Articles By All

Path: /college-football/big-ten-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the Big Ten consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Lapping the field

The Buckeyes are the clear-cut biggest dog on the block in the Big Ten when it comes to recruiting. SB Nation worked the math and proved that, relative to the rest of the league, Ohio State is the No. 1 recruiting power in the nation. In Urban Meyer’s three full cycles at OSU, the Buckeyes have signed 48 of the 156 four-stars who have signed in the B1G and three of the eight five-stars.

 

Enter new blood

Part of why Big Ten fans should be excited about the future of the league is the addition of James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh. Franklin’s impact has been felt right away, landing 13 four-star recruits and scoring the No. 2 class in the league this year without even entering the cycle with a full complement of scholarships. Harbaugh didn’t get off to a hot start with this class, finishing sixth in the league with a 40.3 national average. But fans in Ann Arbor should expect Harbaugh to push Ohio State and Penn State for Big Ten recruiting supremacy starting in 2016.

 

Dantonio starting to capitalize

Before the 2015 class, Michigan State had signed one top-25 recruiting class in the last seven years, ranking 23rd in 2010. After winning the B1G and Rose Bowl titles in 2013, Mark Dantonio has finally capitalized by inking the best class of his tenure in East Lansing. The ’15 haul ranked third in the B1G with a 22.8 national average and as high as 18th by Scout. This is the return on investment Sparty fans have been looking for since beating Stanford in Pasadena two years ago.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Kirk Ferentz has a plan… maybe?

The Hawkeyes are trending in the wrong direction on the recruiting trail in a big way. From 2010-12, Iowa landed three consecutive top-40 classes, including a high-water mark of 28th in 2011. However, in the three years since, the Hawkeyes haven’t been ranked better than 53rd nationally by 247Sports. Iowa was 12th in the Big Ten in recruiting this year.

 

Bottom half struggles

Iowa isn't the only Big Ten team struggling to lure talent to its campus. The SEC had 12 of its 14 teams ranked in the top 25 nationally. The Pac-12 had six in the top 25 and all but three ranked in the top 50 nationally this year. But the Big Ten had six teams rank outside of the top 50 in national recruiting rankings. This trend should be cause for concern for the Midwestern league.

 

Alternating Illini

The Illini have had a bizarre trend in recruiting over the last seven cycles. According to 247Sports, Illinois has alternated good and bad classes over the last seven years. This team was ranked 30th in 2009, 38th in '11, 49th in '13 and as high as 34th this year. In the even-numbered years, Illinois signed classes ranked 63rd (2010), 64th (2012) and 70th (2014). Maybe this better-than-expected haul helps Illinois return to relevance.

 

   Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.Ohio St271147.36986
2.Penn St2501314.014151314
3.Michigan St210522.822221829
4.Nebraska200331.531313331
5.Wisconsin200234.834363138
6.Michigan140640.338483540
7.Illinois240247.845443464
8.Maryland180248.548524747
9.Rutgers25015355535252
10.Indiana220053.351475758
11.Northwestern200053.853534960
12.Iowa210155.858575157
13.Minnesota240057.561515662
14.Purdue260061.865656255
Teaser:
Big Ten Team Recruiting Consensus Rankings for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Houston Rockets, NBA
Path: /nba/charles-barkley-rockets-gm-daryl-morey-are-feuding
Body:
Charles Barkley’s always got a lot of words, and a lot of opinions, during TNT broadcasts.

 

Last night, Houston Rockets’ general manger Daryl Morey wasn't too thrilled with what Chuck was saying. Barkley laid into the Rockets’ defense during a telecast of Houston’s 127-118 victory over the Phoenix Suns, suggesting they were the worst defense in the NBA, or close to it. At the moment, Houston ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, despite 20 missed games from their anchor Dwight Howard. So Morey is more than entitled to get a little — pun intended — defensive:

 

Barkley, of course, was not without response in the post-game show. He fired back with many not-nice words, including:

 

-“Just because you’ve got good stats doesn’t mean you’re a good team defensively. They’re not a good defensive team.”

 

-“I’m not worried about Daryl Morey, he’s one of those idiots who believes in analytics… I’ve always believed analytics was crap, and you know I never mention the Rockets as legitimate contenders, because they’re not. And, listen, I wouldn’t know Daryl Morey if he walked in this room right now.”

 

-“Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap that some people who are really smart made up to try to get into the game, because they have no talent. So smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called ‘analytics.’ Analytics don’t work… the NBA is about talent. All these guys who run these organizations, who talk about analytics, they’ve got one thing in common: They’re a bunch of guys who’ve never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”

 

Here’s the full video of Barkley’s manifesto against the game’s analyst. Let’s look forward to the continued war between calculators and gladiators:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 15:36
Path: /college-basketball/remembering-jerry-tarkanian-2011-athlon-interview
Body:

Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian spoke with Athlon Sports Monthly and CBSSports.com college basketball columnist Gary Parrish in an exclusive March 2011 interview, detailing his career, his thoughts on current coaches and his bouts with the NCAA.

 

Tarkanian died in Las Vegas on Wednesday, leaving one of the most compelling legacies in college athletics. He was 84. Tarkanian finished his career with the 1990 national championship, four Final Fours and 761 career wins. His feuds with the NCAA, including a Supreme Court case in 1988, were just as historic.

 

What follows is Tarkanian’s interview for Athlon Sports from 2011.

 

***

 

I was a teenager — a young teenager — living in the Central Time Zone in the late 1980s/early 1990s, which means I loved Guns N’ Roses, the Sega Genesis and staying up late to watch Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels destroy overwhelmed opponents. They sprinted. They dunked. They made college basketball fun — and, yes, controversial. Every Final Four seemed to bring an investigation, which makes it tough to determine, even all these years later, whether Tarkanian is more proud of his success or bitter about the NCAA.

 

Here is what Tark had to say.

 

Athlon Sports: HBO Sports did a documentary on the peak of your career called “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” that recently debuted and is airing all month. I know you saw an advanced screening of the hour-long program at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas back in February. What did you think?

 

Jerry Tarkanian: The parts on me were really good. I just thought they went too easy on the NCAA. But that’s because I’m so bitter about them.

 

You are, clearly. I’ve talked to friends of yours about that. They’ve told you, at this point, to try to let it all go, haven’t they?

Yes, they have.

 

But letting it go is hard?

It’s very hard. You can’t believe what I went through with them.

 

You’re 80 years old and a college basketball icon. Your record as a head coach at the collegiate level was 729–201. You have a national championship. And yet that’s not what most people think about first when they think about you. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when the name Jerry Tarkanian is mentioned — if we’re playing word-association here — is your battles with the NCAA. So what you went through with them at least somewhat defines you and undeniably still hangs over you, which means what you went through with them is something you still deal with today.

Absolutely. I was investigated by the NCAA three different times — more times than anybody in the history of sports, probably. And every time, the NCAA itself said there were no major violations. No major violations. And yet I was hammered by the NCAA and by the media. Hammered. So it’s very hard to let it all go. Very hard. But I don’t want to talk about that anymore.

 

Then let’s talk about the Basketball Hall of Fame. By any measuring stick, your numbers suggest you should be in. Yes, you had NCAA issues. But, like you said, none of your programs — not Long Beach State, not UNLV, not Fresno State — was ever found to have committed major violations. People can debate what that means, and they do. But when you say you were never found to have committed major violations, that is a true statement. And yet you’re not in the Hall of Fame while Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun — a man whose program has committed major violations, a man whose program is currently on probation — is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. When I tell you that, does it bother you?

I’ve learned to move on from that.

 

College basketball today. How much of it do you still watch? 

I watch it all the time. All the time. Almost every night.

 

When you see coaches playing at a slow pace, does it drive you nuts? Not many teams score the way your teams used to score. 

I pretty much played a slowed-down game my first 11 or 12 years as a head coach. But then I went to a running game, and I loved it. It was fun because our guys played so hard and worked so hard, and we played an exciting brand of basketball. You know, there have been some really good teams that have come through — like the Michigan teams with Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. But I think we were better than most of those teams. We were so good defensively, and we just fit together so good. Our guys played so unselfishly. We led the nation in field goal percentage, and we were not a good shooting team. If you look at our players, Stacey Augmon was not a great shooter. Greg Anthony was not a great shooter. The only one who was a really good shooter was Anderson Hunt. But we still led the nation in field goal percentage.

 

You mentioned Greg Anthony, who is the most visible product from your great UNLV teams all these years later as a basketball analyst for CBS. Are you surprised he’s turned into what he’s turned into?

I knew Greg could do whatever he wanted to do. He was always very intelligent and very articulate. He was self-driven.

I must know, in your opinion, should Greg really have been fouled out of that classic game against Duke — the loss in the 1991 national semifinals that prevented you from being back-to-back national champions?

We went through the tape of that game, and three of his five fouls were phantom calls. He should’ve had two fouls in that game. I’ve never made excuses. But there’s no doubt that’s what happened.

 

What about Larry Johnson? He was the star of those great UNLV teams — the No. 1 pick of the 1991 NBA Draft. Do you still keep in touch with Larry?

I see Larry all the time. He’s here in (Las Vegas). He drove me to the UNLV game (against Wyoming at the end of February). I see Larry a lot.

 

Back on the subject of the NCAA. I know you despise the organization as it was and as it is. But let me ask you this: Is the NCAA fixable? Could the right person fix it?

Yeah, I think they probably could, and I do think they’ve made great progress since my battles. When I had my battles, they didn’t have any evidence of any kind, and they didn’t need any. They would just have notes that they took from an interview, but nobody even knew if the notes were accurate. They weren’t signed or anything. The investigator would just say, “I talked to this person, and this is what he told me.” Nobody ever signed a statement under oath. But the infractions committee would just say they were telling the truth. But I don’t even want to talk about them anymore. It just upsets me.

 

If you had to hire a coach to run your college basketball program, whom would you hire?

