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Greatness is defined in so many different ways. Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.
So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest tight ends of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 30 tight ends since the BCS was implemented in 1998:
1. Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 247 rec., 2,659 yds, 30 TDs
It didn’t take long for Tigers fans to see what they had in Coffman as he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors in 2005. He then broke Mizzou tight end receiving records with 58 receptions, 638 yards and nine touchdowns as just a sophomore. After two straight All-Big 12 seasons, Coffman claimed the John Mackey Award as a senior as the nation’s top tight end after posting 90 receptions, 987 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008. Missouri went 22-6 over his final two seasons in what many believe to be the best two-year run in program history. And the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Coffman was a huge part of that success.
2. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma (2006-09)
Stats: 111 rec., 1,629 yds, 26 TDs
Had the 6-foot-6, 260-pound star tight end stayed healthy and played his fourth season at Oklahoma, Gresham likely would have been the best player at his position during the BCS era. He scored 25 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter from 2007-08 — just eight shy of the NCAA tight end record (33). His All-American junior season features Sooners' tight end records for yards (950) and touchdowns (14) — one shy of Mark Clayton’s all-time single-season record regardless of position. He was arguably the top playmaker for a Big 12 champion and BCS National Championship runner-up that year as well. His season-ending knee injury prior to the start of his 2009 campaign left those in Norman wondering what could have been.
3. Heath Miller, Virginia (2002-04)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,703 yds, 20 TDs
Perhaps the greatest tight end in ACC history, Miller became the first player in league history to win the John Mackey Award in 2004. He wrote his name into the school and conference record books for receiving by a tight end, setting a new benchmark in all three major receiving categories despite only playing three seasons. However, it wasn’t just his elite receiving ability that made the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder one of the game’s best. Miller relished the blocking side of the game and his physicality and dependability is what has made the consensus All-American one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the last decade.
4. Dallas Clark, Iowa (2000-02)
Stats: 77 rec., 1,251 yds, 8 TDs
The walk-on began his career as a linebacker but quickly developed into a star at tight end. He earned All-Big Ten recognition as a sophomore and then became the nation’s top tight end as a junior in 2002. The John Mackey Award winner caught 43 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns while helping Iowa (11-2) to a Big Ten co-championship and Orange Bowl berth. The dynamic in-state talent was a first-round pick and proved in the NFL that his college career was no fluke.
5. Aaron Hernandez, Florida (2007-09)
Stats: 111 rec., 1,382 yds, 12 TDs
The undersized but athletic playmaker came from Bristol (Conn.) Central originally, but proved quickly he had what it took to succeed in the deep South. All Hernandez did while at Florida is set school records for receptions in a season (68) and a career. And his elite 2009 campaign in which he posted 850 yards and five touchdowns made the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder the SEC’s first-ever John Mackey Award winner. He was a go-to target for Tim Tebow and was a big piece of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad. Florida went 26-2 over his last two years in Gainesville.
6. Marcedes Lewis, UCLA (2002-05)
Stats: 126 rec., 1,571 yds, 21 TDs
The red-zone touchdown machine improved his production each of his four seasons at UCLA, culminating with All-American and John Mackey honors as a senior in 2005. He set school records in all three major categories for a tight end that year and helped UCLA to its best record (10-2) since 1998. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound consensus All-American was a matchup nightmare for defenses and was the Pac-10’s best player at his position during the BCS era in a league known for its great tight ends.
7. Dennis Pitta, BYU (2004, '07-09)
Stats: 221 rec., 2,901 yds, 21 TDs
Few tight ends during the BCS era combine the statistical production, team success and overall NFL talent that Pitta did. He began his career as a freshman in 2004 before taking his Mormon mission and returning in 2007. His teams went 32-7 during his three-year starting career and few tight ends in the history of the sport have topped 200 catches, nearly 3,000 yards or 20 touchdowns — much less all three. He owns nearly every major receiving record at BYU for tight ends and is BYU’s all-time leading receiver with 221 receptions regardless of position. His 2,901 career receiving yards are an NCAA record for tight ends.
8. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin (2005-08)
Stats: 159 rec., 2,149 yds, 11 TDs
From a speed and agility standpoint, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound pass-catcher has few peers. One of the fastest and most dynamic tight ends in BCS history, Beckum switched to tight end as a sophomore and became a second-team All-American in just his first season playing the position. He posted back-to-back 900-yard seasons and saved his best games for the biggest competition (9 rec., 140 yds vs. Ohio State, 10 rec., 132 vs. Michigan State, for example). He was poised to set NCAA records for a tight end until a broken leg in Week 6 ended his college career. At a school known for elite All-American tight ends, Beckum was the most explosive, most talented and most productive.
9. D.J. Williams, Arkansas (2007-10)
Stats: 152 rec., 1,855 yds, 10 TDs
The star Razorback never had an 800-yard season, never caught more than 61 passes and never scored more than four times in a year, but Williams is one of the BCS’s best. His career numbers are excellent and he was extremely dependable for three full seasons for the Hogs. His career culminated in a John Mackey Award in 2010 and helped lead Arkansas to 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth.
10. James Casey, Rice (2007-08)
Stats: 157 rec., 1,914 yds, 17 TDs, 362 rush, 11 TDs, 2 TD passes
Affectionately known as “Thor,” no other tight end during the BCS era was as versatile and productive in two seasons as Casey. He didn’t face elite competition, obviously, but no tight end has ever put together a season like Thor did in 2008: 111 rec., 1,329 yards, 13 TDs, 241 yards rushing, 6 TDs, 14 punt returns for 112 yards and even two touchdown passes. He was the No. 1 overall college fantasy player in 2008 regardless of position (yes, that includes quarterbacks) and it has to be considered the best season for a tight end in NCAA history.
11. Jeremy Shockey, Miami (2000-01)
Stats: 61 rec., 815 yds, 10 TDs
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder was one of the most physically gifted players to ever play the position. He didn’t have the huge stats of other elite players but he was an All-American and helped Miami win the national title in 2001. He was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award before leaving school early to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
12. Kellen Winslow, Miami (2001-03)
Stats: 119 rec., 1,365 yds, 9 TDs
Bizarre post-game interviews aside, Winslow was a monster on the field at Miami. He played a small role on the national championship team in 2001 and was a huge force — 57 rec., 726 yds, 8 TD — on the '02 team that was defeated by Ohio State in the title game. He was a consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner despite just one touchdown catch in 2003.
13. Martin Rucker, Missouri (2004-07)
Stats: 203 rec., 2,175 yds, 18 TDs
The complementary piece to Coffman at Mizzou was Rucker, a star from St. Joseph’s (Mo.) Benton. Playing three years with Coffman, Rucker is one of the just five tight ends on this list who topped 200 receptions and one of just 10 names on this list with 2,000 yards. He was a consensus All-American and senior leader for a 12-2 Tigers team that finished fourth in the AP poll.
14. Jason Witten, Tennessee (2000-02)
Stats: 68 rec., 797 yds, 7 TDs
The numbers were never huge, but Witten is clearly one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the sport. He never missed a game during his three-year career at Tennessee and helped the Vols to a 27-11 record and an SEC East championship. From a dual-threat (blocking and receiving) perspective, Witten might be the best tight end to play the game during the BCS era.
15. Ron Gronkowski, Arizona (2007-08)
Stats: 75 rec., 1,197 yds, 16 TDs
The Gronk played just 20 career college games but was a touchdown machine in college well before setting NFL tight end touchdown records. Unfortunately, the 'Zona tight end missed all of the 2009 season after preseason back surgery after being named a preseason first-team All-American and the Mackey Award frontrunner.
16. Fred Davis, USC (2004-07)
Stats: 117 rec., 1,408 yds, 13 TDs
It took some time for Davis to develop, especially considering the wide receiver talent asking for the football at USC during his career. But when he made his mark as a senior in 2007 it was as the best tight end in the nation. He won the John Mackey Award that year and was an All-American. He played in two national title games, winning one as a freshman in 2004.
17. Zach Miller, Arizona State (2004-06)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,512 yds, 14 TDs
Miller gets a slight nod over fellow Sun Devil Todd Heap due to slightly better production and All-American recognition. He is the school’s all-time leading receiver at the tight end position and consistently made big plays for his offense. He was one of three Mackey finalists in 2006.
18. Todd Heap, Arizona State (1998-2000)
Stats: 112 rec., 1,658 yds, 10 TDs
Arguing between Miller and Heap is futile. Both were great players and Heap’s NFL career proved his school records were legitimate. The “Golden Retriever” was a two-time All-Pac-10 performer who was as dependable as any player at his position.
19. Dwayne Allen, Clemson (2009-11)
Stats: 93 rec., 1,079 yds, 12 TDs
A consensus All-American, Allen was one of the most clutch performers in the game during his time at Clemson. When the Tigers needed a big play on third down or in the red zone, Allen was the go-to target. He claimed the Mackey Award as a junior, was an All-American and helped Clemson win its first ACC title in two decades in 2010.
20. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (2011-present)
Stats: 109 rec., 1,396 yds, 13 TDs
There is some projecting with ASJ, but he has already broken most school tight end records and will make a push this fall for the John Mackey Award. He was the No. 1 TE recruit in the nation two years ago and is poised for one of the greatest careers in Huskies history.
21. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (2008-10)
Stats: 90 rec., 1,032 yds, 8 TDs
22. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (2010-12)*
Stats: 140 rec., 1,840 yds, 11 TDs
23. Daniel Graham, Colorado (1998-2001)
Stats: 106 rec., 1,543 yds, 11 TDs
24. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota (2003-06)
Stats: 109 rec., 1,293 yds, 12 TDs
25. Vernon Davis, Maryland (2003-05)
Stats: 83 rec., 1,371 yds, 9 TDs
26. Tim Stratton, Purdue (1998-2001)
Stats: 190 rec., 1,976 yds, 15 TDs
27. Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State (2005-08)
Stats: 112 rec., 1,450 yds, 9 TDs
28. Dustin Keller, Purdue (2004-07)
Stats: 142 rec., 1,882 yds, 16 TDs
29. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (2008-10)
Stats: 78 rec., 1,160 yds, 8 TDs
30. Garrett Graham, Wisconsin (2007-09)
Stats: 121 rec., 1,492 yds, 16 TD
The Next 30:
31. Zach Ertz, Stanford (2010-12): 112 rec., 1,434 yds, 15 TDs
32. Coby Fleener, Stanford (2008-11): 96 rec., 1,543 yds, 18 TDs
33. Ben Troupe, Florida (2000-03): 64 rec., 958 yds, 7 TDs
34. Bubba Franks, Miami (1997-99): 77 rec., 1,038 yds, 12 TDs
35. Garrett Mills, Tulsa (2002-05): 201 rec., 2,389 yds, 23 TDs
36. David Thomas, Texas (2002-05): 97 rec., 1,354 yds, 15 TDs
37. Ed Dickson, Oregon (2006-09): 124 rec., 1,557 yds, 12 TDs
38. Darius Hill, Ball State (2005-08): 158 rec., 2,473 yds, 31 TDs
39. Jacob Tamme, Kentucky (2004-07): 133 rec., 1,417 yds, 11 TDs
40. Owen Daniels, Wisconsin (2002-05): 62 rec., 852 yds, 8 TDs
41. Jonny Harline, BYU (2005-06): 121 rec., 1,788 yds, 17 TDs
42. Ibn Green, Louisville (1996-99): 217 rec., 2,830 yds, 33 TDs
43. Michael Egnew, Missouri (2008-11): 147 rec., 1,332 yds, 8 TDs
44. Shawn Nelson, Southern Miss (2005-08): 157 rec., 2,054 yds, 16 TDs
45. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (2010-12): 122 rec., 1,646 yds, 17 TDs
46. Ladarius Green, UL-Lafayette (2008-11): 148 rec., 2,202 yds, 22 TDs
47. James Whalen, Kentucky (1997-99): 120 rec., 1,324 yds, 13 TDs
48. Orson Charles, Georgia (2009-11): 94 rec., 1,370 yds, 10 TDs
49. Cody Slate, Marshall (2006-09): 199 rec., 2,619 yds, 23 TDs
50. Jared Cook, South Carolina (2006-08): 73 rec., 1,107 yds, 7 TDs
51. Leonard Pope, Georgia (2003-05): 65 rec., 1,044 yds, 10 TDs
52. Chris Cooley, Utah State (2001-03): 96 rec., 1,255 yds, 11 TDs
53. Gary Barnidge, Louisville (2004-07): 108 rec., 1,491 yds, 17 TDs
54. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern (2007-11): 143 rec., 1,567 yds, 14 TDs
55. Dorin Dickerson, Pitt (2006-09): 63 rec., 708 yds, 12 TDs
56. George Bryan, NC State (2008-11): 126 rec, 1,323 yds, 17 TDs
57. Kory Sperry, Colorado State (2004-08): 141 rec., 1,763 yds, 20 TDs
58. Greg Olsen, Miami (2004-06): 87 rec., 1,215 yds, 6 TDs
59. Ben Watson, Georgia (2001-03): 65 rec., 852 yds, 6 TDs
60. Bennie Joppru, Michigan (1999-2002): 79 rec., 731 yds, 8 TDs
The start of the college football season is just weeks away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.
Alabama is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes expected to finish No. 2 nationally.
While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. USC and UCLA should push Arizona State for the Pac-12 title and will be among the top 30 teams in college football this year. This range also finds a handful of teams from the ACC Coastal, including projected division champ Miami.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2013 season
College Football 2013 Preseason Rankings: 26-40
Lane Kiffin is feeling considerable heat after 2012’s disappointing 7–6 finish for a team some ranked No. 1 nationally heading into the season. Now he has the unenviable task of trying to return to prominence with an inexperienced quarterback, a major question mark at left tackle and a defense that could be vulnerable in the secondary.
If nothing else, at least he gets a break in a schedule that doesn’t include national power Oregon and opens with four games that the Trojans should win — three of them at home.
After that, though, things get difficult. The feeling is Kiffin needs nine or 10 victories, or his job could be in serious jeopardy.
2013 USC Trojans Team Preview
The path to a division title is tougher in 2013, especially with a schedule that features road games at USC, Stanford and Oregon. Quarterback Brett Hundley will be better as a sophomore, but the Bruins need to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense, which returns five starters, has room to improve after giving up 415.9 yards per game last year. The Bruins could be a better team, yet fail to repeat as division champs.
2013 UCLA Bruins Team Preview
James Franklin has accomplished something most thought was not possible: He’s made Vanderbilt football relevant in the SEC. The Commodores went 9–4 overall and 5–3 in the SEC. The nine wins were the most since 1915, and the winning record in the league was the school’s first since 1982. And there was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s breakthrough season — the Dores ranked fifth in the league in total defense and a respectable eighth in total offense. While a few key players must be replaced on both sides of the ball, there is more than enough returning talent to take this program to a third straight bowl game.
2013 Vanderbilt Commodores Team Preview
It’s been a decade since Miami last won 10 games in a season, and the lack of success has gradually eroded expectations. But things could be on the upswing in Coral Gables despite a never-ending NCAA investigation that has dogged Al Golden in his two-plus seasons as coach. With eight starters returning for a potentially explosive offense, four starters back on a rebuilding defense and a manageable schedule, the Hurricanes are a legitimate contender for a Coastal Division title and their first trip to the ACC title game.
2013 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview
30. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech made changes to its staff in hopes that the shuffling gets the offense closer to the decades-long success of Bud Foster’s defense. The reality is that with completely new offensive tackles, a revamped receiving corps and question marks at running back, it might be more of the same until the new coaches can get a few recruiting classes under their belts.
Virginia Tech still has quarterback Logan Thomas and a defense that returns nine starters from a group that finished 18th nationally last year. An ACC title isn’t out of the question.
2013 Virginia Tech Hokies Team Preview
31. Kansas State
K-State has improved its record each and every season since coach Bill Snyder came out of retirement in 2009. From six wins his first year back to seven victories and a bowl game to 10 wins and the Cotton Bowl to 11 victories and a Big 12 championship last season — the Wildcats have continually gotten better.
But that upward trend will be difficult to continue with the losses of Heisman finalist quarterback Collin Klein, wideout Chris Harper, linebacker Arthur Brown, and several other key defensive starters.
The Wildcats return enough talent to be a threat in the Big 12, but not enough for another BCS bowl.
2013 Kansas State Wildcats Team Preview
32. Michigan State
Michigan State’s close losses last season (five by four points or fewer) are well documented. But the Spartans also won four games by four points or fewer. The margin for error for this team was razor thin. The 2013 season could look a lot like the ’12 campaign. The Spartans will once again be outstanding on defense, but issues remain on offense. The hope is that the improved offensive line will help the rest of the unit flourish. The schedule is favorable, but on paper it’s tough to project this team to finish higher than Michigan, Nebraska or Northwestern in the division.
2013 Michigan State Spartans Team Preview
33. Ole Miss
Quarterback Bo Wallace can be a star if he cuts down on his interceptions. The Rebels need him to do that to be successful on the road early — they play at Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn — so that they’re not forced to climb uphill in the standings in a late string of home games.
Ole Miss exceeded expectations last year largely because it stayed relatively healthy. A similar dose of good fortune would be helpful again. The starters are talented, but the Rebels do not have quality depth across the board.
2013 Ole Miss Rebels Team Preview
34. Georgia Tech
With 16 returning starters and a team loaded with seniors, the 2013 Yellow Jackets could be coach Paul Johnson’s best team since the 2009 Orange Bowl squad. Much depends on how consistent quarterback Vad Lee can be, and if Georgia Tech can handle a tough schedule in which it will play four Coastal Division opponents in a row, including Virginia Tech on five days’ rest. The Jackets will need to find a way to handle division rivals Miami and Virginia Tech as well. While there have been a number of close calls, Johnson is a combined 2–8 against the Canes and Hokies. Georgia Tech is hardly a favorite, but it has the ingredients to win the division and play for the ACC title.
2013 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Team Preview
The 58-year-old Tommy Tuberville seems energized by his move to Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20–17 at Texas Tech and was never truly embraced by the fans, but Cincinnati boosters are thrilled to have him. UC never has had a coach with anything resembling Tuberville’s national pedigree, which includes an 85–40 record at Auburn from 1999-2008.
There is a solid core of returnees, but the unknown is how much impact to expect from several transfers. Rodriguez Moore (all-purpose back) and Jeff Luc (linebacker), at one point or another, were rated No. 1 nationally at their positions by various recruiting services.
The Bearcats had 10-win seasons in both 2011 and 2012 under Butch Jones, who parlayed his success into the Tennessee job. With a relatively kind schedule, Cincinnati fans could see another season of double-digit wins.
