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The Daytona 500 is the Great American Race for a reason. Dreams are realized, careers are validated and history is made each and every season. For the 55th time in history, 43 cars will attempt to finish 200 laps around the 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval called the Daytona International Speedway.
What makes this particular event the Super Bowl of NASCAR is its unpredictability. Since 2001, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth (twice) have won the prestigious event. But so has Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip (twice), Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne.
Burton had five wins in 375 career NASCAR starts and went his last full four seasons following his 500 victory in 2001 without a top five. Waltrip has started 770 career races and two of his four career wins have come in the Great American Race. McMurray has six career wins in 366 starts and hasn’t even finished in the top five in 48 straight races (Bristol, 2011). And the ultimate Cinderella story, Trevor Bayne, in a historic Wood Brothers Ford, won the sports’ highest honor in just his second career start in NASCAR. He has just two top 10s in 32 races since.
Needless to say, the race is a total crapshoot. When 43 cars ride wide open at over 200 miles per hour inches from each other, anything can happen — especially, when the sport is breaking in a new vehicle. So while superstars of the sport — Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch to name a few — are all searching for their first Daytona 500 championship, there is a host of upstarts who feel like they too can compete for a title this Sunday.
Related: The Top 10 Races to Attend in 2013
Athlon Sports’ 2013 Daytona 500 Wildcards to Watch:
Ricky Stenhouse, No. 17
Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Stenhouse enters his first full season of Sprint Cup action with back-to-back Nationwide points championships under his belt. His high-profile relationship with Danica Patrick aside, Stenhouse’s driving skills are what earned him a spot in one of the most successful Daytona 500 cars in recent years. Matt Kenseth wheeled the No. 17 Roush Ford to victory twice in the last four years in the season’s opening race and Stenhouse has the make-up and experience to make waves in his second career Daytona 500 start. He has his work cut out for him, however, starting 28th on Sunday.
Austin Dillon, No. 33
Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
This will easily be the most watched young driver in the field. Dillon, Richard Childress’ grandson, is one of the rising stars of the NASCAR ranks and has all the tools to push for a win in his just his third career Sprint Cup start and his first at Daytona. He ran extremely well in his first full Nationwide season in 2012, finishing third in the points championship. He also ran extremely well in the Bud Duels on Thursday, earning a Sunday starting spot outside of Row 4. He is experienced well beyond his 22 years of age and has been labeled as a driving prodigy by some. Watch out for the Honey Nut Cheerios Chevy on Sunday afternoon.
Kurt Busch, No. 78
Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
It would not be that big of a shock to see a former points champion in victory lane at Daytona, however, if Busch wins the biggest race of the season it would be considered a huge upset. Busch has won 24 races in his career and clearly has elite driving talent. However, he has had major off the track issues over the last few seasons and is racing for a big underdog in Furniture Row Racing. He hasn’t won in 43 Sprint Cup starts and he posted just one top five in 2012. He raced well in the Duels and will start 11th on Sunday.
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9
Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
The Australian has tons of ability and it nearly led to an appearance in the Chase a year ago. While his strengths is clearly on short tracks and road courses, it doesn't mean that Ambrose can't compete at a plate track. He finished 13th in this race a year ago and is coming off his best points finish of his career (18th). Richard Petty's cars aren't the same as the bigger teams but they have what it takes to win the big one. Ambrose will begin the race in the 24th starting spot.
Joey Logano, No. 22
Penske Racing Ford
Sliced Bread hasn’t quite lived up to his billing since entering the sport full-time in 2009. After four full seasons, Logano has two career wins (one on rain) and has never finished higher than 16th in the points standings. He posted just two top-five finishes a year ago and is now racing for a new team. Penske won the points title a year ago, so Logano should have competitive equipment and has the upside to find himself near the front in the race’s closing laps. He will start 21st.
Michael Waltrip, No. 26
Swan Racing Toyota
Most people find it difficult to root for Mikey, however, watching the Sandy Hook tribute paint scheme on the No. 26 Toyota will be emotional for many in this country. Waltrip has won this race twice before (in much better equipment) and was inches from winning at Talladega a year ago before he collected Tony Stewart in the season’s biggest wreck on the penultimate lap. He knows how to drive at restrictor plate tracks and should be in the mix near the end.
Related: The 10 Most Memorable Daytona 500s
Daytona International Speedway Race Stats
2013 Race Length: 500 miles/200 laps; 400 miles/160 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)
Race Record: 500 - 177.602 mph (Buddy Baker, 1980); 400 - 173.473 mph (Bobby Allison, 1980)
Anonymous Crew Chief's Take on Daytona International Speedway:
“Whatever. It’s a superspeedway. Daytona used to be good when it had character and the cars had to handle. That made speedway racing a little bit of fun. You could take the frustration away from qualifying and actually had to go race and make the car drive good. It’s the hub of our sport; it’s where we start our season, and there is a ton of history there. And it’s a great place and a great racetrack, but now that it’s been repaved, it just doesn’t have any luster. That said, the January test sessions will be huge for everyone with the new bodies.”
Classic Daytona Moments:
Suffice it to say that, coming into the 2002 Daytona 500, Ward Burton wasn’t on many prognosticators’ short list of potential winners.
As it turned out, he didn’t let that stop him. Burton, an underdog driver competing for an underdog Bill Davis Racing organization, beat the odds and a star-studded field to capture the 44th annual Daytona 500, in the process scoring one of the biggest upsets in the history of The Great American Race.
Burton’s path to Victory Lane was hardly conventional, however, as the slow-talking Virginia native benefited from the oddest of circumstances to take over the top spot in the final laps.
Burton, who inherited the lead when NASCAR penalized leader Sterling Marlin for hopping out of his car under a red-flag period and attempting to repair damage to his front fender, held off fellow Virginian Elliott Sadler in a three-lap dash to the checkers.
Marlin, forced to restart at the tail end of the longest line, finished eighth and was denied a third victory in the most prestigious of all stock-car races.
Matt Kenseth—Kenseth was a cool customer amid a firestorm at restrictor plate tracks in 2012. In addition to winning his Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500, he was also strong in the summer’s 400-miler, leading 89 laps en route to a third-place finish.
Jeff Burton—The Richard Childress Racing driver outlasted the mid-race drama at Daytona in 2012, finishing fifth and second, respectively, in the season’s two points-paying races.
Kyle Busch—His showings in last year’s 500 (17th) and 400 (24th) weren’t all that impressive, but he averaged running positions of 14th and eighth, respectively, in the two races and provided sparks in the season-opening Shootout, driving a damaged race car to an exciting victory.
Jamie McMurray—The 2010 Daytona 500 winner ranked 16th out of 50 drivers on MotorsportsAnalytic.com’s plate track PEER rankings in 2012; however, in a season in which passing at Daytona came at a premium, McMurray registered 359 passes for positions within the top 15.
Runs on Seven Cylinders
Jimmie Johnson—Johnson suffered only three terminal crashes in 2012, and two of them came at Daytona. The five-time champion seems snakebitten on plate tracks as of late, but his equipment is always capable of excelling within the draft.
A casualty of conference realignment will be a boon for the turnstiles at the Carrier Dome.
With Syracuse off to the ACC next season, Saturday’s matchup will be the second-to-last regular-season meeting in a a storied Big East rivalry between the Orange and Georgetown and the last in upstate New York.
Syracuse is sending the series out in style, at least. The Orange will have the record crowd at a fever pitch. With added seating in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse already has announced a sellout with a ticket count of 35,012, the largest crowd for an on-campus game during the regular season.
But the game isn’t just an opportunity for Syracuse-Georgetown nostalgia. With an eight-game winning streak, Georgetown has moved into a three-way tie for the Big East lead along with Syracuse and Marquette.
Both teams have a Big East Player of the Year contender with the Hoyas’ Otto Porter putting the team on his back iHe’ll try to out-duel Syracuse’s breakout point guard Michael Carter-Williams for what could be another chapter in a rivalry that will be altered thanks to a changing college landscape.
One of the key stories for both teams this season has been how each team has dealt with absences. Georgetown has thrived without George Whittington, who remains the Hoyas’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder despite being declared academically ineligible in January.
Meanwhile, Syracuse stumbled at times without James Southerland, who has since returned from being ineligible, and DaJuan Coleman, who remains sidelined following knee surgery.
GAME OF THE WEEK
GEORGETOWN PROBABLE STARTERS
G Markel Starks (6-2/175, Jr.)
G Jabril Trawick (6-5/210, So.)
F Otto Porter (6-8/205, So.)
F Nate Lubick (6-8/235, Jr.)
F Mikael Hopkins (6-9/223, So.)
SYRACUSE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Carter-Williams (6-6/185, So.)
G Brandon Triche (6-4/200, Sr.)
F Jerami Grant (6-8/203, Fr.)
F C.J. Fair (6-8/215, Jr.)
F Rakeem Christmas (6-9/242, So.)
Game-defining matchup: Georgetown’s Otto Porter v. Syracuse's zone defense
How will Syracuse defend Georgetown’s do-it-all forward Porter with the zone? Porter could hurt Georgetown by scoring inside or outside -- the 6-8 forward is 29 of 65 from three-point range this season -- or he could beat Syracuse with his passing from down low. Whether it’s Rakeem Christmas on the inside or C.J. Fair and Jeremi Grant on the perimeter, Syracuse will need a team effort to shut down Georgetown’s MVP.
Player we’re watching: Georgetown’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
The Hoyas would like to find a No. 2 scoring option after Porter. The freshman Smith-Rivera showed signs he might be that guy. He scored 33 points on 10 of 12 shooting in Georgetown’s win over DePaul on Wednesday. Sure, that’s against DePaul, but Smith-Rivera averaged 10.6 points per game in the eight games prior to his breakout against the Blue Demons.
Stat that matters: Syracuse’s three-point shooting
When James Southerland was out for six games, Syracuse didn’t just miss 13.8 points per game the sixth man brought off the bench. The Orange missed his a ability to stretch the defense. With Southerland out, Syracuse attempted 15 three-pointers per game, making 32.2 percent of them. Since Southerland returned on Feb. 10 against St. John’s, Syracuse is attempting 18.8 threes per game, making 36 percent of them. That’s good news, but Georgetown will be the best defensive team Syracuse has faced since Southerland returned.
How Georgetown can win: Frustrate Michael Carter-Williams
The formula is pretty simple for defeating Syracuse: Limit Carter-Williams’ playmaking ability, and Syracuse will have some difficulty. The Orange are 1-3 in Big East play when Carter-Williams has fewer than five assists and 0-3 when he has more turnovers than assists.
How Syracuse can win: Put pressure on Porter’s supporting cast
Point guard Markel Sparks and Smith-Rivera have been more productive with Whittington out, but this remains Porter’s team. In each of the last two games, Porter has been the third-leading shot-taker on his own team, yet the Hoyas won both games. It seems a stretch for Georgetown to win a game on the road against Syracuse with someone other than Porter taking the most shots from the field.
Prediction: Syracuse 65, Georgetown 58
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
NC State at North Carolina (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Tar Heels are probably in the NCAA Tournament field, but defeating NC State would ease a few doubts about North Carolina’s chances of reaching the field. Meanwhile, NC State is looking for its first regular season sweep of the Heels since 2003. North Carolina has enjoyed a boost from P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 20.7 points per game since re-entering the starting lineup in the last three games.
Related: Top 40 college football/basketball coaching tandems
New Mexico at Colorado State (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
It’s safe to say this is the biggest week for Colorado State basketball in recent memory. The Rams faced UNLV on Wednesday but lost 61-59. They'll return home to face the MWC-leading Lobos for a chance at a conference title. Colorado State is searching for its first league championship since 1988-89, when Boyd Grant led the Rams to the outright WAC title. New Mexico beat CSU 66–61 in Albuquerque in late January.
Related: Freshman of the Year debate: Bennett, McLemore or Smart?
Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
The marquee matchup in this year’s BracketBusters may actually impact the brackets. Creighton, despite its recent struggles, isn’t in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, desperately needs a quality win. The Gaels have a gaudy record (21–5), but their RPI is 51 and they don’t have any wins vs. top-60 RPI teams. It’s fair to call this a must win for SMC.
Marquette at Villanova (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Villanova responded to its wins over Syracuse and Louisville in January by losing back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Providence. How will the Wildcats respond to defeating Connecticut on the road last weekend, a win that may put them back into the NCAA field? Meanwhile, Marquette is looking to stay in the Big East regular season title race. A win in Philly would keep Marquette in a tie with the Syracuse-Georgetown winner.
Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Anyone else starting to have doubts about Florida’s Final Four potential? The Gators are beating teams by an average of 20.7 points per game, but their best wins outside of Gainesville are over Florida State in Tallahassee and Air Force in Sunrise, Fla. In their last road games against competent teams, they lost 80-69 to Arkansas and 63-60 to Missouri. Arkansas looks like an NCAA Tournament team at home, but they’ve been dismal on the road, including losses to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Stanford at Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Stanford may have played itself out of NCAA contention by losing three of four, including its second loss of the season to USC. The Ducks are hopeful they’ll have starting point guard Dominic Artis back for Stanford, who defeated the Ducks 76-52 with Artis sidelined. Oregon has gone 4-3 without their standout freshman point.
Missouri at Kentucky (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a huge hit last Saturday with a 30-point loss at Tennessee. It’s imperative the Wildcats show they can beat quality opponents without center Nerlens Noel (torn ACL) in the lineup. They whiffed on their first attempt and squeaked by Vanderbilt. But the Cats still have opportunities against Missouri and Florida. The Tigers will be in the NCAA Tournament, but they will not like their seed too much unless they start winning some games away from home. Mizzou is 1–6 in true road games, with the only win coming at Mississippi State.
Ohio at Belmont (Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2)
After Creighton-Saint Mary’s, this is the top BracketBuster with two high-level teams in their respective conferences. The matchup of mid-major point guards Ian Clark (Belmont) and D.J. Cooper (Ohio) is the main draw here. Clark is one of the most efficient players for his size (6-foot-3). He’s shooting 55 percent from the field, 48 percent from three-point range and 81 percent from the free throw line. Cooper is working on a unique career with 2,000 career points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals.
Illinois at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
It’s been a streaky season for the streak-shooting Fighting Illini. After losing six of seven during one long stretch of Big Ten action, Illinois has now won four straight, highlighted by the buzzer-beating victory over Indiana two weeks ago. Michigan struggled to beat Penn State at home on Sunday, but the Wolverines were due for a sluggish performance after facing Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in consecutive games.
Cincinnati at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Just two weeks ago, Cincinnati was 18–4 overall and 6–3 in the Big East. Now, after three losses in four games (including two at home), the Bearcats are 7–6 in the league with road trips to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville looming. It’s not quite time to panic, but Mick Cronin’s team could really use a win. Notre Dame picked up a much-needed win on Monday night, rallying from an early 19–3 deficit to beat Pittsburgh 52–42 on the road. The Fighting Irish had struggled in their previous two games, losing at Providence and needing overtime to beat DePaul at home.
Michigan State at Ohio State (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)
It’s another huge battle between Big Ten heavyweights. Michigan State is making a push toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This might not be Tom Izzo’s most talented team, but the Spartans are finding ways to win. Ohio State is likely out of the Big Ten title race after losing three of its last four, but this is still a very good team that is in position to secure a top-four seed in the NCAAs. The Buckeyes trounced a Tournament-bound Minnesota team 71-45 on Wednesday.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Sunday's Daytona 500, the 55th in the long, storied history of The Great American Race, officially has the field set. There are endless stories emanating from NASCAR's biggest event, but here are the five that will most impact Sunday's race.
