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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, NASCAR’s officiating errors, the return of the Truck Series, Danica’s progress, Hendrick’s dominance and Matt Kenseth’s Martinsville improvement highlight the major topics leading us into Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
1. Will Martinsville end consecutive weeks of NASCAR officiating issues?
An old theory says bad things happen in threes. NASCAR’s competition department would be fine if that theory proved to be bunk this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
For two consecutive weeks, drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have been affected by officiating blunders relating to the technology in use at the track. First it was Bristol when an official working in the flag stand was said to have bumped a switch that activated the track’s caution light system. The error came with two laps left and nearly set up a dramatic but unnecessary green-white-checker finish. A rain storm soon pelted the track, however, ending the race and dampening the controversy before it could flare further.
Then last week in California, NASCAR’s official working at the front entrance of pit road allegedly had a piece of uniform get stuck in the track’s fencing while reaching for the light switch that signals the opening of pit road. The official managed to still wave the traditional green flag, but at least three drivers — Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon — altered pit strategy because they felt pit road was still closed.
While the issues are hardly a trend of significant concern for the sanctioning body, they do need to get fixed. Both incidents are entirely preventable through improved processes. NASCAR is lucky that they ultimately played limited roles in the outcome of both races.
Hopefully Martinsville — and the rest of the season that is set to have so many moments that could hinge so drastically on officiating aptitude — can go without a hitch.
2. Welcoming the Truck Series back to the limelight
Remember the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series?
It’s been five weeks since NASCAR’s third-tier national series opened the 2014 campaign with the 250-miler at Daytona International Speedway. Thirty-six days after that green flag — let the record show it was on Friday, Feb. 21 — the trucks will start just their second race of 2014 Saturday at Martinsville.
But don’t get too comfortable with the tailgates. They won’t race again after Saturday until May 9 at Kansas Speedway. From there, the 22-race schedule gets more regular and runs through Homestead in November.
Most stories about the return of the trucks at Martinsville will likely center around Darrell Wallace Jr.’ s return to defend his win last fall. With the victory, Wallace became the first black driver to win a NASCAR national series race since Wendell Scott won a Cup series race in 1963.
The 20-year-old returned to the seat of the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.
3. Patrick has opportunity to show progress
Putting the words “progress” and “Danica Patrick” near each other is, for now, a risky proposition.
That’s not just because Patrick has become a polarizing figure in the sport. She has also been the epitome of inconsistency during her first few seasons at NASCAR’s top level. Nowhere is that more evident than in this simple fact: Patrick has finished inside the top 20 for two straight races (18th at Bristol, 14th at Fontana) for just the second time in 54 races.
It’s not amazing or jaw-dropping. It’s not yet an opinion-shifter.
But Patrick’s biggest problem to date in NASCAR has been an inability to put together consistent races — both lap-to-lap and race-to-race. She heads to Martinsville riding at least a small wave of positivity and with the confidence that she can perform at one of NASCAR’s tougher venues. Last year, Patrick turned in finishes of 12th and 17th at the short track.
A top 20 at Martinsville is a fair expectation at this point. Earning it would be a good sign amongst an otherwise questionable beginning.
3. A dominant 30 years at Martinsville for Hendrick
For some veterans of the NASCAR garage, it’s probably pretty hard to believe that Rick Hendrick has owned teams in the sport for 30 years. For others, his ownership and recent dominance has probably felt more like 300 years.
Regardless, Sunday marks an important milestone for the best NASCAR owner of the last two decades and his ever-growing team. Hendrick scored his first win as a Cup car owner 30 years ago at Martinsville with Geoff Bodine. With Harry Hyde has crew chief, Bodine drove to an improbable victory in Hendrick’s All-Star Racing No. 5 car on April 29, 1984, in the team’s eighth race of existence.
Since then, many of Hendrick’s drivers have seen Martinsville as a personal playground. Hendrick-owned teams have won 21 of the 60 races at the .526-mile oval and scored 110 total top 10s. With Jeff Gordon (October 2013) and Jimmie Johnson (April 2013, October 2012) holding court on the field in the last three races at the track, the tougher decision this weekend may be finding out who can beat HMS.
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: Yes, I am Cool
4. Matt Kenseth: Martinsville Ace?
Matt Kenseth has a list of six current tracks on the Cup schedule where he has never won. Martinsville Speedway is one of them — and also the one where he’s traditionally struggled the most. He’s failed to finish on the lead lap nine times in 28 attempts at the short track.
The tide, however, seems to be shifting.
Thanks to his move last season to Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has drastically improved at Martinsville. He notched a runner-up finish last fall and led a total of 298 laps in both races last season — quite the gain when you consider he had led just 73 laps there in 26 previous starts.
It’s a product largely of JGR having an extremely solid setup package at the Virginia track. The setup is largely refined from Denny Hamlin’s success when from 2008 to 2010, Hamlin scored four Martinsville wins in six attempts.
Kenseth nearly unseated the Hendrick reign last fall. He might just be the guy to do it Sunday.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 28.
• The photo's grainy, but Britney Spears showed off a rockin' bod in Hawaii.
• Condi Rice and Richard Sherman shot a selfie at last night's Stanford game. Sports, bringing people together.
• There was a mini-riot after Dayton's Sweet 16 win last night. Imagine if the Flyers go on to win the title. In other Dayton news, CBS helpfully informed us that a Dayton alum invented Control+alt+delete. Good to know.
• Bill Murray wore PBR pants to a golf tournament. Never change, Bill.
• Memory lane: A year ago today, Dufnering happened. Relive the magic here.
• This is fun: A dad turned boring videos of his toddler into action movies.
• Sometimes I'll share videos of fans snatching foul balls away from kids. For something completely different: A fan caught a ball autographed by Hakeem, and gave it to a kid.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Brian Kelly is entering his fifth season as the Notre Dame head coach after winning 21 games over the last two years.
His fifth season will be a fascinating tour de force for a variety of reasons. First, he had to rebuild his staff after both coordinators left to take head coaching jobs. Mike Denbrock takes over as offensive coordinator after Chuck Martin left for Miami (Ohio) and Brian VanGorder is calling the shots on defense as Bob Diaco accepted the UConn head coaching gig.
And quarterback Everett Golson is back under center. Four other starters return on offense and five return to the defense with a host of elite youngsters ready to step into bigger roles. On a team one year removed from playing in the national championship game, Kelly knows that expectations are sky high at a program that demands excellence.
Just like 2012, should the Irish return to the national championship picture in ‘14, they will have earned it. Notre Dame’s schedule is once again one of the toughest in the nation and will feature marquee national showdowns against bowl teams nearly every weekend.
Buckle up, South Bend.
|1.||Aug. 30||South Bend, IN|
|2.||Sept. 6||South Bend, IN|
|3.||Sept. 13||Indianapolis, IN|
|5.||Sept. 27||East Rutherford, NJ|
|6.||Oct. 4||South Bend, IN|
|7.||Oct. 11||South Bend, IN|
|8.||Oct. 18||at||Tallahassee, FL|
|10.||Nov. 1||Landover, MD|
|11.||Nov. 8||at||Tempe, AZ|
|12.||Nov. 15||South Bend, IN|
|13.||Nov. 22||South Bend, IN|
|14.||Nov. 29||at||Los Angeles, CA|
2014 Notre Dame Schedule Analysis
Home away from home
One of the most noticeable aspects to the Fighting Irish's ’14 slate is where the games will be played. Notre Dame has only three true road games all season but all three will be absolute battles. The Irish visit Florida State on Oct. 18, Arizona State on Nov. 8 and USC in the season finale. Otherwise, the Irish will play Purdue in Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), Syracuse in New Jersey (MetLife Stadium) and Navy in Maryland (FedEx Field). That leaves six true home games for Brian Kelly’s bunch — all of which are winnable and should feature a point spread in the Irish’s favor with the possible exception of Stanford.
Get work done early
The great news for the Irish is that the first four games of the year appear to be very manageable. In fact, the first month of the season will feature three of the easiest games on the slate, a home date with Michigan and a bye weekend. All of this should help ease Golson, a potentially reworked offensive line and a new D-line into the starting lineup. Kelly and his team need to make headway in the first month of the season because once Stanford comes to town on Oct. 4, there isn’t really a break to be had with the exception of the off weekend at the end of October.
First romp through the ACC
Gone are traditional rivals Michigan State, Army and Pitt form the schedule. While the Panthers will eventually return to the slate through the ACC rotation, the Spartans (and soon the Wolverines as well) had to take a back seat to the Notre Dame's new conference partnership. Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville will be the first four ACC bouts this fall and commissioner John Swofford didn’t do the Irish any favors. A visit to the defending champs comes on the (ahem) Heels of playing North Carolina at home and will be as high profile and difficult a game the Irish have had since facing Alabama for the national title. Louisville welcomes back head coach Bobby Petrino and could be the top challenger to FSU in the ACC Atlantic Division. It will be an interesting first trip through ACC country this fall for the Irish.
Pac-12 round robin
The Fighting Irish will play three of the top five teams from the Pac-12. Notre Dame has long played West Coast rivals USC and Stanford. But Stanford is better today than it has ever been in program history and the Trojans are welcoming a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian. In addition to two of the best programs from the Pac-12, Notre Dame also will have to play Arizona State, the defending South Division champs, in Tempe. Two of those — Arizona State and USC — will take place on the road. When projecting win totals for the Irish, it is likely Notre Dame will lose two of three in the three-game set with the Pac-12. Should Notre Dame win two of those, a “BCS” bowl or playoff spot may be an outside possibility.
Enjoy the down time
The off weekends come at solid times. The first comes two weeks before Stanford and the week before Notre Dame has to leave the state of Indiana for the time. The first off weekend will be critical as the Irish will play four straight following the extra week, including the defending ACC and Pac-12 champions. The second off weekend comes right after a brutal road trip to Tallahassee. Having two weeks to lick their potential wounds after facing the Seminoles and to prepare for the always difficult Navy triple option could be a huge benefit for Kelly’s squad. Especially, considering the final month of the season is loaded with elite coaches and talented offenses.
For Michigan State, reaching the Final Four is almost a birthright.
For Virginia, reaching the Final Four has been a long time coming.
Of course, neither can seal a trip in Friday’s Sweet 16 game, but that’s just an illustration of the different pressures for the two teams meeting in New York City.
Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t want to be the first seniors to play every year for Tom Izzo and miss the Final Four. Meanwhile, Virginia, once a Tournament regular, hasn’t been to the national semifinals since 1984.
With both Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett taking veteran teams into Madison Square Garden for the regional, the sense of history isn’t lost on either group.
“I'm going to have a chance to get to another one unless I get fired this week, but some of the seniors don't have a chance,” Izzo said. “I really believe that's their ownership in it.”
Time: 10 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Virginia 58-54
Braden Gall: Michigan State 68-66
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-50
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 74-64
If Virginia was seemed like an easy upset pick, either due to the Cavaliers’ lack of recent NCAA Tournament success or the slow pace of play, they didn’t show it in the first week. The Cavaliers demolished Memphis in the round of 32 with a balanced offensive attack that yielded five double-digit scorers.
How Michigan State got here:
Remember all that injury talk from February and early March? Other than Keith Appling’s wrist, that’s not an issue. Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware and Branden Dawson scored 26 against Harvard. Michigan State is in as good a shape as it has been in months. Even if that’s not perfect — Appling's injury is no small matter — the Spartans have been good enough to get this far with an opportunity advance deeper into the Tournament.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Iowa State-UConn | Louisville-Kentucky
Key for Virginia to get to the Elite Eight: Joe Harris in the clutch
One of the great stories for Virginia this season is how the Cavaliers were able to win the ACC even though Joe Harris hasn’t been their top player (that would be Malcolm Brogdon). Harris, though, has averaged 14.8 points in the last five games thanks to timely 3-pointers. If Virginia is indeed a Final Four contender, Harris and Brogdon need to be a 1-2 punch.
Key for Michigan State to get to the Elite Eight: Adreian Payne’s game
Does anyone have an answer for what Adreian Payne can do? The 6-11 senior can post up and hit 3-point shots. Virginia is an elite offensive team, but the Cavaliers and forward Akil Mitchell haven’t faced many mismatches like this. If Payne is anywhere close to his 41-point form from the round of 64, Virginia is going to have trouble.
Player to watch: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling’s wrist remains an issue. The point guard attempted two shots against Harvard, four against Delaware and four in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan. Even if his wrist isn’t full healthy at any point during the NCAA Tournament, his limitations might limit Michigan State’s ability to advance.