My favorite guy is Bobby Huggins. I love Mike Krzyzewski, too. And I’ve for years said Roy Williams is a great, great coach. And I love Bill Self right now. I love Bill.

 

I’ve seen you interact with most of those guys at the Final Four and other places, and I know they all think highly of you. They love being around you, listening to you tell stories. What’s it like to be so revered by current coaches? You are a legend to many of them.

It’s really nice. I have a radio show one night a week during basketball season, and I have every one of the top coaches on my show. I’ve had Self. I’ve had Krzyzewski. I’ve had Jay Wright. Every one of them, they come on.

 

John Calipari?

John comes on my show all the time, too. John and I are very good friends. I think he’s without a doubt the top recruiter, maybe ever. I’ve never seen a coach get as many great players as John gets every year. I like John.

 

As you know, he’s the guy most fans compare to you because he’s had his share of battles with the NCAA, too. Have you ever talked with John about that?

We’ve talked about that some. You know, he feels like the NCAA picked on him, too. But not to the extent they picked on me.

Teaser:
Remembering Jerry Tarkanian: The 2011 Athlon Interview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: Kurt Busch, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kurt-busch-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Kurt Busch is a little like cracking open a fortune cookie — you never know what you’re going to find inside. The 2014 season was a wild roller-coaster ride for the driver who joined Stewart-Haas Racing after spending two seasons in relative exile with single-car teams following his release by Team Penske. When Busch was good in 2014, he was very good, as evidenced by his spring Martinsville win, where he outdrove Jimmie Johnson, owner of eight Martinsville grandfather clocks, in the closing laps for the victory. He posted top finishes at several of the sport’s toughest tracks, including Pocono, Daytona, Bristol and Watkins Glen.

 

But when Busch was bad, he was horrid. Collecting more finishes of 28th or worse than he had top 10s, Busch finished in the back 15 a dozen times. He failed to finish altogether six times, matching his number of top-5 finishes. His average finish was a lowly 18.9, and he’d have missed the Chase entirely if not for that Martinsville win. There was no one factor to pinpoint; there were mechanical failures, crashes, pit mistakes and sometimes simple bad luck. It wasn’t something that the team could easily fix.

 

But there’s also no good reason why Busch should be condemned to repeat last season’s struggles. He has all the resources a successful team needs and is an immensely talented driver when focused. With limited practice and no prior experience, Busch scored a top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. The man has long been capable of winning races, but, at some point, he needs to find a way to make his own luck.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In a surprise late-season move, SHR chose to swap crew chiefs between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick, sending veteran Tony Gibson to Busch’s camp. Busch performed well in his limited time with Gibson, posting two top 10s in three races with his new crew chief at the helm. If the pairing continues to be successful, it could spur a turnaround for Busch, who has steady backing from Haas Automation, the multi-million-dollar business owned by team co-owner Gene Haas. Busch is a proven asset at SHR, and he has worked well with his three teammates despite early speculation that there were too many tempers to make a cohesive team.

 

There is, however, a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Busch. In November, he was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, and the outcome of any legal proceedings could impact both the driver’s future with SHR and in the sport. NASCAR could elect to suspend Busch for one or more races, which would render him ineligible for the Chase, or the governing body could even force his release from SHR. Busch has burned enough bridges in his career that it could be difficult for him to find another top ride.

 

Provided Busch runs the entire season, there’s no reason he can’t win races and build championship-type consistency. Distractions appear to be a problem, though, and have made keeping his job — not winning a NASCAR title — the short-term priority.

 

Fantasy Stall

Don’t trust Martinsville  Busch’s lone win in 2014 came at Martinsville, but that was an apparent aberration considering his recent performances at the facility. Prior to his win, his most recent top-5 finish there had come in 2004.

Green-flag pit cycle improvement  Last year, Busch was saddled with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost, who cost Busch 41 positions during green-flag pit cycles at non-restrictor plate ovals. His new crew chief, Tony Gibson, cost Danica Patrick 15 such positions. It’s still a loss, but it’s better than what Busch previously had.

Not much of a leader  Unlike his brother Kyle, Busch doesn’t pad his laps-led tally. He has never, in his 15-year Cup Series career, led more than 1,000 laps in a season. He led 687 laps combined over the last three years.

 

No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Haas Automation

Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas

Crew Chief: Tony Gibson

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 1st (2004)

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.

Born: Aug. 4, 1978

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1550725106201161$83,600,562

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kurt Busch 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-recruiting-special-247sports-barton-simmons
Body:

 

Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox are joined by National Recruiting Analyst from 247Sports.com Barton Simmons in a college football recruiting potpourri podcast. It's comprehensive, throrough and educational. This isn't your normal recruiting podcast.

 

Simmons exlpains the evaluation process, how it has changed over time, what exactly recruiting services are trying to accomplish with their rankings and how the validity of the rankings has evolved. 

 

Which recruiting battle is he most looking forward to tracking: The State of Texas, the Big Ten East or the City of Los Angeles? Who did better than expected on the trail in 2015? Who didn't do what they needed to? The guys also break down coaching leaving after Signing Day, decommitments and bizarre recruiting lingo.

 

Simmons also tells stories about sleeping in his car in Florida, trying to find cell service in Mississippi and his personal struggles with the word "stud."


Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Cover 2 College Football Podcast: Recruiting Special with 247Sports' Barton Simmons
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 12:48
All taxonomy terms: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, NBA
Path: /nba/sacramento-kings-set-hire-george-karl-head-coach
Body:

Barring some late-phase drama — which certainly wouldn’t be uncommon from these erratic Sacramento Kings — George Karl is set to return to the NBA, following the All-Star break.

 

ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, among other sources, report this development.

 

Karl will take over for Ty Corbin, who took over for Mike Malone. Karl will be the team’s third coach this season, and the fifth coach in the five years of über-talented center DeMarcus Cousins’ career. 

 

The deal in place between Karl, who has 1,131 wins over 27 years as a head coach, has been a rumored possibility since Malone was fired, but it picked up more steam last week when the Orlando Magic fired Jacque Vaughn. When the potential job market for Karl doubled, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro — with whom Karl has experience from their time together with the Denver Nuggets — got to work.

 

Karl has coached a variety of styles, but has never led an offense with a centerpiece like Cousins. In his time the with Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, he has gained a reputation as an uptempo offensive guru who’s happy to boast rotations with an abundance of guards.

His fit with Cousins, thus, seems slightly dubious — but Karl’s style has also been a consequence of his personnel. It’ll be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the possibilities Cousins presents, and how he utilizes one of the more tantalizing talents in the league.

 

More important than anything for Sacramento, though, is that they empower Karl, as they failed to do with Malone or Corbin. Without continuity, stability, or sanity, this franchise isn’t going anywhere. While it remains to be seen what kind of fit Karl is with Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and the rest of the Kings core, the pieces do seem to be in place for some serious growth. Now the organization just needs to learn some patience, stand back, stop meddling, and let it happen.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-11-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 11: 

 

There are supermodels in the streets of Downtown Nashville today for SI's Swimsuit Fan Festival.

 

25 years ago today, Buster Douglas shocked the world. I literally leapt from my chair that night. Here's one of many great reads on the subject floating around the interwebs today.

 

• Kentucky nearly lost its unbeaten season last night. Here, an apparently insane person makes the case that we should root for UK to finish unbeaten.

 

Way to dump all over our feel-good story, Jackie Robinson West grown-ups.

 

Athlon contributor Brandel Chamblee has written again on his favorite subject: Tiger's struggles.
 

Classic footage from MLB's archives.

 

Swaggy P: A dolphin tried to kill me.

 

A story on the strange and punchable Tom Crean.

 

Charles Barkley had unkind things to say about Rockets GM Daryl Morley and analytics.

 

Jim Harbaugh dropped Rick Ross lyrics on Twitter haters.

 

• Watch an old geezer charge the mound at Rockies fantasy camp.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:32
All taxonomy terms: Jamie McMurray, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/jamie-mcmurray-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

It would have been easy for Jamie McMurray to exit last season frustrated. Despite having a strong car early in many races, his No. 1 Chevrolet rarely finished where he felt it could. The team’s only winning outing came in the exhibition, non-points All-Star Race in May.

 

“When I look at some of the guys that made the Chase, I think we outran them in 95 percent of the races,” McMurray says. “They were able to be there at the end, whether it was good pit strategy or a (strong) restart. Whatever they did, they were just able to get a better finish.”

 

McMurray scored the 10th-best mid-race running position in the series (13.8). Leading a career-high 368 laps, he wound up 18th in the final standings but would have been 11th without the Chase, after a late-season surge that came far too late to make the playoff. That success has McMurray optimistic heading into 2015.

 

“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen the ups and downs,” McMurray says. “As far as our success last year, everything is pretty ‘scienced’ out. There’s a reason why we’ve done this, or a reason why we’ve not done that. It’s not just kind of a shoot-from-the-hip and see what happens.”

 

That knowledge and speed have McMurray, the Daytona 500 winner in 2010, confident that the No. 1 team can take the next step. Of the drivers who have run every season since the Chase’s inception in 2004, he remains the only full-timer not to make a single postseason field. “Speed-wise, I feel like we’re more than capable,” McMurray says. “It will just be about being a little more consistent.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

To do that, McMurray needs to learn how to close. It’s not just bad luck, like he had at the restrictor plate tracks in 2014. He scored zero top-10s at the plate races — his strongest tracks — often caught up in someone else’s mess. Many of his problems came late in events, like a Bristol race he dominated before a bad handling adjustment had him falling to eighth. Pit problems, flat tires, poor restarts — you name it, McMurray or his team knew how to foul it up in the final 100 laps. He ranked a disappointing 55th out of 73 drivers in NASCAR’s list of “Closers,” positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of each race.