2013 Cincinnati Bearcats Team Preview
Admittedly, coach Art Briles is biased, but he likes his team — a lot: “I feel like we’re going to win (the league title) every year,” he says. Quarterback Bryce Petty seems more than capable of taking the Bears to their fourth straight bowl game. And the Bears are loaded with talent at the skill positions, including running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese. But the offensive line will have to hold up, and the defense has to be much better if Baylor plans on being a factor in the Big 12 title chase.
2013 Baylor Bears Team Preview
With a more imposing Husky Stadium, a new era of Washington football excellence is expected. The Huskies have nearly everyone back, but they need quarterback Keith Price at the top of his game.
Anything short of eight or nine wins and more serious title contention will be disappointing for a program eager to return to the national conversation.
2013 Washington Huskies Team Preview
38. North Carolina
Fans who like offense should get ready for another exciting season in Chapel Hill. Points should be plentiful once again — on both sides of the scoreboard.
The Tar Heels have sufficient firepower on offense as long as the offensive line can hold its own during a transition year up front and quarterback Bryn Renner can stay healthy. The latter, of course, is at least somewhat dependent upon the former.
On the other side of the ball, UNC players and coaches believe that a year of experience will lead to fewer missed assignments and penalties. With little proven talent on defense, the question is whether the Tar Heels can produce enough stops to emerge victorious from shootouts. The answer will go a long way in determining whether UNC can contend for the ACC Coastal Division crown.
2013 North Carolina Tar Heels Team Preview
39. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have the potential to score a lot of points if they’re able to find a reliable quarterback. They averaged just under 30 points per game last season, and that was while everyone was adapting to a radically new offense. This year, the schemes are familiar and players have adjusted to strength coach Craig Fitzgerald’s modernized weight program, so optimism is running high. That said, Penn State may need all the points the offense can muster. An injury or two at linebacker, where depth is precariously low, could create major problems.
2013 Penn State Nittany Lions Team Preview
Somehow Arizona won eight games, including a bowl game, with the worst defense in school history by balancing it with the most prolific offense in school history. Those numbers aren’t likely to be as extreme this year. With Matt Scott gone, the quarterbacking situation is worrisome, but on defense the Wildcats appear to be improved.
Arizona’s most telling advantage is its non-conference schedule; the Wildcats open against Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA. That should allow coach Rich Rodriguez the time to select a starting quarterback for the Pac-12 season, and replace receiver Austin Hill’s pass-catching load from among a group of five capable receivers. This is a veteran team looking for a quarterback to lead it. By November, when Arizona plays powers UCLA and Oregon in Tucson, the Wildcats could be good enough to upset either.
2013 Arizona Wildcats Team Preview
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“The Monster Mile” isn’t just a title for the purposes of ticket sales. It is a fine summation of a truly unique racetrack that causes fits for the majority of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster twice a year.
Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, high-banked attention grabber of a facility with fast closing speeds and diminished reaction time. It also offers some of the greatest lore in modern day NASCAR.
Jimmie Johnson is supremely dominant; so dominant, in fact, that it’s said he can’t be beaten, unless fuel mileage becomes a factor. Denny Hamlin is admittedly awful, so bad that he had to consult a sports psychologist prior to last fall’s race just so that he wouldn’t be mentally defeated before ever making the trip to Delaware.
The numbers from recent seasons seemingly back the mythology. For Hamlin, it is a troublesome track. For Johnson and others, it’s a tremendous coliseum.
5.958 Jimmie Johnson’s 5.958 PEER at Dover is the best in the Cup Series.
With four wins in the last eight races, Johnson is arguably better at Dover than any driver at any other track — Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen offers a valid opposition — and easily ranks as the series’ most productive racer. This stems not only from winning, but winning with gusto. His affinity for pacing the field on the Monster Mile is of legendary proportions.
65.6% In his four victories at Dover during the CoT era, Johnson had an average laps led percentage of 65.6.
This means Johnson doesn’t just win. He dominates. That’s sort of his general modus operandi when it comes to Dover, considering he has led 52.5 percent of the total laps there dating back to the 2009 spring race. In that time frame he averaged a running position of third place or better. Dover delivers a hectic day to most drivers, so it figures that Johnson has dwindled his competition down to about one or two other drivers in races there the last few years. This is also evident in his passing numbers.
78 Johnson converted 39 pass encounters out of a comparatively low two-race total of 78 into green-flag passes during the 2012 races at Dover.
That 50 percent passing efficiency on a low number of encounters is a byproduct of running in the front of the field all day. That he was able to avoid “for-position” traffic for the majority of the races at Dover is fairly advantageous for a team looking to take care of its car and come away with a victory. Aside from lapped traffic, Johnson didn’t often find himself in harm’s way that much last season.
75.5% Kyle Busch did his best Johnson impression at Dover in last fall’s race, leading 75.5 percent of the race’s total laps. He did not win.
Instead, a rare fuel mileage-predicated ending awarded the win to Brad Keselowski, but Busch demonstrated that he was perfectly able to do “Kyle Busch things” on the dicey one-mile oval. Taking into account how dominant he has been in 2013, Busch is a win threat this weekend despite his sixth-best Dover-specific production rating (3.042).
4.833 Tied for second in Dover PEER with a 4.833 rating is Matt Kenseth, who might serve as a potential spoiler for this weekend’s event.
It takes me aback that there are those that are surprised by Kenseth’s success behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing car early this season. Kenseth has always been a savvy driver from track to track, but now he is piloting equipment that offers a bigger “home run” threat, so to speak, compared to his former Roush Fenway Racing digs. It appears that JGR is benefiting from the Gen-6 more than a lot of the other heavyweight teams in the sport, so the always-reliable Kenseth is in a plum position to score wins at tracks on which he has always been a skilled producer. Dover is one such track.
Only hard-core baseball junkies are familiar with these names now, but in a few years all baseball fans will recognize these stars. Here’s a brief look at stars of the future who have yet to make their debuts in the major leagues.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle
With above-average fastball, curve and change, Walker is clearly a future starter, but he must harness control issues. Through 10 starts at Double-A Jackson, opponents are batting just .190, but he has issued 27 walks in 59 innings.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
Acquired from the Giants for Carlos Beltran, the righthander possesses a fastball that nears triple digits. Fine-tuning his command and breaking pitches will get him to the majors, and that isn’t far away. In nine starts and 48.1 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas, he has 49 whiffs and allowed only 45 hits.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh (pictured)
Last season, his first in pro ball, he progressed from High-A to Triple-A where he made one start. In 10 starts at Triple-A this season, opponents are hitting just .207. Cole owns a major-league ready fastball and curve. He’ll be in Pittsburgh by August.
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh
Pitching at Double-A this season, Taillon’s fastball will reach the upper 90s. He has 63 punchouts in 55.2 innings this season with a 2.19 ERA. As soon as he develops other pitches, he’ll join the
Pirates’ rotation, which should be in 2014.
Danny Hultzen, Seattle
The second-best left-handed prospect shined in his first four starts at Triple-A but hasn’t pitched since mid-April due to a rotator cuff problem. Red flag.
Archie Bradley, Arizona
After five tremendous starts at Single-A, Bradley has been even better at Double-A this season with a 0.69 ERA in five outings. He turns 21 in August and is on a fast track to the big leagues, although the Diamondbacks are adamant about not rushing him.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay
With a fastball that reaches 98 and a tight slider, Archer could end up in the bullpen. Tampa Bay is his third organization and he’ll be 25 before the season ends.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Obtained in the R.A. Dickey trade over the winter, Syndergaard hasn’t disappointed the Mets. In nine starts at High-A Port St. Lucie, the 6'6" righthander has 52 strikeouts in 50.2 innings and has given up just one home run.
Jonathan Singleton, Houston
Long considered a top prospect in Philadelphia, Singleton is currently serving a suspension for a drug violation. He’s probably better suited for DH.
Keon Barnum, Chicago White Sox
The strong 20-year-old has prodigious power. The question will be whether he can develop consistency at the plate.
Kolten Wong, St. Louis
Nothing about Wong will wow you except that he is a ballplayer. Speed, bat and glove are all just a tad above average, but his instincts, will and work ethic should land him a job in the majors and keep him there a long time.
Delino DeShields, Jr., Houston
Speed is his greatest asset, and the son of the former major leaguer has solid makeup and athleticism. He projects as a sturdy leadoff hitter and if his defense doesn’t cut it at second, he’ll make a solid center fielder.
Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore
Originally a shortstop, Schoop can play all over the infield. Second base seems to be where the Orioles need him most.
Nick Franklin, Seattle
Originally a shortstop, Franklin has split time at both middle infield positions this season. In 2010, he had 23 homers and 25 steals at Single-A Clinton.
Miguel Sano, Minnesota
Sano turned 20 a few weeks ago and is tearing up the Florida State League with a .354 average and 23 extra-base hits including 11 homers in his first 40 games.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland (pictured)
A few years ago, Lindor was the youngest player in the Futures Game. He’s considered the best defensive shortstop in the minors, and is batting .331 at Single-A.
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
While not as refined at the plate as Lindor, Baez has more power. It will be interesting to see who eventually moves to third base, Baez or current Chicago shortstop Starlin Castro.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston
If Jose Iglesias ever blossoms for Boston, Bogaerts could move to third, shifting Will Middlebrooks to first.
Carlos Correa, Houston
His glove is well ahead of his bat, but his .410 OBP this season at Single-A isn’t too shabby.
Addison Russell, Oakland
He’s scuffling at .189 this season, but hit .369 across three levels in 2012.