Take note, college football, this is what you were missing from your postseason before the playoff took over.
The state of Kentucky is a state of Alabama of sorts for college basketball. Just as Alabama and Auburn accounted for every national title from 2009-12, Louisville and Kentucky have enjoyed a similar, but shorter, streak with the Bluegrass State claiming the last two national championships.
But along the way, Kentucky defeated Louisville in a Final Four game in 2012, and now the two will meet in the Sweet 16. That’s two postseason meetings in the last three seasons. Just ask anyone in Kentucky if that’s diminished the regular season meeting.
“People grieve for a year after the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “People celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work.”
Not now, when the stakes have been higher in the last three seasons, with both teams capable of winning national championships.
“There's no way around it,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “But at the end of the day they're right, it's much bigger than a rivalry. It's a Sweet 16 game.”
Time: 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 68-62
Braden Gall: Louisville 70-64
Mitch Light: Louisville 68-61
Nathan Rush: Louisville 73-70
Louisville’s two games in the NCAA Tournament haven’t been pretty for a team that has look of the national title contender. Manhattan, coached by Rick Pitino disciple Steve Masiello, was able to counter Louisville possession by possession. The Saint Louis win in the round of 32 was a sloppy, offense-optional 66-51 win.
How Kentucky got here here:
Kentucky is finally starting to look like the kind of team projected as a national title contender in the preseason. James Young started hitting shots, and Andrew and Aaron Harrison played their best game of the season against Wichita State in the round of 32. Continue that, and Kentucky can keep playing in the Tournament.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Iowa State-UConn | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Louisville to get to the Elite Eight: Russ Smith getting his game together
Rick Pitino was frustrated with his star guard after the first weekend of the Tournament with good reason. Smith turned the ball over 13 times in two games while shooting 6 of 19 from the floor. The senior is only four games removed from scoring 42 points in a game against Houston and six games from 13 assists against UConn. If anyone can turn things around in a matter of days, it’s Smith.
Key for Kentucky to get to the Elite Eight: Prove the Wichita State game wasn’t a fluke
Kentucky underachieved for most of the season before facing an undefeated Wichita State team in the round of 32. The game was as hotly contested as any Elite Eight or Final Four game for most of the second half, and Kentucky was able to escape with the 78-76 win thanks to a handful of non-Julius Randle freshmen playing their best game of the year. Perhaps the best thing to sustain this momentum is to face a rival in the Sweet 16.
Player to watch: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
The Cardinals forward has been on a hot streak since late February, but he’s faced few frontcourts like that of Kentucky. If Harrell can be a double-double type player against Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein — Harrell had only six points and four rebounds in the first meeting — Louisville will have a good chance to win.
The careers of Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie have been connected nearly from the start.
On Friday, they’ll meet in the Sweet 16, the first trip to the regional semifinal for both coaches.
The pair met in high school when they took a visit to Arizona. Then-coach Lute Olson offered a one scholarship to the first of the pair who would take it. Neither did. Hoiberg went to Iowa State while Ollie went to Connecticut. After their careers, they carved out niches in the NBA as bench players, playing on the same Chicago Bulls team in 2001-02.
When Hoiberg retired and joined the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office, Minnesota signed Ollie in his second-to-last season.
Now, both returned to their alma maters to meet in the NCAA Tournament.
“Listen, Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around, me for 10, him for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was,” Hoiberg said. “That's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step.”
Ollie was just as complimentary, but the two coaches will have to wait until Friday to root for each other again.
“It's always tough coaching against one of your great friends,” Ollie said. “But at the end of the day we are both competitors, we both love our university, and once we get in those lines, you pretty much don't have any friends.”
Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Iowa State 82-77
Braden Gall: Iowa State 77-69
Mitch Light: Iowa State 82-77
Nathan Rush: UConn 70-69
North Carolina collapsed late to help Iowa State to an 85-83 win. Without Georges Niang in the lineup, DeAndre Kane took over to score 24 points against the Tar Heels. Iowa State is generally a versatile offensive team, with guards able to play close to the basket and forwards able to take shots from the perimeter. Niang was a valuable piece in that attack.
What Connecticut did to get here:
Shabazz Napier can take over, earning more Kemba Walker comparisons every time UConn wins another postseason game. He scored 24 points against Saint Joseph’s and 25 against Villanova to power UConn to the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Louisville-Kentucky | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Iowa State to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on DeAndre Kane
The senior who transferred for his senior year at Iowa State has carried the Cyclones for stretches this season. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer who has also proven to be a key performer in tight moments in the postseason. With Niang out, more is on Kane’s shoulders.
Key for Connecticut to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on Shabazz Napier
Perhaps it’s too easy to distill this game to the two superstar point guards, but that matchup is even more pronounced for UConn. While Melvin Ejim can take charge for Iowa State if Kane’s not the guy, UConn has no such option. It’s Napier or bust in the postseason.
Player to watch: Monte Morris, Iowa State
The Cyclones freshman point guard is one of the most sure-handed players in the Sweet 16 with the ball in his hands. His 5.2-to-1 mark is one of the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’s also learned how to score in recent games with 11 points per game in his last four.
Transformation is one of the key words for both Michigan and Tennessee as they reached the Sweet 16.
The top players for both teams have transformed themselves from last season. Michigan's Nik Stauskas added muscle to make him much more than a spot-up jump shooter. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes lost 10 pounds to become a more mobile and versatile big man.
But beyond individuals, both teams had to transform through the course of the season.
Michigan expected to have forward Mitch McGary, a breakout player during last year’s run to the national championship game, but back injuries knocked him out for the season before Big Ten play began. And Tennessee was one of the most inconsistent teams in the SEC before finally putting up results that reflected the Volunteers’ statistical production on both sides of the court.
“That's the great thing about a long season, anything can happen, trying to gel lineups and personnel, getting guys to play better and strengthen your bench,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “There are a lot of things that go on through the course of a season.”
And for Michigan and Tennessee, two teams that started the New Year in different places, those changes mean both are on the same footing for a regional final.
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Tennessee 65-62
Mitch Light: Michigan 77-69
Nathan Rush: Michigan 80-75
Michigan hasn’t been tested in two NCAA Tournament games against Wofford and Texas. The Wolverines have been most impressive from the 3-point line, shooting a combined 21 of 45 from long range in two games.
How Tennessee got here:
Tennessee closed the regular season playing its best basketball, a trait that has continued from the First Four into the Sweet 16. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds since the start of the Tournament, giving Tennessee the most dominant big man of the first week.
Sweet 16 Previews
Iowa State-UConn | Louisville-Kentucky | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Michigan to get to the Elite Eight: Lights out shooting
Michigan is a strong perimeter team with Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The Wolverines ranked sixth nationally by shooting 39.8 percent while taking a high volume of long-range shots. Beating Tennessee around the rim will be tough, so the outside shots will need to fall.
Key for Tennessee to get to the Elite Eight: Let Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon take over
Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have been solid since Michigan lost Mitch McGary early in the season with a back injury, but they’ll have to take on the top frontcourt duo in the Sweet 16 in Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The pair is a force in the paint that will be tough to contain by Michigan’s smaller lineup.
Player to watch: Josh Richardson, Tennessee
Richardson has emerged to average 19.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-6 guard can also play standout defense, which will be key against Michigan’s guards.
All year, it seems Arizona has been waiting for one thing or another to catch up to the Wildcats to prevent them from making a deep run in the postseason.
First, the injury to veteran forward Brandon Ashley was supposed to hamper Arizona. Then, the Wildcats’ poor free throw shooting was going to be the liability.
If Thursday’s 70-64 win over San Diego State proved anything, Arizona can continue to win under less than perfect conditions all the way to the Elite Eight.
The Aztecs opened the first half in a drastic reversal of the first meeting between these two Western powers, when San Diego State lost 69-60 on Nov. 14.
Dwayne Polee, whom coach Steve Fisher left on the bench in that first game, scored 13 points. Led by Josh Davis, San Diego State dominated the glass early. The Aztecs had nine offensive rebounds through the entirety of their first meeting, but 10 in the first half of the Sweet 16.
On Arizona’s side, Wildcats star guard Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots from the field, and Kaleb Tarczewski picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. San Diego State led by 4 at the half and by as much as 6 early in the second half.
San Diego State played one of its best games of the year, but Arizona found a way.
An athletic dunk by Aaron Gordon, one of the top freshmen still playing in the Tournament, was part of an Arizona rally that brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit.
Johnson capped the game by making his final two shots, including a 3-pointer. More important, for a team that struggles at the line, Johnson was 10 of 10 on free throws.
Johnson’s free throw prowess was one of the few perfect performances in the Sweet 16 for Arizona, but it was enough.
Arizona's athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit against San Diego State with this ridiculous alley oop and dunk.
If the video isn't enough, check the still frames.
WHAT?! pic.twitter.com/K0MP8IBPnQ— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 28, 2014
Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day at Texas A&M was easily the most-watched in NFL history, thanks to NFL Network’s live coverage and America’s insatiable appetite for all things Johnny Football. College Station hosted a who’s who of Lone Star State dignitaries — including former President George H.W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and Governor Rick Perry (an A&M alum) — as well as representatives from 30 of 32 NFL franchises. But it could have been so much more entertaining. Here are four things we wish had happened at Johnny Pro Day’s big day.
1. Johnny Manziel had worn a Houston Texans helmet
Unlike most prospects who work out in a tee-shirt and shorts on their Pro Day, Manziel wore a matte black helmet and black No. 2 jersey with pads on underneath — because, as he told Gil Brandt, “Isn’t the game played with them on?” Instead of generic gear, the Kerrville, Texas, native should have broken out a Houston Texans helmet. His fans would have loved it, he would have put the spotlight back on himself as a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick and he could have trolled the internet trolls who love to bash him. Plus, he’s already threatened the Texans:
“It would be the worst decision they ever made,” Manziel told The Houston Chronicle, of the Texans not selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick. “I want them to say absolutely, without a doubt, with 100 percent certainty, that I’m who they want. I want everybody from the janitor at Reliant Stadium to the front office executive assistant all the way up to (owner) Bob McNair to say, ‘This kid is 100 percent, can’t miss. This is who we want being the face of our program. We want the Texas kid staying in Texas and leading the Texans.’”
2. Jacksonville Jaguars WRs replaced Mike Evans
As usual, the Heisman Trophy winner shined as the main event in the three-ring circus, completing 61-of-64 passes in the scripted workout, including two dropped “catchable” balls and one caught pass out of bounds. But he was completing passes to his own guys, which included stud Aggie wideout Mike Evans — a 6’5”, 231-pounder with 4.5 speed and the potential to be a top-10 pick in his own right. But that’s unrealistic. What if Johnny Jaguar goes No. 3 overall to Jacksonville and has to play pitch-and-catch with London’s favorite receivers? Manziel probably wouldn’t have completed 95 percent of his Pro Day passes with Jaguars as targets, even against a defense of thin air.
3. Cleveland Browns sent LeBron James to scout
The Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns were reportedly the only two teams in the NFL that did not send a scout, assistant, coach or executive to take a first-hand look at A&M’s Pro Day. Obviously, Chicago has big money locked up at QB and WR. But Cleveland? Not only do the Browns own the Nos. 4 and 26 overall picks, but one of Johnny Famous’ celebrity friends is a former (fictional) member of the Dawg Pound. LeBron James could have represented Ohio. After all, the Heat had an off day on Thursday and King James was obviously watching (and Tweeting) about all the action.
4. Barbara Bush’s dogs were pit bulls, not Maltipoos
First Lady (and First Mother?) Barbara Bush took her family dogs for a high-profile walk on the field at the Pro Day. The two Maltipoos — light brown Bibi and white Mini Me — also sat with President Bush and the First Lady in their golf cart on the sidelines during the on-field drills. But how much more intimidating would it have been had Mrs. Bush’s dogs been pit bulls? Or bulldogs? Or Doberman Pinschers? Barbara Bush’s tenacity is legendary. Will Ferrell as George W. Bush told us all about her toughness during the HBO special “You’re Welcome, America.” Don’t let the Maltipoos mislead you. There’s a reason both her husband and son rose to President of the United States. With Barbara Bush on his side, Johnny Football too could go all the way to the top.
The best way for Wisconsin to prove this Badgers team is different was the kind of game that encouraged viewers to tune out.