 

One aspect that won’t be the same for McMurray this season is the crew chief role. Keith Rodden returned to Hendrick Motorsports this year after just a single season on the job, jumping at the chance to return to HMS and run point for Kasey Kahne. (It’s notable that HMS now gives CGR engine support and information that have made them a de facto satellite operation.) McMurray’s team will now be led by Matt McCall, also a first-time crew chief who worked as lead engineer on Ryan Newman’s No. 31 last season.

 

“When things are going well at the end of the year, you don’t want it to end,” McMurray says. “You just never know how it’s going to start back off in February. But I probably feel better going into (this season) than I have in a while.”

 

No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: McDonald’s, Cessna

Owner: Chip Ganassi

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Year With Current Team: 6th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2004)

Hometown: Joplin, Mo.

Born: June 3, 1976

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
13438752121110$59,970,520

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Jamie McMurray 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Greg Biffle, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/greg-biffle-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Wheeling a car that feels comfortable and turns well is the goal of every driver. But that car also has to be fast. When a comfortable setup feels perfect, yet falls mid-pack or worse on the speed charts, the process to find speed becomes maddening. Welcome to Greg Biffle’s life at Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“It’s painfully obvious that we’ve been way off as an organization, not as a team,” Biffle says. “There’s a lot of times we go and look at the speed chart and our car is the fastest of the (RFR) group in 18th. That’s not worth ringing the bell on the back of the hauler.”

 

The reality of the struggle goes deeper than just a bad setup, Biffle says. Fundamental car design issues have RFR behind before they even get to the track.

 

“I’ve been telling the team guys,” Biff says, “and I’m convinced of this: NASCAR could cover every car at the track for five days — send everybody else home while we test. On the next weekend, we could go race and we would be better — don’t get me wrong — but we still wouldn’t be as fast as those top-5 cars.”

 

Ouch. What else is there to say?

 

There’s little hiding the fact that Biffle and the rest of RFR’s typically proud Ford operation woefully underperformed last season. Biffle made the Chase on points but was knocked out in Round 1 and was so uncompetitive that his No. 16 might as well have been invisible.

 

“It’s just not where we run as a company,” Biffle says. “We’re used to at least one of our cars being in the top 10, the top 5, leading laps every week. We never even led laps (last) year, really.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

That’s not entirely true, as Carl Edwards won twice and made the Round of 8 in the Chase. He’s no longer around for 2015, replaced by an inexperienced Trevor Bayne as the team starts rebuilding in multiple ways. For those who remain, trying to understand why the RFR Fords lack speed has become exasperating.

 

“Is it the drivers? It doesn’t look like it,” Biffle says. “Is it the crew chiefs? Is it the engine? Well, the Penske cars have the same engine and they aren’t missing. We aren’t breaking, not having any mechanical failures. What is it?”

 

At least the driver, who signed a multi-year contract extension in 2014 (joining up with new sponsor Ortho), is willing to stick around and find the answer, paired up with a fresh group of engineers. Leading the RFR newcomers for 2015 is Mark McArdle, the former technical head of Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row. The industry veteran has a tough task ahead of him; according to Biffle, the team has tried every spring and shock combination on the car that RFR has used in the past 10 years. It’s produced little.

 

“We need to continue to try and figure out where our deficiency is,” Biffle says. “We know it’s aero. We know it’s maybe chassis. We know it could be some setup stuff. Are we going to fix it in three months? No. But, we’ve got to get it going the right direction.”

 

Finding that magic solution will take time. 

 

No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Ortho, Cheez-It

Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Matt Puccia

Year With Current Team: 13th 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2005)

 Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.

Born: December 23, 1969

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
134381988168120$69.445.013

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Greg Biffle 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: college baseball, Preseason, top 25, MLB
Path: /mlb/college-baseballs-preseason-top-25-2015
Body:
Spring training is just around the corner, but the college ranks get a jumpstart on MLB with their season getting underway on Friday. Defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt leads off Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25.
 

1. Vanderbilt (51–21, 17–13 SEC)

Do you like sequels? Well, this could be your year with the Commodores. The frontline pitching is a who’s who of future first-round MLB picks in righties Carson Fulmer (7–1, 1.98), Walker Buehler (12–2, 2.64) and Tyler Ferguson (8–4, 2.69). Sophomores Hayden Stone (4–0, 1.71) and John Kilichowski (0–0, 1.57) will head the bullpen corps. Seven returning starters include top hitters Bryan Reynolds (.338, 14 SBs) and Dansby Swanson (.333, 22 SBs).

 

2. TCU (48–18, 17–7 Big 12)

Despite losing World Series pitcher Brandon Finnegan — last seen doing some work for the Royals in the “other” World Series — the Frogs are well armed for another Omaha run. Preston Morrison (9–4, 1.32) and Tyler Alexander (10–3, 2.36) return to weekend duty and have flame-throwing Riley Ferrell (15 saves) to back them. Top hitter Garrett Crain (.324) joins solid infielders Keaton Jones (.265) and Derek Odell (.264). Also watch for incoming C Evan Skoug and Georgia Tech transfer Elliott Barzilli.

 

3. Virginia (53–16, 22–8 ACC)

Yep, those Wahoo sightings in Omaha will continue, especially with all three weekend starters back on the mound in Nathan Kirby (9–3, 2.06, 112 Ks), Brandon Waddell (10–3, 2.45) and Josh Sborz (6–4, 2.92). After losing flamethrowing closer Nick Howard, some bullpen re-tooling will be necessary, but the defense will be solid with 3B Kenny Towns (.278) and SS Daniel Pinero (.261). Offensively, top hitter John La Prise (.348) and Joe McCarthy (.301) wield lethal sticks.

 

4. Oklahoma State (48–18, 18–6 Big 12)

The Pokes have their guns up for a reason this year. The pitching staff returns 54 starts and a fleet of relievers, including Jon Perrin (8–5, 2.38), Blake Battenfield (4–0, 1.69) and Tyler Buffett (2–1, 2.95). If lefties Garrett Williams (4–1, 5.40) and Tyler Nurdin (4–3, 6.54) pitch to potential, look out. Offensively, C Gage Green (.310, 20 SBs) and SS Donnie Walton (.310) will lead a capable attack. Josh Holliday has built his alma mater into a national power in just a few short years.

 

5. North Carolina (35–27, 15–15 ACC)

Coach Mike Fox must be chomping at the bit to get 2015 started. Pitchers Trent Thornton (7–4, 2.73), Benton Moss (4–2, 3.62) and Zac Gallen (5–4, 4.64) combined for 46 starts a year ago. Not only that, but most of the bullpen returns as well. The offense needs a kick of adrenaline as Landon Lassiter (.305) and Wood Myers (.298) hope that Skye Bolt (.257) reverts to form.

 

6. South Carolina (44–18, 18–12 SEC)

Oh sure, some familiar names are gone — like Pankake, Greiner, English, Montgomery and Seddon. But seven pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA and seven bats in the order return. Wil Crowe (8–3, 2.75) and Jack Wynkoop (7–6, 2.86) are solid weekend arms. 1B Kyle Martin (.336-5-36) is back despite getting drafted last summer and will join 2B Max Schrock (.299-5-20) and OF Connor Bright (.311) to wreak havoc.

 

7. UCLA (25–30–1, 12–18 Pac-12)

The Bruins are the Wall Street of college baseball — up, down and unpredictable. But they’ll have their entire weekend rotation back, led by junior James Kaprielian (7–6, 2.29) and All-America reliever David Berg (132 career apps, 36 saves), who turned down the Rangers as a 17th-round draft pick. Experienced stalwarts like OF Eric Filia and 3B Kevin Kramer return after missing all of last season.

 

8. Arizona State (33–24, 19–11 Pac-12)

Tracy Smith, the Indiana mastermind, comes to the desert and inherits a deep cupboard of talent. All three weekend starters are back on the mound, including lefty juniors Brett Lilek (4–5, 2.68) and Ryan Kellogg (8–3, 3.76), and fireballing bullpen stud Ryan Burr (3–3, 3.27, 12 saves) will back them. Last year’s youthful batting order has seven starters back.

 

9. Florida (40–23, 21–9 SEC)

Remember that outstanding freshman class from last year? Well, coach Kevin O’Sullivan has set their dials to “dominate” in 2015. Of the top 10 returning pitchers, six of them are sophomores, including ace Logan Shore (7–4, 2.16), A.J. Puk (5–2, 3.19) and relief specialist Kirby Snead (3–0, 2.40). Speedsters like CF Harrison Bader (.337, 13 SBs) and SS Richie Martin (.265, 18 SBs) are among seven returning fielders.

 

10. Louisville (50–17, 19–5 AAC)

Dan McDonnell’s troops have become Omaha veterans. He’ll have All-America candidates in Kyle Funkhouser (13–3, 1.94) and Anthony Kidston (9–1, 3.40) in the rotation, along with Josh Rogers (3–3, 3.63), who started in the postseason. Double-play combo Zach Lucas (.270) and Sutton Whiting (37 SBs) will team with OF Corey Ray (.325) to wreak havoc on the basepaths.

 

11. Houston (48–18, 14–9 AAC)

This is a dangerous team. A few roles need to be filled in the bullpen, but beyond that, all three weekend starters are back, led by All-America candidates Aaron Garza (9–5, 2.92) and Jake Lemoine (6–8, 2.87). Leadoff hitter Kyle Survance (.308, 31 SBs) is one of the most exciting players in the country and teams with Justin Montemayor (.298) for a good one-two offensive punch.

 

12. Texas Tech (45–21, 14–10 Big 12)

Tim Tadlock has something special brewing in the panhandle. His Raiders return their two wins leaders in LHPs Dylan Dusek (8–0, 1.94) and Cameron Smith (8–3, 2.79) and 11 of their 16 saves in the bullpen. Plus, Quinn Carpenter brings his mid-90s heat to campus. Tech features the best infield in the country with SS Tim Proudfoot (.309) and 2B Bryant Burleson (.272).

