. Greg McElroy, Alabama (2007-10)
Stats: 5,691 yds, 39 TDs, 10 INTs, 71 yds, 2 TDs

Signing with Nick Saban’s first class, McElroy and his elite football IQ was a huge part of returning Alabama to the mountain top in 2009. He led the Tide to their first national championship since 1992 with an excellent 2,508-yard, 17-TD, 4-INT season and SEC title game MVP award as a junior. He came back and set the school record with 2,987 yards as a senior before getting drafted by the Jets. 

14. Tee Martin, Tennessee (1996-99)
Stats: 4,592 yds, 32 TDs, 16 INTs, 55.4%, 614 yds, 16 TDs

Peyton Manning is the greatest Tennessee quarterback of all-time but Martin did what Manning couldn’t when he led the Vols to the first national championship of the BCS Era. Martin set the NCAA record for consecutive completions at 24 during that historic run at the SEC and BCS titles. Martin led Tennessee to another BCS bowl as a senior and finished 8-0 as a starter against Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky.

15. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (2010-13)
Stats: 6,074 yds, 56 TDs, 16 INTs, 65.6%, 1,683 yds, 17 TDs

His passing numbers will never be confused with either of Manning boys, but Shaw presided over the greatest era of Gamecocks football. He led three straight 11-win seasons in Columbia — the only three 11-win seasons in school history — and did it with elite toughness and efficiency. His career passer rating of 155.9 is sixth all-time in SEC history and his 56-to-16 TD-to-INT ratio is among the best in SEC history. He also ran the ball at least 130 times in each of his three seasons as the starter. Simply put, he was a winner — a school-record 27 of them overall, all 17 at home and three in a row over Clemson.

16. Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt (2002-05)
Stats: 8,697 yds, 59 TDs, 36 INTs, 57.2%, 1,256 yds, 17 TDs

Cutler played on three straight two-win teams before leading Vanderbilt to five wins and earning SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. He is the Dores' all-time leading passer in most every category and is clearly the most physically talented player to ever quarterback the program. He was a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

17. Ryan Mallet, Michigan/Arkansas (2007, 2009-10)
Stats: 8,385 yds, 69 TDs, 24 INTs, 57.8%, 7 rush TDs

Mallett is one of only four SEC signal-callers in history with two 3,500-yard seasons on his resume. He set an Arkansas record with 3,624 yards passing in his first season in the SEC and then broke his own record with 3,869 the following year. His 32 TD passes in 2010 are a school record as well while his passer rating of 158.1 is fifth all-time in SEC history behind only Tebow, Manziel, Danny Wuerffel and McCarron. The Hogs went 18-8 during his span, earned their only BCS bowl berth of the era while posting 10 wins (2010) for only the second time since 1989.

18. Matthew Stafford, Georgia (2006-08)
Stats: 7,731 yds, 51 TDs, 33 INTs, 57.1%, 213 yds, 6 TD
s

From a talent standpoint, few players in SEC history can match the raw physical ability of Stafford. He struggled as a freshman but eventually improved greatly over his three seasons, eventually throwing for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. Georgia won 30 games in three years with Stafford on the team and he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

19. Casey Clausen, Tennessee (2000-03)
Stats: 9,707 yds, 75 TDs, 31 INTs, 61.0%, 6 rush TDs

The eldest of three Clausen brothers to play college football, Casey entered the starting lineup for Tennessee as a freshman against Alabama. He went on to start 44 of 47 games, finishing with a 34-10 record overall. He posted two seasons with at least 2,900 yards passing and trails only Peyton Manning in the Tennessee record books in this category.

20. Matt Mauck, LSU (2001-03)
Stats: 3,831 yds, 37 TDs, 18 INTs, 58.6%, 345 yds, 5 TDs

He didn’t have big stats but he came up big when it mattered the most. He entered the 2001 SEC title game against Tennessee after starter Rohan Davey got hurt and led LSU to its first SEC title since 1988. He then helped LSU claim the BCS National Championship in 2003, the Tigers' first national title since 1958. He threw for 2,825 yards and 28 scores on 64 percent passing that historic season. Mauck also had streaks of 17 straight completions (5th all-time in SEC history) and 16 straight (9th all-time) in the ‘03 season.

Best of the rest:

21. Nick Marshall, Auburn (2013-present): 1,976 yds, 14 TDs, 6 INTs, 59.4%, 1,068 yds, 12 TDs
22. Matt Jones, Arkansas (2001-04): 5,857 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 55.2%, 2,535 yds, 24 TDs
23. D.J. Shockley, Georgia (2002-05): 3,555 yds, 34 TDs, 9 INTs, 643 yds, 7 TDs
24. Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky (2000-03): 10,354 yds, 78 TDs, 41 INTs, 56.9%, 283 yds, 12 TDs
25. Erik Ainge, Tennessee (2004-07): 8,700 yds, 72 TDs, 35 INTs, 60.6%, Rush TD
26. Rohan Davey, LSU (1998-2001): 4,415 yds, 29 TDs, 15 INTs, 59.8%, 77 yds
27. Matt Flynn, LSU (2004-07): 3,096 yds, 31 TDs, 13 INTs, 56.1%, 340 yds, 5 TDs
28. JaMarcus Russell, LSU (2004-06): 6,625 yds, 52 TDs, 21 INTs, 61.9%, 79 yds, 4 TDs
29. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (2012-present): 6,340 yds, 40 TDs, 27 INTs, 64.3%, 745 yds, 14 TDs
30. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (2008-12): 7,765 yds, 52 TDs, 26 INTs, 62.6%, 4 rush TDs 

Teaser:
Top 10 SEC Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15

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