No horsing around: Harvick is the favorite
There's just one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver batting 1.000 with trophies on the line in 2013: Kevin Harvick. Both of those trophies, of course, have come in the last week at Daytona where NASCAR's resident "lame duck" has scored impressive wins in the last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited and the first race of Thursday's Budweiser Duel at Daytona.
But statistics aren't the only thing supporting Harvick's case as the head-turning favorite before Sunday's race. Instead, it's the manner in which Harvick has taken control at the end of both races and held on with the grip of a vice.
In the Sprint Unlimited, Harvick first moved to the lead on lap 34 of the 75-lap, three-segment race. Just twice, and for two total laps, did the No. 29 not cross the start-finish as the designated leader. And when the heat turned up on the final lap, Harvick was able to play both lanes and make a bold, sweeping block of Greg Biffle on the backstretch of the money lap. He wasn't pressured again before the checkered flag.
Thursday was much the same in his 150-mile qualifying race, except Harvick was better. A savvy move exiting pit road pinned Trevor Bayne — the only other driver to lead Duel No. 1 — against the infield grass and then behind him as the two rushed through the gears to get up to speed. Bayne never recovered and eventually ended up in a crash while Harvick maintained his position. Even the restart wasn't a hassle for the No. 29, as Harvick managed the high then low line to keep competitors at bay and the Budweiser victory lane bath in sight.
Afterward, many of his competitors noted handling played a huge role in their ability to challenge. Harvick seemed almost incredulous at the thought.
"We never experienced any of that," Harvick said. "I think it's a matter of how you came down here with the balance of your race car."
Translation: the No. 29 is good. You can bet the field has taken notice.
Follow the leader
One factor playing into Harvick's hand as he has dominated so far is the apparent advantage held by the leader in the Gen-6 chassis when drivers form the long, snake-like lines of cars. Just seven different drivers led in the qualifying races Thursday, with just four of them leading for more than one lap.
"It's hard to pass the leader," Kyle Busch said after winning the second Duel race. "Just stay out front when you can get out front and you can run pretty good and just try to hold everybody off behind you."
That showed on the final lap of Busch's race when Kasey Kahne, with a push from Austin Dillon, edged under Matt Kenseth in second but couldn't punch past Busch. Kahne never even got alongside Busch.
"It's really tough to pass. When another car gets near your rear tire, it's like you threw the parachute out," Jimmie Johnson said.
Harvick and Jeff Gordon said Daytona now requires more planning to make a pass for position — not just finding someone to push like the recent years of tandem racing at restrictor plate tracks. The consequences can be dire.
"You've just got be precise in your moves," Harvick said. "If you get yourself in the wrong spot like we did at the beginning of the race in the middle, you just can't go anywhere. The only place you're going is backwards. It's hard to get yourself into the hole that you need when you make a mistake."
Gordon agreed, saying Daytona in 2013 feels like the Daytona of old.
"This is a real thinking race now. It comes down to the way it used to," Gordon said. "You get yourself in position. Everybody kind of rides, and thinks about what they have. You have to have your car handling pretty good, which is tough to do further back in traffic."
But Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, doesn't think passing the leader will be completely impossible come Sunday”
"You have got to have somebody go with you; you can't do it by yourself. But you can get a run, definitely. No doubt about it.”
Handling the unexpected
In order to get the kind of run Gordon is talking about, and to time it at the point where it'll put a driver in prime position to walk away with that coveted Harley J. Earl trophy, a driver has to first be in the position to make that move. In a 500-mile race, that's no easy feat.
No, the Daytona 500 isn't the same test of attrition that it once was. Parts last longer. Teams hit setups with more regularity. Drivers, typically, are smarter.
But 500 miles is still 500 miles — especially with a new car putting drivers more on the edge than they were with the stuck-to-the-track Car of Tomorrow chassis. Ryan Newman found that out during Wednesday's practice, and Denny Hamlin found it out late in the first qualifying race Thursday. Both suddenly lost control of race cars that weren't handling particularly poorly before they encountered a set of aerodynamic variables strong enough to send the car into a spin quicker than a blink of an eye. That will happen again Sunday and a driver (or drivers) in contention will pay the price.
It's a measure of the new car that has several, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., searching for answers in the two days of practice left before the 500.
"I didn't anticipate really the balance being a big deal because the car does have a good downforce package; we thought the balance would be pretty close," Earnhardt Jr. said. "(I) figured we would be fighting loose a little bit. We have to work on it."
Should drivers withstand that challenge, they'll have to be ready to execute flawless pit stops, too. Kyle Busch took the lead in the second qualifying race thanks to a call for no tires during his pit stop. Trevor Bayne lost his lead in the first race partially because he locked up his tires coming to pit road under green, necessitating a change. Busch wound up winning his qualifying race; Bayne wrecked.
"Pit crews are going to make a huge difference on Sunday," said Tony Stewart. "That's going to be the difference between which pack you come out in. You're going to have to have good stops to stay up there all day."
Like Gordon said, Sunday will feel more like Daytona of old. Carl Edwards, despite wrecking four times at Daytona, is looking forward to that.
"There will be groups of cars that separate themselves, some pit strategy and some guys that slide around and can't keep up," Edwards said. "I think it will make it a really dynamite, fun race."
Not everyone will leave Daytona Sunday night using the words Edwards did, but you can bet one of NASCAR's three competing manufacturers will be celebrating well into the night.
For the first time since the 1990s, cars in the Sprint Cup Series actually resemble their showroom counterparts. It's been a concerted effort by NASCAR, after pressure from those manufacturers, to make those comparisons easier.
It also introduces the realistic potential of Chevrolet, Ford or Toyota having a slight advantage come race day thanks to their body design. NASCAR has worked to prevent the issues, but competitors are competitors, and competitors like to complain.
Just look at the starting lineup for Sunday's race: seven of the top-10 are Chevrolets. If the finishing order resembles that, Jack Roush's comments won't be far behind.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Feb. 22.
• Danica's not the only woman making history this weekend. Rising superstar Ronda Rousey is headlining UFC 157 tomorrow. Here's a slideshow of Ms. Rousey's progression from little-known judo medalist to sex symbol.
• A pregnant Cowboys fan lost a bet to her boyfriend, a Redskins fan. The result: The kid will be named after Robert Griffin III.
• It's NFL Meat Market time. As usual, there's an SEC angle.
• Mark Cuban is one of the stars of ABC's Shark Tank. Somebody made a Lego video of the show. Cubes was impressed.
• Another reason to hate Pete Rose: According to an auction site, he apparently used corked bats in 1985, the year he broke Ty Cobb's record. The good news is, you can bid on one of the corked bats.
• February Madness: Tiger and Rory, the top two seeds, lost in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship. NBC hardest hit.
• A Twins pitcher met his fiancee via social media. But to prove that he's the anti-Te'o: He actually met her.
• Kobe goes all Namath, guaranteeing a playoff berth for the Lakers.
• We interrupt the sports to bring you the weather: An Australian weatherman passed out on air. Of course, he was in a stunt plane at the time.
• LeBron limped off the court last night, much to the delight of Bulls fans. Stay classy, Chicago.
• Today in front office mis-management: The two highest-paid Mets outfielders are not even on the team. One of them, Bobby Bonilla, hasn't played for the Mets since 1999. The sad thing is, he's still probably their best left field option.
• You've probably already seen this, but too bad — it's still amazing. A cheerleader makes the ultimate half-court shot.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Daytona's Budweiser Duels are today. To mark the occasion, enjoy this comprehensive rundown of pole-sitter Danica Patrick's life and career.
• This rundown of the most underrated comedies of the last 20 years includes my pick for funniest sports movie of all time, Kingpin.
• Here's a fun sequence from Okie State-Kansas last night: Elijah Johnson breaks Marcus Smart's ankles, then has his shot rejected into the fifth row.
• James Harden's awesome evening included this half-court buzzer-beater.
• Also last night: The Lakers won for their fallen leader.
• On an evening of awesome highlights, this might have been the best: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's ruthless posterization of Greg Monroe.
• SEC football's calling card is defense, but who has the best returning offense in 2013?
• Calls for Mark Emmert's resignation are mounting. I happen to think that rug on his head is a fire-able offense, but that's just me.
• Oscar Pistorius may have caught a break: Turns out the lead investigator has problems of his own.
• Hey, David Price: You can afford to buy Evan Longoria a breast pump. Yes, that's a weird sentence.
• Well, this is just too dang adorable for words: An arthritic sea otter dunks basketballs for therapy.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
• Break up the Blackhawks. Chicago is 13-0-3, tying the best start in NHL history. To help them celebrate, here's a gallery of NHL ice girls and cheerleaders.
• Inspirational story of the day: A partially blind pitcher is attempting to make the Rays roster.
• So they cleaned up in recruiting. But will Ole Miss actually be any good at football in 2013?
• In this era of 46-38 abominations, one college basketball team still knows how to score.
• Indiana's Victor Oladipo scored his 1,000th career point on a go-ahead tip-in in Indiana's 72-68 win at Michigan State. He keeps putting the Victor in Victory.
• Michael Jordan turned 50 over the weekend. Now it's Sir Charles' turn. Here's a photographic tribute to the Barkley on his 50th birthday.
• Hulk Hogan has opened a restaurant in Tampa. One reviewer is not impressed. If you own a restaurant, you don't want to read that your food is a "train wreck."
• Donovan McNabb tweeted his congratulations to Danica Patrick for winning the Daytona 500. Trouble is, the race hasn't happened yet.
• Night before last, UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma grabbed Baylor coach Kim Mulkey's butt for some reason. Cameras were there to record the touching moment.
• Celebrity diving shows are yielding YouTube gems like this: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doing a back flip off a diving board.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Maxim catches us up with some of the breakout stars of the London games, like javelin thrower Leryn Franco (pictured).
• FAU's new football stadium is sponsored by a company that runs prisons. Are they changing their nickname to Mean Machine?
• The late Jerry Buss might be the greatest owner in the history of the NBA. Here are his seven greatest achievements with the Lakers.
• Not sports-related, but amazing: The Ghostbusters headquarters made out of Legos.
• Did anyone think that Jerry Jones' bus would not be a palace on wheels?
• The 26 dumbest sports injuries of all time. You'd think that athletes, who make their living with their bodies, would be more protective of their most valuable asset.
• Oscar Pistorius is going with the "I thought she was an intruder" defense. Still doesn't explain the bloody cricket bat. Weird detail: He didn't have his legs on.
• Good news for the SEC West: Alabama and LSU have strengthened their recruiting staffs.
• The fact that the new Die Hard movie is garbage simply reminds us how great the original was. Here are 50 things you probably didn't know about that movie, including the fact that Richard Gere was considered for the role of John McClane.
• Ndamukong Suh is on an upcoming celebrity diving program. Previously, we learned that he practically had to save obese comedian Louis Anderson from drowning. Now, the ABC promo has misspelled his name. Let's hope he fired his agent.
• We have a new entry in the ongoing World's Worst Free Throw Attempt sweepstakes. Entries are now closed.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
• Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. Maybe now she'll be known more for her racing than for photos like the one at right. Nah, who am I kidding?
• It was a rough weekend in college hoops. Cal coach Mike Montgomery got physical with his best player, who proceeded to take it out on the USC Trojans. Meanwhile, an Illinois State player kicked a Wichita State Shocker in the chest, sparking the Shockers to an 8-0 run to close out a 1-point win.
• Happy Presidents Day. Here's a quiz testing your knowledge of both sports and presidential administrations.
• Deadspin's weekend roundup includes Craig Ehlo recounting what it was like to guard Michael Jordan, who's 50 years and 1 day old today.
• If you stared into Craig Sager's sportcoat at the All-Star Game, you risked hypnosis. Or even insanity.
• Guy flings himself into a cactus, screams f-word repeatedly. That recipe equals YouTube gold (though we must accompany it with a content warning).
• The Harlem Shake is already dying, and I can pride myself on the fact that I've managed to avoid it during its brief lifespan.
• Power couple: Tiger and the POTUS got together for a friendly round of golf over the weekend.
• Bad timing award: First-round NFL Draft prospect Alec Ogletree got popped for DUI with the Combine set to begin Wednesday.
• Moments like this are what NBA All-Star Weekend is all about. All that's missing is a Kia to jump over.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
Millions of dollars are made and lost at the NFL Combine and 2013 won’t be any different. Player interviews, mental acumen, agility, strength and speed tests all help NFL scouts, executives and coaches attempt to quantify over 300 different prospects over one weekend in Indianapolis.
Each year features freakish performances that makes eyes pop and mouths drool. Each season, workout warriors vault themselves into the first round. And each year, there are intriguing storylines to follow for more than a few important players.
Here are the 10 most intriguing players to watch at this year’s combine:
1. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
His is obviously the most anticipated combine performance in years. He has two glaring issues to overcome: His fake girlfriend scandal and extremely poor performance against Alabama in the national title game. He will need to address immaturity issues while explaining his lack of toughness and productivity in the biggest, and final, game of his college career. Can he shift scouts' focus back to his leadership and remarkable play in carrying Notre Dame back to national prominence?
2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
He would have easily been the top-rated running back in this draft had he not horrifically injured his knee halfway through his junior season. He is focused, driven and ready to prove himself already just months following the terrible injury. In a draft class where no one stands out as a first-round pick, Lattimore’s work ethic, overall talent and genuine personality might make him this year’s Willis McGahee.
3. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
In a similar boat as Lattimore, Barkley needs to prove he made the right decision to return to USC for his senior year. He was lauded for his maturity and leadership when he initially returned, but many have doubts about his overall physical size and potential health. He must convince teams that his injured shoulder will be healthy and that he is the guy who broke records as a junior and not the guy who lost six games as a senior.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, ex-LSU
Where to begin? Mathieu has been his own worst enemy ever since breaking onto the scene as a sophomore. What's more, there has been one awful BCS National Championship game performance, multiple arrests and it's been nearly two calendar years since anyone saw the Honey Badger make a play of any consequence. He is undersized and his cover skills were always a question, but now his dedication to football and maturity are major issues. The former LSU defensive back has much to prove to even get drafted late as a special teamer.
5. Wide Receivers, Tennessee
Justin Hunter had to overcome a torn ACL and wasn’t the same following the injury. He needs to prove his toughness, focus and overall explosiveness. Cordarrelle Patterson is an elite athlete who needs to prove he isn’t a long-term project as a wide receiver. And Da’Rick Rogers, from all accounts, needs to prove he cares about the team more than himself. He held the Volunteers hostage before getting kicked off of the team and has to show he has the mental makeup to match his exquisite athletic ability.
6. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Mingo doesn’t show up on game tape as often as his lesser talented teammate Sam Montgomery does. However, Mingo still is a tremendous athlete who has elite upside that just needs to show he can be a productive football player. Should he develop a better understanding of the game and prove he can be consistent, he could be a big winner in Indianapolis.
7. Offensive Linemen, Alabama
Chance Warmack needs to prove that war-daddy offensive guards are worth taking in the top ten (hint: they should be). He is arguably the safest, most dependable player in the entire draft but could slip due to his position. Barrett Jones is a three-time national champ and Outland Trophy winner who excelled at three positions. Proving he is at least a second-round talent at guard or center will be key. And D.J. Fluker, who will wow scouts with elite size and strength, needs to prove he can be a left tackle and not just a right-side guy.
8. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ansah is the opposite of the workout warrior. He won’t wow scouts with elite size, range or length. He won’t run an elite 40-yard dash or impress in the shuttle drill. But he is an excellent football player and needs to somehow prove that to scouts without wearing any pads. His terrible week of practice in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl was capped by a great performance in the game itself. Scouts want to know which player is he?
9. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
He has excellent measurables and is watching his stock skyrocket due to great size and athleticism. However, he played on defenses that consistently underachieved and was constantly exposed in man-to-man situations by smaller, speedy players like Tavon Austin. He needs to prove he is agile enough to play in pass coverages if he expects to garner Mark Barron comparisons, which, right now, are absurd.
10. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
This is someone to root for at the combine. He is a tremendous playmaker with elite production and speed to match. He will excel on special teams, can run the ball out of the backfield and will be an outstanding slot receiver. Percy Harvin is an apt comparison and he needs to prove his speed is more important than his diminutive frame.
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big 12.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big 12 for 2013
Pros: Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. Also, it’s located in a state that treats high school football like a religion.
Cons: Texas has a ton going for it (see above), but the Longhorns are only 22–16 in the last three seasons. The program is not immune to losing. And while Texas is a recruiting power, there are three other AQ conference schools in the state, and virtually every other national power dips into Texas to recruit as well.
Final Verdict: It’s easier said than done — just ask David McWilliams and John Mackovic — but everything is in place to win big on a consistent basis at Texas.
Pros: Oklahoma has been a dominant force in college football dating back to the late 1930s. The program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players on an annual basis. The Big 12, with no Nebraska and no conference title game, offers an easier path to a national championship for OU.
Cons: The state does not produce enough talent to stock the Sooners’ roster with the type of players needed to compete for championship. Recruiting at a high level out of state is a must.
Final Verdict: Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma — John Blake went 8–16 in three seasons (1996-98) — but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. Winning a national championship is well within your reach.
3. Oklahoma State
Pros: T. Boone Pickens is a very wealthy man, and he’s a big fan of Oklahoma State football. As a result, the Cowboys boast some of the best facilities in the nation. And these facilities help the O-State coaches tap into a fertile recruiting ground in nearby Texas.
Cons: Since Oklahoma State joined the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have finished ahead of Oklahoma five times. The school will always be the No. 2 program in the state.
Final Verdict: In a vacuum, Oklahoma State would be a wonderful place to coach, but if you have your sights set on competing for a national title on a regular basis, Stillwater might not be the place for you. There’s a reason the school has only won two conference titles since the mid-1950s.
4. West Virginia
Pros: West Virginia has an SEC feel to it. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with in the Mountain State; the Mountaineers are the game in town.
Cons: West Virginia’s recruiting base isn’t as strong as many of its rivals in the Big 12. The state simply doesn’t produce many elite-level prospects.
Final Verdict: History tells us that West Virginia is a very good job. The school has won at least 10 games six times since 1988. But it’s not a job without its challenges. It’s a strange geographic fit in the Big 12, which presents some difficulties on the recruiting trail.
Pros: TCU is located in the heart of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. The Horned Frogs have vastly improved their facilities over the past five years and now are a member of one of the nation’s top conferences.
Cons: TCU is now back in a power conference, but it’s still a small private school (8,000-plus undergrads) in league comprised mostly of massive state schools. The fan base will never be as large as many of its rivals.
Final Verdict: Perhaps no school other than Boise State has improved its national profile in the past 5-10 years as much as TCU. The school is back in a power conference after bouncing around for 16 years in the mid-major ranks (WAC to C-USA to MWC). This is not an elite job — TCU will always take a back seat to Texas, Texas A&M and even Texas Tech in its own state — but it’s a much better opportunity for a coach than it was 10 years ago.
6. Texas Tech
Pros: Texas Tech has proven it can win consistently. Prior to 2010, the Red Raiders had been .500 or better in league play — SWC and Big 12 — 22 times in the previous 25 seasons. The school has recently invested in the program with an $84 million renovation to Jones AT&T Stadium.
Cons: While the program has managed to remain competitive, winning titles has been very difficult in Lubbock. The school has not won an outright conference title since 1955, when it claimed its third straight Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. Also, recruiting to Lubbock — the outpost of the Big 12 — can be a bit difficult.
Final Verdict: Texas Tech might be the fourth most attractive job in its own state, but it’s still a very good program that has proven it can’t remain relevant in the Big 12.
Pros: Baylor’s recruiting base has always made it an intriguing job. There is more than enough talent in the state to stock a talented roster, even with Texas and Texas A&M grabbing most of the elite players. The school will open a new, 45,000-seat Stadium on Brazos River in 2014. It will be among the nicest facilities in the nation.
Cons: Baylor will always be down low on the food chain among the FBS schools in the state of Texas. As a small, private school, support will always be an issue. In 2012, on the heels of a 10-win season that produced a Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor only averaged 41,194 per game to rank last in the Big 12.
Final Analysis: Art Briles is proving that Baylor can compete in the Big 12. The Bears have won 25 games in the past three season — the best three-year stretch in school history. The new stadium and the university’s commitment to the program should allow Baylor to remain relevant if Briles ever bolts for greener pastures.
8. Kansas State
Pros: Kansas State has averaged 8.5 wins over the past 20 years and been ranked in the final AP poll 12 times over that span. Support for K-State football is very strong, especially when the team is winning.
Cons: Only one man has been able to win at Kansas State. This might be more of an indictment of Ron Prince than the program, but the Wildcats went a combined 9–15 in the Big 12 in the three seasons between Bill Snyder’s two tenures.
Final Analysis: It’s tough to evaluate this coaching position. There are seemingly a bunch of hurdles — poor recruiting base, remote location, lack of tradition prior to the 1990s — but Snyder has managed to win at a high level on a consistent basis. Can another coach succeed in Manhattan? We’ll find out soon enough.
Pros: While it’s difficult to win at Kansas, it can be done. Glen Mason won 10 games in 1995, and Mark Mangino won 12 — and played in a BCS bowl — in 2007. The school has invested in facilities over the past decade. The weight room is top notch.
Cons: Crowds at Phog Allen Fieldhouse are arguably the best in college basketball, but support for Kansas football is not nearly as strong. Last season, the Jayhawks ranked 59th in the nation in attendance with 41,329 per game at Memorial Stadium. Also, KU is second on the food chain in a state that doesn’t produce many high-level recruits.
Final Analysis: Kansas is one of the toughest AQ conference jobs in the nation when you factor in the recruiting base, lukewarm support and the fact that no coach since the 1950s has enjoyed sustained success in Lawrence.
10. Iowa State
Pros: Cyclone fans sure love Iowa State football. Last season, the school averaged 55,274 fans per game (100.5 percent of capacity) at Jack Trice Stadium. Not bad for a school that has had one winning season since 2005.
Cons: The school is second on the food chain in a state that does not produce many FBS-caliber recruits. Dan McCarney enjoyed a nice run in the early 2000s, but it’s been very difficult to sustain success in Ames.
Final Analysis: Outside of the strong support for a passionate fan base — though that does carry significant weight — it’s difficult to find too many positives about the coaching position at Iowa State. There’s a reason the school has not won more than seven games in consecutive seasons since the late 1970s.
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College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. Over the last few seasons, Mark Richt has refocused his recruiting efforts within the state of Georgia and it has paid off in spades. While the 2013 class, which ranks seventh among its SEC peers, isn't as elite as years past, this group still has tons of talent. And at 32 signees deep, it is one of the biggest classes in the nation.
No. 12: Georgia Bulldogs
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 6
Total Signees: 32
Where They Got 'Em:
The Peach State has separated itself from the rest of the nation as the No. 4-rated state for talent nationally. California, Texas and Florida will always be atop the charts, but Georgia has clearly claimed the fourth position. And Richt took advantage of his in-state talent pool once again with 18 new faces from Georgia signing with the Dawgs in this class. Florida (5), Mississippi (4) and Virginia (2) each provided more than one player while South Carolina, North Carolina and Indiana each shipped one prospect to Athens.
Areas of Focus:
Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham are looking to replace at least eight starters on the defense and this class did an excellent job of restocking the cupboard on that side of the ball. Eight defensive backs, six linebackers and four defensive linemen — to go with a pair of "athletes" — gives Grantham at least 18 new faces to work with this season. Defensive back Tray Matthews is the top-rated player in the state and could play all over the secondary while nationally rated Shaquille Wiggins is the top-rated cornerback in the group. With as many as 10 possible defensive backs signing with this group, including a pair of game-ready junior college players, Georgia claims one of the deepest and most talented secondary classes in the nation.
Tim Kimbrough is the top-rated linebacker in the six-man class, and he and his fellow in-coming counterparts will do their best to replace stars like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. While four of the six linebackers are in-state prospects and one is from Florida (Ryne Rankin), the jewel of this group, Kimbrough, comes to Athens from famed Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. Grantham's 3-4 system needs versatility and depth at linebacker and this group gives him just that.
The four-man defensive line group isn't as highly touted according to the rankings, but it isn't lacking for size. Early enrollees Johnathan Atkins (6-4, 305) and Chris Mayes (6-4, 330), along with De'Andrew Johnson (6-3, 311), bring tremendous size to the interior of the D-line. Davin Bellamy appears to be in good position to eventually grow into a defensive end.
On offense, quarterback Brice Ramsey was the prized gem of the class. The No. 5-rated quarterback in the nation is already enrolled and he will be in line to take over when Aaron Murray departs campus following the 2013 season. He was high school teammates with "athlete" J.J. Green (who is likely a defensive back). Ramsey will have four wide receivers — possibly five should Tramel Terry land at WR — and one tight end joining him in this class. Terry would be the highest-rated skill player in this class after showing his versatility in high school. He rushed for 1,688 yards and 29 touchdowns while catching 92 passes for 1,625 yards and 11 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Goose Creek (S.C.) High. Junior college early enrollee Jonathon Rumph could be the earliest contributor, however, as his 6-5, 215-pound frame should allow him to see the field quickly this season.
Along the offensive line, Richt and the Dawgs signed four new players. Brandon Kublanow is the top-rated of the bunch and will lock down one of the guard positions. Early enrollees Aulden Bynum and Josh Cardiello gives this offense a new body at both tackle and center respectively.
Finally, Georgia signed two players to carry the football. With a pair of elite freshman tailbacks starring a season ago, it is hard to imagine Brendan Douglas (5-11, 202) and A.J. Turman (6-0, 198) getting too many touches as freshman. But Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall may not stick around past their junior seasons, so getting bodies ready to step up is always a solid course of action.
All in all, this isn't a star-studded class loaded with top 100 prospects like in years past. However, this is one of the largest and most balanced recruiting classes in the entire nation.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 4, TE: 1, OL: 4
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 6, DB: 8, ATH: 2
|82.||Tray Matthews||DB||No. 17||Newnan, Ga.||6-0||194|
|86.||Brice Ramsey||QB||No. 5||Kingsland, Ga.||6-3||195|
|117.||Tramel Terry||ATH||No. 6||Goose Creek, S.C.||5-11||195|
|124.||Shaquille Wiggins||DB||No. 23||Tyrone, Ga.||5-10||165|
|166.||Tim Kimbrough||LB||No. 22||Indianapolis, Ind.||6-0||230|
|230.||Brandon Kublanow||OL||No. 29||Marietta, Ga.||6-3||290|
|Johnathan Atkins||DT||Chatham, VA||6-4||305||Prep School|
|Aulden Bynum||OL||Valdosta, GA||6-5||270||--|
|Josh Cardiello||OL||Buford, GA||6-3||283||--|
|Reggie Carter||LB||Snellville, GA||6-1||225||--|
|J.J. Green||ATH||Kingsland, GA||5-8||171||--|
|Tray Matthews||DB||Newnan, GA||6-0||194||No. 82|
|Quincy Mauger||DB||Marietta, GA||6-0||197||--|
|Chris Mayes||DT||Perkinston, MS||6-4||330||JUCO|
|Brice Ramsey||QB||Kingsland, GA||6-3||195||No. 86|
|Ryne Rankin||LB||Orlando, FL||6-1||230||--|
|Jonathon Rumph||WR||Goodman, MS||6-5||215||JUCO|
|Tramel Terry||ATH||Goose Creek, SC||5-11||195||No. 117|
|Reggie Wilkerson||DB||Ocala, FL||5-11||162||--|
Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. Michigan Wolverines
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. LSU Tigers
8. Texas A&M Aggies
9. UCLA Bruins
10. Auburn Tigers
11. Florida State Seminoles
12. Georgia Bulldogs
With spring practice kicking off across the nation, the race to win college football’s 2013 national title has officially started. Although it’s hard to learn everything about a team in spring practice, the next few months are a good opportunity to get a look at how some of the open position battles are shaping up, along with how some of the underclassmen have improved since the end of 2012.
After taking a look at some quarterbacks on the rise last week, Athlon stays in the backfield with some names to watch at running back. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson finished at the top of the nation in rushing last season and neither were on the radar for All-American honors at the start of 2012.
Developing a criteria to determine which running backs are on the rise is never easy. Miami’s Duke Johnson had a standout freshman year, rushing for 947 yards and 10 scores, along with earning second-team All-ACC honors. While Johnson is due for a significant bump in yardage, he doesn’t make our list since he already earned all-conference honors.
Considering running back is one of the easiest positions to find new starters, don’t be surprised if some of the names on this list make a huge impression in 2013.
College Football’s Top 5 Running Backs on the Rise for 2013
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers got an early glimpse of their 2013 backfield when Rex Burkhead suffered a knee injury in the opener against Southern Miss. Burkhead returned later in the year but finished with just 98 carries and missed six complete games. With Burkhead sidelined, the Cornhuskers turned to Abdullah as their feature back. The Alabama native finished the year with 1,137 yards and eight rushing scores, while catching 24 passes for 178 yards and two scores. With Burkhead out of eligibility, the torch will officially be passed to Abdullah. The junior earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season and could be a first-team all-conference selection by the end of 2013.
Brendan Bigelow, California
Despite being a potential dynamic playmaker for California and posting an eye-popping 9.8 yards per carry, Bigelow was limited to just 44 rushing attempts and seven receptions last year. The Fresno native did play a key role on special teams, averaging 23 yards per kickoff return in 2012. With a new coaching staff taking over in Berkeley, along with C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele expiring their eligibility, Bigelow will get an opportunity to secure the No. 1 spot in the backfield this preseason. New coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin built an offense at Louisiana Tech that averaged 227.2 rushing yards and 51.5 points per game in 2012, and both coaches should better utilize Bigelow’s talents. The junior will likely miss spring practice due to knee surgery, but if he’s healthy this fall, Bigelow is due for a breakout season.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
In addition to restocking the defensive line, the Buckeyes’ top priority this spring will be finding playmakers for quarterback Braxton Miller. Although the quarterback will play a key role in the rushing attack in Urban Meyer’s offense, Ohio State would probably like to decrease Miller’s workload from last year (227 carries). With Jordan Hall returning to full strength and a top recruiting class on the way, the Buckeyes should have more help for Miller in 2013. However, the key cog in the offensive attack will be the continued emergence of Hyde. The Florida native recorded four 100-yard performances over the final seven games of 2012 and finished the year with 16 rushing scores. Even with Hall taking on a bigger role in the backfield, Hyde should have no trouble eclipsing 1,000 yards and should serve as Ohio State’s top rushing threat in 2013.
Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh
With Ray Graham coming back from a torn ACL last season, the Panthers expected and needed a big contribution from Shell. And considering he ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2012 signing class, it was no surprise Shell was one of the Big East’s top freshmen last year. In 12 games, the Pennsylvania native recorded 641 yards and four scores, while catching nine passes for 103 yards. Shell’s best game came against Virginia Tech, posting 157 yards on 23 attempts. With Graham expiring his eligibility, the job is Shell’s to lose for 2013. The sophomore will be running behind an offensive line that returns three starters but loses All-Big East center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson. Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst molded some of the nation’s top rushing attacks at Wisconsin, and with Shell leading the way in 2013, look for the Panthers to feature a ground and pound approach.
Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State
Joseph Randle was one of college football’s most underappreciated players during his career at Oklahoma State, rushing for 3,085 yards and 40 scores and catching 108 passes. With Randle leaving early for the NFL, Oklahoma State will have a new go-to back in 2013. However, Mike Gundy’s cupboard is far from bare, as the Cowboys have two potential standouts waiting in the wings. Smith has served as Randle’s backup the last three years, rushing for 1,439 yards and 25 touchdowns during that span. The Tulsa native has yet to tote more than 15 carries in a game but has already displayed a knack for the end zone and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Desmond Roland is another promising back that will see significant action in 2013, but the Cowboys will likely lean on Smith as their feature back.
Others to Watch in 2013
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Rushed for 548 yards and four scores as a backup last season. With D.J. Harper gone, this sophomore will have a chance to threaten 1,000 yards in 2013.
Greg Bryant, Notre Dame
With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood leaving South Bend, the Fighting Irish are looking for a new No. 1 back. Bryant ranked as the No. 8 running back in the 2013 signing class and will be pressed into immediate action this year.
Brian Kimbrow, Vanderbilt
With Zac Stacy expiring his eligibility, the Commodores may turn to a committee approach to pick up the slack on the ground. Kimbrow may not edge Jerron Seymour, Warren Norman or Wesley Tate to be the feature back. However, the Memphis native could add big-play ability to the offense after averaging 6.3 yards on 66 carries in 2012.
DJ Foster, Arizona State
Will share time with Marion Grice but is due for a bigger role with Cameron Marshall expiring his eligibility. Foster rushed for 493 yards on 102 attempts and caught 38 passes for 533 yards and four scores in 2012.
Johnathan Gray, Texas
Faces hefty competition for carries in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, but Gray finished his freshman year as Texas’ leading rusher (701 yards).
Derrick Green, Michigan
With Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off of a significant leg injury, Michigan won’t waste any time in getting Green involved in 2013. He ranked as the No. 5 running back in the class of 2013 and could start for Michigan in its season opener against Central Michigan.
Savon Huggins, Rutgers
Huggins will get a chance to live up to his recruiting hype this year, as Jawan Jamison left early for the NFL, leaving the junior as the No. 1 option in Rutgers’ backfield. Huggins has 556 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two years on campus.
Storm Johnson, UCF
The former Miami Hurricane rushed for 507 yards and four scores on 113 attempts last year, including 75 yards in the Knights’ 31-16 loss to Ohio State. Johnson is due for a bigger role with Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey expiring their eligibility at the end of 2012.
Senorise Perry, Louisville
A torn ACL ended a promising 2012 campaign, as Perry rushed for 705 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games. With Jeremy Wright leaving the team, Perry should be handling over 200 carries next season.
Alex Ross, Oklahoma
Damien Williams had a solid debut in his first season in Norman (946 yards and 11 touchdowns), but the Sooners will have trouble keeping Ross – widely considered a top-10 running back in the class of 2012 – off of the field in 2013.
James Wilder Jr., Florida State
Shared time with Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman last year, yet finished with 640 yards and 11 scores. With a new quarterback taking over for Florida State, expect Wilder and Freeman to see even more carries in 2013.
Jamaal Williams, BYU
After Michael Alisa suffered a broken arm against Hawaii, Williams was forced into the No. 1 role in 2012. He finished with 775 rushing yards and 12 scores and caught 27 passes for 315 yards and one score. Alisa is back for 2013, but Williams showed enough down the stretch that he could win the top spot on the depth chart.
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The theme of NASCAR Speedweeks in Daytona thus far?
New cars that do not line up square and are volatile in the draft; a supposed lack of quality body parts back at the team shops in North Carolina; valued information gleaned on specific cars that crew chiefs don’t want sacrificed.
For these reasons — and possibly because there’s no need to show one’s hand just yet — the action has been relatively staid at Daytona International Speedway.
In Thursday’s Budweiser Duel No. 1 — historically the crazier of the two — the much-ballyhooed No. 10 car of Danica Patrick led the field to green and, with teammate Tony Stewart, promptly drifted to the rear of the pack — part strategy play, part over-adjusted car.
Trevor Bayne inherited the lead and the field largely ran in formation in the high groove until lap 32 of 60, when Kevin Harvick led a train on the inside that propelled him to the lead with 14 laps to go. Like Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, when Harvick grabbed the point with 13 laps remaining en route to the win, it was a lead he would not relinquish.
He was forced to fight for it, though.
On lap 52, Denny Hamlin’s Toyota abruptly broke loose off of Turn 2 and collected Bayne, Carl Edwards and Regan Smith, setting up a four-lap dash when the green flag waved.
But with Jimmie Johnson planted on his bumper, Harvick held the lead, again utilizing the high groove after the restart. Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya tried in vain to mount separate assaults, but as in Saturday’s event, the No. 29 Chevy was too strong out front.
“Today, both lines were side-by-side and you were able to kind of feed each line a little bit of air (while leading) and try to keep ’em even,” Harvick said. “That's the best way to keep them at bay is keep them side-by-side.
“If we can get to that point and be able to dictate whether you need to block, move up, move down, side draft … you have options as the leader. That's the position I want to be in.”
Harvick, for certain, looks strong. In his final year with Richard Childress Racing, he’s started the year off by leading 40 of 75 laps in the Unlimited and 23 on Thursday, making him a favorite entering Sunday’s Daytona 500. He’ll do his best to downplay it, though, knowing the unpredictable nature of restrictor plate racing.
“We've been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks," Harvick said. "We just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we've done, just do the same things that we've done. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention to do that.”
Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will watch from the sidelines at this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, rather than prove he is the top Dawg in front of the league’s assembled decision makers. Instead, the USC transfer will wait to run, jump and lift at Georgia’s Pro Day on March 21.
Jones is making a huge mistake by skipping the “Underwear Olympics.” Not only is he dodging a chance to compete against his peers in the spotlight, he is jeopardizing his current status as the top 3-4 edge rushing linebacker in the Class of 2013. Jones and his team of advisors are making the wrong decision for a variety of reasons:
Undersized Speed Rusher
The main skill Jones is marketing to potential NFL employers is his ability to get to the quarterback and apply pressure on passers — in a hurry. That requires running. If Jones ran a lightning fast 40-yard dash and floated through the cone drills at the Combine, he would likely cement his status as the best pass-rushing prospect available. Since he’s not built like DeMarcus Ware, timed speed will be even more important to Jones’ stock. Being afraid of the 40 is a sign of weakness.
Along with serious medical concerns swirling around Jones’ reported spinal stenosis, there were also lingering groin, ankle and shoulder injuries that caused him to miss time at Georgia. Of course, Jones will be required to participate in the NFL’s rigorous pre-draft medical exams at the Combine. But his reluctance to put his physical ability on display on the biggest stage raises doubt about both his current fitness as well as his confidence in his short-term and long-term durability.
Not No. 1 Prospect
Unless a prospect is already the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the draft, there is always room to move up draft boards. Jones is a top-10 talent by most accounts, top-5 by many and in the ballpark for the top spot according to a few. Why would Jones pass up the opportunity to steal the show at the Combine and prove without a shadow of a doubt that his athleticism matches his on-field, on-tape production? Is he content to just hang on to his top-10 status? Has he already lost his competitive fire, before even being drafted? The Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 1 overall pick is up for grabs. Why isn’t Jones chasing it?
There has been very little that is "stock" on a NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car in well over 25 years. And its maturation from "race what you drove to the track" to modern-day engineering marvel is intriguing. To illustrate this, we creating this visual history of the evolution of the stock car.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE STOCK CAR
Content courtesy of NASCAR.
As the 2013 NASCAR season revs up this weekend at Daytona, Athlon Sports offers up our preseason Top 25 Sprint Cup Series driver rankings. Click on each driver's name for a detailed preview of what fans can expect in 2013.
As the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.
The Daytona 500 is an event that transcends its own sport, much the same as the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Masters. Over the last 54 years, a lot of history has been made just off the beach (and just on it) on Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-miles of asphalt. The following is a look at the numbers, facts and figures of NASCAR's biggest race.
NASCAR’s Super Bowl Explosion
Winner’s Share In The First Daytona 500 (1959): $19,050 (Lee Petty)
Winner’s Share In Last Year’s Daytona 500 (2012): $1,588,887 (Matt Kenseth)
Full Purse, first Daytona 500 (59 starters): $67,760
Full Purse, 54th Daytona 500 (43 starters): $17,277,409
Last-place share in 1959: Ken Marriott, 59th place, $100
Last-place share in 2012: David Ragan 43rd place, $267,637
Average income, Middle-Class American: $41,560 per year
(Source: http://bber.unm.edu/econ/us-pci.htm) -- U.S. Dept. Of Commerce)
This 500 … Brought to You by the Number Six
The big buzzword you’ve hear throughout Speedweeks sounds more like an education initiative than a race car. But “Gen-6” is NASCAR’s biggest change this decade, a new chassis type rolling out in 2013 designed to win back fans through a sleeker, “stock” look that make the Ford Fusions, Chevy SS models, and Toyota Camrys more like what you’d see on the street.
“The collaborative efforts between the manufacturers, teams, and NASCAR has been unparalleled in my 34 years in the sport,” crowed Robin Pemberton last month on the Gen-6’s pending Daytona debut.
Translation? NASCAR learned from the dreadful Car of Tomorrow communication debacle, where even CEO Brian France admitted recently “we made some errors” in a model that was highly criticized. This time, they’ve kept everyone from your low-level crewman, to tire specialist, to car owner, to their top R&D engineers on the same page in developing a car they believe will come out competitive.
Tandem Drafting No More
It’s the Valentine Day’s breakup even Cupid is privately cheering. In January testing, “Gen-6” hated being paired up, with even the slightest two-car bumpdraft causing instability to the point it just won’t happen in the 500. Even plate expert Dale Earnhardt Jr. started a 12-car wreck in testing by trying to lightly push Marcos Ambrose in the turns. The Sprint Unlimited witnessed the same thing, as a six-car wreck decimated the field just 15 laps into the event.
“I’m anticipating handling is going to be a little bit more of a premium than what we’ve had in the past,” says Jeff Gordon, pointing to less downforce in the rear of the car. Others claim the new drafting package is similar to what NASCAR had a decade ago, where drivers laid back to “set up” their slingshot moves inside a large pack.
A Guaranteed Photo Finish?
Say what you will about restrictor plates, first bolted onto the cars in 1988 at Daytona as a safety measure to keep fans and drivers safe. But one thing you can’t argue is that horsepower-sucking piece of metal virtually guarantees “close” finishes. 24 of the last 25 Daytona 500s, since the inception of this “plate” era have produced a margin of victory equaling roughly two car lengths or less. Only Darrell Waltrip’s fuel-mileage gamble, in 1989, was the exception to the rule (Waltrip won by a “comfortable” 7.64 seconds over Ken Schrader). No other sports’ premier event has such a track record of razor-close endings.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is many things, but dumb isn’t one of them.
His conference snaked football blue blood and powerhouse Nebraska from the Big 12 to grow the conference in 2011. He followed that up by stealing ACC founding member Maryland and Rutgers from the fledgling Big East to grow his conference into lucrative television and recruiting territories.
The Big Ten has much to offer, namely bigger dollars than any other league in the nation by a wide margin — including the SEC — tremendous academics and a great television presence with The Big Ten Network.
However, Delany knows that he can’t offer football championships like his Southern brethren. In order to stay relevant on the field, and not just in the accounting department, he also knows he needs to make a bold statement.
This means growing the Big Ten to 16 teams before their peers. The Big 12 is all but certain to grow by at least two, the ACC will likely have to pilfer the Big East again once it loses the Terrapins and the mighty SEC is lingering at 14 teams. Many believe that the B1G won’t ever play a game as a 14-team league, but rather, is looking to expand by four teams all at once in an effort to rebalance the college football scales.
The equation is simple: More teams equals more money equals more power equals, ideally, more wins. The Big Ten isn’t competitive on the field — it has one BCS national championship and that took place more than a decade ago — so retuning his league to national prominence on the field should be Delany’s primary focus.
News of Big Ten expansion isn’t anything new or shocking, but recently, Virginia has been rumored to be the most likely to join with North Carolina already holding an official offer. Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech will all figure heavily in the mix as well. Expansion hinges on many factors — TV market, likelihood of acceptance, academics, travel costs, exit fees, alumni base, potential growth, on-field success, history and tradition will all play a role in Delany’s decision making process.
Here is how Athlon Sports would rank the Big Ten’s expansion wish list:
1. Notre Dame
Pros: The Fighting Irish and the Big Ten have always seemed like a perfect fit. Notre Dame nearly joined the conference in 1999 and plays a handful of Big Ten teams every year. Notre Dame is one of college football’s most-storied programs and is on its way back to being a consistent national title contender under Brian Kelly.
Cons: Outside of a huge television market in South Bend and not being a member of the AAU, Notre Dame is the perfect Big Ten candidate. Then again, both parties went down this road before. If the Fighting Irish ever want to join the conference, don’t expect much resistance from the Big Ten. With the Irish locked into five ACC football games per year for the foreseeable future, the odds of Notre Dame even figuring in the Big Ten mix are slim and none.
2. North Carolina
Pros: Without question, North Carolina is one of the biggest prizes in the expansion pool. The Tar Heels are on the radar for future SEC expansion and are believed to be the No. 1 target for the Big Ten and even a possibility for the Big 12. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany attended North Carolina, so there’s already a strong tie for the conference. Chapel Hill isn’t a huge television market but is an excellent college town and provides a great location.
Cons: North Carolina hasn’t been awful on the gridiron, but there’s no question this is a basketball school. The Tar Heels have not won more than nine games since 1997 and had five losing seasons from 2000-07.
3. Florida State
Pros: Where should we start? Florida State has been in the rumor mill as a possible candidate for Big 12 expansion, so by adding the Seminoles, the Big Ten could issue a preemptive strike on its competition. The Tallahassee television market isn’t great, but Florida State is one of the top football programs that is likely interested in changing conferences. By adding Florida State, the Big Ten would add a program that is consistently among the top 15 in the nation, along with adding a presence in one of the best recruiting states.
Cons: Florida State is not a member of the AAU. While the money would be an improvement in the Big Ten, leaving a conference centered in the South for one that has more of a Northern flavor may give the Seminoles some concern about leaving the ACC.
Pros: Miami provides a great location and a new market for the Big Ten. Recruiting Florida is always important, so the Big Ten could help its teams by having a bigger presence in the state. Miami is not a member of the AAU but is regarded for its academics.
Cons: This is not the Miami of the 1990s. The Hurricanes have not won an ACC title and lack a double-digit winning season since 2002. While Miami is a good television market to add, it’s a bit of a stretch geographically for the conference.
Pros: Located less than 200 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the Cavaliers are a prime target due to television market, as well as a regional partner for Maryland. Virginia is also a member of the AAU and a solid academic school, which would be a good fit for the Big Ten.