Hak-Ju Lee, Tampa Bay
In the midst of a breakout season at the plate for Triple-A Durham, Lee suffered torn knee ligaments and will miss the remainder of the year.
Oscar Taveras, St. Louis
Without question, Taveras is the highest-prized prospect not yet called up to the big leagues. The Cardinals’ expectation is that he will be a regular in the Redbirds’ outfield next season.
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay
Outside of Jurickson Profar, Myers has received more attention than anyone in the minors this season. Only a matter of time before he’s helping Evan Longoria carry the Rays’ offense.
Christian Yelich, Miami
The 21-year-old has 20 extra-base hits, 23 runs and 23 RBIs in his first 26 games at Double-A.
Byron Buxton, Minnesota
Twins fans have been dreaming of an outfield that includes Buxton and Aaron Hicks. Buxton is still a few years away, and Hicks has appeared overmatched so far this season.
Nick Castellanos, Detroit
Originally a third baseman, he moved to the outfield this season, which is his quickest track to Detroit. Castellanos is a pure hitter with developing power.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati
Most fans are familiar with his 155 steals last season. But in his first foray into Triple-A, he’s struggled at the plate with a .228 average and .286 OBP.
Bubba Starling, Kansas City
Drafted in 2011, Starling chose the Royals over the opportunity to play quarterback at Nebraska. He hasn’t exactly exploded onto the scene, hitting just .213 this season at Single-A.
Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are excited about the young outfielder, currently hitting .296 and slugging .528 at Single-A Daytona.
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Signed to a seven-year, $42 million deal out of Cuba last year, Puig has raw power and gave the Dodgers a glimpse during spring training just how good he can be.
Mike Zunino, Seattle (pictured)
The third overall pick in 2012 progressed quickly up to Double-A last season hitting .333 in 15 games. Success hasn’t come as easy at Triple-A this season, but the Mariners are convinced he is their long-term solution behind the plate.
Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
Multiple knee injuries have prevented d’Arnaud from being in the bigs already. His forte is his bat with some power. He’s worked diligently to improve his throwing. The Mets would love to see him completely healthy and in New York in 2014.
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
He won’t turn 21 until December and has serious power. He hasn’t mastered the nuances behind the plate, but he has a terrific arm. He’s currently hitting .279 at High-A Tampa.
Austin Hedges, San Diego
The Padres spent $3 million on their 2011 second-round pick believing he would be a long-term solution behind the plate. Defensively he has all the tools to be one of the best. His bat will probably never grade as high as his glove, but he has 11 walks and only 11 whiffs so far this season at High-A
Lake Elsinore, which lifts his OBP.
Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta
The Panama native’s prowess behind the plate and outstanding throwing arm may alone be enough for him to replace Brian McCann by 2015. If he improves his plate discipline, that could happen sooner.
Each week, Athlon Sports highlights the most important, intriguing and bizarre stats in baseball.
The craziest parents in sports have all had strange twists and turns along the way to fame or infamy. Many plotted every step of their child’s life. Others got in the way. Some were successful. Some failed. Every one of them made their kid’s journey a wild ride — for better or worse.
1. Marv Marinovich, father of Todd Marinovich
The undisputed worst sports parent in history, Marv was Dr. Frankenstein of “Robo QB” son Todd — who was dubbed “America’s first test-tube athlete” due to Marv’s extreme Eastern Bloc training methods. Only Ivan Drago was more programmed. Every aspect of Todd’s career was choreographed by Marv, who dictated diet, workout and daily routine — going over-the-top at every stop.
Todd’s success in high school and at USC (Marv’s alma mater) resulted in a first-round selection by the L.A. Raiders (Marv’s old team). But after eight games over two seasons, Todd’s NFL career ended with a 50.7 completion percentage, 1,345 yards, eight TDs, nine INTs, a 66.4 passer rating and 3–5 record as a starter.
The sad story of Todd’s post-NFL life has been well-documented. But the key words are heroin addiction, herniated disc, blown-out knee, CFL, Arena League and innocence lost. Oh, and Marv. Most people blame Marv.
2. Minna Wilson, mother of Tony Wilson
Mrs. Wilson remixed the LL Cool J hit “Mama Said Knock You Out” into “Mama Said No Knock Out.” When Steve McCarthy trapped Tony Wilson against the ropes, Mama Minna jumped into the ring and took a few swings of her own — resulting in a Wilson Family disqualification.
3. Andrea McDonald, mother of Alex Collins
One of the top running backs in the Class of 2013, South Plantation (Fla.) product Alex Collins could dodge or bulldoze just about anyone in his way — with the notable exception of his mom.
When Collins decided he was de-committing from Miami and heading to Arkansas, not only did Andrea McDonald refuse to sign his letter of intent, she stole the document and hid it before he could fax it in. When Collins’ dad signed the paperwork instead, McDonald hired The Cochran Firm to represent her. Soo wee! That’s overprotective.
4. Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena
Call Richard crazy like a fox — or crazy like Joe Jackson. It’s hard to argue with results. Richard coached both of his daughters from the Compton, Calif., public courts all the way to No. 1 world rankings.
An outwardly angry man who, rightfully, made race an outspoken issue on his rise to the top, Richard was questioned by the tennis world for holding his daughters back from the traditional youth tournament circuit. But it worked. His public outbursts, paranoia and media ramblings are no big deal these days.
5. Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods
“My first conscious memory… is my father crazy-gluing this plastic golf club to my hands. His hair was all messed up, and he had this crazy look in his eye,” Tiger Woods, parodied brilliantly by Tim Meadows, says in a classic skit on Saturday Night Live. That’s probably not so far from the truth, consider Earl introduced Tiger to golf before he was age two.
6. William Sanders, father of Barry Sanders
William was an Oklahoma fan who rooted for the Sooners when his Heisman Trophy-winning son Barry was playing for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Seriously. William was Barry’s presenter at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, at which point he took time out of his son’s big day to “say hello to the greatest running back that ever lived, the No. 1 running back that ever lived. He’s not with us today, I think he’s with his family in Los Angeles — Mr. Jim Brown. So, I want to say hello to him.”
William wrapped up by saying, “I want to introduce you to the third best running back that ever lived, Barry Sanders.” Thanks, dad.
7. Larry Fitzgerald Sr., father of Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Sr. is a sportswriter at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder who was both praised and criticized nationally for covering Larry Jr.’s first trip to the Super Bowl as a neutral “journalist” in the press box and not as a cheering “parent” in the stands.
But he didn’t stay out of it this season when his son’s team — which plays roughly 1,600 miles away from Larry Sr.’s beat — went on a nine-game losing streak. “Definition of team quitting? 9 losses n a row. 9th loss 58-0! Injuries handling of offense worst NFL. Adrian Wilson & Darnell Dockett situations!” he tweeted. “…This is the NFL. Humbling embarrassing frustrating angering disappointing painful. What happens when u quit!”
8. Lynn and Rick Raisman, parents of Aly Raisman
While their little girl Aly had a gold-medal-clinching floor routine, Lynn and Rick Raisman had a national-spotlight-stealing fan routine at the 2012 London Olympics — complete with Team USA Polo uniforms, a flair for the dramatic and a knack for knowing where the cameras were placed. They stuck the landing.
9. Cecil Fielder, father of Prince Fielder
The big beef between history’s only father-son duo to each hit 50 home runs in a single season — Cecil hit 51 HR for the Detroit Tigers in 1990 and Prince hit 50 HR for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007 — revolves around Cecil wasting his own money, allegedly stealing six-figures of Prince’s money and calling Prince a fat boy — I’m sorry, an “obese kid.” Who will be the bigger man?
10. A.P. Indy, sire of 1,119 foals
Arguably the greatest stud in thoroughbred horse racing history, A.P. Indy did not attend a single race of his 1,119 foals — of which 142 were stakes winners.
Sharing bloodlines with both Seattle Slew and Secretariat, A.P. Indy was sold for $2.9 million as a yearling, posted an 8–2–1 record in 11 starts and commanded a $300,000 stud fee during his lengthy heyday, before retiring prior to the 2012 breeding season. Absolutely crazy.
The American Athletic Conference doesn’t have a logo or a site for its conference tournament. But it does have the defending national champion and clear top team for 2013-14.
In its first and final season in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the clear favorite with many of the key pieces returning from last season’s title winner.
Although the American won’t be as good as the former Big East, the league is hoping a handful of teams -- both from the old Big East and teams imported from Conference USA -- will keep the league flush with its share of postseason contenders.
The C-USA newcomers, most notably Houston and SMU, have been gearing up for this move. Memphis is, as usual, the best of this bunch, but the Cougars and Mustangs have added top high school recruits and transfers to at least make their first seasons in the new league interesting.
Here’s a quick look at the American Athletic Conference and early rankings for 2013-14.
2013-14 CONFERENCE SNAPSHOT: AMERICAN
1. LOUISVILLE (35-5, 14-4 Big East, won national title)
Key players gone: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva
Top returners: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware
New faces: Anton Gill (Hargrave Military Academy), Chris Jones (junior college), Terry Rozier (Hargrave)
Not so fast on slotting Kentucky as the national championship favorite. The Cardinals will have a chance to defend their title with the return of Russ Smith after early indications had the shooting guard headed to the draft. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will ease the loss of Peyton Siva while forward Montrezl Harrell could be the Cards’ breakout star in 2013-14 after shining in the postseason.