Wisconsin has struggled to advance in the NCAA Tournament in the past thanks in part to a methodical offense that hit a snag in the second round or Sweet 16.
|Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament|
|Year||UW Seed||Lost in..||To..|
|2013||5||Round of 64||12 Ole Miss|
|2012||4||Sweet 16||1 Syracuse|
|2011||4||Sweet 16||8 Butler|
|2010||4||Round of 32||12 Cornell|
|2009||12||Round of 32||4 Xavier|
|2008||3||Sweet 16||10 Davidson|
|2007||2||Round of 32||7 UNLV|
|2006||8||Round of 64||8 Arizona|
|2005||6||Elite Eight||1 North Carolina|
|2004||6||Round of 32||3 Pittsburgh|
|2003||5||Sweet 16||1 Kentucky|
Not this time. Wisconsin demolished Baylor from beginning to end in a 69-52 win to send the Badgers to their first Elite Eight since 2005. Wisconsin led 18-8 early and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin hinted at it for most of the season, but the Sweet 16 win was further proof of this year’s Wisconsin team isn’t the same as the ones that stalled in the NCAA Tournament during most of Bo Ryan’s tenure.
Wisconsin picked apart the Baylor zone, the same that stymied Creighton and eventual national player of the year Doug McDermott in the round of 64. When Baylor finally switched to man-to-man in the first half, it made little difference.
Wisconsin’s ball movement was crisp as the Badgers picked up 18 assists on 26 field goals. The Badgers shot 52 percent from the floor, including 8 of 11 by Frank Kaminsky in his matchup against pro prospect Isaiah Austin.
That’s only part of the big picture of the best offensive team of the Ryan era. Wisconsin has topped 70 points per game for the first time since 2007 and hitting its top scoring average since 1994-95.
Entering Thursday, Wisconsin’s 37.6 percent shooting from 3 is the Badgers best since 2005. Wisconsin’s 51.5 percent shooting from 2-point range is its best since 2003. Ryan’s teams rarely turn the ball over, but the Badgers have their lowest turnover rate of the Ryan era.
The next game will be against a strong defensive team — either Arizona or San Diego State — but Wisconsin’s turnaround may lead to something else the Badgers haven’t done in a long time, reach the FInal Four.
Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll dominate the most shocking confessions in sports history — which range from life-or-death to too much information to inconsequential yet unnerving.
1. Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement
The 32-year-old smiling face of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, Magic was a larger-than-life, five-time NBA champion and 11-time All-Star when he held a press conference on Nov. 7, 1991 to announce his intentions to leave the NBA after discovering that he had contracted HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The subsequent shockwaves of the news reverberated throughout the world — not just the world of sports — as the seemingly invincible superhero Magic Johnson became the exceedingly vulnerable human Earvin Johnson. Thankfully, Johnson remains healthy at age 54 and has a reported net worth of $500 million.
2. O.J. Simpson’s “If I Did It” book
The O.J. Simpson murder “Trial of the Century” captivated the nation from the Ford Bronco chase on June 17, 1994, until the not-guilty verdict was read on Oct. 3, 1995. As lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran famously (infamously?) said, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” But that didn’t stop the Juice from penning a 2006 novel depicting a “fictional” account of the murders ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Rightfully infuriated, the Goldman family took O.J. to court and were awarded the rights to the book as part of their wrongful death civil trial settlement.
3. Tiger Woods’ apology press conference
“Hey, it’s Tiger. I need you to do a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. Just have it as a number on the voicemail. You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye.” That was a voicemail that could have been received by any porn star or Perkins waitress across the country following Tiger’s Thanksgiving weekend 2009 car wreck, when his web of lies and mistresses unraveled. Tiger overly scripted apology press conference was tame compared to the shock value provided by leaked voicemails and text messages — not to mention the parade of bleached out bimbos.
4. Lance Armstrong’s Oprah interview
Anyone who follows cycling could not have been shocked by Armstrong’s admission of blood doping en route to his champagne reign of seven consecutive victories (1999-2005) in the Tour de France. But since almost no one stateside follows the sport and Armstrong had been so steadfast in his denial — following a well-publicized battle with cancer and an extremely popular charitable “Livestrong” campaign, complete with trendy yellow bracelets (which happen to be the same color as the yellow jersey awarded the Tour de France leader and/or champion) — many Americans felt cheated and betrayed when Lance gave an unapologetic confession to Oprah in Jan. 2013.
5. Tim Tebow’s SEC Media Day sermon
Through both hype and hyperbole, Southeastern Conference football has been described as a religion by many who worship the greatest college football league the universe has ever been blessed enough to witness. But take a three-step drop back for perspective’s sake and there is actual religion, a subject which Tebow — a devout Christian unafraid to spread the gospel — has never been shied away from. Tebow’s beliefs and values were thrust into the spotlight during the circus of SEC Media Days in 2009, when shock jock Clay Travis asked the Heisman Trophy winner if he was indeed a virgin. Yes he is/was. He is/was waiting until marriage. Given the talent in the Gator Nation, that’s a shocker.
6. Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend Deadspin exposé
“Never has there been a tale of more woe, than this of Lennay Kekua and her Te’o.” Shakespeare wrote that, I think. Tragically, Te’o’s girlfriend, Kekua, was a catfish story created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. She never existed. She didn’t go to Stanford. She didn’t die of cancer. And Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy runner-up middle linebacker did not honor her through his play on the gridiron. The narrative told and retold by news outlets of note such as Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, was exposed by Brett Favre’s favorite blog Deadspin, in a mind-blowing piece of well-written, in-depth, actually researched journalism.
7. Michael Sam’s Sports Illustrated story
The SEC Defensive Player of the Year isn’t a BMOC self-proclaimed virgin and doesn’t have an AWOL imaginary girlfriend. Nope. Sam is just an ordinary gay man who happens to play football. That’s not so shocking, at least not to most iPhone-carrying, Netflix-watching modern Americans. But Peter King was freaked out. What would Bill Parcells have thought in 1989? King quoted unnamed knuckle-dragging league sources when SI and MMQB broke the news in February 2014, jumping the gun on a story that was groundbreaking but not nearly as shocking as Sam’s slow-motion 4.91 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
8. Hollywood Henderson’s Super Bowl party
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson co-authored, along with Peter Knobler, an autobiography appropriately entitled “Out of Control.” The highlight (lowlight?) of the book is Hollywood’s admission of using a cocaine-laced inhaler on the Dallas Cowboys sideline at the Orange Bowl during a Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I pulled out my inhaler. The Orange Bowl holds about 80,000 screaming fans, plus there were about 200 million watching worldwide on TV, and there I was on the sideline taking a couple of major snorts in front of them all,” Henderson said. “We lost that day. I lost that day. I was out of control.”
9. Andre Agassi’s phony ponytail tell-all
Another autobiographical tale, so to speak, was told in Agassi’s book, “Open.” The eight-time Grand Slam champion tennis star, Nike spokesman and Canon camera shooter discussed the dark days of meth use and dating Barbara Streisand. But the most disturbing admission of the rebel from Las Vegas was that his famed punk ponytail was actually a fake attachment to whatever baseball cap he was wearing. He wore wigs during the 1990s while simultaneously being known for his long, crazy hair. Double-fault. No soft tennis clapping for this shocking confession. Hopefully it’s a lie about a lie used as a marketing ploy just to sell books.
10. Will Muschamp’s love of Nickelback
“I listen to Nickelback. Although I couldn’t name a song,” Muschamp said during a Monday press conference on Sept. 30, 2013. This news came after the Florida Gators coach was accused of just such musical treason on ESPN’s College GameDay, when a Tennessee Volunteers fan held up a sign that simply declared: “Will Muschamp Listens To Nickelback.” At the time, we all laughed. That’s funny. Of course no self-respecting, Gator-chomping, jorts-wearing, domestic beer-drinking HEAD FOOTBALL COACH would ever listen to the Canadian band that has sold more than 50 million albums to the lowest common denominator. So what’s worse? Posting a 22–16 record at one of the best jobs in the nation — or listening to Nickelback?
After Mercer got the best of Duke and Jabari Parker, the Blue Devils’ star freshman told reporters he his college career was “incomplete.”
Parker, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, could have picked few words more loaded than “incomplete.”
Beyond Parker, though, incomplete would be the best way to grade the performance of a class of freshmen that’s the best since at least 2008, and perhaps the best of the one-and-done era.
A senior forward from the state of Montana got the best of Andrew Wiggins. Parker couldn’t find a way to score consistently against the Atlantic Sun champions from Macon, Ga. And Tyler Ennis never found his shot against one of the last teams in the field from the Atlantic 10.
If this was to be the year of superstar freshmen, it sure found an interesting way to stage its endgame.
Fred VanVleet’s 3-point attempt ensured the rookies from Kentucky would continue to advance. Otherwise, the major freshman contributions in this year’s Sweet 16 would be led by Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and a handful of freshmen who aren’t their team’s best two, three or four best players.
One of the major storylines of the season was the cast of talented freshmen across the country — from Duke to Kentucky to Kansas to Arizona. This year’s freshman class occupies the top four spots on DraftExpress’ top 100 and six of the top seven for ESPN’s Chad Ford.
Beyond Kentucky and Arizona, the freshman class didn’t translate draft prospects to postseason success. If this was the Year of Freshmen, the results may not be borne out in the Final Four.
No more Jabari Parker. No Andrew Wiggins. No Tyler Ennis. With a back injury, Joel Embiid didn’t make it to the conference tournament, and his team didn’t last long enough to see if he’d return in time for the Sweet 16. Embiid declared for the NBA Draft before the second weekend of the Tourney even began.
Indeed, if freshmen are to lead teams to the Final Four, it’s more than likely going to be in a secondary role ... unless Kentucky reaches Monday night.
|Top Freshmen in Sweet 16 (by minutes played)|
|1. Aaron Harrison||Kentucky||32.4||14.1||2 apg|
|2. James Young||Kentucky||32.3||14.2||4.3 apg|
|3. Andrew Harrison||Kentucky||31.4||10.9||3.8 apg|
|4. Aaron Gordon||Arizona||30.8||12.4||7.8 rpg|
|5. Julius Randle||Kentucky||30.6||14.8||10.5 rpg|
|6. London Perrantes||Virginia||29.9||5.5||3.8 apg|
|7. Monte Morris||Iowa State||27.9||6.6||3.7 apg|
|8. Derrick Walton||Michigan||26.6||8.1||2.8 apg|
|9. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson||Arizona||25.0||8.9||5.7 rpg|
|10. Zach LaVine||UCLA||24.4||9.9||2.6 rpg|
The 2013 MLB season included the Boston Red Sox going from worst in the AL East in 2012 to World Series champions, the Pittsburgh Pirates breaking their record streak of 20 straight losing seasons and the Cleveland Indians improving their win total by 24 games.
Every season there always seems to be a few teams that defy expectations, so there’s no reason to expect anything different in 2014. While there’s no guarantee that said improvement will result in a World Series appearance, let alone a postseason berth, here are some teams that could be a part of the playoff discussion come August and September.
Los Angeles Angels
Take out the Angels’ horrendous start (9-17 in April) to last season and a rough beginning to the second half of their slate (4-9 in first 13 games after All-Star break) and the end result is a 65-58 record. What’s more, other than April and July, the Angels outscored their opposition by 50 runs (527 scored, 477 allowed) the other four months. Only six American League teams finished the season with a better run differential.
So what’s the reason for optimism when it comes to the other team that calls Los Angeles home you ask? For starters, there’s Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game at the ripe age of just 22 years old. But Trout can’t do it alone, which is why it’s critical that former MVPs Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton do their part at the plate. Age isn’t on the side of this duo, but provided Pujols and Hamilton can stay healthy they should be able to surpass last season’s combined totals of 122 runs, 38 home runs and 143 RBIs fairly easily.
While the offense had its issues in 2013, pitching was more of the problem, as the team’s starters posted a collective ERA of 4.30. Jered Weaver, who missed time due to a fractured elbow, and C.J. Wilson are back to front the rotation and have been joined by young lefthanders Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. This duo was part of the three-team trade in December that saw slugger Mark Trumbo wind up in Arizona with outfielder Adam Eaton going to the Chicago White Sox.