Cons: On-field success doesn’t necessarily mean everything in expansion, but Virginia has not had a season of double-digit victories since 1989. The Cavaliers aren’t a charter member of the ACC but have been a member since 1953 and there could be resistance from within the state to stay in the same conference as Virginia Tech.
6. Georgia Tech
Pros: Due to an excellent location and a strong academic reputation, the Yellow Jackets are a prime target for Big Ten expansion. Atlanta is one of the top-10 television markets, and Georgia Tech has been successful on the gridiron, winning the 1990 national championship. The state of Georgia is also an excellent state for producing talent on the recruiting trail.
Cons: While Georgia Tech is located in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets aren’t the top destination in town and the campus would be a complete outpost.
7. Virginia Tech
Pros: Blacksburg isn’t a great television market, but Virginia Tech has been a consistent top-20 program during the BCS era. The Hokies also bring an excellent recruiting area to the table, along with a passionate fan base.
Cons: As mentioned with Virginia, there could be some in-state resistance preventing the Hokies and Cavaliers from being in separate conferences. The Hokies are not a member of the AAU but could form an excellent East Coast match with Virginia, Maryland and Rutgers.
Pros: Clemson has a passionate fanbase and an excellent atmosphere for each home game. The Tigers seem to have turned the corner in football, winning at least nine games in three out of the last four seasons.
Cons: Clemson is a charter member of the ACC, and prying the Tigers away could be difficult. Clemson doesn’t bring a huge television market and is not a member of the AAU.
Pros: The Panthers were mentioned as a likely target before the Big Ten added Nebraska. And should be a viable option if the conference wants to jump to 16 teams. Pittsburgh is a member of the AAU and is located in a top-25 television market. Pennsylvania also produces quality talent on the recruiting trail.
Cons: Considering Pittsburgh just joined the ACC, could there be some hesitation about leaving for the Big Ten in such a short window? The Panthers don’t have an on-campus stadium and has only one season of 10 or more wins since 1982.
10. SMU or Houston
Pros: Houston and SMU are the obvious targets here. It gives the Big Ten a foothold in one of the most talent-rich states in the nation — in two of the biggest TV markets in the nation. There is plenty of upward potential for both and both have proven the ability to be successful. This will give Nebraska its recruiting anchor back in the Lone Star State.
Cons: Academically, both programs are behind the rest of the conference. Financially, while both programs are located in huge TV markets, neither commands a large audience in Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston. Facilities and fan support would need substantial upgrades to rival the rest of the Big Ten.
Potential upside is intriguing but TV market doesn't offer much and fan support is average.
Historic name brand but better days are behind them. Solid TV market but little upside.
13. Boise State
Best on-the-field option to the West but well below requirements academically and financially.
14. Boston College
Excellent academics and solid location, but extremely limited upside and fan support.
15. Iowa State
Sneaky good fan support but brings little to the table financially. Iowa already commands the state.
by Braden Gall and Steven Lassan
For all of last week and into this week, Athlon Sports ranked football and men’s basketball coaching tandems in the power conferences.
It’s a tall task recognizing excellence in both major college sports, but the top of our list, for the most part, includes programs who are in contention for conference championships in both sports, BCS bowls and deep NCAA Tournament runs. Others near the top include one elite coach paired with another who has done excellent work under difficult circumstances (see: Alabama, Oklahoma and Duke).
As with our conference rankings, we tend to favor balance. In short, which coaching duo is most likely to keep its fans happy from August to March.
That is reflected near the top of the rankings, but that prospect gets dicey toward the end of the top 50. Should we reward a program who has slightly above average coaches in one sport or should we reward a program with an elite coach in one and a below average coach in the other?
We believe we looked at all sides and ended up with a solid top 50, but at the same time, it’s one that’s sure to spur debate.
Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer walked into Ohio State, where he was an assistant under Earle Bruce, and went 12-0 for the second time in his career. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Buckeyes never looked like a team facing a postseason ban. A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer has also shaken up Big Ten recruiting in one season. Matta rarely is rarely noted as the top basketball coach in the Big Ten, but he’s led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours, three Big Ten tournament titles and at least a share of five regular season conference titles. Ohio State is on its way to its ninth consecutive 20-win season under Matta.
Football: Brady Hoke | Basketball: John Beilein
When Michigan raided West Virginia for its football/basketball coaching duo, Rich Rodriguez was pinpointed as the coach who would turn the Wolverines’ fortunes. Instead, Beilein turned out to be the better hire. Never shy about shooting the three-pointer under Beilein, Michigan is more balanced this season, giving the Wolverines their best team since the Fab Five era. The return of defensive line coach Hoke to Ann Arbor is bringing the Wolverines back to basics. They slipped from 11-2 to 8-5 last season, but Hoke is building the classic pro-style powerful Michigan team.
Football: Bob Stoops | Basketball: Lon Kruger
Big Game Bob has cooled since he had five consecutive top-10 finishes and four BCS games in his first six seasons in Norman, but Stoops still has Oklahoma as one of the consistent frontrunners in the conference. The Sooners have won at least 10 games in six of the last seven years, won the Big 12 in four of the last seven seasons. Stoops' teams obliterated rival Texas the last two seasons. In basketball, Kruger reaffirmed his status as one of the best turnaround artists in the country. In two seasons, he’s resuscitated a program limited by NCAA sanctions under Kelvin Sampson and recruiting misfires under Jeff Capel. If Oklahoma reaches the NCAA Tournament this season -- and it looks like the Sooners will -- Kruger will be the first coach to lead five teams the Tourney.
Football: Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant
There’s not much more we can say about Nick Saban that hasn’t been said since Alabama won its second consecutive national title and third in four seasons. Yet again, he reeled in the nation’s No. 1 signing class, and he's continued to change the face of the SEC. After the SEC was remade by the Fun ‘n’ Gun and the spread, Saban has brought the league back to a combination a punishing run game and physical defense. On the basketball side, Grant hasn’t had the same success as he did at VCU, but hoops isn’t the focus in Tuscaloosa. After a 6-10 SEC season in his first year, Grant has gone 30-14 in conference play since.
5. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey
Brian Kelly has done what his last three predecessors at Notre Dame failed to do -- restore the Irish to a national-title contending program. That shouldn’t be too much of a shock as Kelly won two Division II titles at Grand Valley State, won a MAC title at Central Michigan and two Big East titles at Cincinnati. Brey lifted Notre Dame basketball out of a similar slump since the end of the Digger Phelps era. In the last eight seasons, Brey has won 20 games each year, and he’s likely to make his ninth NCAA Tournament trip in 13 seasons in South Bend. Brey has not missed the postseason since his first two seasons at Delaware in 1995-97.
Football: Charlie Strong | Basketball: Rick Pitino
Athletic director Tom Jurich spent big to keep this duo together when Strong was a hot commodity for Tennessee during the offseason. It’s easy to see why: Louisville is on a short list of programs capable of reaching a Final Four and a BCS game in the same year. Pitino has led the Cardinals to at 25 wins and an Elite Eight or better in three of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, Strong is just getting started with the football program. He’s recruited a young team that will be a Big East favorite in 2013 and potentially a contender in the ACC when the Cards join the league in 2014.
7. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo is doing it again. While everyone was talking about Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten, the Spartans may have the league’s best team. Athlon named Izzo its No. 1 basketball coach prior to the season due to Izzo’s regular season and postseason acumen, recruiting and player development skills. All have come into play this season. In football, Dantonio’s star has fallen a bit after going 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten last season, but he led the Spartans to 22 wins in 2010-11. Now that Michigan and Ohio State are returning to full strength, Danonio’s job is that much tougher.
8. South Carolina
Football: Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin
What Spurrier has accomplished really is quite extraordinary: He brought two SEC programs to national prominence using different approaches at each spot. At South Carolina, he’s abandoned the high-flying pass offense in favor of a standout run game and stout defense (the Gamecocks have ranked in the top four of the SEC in total defense in four of the last five seasons). Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never finished a season in the AP top 10. Spurrier has done it in back-to-back seasons. The Gamecocks’ basketball program now is the one needing a turnaround. Martin is enduring a dismal first season in Columbia as expected, but the fiery former Kansas State coach has a track record of winning at a place others have not.
Football: Will Muschamp | Basketball: Billy Donovan
Billy the Kid is the longest-tenured SEC basketball coach, landing at Florida in 1996-97. He’s turned the Gators into one of the most consistent programs in the country with 15 consecutive 20-win seasons, two national championships, and three Final Fours and two more Elite Eights. Though a highly coveted assistant, Muschamp was a curious hire for the Gators, whose last coach without previous head coaching experience (Ron Zook) didn’t pan out. After a 7-6 first season, Muschamp returned Florida to top-10 status last season. The Gators’ 2012 was flawed but still managed to win four one-score games against one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Football: Gary Andersen | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan has led Wisconsin to a top-four finish in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament every season in Madison since he arrived in 2001-02. Yet even this season, no one caught on (Athlon picked the Badgers sixth in the conference this year, and we were hardly alone in underestimating Wisconsin). No coach is better than Ryan at recruiting to his system and developing talent to it. Andersen is a first-year coach in Madison, but he went 18-8 with two bowl games in the last two seasons at Utah State. His commitment to the run game and physical defense will fit well at Wisconsin.
11. Kansas State
Football: Bill Snyder | Basketball: Bruce Weber
Snyder has to be considered among the all-time greats after his second stint of rescuing Kansas State football. His second tour of duty with the Wildcats is as impressive as the first. K-State has won 21 games and a Big 12 title the last two seasons despite having the lowest-ranked recruiting classes in the league the last five years. Weber’s tenure soured at Illinois, but so far he’s been a boon for K-State basketball, starting 20-5 overall and 9-3 in the league. Weber started well at Illinois, too, going 37-2 and reaching the national title game in his second season.
Football: David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
David Cutcliffe gave Duke fans a reason to get excited for football season with its bowl appearance in 2012, only its third since 1960. A quarterback guru, Cutcliffe has had dangerous passing games since he arrived at Duke. If the Belk Bowl isn’t convincing enough, consider he has more wins in his Duke tenure (18 in five seasons) than any coach since Steve Spurrier (20 wins in three). And you know Krzyzewski: Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, 948 wins and no signs of slowing down.
Football: Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller
In his first season at Arizona, Rodriguez won winning five of his last seven games as the Wildcats ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring offense. The 8-5 season was a good indication Rodriguez may put up results more similar to his tenure at West Virginia (60-26) than his tenure at Michigan (15-22). In basketball, Sean Miller has restored stability to a program that had two one-season coaches after Lute Olson’s legendary run. Arizona’s not back to level of prominence it enjoyed through the '90s and into the early 2000s, but Miller has already taken Arizona to an Elite Eight and has the Wildcats in contention for its second conference title in his tenure.
Football: Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga
This season may be the first in Miami history where the basketball coach has been the Big Coach on Campus rather than the football coach. This isn’t just a knee jerk reaction to Miami’s newfound basketball prominence this season. Larranaga led Miami to a 9-7 season in the ACC a year ago for its first winning season in the conference. That’s on the heels of an accomplished career at Bowling Green and George Mason, where he led the Colonials to the Final Four. Golden’s 13-11 record is nothing special by Miami football standards, but he’s navigating the off-field adversity at Miami with the same skill he used to revive Temple.
15. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams
Roy Williams has his flaws as a coach, some of which are coming to bear this season. But he's nearing 700 career wins with two national championships and seven Final Fours at Kansas and North Carolina. He's already a Hall of Fame coach. North Carolina football remains a sleeping giant, and there’s reason to believe Fedora can be the coach to deliver on that promise once the Tar Heels weather NCAA sanctions. After four consecutive bowl games and a Conference USA title at Southern Miss, he went 8-4 overall and tied for the Coastal Division lead despite a bowl ban last season.
16. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen | Basketball: Bob Huggins
Huggins is a potential Hall of Fame coach with 650 Division I wins. He’s been remarkably consistent, going without a losing conference record every season since his first at Akron in 1984-85. He’ll flirt with one this year, however. He’s also four seasons removed from the Final Four. Holgorsen can coach offense as well as anyone, but the Mountaineers’ defense was a major liability in a 7-6 debut in the Big 12. In his first season as a head coach, Holgorsen led West Virginia to a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson.
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Kevin Stallings
When was the last time Vanderbilt was a factor in both football and basketball? Since 1974, Vanderbilt has reached the NCAA Tournament and a bowl game in the same calendar year only four times. Kevin Stallings was the basketball coach for three of them. James Franklin was the football coach for two of those years. Vanderbilt is the most unique job in the league as the SEC’s toughest academic school and the only private university in the league. Stallings built his program (six NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons) on player development. And Franklin has proven to have the recruiting zeal and enthusiasm to keep the Commodores competitive.
18. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
The verdict on Fisher as the coach to return Florida State to national title contention is unsettled. He’s led the Seminoles to their first 10-win seasons since 2004 and their first top-10 finish since 2000. But the Seminoles can’t get back into the title picture thanks to losses to teams like Wake Forest and NC State. He’s facing an interesting season with a handful of staff defections. Basketball is a clear No. 2 sport at Florida State, but Hamilton has taken the ‘Noles to their best era in the sport with four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and an ACC Tournament title last year.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Jamie Dixon
With a 20-6 start in 2012-13, Dixon proved last season’s CBI effort was an outlier. Before 2012, Pittsburgh was one of three teams in the Big East to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since the league reformed in 2005. (Villanova and Marquette were the others). Dixon led Pitt to a 20-win season in all of his 10 seasons with the Panthers, a Big East regular season title in 2011 and a tournament title in 2008. All that’s left is a Final Four. In football, Chryst has had one rocky season with the Panthers, but his decision to stay when his former employer Wisconsin had an opening was a positive for a team with coaching instability. We think Chryst’s philosophy will work well in the long term with Pitt.
Football: Mack Brown | Basketball: Rick Barnes
This is the most difficult tandem to evaluate in the Big 12 and perhaps the country. On one side, the resumes are impeccable: Brown’s 2005 national title and nine consecutive 10-win seasons and Barnes’ streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and the 2003 Final Four. We value consistency, but at Texas, the bar is a little different. Both coaches have a mountain of advantages in resources, exposure and recruiting base. Yet Brown has limped to a 22-16 record the last three seasons, and Barnes may have a losing season on his hands in addition to early exits from the Tournament in recent seasons. Texas coaches should have better results than this.
Football: Art Briles | Basketball: Scott Drew
It’s tough to underestimate how far Baylor has come in both sports over the last decade. Briles has turned the Big 12 doormat into a dangerous program with three consecutive bowl games and a Heisman Trophy for Robert Griffin III. In addition, the former Houston coach and Texas high school coach has showed few signs he plans to leave Waco. On the other side, it’s true Baylor’s basketball results haven’t matched it’s talent level, but Drew has led the Bears to two Elite Eights in the last four seasons after winning 21 total games in his first three seasons.
22. Oklahoma State
Football: Mike Gundy | Basketball: Travis Ford
Gundy has brought Oklahoma State out of Oklahoma’s shadow, winning an average of 9.8 games in each of the last five seasons. Though Oklahoma State didn’t match the 12- and 11-win efforts of the previous two seasons, 2012 may have been his best coaching job, as the Cowboys went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 despite starting three quarterbacks. The Pokes have yet to have similar breakthrough in basketball, but Ford has Oklahoma State on its way to its third NCAA Tournament, its fourth 20-win seasons in five years and perhaps a Big 12 title.