Related: Realignment tracker for all college basketball moves
2. CONNECTICUT (20-10, 10-8 Big East)
Key players gone: None
Top returners: Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander
New faces: Kentan Facey (freshman), Lasan Kromah (transfer from George Washington), Enosch Wolf (suspended)
After a postseason ban, UConn should be back in the NCAA Tournament picture with the return of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. A problematic frontcourt from last season could get a boost with the team’s top freshman (Facey) and a 7-1 center who was suspended all of last season (Wolf). Kromah was a late addition after averaging 10.1 points per game at George Washington last season. The guard could be eligible immediately.
Related: UConn among top recruiting classes since 2000
3. MEMPHIS (31-5, 16-0 Conference USA, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Antonio Barton, Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens, Adonis Thomas
Top returners: Chris Crawford, Shaq Goodwin, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson
New faces: Markel Crawford, Kuron Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols, RaShawn Powell (all freshmen)
Two former Memphis players -- Tarik Black and Antonio Barton -- are hot commodities in the transfer pool, but the Tigers should be able to absorb those losses with another highly ranked recruiting class, including three top-50 forwards. The new faces will be led by an improving Joe Jackson, plus Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson, who each topped 10 points per game last season.
4. CINCINNATI (22-12, 9-9 Big East, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Cheikh Mbodj, JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright
Top returners: Jeremiah Davis, Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, Jermaine Sanders
New faces: Jermaine Lawrence (freshman)
Losing the point guard Wright will hurt, but Kilpatrick (17 ppg, 5.2 rpg) elected to return to school. The arrival of versatile forward Lawrence was a major recruiting victory for Mick Cronin and another big get out of New York/New Jersey for the Bearcats.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: SEC
5. TEMPLE (24-10, 11-5 Atlantic 10, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: T.J. DiLeo, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Jake O’Brien, Scootie Randall, Khalif Wyatt
Top returners: Will Cummings, Anthony Lee, Dalton Pepper
Lee (9.8 ppg) is the only returning player who averaged better than six points per game last season, but Temple is nothing if not consistent. The Owls have won between 21 and 29 games with an NCAA Tournament appearance in each of the last six seasons. Two of Temple’s top freshmen from 2012-13, wing Daniel Dingle and big man Devontae Watson, played only 16 games last season.
6. HOUSTON (20-13, 7-9 Conference USA, CBI quarterfinal)
Key players gone: Leon Gibson, J.J. Thompson
Top returners: Danuel House, Valentine Izundu, J.J. Richardson, Jherrod Stiggers, TaShawn Thomas, Tione Womack, Joseph Young
New faces: Danrad “Chicken” Knowles (ineligible last season), Jaaron Simmons (freshman)
Houston is gearing up for tougher competition with Young (18 ppg), Thomas (16.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and House, the Conference USA freshman of the year, all returning. With the freshman Knowles, a 6-10 forward, eligible after missing all of last season, Houston could be a surprise team in the AAC.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: Big Ten
7. SMU (15-17, 5-11 Conference USA)
Key players gone: None
Top returners: Brian Bernardi, Cannen Cunningham, Jalen Jones, Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams
New faces: Keith Frazier (freshman), Crandall Head (transfer from Illinois), Markus Kennedy (transfer from Villanova), Yanick Moreira (junior college transfer), Nic Moore (transfer from Illinois State)
A slew of transfers are eligible for SMU in Year 2 of Larry Brown’s rebuilding project. Moore led the Missouri Valley with 135 assists as a freshman in 2011-12, but the big addition will be Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard. They join a team that returns three double-digit scorers.
8. UCF (20-11, 9-7 Conference USA)
Key players gone: Keith Clanton
Top returners: Calvin Newell, Tristan Spurlock, Isaiah Sykes, Daiquon Walker, Matt Williams, Kasey Wilson
The Knights return from a postseason ban bringing back every key player other than Keith Clanton, who averaged 14.8 points per game and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds. Isaiah Dykes emerged as a stat sheet-stuffing threat with 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Related: Grading Eddie Jordan and other hires for 2013-14
9. RUTGERS (15-16, 5-13 Big East)
Key players gone: Eli Carter, Austin Johnson, Dane Miller, Mike Poole, Derrick Randall, Jerome Seagears
Top returners: Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge, Myles Mack
New coach Eddie Jordan will try to rebuild with a depleted roster that saw Carter and Seagears transfer to SEC schools. Mack (13.6 ppg), Judge (7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Jack (5.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) isn’t a bad place to start, but few coaches have been able to succeed in Piscataway.
10. USF (12-19, 3-15 Big East)
Key players gone: Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Jawanza Polland, Kore White
Top returners: Martino Brock, Anthony Collins, Javontae Hawkins, Zach LeDay, Victor Rudd
New faces: John Egbunu (freshman)
The bottom fell out after USF reached the round of 32 in 2012. The Bulls still have point guard Anthony Collins, who averaged 6.5 assists as a sophomore and improved his shooting percentage from 39 percent to 50 percent. John Egbunu, a rare top-100 recruit to sign with USF, gives the Bulls size in the frontcourt.
After throwing for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season, Everett Golson was poised to emerge as one of Notre Dame’s top players for 2013. The Fighting Irish expected their defense to rank among the best nationally once again, but the offense was supposed to shoulder more of the burden this fall.
However, that outlook has changed significantly. Golson has been suspended for the 2013 season due to an academic issue, dealing the Notre Dame offense a huge setback three months before kickoff. While the Fighting Irish offense will miss Golson this season, the sophomore plans on returning to the team in 2014.
Although Golson wasn’t going to be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football this year, it was clear he made progress in the second half of 2012 and held his own (21-of-36, 270 yards, TD, INT) against Alabama in the national championship game.
Everett Golson's 2013 Statistics
|Rush Att||Rush Yds||TDs||Comp||Att||Yards||Comp. %||TDs||INTs|
|First 7 Games||42||81||2||79||135||968||58.5||4||3|
|First 6 Games||52||217||4||108||183||1,437||59.0||8||3|
Where Does Notre Dame Go From Here?
Losing Golson is a clear setback for Notre Dame’s offense. However, if there is any good news surrounding this situation, it’s the fact that backup Tommy Rees has played in 33 career games and has 18 starts under his belt.
Rees has thrown for 34 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his career, along with a 63.5 completion percentage. With Golson sidelined against BYU last year, Rees completed seven of 16 passes for 117 yards and one score.
There’s no question Rees has the experience necessary to lead Notre Dame to 10 wins in 2013. However, in terms of talent, Golson clearly had the edge and his mobility added an extra dimension to the offense.
Rees should open fall practice atop the depth chart, but junior Andrew Hendrix (304 career passing yards) and true freshman Malik Zaire will compete for time. Hendrix is a good runner but has yet to prove he can consistently beat defenses with his arm.
Zaire was rated as Athlon's No. 21 quarterback and has dual-threat ability. But would a true freshman be a better option than Rees this season? Probably not.
Considering Brian Kelly’s experience at Cincinnati and at Notre Dame, during which he has won with multiple quarterbacks, the Fighting Irish offense should be solid regardless of who is under center. No, Notre Dame isn't going to score 35-40 points a game, but the offense should do just enough to keep this team in every game. Rees may not bring much dynamic ability to the position, but he has experience and played well when called upon last year. If Zaire has to start, the Fighting Irish will have to lean on their defense even more than last season.
Regardless of which quarterback starts, expect Notre Dame to lean more on its ground attack – even with the departure of running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. USC transfer Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III and true freshman Greg Bryant should be a capable trio, and Notre Dame returns three starters on one of the top 15 offensive lines in the nation.
How Many Games Will Notre Dame Win in 2013?
Make no mistake: Notre Dame has one of the toughest schedules in college football for 2013. The Fighting Irish must play 11 bowl teams, with road trips to Michigan, Pittsburgh and Stanford. And there’s a neutral site matchup against Arizona State, who is picked as the favorite by Athlon Sports to win the Pac-12 South.
Considering Notre Dame has one of the nation’s top defenses, along with a reliable rushing attack and offensive line, winning 10 games is certainly possible. Had Golson returned, the Fighting Irish would have to be considered a national title contender. However, without Golson, Notre Dame will take a step back on offense.
Athlon ranked Notre Dame as the No. 8 team for 2013 and projected the Fighting Irish to finish 10-2 prior to Golson’s suspension. But that may be too optimistic with Rees, Zaire or Hendrix under center.
Despite the loss of Golson, the Fighting Irish should have a chance to play for a BCS game. The strength of schedule will help in the polls, and the defense should be able to carry Notre Dame while the offense settles on a quarterback.
There’s not much room for error for Notre Dame in 2013. However, if the defense matches last year’s performance, the Fighting Irish should be able to finish 9-3 or 10-2 and rank among the top 14 teams at the end of the regular season.
After last year's appearance in the national championship game, it was clear Notre Dame was headed on the right track under Brian Kelly. Losing Golson is a setback, but nothing that should derail the Fighting Irish from becoming a consistent top 10-15 team.
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Fourteen leaders. 68 lead changes. A three-wide battle coming off a restart that decides the race. Read those two lines and you’re probably thinking, “typical NASCAR race at Talladega.”
Nope. Instead, those stats defined what could be the best Indianapolis 500 in a generation. As we look back at the Coca-Cola 600, it’s important to stop and recognize open-wheel’s glory day because the event was everything NASCAR was not. There was a sentimental winner, Tony Kanaan, whose post-race celebration from teams and crews became reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 “monkey off his back” victory of 1998. There was passing paired with a sense of urgency — and not just on Lap 190 of 200 — but throughout the entire event. Cautions were scarce, resulting in the fastest average speed in history, yet they weren’t needed to define and/or add excitement to the race. Oh, and should I mention a car even crashed on pit road and IndyCar kept the race under green?