And while the Angels will certainly need to stay healthy in order to have their best product on the field, the team has already benefitted to a degree from the misfortune that has struck division rivals Oakland and Texas. The A’s have lost ace Jarrod Parker to Tommy John surgery while the Rangers have been beset by a slew of injuries during spring training – ranging from Derek Holland’s freak accident that led to microfracture surgery on his knee to Jurickson Profar’s torn shoulder muscle (out 10-12 weeks) to ace Yu Darvish’s stiff neck, which will cause him to miss his Opening Day start, at minimum. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Angels have already gotten a decent dose of the former.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals went 86-76 last season, thanks to a strong 43-27 second half. This team is young, headlined by several rising stars at different positions and has a chance to be even better on the mound in 2014. That’s saying something considering Kansas City led the AL with a 3.45 team ERA last season.
On offense, first baseman Eric Hosmer, left fielder Alex Gordon, catcher Salvador Perez and designated hitter Bully Butler form the core of a lineup that could end up being one of deepest and most productive in the majors. During the offseason, the team added right fielder and leadoff man Norichika Aoki via trade and signed free agent second baseman Omar Infante. Couple their production with any sort of improvement from the likes of shortstop Alcides Escobar, third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain and this has the makings of a lineup that should score plenty of runs a variety of ways.
James Shields headlines a starting rotation that swapped Ervin Santana (9-10, 3.24 ERA in 2013) for lefty Jason Vargas and also includes reliable innings eater Jeremy Guthrie, veteran Bruce Chen and young fireballer Yordano Ventura. The bullpen (2.55 ERA) was second only to Atlanta’s in the majors with closer Greg Holland (47 saves, 1.21 ERA) leaving little doubt at the end of games. While the pen will miss Luke Hochevar (Tommy John surgery), there are no lack of options to take his place with setup guys Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and young lefty Danny Duffy waiting in the wings.
The Royals went 44-32 against AL Central foes last season. Provided the pitching doesn’t take a major step back, the offense could improve enough to produce a few more wins, which could find this young team in the thick of the playoff chase come September.
The Brewers finished 14 games below .500 last season, but also were missing 2011 MVP Ryan Braun for nearly two thirds of the campaign while third baseman Aramis Ramirez played in just 92 games. Both will be back this season and even though right fielder and leadoff man Norichika Aoki was traded to Kansas City, the team is high on young left fielder Khris Davis, who hit 11 home runs in just 136 at-bats in his first taste of major-league action. With Braun and Ramirez teaming up with center fielder Carlos Gomez, shortstop Jean Segura and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers’ offense should be much more dangerous than last year’s lineup that finished eighth in the National League in runs and sixth in home runs.
The key to Milwaukee’s fortunes in 2014 is its starting rotation. Last year, the Brewers’ starters posted a 4.20 ERA, but this group has been bolstered by the addition of Matt Garza via free agency. Garza went 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA in two-plus seasons with the Chicago Cubs and the 30-year-old should get even more offensive support as a Brewer in his return to the NL. If Yovani Gallardo can prove that last season’s disappointing campaign is the exception and not the norm and youngster Wily Peralta can continue his development, Milwaukee’s rotation could end up being quite deep with veteran Kyle Lohse and promising Marco Estrada rounding out the staff.
If Braun can prove that he’s the same MVP-caliber hitter he was before his embarrassing 100-game Biogenesis-related suspension, then the Brewers’ lineup has the pieces to make some noise at the plate. If the rotation can step up and take advantage of this run support and the bullpen maintains its level of performance, then the Brewers could fill the same role that Pittsburgh did in 2013 and be the surprise team in the NL Central this season.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays finished last in the AL East in 2013 with a 74-88 record. Injuries and pitching were largely to blame, as Toronto’s 4.81 ERA from its starting rotation was next to last in the majors (Minnesota). While there are still certainly question marks in this area, the hope is that 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey will fare better in his second season in the AL while Brandon Morrow looks to show he’s healthy and recovered from a forearm issue that limited him to just 54 innings last season. The Jays also are hoping that righties Dustin McGowan and Drew Hutchinson can help stabilize the back end of the rotation, something that was a major weakness in 2013.
The real reason I am somewhat bullish on Toronto’s chances in 2014, however, is because of what this team has the potential to do at the plate. As bad as the pitching was last season, the Jays finished with a run differential of just minus-44. Even though the pitchers surrendered 756 runs, the fourth-most in MLB, the offense plated 712 (ninth).
What’s even more impressive about this number is the fact that slugger Jose Bautista played in just 118 games, while leadoff man Jose Reyes saw action in only 93. The Jays also got little production from catcher and second base, as the two positions combined for a .230 batting average. Entering Opening Day, Bautista appears healthy and has been hitting the cover off of the ball in spring training, although Reyes has been slowed by a nagging hamstring injury.
Still with Bautista raking, he and fellow slugger Edwin Encarnacion (.272-36-104 in 2013) should form a formidable heart of the order, which also will hopefully include a healthy Reyes as the catalyst, reliable Adam Lind (.288, 23 HRs) and Colby Rasmus’ power (22 HRs, .501 SLG) at the bottom and the breakthrough season from Brett Lawrie that everyone has been waiting for these past few seasons.
A lot of things will have to break just right for Toronto to maximize its potential in 2014, but there also are a lot of pieces in place to like, especially in a division with so much uncertainty once you get past the Red Sox and Rays.
San Diego Padres
I must admit that I am not as keen on the Padres as I was when spring training started, as a rash of injuries have impacted their makeup. However, only one of these is of the season-ending variety to this point, so I will still make my case as to why I think San Diego could be a factor in the NL West all season long.
In 2013 the Padres finished 76-86 for the second straight season despite ranking 24th in the majors in runs scored. The primary reasons for this were twofold – they had a solid pitching staff (3.98 ERA, 20th in MLB) and thrived at Petco Park (45-36). The moves the team made in the offseason were relatively minor, but all with an eye towards shoring up weaknesses.
Pitcher Josh Johnson was signed to a one-year deal to help bolster a starting rotation that already included Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, lefty Eric Stults and the surprising Tyson Ross, who really came on late in the season. Joaquin Benoit was added to replace primary setup man Luke Gregerson, who was traded to Oakland for left-handed hitting outfielder Seth Smith.
With Johnson in tow and lefty Cory Luebke expected to return from Tommy John surgery, the Padres were putting together what could have been one of the deepest starting rotations in all of baseball. Unfortunately, Luebke reinjured his surgically repaired elbow and had to undergo a second Tommy John procedure in February, while Johnson is expected to miss between four to five weeks with a flexor strain in his right forearm.
San Diego still has some arms, but now it’s even more imperative for the offense to pick up the slack. Shortstop Everth Cabrera was an All-Star before missing 50 games because of his connection to the Biogenesis scandal, which also claimed catcher Yasmani Grandal as one of the punished participants. Both players need to put this embarrassment behind them and show they are still capable of being solid contributors at both the plate and in the field.
The key to the Padres’ offense is a bounce-back season from third baseman Chase Headley, who already has been limited in spring training by a calf injury, along with the continued emergence of versatile outfielder Will Venable (22 HRs, 22 SBs) and the development of second-year slugging second baseman Jedd Gyorko (23 HRs in 486 AB). First baseman Yonder Alonso also needs to stay healthy and show no ill effects from a nagging hand injury that limited him to just 97 games in 2013.
No one is going to mistake this Padres team for the Dodgers, the clear-cut division favorites. However, if San Diego can catch a few breaks on the injury front, their young players continue to emerge, and a few of the veterans do their part, there’s no reason to think that the Padres can’t at least improve on last season’s showing. It’s not the like the Diamondbacks, Giants or Rockies don’t have their own injury-related issues or weaknesses of their own.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 13: Webb Simpson
Born: Aug. 8, 1985, Raleigh, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,957,582 (20th) | World Ranking: 21
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Webb Simpson had a very poor year on the greens in the majors in 2013, averaging almost 33 putts per round at both the U.S. and British Opens, but otherwise it was another solid campaign as Simpson finished 20th on the money list. Despite not having great length, Webb in his last three years has finished 17th, 16th and 1st in the All-Around statistic on tour, which is a good indicator of one's potential — although Webb still has a ways to go to live up to his.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T32
British Open - T64
PGA Championship - T25
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T44 (2012)
U.S. Open - 1 (2012)
British Open - T16 (2011)
PGA Championship - T25 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 3
Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 27.
• The latest NFL Game Day breakthrough: Through a new app you'll be able to order a cheerleader to your seat.
• Here's what dunking on LeBron sounds like. I would know first-hand, except for the restraining order.
• Jeff Fisher mic drop: If you wanna see a dunk, watch basketball.
• Tom Brady watched Boston firefighters do their work, then expressed his gratitude. In far less serious Brady news, Tara Reid says she had a fling with him, pre-Gisele and pre-plastic surgery.
• Bruce Pearl's candor is refreshing. It's nice to have him back.
• Some Internet prodigy did a mash-up of a police chase and the end of the Auburn-Alabama game. This is Al Gore's invention at its best.
• The latest in the UNC academic scandal: This 148-word paper on Rosa Parks, written at a fifth-grade level, got an A-minus.
• Mike Cammalleri tried to skate onto the ice for warm-ups without blades on his skates. It did not go well.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It only took two seasons for Mike Leach to turn a perennial Pac-12 doormat into a bowl team.
The Cougars went to three straight bowls from 2001-03 but hadn’t been back to the postseason since. Leach capped his first season with a remarkable comeback win over archrival Washington and that catapulted Washington State to its best record in a decade.
And, of course, he did it with a record-setting quarterback.
Connor Halliday returns under center in 2014 — now with expectations to not only reach the postseason but to win a bowl game and post a winning record. Halliday should have loads of weapons to work with in terms of pass-catchers and ball-carriers, as the top 13 receivers on the roster a year ago will be back this fall — 10 of which caught at least 25 passes. It’s protecting Halliday with three new linemen and establishing a running game that should be the focus of Leach and company this spring.
Improving the 102nd-ranked defense in the nation would help Washington State’s chances at making the postseason as well.
|Sept. 13||Portland State|
|Oct. 18||Bye Week|
|Nov. 15||Bye Week|
Washington State 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 27
Spring Game: April 29
Three Things to Watch in Washington State's 2014 Spring Practice
Replace three O-line starters
Leach will never build an offense that focuses on the running game but developing some sort of balance on offense would go a long way in helping Wazzu compete for Pac-12 titles. Not to mention, it would likely help keep his quarterback upright and healthy. And with four guys who started along the O-line departing the offense, this is a major area of concern this spring. Elliott Bosch is gone from the center position after receiving All-Pac-12 honors a year ago and guards John Fullington and Matt Goetz have moved on as well. Filling the void up the middle of the offensive line will be critical for the Cougars this spring. Joe Dahl got 13 starts a year ago and is expected to slide from guard to tackle in 2014. Gunnar Eklund was the team's left tackle in 2013, but he is taking Dahl's spot on the interior. Having Eklund and Dahl back this spring should help ease the transition there. Filling the voids around these two big bodies is really the only offensive question marks on this team.
Find leadership on defense
First-team All-Pac-12 safety Deone Bucannon led the Cougars in tackles (114) and was one of the best players in the nation at his position. Linebacker Justin Sagote was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 106 stops a year ago. Both are gone from a defense that wasn’t all that great a year ago. Leach’s teams have never been elite on this side of the ball but in the Pac-12, where quarterbacks and offensive playmakers reign supreme, some semblance of defensive fortitude would go a long way to make Washington State a contender. Names like defensive end Xavier Cooper (who led the team in sacks a year ago), linebackers Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen (the top two returning tacklers) and safety Taylor Taliulu will need to step into leadership roles this spring. Finding a voice in the defensive huddle that can lead and motivate is critical for a defense that needs improvement across the board.
Rebuild the secondary
There is good news and bad news with the Cougars' secondary. Three of the team’s top four cornerbacks have moved on, including all-league coverman Damante Horton. Two of the top three safeties are gone as well, with the loss of Bucannon being the biggest blow to the defense. That’s the bad news. The good, however, is that the WSU secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, ranking 112th in passing defense and 89th in pass efficiency defense. Daquawn Brown and Taliulu return with some experience but this unit needs to be addressed this spring in a league with elite quarterback play. Mitchell Peterson, Isaac Dotson and Tracy Clark need to take the next step in their development process during spring camp.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Leach is an excellent coach and a proven offensive commodity. In just two short seasons the Cougars have returned to West Coast relevance and are competing for postseason berths already. What’s more exciting is the amount of overall production returning to what was the fourth-best passing attack in the nation last year. The schedule offers plenty of opportunities to steal wins but the Cougars will play three of the top four teams from the South with the exception of UCLA. The out-of-conference slate could provide three wins if WSU can start hot and the Cougs should be more than capable of snagging three league wins. A second straight trip to the postseason should be the expectation in Pullman this spring.