 

13. LSU (46–16–1, 17–11–1 SEC)

The Tigers lost their ace in Aaron Nola, but don’t shed too many tears for the boys on the Bayou — they still have All-Americans in SS Alex Bregman (.316-6-47) and OF Andrew Stevenson (.335), plus rising sophomore pitchers Jared Poché (9–3, 2.45), Parker Bugg (2–2, 2.75) and Alden Cartwright (1–1, 2.41). The No. 1-ranked recruiting class will keep the Tigers chugging along.

 

14. Rice (42–20, 23–7 C-USA)

It’s an ominous sign for opposing batters when Wayne Graham has a stocked staff. Junior lefties Blake Fox (12–0, 1.46) and Kevin McCanna (8–3, 2.69) will team with All-C-USA flinger Jordan Stephens (8–4, 2.43 in 2013), who missed nearly all of 2014. The offense loses four of the top five hitters, but seniors John Clay Reeves (.317) and Ford Stainback (.258) are experienced leaders.

 

15. Nebraska (41–21, 18–6 Big Ten)

Nothing makes a coach smile like experience. Darin Erstad has a senior-heavy team for 2015, including returning pitchers Chance Sinclair (9–1, 2.15), Kyle Kubat (5–2, 4.55) and Josh Roeder (12 saves) and top hitters Blake Headley (.323) and Tanner Lubach (.282). Also watch for a pair of dynamos in OF Ryan Boldt (.311) and SS Wes Edington, who missed 2014 with an injury.

 

16. Stanford (35–26, 16–14 Pac-12)

Try to look surprised, but the Cardinal will again feature numerous blue-ribbon hurlers. A full 100 percent of last year’s starts and 90 percent of their innings pitched from last year come back, led by sophomores Cal Quantrill (7–5, 2.68), Brett Hanewich (4–4, 3.17) and Chris Viall (2–3, 4.74), along with wins leader John Hochstatter (10–3, 3.36). Only three returning starters are behind them, but the No. 8-ranked incoming class will help.

 

17. Mississippi State (39–24, 18–12 SEC)

The Bulldogs hit a few bumps in the road a year ago but look like they’re back to contender status now. Buoying their hopes are returning senior starters Ross Mitchell (8–5, 2.53) and Trevor Fitts (5–3, 2.58), who have the potential to dominate on the mound. 1B Wes Rea (.245-5-41), OF Jake Vickerson (.264, 11 SBs) and Seth Heck (.299) all need to play to their potential for this team to excel.

 

18. Loyola Marymount (32–24, 17–10 WCC)

Yes it’s true — the hearts of the Lions will be big this year. The pitching staff got a few shots of adrenaline as third-round MLB draftee Trevor Megill returns, joining his incoming brother Tylor Megill to provide a pair of lively arms and big bodies. Friday ace Colin Welmon (10–2, 2.37) also returns. Freshmen All-Americans Austin Miller (.374, 25 SBs) and David Fletcher (.329, 17 SBs) were the top two hitters last year.

 

19. Ole Miss (48–21, 19–11 SEC)

Yes, there were some big losses to the roster, including every .300-plus hitter in the order and staff horse Chris Ellis. But Christian Trent (9–0, 2.05) and Sam Smith (5–4, 3.61) return to the rotation. Power-slugging Sikes Orvis (.294-14-53) will team with J.B. Woodman (.298, 10 SBs) and Errol Robinson (.294) to reload the offense. Watch for slick-fielding freshman Tate Blackman, a 20th-round Brewers draftee.

 

20. Cal State Fullerton (34–24, 14–10 Big West)

Hopefully the soap opera of 2014 is over. Obviously, without All-America aces Thomas Eshelman (8–3, 1.89) and Justin Garza (5–4, 3.22), the Titans don’t sniff the Top 25. They’ll have to lean heavily on the 10th-ranked recruiting class, which features five drafted players. Keep tabs on SS Tristan Hildebrandt, a 16th-round pick, and OF Scott Hurst, who led the Alaska League in batting (.429) as an incoming freshman.

 

21. Florida State (43–17, 21–9 ACC)

We don’t usually see the Seminoles this far down, but there was a small exodus from 2014. The offense still has All-American D.J. Stewart (.351-7-50) and mercurial Ben DeLuzio (.281, 16 SBs), but they are the only returnees hitting better than .268. Four-year guys like Mike Compton (7–3, 3.23), Billy Strode (2–1, 2.62) and Bryant Holtmann (5–1, 3.68) will be the building blocks of a retooled pitching staff.

 

22. Oregon State (45–14, 23–7 Pac-12)

The Beavers need to re-dam the stream and will rely heavily on a top-flight recruiting class that features five drafted players. Andrew Moore (6–5, 2.77) assumes the Friday role and will have Jake Thompson (3–2, 4.25) and Zack Reser (5–0, 1.71) behind him. There will be strength up the middle with CF Jeff Hendrix (.351), C Logan Ice (.250), 2B Caleb Hamilton and SS Trever Morrison.

 

23. Texas (46–21, 13–11 Big 12)

You may not see a better defensive team, as all five infielders return, led by SS C.J. Hinojosa (.298) and power-stick C Tres Barrera (.261-5-35). The mound is always a Longhorn strength, and getting Parker French (7–5, 2.41) back for his senior season was big. Also keep an eye on relief aces Travis Duke (2–1, 0.29) and Chad Hollingsworth (4–0, 1.15). The freshman class was ranked seventh nationally.

 

24. Maryland (40–23, 15–14 ACC)

The Terrapins make the move from the ACC to the Big Ten confident and loaded for another postseason run. Most of the arms corps returns, so losing ace Jake Stinnett won’t be hard to overcome. Mike Shawaryn (11–4) and saves ace Kevin Mooney (13 saves) lead a deep, experienced staff. Seven starters are back in the order, led by top bat Brandon Lowe (.348) and Jose Cuas (.279-5-42).

 

25. UC Santa Barbara (34–17–1, 12–12 Big West)

The Gauchos are still steaming over their NCAA at-large snub, despite finishing just one spot lower than Fullerton. Well, revenge starts with All-America hurlers Justin Jacome (8–2, 2.61) and saves ace Dillon Tate (12 saves, 1.45 ERA). Offensively, Robby Nesovic (.325) and speedsters Peter Maris (.272, 16 SBs) and Andrew Calica (.310, 10 SBs) should keep the pressure on.

 
 
—Written by Eric Sorenson for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 22 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!
Teaser:
The 2015 college baseball season gets underway Friday. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Austin Dillon, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/austin-dillon-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Austin Dillon’s career began with a bang as he brought back the iconic No. 3 car in grand fashion, taking the pole for the Daytona 500. After he finished ninth at Daytona, expectations skyrocketed for a driver many thought would be Rookie of the Year.

 

The rest of Dillon’s 2014 season? That was spent crashing down to earth. He slumped to 20th in points, missed the Chase and was a distant second for top rookie honors to Kyle Larson, making Dillon one of the year’s massive disappointments.

 

In his defense, when you bring back a number once synonymous with Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., there’s going to be a certain pressure to perform. For Dillon, the learning curve is steeper than he faced in either the Camping World Truck or Nationwide series, where the 24-year-old won championships. The competition in Cup is both deeper and fiercer; RCR, at this level, is also a small step behind its main rivals in equipment.

 

But Dillon did a lot of things right last season that set him up to continue to grow in 2015. Perhaps most important, he finished every race, running more laps last season (10,488) than any driver except Jeff Gordon. Bringing the equipment home in one piece is not something every rookie has done, but Dillon was able to do so on a consistent basis, compiling maximum information in the process. That only gives Dillon an edge coming into the new season.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

What does he need to do in 2015? The answer is easy enough — turn those top-15 performances, of which the rookie had several, into top-10 results worth writing about. He has all the tools in the box to get it done, starting with RCR equipment that’s some of the most durable in the sport. It’s true that to finish first, a driver must first finish, and Dillon has cars that can do that; RCR had a total of one mechanical failure last year among its three cars. Speed, once the strength of this organization, is now its problem. Earnhardt-Childress racing engines were several miles per hour slower than their counterparts, including former powerplant partner and new Hendrick satellite Chip Ganassi Racing.

 

Dillon has a lot going for him, though. He has a talented veteran crew chief in Gil Martin, who has almost 20 years of experience in NASCAR’s top division. Martin has 16 wins and six top-5 points finishes on his résumé. The team has some powerhouse sponsors in Dow Chemical, Cheerios and American Ethanol — paired with loyal, smaller backers like Realtree — which provide a strong base. Teammate Ryan Newman found a new level of speed for the organization, and that could easily be filtered down the line.

 

Overall, Dillon is a solid driver who should continue to develop in 2015. All signs point to slow and steady progress, requiring the patience most athletes don’t get these days. But when your owner is also your grandfather — and he pairs you with an iconic car — you’re going to get every opportunity to make this No. 3 return a success.

 

No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet  

Primary Sponsors: Dow, Cheerios, American Ethanol, Realtree
Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: Lifetime
Best Points Finish: 20th (2014)

Hometown: Lewisville, N.C.
Born: April 27, 1990

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
24901410$7,112,800

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Austin Dillon 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the Pac-12 consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Continued growth out West

After the hire of Larry Scott to be commissioner, the Pac-12 has experienced remarkable growth and success. The hiring of elite coaches and the investment in facilities (and winning) have translated on the field and in recruiting. The Pac-12 trailed only the SEC with eight five-star signatures in this class, trailed only the SEC with five teams averaging a top-25 class (six made at least one Top 25 list) and trailed only the SEC with 23 top-100 signees. The Pac-12 has clearly separated itself from the rest of the college football as the No. 2 league and has its sights set directly on the SEC.

 

Men of Troy almost back

Under Pete Carroll, USC dominated recruiting, signing the No. 1 class (Rivals.com) three years in a row. It partially led to two national titles and a third trip to the BCS title game. But it also led to seven straight Pac-12 titles. In just two classes, Steve Sarkisian is starting to do his best Carroll impersonation by luring all of the West Coast's elite prospects. A few more classes like his first two and USC will be back dominating the headlines on Saturdays in short order.