Football: Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Ben Howland
UCLA may have the toughest tandem to judge in the Pac-12. Howland has three consecutive Final Fours on his resume, but the program now looks little like the one Howland coached from 2006-08. The Bruins are having their best season of the last four thanks to a signing class that has finally delivered on its promise. But UCLA isn’t immune to puzzling losses (Cal Poly, USC) or criticism from one of its greatest players. On the football side, Mora resuscitated the program with a 9-5 season and a Pac-12 South title, but a three-game losing streak (including two to Stanford) indicates the Bruins still have a way to go to return to national prominence. Still, Howland’s track record and Mora’s quick rebuild is enough to make UCLA’s tandem No. 2 in the league.
24. Boise State
Football: Chris Petersen | Basketball: Leon Rice
Boise State football had been on a steady ascent since the late 1990s, but Chris Petersen took the program to new heights. The Broncos under Petersen have had two undefeated seasons and BCS wins and three top-10 finishes. Gripe about the level of competition in the WAC and Mountain West, but he’s never finished with fewer than 10 wins in seven seasons as a head coach. The Broncos’ adjustment to major college basketball hasn’t been nearly as quick as the football program’s rise, but Rice, a former Gonzaga assistant may be the coach to lift the Broncos. Boise State is in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid in the rugged Mountain West.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Crean essentially started from scratch at Indiana in 2008-09 with a depleted roster and NCAA sanctions. The Hoosiers won eight Big Ten games his first three seasons in Bloomington, but they arrived to national prominence a year earlier than expected last season. Now, Indiana is a legitimate national title contender again. IU football will always be No. 2, but Kevin Wilson has made progress in two seasons from playing a horde of freshmen in 2011. The Hoosiers improved from 1-11 overall and 0-8 in his first season to 4-8 and 2-6 in his second.
Football: Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones
The SEC just wouldn’t be the same without Les Miles, whose unpredictability as a gameday coach is matched by eccentricity as a communicator. But he’s had some darn good results at LSU, too. In addition to the 2007 national title, LSU has finished in the top 10 five times under Miles and spent at least one week in the top five in each of his eight seasons in Baton Rouge. In basketball, LSU won’t make the NCAA Tournament in Jones’ first season, but the Tigers could have their best win total since 2008-09. A player on LSU’s Final Four team in 1986, Jones was one of the best coaches in the Sun Belt at North Texas.
Football: Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell
With his earnest enthusiasm, Swinney is the kind of character made for college football. He’s good for a chuckle, but he knows how to allocate his budget to top coordinators, especially Chad Morris. His 21 wins in the last two seasons are the most in school history, and the Tigers’ 2011 ACC title was their first since 1991. Brownell came to Clemson with good reputation by taking UNC Wilmington and Wright State to the NCAA Tournament, but he has a two-year postseason drought since reaching the Big Dance in his first season at Clemson.
Football: Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Boeheim joined the 900-win club this season and has a chance for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament with this group. He has 16 consecutive 20-win seasons, three Final Four appearances and the 2003 national title. We don’t have any questions about him in these rankings. Shafer is an unknown commodity after he was elevated to replace Doug Marrone during the offseason. The former Stanford and Michigan assistant turned around the Syracuse defense when he first arrived in 2009, but the Orange ranked fifth in the league in total D last season. He is a first-time head coach.
Football: Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson
Few tandems in the SEC took their current jobs with resumes as accomplished as Bielema and Anderson. Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls and won at least 10 games four times in seven seasons. Anderson won at UAB, including an upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and Missouri, where he won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight in 2008-09. The question is how they will fare at Arkansas. Anderson’s road woes may cost the Razorbacks another Tournament bid, and Bielema is entering his first season coaching and recruiting in the SEC.
30. Iowa State
Football: Paul Rhoads | Basketball: Fred Hoiberg
It takes a special coach to win in either sport at Iowa State. The Cyclones had more success in basketball in its history, but they were largely dormant after a going 32-5 in 1999-2000. Hoiberg, “The Mayor,” has started to bring his alma mater back. The Cyclones could reach their second consecutive NCAA Tournament this season, the first time that’s happened since 2000-01. Iowa State is not nearly as accomplished in football. Rhoads is a master motivator who has made Iowa State a spoiler in the Big 12 or national title race. He has three bowl games in four seasons but only one winning record.
Football: Tommy Tuberville | Basketball: Mick Cronin
Both coaches are solid in their respective sports. Cronin has led the Bearcats through a lengthy rebuilding process. He started with two losing seasons, but he has Cincinnati on its way to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Tuberville was a somewhat surprising hire as the coach bolted Texas Tech this offseason. Given his baggage of jumping jobs, smacking headsets off assistants and possibly deserting recruits during a dinner, Tuberville is far removed from a his standout stretch at Auburn.
Football: Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari
Calipari may be the top coach in the game right now. Even one of his down teams this season will make a run at an SEC regular season title. From 2005-12, his average record each season was 34-5. And in the outlier (29-9 in 2010-11), Kentucky still reached the Final Four. His strategy of cycling through one-and-dones isn’t everyone’s favorite vision for college basketball, but he proved last season he can win a national title doing it. Football is a second priority at Kentucky, but they’ll hope first-time head coach Mark Stoops is more like Bob than Mike. He impressed on the recruiting trail with the nation’s No. 36 class. Still, in the SEC, that ranks only 13th.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Tubby Smith
Minnesota is going to have a tough time winning in either sport, but the Gophers at least have the right coaches leading the program. Kill has won at every level from Saginaw Valley State to Emporia State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois. He led the Gophers back to a bowl game in his second season. Smith, who led Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, is Minnesota’s first successful basketball coach since crippling sanctions in the late 90s. He should have the Gophers in their third NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
Football: Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Mike Montgomery
Prior to the season, we rated Montgomery as the Pac-12’s top basketball coach At Stanford, Montgomery never finished lower than second in the conference from 1996-2004. Then, he raised the profile at Cal, reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in his first four seasons at Berkeley. In football, Cal will hope Dykes can restore some excitement to a program that had grown stale under predecessor Jeff Tedford. Dykes is a spread offense guru who coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and has experience in the Pac-12 at Arizona. He improved his win total each season at Louisiana Tech.
Football: Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett
In 2012, the football program slipped back to 4-8 after an eight-win season in London’s second year. The former police officer went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title before returning to Virginia. After ending Virginia’s four-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, Bennett has the program in position for its first back-to-back Tournament bids since 1994-95. His offensive and defensive systems will keep scores low, but it’s proven to work when he’s at at talent disadvantage.
36. Virginia Tech
Football: Frank Beamer | Basketball: James Johnson
Beamer is synonymous with Virginia Tech football even if his streak of eight consecutive 10-wins seasons ended in 2012. The Hokies haven’t missed a bowl game or had a losing season since 1992, Beamer’s sixth season in Blacksburg. Johnson is a much more unknown commodity. He was noted as a recruiter under predecessor Seth Greenberg’s staff, but it’s been a tough season in his debut as a head coach.
37. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin’s teams at Texas A&M and Houston have finished in the top three nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons. The exception was 2010 when Houston quarterback Case Keenum was injured (Houston still finished 11th nationally). With a Cotton Bowl victory, a win over Alabama and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel, Sumlin rode that wave to a top-10 signing class, outpacing former recruiting rivals Texas and Oklahoma. The basketball program isn’t where Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie had it, but the Aggies have already exceeded last season’s win total (14). Billy Kennedy built Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State over the course of a few years, so his upcoming seasons will be worth watching.
Football: Charlie Weis | Basketball: Bill Self
In the last eight seasons, Self has led Kansas to the 2008 national title, the 2012 title game, eight consecutive Big 12 championships and five conference tournament championships. Yet Self still finds a way to be doubted. He’s one of the nation’s top coaches, regular season or postseason. He’s not contributing to the Jayhawks’ low ranking, clearly. Weis was a puzzling hire from the start and did nothing in his first season to make KU’s roll of the dice look great. Weis is 17-32 in his last four seasons as a head coach, including 1-11 in Lawrence.
Football: Gary Patterson | Basketball: Trent Johnson
Another tough call in the Big 12 rankings. We wouldn’t be shocked if this doesn’t look like a great ranking in a few years. Gary Patterson is one of the nation’s best coaches, and he lived up to that in his first season in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs had to replace their returning starter at quarterback midseason and still reached a bowl game. His future success in the Big 12 will depend on his ability to recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at an elite level. Trent Johnson is a solid basketball coach who had a good run at Stanford and Nevada but wisely bolted LSU for TCU before landing himself on the hot seat in Baton Rouge.
Football: Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox
The hot seat talk form when Georgia went 14-12 and 7-9 in the SEC in 2009-10 has cooled. Richt’s 14-2 record in the SEC the last two seasons is his best in any two-year span at Georgia, though Georgia has been the beneficiary of some fortunate scheduling. Still, the Bulldogs were a play away from reaching the national title game before losing the SEC Championship Game. The hire of Georgia’s other Mark from Nevada was greeted with skepticism as Fox hadn’t coached anywhere near the Southeast. Fox is trying to avoid his third losing season in four years at Georgia.
43. San Diego State
48. Oregon State
Selection Sunday is less than a month away, and the picture for who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament is becoming more clear.
In general, most of the 68 spots are fairly certain. Of the 32 conferences, we’ve tabbed 20 as being one-bid leagues, determined solely by conference tournaments. On the other end of the spectrum, at least 30 teams are safely in the field barring a total collapse between now and March 17.
That leaves the bubble, where every win and loss is magnified and every result from November and December takes on a renewed significance.
Here’s our look at the NCAA Tournament field for 2013. This is not intended to be a prediction, per se, but a snapshot at how the field may look right now.
We looked at RPI, strength of schedule, good wins and bad losses in our projections. You will also see references to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The selection committee is not instructed to use the rankings during the selection process, but we include them as an added resource.
NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET PROJECTIONS: FEB. 21
TOP FOUR SEEDS
In: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: Florida State, Maryland
Bubble notes: Virginia entered the field last week and remains in despite road losses to North Carolina and Miami. The Cavs missed a golden chance to all but clinch a bid with the 54-50 road loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Maryland moved one step forward with a win over Duke on Saturday and then one step back by losing to Boston College on Tuesday. The regular season finale between the Terps and Cavs in Charlottesville may be a key game for both. Other than a season sweep of Maryland, Florida State is running low on quality ACC wins.
Atlantic 10 (5)
In: Butler, La Salle, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Worth a mention: Charlotte, UMass, Xavier
Bubble notes: VCU has a good resume numbers-wise, but the Rams missed an opportunity to solidify their profile by losing to Saint Louis on Tuesday. Their best win remains Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Temple put itself into a precarious position by losing to Duquesne, which is ranked outside the top 200 in the RPI. Three wins over the Syracuse and Saint Louis, plus wins over bubble teams Charlotte, Villanova and UMass could work in the Owls’ favor. Charlotte is hovering just inside the top 50 in the RPI with its worst loss coming to George Washington on the road. The 49ers two standout wins, however. (La Salle, at Butler). UMass lost on the road to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, making the Minutemen an at-large longshot.
Big 12 (5)
In: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Worth a mention: Baylor
Bubble notes: In a game between bubble teams Wednesday, Iowa State defeated Baylor 87-82 for a regular season sweep. If Baylor is left out of the field, it will be due to the Bears' poor performance against the Tournament-bound teams in the Big 12: Baylor's only win over the "in" group was over Oklahoma State at home in January.
Big East (8)
In: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Worth a mention: St. John’s
Bubble notes: By defeating RPI No. 32 Connecticut on the road on Saturday, Villanova moves back into the field. The win gave the Wildcats their first top-100 road win, joining a resume that already includes victories over Louisville and Syracuse. ‘Nova has a bad loss to No. 254 Columbia, but that is the Wildcats’ only loss to a team outside of the top 100. St. John’s is fading with three losses in its last five games, albeit all three on the road against Tournament-bound teams (Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville). Remaining games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame (on the road) and Marquette may be must-win situations.
Big Ten (7)
In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Iowa
Bubble notes: After enduring a 2-7 start to Big Ten play, Illinois looked like it would work its way onto the bubble despite a stellar non-conference performance. Since the lackluster conference start, Illinois has gone on a four-game win streak, defeating Indiana and Minnesota two weeks ago and then 20-point routs of Purdue and Northwestern. Iowa’s case to join the field is getting stronger with Sunday’s 72-51 win over Minnesota, its third RPI top-50 win of the season, all of which at home. The Hawkeyes are being dragged down by a weak non-conference schedule.
Related: Key stats from Feb. 11-17
Conference USA (1)
Worth a mention: Southern Miss
Bubble notes: Southern Miss has only two top-100 wins (Denver and UTEP), leaving Conference USA as a possible one-bid league if Memphis wins the tournament. The Tigers’ at-large credentials aren’t great, either, with a win at Southern Miss being Memphis’ signature achievement this season.
Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton, Wichita State
Worth a mention: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Bubble notes: The at-large profiles coming out of the Missouri Valley will give the selection committee much to ponder. Wichita State recovered from a three-game losing streak to win four of a row, including Tuesday’s win over NCAA hopeful Indiana State (RPI No. 64) on the road. Creighton ended its own three-game losing streak Saturday with a come-from-behind win at Evansville before dispatching Southern Illinois on Tuesday. A BracketBuster game at Saint Mary’s on Saturday could help both teams’ at-large credentials. Indiana State had been flirting with a spot in the Tournament, but the Sycamores’ three-game losing streak will be tough to overcome. Indiana State lost to RPI No. 226 Missouri State on Feb. 12 and No. 177 Bradley on Saturday.
Mountain West (5)
In: Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Air Force
Bubble notes: A win over Air Force on Wednesday night combined with a loss by Ole Miss helped Boise State return to the field. The Broncos have top two top-50 wins at Creighton (RPI No. 47) and UNLV (No. 17), which is better than most teams on the bubble. The Broncos have lost their last five MWC road games for a 5-6 mark in the league, but they have a chance to end that streak with a trip to RPI No. 146 Fresno State. Home dates with Colorado State and San Diego State could help the Broncos clinch an at-large bid.
In: Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
Worth a mention:Stanford
Bubble notes: Colorado split with the Arizona schools last week, which turns out to be good for both the Buffaloes and Arizona State. In the last two weeks, Colorado has a win at RPI No. 38 Oregon for a crucial road victory, and a win at home over No. 11 Arizona. Cal entered the field this week after stringing together back-to-back wins over Arizona on the road and RPI No. 41 UCLA at home. With three top-50 wins and no losses to teams outside the top 100, Cal should feel pretty good. The Sun Devils also entered our field this week with a season sweep of Colorado, defeating the No. 23 Buffaloes in Boulder on Saturday. With losses to Stanford and Utah in the last three games (plus a home loss to DePaul in December), Arizona State doesn’t have much wiggle room. The Sun Devils’ RPI is dangerously low at 67. Stanford entered last week on the bubble and lost at home to UCLA and USC, giving the Cardinal a season sweep to the Trojans, who are ranked 97th.
In: Florida, Missouri
Worth a mention: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky
Bubble notes: With five losses in the last seven games, Ole Miss may have played itself out of a bid. The Rebels endured their worst loss of the season with a 63-62 defeat to South Carolina on Wednesday. Unfortunately for Kentucky, the selection committee will take injuries into account, and a 30-point loss to Tennessee without Nerlens Noel won’t help the Wildcats’ case. Alabama is in the same spot it was in two seasons ago with a great SEC record but a bubble resume thanks to losses to Dayton, Tulane, Mercer and Auburn. Arkansas should be mentioned for its wins over Florida and Missouri in recent weeks, but the Razorbacks still have a low RPI (74) and a dismal road record (1-6).