The College Football Playoff Era doesn’t just ring in a new era of postseason football for Rutgers. It’s a complete overhaul.
The Scarlet Knights will play in their third different conference in three years after the defunct Big East gave birth to the American Athletic Conference. Life in the Big Ten will be an entirely different beast, however, as Rutgers has never faced the level of competition it will now be seeing week in and week out in the B1G.
Landing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State doesn’t help either. It means that Kyle Flood and his staff will have their work cut for themselves this spring as they prepare for the much deeper and more treacherous waters of the most lucrative league in the nation.
Getting nine starters back on offense is a big positive and there are a lot of developing names on defense, but this team will have to improve significantly across the board if it wants to return to the postseason as a Big Ten representative. Flood is hoping that a reworked coaching staff will provide the spark needed to compete at a higher level in '14.
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Rutgers Scarlet Knight 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 1
Spring Game: April 11
Three Things to Watch in Rutgers' 2014 Spring Practice
Find consistency under center
Kyle Flood totally overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, bringing in offensive guru Ralph Friedgen to run the offense. His first order of business is to find a stabilizing force under center for the Knights after a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions and just 22 touchdowns. This is why Flood has opened up the position battle this spring despite Gary Nova (2,159 yds, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) returning after starting most of last year (until the final three games). He will have to battle redshirt junior Mike Bimonte, redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin, and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Rankin is the most dynamic athlete of the bunch but Laviano might be the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pocket passer has impressed during his short time in Piscataway and could press Nova for starting duties should he develop quickly and take to the new offense this spring. Nova has a major experience edge but has been entirely too inconsistent. This position must improve if the Knights want to compete in the Big Ten.
Get back to pounding the football
Friedgen is known for his ability to develop a passer but that would be so much easier if this team could get back to running the football like it did under Greg Schiano. Rutgers ranked 100th in rushing offense nationally a year ago and was 106th in sacks allowed. So while all five starters return along the offensive line and three very capable backs return as well, this team must be more productive on the ground. Especially in a league known for pounding the rock on offense. The O-line needs to develop a killer instinct and the backs need to stay healthy. Should these two things happen in spring ball, it would allow time and creativity for both the quarterback and play-caller.
Shore up the secondary
The entire defense needs to continue to develop after a host of talented recruits got their feet wet a year ago. But this team was still 120th nationally in pass defense and 100th in pass efficiency defense last fall and something has to change in that department (especially, with Christian Hackenberg, Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Connor Halliday on the schedule). Lorenzo Waters is the lone returning starter at strong safety and the rest of the starting spots will be up for grabs this spring. Gareef Glashen, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi may be the leaders heading into spring at cornerback while new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will need to find some complementary pieces at safety. This unit was filled with inexperience last year and ideally that youth will develop during the offseason. At least, that is what Rossi and Flood are hoping anyway.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 4-6
Under Schiano, Rutgers blossomed from perennial bottom feeder to conference contender. That is a tough act to follow for anyone let alone for someone who hadn’t ever been a head coach in college — or a head coach of any kind since coaching high school ball in 1994. Flood has reeled in some good talent on the recruiting trail and has ushered in a totally new era of Rutgers football. However, if this team doesn’t show marked improvement in ’14 and continues its downward trajectory, he may not be around to bask in the glory of all that Big Ten money. And the schedule offers little breaks. The division slate is impossible and crossover play features arguably the top two teams from the West. Baring some minor miracles from Friedgen (which is totally possible), the first year of the playoff era could be a forgettable one for the State school of New Jersey.
Spring practice is underway for nearly all 128 college football teams, and the countdown to the 2014 season has officially started. There’s still a long way to go before August and the start of next year, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which players are ready for a big jump in production.
Predicting which receivers will have a breakout season is nearly impossible. With each team having a handful of options in the passing game, catches are often spread out and can also vary from game-to-game. And defensive coverage also plays a large role in how receivers will perform each week.
While this position is tough to peg in the preseason, there are plenty of possible breakout candidates. USC’s Nelson Agholor had a solid year in 2013, but he could be poised for an All-American season with Marqise Lee off to the NFL. Baylor’s Corey Coleman is another name to watch with the departure of Tevin Reese. Rutgers needs more consistency from its quarterbacks, but Leonte Carroo is a big-play threat and a receiver on the rise.
In addition to Miami's Stacy Coley, Agholor, Coleman and Carroo, here are a few other wide receivers that could be breakout stars in 2014.
15 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2014
Nelson Agholor, USC
Agholor earned a mention in this space last year, and he certainly impressed by catching 56 passes for 918 yards and six scores. While last season was a good year for Agholor, 2014 could be even better. With Marqise Lee gone, it’s Agholor’s turn to move into the No. 1 role in USC’s passing attack. Of course, the return of George Farmer and Steven Mitchell from injuries will factor into Agholor’s touches, but new coach Steve Sarkisian should get the Florida native involved early and often in 2014. In addition to his receiving totals, Agholor averaged 19.1 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. With Cody Kessler settled into the starting role, USC’s passing attack could be improved in 2014.
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
There’s a big question mark at quarterback for Rutgers, but if new coordinator Ralph Friedgen can find some stability under center, the Scarlet Knights have a promising group of receivers. And with Brandon Coleman turning pro, Carroo has opportunity to become a No. 1 receiver. He ranked as the No. 29 receiver in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 13 games as a true freshman. In 2013, Carroo was featured more prominently in the passing game, catching 28 passes for 478 yards and nine scores. Carroo’s 17.1 yards per catch average ranked No. 3 among receivers in the American Athletic Conference last year.
Sammie Coates, Auburn
Auburn led the nation in rushing last season, but with left tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason leaving for the NFL, the Tigers could use quarterback Nick Marshall’s right arm more in 2014. Marshall made a successful transition from junior college quarterback to a starter in the SEC and should be even better with another offseason under his belt. Coates was Marshall’s favorite target last year, catching 42 passes for 902 yards and seven scores. He also averaged a whopping 21.5 yards per catch and had three consecutive 100-yard games in the middle of the season. The average might dip with more receptions, but Coates is poised for a huge season.
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Antwan Goodley is clearly Baylor’s No. 1 target, but with the departure of speedster Tevin Reese, there’s an opportunity for Coleman or talented sophomore Robbie Rhodes to become an even bigger part of the passing attack in Waco. Coleman was the No. 35 ranked receiver by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and in his first taste of action last year, he caught 35 passes for 527 yards and two touchdowns. Baylor isn’t short on receivers, so Coleman may not make a huge jump in receptions this year. But considering his 15.1 yards per catch average, quarterback Bryce Petty could be frequently targeting the sophomore in 2014.
Stacy Coley, Miami
Coley became an instant contributor in the Miami passing attack as a true freshman in 2013. In 12 games, Coley caught 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Coley also averaged 17.9 yards per reception, which ranked No. 4 among ACC receivers with at least 30 catches in 2013. With Allen Hurns expiring his eligibility, the Pompano Beach native should be an even bigger factor in Miami’s passing game and should be a lock for All-ACC honors in 2014.
Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
North Carolina’s offense finished 2013 on a tear, averaging 40.6 points over the final seven games. Even though left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine will be missed, the Tar Heels should have one of the ACC’s top offenses once again. Quarterback Marquise Williams will compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting job, but Williams’ experience from 2013 should earn him the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts, there’s a plethora of talent available at the skill positions. After catching 61 passes as a freshman in 2012, Davis’ numbers slipped to 48 receptions in 2013. However, he was more productive in the big-play department, averaging 15.2 yards per catch and reaching paydirt 10 times.
Geno Lewis, Penn State
Replacing Allen Robinson is no easy assignment for new coach James Franklin. Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last year and led the team with an average of 14.8 yards per catch. The Nittany Lions have a solid collection of young talent at receiver, but there’s no clear No. 1 option. Could Lewis be the new go-to target for quarterback Christian Hackenberg? After redshirting in 2012, Lewis was an immediate factor in the receiving corps last year. He played in all 12 contests and caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores. Expect the Pennsylvania native to be featured even more in the passing game in 2014.
Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
With quarterback Dak Prescott settled into the starting role, Mississippi State’s offense is set to take off in 2014. The Bulldogs have to replace standout guard Gabe Jackson, but there’s a cast of talented players at running back and at receiver. Lewis headlines the receiving corps after a standout 2013 campaign. In 13 games, he grabbed 64 receptions for 923 yards and five touchdowns. Lewis was also playing at a high level to close the year, catching at least six passes in each of his last three games, including a 220-yard performance against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Prescott seems to have a good connection with Lewis, which should allow the senior to catch over 70 passes this season.
Jaydon Mickens, Washington
Washington’s passing game is unsettled right now, as quarterback Cyler Miles is suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. The Huskies aren’t short on talent at quarterback, however. Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams are solid options to replace Miles if he doesn’t return. Assuming the quarterback situation doesn’t become a concern for first-year coach Chris Petersen, Mickens and teammate Damore’ea Stringfellow (also suspended) will be two players to watch at receiver. Mickens caught 65 passes for 688 yards and five touchdowns last season but failed to top 36 yards over his last four games. Petersen and receivers coach Brent Pease developed plenty of talent at receiver during their years at Boise State, and Mickens – the No. 185 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012 – could be poised to have his best all-around season in Seattle.
Marquez North, Tennessee
Tennessee’s offensive line is starting over with the departure of all five starters from last year, but Butch Jones has accumulated some intriguing talent at receiver. North made an instant impact as a true freshman in 2013, catching 38 passes for 496 yards and one score. The North Carolina native was a key cog in Tennessee’s upset win over South Carolina by catching three passes for 102 yards (including a nifty one-handed grab), while 16 of his receptions came against Alabama, Missouri and Auburn – arguably the top three teams in the SEC in 2013. North needs more help from his quarterbacks this season, and it’s uncertain if the Volunteers will turn to Joshua Dobbs again or if redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson takes the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts under center, North is poised to take a step forward in his development in 2014.
Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Roland was a huge in-state catch on the recruiting trail for Steve Spurrier, and after catching only five passes as a true freshman in 2012, he appears ready to emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Gamecocks in 2014. In 10 appearances in 2013, Roland caught 25 passes for 455 yards and five scores. Roland also closed last season on a high note, recording six receptions for 112 yards against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. New quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience, but there may be a short transition period from Connor Shaw. However, Roland is poised to easily surpass last year’s totals and could sneak into All-SEC consideration if Thompson quickly settles into the job.
Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
With only eight returning starters, 2014 is shaping up to be a transition year for Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys are unlikely to repeat as the Big 12 champions, Mike Gundy’s team should still find a way to be prolific on offense. Quarterback J.W. Walsh has experience, and he will be pushed by incoming freshman Mason Rudolph. Gundy has accumulated some promising talent at the skill positions, led by Seales at receiver and Desmond Roland at running back. Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore have departed at receiver, so Seales is likely to become the team’s top target in the passing game. As a redshirt freshman last year, Seales caught 39 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With another offseason to work under Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich, Seales is set for a breakout campaign.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Seals-Jones was slated to be a key cog in Texas A&M’s receiving corps last season, but an injury sidelined him for the year after the first two games. The Texas native caught three passes for 84 yards and one score in the limited playing time. Seals-Jones ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. The Aggies have a lot of talent in the receiving corps, and a quarterback must be found to replace Johnny Manziel. However, assuming he’s back to full strength, Seals-Jones could be the team’s No. 1 receiver by the end of 2014.
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
With Jalen Saunders departing, Shepard is slated to become the new go-to target for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Oklahoma City native ranked as the No. 100 recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and he has lived up to the hype through his first two years. Shepard played in 13 games in 2012 and caught 45 passes. As a sophomore in 2013, he started 12 games and grabbed 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven scores. Shepard was playing at a high level at the end of 2013, catching seven passes in back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Alabama. Assuming Knight picks up where he left off in the Sugar Bowl, Shepard should be among the Big 12’s leading receivers in 2014.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
The Rebels’ top-10 recruiting class from 2013 should start to pay big dividends in 2014. Treadwell was one of the top prizes from Hugh Freeze’s haul in 2013, and the freshman receiver caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns. Treadwell’s 72 catches led the team, but his 8.4 yards per catch left a little to be desired. However, he is expected to slide to one of the outside receiver spots this spring, which should increase his ability to make big plays downfield. Also, opposing SEC defenses won’t be able to devote too much attention in Treadwell’s direction, as a healthy Vince Sanders will help quarterback Bo Wallace stretch the field in 2014.