 

The City of Lights

Los Angeles has always lured in top talent of all kinds but National Signing Day 2015 took it to a new level. UCLA dominated the morning and USC dominated the afternoon. Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans are the only team in years to challenge Alabama for a recruiting national title and the Bruins were clearly the No. 2 class in the conference. These two programs are stockpiling elite prospects. Now, they need to go coach them up.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

New sheriff in town

Arizona State was ranked in the top 20 in recruiting by three of the four major services and 20th in the consensus rankings. Todd Graham has changed the level with which the Sun Devils recruit in short order. In his first two full cycles, Graham has signed two Top 25 classes. According to 247Sports, the previous five classes before that ranked on average 42nd in the nation - no better than 33rd and as bad as 65th. Coach Graham not only has elevated Arizona State on the field but off of it as well.

 

In-state talent (or lack thereof)

Most programs in college football survive on in-state talent, regardless of the level of expectation. So it's quite a story when a Power 5 team doesn't ink one single in-state player. But that is what happened with both Oregon and Washington State. Additionally, Oregon State only signed one in-state product. For what it's worth, Washington led its Pacific Northwest brethren with six in-state prospects. Even Utah (5) and Colorado (4) did plenty of work within their own borders while Arizona and Arizona State combined to ink nine players from the Grand Canyon State.

 

   Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.USC264141.82113
2.UCLA1931011.31213911
3.Oregon221617.316172115
4.Arizona St230820.820201726
5.Stanford220523.524182527
6.Washington240526.826302328
7.Cal24033835283653
8.Arizona250140.842424039
9.Washington St22014946534354
10.Utah230052.344565356
11.Oregon St190066.868686368
12.Colorado190168.363687567

 

Teaser:
Pac-12 Team Recruiting Consensus Rankings for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/barack-obama-and-michael-jordan-might-have-some-beef
Body:
Two of the most influential American men of the last quarter century, Barack Obama and Michael Jordan, appear to have entered into a battle of egos.

 

It all started back in October, when Jordan called POTUS’s golfing skills into question during an interview with Ahmad Rashad. “I never said he wasn’t a great politician,” Jordan said, “I just said he was a s——- golfer.”

 

Obama was quick to fire back in a subsequent radio interview. ‘There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am,” he said.” Of course if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case… He might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats — or the Hornets.”

 

Quite the bit of trash talk, Mr. President.

 

It now appears Michael was perhaps not to be outdone, though. As Deadspin notes, a recent New York Magazine profile of trusted Obama advisor David Axelrod reveals that Jordan signed a poster of himself for the president, and misspelled Obama’s first name as “Barrack.”

 

Either Jordan was tipsy, is a bad speller, or was trying to slight his man a little further — his “you still owe me dinner” line in the signature suggests it’s probably the latter reality.

 

This evokes the head games Jordan played with one of his all-time greatest victims: Bryon Russell, then of the Utah Jazz, whom M.J. hit his iconic final Chicago Bulls shot against, to seal his sixth NBA championship.

 

Jordan had previously belittled Russell by repeatedly referring him “Byron” in an interview. There are fewer forms of psychological warfare more effective than taking away a man’s very name — His Airness knows what he’s doing.

 

Who’s ready for the one-on-one game between Jordan and his president, on the White House lawn?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 16:18
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/bubble-watch-michigan-state-lsu-texas-am-and-ole-miss-face-critical-week
Body:

The bubble watch is on.

 

Selection Sunday is less than five weeks away and the bracket is starting to take shape.

 

We’re pretty sure we know the teams in contention for the No. 1 seeds and teams that are safely in, which of course leaves the bubble — all the teams that have done some good things and some bad things through the first three months of the season.

 

For better or worse, most of those teams can get off the bubble, either solidifying their Tournament credentials or playing their way out.

 

Here’s a look at the 10 teams under the most pressure this week.

 

All RPI and schedule strength figures are from CBSSports and Jerry Palm.

 

LSU (17-6, 6-4 SEC)

This week: Kentucky (Tuesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)

The good: LSU is 4-2 against the RPI top 50, including true road wins over West Virginia and Ole Miss.

The bad: The Tigers have lost to sub-150 RPI teams in Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State.

The bubble: Handing Kentucky its first loss of the season would solidify LSU’s status in the field, but that road trip to Tennessee may be the more important game given LSU’s lapses in games it should win.

 

Seton Hall (15-8, 5-6 Big East)

This week: Georgetown (Tuesday), at Providence (Saturday) 

The good: Seton Hall is one of two teams to beat Villanova this season.

The bad: The Pirates have been swept by DePaul and Butler.

The bubble: Seton Hall is 3-6 since its overtime upset of Villanova on Jan. 3. The next four games are brutal with Georgetown at home and Providence, Villanova and St. John’s on the road next week. Not a good situation for a team already trending the wrong way.

 

Michigan State (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten)

This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), Ohio State (Saturday)

The good: KenPom likes Michigan State better than the RPI, ranking the Spartans at No. 28 (compared to No. 52 in the RPI).

The bad: Michigan State is 0-4 against the RPI top 30.

The bubble: Saturday’s home loss to Illinois puts Michigan State onto the bubble. The Spartans can’t (and probably won’t) lose to Northwestern. Facing RPI No. 35 Ohio State in East Lansing will be critical.

 

Texas A&M (16-6, 7-3 SEC)

This week: Georgia (Wednesday), Florida (Saturday)

The good: Texas A&M is 7-3 in the SEC. 

The bad: The Aggies don’t have a top 50 RPI win.

The bubble: Second place in the SEC won’t be enough to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth. The next three games against RPI No. 24 Georgia, No. 67 Florida and No. 51 LSU — all at home — are huge for the Aggies’ hopes.

 

NC State (14-10, 5-6 ACC)

This week: Virginia (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)

The good: The Wolfpack rank 11th in strength of schedule and defeated RPI No. 4 Duke on Jan. 11.

The bad: After a loss to Wake Forest a week ago, NC State is already up to double-digit losses. The Wolfpack haven't won back-to-back games since early December.

The bubble: For NC State to stay in the discussion, the Wolfpack may need to split the week against top 15 opponents. NC State will face Virginia in its first game without guard Justin Anderson.

 

St. John’s (15-8, 4-6 Big East)

This week: DePaul (Wednesday), at Xavier (Saturday)

The good: The Red Storm are ranked No. 50 in the RPI and No. 27 in strength of schedule. St. John’s swept Providence for its two top-50 wins.

The bad: Providence may be the only NCAA at-large team St. John’s has defeated this season.

The bubble: A home loss to DePaul would be devastating. Road wins over Xavier on Saturday and/or Georgetown on Tuesday would put St. John’s back on the right track.

 

The Mountain West

This week: Wyoming at San Diego State (Wednesday), Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday)

The good: Colorado State (20-4, 7-4 MW) has the best RPI in the Mountain West plus a home win already over San Diego State. Wyoming (19-5, 8-3 MW) completed a season sweep of Colorado State last week.

The bad: Neither team has a top-75 non-conference win.

The bubble: If Mountain West at-large bids go through San Diego State, this will be the key week.

 

Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3 SEC)

This week: at Florida (Thursday), Arkansas (Saturday)

The good: The Rebels are No. 39 in RPI and 3-3 against the top 50.

The bad: Ole Miss has home losses to Western Kentucky, TCU and Charleston Southern.

The bubble: Splitting the week would maintain the status quo. Two wins would further solidify the Rebels’ chances. Ole Miss already has wins against each of these teams this season.

 

Purdue (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten)

This week: at Rutgers (Thursday), Nebraska (Sunday) 

The good: The Boilermakers have three top 40 wins (Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa).

The bad: All of those wins were at home. So were bad losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida.

The bubble: The Boilers are hanging on, but they’ll lose their grip if they don’t go 2-0 this week.

 

Illinois (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten)

This week: Michigan (Thursday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)

The good: Defeating Michigan State on the road was a signature moment, but Illinois had already picked up two top 20 wins before Jan. 7 (Baylor on a neutral court, Maryland).

The bad: Illinois has lost five games to teams ranked between Nos. 50-100.

The bubble: Asking Illinois to beat Wisconsin in Madison may be too much to ask, but the Illini need to beat Michigan to avoid a season sweep to the Wolverines.

Teaser:
Bubble Watch: Michigan State, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss Face Critical Weeks
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 15:25
All taxonomy terms: AJ Allmendinger, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/aj-allmendinger-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Telling AJ Allmendinger that things happen for a reason used to get under his skin. The phrase irked him for its simplicity, as he felt there was always more to the story.

 

The last few years changed his mind.

 

Allmendinger lost a full-time seat with Penske Racing in the middle of the 2012 season when he failed a NASCAR drug test for taking Adderall without a prescription — a situation he says was a one-time mistake and not a long-term problem. The subsequent suspension and fallout dropped Allmendinger from the high point of his career to rock bottom. The path back to respectability seemed long. “I knew at that point that I had to make some changes,” Allmendinger says. “If (NASCAR) was ever going to happen again, I wanted it to happen the right way.”

 

In 2014, it happened the right way, and with a surge no one expected. After riding a part-time gig in 2013, Allmendinger took over full-time in the seat of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s No. 47, driving for a one-car team doing its best to throw punches at NASCAR’s behemoths. The organization had struggled before Allmendinger’s arrival, earning only four top-10 finishes in the last three seasons with veteran Bobby Labonte. Allmendinger had some struggles — he drove to just the 25th-best average running position of all full-time drivers — but he got the job done in his last, best chance to earn a spot in NASCAR’s postseason. Besting road course king Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger earned his first career Cup victory at Watkins Glen in August.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Thanks to the new championship format, Allmendinger’s regular-season win earned the No. 47 car an unexpected Chase berth.