West Coast (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
Worth a mention: BYU
Bubble notes: Saint Mary’s could have eased its fears of making the Tournament by defeating Gonzaga, but the Gaels lost 77-60. A BracketBuster game against Creighton on Saturday can’t be understated. Other than a possible rematch with Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, this game will be Saint Mary’s last chance for a top-50 win.
One-bid conference projections
|Conference||Projected winner||Conference||Projected winner|
|America East||Stony Brook||MEAC||Norfolk State|
|Atlantic Sun||Florida Gulf Coast||Northeast||Robert Morris|
|Big Sky||Montana||Ohio Valley||Belmont|
|Big South||Charleston Southern||Patriot||Bucknell|
|Big West||Long Beach State||Southern||Davidson|
|Colonial||Northeastern||Southland||Stephen F. Austin|
|Ivy||Harvard||Sun Belt||Middle Tennessee|
Chris Henry was a running back at the University of Arizona from 2003 to 2006. After redshirting, he rushed for 159 yards as a freshman, 119 yards as a sophomore and 581 yards as a junior. Henry had 859 career rushing yards over three seasons before skipping his senior season and declaring early for the NFL Draft. For a frame of reference, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing last fall with 1,929 yards.
The Tennessee Titans selected Henry in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft with the 50th overall selection. Eleven Pro Bowlers and 14 more running backs, including Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Bush, were selected after the Wildcats running back.
Henry rushed for 122 yards in 11 career games over four seasons with two teams and his career was headlined by a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy during his rookie year.
So why would a smart NFL guy like Jeff Fisher waste a valuable draft pick on a guy who wasn't productive, didn't win many games and didn't even start on the college level? The answer is a common narrative told across NFL front offices every season: The Combine. Henry wowed scouts, checking in at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds with a 4.40 40-yard dash, 26 bench reps (225 lbs) and a 36” vertical leap. Those numbers meant nothing once he put on the pads and had to play football.
For every combine freak of nature that pans out — like Vernon Davis, for example — there are boatloads of Chris Henrys. Last season, Stephon Gilmore and Dontari Poe used impressive combine showings to land in the top 11 picks of the 2012 draft. Whether or not Buffalo and Kansas City made quality decisions with those two remains to be seen.
So who will be this year’s workout warriors, freaks of nature and combine stars?
Note: NFL.com player ratings are on a scale of 100 and are in parentheses. Twelve of the 333 combine invitees are currently ranked 90.0 or higher, 52 players are ranked in the 80s, 64 in the 70s and 105 in the 60s. The other 100 prospects rank below 60.0.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (90.6) 6-3, 210
There might not be a wide receiver at the combine who has more physical talent than Patterson. And he is already close to being a first-round lock, however, he is an extremely unrefined prospect. He has elite size, speed, power, burst, special teams talent and versatility. But he needs to learn how to play the wide receiver position and that can only come with time spent on the field. He has played just one season of college football and it shows, but his combine numbers will be off the charts.
Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (88.0) 6-7, 245
If scouts are looking for the next Aldon Smith, from a physical standpoint, Jordan will be their guy. He has elite size, length, range and athletic ability for a pass rusher. He can cover a lot of ground in short order and enjoys playing a physical style of football. However, he lacks overall power and strength and will have to overcome a stigma that he played with inconsistent effort at Oregon. This prospect is already a first-rounder but could easily find himself in the top ten with a freakish performance at the Combine.
Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (84.0) 6-3, 235
From a physical standpoint, Ogletree is the perfect middle linebacker. He has elite speed to play sideline-to-sideline. He possesses a tough-nosed attitude and won’t hesitate to deliver a big hit. He can cover in pass defense and plays with great quickness. However, he has had plenty of off-the-field issues, including a recent DUI arrest, and missed time due to suspensions at Georgia. Once he learns to control his aggressiveness, he could be a three-down star in the NFL.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (74.1) 6-7, 275
The massive defensive line prospect will be extremely intriguing to watch at the combine. He towers over most college offensive lineman and absolutely looks like an NFL starter. He was an elite recruit for a reason and his length and power will be an asset to someone. Understanding the game, maintaining his focus and keeping his motor going full throttle will be key in determining the NFL future of this former Spartan.
John Simon, DL, Ohio State (70.5) 6-2, 260
Simon won’t wow scouts with his 40-time, overall size or length, but when it comes to power and strength, few can match this workout warrior. He owns all types of weight room records at Ohio State and will be extremely impressive in his personal interviews with coaches and front office types. He is one of the top leaders at the combine.
Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri (70.0) 6-2, 230
Gooden has the power and strength to play outside linebacker in the SEC and the speed and agility to cover in space in the Big 12. He has been slowed by injuries over the course of his career, but his athletic ability will be obvious in Indy. He is great in the open field and will be able to play sideline-to-sideline. This is one workout warrior that will absolutely find his way into a starting lineup. Gooden is much more of a sleeper than a bust.
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU (70.0) 6-3, 195
Size is a coveted asset for cornerbacks in the modern pass-happy NFL and Simon has it in spades. The LSU coverman can turn and run with receivers with relative ease and it led to plenty of big plays during his three years in Baton Rouge. He doesn’t have the quickness or elite speed of former teammate, Morris Claiborne, who was selected by Dallas in last year's draft with the sixth overall pick, but Simon is bigger, stronger and nearly as intriguing. The scouts at the combine will see an excellent athlete with rare size and small technique issues they believe they can fix.
EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State (68.7) 6-5, 240
In a QB class that features nothing but pocket passers, Manuel’s massive frame and underrated athletic ability will stand out in Indianapolis. His maturity and interviews will be impressive as well. He was an elite recruit who developed slowly and dealt with injuries but led his team to an ACC title as a senior. In the modern era of mobile quarterbacks, Manuel will easily be the best athlete among all the other seemingly statuesque signal callers at the combine.
Marquis Goodwin, WR, Texas (68.6) 5-9, 180
Goodwin might be the fastest player at the combine. The wide receiver has won World Junior Track Championships and was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, finishing 10th in London in the long jump. He is small, unpolished and will have to define his ability as a pass catcher, but speed can’t be coached and Goodwin has it in spades.
Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon (67.1) 6-4, 245
In the new era of hybrid outside linebackers and defensive ends, Alonso possesses excellent athletic ability. He can rush the passer, drop into coverage and hold his ground against the run as his Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game award proves (five tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin). He is a freaky athlete who will wow scouts with his upside. However, his downside is all self-inflicted miscues. He has had multiple arrests stemming from a DUI and public intoxication and also dealt with a torn right ACL.
Marcus Davis, WR, Virginia Tech (63.8) 6-4, 230
Few players have more athletic ability than the Virginia Tech wide receiver. He has a massive frame and excellent speed to start on the outside and will bring a vertical threat to an NFL offense. He has all the physical tools to excel on Sundays and will be very impressive at the Combine. However, blocking, route running, focus and consistency kept Davis from ever exploding on the college gridiron. Scouts beware.
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA (60.8) 6-7, 258
As far as size and athleticism at the tight end position, few will be as impressive at the combine as the former top prospect. The UCLA tight end teased coaches and fans with elite speed and agility for a player of his size. His career culminated with his best year, catching 12 touchdowns in 2012. However, he struggles as a run blocker and doesn’t exhibit top-notch toughness that most NFL tight ends need to be successful.
Other names to watch:
Datone Jones, DT, UCLA (85.6) 6-5, 280
Elite recruit with excellent size who underachieved his entire career until his final season.
Jonathan Cyprien, S, FIU (84.6) 6-1, 210
Won’t wow scouts with measurables, but huge thumper and elite tackler.
Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech (74.4) 6-3, 210
Total knuckle-head who cares only about himself… but a freakish athlete.
Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State (68.0) 6-1, 230
Extremely impressive athlete who never posted big numbers at either Oregon or Kansas St.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State (67.0)
Doesn’t posses high-end speed but elite size, power, strength and dependability.
College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. When Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, he reenergized the Seminoles' recruiting base in the region and more importantly in the state of Florida. The 2013 class is once again an excellent haul and it won the ACC recruiting championship, but the league didn't land a single top-10 class and that has to be a concerning sign for the conference.
No. 11: Florida State
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 4
National Signees: 8
Total Signees: 22
Where They Got 'Em:
Florida State has always been able to package a loaded in-state class with a national focus on elite talent. Jimbo Fisher made a conscious effort to focus more on in-state talent since taking over and the 2013 class is the same. He signed 15 Sunshine State prospects in this haul including six of the eight nationally rated players in this class. Border state Alabama supplied three prospects, Tennessee sent its best player to Tallahassee and both Virginia and Louisiana offered up one player each. New York — by way of South Florida — sent a junior college transfer to play in Doak Campbell Stadium too.
Areas of Focus:
National Signing Day was a yearly holiday at Florida State under Bobby Bowden, as the legendary coach would dominate the final day of the recruiting calendar each year. Fisher did his own Bowden impersonation by finishing the '13 cycle with a major flurry. He landed elite linebacker Matthew Thomas and yanked star defensive back Jalen Ramsey from USC's grasp. Both were top-15 players nationally and head a star-studded defensive class for the Noles.
Thomas heads a loaded five-man linebacking class that features nationally rated E.J. Levenberry and early enrollee Freddie Stevenson. Rumors swirled that Thomas wanted to sign elsewhere (USC, perhaps?), but should he stick at Florida State, he should be the best pure outside linebacker in the nation. Four of the five names hail from Florida while Levenberry played prep football in Virginia. All but Stevenson are 6-foot-3 and all but Thomas are at least 220 pounds. This group is the next wave of elite Noles tacklers.
Ramsey is one of only three defensive backs signed in this class, but he is a great one. He has the size and rangy frame to bulk up and play safety but also the quickness and speed to play corner. Look for him to be used at a variety of positions early on before settling in as a cornerback. Marquez White is another tall, rangy corner and Nate Andrews could play either position.
Along the defensive line, two of the four signees were ranked nationally by Athlon Sports. Demarcus Walker will play defensive end and is the prized gem of the group while Keith Bryant is the big star on the inside at tackle. Walker is joined by Davarez Bryant and Desmond Hollin on the outside, giving Fisher and company an excellent crop of new talent to replace the departed Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner.
Of the 10 total offensive signings, the line (4) and wide receiver (3) will get the most help. Ira Denson leads the offensive line class that could be cut short by one should early enrollee Richy Klepal decide not to play football. His doctors told him his long-term health was at risk following multiple concussions at powerhouse program Tampa (Fla.) Plant. Levonte Whitfield (5-9, 175) is the star wideout of the bunch and brings electric speed to the slot position. Isaiah Jones (6-4, 200) complements the smaller wide receivers with a big frame and down-the-field ability.
Running back Ryan Green, however, is the highest-rated offensive prospect in the class. The star tailback is an all-purpose dynamo who missed a big chunk of his senior year due to a shoulder injury. With Jameis Winston set to take over the reins for the Seminoles offense, the lone quarterback signee, John Franklin III, appears to be more of a backup plan for the next three seasons. Jeremy Kerr brings a big frame (6-6, 254) as the lone tight end prospect in this class.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 3, TE: 1, OL: 4
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 5, DB: 3, ATH: 0
|8.||Matthew Thomas||LB||No. 3||Miami, Fla.||6-3||210|
|15.||Jalen Ramsey||DB||No. 3||Nashville, Tenn.||6-1||195|
|36.||Demarcus Walker||DE||No. 8 (DL)||Jacksonville, Fla.||6-3||265|
|51.||Ryan Green||RB||No. 9||St. Petersburg, Fla.||5-10||197|
|120.||Ira Denson||OL||No. 17||Madison, Fla.||6-4||317|
|142.||Levonte Whitfield||WR||No. 16||Orlando, Fla.||5-9||176|
|183.||E.J. Levenberry||LB||No. 27||Woodbridge, Va.||6-3||230|
|216.||Keith Bryant||DT||No. 40 (DL)||Delray Beach, Fla.||6-2||306|
|Richy Klepal||OL||Tampa, Fla.||6-4||285||--|
|Freddie Stevenson||LB||Bartow, Fla.||6-1||230||--|
|Demarcus Walker||DE||Jacksonville, Fla.||6-4||295||No. 36|
Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. Michigan Wolverines
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. LSU Tigers
8. Texas A&M Aggies
9. UCLA Bruins
10. Auburn Tigers
11. Florida State Seminoles
Texas enters a critical offseason as the first BCS team to open spring practice in 2013. After recording nine consecutive double-digit win seasons, the Longhorns have failed to reach that mark in each of the last three years. Texas hit rock bottom by going 5-7 in 2010 but has rebounded by going 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. Although Mack Brown’s team is making progress, the Longhorns are still a ways off from contending for a national championship. And at Texas – a place with all of the resources necessary to compete for a title every year – going 22-16 in the last three years is unacceptable.
Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 9-4 (5-4)
Spring practice dates: Feb. 21-March 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 9 Defense – 9
Passing: David Ash, 214 of 318, 2,699 yds., 19 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Gray, 149 car., 701 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving: Jaxon Shipley, 59 rec., 737 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Steve Edmond, 103
Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat, 4
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs, 4
Redshirts to Watch: OL Curtis Riser, DB Bryson Echols, DT Alex Norman, QB Connor Brewer, OL Camrhon Hughes, DT Paul Boyette, DL Hassan Ridgeway, QB Jalen Overstreet, LB Tim Cole
Early Enrollees to Watch: LB Deoundrei Davis, OL/DE Jake Raulerson, TE Geoff Swaim, QB Tyrone Swoopes
JUCO Transfers to watch: TE Geoff Swaim, OL Desmond Harrison
Aug. 31 New Mexico State
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 5 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 26 at TCU
Nov. 2 Kansas
Nov. 9 at West Virginia
Nov. 16 Oklahoma State
Nov. 28 Texas Tech
Dec. 7 at Baylor
Offensive Strength: Skill players. The Longhorns have amassed an array of skill players, including one of the nation’s deepest backfields in Johnathan Gray, Malclom Brown and Joe Bergeron. The receiving corps is in good shape with the return of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, while Daje Johnson, Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders are promising options.
Offensive Weakness: The biggest weakness for Texas undoubtedly rests under center. Although David Ash has shown some flashes of promise, he struggled against Oklahoma and Kansas and nearly lost his starting job to Case McCoy. Ash holds the keys to Texas’ season. If he’s continues to improve, Texas can win the Big 12 title in 2013.
Defensive Strength: It’s hard to find a ton of superlatives for a defense that allowed 29.2 points a game last year. However, Texas returns standouts in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and cornerback Quandre Diggs, while linebacker Jordan Hicks is back after missing most of last season with an injury. The secondary ranked 36th against the pass last season and should be a strength with Diggs, Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom returning.
Defensive Weakness: If Texas wants to win the Big 12 title, it has to find a way to stop the run. The Longhorns ranked 88th against the run last year and was steamrolled for 29 rushing scores. An injury to linebacker Jordan Hicks hindered the front seven last year, but questions remain about the front seven even with his return.