Other Receivers to Watch in 2014
Markeith Ambles, Houston
Ambles is a name familiar to many in the recruiting world, as he was a five-star prospect by Rivals in the 2010 signing class. After one year at USC, he transferred to Arizona Western and caught 44 passes for 757 yards in 2012. Ambles spent most of last season catching up, as he didn’t have a full set of fall practices to learn the offense. In 10 games, Ambles caught 17 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, with six of those receptions coming in the bowl.
Victor Bolden/Malik Gilmore, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks was one of the top receivers in the nation last year, and Oregon State will have a tough time replacing his 128 receptions in 2013. Bolden and Gilmore combined for 13 receptions as freshmen last season and will be a bigger piece of the Beavers’ passing game this year.
Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
Bundrage was Iowa State’s leading receiver in 2014, catching 48 passes for 676 yards and nine scores. The Cyclones should be better on offense this year, as former Kansas coach Mark Mangino was hired to call the plays, and Grant Rohach has stabilized the quarterback spot. If Bundrage continues to develop, he could emerge as one of the top receivers in the Big 12.
Devon Cajuste, Stanford
Ty Montgomery is Stanford’s No. 1 receiver, but Cajuste is a name to watch this season. In 13 games last year, he was the Cardinal’s big-play threat, catching 28 passes for 642 yards and five scores. His 22.9 yards per reception average led the nation.
Reginald Davis, Texas Tech
Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in the receiving corps for Kliff Kingsbury. However, the Red Raiders have the next wave of standout options ready to emerge in 2014. Jakeem Grant is back after catching 65 passes last year, and Davis is a name to watch this season. As a freshman in 2013, Davis caught 15 passes for 200 yards and three scores.
Malachi Dupre, LSU
The Tigers were hit hard by departures in the receiving corps. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning option (7 catches for 145 yards), but all eyes this fall will be on Dupre. The New Orleans native ranked as the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and could be an immediate contributor to the Tigers’ passing attack this year.
William Dukes, FAU
FAU’s offense made steady progress late last season, averaging 6.9 yards per play over the final three contests. Helping to continue that development in 2014 will be the return of quarterback Jaquez Johnson, while Dukes is slated to pick up some of the catches left behind by departing senior Daniel McKinney (49 catches for 610 yards in 2013).
Brisly Estime, Syracuse
The Orange quietly won seven games in Scott Shafer’s first season, and with quarterback Terrel Hunt expected to take a step forward in his development, the offense should be improved in 2014. As a true freshman in 2013, Estime caught 28 passes for 257 yards and one score. However, 20 of those came in his last four appearances. The average (9.2 yards per catch) needs to improve, but Estime should be a bigger contributor to the attack.
Devin Fuller/Devin Lucien/Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaquelle Evans has expired his eligibility, but the Bruins are still in good shape at receiver with Fuller, Lucien and Payton returning. However, there’s one big question facing this group. Which one of this trio will emerge as a true No. 1 target for quarterback Brett Hundley?
William Fuller, Notre Dame
With TJ Jones gone, and DaVaris Daniels suspended, Fuller and Corey Robinson will have a chance to stake their claim for playing time. Fuller was the No. 276 recruit in the nation by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and caught six passes for 160 yards and one touchdown last year.
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins was a good find for coach Jim McElwain on the recruiting trail. In his freshman season with the Rams last year, Higgins grabbed 68 catches for 837 yards and six scores. With four starters gone from the line, as well as the departure of running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams will lean on the passing attack more in 2014. Expect an even better stat line for Higgins as a sophomore.
Kam Jones, UTSA
Jones led UTSA by averaging 98.1 all-purpose yards per game and caught 34 passes for 345 yards last year. He should be the Roadrunners’ top target in the passing game once again in 2014.
Ermon Lane, Florida State
Rashad Greene should be one of the nation’s top receivers, but the Seminoles are looking to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, so there is playing time available for the incoming freshmen. Jimbo Fisher reeled in some of the nation's top receivers, including Lane (No. 24 prospect in 247Sports Composite) and Travis Rudolph (No. 43). Look for both players to see snaps in 2014.
Jordan Leslie, BYU
Leslie was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection after catching 44 passes for 612 yards and seven scores at UTEP last season. As a graduate transfer, Leslie is eligible to play immediately and will help BYU’s offense replace standout receiver Cody Hoffman.
Chris Moore, Cincinnati
The Bearcats should be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. New quarterback Gunner Kiel is unproven but certainly not short on talent. Shaq Washington led the team with 78 catches last year, but Moore led all Cincinnati receivers with nine touchdown receptions. With Anthony McClung expiring his eligibility, Moore should move up in the pecking order in the receiving corps.
Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green
Bowling Green made one of the top head coach hires of the offseason by picking Dino Babers away from Eastern Illinois. Babers runs a pass-first offense, which should thrive with the return of quarterback Matt Johnson. The Falcons lose their top two targets from last year, but Moore returns after catching 28 passes for 547 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman campaign. Assuming Moore's game continues to move forward this offseason, he should be a dynamic weapon in Bowling Green’s offense.
Breshad Perriman, UCF
The Knights have an impressive collection of receivers, but a new quarterback must be found with the departure of Blake Bortles. J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall were ahead of Perriman in receptions, but the Georgia native wasn’t far behind, catching 39 passes for 811 yards and four touchdowns. Perriman’s 20.8 average on receptions ranked fifth nationally in 2013.
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Bernard Reedy was one of the MAC’s top receivers over the last few years, and he leaves after catching 62 passes for 840 yards and eight scores in 2013. The Rockets are in good hands at receiver, however, as Russell is poised to emerge as the No. 1 target after catching 59 passes and six touchdowns last year.
Bud Sasser, Missouri
The Tigers are set at one spot with Dorial Green-Beckman, but Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington depart after combining for 108 catches last year. Sasser caught 26 passes for 361 yards last season and should help fill the void left by Washington and Lucas.
Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Sharpe was one of the few bright spots for UMass in 2013. He caught 61 passes for 680 yards and four scores in 11 contests. With an upgrade at quarterback in Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel, Sharpe could emerge as one of the top receivers in the MAC.
Joshua Stanford, Virginia Tech
Stanford provided big-play ability for Virginia Tech’s offense last season, catching 40 passes for 640 yards and one touchdown (16 ypc). The Hokies need to find a replacement for quarterback Logan Thomas, but Stanford is an emerging star in the ACC.
Kevin White/Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia
West Virginia’s quarterback situation is unsettled, but the Mountaineers have a promising group of receivers. Daikiel Shorts caught 45 passes as a true freshman, and White was a big-play threat (14.5 ypc) in his first year on campus.
Mike Williams, Clemson
Clemson’s receiving corps has talent, but there is plenty of uncertainty about which players will end up in starting roles. Germone Hopper will miss the rest of spring practice due to academics, and Charone Peake – returning from a torn ACL – was limited early in spring workouts. Williams caught 20 passes for 316 yards as a true freshman and should be an even bigger piece of Clemson’s passing attack in 2014. However, can he hold off a talented group of incoming freshmen for playing time this offseason?
No one would doubt the coaching credentials for Sean Miller and Steve Fisher. Nor would anyone discount Arizona and San Diego State as two of the nation’s top programs right now West of the Rocky Mountains.
Still, a bit of legitimacy is on the line.
At Xavier and Arizona, Miller had advanced to the Sweet 16 or better five times. All that’s missing is a Final Four, Arizona’s first since 2001. Since taking over in 1999, Steve Fisher has supervised one of the best rebuilding jobs in college basketball by turning San Diego State into an NCAA regular. The next step is the Aztecs’ first regional final.
A win over Arizona, viewed as a national title contender since the preseason, would serve a dual purpose.
“We think we're one of the best teams (in the West),” San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee said. “Now that we've proven that we can hang with the big dogs and not only the West coast but in the nation, I think that we can be mentioned among the Arizonas and UCLAs.”
The two teams have changed a bit since their first meeting, a 69-60 Arizona win on Nov. 14. Arizona has recovered from the season-ending injury to forward Brandon Ashley while Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee II has become one of San Diego State’s most valuable players despite sitting out the first meeting on a coaches’ decision.
What hasn’t changed is both teams’ defensive prowess, as the two teams in Anaheim rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.
Time: 10 p.m.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: Anaheim (West)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Arizona 67-60
Braden Gall: Arizona 72-59
Mitch Light: Arizona 84-74
Nathan Rush: Arizona 72-66
The Wildcats continued to play stifling defense in the first weekend of the Tournament. Arizona held Weber State to 25 percent shooting from 2-point range in the round of 64 and held Gonzaga to 42.1 percent. Freshman Aaron Gordon locks down the inside while Nick Johnson guards on the outside. Both are among the national elite.
How San Diego State got here:
San Diego State survived a poor shooting day against New Mexico State to beat the Aggies in overtime in the round of 64. The Aztecs came back to make 7 of 16 3-point shots against North Dakota State in the round of 32, led by 30 points from Xavier Thames.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA
Key for Arizona to get to the Elite Eight: Say it again, shoot free throws
Arizona shot 13 of 18 from the line against Gonzaga in the round of 32, helped largely by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson making all eight of his attempts. This is still the worst 3-point shooting team left in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona shoots 65.5 percent from the line.
Key for San Diego State to get to the Elite Eight: Find a way to score on the interior
Let’s assume Thames can’t get 20 points against Arizona. That means forwards Winston Shepard, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien will need to play a bigger role. Arizona holds opponents to 40.1 percent shooting from inside the 3-point line, ranking second nationally. San Diego State ranks 303rd in that offensive category.
Player to watch: Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson will be Arizona’s counterpoint in the key matchup of the game. As one of the country’s best perimeter defender, Johnson will be tabbed with containing the heart of San Diego State’s offense. Xavier Thames averages 17.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. Either by field goal or assist, Thames has accounted for 55.6 percent of the Aztecs’ baskets in the first weekend of the Tournament.
Perhaps it’s inevitable Wisconsin and Baylor would meet in the Sweet 16 with the way the season has gone.
Both teams started on hot streaks — Wisconsin at 16-0 and Baylor at 12-1 — before falling apart early in conference play.
In the last month or so, both teams have rediscovered the magic from early in the season, powering the Badgers and Bears to a Sweet 16 game Thursday. Meanwhile, both have arrived here in unexpected ways: Wisconsin scoring 85 points in a win over Oregon, Baylor blowing out Creighton 85-55.
“You don't beat Creighton by 30, but it happened,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That's a pretty formidable foe. But every team that's in it now has done some things during the year. They played well towards the end of the year. We think we have. So it's two teams that get a chance.”
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: West (Anaheim)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-71
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 79-76
Mitch Light: Baylor 78-72
Nathan Rush: Wisconsin 65-64
This Wisconsin team is flipped from the typical Bo Ryan squad, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency and 55th on defense. The Badgers can score in a variety of ways, from Frank Kaminsky around the basket to Ben Brust and Josh Gasser on the outside. In Wisconsin’s 85-77 win over Oregon, the highest-scoring NCAA Tournament game, all five starters scored in double figures.
How Baylor got here:
Isaiah Austin is playing like a potential NBA Draft pick, and point guard Kenny Chery is expertly guiding the Baylor attack. Baylor has lost once in March — to Iowa State in the Big 12 title game — and drilled both of its NCAA Tournament opponents in Nebraska and Creighton by a combined 44 points.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Wisconsin to get to the Elite Eight: Shooting against the zone
Baylor handled Creighton, the nation’s best offensive team, with the zone defense. That will put pressure on Badgers guard Ben Brust, and to a lesser extent Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, to hit 3-point shots. If Creighton couldn’t do it, Wisconsin might struggle, too.
Key for Baylor to get to the Elite Eight: Score from the perimeter
Chery’s return from a toe injury has been one of the keys to Baylor’s turnaround late in the season. The junior college transfer will try to take advantage of Wisconsin’s poor perimeter defense. Against Oregon, guard Jason Calliste scored 20 points, partly due to an 11-for-11 performance from the free throw line.
Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Baylor’s Isaiah Austin has been one of the most improved players in the country in the last few weeks. The 7-foot-1 center anchored Baylor’s zone against Creighton. The 7-foot Kaminsky may be able to challenge Austin in a way the Bluejays could not.
Florida and UCLA are as familiar as two teams from opposite ends as the the country can be.