 

“I love that underdog role. I love the small team,” he says. “We’ve got to go out there and work harder just to compete. It has happened for a reason. I have found a home. I wouldn’t change anything.”

 

The Chase opportunity didn’t reinvent the No. 47 team — it was out after the first round — but it represented progress. RCR chassis and engine support, new in 2014, paid dividends, along with crew chief Brian Burns. Both are back. Allmendinger, who was signed to a long-term extension with his primary sponsors Clorox and Kimberly-Clark, understands he has a foundation to build from now.

 

“It’s baby steps,” he says. “It’s great to win a race, but I still look at us in general and know that we were about a 20th-place team. I want to get to be a 15th-place team. I want to get to be a top-10 team. We can get better every weekend, get more competitive.”

 

Allmendinger includes himself in the discussion of what needs to improve; he’s still inconsistent on the track and learning how to lead a one-car team off it. He knows that this year will still require heavy lifting and some good fortune to earn a second consecutive postseason appearance. “We have a long way to go,” he says. “But we know that if we can go out there and hit our best, we can win any given race.”

 

No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Kimberly-Clark Products, Clorox

Owner: Tad & Jodi Geschickter/Brad Daugherty

Crew Chief: Brian Burns

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 13th (2014)

Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.

Born: Dec. 16, 1981

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
9227173520$27,806,820

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for AJ Allmendinger on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Martin Truex Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/martin-truex-jr-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Martin Truex Jr. is eager to start 2015 strong and continue the late-season momentum that salvaged an otherwise awful start driving Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet. “Racing is never harder than when you’re not running good — just everything about it gets magnified,” Truex says. “The relationships get damaged, the confidence gets damaged, and everybody’s in a bad mood. It’s a constant downward spiral, and until you can stop that and turn it around, it’s hard to gain momentum.”

 

It’s a story Truex lived firsthand during his maiden voyage with this single-car program, his best option after the 2013 Michael Waltrip Racing Richmond debacle resulted in the contraction of MWR from three cars to only two. The cloud seemed to hang over Truex and his new team well into 2014. Right away, Truex blew an engine in the Daytona 500 and showed few signs of positive results until late in the 36-race schedule. The team lacked confidence and struggled to jell, leading a total of one lap all season.

 

After Truex missed the Chase by well over 100 points — and suffered through a personal nightmare of his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer — many wondered whether he would even stick around to complete his two-year deal.

 

Fortunately for both sides, a no-pressure Chase allowed Truex the opportunity to use the postseason races as a testing ground for 2015. Five top-15 finishes in the first five postseason races reminded both sides what this team is capable of; after all, other programs running Richard Childress Racing chassis, like AJ Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing, won races and ran competitively all season long.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In a surprising move, crew chief Todd Berrier was ousted in early December. Race engineer Cole Pearn earned a promotion, his first crew chief job, as the team hopes a “new school” approach will be the perfect match for NASCAR’s new rules. Hopes are high that the new pairing won’t miss a beat. Pearn, a former RCR employee, should strengthen the ties between the team and its engine and chassis provider.

 

A tire test at California in the fall instilled hope in Truex after the team tested the new aerodynamic package, one that decreased the height of the rear spoiler and featured other adjustments that added more front turning ability to the car.

 

Now, Truex must turn to 2015 with an optimistic yet cautious approach in the second and final year of his contract. “Realistically, you can’t expect to go from where we were and be the top title contender,” Truex says. “In the last third of 2014, we were consistently a top-15, close to top-10 car. If we can come out of the box doing that and then continue to improve, I would be happy with that.”

 

If that doesn’t occur, expect Truex to become one of the sport’s top free agents. Both he and FRR deserve better than the driver’s career-worst 24th-place ranking from a year ago.

 

No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Furniture Row

Owner: Barney Visser

Crew Chief: Cole Pearn

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2007, ’12)

Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.

Born: June 29, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
113332329570$47,445,541

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Martin Truex Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Paul Menard, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/paul-menard-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

A little food for thought: Paul Menard is coming off what could be considered his best career Sprint Cup season. He had career-bests in both top 5s (5) and top 10s (13), and while his points position was his lowest since 2010, the average finish was among the best of his career. 

 

Menard isn’t going to win Richard Childress a Cup title, but what he will do in 2015 is what he has done for the last several years — give the team some strong finishes and bring good information to the table that can be used to help the organization move forward. Menard has the tendency to be a little streaky — he can reel off a string of top 10s followed by several mid-pack finishes — and overall, that’s not going to be championship material. Unlike his teammate Ryan Newman, Menard isn’t consistently strong enough to make a title run out of a season that doesn’t include a win.

 

That’s not to say Menard couldn’t have an outside chance at the Chase; however, it’s likely that he’ll need to win to do it, and the odds aren’t in his favor with just one Cup win to his name. He can be a threat at some tracks — 10 of his 13 top-10 finishes last season came at tracks 1.5 miles or longer — but it’s more likely that he’ll be more of a top-15 threat than a top-10 one. And with the field as stacked as it is, that’s not likely to make the cut.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In Menard’s favor are solid equipment and sponsorship. While RCR might be a step behind the biggest teams, it is still among the sport’s elite, and Menard has equipment that matches his talent — not something every driver enjoys. He’s in a stable position in part because of his family-owned sponsorship, but he’s not merely riding the coattails of his family legacy. Because of that stability, Menard doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if a youngster with money is waiting in the wings, and he’s a solid enough performer that he’s an asset to RCR because of the information he can bring to the table.

 

His crew chief is a question mark for 2015. Justin Alexander took over head wrench duties after Slugger Labbe was promoted within the RCR organization. Alexander certainly has the credentials to be a successful crew chief, and Menard did post a top-5 finish during Alexander’s five-race test run in 2014, but this duo hasn’t been together long enough to be properly evaluated. Technology, more than ever, makes an impact

these days, and Alexander’s experience could move the needle.

 

Overall, expect 2015 to be a solid season for Menard, who has proven to be a steady driver. The biggest factor against him is probably the depth of competition in Sprint Cup right now. He’s capable of solid finishes, but so are many others, and that makes it unlikely that he will enjoy a season that exceeds expectations. He’ll put together some good runs, keep his cars in one piece and bring his team information it can use. All good things for a mid-tier driver like Menard.

 

No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Menards

Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Justin Alexander

Year With Current Team: 5th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2012)

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wis.

Born: Aug. 21, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
112911154710$34,181,518

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Paul Menard on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-10-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 10:

 

Happy 20th birthday to LPGA star Lexi Thompson. I'd say she has a few good years left.

 

Jameis Winston flew around with a jetpack.

 

• Is Peyton coming back? All signs point to yes

 

Jeremy Lamb's pregame handshake is totes adorbs.

 

Some guy wrote Knicks owner James Dolan a nasty letter, and got one in return.

 

This Florida State throwdown in which the player's hand never touches the rim has renewed debate over what constitutes a dunk.

 

Sports Pickle analyzes the obvious photoshopping on the SI Swimsuit cover.

 

• Speaking of the Swimsuit issue, Caroline Wozniacki appears in this year's edition.

 

Eventful night for Kevin Durant: He dropped 40, laid out Kenneth Faried with a flagrant and then threw the ball at him.

 

Derek Dorsett had to hop/limp to the bench like an old man after breaking a skate.

 

K.J. McDaniels had a sweet self-serve alley-oop.

 

• The new "This Is SportsCenter" ad riffs on the Katy Perry halftime sharks.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 11:03
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/knicks-owner-james-dolan-sends-nasty-e-mail-fan
Body:

James Dolan is not the best — everybody knows that. The New York Knicks’ owner has a reputation for meddling and spreading dysfunction throughout his organization;  even new team president Phil Jackson is not safe from his wrath.


Weeks ago, it came out that Dolan reportedly lowballed potential coaching candidate Steve Kerr — now thriving with the Golden State Warriors — because Kerr did too much prying research into the Knicks’ infrastructure. This sin caused an old-school fan to lose his cool, and e-mail Dolan his piece of mind. Via Deadspin:


Subject: I have been a knicks fan since 1952


At one stage I thought that you did a wonderful thing when you acquired EVERYTHING from your dad. However, since then it has been ALL DOWN HILL. Your working with Isaiah Thomas & everything else regarding the Knicks. Bringing on Phil Jackson was a positive beginning, but lowballing Steve Kerr was a DISGRACE to the knicks. The bottom line is that you merely continued to interfere with the franchise.


As a knicks fan for in excess of 60 years, I am utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks. Sell them so their fans can at least look forward to growing them in a positive direction Obviously, money IS NOT THE ONLY THING. You have done a lot of utterly STUPID business things with the franchise. Please NO MORE.


Fans are emotional, so this letter comes as no surprise. The catch here is Dolan’s shockingly petty response:


On Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 8:15 PM, James Dolan <[email protected]> wrote:


Mr Bierman
You are a sad person. Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am.just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while start rooting.for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you.


Respectfully
James Dolan


If you’re not sick of laughing at Dolan after that, just take a listen to his comically corny blues band, JD and the Straight Shot:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 10:14
Path: /college-football/sec-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the SEC consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Roll Tide, Roll

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, there were a total of 33 five-star recruits in the entire 2014 class and 35 in the '15 class. Alabama has signed six five-star recruits in each of the last two classes. For 2015, the ACC as a league signed seven five-stars and the Pac-12 signed eight. Bama alone signed four more five-star prospects than the entire Big Ten (1) and Big 12 (1) combined this cycle.

 

S-E-C dominance

Of those 68 five-star recruits entering college football over the last two cycles, the SEC has signed 37. That’s six more than the other four power conferences combined. The ACC is second with 12 five-star signees over the last two years. The Pac-12 has 11, the Big Ten has five and the Big 12 is last with just three five-star signatures the last two years. The SEC placed 12 teams in the consensus Top 25 classes.