Let’s compare that with Sunday night’s Charlotte event, one that will forever be defined by a piece of nylon rope. That snapped camera cable, from a FOX setup overhead, injured 10 fans, stopped the race and damaged three cars, including top contender Kyle Busch. Of the race’s 11 cautions, six were debris related and a few were positioned well by hot dog wrappers to bunch up the field in order to heighten the race’s entertainment. In a race 100 miles longer than Indy’s 500, there were just 11 leaders, 24 lead changes and three drivers (Busch, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth) led 338 of 400 laps.
Does that mean Indy was perfect? Far from it; the race ended under yellow, drafting made it impossible for a strong car to pull away and there’s still too much homogeneity between teams. NASCAR had strong moments, including a surprise winner of its own in Kevin Harvick. But while the ratings likely won’t show it, in terms of pure competition, Sunday was the first time I can remember where IndyCar, head-to-head with the racing rival that unseated it from “top dog” inside the U.S., turned around, wound up and punched stock cars back, smack in the face in a bid to regain supremacy.
That won’t do much … yet. But at some point, that’s going to resonate with viewers and NASCAR would do well to pay attention. Turnarounds start with little victories like these.
Back to Charlotte…
FIRST GEAR: Kevin Harvick stole himself a Chase bid
He’s led 33 laps all season, good enough for just 17th on the Sprint Cup charts. Among those drivers listed ahead of him: Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. But what none of those drivers have is a Cup win, let alone two. Harvick pulled another rabbit out of his hat on Sunday, the “Closer” playing it perfectly by taking two tires on the final caution while the leader, Kahne, stayed on track.
“It came down to a restart,” Harvick said bluntly, slotting in second after the stop and knowing clean air was all that was needed. “In the end, it was good enough to win the race.”
It’s also likely good enough to make the Chase. Now seventh in points, the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team likely doesn’t have the speed to stay inside the top 10 long-term — not with Busch, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski among those sitting behind them. Over the course of the 26-race regular season, though, those two victories will be more than enough to snag a “wild card” position and put the pressure on Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and those who we know need the victories. It’s possible that those on the outside of the top 10 will have to come up with three wins to sneak into the postseason, which is not an easy feat with 14 races left.
As for Harvick’s unexpected victory? He survived; the epitome of what this race is all about. While problems befell the favorites, from the Busch brothers to Matt Kenseth to even a weakened Jimmie Johnson, the No. 29 car was put in position to win. As veteran Jeff Burton has slyly pointed out, that’s all you need. Sometimes, circumstances dictate the rest.
SECOND GEAR: The rope snap heard around the world
Until Sunday night, most people thought CamCAT was some sort of military DefCon mission or secret weapon you’d acquire in Call of Duty. Instead, it will forever stand for the camera whose ropes came toppling onto the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, snapping into pieces on Lap 121 in an incident that sent three fans to the hospital, injured 10 and turned Kyle Busch’s front end, among others, into a mangled mess.
The technology, around since 2000, was being utilized by FOX for just the second time in NASCAR, following a successful Daytona 500 debut. One reason for its scarceness is the setup. It takes five days, including two cranes mounted on different sides of the track in Turns 1 and 4.
Three ropes make the camera tick, allowing it to slide above the track and deliver the type of breathtaking views fans love. But when one of those ropes broke, chaos broke loose and the snapping of the cable could have easily killed someone as debris kicked up everywhere. For the second time, NASCAR got lucky through a freak accident (see: February’s Nationwide race in Daytona) and was able to throw a red flag, clean up the mess and get fans treated (all have been released). It’s also to NASCAR’s credit that teams were allowed to fix cars torn apart by the cable. It’s one thing when a random event happens, like a hot dog wrapper or an overcooked engine that changes the course of a driver’s race. But when a TV crew broadcasting the event is involved in affecting the outcome through an equipment failure I think trying to reconstruct the race the way it was is perfectly reasonable.
Certainly, there’s some inconsistency within that, as Robby Gordon has lost a race in the past (Watkins Glen, early 2000s) through a TV malfunction. However, in this case NASCAR made the right call. And FOX is doing the right thing by suspending the camera going forward. The best thing to do here is chalk it up to “one of those freak things” and move on.
THIRD GEAR: Mark Martin’s rocky road
It’s been a long time since we’ve worried about the competitiveness of Mark Martin. But since late April, the now 54-year-old has done some things that make you scratch your head. At Richmond, he was involved in a heated incident with Kahne in which it looked like the veteran initiated contact. At Charlotte, it was another surprising mistake, as one of the sport’s cleanest drivers stuck his nose in the wrong place at wrong time, sparking a wreck that took out Chase contenders Jeff Gordon and Aric Almirola while hampering the nights of several others.
Suddenly, Martin’s year doesn’t look so rosy, with just one top-5 finish (third, Daytona) and zero laps led since February at Phoenix. A “lame duck” at Michael Waltrip Racing, you wonder if the impending departure will now begin to take its toll. After all, since leaving Roush, his sophomore campaigns at other teams, from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports, have always resulted in a downturn in performance. The big difference? None of them involved these types of uncharacteristic mistakes on the racetrack. Could this year finally be the one where Martin decides to call it quits?
With college football’s postseason set to change after the 2013 season, Alabama could finish the BCS era as the only team to win three consecutive national titles. The Crimson Tide has claimed back-to-back championships thanks to dominating wins over LSU and Notre Dame.
Considering it’s no easy task to win a national title, every year presents new challenges and obstacles for a team to overcome. Alabama has one of the best rosters in college football, with depth overflowing at each position. But a few injuries could change the outlook for this team. The schedule isn’t overwhelming this year, but a road trip to Texas A&M on Sept. 14 will play an early role in determining how the SEC West title picture will unfold in 2013.
The 2013 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May.
What is Alabama's Biggest Obstacle to a National Title in 2013?
Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Alabama’s biggest obstacle to a three-peat is Alabama. Yes, Johnny Manziel presents a difficult challenge, and Les Miles usually finds a way to bring it against Nick Saban. But the machine that Saban has built in Tuscaloosa can only be stopped by itself.
Alabama is in completely uncharted territory. There’s no script to follow to ensure that there’s no complacency within the players and that leadership is evolving the way it needs to. There’s typical player personnel turnover and a potential showdown with whoever wins the SEC East. But again, it all comes back to Alabama taking care of business.
Only two times in the past 15 years has the SEC Champion even made it back to Atlanta to defend their conference crown, and both of those teams lost. Alabama is rewriting the script, again. I guess that’s just part of ‘the process’.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Alabama has its question marks, chiefly the offensive line and what happens against an elite passing offense. The secondary is a spot where Alabama is merely “very good” rather than elite. If Alabama can survive Texas A&M’s best shot on Sept. 14 and Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28, the Tide don’t look to be tested by a great passing game for the remainder of the season. So that means Alabama’s greatest adversary in 2013 may be complacency. Alabama has the experience, talent and coaching to win a title. Getting too satisfied with back-to-back titles and a feeling that a fourth title in five seasons is a certainty would be enough to cause a slip up. Alabama is justifiably the national title favorite, as overwhelming a preseason favorite as Florida was in 2009. The Gators title chase was ended by Alabama, which should be a reminder that as good as a team looks in June, it means little by December.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
For a two-time defending champion that plays in the vaunted SEC, Alabama's schedule isn't all that daunting at all. LSU at home will be a game full of elite players and electric energy, but the gap between these two programs seems to be growing ever so slightly. Otherwise, the Crimson Tide will be a heavy favorite in every other game except the trip to College Station. However, because Nick Saban has been preparing for Johnny Manziel for over a year now and revenge could play a huge role, I will go out on a limb and say the SEC Championship game will be their biggest hurdle. Yes, Ohio State or Oregon or Stanford or Clemson could pose a threat in the BCS National Championship game, but either Georgia or South Carolina in Atlanta will be the toughest challenge Alabama will face in 2013. The regular season will be in the rearview and the stakes will likely be as clear as they were a year ago: Win in the Georgia Dome on Championship Saturday and you likely win the BCS National Championship.
John Pennington, MrSEC.com, (@MrSEC)
The list of obstacles is long. Winning in the toughest division in college football is obviously a pretty big issue. Rebuilding the offensive line must be considered. For a third-straight year, Alabama will need to get some breaks, the lucky bounces and scheduling quirks that all title-winning teams require. In addition, the media spotlight on a team going for it's third crown in three years will be blinding.
But the biggest issue facing the Tide in 2013 can be found between the ear holes of Bama's players' helmets. It's attitude.
In 2010, Alabama returned a good chunk of its 2009 BCS championship squad, but the chemistry was not the same. Nick Saban spent the entire 2010 offseason telling his team that it was a new year and that his current team -- as it was put together in 2010 -- hadn't won anything yet. Ultimately, the message was not received.
Last year, Saban's squad remained hungry, even after collecting the 2011 national title. Will players who've now won two-straight titles work just as hard and study just as long as they have the last two years? Will young players mistakenly believe that they can just roll their crimson helmets out onto the field and win simply because they represent Alabama?