The Gators and Bruins will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2006, each at a different stage. Florida defeated UCLA in the 2006 title game, the 2007 Final Four and the 2011 round of 32. Moreover, Florida and UCLA could have met again in the round of 32 had the Bruins defeated Minnesota in Ben Howland’s last game.
This Sweet 16 matchup will be different, perhaps, from the other three, primarily due to a coaching change on the other bench.
Steve Alford took over for Howland this season and has brought the Bruins to their first regional semifinal since 2008. The biggest difference will be UCLA’s offensive approach as the Bruins excel at grabbing quick baskets in transition. The matchup may be the toughest defensively for Florida since non-conference play.
“The name on the jersey happens to be the same one that we've maybe played three different times in the NCAA Tournament, but everything else is really a lot different,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don't think the last time we played UCLA in the NCAA Tournament any of our guys were even on that team.”
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 62-59
Braden Gall: Florida 75-53
Mitch Light: Florida 78-67
Nathan Rush: Florida 68-60
The Gators responded to a sluggish game against No. 16 seed Albany with a 61-45 thumping of Pittsburgh in the round of 32.
How UCLA got here:
The Bruins are one of the least turnover-prone teams in the country and proved it against Stephen F. Austin with only three giveaways (compared to 22 assists on 29 field goals). Kyle Anderson is UCLA’s MVP, but Jordan Adams has been on a hot streak. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Adams has averaged 19.7 points per game going back to the Pac-12 final against Arizona.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Florida to get to the Elite Eight: Solve the matchup with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams
Florida is one of the top defensive teams in the country, but they’ll have two tough matchups against Kyle Anderson and Adams leading an explosive UCLA offense. Anderson is a 6-9 guard starts UCLA on the fast break while averaging 8.7 rebounds. Adams is another big guard at 6-5, 220 pounds
Key for UCLA to get to the Elite Eight: Beat Florida in transition
If there’s a spot where UCLA matches Florida strength for strength on offense, it’s the Bruins’ game in transition. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country in scoring out of the fast break while Florida is adept at making teams work for their shot. Transition baskets could be the equalizer for UCLA.
Player to watch: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin is embracing his role as Florida’s go-to player. He scored 21 points against Pittsburgh, with no one else scoring more than 10. That’s a rarity for this balanced Florida team. UCLA was below average defensively in Pac-12 play.
The first game of the Sweet 16 is a classic example of why bubble talk is so captivating.
All a team has to do is get into the field and anything can happen.
In early March, neither Stanford nor Dayton were assured of spots in the field. Only a late push by both landed these teams in the NCAA Tournament, and now they’ve taken out Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico.
For only the second time in Tournament history, a No. 10 seed will face a No. 11 in the Sweet 16 (the other was VCU’s win over Florida State in 2011 on the way to the Final Four).
And now one of them will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday
Time: 7 p.m.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Dayton 62-58
Braden Gall: Stanford 60-58
Mitch Light: Stanford 67-66
Nathan Rush: Dayton 65-55
Stanford’s defense has been outstanding in two games. The Cardinal baffled Kansas with 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, preventing Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks’ athletic forwards to get good looks. New Mexico struggled in a round of 64 loss to get outside shots against Stanford as well (4 of 21 3-point shooting).
How Dayton got here:
Both Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis had the ball in their hands with a chance to beat Dayton, and neither were able to capitalize. Maybe Dayton’s a little lucky, but the Flyers proved during the regular season they could compete with major programs.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Stanford to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Dayton on the perimeter
Despite the results against New Mexico, Stanford was not a great team defending 3-point line during the season. If Jordan Sibert, Khari Price and Devin Olver get hot from outside, Stanford will be in trouble.
Key for Dayton to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Stanford’s size advantage
Dayton can score in a handful of ways, but the Flyers have few regulars taller than 6-7. With Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis, Stanford will have a significant size advantage.
Player to watch: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Stanford has the big forwards, but an undersized point guard leads the Cardinal attack. Randle scored 23 points against New Mexico and 13 against Kansas, but the key will be the 3-point shot. Stanford went 0-of-9 from long range against Kansas. It’s tough to see Stanford advancing if it extends that drought into the Sweet 16.
Would you rather live in San Diego or Cleveland? Who you rather play in Yankee Stadium or Tropicana Field? Who would you rather work for? A Steinbrenner or a giant cable company?
Certainly, winning baseball is really all that matters in the end, but these things and much more go into ranking MLB’s managerial jobs. Job security, pressure to win, ownership, tradition, fan support, TV contracts, geography and a path to a championship all factor into determining what is the best job in baseball.
There are some things that don’t count, however, because they are dynamic in nature. For example, a team’s current roster doesn’t factor into the mix (nor do horrible contracts) because that will change so dramatically in a short period of time. The same can be said about General Managers. So if all things were considered equal — say, every team has the same roster and same GM — which managerial job would be the best in Major League Baseball?
1. New York Yankees
Is the pressure to win greater in the Bronx than anywhere else? Yes. Has ownership been overbearing in the past? Yes. But putting any other team at No. 1 in baseball is just being cute. The Pinstripes are the most prestigious, most successful and most revered brand in the sport and leading the Yanks to a championship immortalizes you like nowhere else — except maybe the upper half of Chicago.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are under new ownership that is clearly willing to spend money — the Dodgers led the league with $254 million payroll in 2013. Los Angeles has a massive new cable network contract and led the majors in attendance a year ago (3.7 million) by a wide margin. This brand has history and tradition like its East Coast brethren and is the best job in the National League.
3. Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park alone makes this job extremely attractive. It's a pro sports gem. The fan support is one of the best in the majors and ownership is committed to winning — Boston had the third-highest payroll in the game last year. From an overall brand equity standpoint, few managerial gigs in the league can match what the Bo-Sox have to offer in terms of cultural significance.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
Unless you wear Cubbie Blue, the Cardinals fans are among the best in all of professional sports. The city of St. Louis cares more about its baseball team and does it in a way that only the Midwest can offer. It's why the Cards were No. 2 in attendance last year (3.3 million) and it's why the Redbirds have been in the postseason in 10 of the last 14 seasons.
5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have proven that you can win big in the Bay Area and the name brand is one of the most storied and tradition-laden in the game. The ballpark is second to none and that is partly why the Giants were No. 3 in attendance last year (3.3 million). CEO Larry Baer seems to stay in the background allowing his people to work and creating nearly unmatched stability. There is a lot of value in a non-meddling figure head.
6. Chicago Cubs
There is a history of instability and the stadium needs to be “addressed” — whatever that means — but there wouldn't be a more significant American sports championship than if the Cubs were to win the World Series. The Ricketts family took over in 2009 and has slowly but surely shown that they are committed to making that happen by hiring the right people in the front office.
7. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were one of just three American League teams to average more than 38,000 fans per game and the history of the franchise speaks for itself. Ownership is willing to spend the money to compete as the Tigers were fourth in the league last year with $154 million payroll. Finally, the path to a championship against the Royals, Twins, Indians and White Sox appears easier than in, say, the AL East.
8. Los Angeles Angels
There isn’t a huge difference between this team and its crosstown rival. This team has a great owner in Arte Moreno who is willing to spend money and offer job security to a skipper. The city has its pluses and minuses but is still in a beautiful part of the country — especially, on a manager's salary. Stabilizing the future of the ballpark — one of the oldest in the league (1966) — will go a long way in determining the future of this managerial job.
9. Cincinnati Reds
A historic brand in a solid park in a town that loves baseball makes managing the Reds one of the league’s better jobs. Ownership has changed hands a few times over the last two decades but the current regime has clearly been the most successful. There is no better place to be on Opening Day than in Cincinnati.
10. Atlanta Braves
There is a lot to love about managing the Bravos. History, success, tradition, their own cable network and a richly populated area of raw baseball talent makes this a great job. It’s not top five, however, because attendance has always been a question (even in the postseason) and the fact that Turner Field won’t even last two decades leaves a very odd and poor taste in the mouth.
11. Philadelphia Phillies
A passionate fanbase, committed payroll and recent run of big-time success make this a very attractive place to manage. Sometimes the fans can be “too” passionate and the city will heap expectations on their sports team unlike anywhere in the country. But when things are going well, this front office, ballpark and clubhouse is a great place to be.
12. New York Mets
Being second in your own town can be both a positive and a negative. It means the pressure to win isn’t as great but it means there's a tough fight for headlines as well. Citi Field is a newly minted gem of a park and working in the world’s biggest media market is a huge plus. Ownership has been forced to be stingy of late but has a track record of spending money.
13. Baltimore Orioles
Camden Yards began a ballpark revolution when it comes to design, intimacy and fan experience when it opened 1992. Ownership also has appeared to have a renewed commitment to winning of late, increasing payroll to over $100 million for the first time in franchise history last season. Baseball is more fun when the Orioles are good.
14. Texas Rangers
It took 36 years for this franchise to reach the playoffs for the first time (1996) and has gone from whipping boy in the 80s to annual AL West powerhouse today. The stadium isn’t new (1994) but attendance has been one of the AL’s most consistent, finishing second in the AL last season (3.1 million). The city isn’t all that great and ownership can be finicky but overall this has the makings of an elite job should the spending ($138 million last year) continue.
15. Washington Nationals
The Nats have a brand new park (2008), are willing to spend money ($112 million last year) and appear to be luring fans to the park (11th in attendance). That said, there is a lot to compete with in the D.C. area and the Orioles have a longer history and tradition of support in the region. The front office appears to be one of the more committed after increasing spending in each of the last seven seasons. And that makes this an intriguing job.
16. Chicago White Sox
Managing on the Southside will never be confused with managing on the Northside but one Chicago team has a championship in the last 100 years and the other does not. Attendance and payroll dipped last season to decade-lows and that is a concerning trend but after seven straight years of $100 million-plus payrolls, the fans cannot complain about effort from ownership. The new park is starting to get stale but baseball fans in the Windy City will certainly support a winner.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team has the vibe and makeup to be a major market franchise if it so chooses. It has never been below two million in gross attendance in any year and has proven it is willing to spend money in the past — over $100 million in 2002 following a trip to the World Series. It's located in a big city that is extremely attractive to most and has proven it can be a winner with five playoff appearances in just 16 total years of existence.
18. Pittsburgh Pirates
Many believe that PNC Park is the best in the game today, and, finally, last year the fans had a reason to pack it to the gills. Current ownership took over in 1996 after the past regime had spent a paltry $905,517 on payroll in ’95. It appears like this team is finally willing to spend money and it resulted in the highest attendance (2,256 million) since PNC’s first year in 2001 and the highest payroll ($96 million) in franchise history. It should be no surprise that the Pirates posted their first winning season since 1992.
19. Minnesota Twins
From a job security standpoint, few teams can match the Twins commitment to their personnel. The new ballpark has some negatives (like being outside in Minnesota) but is extremely well done and virtually brand new. The history is rich and the only missing piece is the big market payroll (27th in ’13).
20. San Diego Padres
This team plays in one of the best towns in the nation in one of the nicer parks in the league. And the Padres have only had two managers since 1995, so stability seems to like San Diego. Attendance has consistently topped 2 million per year since the mid-90s but the payroll has consistently been in the bottom third of the league. This seems like a much better job than most give it credit for on the surface.
21. Cleveland Indians
The fans are passionate but Cleveland is definitely a football town first and a baseball city second. Progressive Field was a big step up from Memorial Stadium, but it opened two decades ago and the Indians were 29th in attendance last year. Dolan Family ownership took over a team that had been to the playoffs five straight seasons and has delivered a postseason roster only three times in the last 15 years.
22. Oakland Athletics
There is a lot to like and a lot to be concerned about with Oakland. The stadium situation has to be fixed and that could mean a move across town — or a move across the country. There is plenty of history and tradition of success and a lot worse places to live than the Bay Area. However, this team traditionally acts like a small market squad when it comes to spending money. And for what it’s worth, this team has had four managers since 2002. Moving into a new ballpark could rocket this franchise up the list. Staying put could drop it like a rock to the bottom.
23. Milwaukee Brewers
The ballpark is excellent and the good people of Wisconsin love going to sporting events but Miller Park was only three-quarters of the way full last fall (31,248 per game). Some of that may be due to the lack of success historically that this team has experienced. It’s been to two postseasons since 1982 and many of the big ticket items were not retained by the franchise (Prince, Greinke, CC).
24. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies boast an excellent ballpark in a great town and, regionally, face little competition from other baseball franchises. At tenth in the league in attendance (2.7 million), the fans have been willing to support their team even in some of the worst baseball conditions in the league. In fact, Colorado has been above 2.3 million every year since getting to the World Series in 2007.