 

Old recruiting power

Butch Jones and the Vols landed their second consecutive top-five class this cycle — the first time that has happened in school history. Not since 2010 (9th) had Tennessee posted a top-10 class and not since 2007 (3rd) had the Vols landed in the top five. Now, in Jones’ first two full cycles, he’s done it twice. The average national ranking for the Vols the three years prior to Jones taking over full time was 17.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Closing strong

Jim McElwain took over the job at Florida with a recruiting class with less than 10 commitments and ranked dead last in the SEC. After a big National Signing Day with a pair of five- and four-star signees, the Gators snuck into the Top 25 and jumped four teams in the league to finish 10th in the SEC.

 

Starkville, Miss.

According to Rivals.com (and including Texas A&M and Missouri), the ’15 class is Dan Mullen’s best at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have finished better than 11th in the SEC only once under Mullen and that was 10th in 2012. Finishing seventh in the league, ahead of teams that normally recruit at a higher level — like Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Arkansas — is a huge statement for HailState.

 

Expectations still high

According to 247Sports, LSU signed another top-five class. In fact, it marks the sixth time in seven years Les Miles has landed a class ranked in the top seven nationally, giving LSU one of the best rosters of talent in the nation. Yet, LSU has gone from first to fifth in the SEC West over the last four seasons. With another elite class of players, Miles once again must manage the usual high expectations in Baton Rouge.

 

   Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.Alabama246141.51221
2.Tennessee291154.54545
3.Auburn271196.39637
4.Georgia282117.510758
5.LSU252118.8581210
6.Texas A&M253111112101012
7.Mississippi St28071718161816
8.Ole Miss220718.317211619
9.South Carolina3001019.819192021
10.Florida212323.321232920
11.Arkansas210723.324252222
12.Missouri23122425272618
13.Mississippi St210240.339354443
14.Vanderbilt180352.847487244

 

Teaser:
SEC Team Recruiting Consensus Rankings for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/when-will-kentucky-basketball-lose-its-first-game
Body:

Kentucky isn’t the only team chasing history in the SEC.

 

The Wildcats took another team’s best shot Saturday in a 67-61 win over Florida, but as has been the case in close calls all season, Kentucky continued its march to an undefeated regular season and more.

 

That Florida gave Kentucky a game is little surprise to John Calipari, who has come to expect that every team is looking for its signature moment of the season when it faces the Wildcats. 

 

A game against Kentucky is a game to end the streak, a chance to be the ultimate spoiler.

 

“There will be games where players play out of their minds,” Calipari said. “After the game, Billy (Donovan) said it was the best game by far they’ve played all year. ... That’s every game we play.”

 

Ironically, Kentucky was in this spot less than a year ago, knocking off a 35-0 Wichita State team in the NCAA Tournament. The end of the Shockers’ bid at 40-0 was only the start of the run for Kentucky. The only interruption between the NCAA Tournament a year ago and today was a loss in the title game to UConn.

 

On paper, Kentucky will be favored in every game — SEC or otherwise — until a potential Final Four, but a pristine record is far more fragile in reality than it is on paper.

 

KenPom.com gives Kentucky at least an 84 percent chance to beat each individual opponent during the final eight games. The same projection, however, predicts a 30-1 record at the end of the regular season and a 56.7 percent chance to go undefeated.

 

In other words, Kentucky will be a heavy favorite in each game to finish the season, but the chances of the Wildcats going 8-0 in totality is not quite as certain.

 

So when might that mystery loss occur? Here’s a look at Kentucky’s final eight opponents and if they might have what it takes to make history against the Wildcats.

 

Feb. 10: at LSU

LSU may have the most pro potential of SEC teams not named Kentucky, and the Tigers get UK in Baton Rouge only three days after a close call in Gainesville. That’s roughly 10 hours on a plane between Saturday and tipoff at LSU on Tuesday, plus two raucous atmospheres. LSU is one of the few SEC teams that may be able to match up against Kentucky’s size with 6-foot-10 Jarell Martin and 6-8 Jordan Mickey. Beyond the forwards, LSU also has a 6-6 emerging guard in Tim Quarterman (though he doesn’t have the bulk of the Harrisons). If point guard Josh Gray can play under control and Keith Hornsby is knocking down shots, LSU could give Kentucky fits.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Maybe

 

Feb. 14: South Carolina

One of Kentucky’s closest calls this season came in double overtime against Texas A&M. The Aggies — who are second in SEC play in 2-point defense — held Kentucky to 9-of-36 from inside the 3-point line. South Carolina doesn’t have the size and length Texas A&M does, but the Gamecocks nonetheless have a strong interior defense, holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting from 2. There's also some history here. South Carolina defeated Kentucky in Columbia last season and took out a John Wall-led team in 2010.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope

 

Feb. 17: at Tennessee

Tennessee will be an interesting matchup, particularly for Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison. The Volunteers lead the SEC in defensive turnover rate and steal rate in conference games, and Harrison, while improved this season, is as streaky as they come. Just in the last week, he played his best game of the year against Georgia (23 points, seven assists, one turnover) and then one of his worst against Florida (one point, two assists, three turnovers). Playing against Tennessee will require patience against the zone and patience against a team that’s averaging the fewest possessions per game in the SEC (62.9). Kentucky already had some difficulty with the next two slowest-tempo teams in the league, Vanderbilt and Florida.

Will Kentucky lose this game? It’s plausible

 

Feb. 21: Auburn

No team shoots more 3-pointers than Auburn at 20.7 per game. The problem is the Tigers make only 33.4 percent of them, ranking eighth in the SEC. Maybe Auburn will have a ridiculous day from the 3-point line as Ole Miss did on Jan. 6 when the Rebels went 9-of-17 in an 89-86 overtime loss. That is the only chance Auburn has to end a streak of its own: Auburn hasn’t defeated Kentucky since 2000 and hasn’t defeated Kentucky in Lexington since 1988.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Only in football

 

Feb. 25: at Mississippi State

This is as good a time as any to mention that Kentucky hasn’t been immune to the injury bug. The Wildcats haven’t had Alex Poythress, who went down with a torn ACL, since December. Forward Trey Lyles (7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) has missed the last three games with an illness, leaving Kentucky’s guards to pick up some of the rebounding slack. Lyles probably will be healthy in time for this particular game, but the point is that no team makes it to March completely healthy

Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope

 

Feb. 28: Arkansas

Other than Florida, Arkansas is the only SEC team to consistently give Kentucky trouble during the last few years. The Razorbacks have won four of the last five meetings, including the last three. This season, Arkansas has one elite big man, Bobby Portis, who could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky’s front. He’ll be outnumbered, but he alone is still a better matchup than most. The question is what kind of game the streaky Michael Qualls will have. Arkansas is the highest-scoring team in the SEC, at least according to raw numbers, but the Hogs rank third in offensive efficiency.

Will Kentucky lose this game? In Fayetteville, maybe, but probably not in Lexington

 

March 3: at Georgia

The final scoresheet shows an 11-point Kentucky win Feb. 3, but Georgia had this to within five points with two minutes to go. In Lexington. Without Marcus Thornton. All of that is notable. In the return trip, Kentucky will visit Athens to face a veteran Georgia team that, presumably, will have its leading scorer and rebounder. 

Will Kentucky lose this game? We’re still picking Kentucky, but this is the one we like

 

March 7: Florida

Kentucky caught Florida right after the Gators played their worst game of the season in a loss to Vanderbilt. Maybe the Wildcats underestimated Florida. Maybe Billy Donovan finally woke up his team in time for Kentucky. The Wildcats still managed to escape an off game due to near-perfect free throw shooting and the continued emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns. Florida played long stretches without Michael Frazier, but the Gators also had plenty go their way, too.

Will Kentucky lose this game? No

Teaser:
When Will Kentucky Basketball Lose Its First Game?
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-ricky-stenhouse-jr
Body:

The statistics say Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured a 2014 season that didn’t mesh with the lofty expectations that came with his move full-time to Sprint Cup racing after a pair of Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and ’12. The temptation is to call last year his sophomore slump. But Stenhouse didn’t perform below his ability. Rather, he was just another Roush driver who struggled to find competitive speed in a season in which the three-driver team rarely found any.

 

“We all drive different, have different setups and crew chiefs, but we’re all complaining about the same thing,” Stenhouse says of RFR in 2014. “At least we know there’s a problem there somewhere that we’ve got to get out.”

 

For Stenhouse, those handling issues translated to a season with just one top-5 result, five top-10 finishes and an average finish of 22.4 — a drop of 3.5 positions per race from 2013, his first full season in Cup racing.

 

It was a clear disappointment, especially when Stenhouse was gift-wrapped his All-Star crew chief from past Nationwide success (Mike Kelley). It provided the 27-year-old with sage learning moments, ones he’ll have to use in order to stay employed beyond 2015.

 

“I need to make sure I don’t ask the crew chief or engineers to fix my car in a way that I know they probably can’t,” Stenhouse says. “Taking a 12th-place and trying to finish fifth with it is tough to do in the middle of a race. We need to work on it a little bit at a time instead of trying to make big adjustments. I think that threw us off a bit (in 2014).”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Driver No. 17 also enters this season with a keen sense of what he has to do to improve the car more quickly each weekend. In 2014, Stenhouse started studying the at-track performance data of his Ford counterparts more closely. The homework, while not providing instant success, changed his driving style.

 

 “I like to drive in the corner hard, use the brake and then jump right back into the gas,” Stenhouse says. “But last year I found a lot of race tracks where you change it up and kind of roll into the corner and get back to the gas, you go faster.”

 

That’s a good thing, as 2015 comes with the mantra “no excuses.” His best friend Trevor Bayne is now a teammate, and the duo now has reasonable Cup experience. They, along with veteran Greg Biffle, had input on offseason personnel shuffles to boost the team. It’s not the playoffs or bust for Stenhouse … but it’s close.