The biggest obstacle for Bama in 2013 is a mental one. Will Crimson Tide players remain hungry, driven and focused?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There are many obstacles to a third consecutive national championship for Alabama. While I think all will be overcome by the Crimson Tide as they are my pick to win the national title this season, let’s keep this in mind: It’s very, very difficult to go undefeated. Needless to say, winning a third straight title will require some luck and favorable bounces.
The schedule isn’t too taxing, but matchups at Texas A&M and the SEC Championship will be a challenge. Most of the key personnel is back from last season, but the offensive line and secondary are two areas to watch in terms of development early in the year. And of course, there’s the issue of complacency. Coach Nick Saban continues to push this team to make that a non-issue, so I doubt that’s going to prevent Alabama from winning a title this year.
While the schedule, personnel and complacency are concerns, I think the biggest obstacle is health. Alabama has one of the deepest rosters in the nation, but the backup quarterback spot is a concern. What happens if quarterback AJ McCarron is forced to miss a couple of games? Would the Crimson Tide offense continue to thrive with Blake Sims or Alec Morris under center? Luckily for Alabama, having a deep backfield and receiving corps takes the pressure off of the quarterback, but an injury to McCarron could prove very costly.
The biggest obstacle to Alabama winning a third straight national championship is one thing that is really out of Nick Saban's, the rest of the coaching staff's and even the players' hands - health. The Crimson Tide can take care of business on the field, and off of it for that matter, but there's only so much that can be done to prevent injury, especially the freak ones. As good as Alabama is and as deep as their roster goes, this is an entirely different team if it were to lose one of its key pieces, say quarterback AJ McCarron? If something were to happen to McCarron, Saban would then have to turn things over to junior Blake Sims, who has thrown a grand total of 10 passes and started out as a running back.
McCarron is probably the one player Alabama can least afford to lose, but he's not alone as any injury could result in a shuffling of the depth chart at one or more positions. Alabama has a lot of talent throughout its roster and returns 14 starters from last year's championship team. But in the SEC the stakes are always high, especially in Tuscaloosa as one loss could be the difference between a shot at a three-peat or some other bowl game.
Will Georgia Have the SEC's Best Offense in 2013?
Texas A&M or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West?
Georgia, Florida or South Carolina: Who Will Win the SEC East in 2013?
Will Missouri Make a Bowl Game in 2013?
Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2013
Will Tennessee Make a Bowl in 2013?
Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Wins More SEC Games in 2013?
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of the BCS Era
Braxton Miller thrived in his first season under coach Urban Meyer, throwing for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 scores.
Miller carried Ohio State to a 12-0 mark last year and should be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy in 2013.
With another offseason to work with Meyer, Miller should take another step forward as a passer in 2013. Combine improved passing skills with dynamic ability on the ground, and it’s easy to see why Miller is one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
Even though Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is considered by many to be the top returning quarterback this year, is there a chance Braxton Miller holds that title by the end of the season?
The 2013 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason.
Ohio State ranks as Athlon's No. 2 team in the 2013 Top 25 countdown.
Where Does Braxton Miller Rank Among the Best Quarterbacks Nationally?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Braxton Miller has a way to go before he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He may be a Big Ten title-winning QB -- as he could have been last season -- and he fits the profile of a Heisman contender. Still, he needs to improve his output as a passer. In the final seven games last season, Miller completed 60 percent of his passes against only two opponents (Illinois and Michigan). In the same span, he completed fewer than half of his passes in two games (Purdue and Penn State). And this was behind an offensive line that continued to improve as the season went along. Miller’s growth as a passer from his freshman season to his sophomore season, plus another year under Meyer, suggests he’ll take another leap as a junior, but for now, quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and Marcus Mariota are more dynamic commodities.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Braxton Miller may not be the top NFL quarterback prospect in the nation, but neither Urban Meyer nor Ohio State fans would trade him for anyone else in the nation. Yes, that includes the two-time defending champ in AJ McCarron and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Miller has rare electric athletic ability and the toughness of a nose tackle. He singlehandedly carried his team to a 12-0 record as just a sophomore and he is still getting better. His skills fit the Meyer spread system perfectly and he is Athlon Sports' front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2013 — especially if he leads his team to the BCS National Championship game as many have predicted. In my opinion, there are seven "elite" quarterbacks in college football and it's nearly impossible to rank McCarron vs. Manziel vs. Miller vs. Tajh Boyd vs. Marcus Mariota vs. Aaron Murray vs. Teddy Bridgewater. But Miller is one of seven signal-callers whose coaches wouldn't trade for anyone else in the nation. The more interesting question might be would Bo Pelini, Jim Mora, Brady Hoke or Tim DeRuyter trade their starter for Miller?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With names like Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Tajh Boyd, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Taylor Martinez and Brett Hundley returning, 2013 is shaping up to be one of the deepest collections of quarterbacks for a college football season in recent memory.
It’s hard to dispute Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel as the top quarterback in the nation. However, depending on your preference of an offense, a case could be made for any of the nine quarterbacks mentioned above. If a pure pocket passer is your pick, then McCarron, Murray and Bridgewater might rank a little higher on your list. If being mobile is the offensive system, then Mariota, Manziel and Miller have the edge.
Considering Manziel is the reigning Heisman winner, I would still rank him as the No. 1 quarterback for 2013. But considering how difficult it will be to repeat his numbers, and SEC defenses have a full offseason to gameplan for Texas A&M’s offense, Manziel may not finish 2013 as the top quarterback.
Miller is a perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense, has an improving set of weapons around him and should make strides as a passer in 2013. With all of those factors in play, I think there’s a good chance Miller is a first-team All-American quarterback and a Heisman Trophy winner at the end of this season.
Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com, (@KevinonCFB)
Braxton Miller may not be one of my top five quarterbacks in 2013, but he could very well be one of the three most important quarterbacks in the country. My top five right now, in no particular order, include Alabama's two-time BCS championship-winning AJ McCarron, Georgia's record-setting Aaron Murray, Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy-winning Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater as locks. The fifth spot is up for some debate, and you can make a strong case for Miller to be in there ahead of another worthy candidate such as Clemson's Tajh Boyd.
Miller is the key cog in Ohio State's plans for a successful 2013 season. Entering his junior season, Miller will have nearly two full seasons under his belt as Ohio State's starting quarterback. That experience should pay off for the Buckeyes. He does have some room for improvement, though. Among eligible quarterbacks last season, Miller was ranked 78th in pass completion percentage and he passed for more than 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He did add more than 1,200 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, which proves he is a dual threat every time he is on the field. If Miller is going to be seen as an elite quarterback this season, then he will have to improve his passing production.
Johnny Manziel may have the Heisman and AJ McCarron the national championships, but Miller is right up there with both when it comes to the best quarterbacks in the nation. Miller, like Manziel, is a dual threat who finished fourth in the Big Ten last season with 1,271 yards rushing and scored 13 touchdowns. He also threw for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The junior completed better than 58 percent of his passes and finished 34th in the nation in total offense despite ranking 95th in pass attempts. He's had a full season running Urban Meyer's spread offense and should be even more dangerous this season with eight other returning starters on that side of the ball.
When it comes to the best quarterbacks in the nation, I think the list has to start with Manziel because of the hardware and McCarron because of the championship resume. After that, I think you can make a strong case that Miller is next, even before the likes of reigning ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd, electric dual-threat sophomore Marcus Mariota at Oregon and potential Heisman darkhorse contender Teddy Bridgewater, to name a few. All six of these quarterbacks have one thing in common - they have the potential to lead their team to the BCS National Championship Game. And in the end, that just may be the determining factor in separating this talented sextet of signal-callers in 2013.
Who Should Start at Quarterback for Wisconsin in 2013?
College Football's Top 25 Dynasties of the AP Era
How Many Big Ten Games Will Northwestern Win in 2013?
Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks for 2013
Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the Big Ten Head Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2013 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire report every Monday. Our fantasy junkies cover the hottest hitters, best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league each week.
Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (May 20-26):
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Weekly Waiver Wire:
Eric Chavez, 1B/3B, ARI (23% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
Chavez was a 30-HR, 100-RBI guy for Oakland back in the early 2000s. Injuries completely derailed his career, but he showed some signs last year in limited duty with the Yankees, posting a .281-16-37 line in less than 300 at-bats. This season he's in Arizona and he has been killing the baseball this month, batting .421 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. If you have room for someone like Chavez, he's a nice left-handed bat (.350-7-24 vs. RHP) to have in your lineup.
Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF, TB (61%)
Go figure, another Ray who can play multiple positions. In Johnson's case, the best play for him is at second, but if he keeps up his run production (8 HR, 26 RBIs), his bat could enter OF discussion too. Johnson has provided pop before, hitting a combined 47 home runs in 2010-11, but strikeouts have always been an issue for him. He Ked a total of 311 times in those two seasons and had 159 last season. So far, he's done a better job of making contact in 2013 with a 37:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 42 games.
James Loney, 1B, TB (41% )
Loney has been discussed here before, but as long as he keeps hitting, he's worth mentioning, especially since his ownership rate is less than 50 percent. Loney is second only to Miguel Cabrera in the AL in batting at .342 and he has hit three home runs in May. He had just six total in 144 games last season.
Daniel Nava, OF, BOS (45%)
Nava is top 10 among all OFs with 32 RBIs and has added six home runs, 27 runs scored and a .299 average in less than 150 at-bats so far. He's a switch-hitter who can hit near the top or in the middle of the order and the biggest knock against him has been that Red Sox manager John Farrell has sat Nava against left-handed starters. This could change, however, with Shane Victorino going on the DL last week, and even though he hasn't faced many lefties, he hasn't been overmatched against them (.250-2-8 in 40 AB) either.
Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, TEX: .263/.671, 3R, HR, 4 RBIs
Mitch Moreland, 1B, TEX: .300/.705, 4 R
Daniel Murphy, 1B/2B, NYM: .304/.737, 4 R, 3RBIs
Yonder Alonso, 1B, SD: .238/.542, 2 R, 3 RBIs
Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):
1. John Lackey, BOS: (Wed.) at Philadelphia (27% owned)
Lackey has allowed no runs in his last two starts (13 IP) and has posted a 28:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.09 WHIP in five May starts (29 1/3 IP). In Philadelphia, he won't have to worry about the DH and faces a Phillies team that's batting .248 at home.
2. Shaun Marcum, NYM (Fri.) vs. Miami (21%)
Marcum was nearly unhittable against Atlanta on Sunday night, striking out 12 Braves and his only real mistake being a two-run home run to Dan Uggla in the seventh inning. He ended up with a no-decision and will face a far weaker lineup in the Marlins, who are last in the majors in batting average, runs scored, hits and home runs.
3. Bartolo Colon, OAK (Fri.) vs. Chicago White Sox (21%)
The 40-year-old veteran keeps finding a way to get the job done. He's 5-2 with a 3.82 ERA on the season and has put together three straight quality starts, including seven scoreless innings against Houston his last time out. The White Sox as a team are batting .253 on the road and hit just .250 against the A's in three games in Oakland last season.
4. Tyler Lyons, STL: (Tues.) at Kansas City (3% owned)
It doesn't get much deeper on the waiver wire than Lyons, as the rookie lefthander will be making just his second major league start. His first one came on the road too, in San Diego, and he certainly showed (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO) he was up to the task there in getting the win. The Royals have scored the third-fewest runs at home (81 in 22 G entering Monday), which only helps Lyons' case.
5. Tyler Chatwood, COL (Wed.) vs. Houston (2%)
Chatwood has put together three straight solid starts (1 ER in his last 17 2/3 IP), including holding the Giants to one run over 5 2/3 innings at home on May 18. The Astros are 6-16 on the road so far this season.
Cleveland's Chris Perez was summoned from the bullpen on Sunday in Boston trying to close out a 5-2 lead and proceeded to walk three and give up two hits in just 2/3 of an inning. He left with a shoulder injury after giving up two runs and was replaced by left-hander Joe Smith, who gave up the game-winning, two-run double on the first pitch he threw to Jacoby Ellsbury. Perez was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday with shoulder soreness and he could be out an extended period of time, if not the season. The likely replacement would appear to be setup man Vinnie Pestano, but he is having problems with his velocity following his own recent DL stint. This situation bears watching as the Indians are right behind the Tigers in the AL Central and have been in quite a few close games ... Milwaukee closer Jim Henderson was put on the 15-day DL on Saturday after he injured his right hamstring on Friday against Pittsburgh. For now it appears that Francisco Rodriguez, and not former closer John Axford, will get the save opportunities while Henderson is sidelined. K-Rod got the final out on Friday following the injury to Henderson to secure the win for the Brewers ... Colorado's Rafael Betancourt injured his groin last Tuesday against Arizona and didn't pitch again until Saturday, when he blew the save (1/3 IP, 1 H, 2 ER, 1 BB) against San Francisco. For now, it looks like he will avoid the DL but that doesn't mean that setup men Rex Brothers or Wilton Lopez won't get some opportunities to close out some games either. Brothers picked up the save last Wednesday, but the lefty recorded a blown save on Saturday against the Giants. Lopez hasn't allowed a run in his last eight appearances.
Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid
There are few families whose names are more inextricably linked to the history, heritage and heartbreak of the Indianapolis 500 than the Andrettis. While the Unser Family has the record for most Indianapolis 500 victories with nine, the Andretti Family has encountered more adversity than success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 career spanned from 1965-94, and he often delivered dominating performances only to drop out of the race with one mechanical failure or another. His 1969 win is the only time an Andretti has won the race.
Mario’s son, Michael, also dominated the race in his career (1984-2006), yet he never won the Indy 500. Michael has been a team owner since 2003, and two of his drivers have won the Indy 500 — the late Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti in 2007.
Michael’s son, Marco, represents the current generation of Andrettis in IndyCar and nearly won the Indy 500 in his very first attempt in 2006, blowing past his father on a restart with five laps remaining. Marco was within a few hundred yards of the checkered flag before Sam Hornish Jr. raced past him to win in one of the most dramatic finishes in Indianapolis 500 history — the first time the race-winning pass was made on the final lap.
Mario represents the “Then” and Marco the “Now.” Before the green flag drops on this weekend's race, Athlon Sports had a chance to talk to both drivers about the Indianapolis 500 — then and now.
What is your first recollection of the Indianapolis 500?
Mario Andretti: I was still in Italy, and there was a movie, “To Please a Lady,” that starred Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck, but the title in Italy was “Indianapolis.” I was really curious. I had no idea what Indianapolis was and I went to see that movie. At that time I was 12 or 13. The next time I heard of Indianapolis was when driver Bill Vukovich was killed in 1955. In Italy, they publicized that. That is when I became aware of Indianapolis. That year’s 500 was just a few weeks before my family came to America. The race was on May 30 and we arrived in the United States on June 9.
Marco Andretti: It was the old Speedway Motel for me. That’s the first thing that sticks out because we spent a month there every year of my life back then so it was a second home for me. Playing on the ledge and listening to the cars go by and (announcer) Tom Carnegie on the PA saying, “It’s a new track record.” I was probably 3 or 4 years old then.
How has the Indianapolis 500 changed from when you started competing to today?
Mario: The only things that have changed are the cars and the technical side, and the interest factor is a little bit different now. It seems strange to see Indianapolis advertise for tickets when tickets used to be the most sacred thing there. Still, Indy remains Indy, and I’m thankful for that. … I think it is coming back to the glory days.
Marco: The biggest thing I have to commend them for is the safety with the SAFER Barriers. For a driver it makes us feel more secure. They aren’t exactly pillows, but it helps.
What remains the same about the Indianapolis 500 over time?
Mario: The fact everyone still considers it the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The other part is the technical side and the driving. Nothing has changed there from the commitment of the drivers.
Marco: You still have to make the car last 500 miles. It is more of a sprint race now. You have to be on your game the whole time, and the whole field is on the lead lap at the end of the race.
All three generations of the Andrettis converged on the final five laps of the 2006 Indianapolis 500, but it all ended when Sam Hornish Jr. made the race-winning pass just a few hundred yards from the checkered flag. Did that one race encapsulate the Andrettis at the Indianapolis 500?
Mario: We’ve been so close so many times. Between Michael and myself we have dominated that race more times than four-time winners. Does that mean we have a bitter memory of it or feeling? No, it’s just the opposite. I think of nothing but positive thoughts as far as the Indianapolis 500 is concerned mainly because of how competitive I was every time I competed there.
Marco: I think so. We have been knocking on the door and leading a lot of laps and being competitive but falling short on that one important lap — the last one. That whole month we were asked what would happen if it came down to the two of us. It was literally a fairy tale ending, but there was a third party involved. Still, to this day I will never wrap my head around where Sam got that speed on the last lap. It was the fastest lap of the month on cold tires. It’s a little fishy to me.
How important is the Indianapolis 500 to the Andrettis?
Mario: Extremely. We have been striving to win that for a half a century. We only have one win to show for it. We are trying like hell to make it happen. I’m happy that Michael, after having so many disappointments after dominating that place and was denied even one victory, is enjoying some success as a winning team owner.
Marco: It’s my life. Even my grandfather said it would be a hell of a party if I were able to win that race. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. We live our lives around that event.
What keeps the Indianapolis 500 as the greatest race in the world?
Mario: The best open-wheel racers not just in America but from around the world are there.
Marco: I think tradition. They keep a lot of the traditions the same, and that is why it is what it is. The fan base and the support we have for the number of fans that come is really unbelievable.
Mario, discuss your 1969 victory.
Mario: Midway through the 1969 race my engine started overheating like crazy. I started in the middle of the front row and ran up front all day and figured I wouldn’t finish. But we finished the race with the water temperature at 250 and the oil temperature at 280. Go figure. But it was a big weight off of my back when I won it because I felt how important it was to win that race by how you are judged career-wise even though that can be unfair. You are judged by that race.
Why is the Indianapolis 500 more than just a race?
Mario: It’s an event. Why is the Kentucky Derby more than just a horse race? Why is the Super Bowl more than just a football game? It’s the importance of it, and the whole world knows that race is happening. I don’t know any other motor race that is as popular today as Indy is worldwide. It’s the only race in my opinion that is as precious as winning the championship. If you ask any driver today which would you rather win — the championship or the Indy 500 — most every driver will say Indy.
Marco: It’s all the history that has happened there. To go back to 1911, that’s a long time. The history with our family alone is unreal there. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve seen the glory there and how things can be terrible there. That in itself is what makes the history there and what makes it so important and gives you the goosebumps you feel when you drive into that place. It’s really what has happened there in the past and all the greatest race car drivers that ever lived competed there, and only a few of them get to say they are champions.
—By Bruce Martin
Apparently Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller really enjoys “SpongeBob SquarePants.” A lot. Watch as he analyzes the characters and their motivations.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 24.
• A-Rod sold his house for a whopping $30 million. It featured seven bedrooms, two docks, and probably one awesome centaur painting.