Spring Storylines Facing the Longhorns
1. With Bryan Harsin leaving to become the head coach at Arkansas State, Major Applewhite has been handed the reins to coordinate the offense in 2013. The former Longhorn quarterback had a so-so debut in the Alamo Bowl, as Texas scored only 10 points in the first half and never managed to get its rushing game on track against Oregon State. However, the Longhorns came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns to pickup a 31-27 Alamo Bowl victory. Applewhite will make a few changes from Harsin’s offense, as Texas wants to increase the pace on offense. Increasing the tempo and spreading the ball around through the air is an opportunity for Texas to spark an offense that ranked seventh in the Big 12 in scoring last year. How much of the new offense can Applewhite implement this spring? That’s the big question, just behind this one…
2. Is David Ash the answer at quarterback? Through his first two seasons on campus, Ash has shown flashes of promise but needs to be more consistent. Thanks to his performance in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl, the junior finished 2012 on a high note. With some building confidence, the Texas coaching staff now wants to see Ash take the next step in his development. If Ash struggles early, redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, along with senior Case McCoy will have an opportunity to replace him. Ash is a good fit for Applewhite’s desire to speed up the tempo, but can he elevate Texas offense into a position where it can contend for the Big 12 title?
3. In addition to seeking more consistency and production from Ash, the Longhorns need a big spring from receivers Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Cayleb Jones, along with the offensive line. While Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley are entrenched as the top two receivers, the Longhorns lack proven options as the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. Johnson, Sanders and Jones have the talent and will be counted upon to fill the void left by Marquise Goodwin. The front five showed improvement last season and should have more depth in 2013. Is that enough to help the Longhorns contend for the Big 12 title?
4. There’s no doubt Texas was one of the most disappointing defenses in the nation last season. The good news for coordinator Manny Diaz is nine starters are back, including end Jackson Jeffcoat who missed seven games due to an injury. Jeffcoat’s return is crucial for this defense, especially since Alex Okafor has exhausted his eligibility. The Longhorns also unexpectedly lost defensive tackle Brandon Moore to the NFL Draft, which should provide an opportunity for sophomore Malcom Brown to have a huge season, along with a chance for redshirt freshmen Paul Boyette, Alex Norman and Hassan Ridgeway to work their way into the mix. Fixing the rush defense starts with interior play, so the spotlight is on Desmond Jackson, Brown and Ashton Dorsey this spring.
5. Not far behind the concerns on the defensive line are question marks at linebacker and in the secondary. Getting Jordan Hicks back in the lineup will immediately improve Texas’ linebacking trio, but the rest of the unit has to play better. Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson could be pushed for snaps from Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens. The linebacking corps has question marks, but considering the talent in place, this unit could end up among the best in the Big 12 by the end of the year. The secondary is in a similar position, as Quandre Diggs could be moved to safety, which would ease the loss of first-team All-Big 12 selection Kenny Vaccaro. If Diggs is moved to safety, sophomore Duke Thomas is the likely his replacement at cornerback and will be someone the coaching staff has to monitor closely in spring practice. Finding the right mix of talent and players in both units will be crucial for Texas this spring.
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2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
National League East
The trade of Randall Delgado to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal eliminates most of the questions surrounding the rotation. This team is pretty much set as far as regulars go. Waiver claim Jordan Schafer will be competing with Jose Constanza for a backup outfield spot and a chance to return to the major leagues with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.
Journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .313 with 13 homers in 91 games, and he will get the first crack at the starting job in center field. If he falters this spring, Gorkys Hernandez or former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will be there to pick up the pieces. Wade LeBlanc, who got a late-season look in the rotation, will fight it out with the likes of fellow lefty Brad Hand, righty Alex Sanabia and retread John Maine for the fifth starter’s spot. Former Cubs lefthander Scott Maine will compete with Rule 5 pick Braulio Lara and Sam Dyson among others, for a spot in the setup crew.
New York Mets
Amazingly for a team projected to finish so low in the standings, the Mets have few questions in the lineup and rotation, such as they are. With closer Frank Francisco ailing, there is an opening for closer, at least to start the season. Brandon Lyon with 79 career saves is the front runner. Bobby Parnell will be in the mix as well.
Roy Halladay will be highly scrutinized as he tries to rediscover the electricity on his pitches after an offseason spent reconditioning his high-mileage shoulder. While that drama plays out on the mound, rookie Darin Ruf will try to build on a remarkable year in which he hit 52 homers in three leagues on two continents. Blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, the less-than-fleet-footed Ruf is trying to become a left fielder at 26. If he can play the position and keep driving balls, he will earn some playing time. With the equally inept defensively Delmon Young coming off also in the mix, perennial prospect Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. will be necessary as defensive replacements.
With the rotation, starting lineup and bench basically set in stone, precious few battles remain in spring training for roster spots, but there could be opportunities in the Nationals’ bullpen. The Nationals have a decided preference for hard throwers, which means that righthander Christian Garcia, who impressed with his 100-mph heat last September, has an inside track for one of those spots, provided the Nationals don’t convert him to a starter. The Nats might look to add a situational lefty before Opening Day.
National League Central
There is a logjam for the final two positions in the rotation. Carlos Villanueva started 29 games for the Blue Jays the last two seasons. Travis Wood was second on the team with 156 innings pitched last year but now has to fight for a spot. Free-agent signees Scott Baker (who missed 2012 after elbow surgery) and Scott Feldman are other candidates. Feldman, a 17-game winner with Texas in 2009, was told he had a spot in the rotation before Jackson and Villanueva signed. In the outfield, David DeJesus will likely hold off prospect Brett Jackson for now, although Jackson is an intriguing combination of power and speed.
Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake are vying for that No. 5 rotation spot, and it’s very possible the Reds use Leake at the start of the season and bring Chapman along slowly or some other creative strategy to utilize both pitchers. It will affect the bullpen makeup, as will the health of Nick Masset. Logan Ondrusek has had 60-plus appearances in three straight seasons and could easily wind up on the final 25-man roster. How catcher Devin Mesoraco develops also deserves attention. He won’t beat out Ryan Hanigan but needs to show improvement from last season.
With the league’s most potent starting lineup returning intact, there will be no spring training battles among position players, but if shortstop Jean Segura doesn’t convice manager Ron Roenicke he is ready for prime time, veteran Alex Gonzalez will pick up the slack. The Brewers hope Gonzalez will merely serve as a mentor this season. However, the starting pitching rotation is an entirely different matter. Only No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo is a proven commodity. Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson have pitched well in stretches, but both battled injuries a year ago. Young arms Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg will also compete for starting roles, and even Hiram Burgos has a shot to crack the rotation. Kelvim Escobar signed a major league contract in January. He will get a look as a starter, as well.
Both corner outfield spots are open, and it will likely come down to two competitions — Starling Marte vs. Alex Presley for left field and Jerry Sands vs. Travis Snider vs. Jose Tabata for right field. Presley and Tabata began last season as the starters but lost their jobs to Marte, a highly touted prospect, and Snider, who was acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade. Sands is a wild card after being acquired from Boston in the offseason. Six young pitchers will compete for one spot in the starting rotation. Lefthander Jeff Locke and righties Kyle McPherson and Jeff Karstens are the favorites, but lefties Andrew Oliver and Justin Wilson will get a look as well.
St. Louis Cardinals
Despite winning 18 games and being an All-Star in 2012, righthander Lance Lynn will enter spring training with no guarantee of leaving it as a starter. The Cardinals are throwing open two spots in the rotation for auditions, inviting Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller to make their claim. Lynn has the edge, but the three young righties have starter’s stuff. The World Baseball Classic will allow playing time for prospect Kolten Wong, who will get a long look at second base, where Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter and incumbent Daniel Descalso will compete. That contest will carry into the season before Cards have an answer.
National League West
Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, who have been paired most of their careers since coming to the D-backs from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal, will battle for the final spot in the starting rotation along with Randal Delgado, acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. Cliff Pennington could face a spring challenge from rookie Didi Gregorius, but the D-backs appear inclined to have Gregorius open the season at Class AAA Reno. Cody Ross enters spring as the starting center fielder, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Adam Eaton fits in the mix. The speedy 24-year old made a strong impression with his defense and energy in a September call-up after hitting .381 with 46 doubles and 38 steals in 488 at-bats at Triple-A last summer.
With the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Rutledge will slide back to second base, where he will challenge DJ LeMahieu for the starting job. LeMahieu played well last season and improved as a hitter. The Rockies have to choose a third baseman from among Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and newcomer Ryan Wheeler. The latter is a left-handed hitter, creating the possibility of some platooning at the position. Lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich and righthander Tyler Chatwood, all of whom struggled with the Rockies last year, will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important battles will take place in the trainer’s room. The Dodgers’ fortunes in 2013 will be affected heavily by the health of a handful of key players — outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and righthander Chad Billingsley chief among them. Kemp (shoulder) and Crawford (wrist and elbow) are recovering from serious surgeries during or following the 2012 season. Billingsley spent the offseason rehabbing and working out in hopes of avoiding surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
San Diego Padres
The only position battles will be for the middle infield spots. Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and prospect Jedd Gyorko are in the mix. Heading into camp, Forsythe is penciled in as the starting second baseman and Cabrera at shortstop, with Amarista on the bench. Gyorko is one of the organization’s top prospects. His development is one of the reasons the Padres haven’t given third baseman Chase Headley a long-term extension. There will also be the usual battles at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. Casey Kelly, who made his big-league debut on Aug. 27, and Robbie Erlin will be considered for rotation spots.
San Francisco Giants
Gregor Blanco might have been the most impressive player in the Cactus League a year ago while winning a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He’ll need another big spring performance to hold off Andres Torres as the starting left fielder. Although the Giants system has plenty of young pitching, not much of it is big-league-ready. So prospects like Chris Heston and Michael Kickham will get a long look in exhibition games. With the lineup and rotation set, this spring will be about staying healthy and deciding on a final spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Pac-12.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Pac-12 for 2013
Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.
Cons: USC is the top job in L.A., but the city does have another program with tremendous potential. It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town.
Final Verdict: If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.
Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged nine wins per season since 1994.
Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money, Mike Bellotti’s recruiting and Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry transformed this program. It is now clearly one of the most-desirable positions in the country.
Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC. The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.
Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.
Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC and Oregon are the only programs that have enjoyed sustained success in the past 15 years. The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.
Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.
Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags signficantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.
Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, have recently received a major upgrade.
Cons: Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.
Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
6. Arizona State
Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. And recently, plans were announced to upgrade Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.
Cons: While the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-10 seasons only once since John Cooper bolted in 1987.
Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC, Oregon and UCLA will always the top jobs in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-10 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.
Cons: Since 1994, Arizona has only had a winning Pac-12 record twice — 1998 and 2009.
Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.
Cons: Until recently, sustained success had been tough to achieve on The Farm. From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Stanford was unable to string together more than two straight wining seasons. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.
Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that has emerged as a national power in recent years.
Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.
Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. The Buffaloes recently announced a $170 million facility upgrade proposal, which is a step in the right direction. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.
Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program — which it claims to be doing now — CU cannot be considered an elite job.
10. Oregon State
Pros: This is not longer the Oregon State of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The program has proven it can be relevant in the Pac-12 for an extended period of time.
Cons: Oregon State is No. 2 program in a state that does not produce a high volume of Pac-12-quality players. The school has improved its facilities, but they pale in comparison to what the University of Oregon — funded by Nike — has to offer.
Final Verdict: This job is far more attractive now than it was in 1997, when Mike Riley began his first stint as the boss in Corvallis. But it’s a difficult job. Almost every school in the league has more going for it — from tradition to fan base to recruiting base — than Oregon State.
Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 9.2 wins over the past 10 years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. As a member of the Pac-12 South — along with USC and UCLA — the Utes should enjoy success recruiting in Southern California.
Cons: Utah is a decent state for high school talent, but there aren’t nearly enough high-level players to stock the rosters both at Utah and BYU.
Final Verdict: Utah had carved out a niche as one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. The move to the Pac-12, however, changed the profile of the program. It’s uncertain if Utah can be a significant player in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis. It’s tough to envision this program being a more desirable destination than USC, UCLA and both of the Arizona schools.
12. Washington State
Pros: Only four schools have played in the Rose Bowl in the past 11 seasons. USC, Oregon, Stanford and … Washington State. That, along with the fact the Cougars won 10 games in three straight seasons (2001-03) proves that you can win games in Pullman.
Cons: Pullman is the most remote outpost in the Pac-12. It can be difficult to attract prospects from California to play collegiately in Eastern Washington. The school has upgraded facilities in recent years, but it still lags behind most schools in the league on this front.
Final Verdict: Washington State’s biggest hurdle is its location. In a league that includes four teams in California, one in Phoenix, one in Seattle and one just outside Denver, it’s tough to remain relevant when your school is 280 miles from the nearest big city (Seattle).
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How long can it take to complete a journey from rags to riches? For Brad Keselowski, it took six years. The driver spent the 2006 offseason mourning the pending bankruptcy of his family operation, and was forced to drive for a minor-league, suspect organization that was running junkyard equipment simply to make ends meet. How bad was it? The driver who this season added hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers mid-Daytona 500 didn’t even make the field for the February 2007 then-Busch Series event at the same track.
Setting the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 can be a trial of confusion for those that choose not to read the syllabus. And let’s be honest, that’s why you’re reading this, right? You want the CliffsNotes.
Fair enough. So allow me to explain this as painlessly as possible.
In the beginning — in this case, Sunday — a battery of 45 cars took to the track in qualifying, yet only two machines locked in their spots on the grid. In case you hadn’t heard, Danica Patrick qualified her No. 10 Chevy on the pole with a lap of 196.434 mph. She, along with Jeff Gordon (who posted the second quickest time) will, by history’s standards, comprise the front row. Note that if either has to go to a back-up car after Thursday’s Duel races, they’ll be forced to start at the rear of the field in the 500.
“Duel races?” you’re asking. “What are they and how do they factor?”
OK, qualifying for the Daytona 500 is a bit different from any ol’ weekend on the NASCAR circuit. For the 500, two Duel races will determine positions 3-32. Yes, they actually split the 45 cars that have shown up into two groups (based on even and odd positions in Sunday’s qualifying times) and cut ’em loose for 150 miles.
In those two races, the highest finishing 15 cars from each race (excluding our buddies Danica and Jeff) earn their spots for the big show. The top 15 finishers in the first Duel will line up in the inside lane for the 500; the top 15 in Duel No. 2 occupy the outside lane.
“Now wait,” you’re saying, “Danica and Gordon … do they have to race in those events? After all, you told us just a minute ago that they’re locked in up front.”
True enough. And yes, they do. However, they don’t have to play it fast and loose. In fact, with front row spots all but locked in, each may be wise to drop to the rear of the field and let the chaos happen well in front of them. However, that’s another column for another day.
“OK, so we’ve got a field of 32. Isn’t this a 43-car race?”
Yep. And it gets even more fun here. Positions 33-36 are awarded to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not yet earned a spot. A hypothetical: Ryan Newman, who had the fourth fastest time on pole day has a tire go flat in his Duel and drops a lap down, eventually finishing 19th. Since he did not qualify via the Duel, yet had a fast qualifying time, he’s in.
“Gotcha. So there’s 36 cars … can it get any more complicated?”
Not too much, but positions 37-42 are called “provisionals” and go to the highest six cars in 2012 owner points not already in. And as for the 43rd? That can go one of two ways: Either a past series champion who made a start in 2012 (and not already qualified) gets it, or — if there’s no past champ — it is assigned to the next highest car in owner points from 2012.
“I suppose. So how do they go about setting the field next week at Phoenix, and the week after in Las Vegas?”
Oh that. Yeah, it’s this astonishingly simplistic method of just taking the fastest 36 and assigning the rest via provisionals. How arcane, right?