25. Houston Astros
Ownership does appear to be pointing this organization in the right direction but it has a long way to go. The stadium is quirky but nice and fairly modern. And the Stros have been to a World Series in the last decade. The $14 million payroll from a year ago is hugely concerning and the move to the American League makes for a strange combination of NL history and current AL batting orders.
26. Tampa Bay Rays
The stadium might be the worst in the majors, rumors of the team leaving town have long swirled around the Bay, it plays in arguably the toughest division and attendance — despite lots of winning — has been atrocious (last in ’13). Ownership lets Joe Maddon do his thing, and that is a huge plus, but this team excels without any advantages that other teams in the division thrive on.
27. Seattle Mariners
Clearly the front office is willing to spend money and has done a solid job developing pitching but this team is playing in one of the better divisions in the game and attendance is slipping in a big way. This team drew 3.5 million in 2002 and has watched numbers drop ever since to 1.7 million last year. It may be unfair, but the Mariners also feel out of sight and out of mind stuck up there in the Pacific Northwest.
28. Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium is a nice place to watch a game but this team hasn’t drawn more than 1.8 million fans since the ballpark opened in 1993. Ownership changed in 2000 and payroll has consistently risen but only recently (last year) did it top $70 million for the first time in franchise history. There is some history here but it is in the distant past as the Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985.
29. Toronto Blue Jays
The only team not located in the United States plays in a stadium that lacks the warmth (both literally and figuratively) of true outdoor natural grass parks. Ownership has been around since 2000 (Rogers Communications) and has spent serious money of late but this organization has yet to prove it can make the right maneuvers in the toughest division in baseball.
30. Miami Marlins
The one thing the Marlins franchise had going for it — a brand new ballpark — was totally botched due to lack of distinct and innovative engineering. All sports teams in Miami have a tough enough time drawing fans to a game without a giant fishy optical illusion in center field. Ownership has proven it can build a winner but it has also proven that it can dismantle a team quicker than a Giancarlo Stanton line drive. No payroll, no attendance and no history make this the toughest job in the league.
Gambling and golf have gone together since the betting days of famed golf hustler Titantic Thompson. Fortunately you don’t have to take a chance on losing your shirt with these golf holes; they represent some of the best that reside on courses connected with casinos. So enjoy them and see how many you can play this year, but stay away from the man who says he can beat you playing with only a Dr. Pepper bottle for a “friendly little wager.”
Contraband Bayou, Par 5, 611 yards
Lake Charles, Louisiana
The course was redesigned three years ago, and this hole was chosen as the new opener. It is a much better way to start the round at this course. There is water visible from the tee box, but it is more for appearance than as a hazard. There is plenty of other difficulty, including a fairway bunker on both sides of the landing area that will capture wayward tee shots. Reaching the green will be difficult except for the longest of hitters. Another hazard on the left will get any errant layups. The green has trouble on the left with two bunkers and a lake.
Contact: 866-580-7444, www.llakecharles.com/amenities/golf-course
Firekeeper, Par 4, 480 yards
This hole is part of a six-hole stretch of prairie grass, and the native grass surrounds most of this picturesque long par 4. Don’t get lulled by the scenery or you may find yourself in one of the five fairway bunkers. Stay on the right side of the fairway on the drive to set up your approach shot. Take a little more club on your second shot to ensure clearing the rectangular bunker in front of the green appropriately named “The Coffin” for its size and what it will do to your score. The green narrows from front to back and is guarded by two additional bunkers.
Contact: 785-966-2100, www.firekeepergolf.com
Sequoyah National, Par 5, 532 yards
Whittier, North Carolina
A slightly elevated tee makes reaching this hole in two shots even more possible. The dogleg right layout is framed by trees on both sides of a fairway that slopes significantly from right to left. The fairway squeezes in dramatically the longer the tee shot, so accuracy is a must. The trees clear for the second shot, and the fairway opens up to an elevated green that continues to the right. A medium-sized bunker on the right before the green serves to fool golfers into thinking that the putting surface is closer than it really is and will also gobble up any short second shots.
Contact: 828-497-3000, www.sequoyahnational.com
French Lick (Donald Ross Course), Par 3, 240 yards
French Lick, Indiana
The first par 3 on this classic Donald Ross design is a challenge that will test every level of golfer. The long par 3 is made even longer by being uphill and into the wind, so coming up short is a real possibility. Come up too short and there is a chance the ball will roll down the false front and into one of two bunkers. Shots to the far left will find two additional bunkers. Guard too much to the right and miss the green, and your ball will roll down the slope and present an improbable up-and-down opportunity. The green has a bowl effect, so shots will funnel to the center.
Contact: 888-936-9360, www.frenchlick.com
Cherokee Hills, Par 4, 440 yards
The hardest hole on the golf course tests golfers from the tee to the green. The opening shot is to a tight fairway that is guarded by bunkers on both the left and right sides. Miss the fairway and the second shot will have to find its way through the trees that frame the hole. Golfers will also have to negotiate a creek to get to the green. If not on the fairway, the smarter play might be to lay up to avoid the big number on the scorecard. The green was built on top of a large rock that provides a significant separation from left to right. This will wreak havoc on long putts and make saving par difficult.
Contact: 800-760-6700, www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com/golf/cherokee-hills
Salish Cliffs, Par 3, 168 yards
A legitimate birdie hole that can be taken advantage of but can also be a round killer if not played wisely. Club selection is key on this downhill par 3, and both the elevation change from tee to green and the prevailing wind should factor into your club selection. Going left will find a large greenside bunker, and too much club will put golfers in an almost impossible spot to save par. The green has a steep slope that runs from front to back.
Contact: 360-462-3673, www.salish-cliffs.com
Journey at Pechanga, Par 4, 330 yards
This is a funky little hole that is both scenic and challenging. The tee boxes are slightly elevated, and golfers will see a large oak in the middle of the fairway that doglegs to the left. Use the tree as an aiming spot and go left of the tree for the optimal approach shot. Make sure the ball gets past the oak, because if it doesn’t, the only option on your second shot will be a punch-out past the large obstacle. Even going long right is a better option than being behind the massive tree. The green is oval shaped and small. Missing the green means landing in a bunker or worse.
Contact: 951-770-8210, www.pechanga.com/golf
Circling Raven, Par 4, 386 yards
Tall pine trees frame this course’s signature hole that features a hill on the left hand side of the fairway and three medium-size fairway bunkers on the right. Going left should be okay since a lot of the balls will funnel back in the fairway, although if you venture too far left, the hill will gobble up the tee shot. Too far right is trouble, too, as balls will likely find one of the bunkers. An iron off the tee might be the right play for a more accurate shot. The approach is a fairly easy shot to a large green, but going over the putting surface puts you in the protected wetlands.
Contact: 800-523-2464, www.cdacasino.com/golf
The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, Par 4, 396 yards
What a way to finish the front nine. This challenging hole has a generous landing area off the tee for a conservative tee shot. Golfers who want to get a little more aggressive will see the landing area cut in half and protected by a bunker on the left. The second shot is over a pond that borders the entire front of the oval-shaped green. Going long is not an option as a large bunker awaits any errant shots. Once you're safely on the green, enjoy the cascading water that feeds into the pond. It will be a nice sound as you putt for birdie.
Contact: 218-753-8917, www.golfthewilderness.com
Inn of the Mountain Gods, Par 4, 354 yards
Mescalero , New Mexico
This is a classic risk/reward hole that will tempt the long hitters but can yield disastrous results if not played perfectly. The hole features an island landing area in the middle of a lake; golfers must decide if they are going to lay up to the island or try and clear it to get closer to the green. It is about 280 yards of carry to make it to the other side. Stay left, though, because too far right and you will find the water that guards the right side of the green. The more conservative play is to hit a shot about 170 yards from the tee, leaving an approach shot of just under 150 yards.
Contact: 800-545-9011, www.innofthemountaingods.com
Lake of Isles (North Course), Par 3, 196 yards
North Stonington, Connecticut
Water surrounds the left side of this hole, but there is also a small pond on the right side that can’t be ignored. Teeing off from the back tees will present an additional challenge as trees on the left obscure a golfer’s sight and in some instances will require a right-to-left shot to navigate around them. A tee shot to the right side of the green is the best strategy for this hole since it will keep balls dry, and the natural slope of the green will funnel shots closer to the hole, especially for a lower left pin. Too far right, however, and you'll find the greenside bunker — or worse, the water.
Contact: 888-475-3746, www.lakeofisles.com
Atlantic City Country Club, Par 3, 134 yards
Northfield, New Jersey
Play the hole where the term "birdie" originated in 1903; a plaque commemorates the occasion. Getting your own birdie is very possible on this short, very straightforward hole. There are large bunkers on both sides of the slightly elevated green and no room for error, but unless there is a mistake in club selection, golfers should be able to find the putting surface. The green is large and slopes from back to front. Take dead aim and try and get a birdie on the same hole that Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope and Sam Snead once played.
Contact: 609-236-4411, www.accountryclub.com
Fallen Oak, Par 5, 575 yards
This one's not reachable in two shots for very many golfers because of the length and elevation increase. The opening shot is helped along by an elevated tee, but the hole gets more difficult as you go. The hole doglegs to the left with a generous landing area, and cutting the corner is possible to take away more yardage for the second shot. Take plenty of club on the second shot, because it plays uphill approximately 40 feet, but also make sure the third shot is a wedge to get the ball close. The green is also elevated and features a 10-foot deep bunker guarding the front.
Contact: 877-805-4657, www.fallenoak.com
Turning Stone Atunyote, Par 4, 385 yards
Verona, New York
Though it is the shortest par 4 on the golf course, Tom Fazio designed it with plenty of hazards to keep a golfer on his or her toes. The first is the creek that runs up the entire left side of the hole and expands into a beautiful lake complete with a distracting waterfall at the green. Any shot left will find the water. There is a large tree on the right side that will snare any tee shot that goes too far in that direction. Another clever hazard is the bunker on the right side that appears to be closer to the green than it is. The putting surface is filled with subtle contours.
Contact: 800-771-7711, www.turningstone.com
Southern Dunes, Par 4, 496 yards
Truly a beast of a hole. Not only is it long but it is also uphill, and getting there in two shots will definitely be a challenge. The spot to aim for is the first visible fairway bunker, but be careful, because taking too much off this dogleg-left hole could find one of two hidden sand traps. The fairway slopes from right to left and will channel balls to an area that will set up a nice second shot. The approach shot should favor the right side, because if a shot is missed it will avoid the large bunker on the left guarding the green. There is a smaller bunker on the right to avoid as well.
Contact: 480-367-8949, www.golfsoutherndunes.com
Edgewood, Par 5, 564 yards
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Running toward the famous lake with stunning views of the mountains, this downhill hole is reachable in two shots. Don’t be fooled by the yardage; you are up in elevation and the ball will carry much further, so getting to the hole in two is a distinct possibility. This is a tight fairway, though, and tall pine trees line both sides (there's one in the middle of the fairway, too), so accuracy is a must. Go after the green with caution because of the many bunkers surrounding the putting surface. But be sure to enjoy one of the prettiest holes in all of golf.
Contact: 775-588-3566, www.edgewoodtahoe.com
Sweetgrass, Par 4, 427 yards
Playing from the back tees will bring the water into play, and using the rock in the fairway as a guide will help tee shots not only stay dry but also avoid the large fairway bunker. This is one of the few holes on the course that has trees incorporated into the design. The rock comes into play on the approach shot and should be avoided, as should the four bunkers that guard the green. The putting surface is long and slopes from back to front. This hole is titled "Wisdom," and it will take plenty of it to get a birdie — not to mention skill.
Contact: 800-682-6040 ext. 2251, www.sweetgrassgolfclub.com
Bali Hai, Par 4, 486 yards
Las Vegas, Nevada
Situated on one of only two courses on the Strip, hole, called "Kuda Bay," is a great finishing hole that combines beauty and brawn. The longest par 4 on the course demands a strong drive, and even though the fairway is tight, playing a second shot from an adjoining fairway is possible, so let ‘er rip. The only hazard off the tee is a bunker on the left side. It is the approach shot that is fraught with peril. There is a waste bunker on the right side and a bunker on the left side that makes the green appear closer than it is. The biggest hazard on this hole is the large lake on the right side, where there's also a bunker.
Contact: 888-427-6678, www.balihaigolfclub.com
— John Reger, vegasgolfmag.com