 

Jumping from 27th in points to Chase contention is a bit unrealistic. That leaves Stenhouse optimistic that a Chase-berthing win is in reach — ideally during one of two Bristol Motor Speedway stops, where he finished a career-best second last spring. A short track win for Stenhouse would earn him a spot in the Chase and end his pursuit for a first career victory.

 

“I think there’s no reason we can’t win a race in 2015,” Stenhouse said. “I really want to get that marked off our list.”

 

No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Fastenal, Zest, Fifth Third Bank, NOS, Ford, Ecopower

Owners: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Mike Kelley

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 19th (2013)

Hometown: Olive Branch, Miss.

Born: Oct. 2, 1987

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
47602810$11,343,905

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:35
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-aric-almirola
Body:

Entering his fourth full season at Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola is a believer that a low level of offseason turbulence — a rarity for the organization — is reason to believe that his team can keep moving forward in 2015.

 

A Chase for the Sprint Cup contender for the first time last year, Almirola enters this season with the same crew chief (Trent Owens), the same core group of team members, a steady sponsor situation and a race team on substantially better financial footing.

 

“Everything being kind of status quo on that side is really good,” Almirola says.

 

RPM certainly hopes so, as its owners have opted to invest heavily in improving the program. The team moved into a larger race shop this offseason and started hanging the bodies on its cars, a step toward independence from fellow Ford team and technical partner Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“We’ll still work with (RFR) on the technical and engineering side,” Almirola says. “We’ll still share information, share wind tunnel time, all of those things. But we’re going to be putting the bodies on race cars in the way we think it should be done.”

 

The move in-house should have a positive impact on Almirola’s season, as RPM won’t have identical cars to those raced at RFR. It’s a solution that makes sense when considering RFR’s frustrating season-long 2014 slump.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

However, striking out on its own is a long-term process for a team that still has distinct disadvantages. Just a two-car program, RPM is third on the Ford food chain, with financials that pale in comparison to both RFR and Penske, even with the increased support. Almirola must deal with a new teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., who’s had limited success on the Cup level.

 

Most important, Almirola — despite making the Chase — still has much to prove. He scored the fewest points in the 16-driver field, as mechanical failure at Chicagoland ended his title hopes in September. He earned just two top-5 finishes in 36 starts; believe it or not, that’s a career year for Almirola.

 

It’s a safe bet that his No. 43 team will need to score another win — like the unexpected one at Daytona last July in the rain-shortened summer race — to earn another Chase spot. Almirola is most confident that it could happen at a place where RPM can bridge the equipment gap, like a short track. Kansas, where the driver led a career-best 69 laps a few years back before suffering tire trouble, is another strength. It’s a running theme for the program — bad racing luck creeps up too often to kill consistency.

 

“We’ve had a lot of moments of brightness. We’ve had many weekends where we’ve run up front in the top 5, the top 10,” Almirola says. “But we just haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”

 

That means Almirola will likely pick and choose his opportunities to go for broke. If he hits, he’ll make the Chase. If he misses? Well, at least his team has a long-term plan for success; we’ll see if a midpack points finish has it staying the course.

 

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Primary Sponsors: Smithfield Foods, STP, Fresh From Florida

Owners: Richard Petty/Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron

Crew Chief: Trent Owens

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2014)

Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Born: March 14, 1984

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
7143151910$19,633,191

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Aric Almirola on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:32
All taxonomy terms: Brian Vickers, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-brian-vickers
Body:

Brian Vickers became one of NASCAR’s feel-good stories of the 2013 season. He played the role of the comeback kid, the former young gun with a Nationwide Series title and Hendrick Motorsports on his résumé who overcame a near-fatal blood clot to return to the track. A 2013 win at New Hampshire put Vickers in MWR’s No. 55 Toyota full-time last season and carried with it some veteran expectations.

 

Vickers had the experience to become a Chase contender again. The problem was, his return to competition coincided with MWR’s return to the basement.

 

The first Toyota program, which had once DNQ’d for 22 of 36 races with one of Waltrip’s cars in 2007, had fought hard to build up into a Chase-level outfit. But then, teammate Clint Bowyer intentionally spun his car, resulting in the infamous “SpinGate” scandal in the fall of 2013 that saw MWR trying to fix the final results of a race. The team’s downward slide seemed almost instantaneous from there.

 

The results were what you’d expect after that type of doomsday scenario. Vickers earned just one top-5 result away from the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega and led just 53 laps for the entire season. He finished a disappointing 22nd in the standings.

 

“Not having the third team changed a lot,” Vickers says of last season. “Having that one extra resource is nice. I wish we still had that. But we tried to make it work. The two teams still worked well together.”

 

Both Vickers and Bowyer failed to win a race or qualify for the Chase. The disappointing finishes were a result of what Vickers felt were missed opportunities. “We had a lot of races where we didn’t reach our potential because something happened — a blown tire, an engine, whatever it may be — and that’s what hurt us,” he says. “But I think we learned from it.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

The poor season notwithstanding, Vickers knows time can be a major asset to any team — especially one that’s had time to recover from a traumatic period like MWR’s previous offseason.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsor: Aaron’s

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Billy Scott

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 12th (2009)

Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.

Born: Oct. 24, 1983

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1231632977120$38,266,887

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Brian Vickers on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-finds-its-replacement-marcus-mariota-transfer-vernon-adams
Body:

The battle at Oregon to replace quarterback Marcus Mariota was one of the biggest storylines set to unfold in college football’s spring practice, but coach Mark Helfrich found his answer on Monday with the announcement Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams would transfer to Eugene.

 

Adams has been a prolific quarterback at Eastern Washington for the last three seasons and was a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS Heisman) in 2013 and '14.
 

Here are a couple of things to watch with Adams leaving EWU for Oregon:

 

He will be Oregon’s starter in 2015:

With Mariota departing, Oregon’s quarterback battle expected to feature Jeff Lockie (41 career pass attempts), Ty Griffin (a Georgia Tech transfer), Taylor Alie (a walk-on) and freshmen Morgan Mahalak and Travis Waller. Adams has the mobility, accuracy, arm strength and skill set to thrive in Oregon’s offense. He’s the best quarterback on the roster.

Stepping up in competition/Previous FBS games:
This is without question the biggest question mark in regards to Adams’ transfer. How will he handle the FCS to FBS move? There’s a small sample size to examine, as Adams has played two FBS opponents at Eastern Washington. In those two contests, Adams combined to throw for 886 yards, 11 touchdowns and completed 54 of 76 throws. Adams also rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State in 2013.

Adams won’t be around at Oregon in spring practice:
Outside of how he transitions to the FBS level, the biggest concern for Oregon has to be getting Adams acclimated to the offense. The California native won’t arrive until the summer, which limits his time to learn the offense and practice with the supporting cast. Adams should thrive in Oregon’s offense, but it’s likely he gets more comfortable and succeeds even more as the year progresses. While Adams needs time to settle into the offense, there’s a critical non-conference matchup (with potential playoff implications) at Michigan State on Sept. 12.


Oregon is still the (significant) favorite in the North:

Had Oregon went into the season without Adams, it’s likely most preseason predictions would have featured more debate and discussion on the North Division favorite. But now that the Ducks have a potential All-Pac-12 quarterback and dynamic playmaker in place, Oregon has to be the clear favorite in the North. While a non-conference road trip to Michigan State awaits in Week 2, most of the Ducks’ toughest Pac-12 games – at Arizona State, at Stanford and USC – are later in the year.
 

Adams won’t have to do it alone:

It’s going to take Adams a few games to get comfortable with the offense and playing at a higher level, but Oregon won’t have to ask him to win games on his own. The Ducks have a deep supporting cast, including running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, a standout group of receivers, headlined by Devon Allen, Bralon Addison, Byron Marshall and Darren Carrington. The offensive line has a few holes to address, but several players received significant snaps due to injuries in 2014.

 

Oregon opens its season with…

Eastern Washington. How’s that for a storyline in 2015?

 

Here’s a look at Adams’ stats at EWU from 2012-14:

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsPass YdsTDsINTsRush YdsTDs
2012121312151,9612083421
2013153194864,99455156054
2014102513803,4833582856

 

I asked two writers that watched Adams during his career at Eastern Washington. What exactly does Adams bring to the table and what should we expect from the senior in 2015?
 

Kyle Kensing, (@kensing45), University Avenue and BleacherReport.com

"Despite getting zero recruiting interest from Pac-12 schools coming out of Southern California, Vernon Adams has proven he can hang with Pac-12 competition.

 

He's done so twice, in fact. Last year, he accounted for seven touchdowns total against a Washington defense that was loaded with NFL-level talent. In 2013, he went off for six touchdowns in an upset of Oregon State.

 

No knock on Eastern Washington, which is one of the premier FCS programs, but imagine what Adams can do to the Pac-12 when he's surrounded by more Pac-12-quality players.

 

I would imagine that's the outlook Mark Helfrich has in adding Adams for this one season. He's experienced, talented and at EWU, he played a style similar to what will be expected of him at Oregon.

 

Beau Baldwin is one of the more innovative offensive coaches in the FCS, so Adams should transition smoothly at Oregon.

 

He can run and does, but he's not a 'running' quarterback. It's more a nice weapon he can unleash if he has to, but Adams thrives more as a passer. He has tremendous arm strength and delivers the ball well on the move. That latter attribute should result in Oregon utilizing the pop pass more in 2015." 

 

Craig Haley, (@CraigHaley), FCS Executive Director for The Sports Network:

 

"Vernon Adams is an electric player and has a great chance to succeed at Oregon. He's a dual threat and will have to adjust from the spread to the read option, but he has the right skill set. He's already shown he can dominate Pac-12 competition. Clearly, he was underrecruited by the FBS when he was in high school. It's a huge loss for the FCS level."

 

Twitter Reaction:


 


Vernon Adams - Eastern Washington Highlights:

Teaser:
Oregon Finds its Replacement for Marcus Mariota in Transfer Vernon Adams
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 15:48

Pages