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All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-wolfpack-2014-spring-football-preview

After guiding Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance during the 2012 season, high expectations followed Dave Doeren to Raleigh. NC State wasn’t stocked with proven talent last year, but the Wolfpack had a favorable schedule and most thought this team would at least make a bowl. Instead, NC State finished 3-9 and went winless in conference play.

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

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

NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7

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

NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-quarterbacks-bcs-era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just missed the cut:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the rest:

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

Top 10 Big 12 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2014-spring-football-preview

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

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

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

Clemson Tigers 2014 Spring Preview

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

Spring Practice Opens: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 6

Four Things to Watch in Clemson’s 2014 Spring Practice

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10

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

Clemson Tigers 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-2014-spring-football-preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Volunteers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 7

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Tennessee's 2014 Spring Practice

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Volunteers 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Ernie Els, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-27-ernie-els

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

No. 27: Ernie Els

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

Brandel Chamblee's Take

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

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 84
Wins: 4

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, the Hall puts it in all caps:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 28: Charl Schwartzel

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

Brandel Chamblee's Take

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

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 1

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Becoming a March Madness hero has its perks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Unlikely players who could be NCAA Tournament heroes
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-gamecocks-2014-spring-football-preview

The Gamecocks are coming off of the best three-year run in program history.

South Carolina has posted three consecutive 11-win seasons — the only three 11-win seasons in school history. The year before that, it played in its only SEC Championship Game after winning its only East Division title since joining the conference in 1992.

Needless to say, Steve Spurrier has built a giant in Columbia. But despite all of the success his team has brought fans over the last half-decade, it still hasn't produced a championship. This program is nationally relevant for the first time in its long history and an SEC title is the only thing left for the Ol’ Ball Coach to accomplish at South Carolina.

With a deep and talented depth chart returning to campus and a coaching staff that stayed intact, there is no reason why the Cocks can’t be a major contender for a playoff spot in 2014.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 28
Sept. 6
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18Furman
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

South Carolina 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in South Carolina's 2014 Spring Practice

Thompson’s Time
Connor Shaw was one of the most underrated players to ever play in the SEC. His graduation leaves a gaping void under center and in the leadership department. The good news is Dylan Thompson has loads of experience and a big arm to stretch the field. His starting experience should help the redshirt senior assume the role as Commander-in-Chief of Spurrier’s huddle. He will have plenty of talent on the outside to work with, as names like Pharoh Cooper, Shaq Roland, Nick Jones and Rory Anderson highlight the receiving corps. The offensive line also returns largely intact with only one starter gone from last year’s unit. So if Thompson can settle into his role as “the guy” quickly this spring, there is no reason to think that this offense won’t be one of the best in the SEC.

Rebuild the defensive line
The defensive side of the ball has much bigger voids to fill, especially along the line of scrimmage. There is no substitute for Jadeveon Clowney but having to find suitable replacements for first-team All-SEC tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Chaz Sutton makes the chore even more difficult. Spurrier has recruited at an extremely high level nationally and should have plenty of bodies lined up for playing time. This coaching staff just needs to figure out which players fit where this spring. Darius English, Gerald Dixon, J.T. Surratt and Phillip Dukes all return with experience but organizing the D-line depth chart has to be a priority for the Cocks’ coaching staff this spring. What can JUCO defensive lineman Abu Lamin and converted linebacker Cedrick Cooper bring to the table?

Find cover corners
Victor Hampton was a second-team All-SEC pick and one of the most talented athletes on the roster a year ago. He and fellow starting cornerback Jimmy Legree have both departed Columbia, leaving Spurrier’s defense lacking in outside covermen. This might be the biggest area of concern in spring camp because there are only four scholarship cornerbacks slated to participate. Rico McWilliams has two career starts and he is the most experienced player in the group by a wide margin. There will be reinforcements coming when the bulk of the heralded 2014 signing class gets to campus in the summer, but for the spring time, depth is a major issue on the outside. Finding players who can matchup outside with big wide receivers will be the focus, but keeping an already thin depth chart healthy will be equally important.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
Spurrier is on a roll right now. He owns the Palmetto State in recruiting and on the field, he’s won 33 games in three years and has his entire coaching staff back intact. Both specialists and 13 (of 22) starters return along with three consecutive top-20 recruiting classes. So while expectation levels are rightfully sky high, this roster also is capable of competing despite the loss of Clowney and Shaw. The schedule sets up nicely too. Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee will all come to Columbia while there is no Alabama or LSU and Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M in crossover play from the West. Key second-half road trips to Auburn and Florida look like the toughest tests in the SEC for South Carolina. With this roster, this coach and this schedule, an SEC East title is well within reach. 

South Carolina Gamecocks 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-10-sec-quarterbacks-bcs-era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just missed the cut:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the rest:

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

Top 10 SEC Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/michigan-wolverines-2014-spring-football-preview

Things started with a bang for Michigan in 2013. Devin Gardner carried his team to victory with a Heisman Trophy-esque performance against archrival Notre Dame en route to a 5-0 start to the season.

Then the wheels fell off the Wolverines' offense.

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

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

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

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

Michigan 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: Feb. 25

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in Michigan's 2014 Spring Practice

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

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

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

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

Michigan Wolverines 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/arizona-wildcats-2014-spring-football-preview

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

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

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

Arizona Wildcats 2014 Spring Preview

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

Spring Practice Opens: March 8

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in Arizona’s 2014 Spring Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Wildcats 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2014-spring-football-preview

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

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

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

Ohio State Buckeyes 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 12-2 (8-0)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 10-12

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

Ohio State Buckeyes 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-unwritten-rules

When Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez finally broke from a strut to admire his home run and into a trot around the bases, his showboat pace was slowed by the history he dragged alongside.

Last June, Atlanta lefty Paul Maholm hit Gomez’s knee with a pitch and left a bruise Gomez remembered long after the welt’s mosaic faded. Gomez got his payback on Sept. 25 by catapulting Maholm’s pitch deep into Turner Field’s seats. Gomez spat spite at Maholm as he rounded the bases and headed home, focusing his glare so intently on the lefty that he didn’t see who came to greet him. Because Gomez wouldn’t walk the line, Braves catcher Brian McCann met him on the basepath. About 10 feet from the plate, McCann made a stand against Gomez. Baseball’s sacred, though shifty, code of conduct had been breached, and McCann was there to make sure the Brewers’ center fielder didn’t sidestep justice.

“I did what I felt any catcher would do in that situation,” McCann told reporters the next day. “I stand by what I did. I’m sticking up for this team. That’s part of baseball.”

Described by players and managers as a necessary part of the game, a revealing part of the game within the game, and also a “macho” part of the game, baseball’s unwritten code can also be a nebulous part of the game, as hard for fans to interpret as it is for players to articulate. The code governs how to play and how to police, as McCann did. Transgressions vary. Players know one when they see one.

The 2013 season offered a range of examples, from conflicts to comeuppance to the chlorinated. An exchange of beanballs led to a dugout-clearing brawl between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. L.A. later celebrated a playoff berth by plunging and romping, uninvited, in Chase Field’s pool, irking Arizona. Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig rankled opponents (and some teammates) with his exuberance, typified by his finger-pointing tribute to a triple in the playoffs. Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster captured a communal acrimony when he hit the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (below) in August with a purpose pitch. Rodriguez read the pitch as a vigilante response to his appeal of a 211-game PED suspension. There were 28 batters hit in just 19 games between rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. In the weeks before McCann blocked Gomez, Atlanta had two dugout-clearing brouhahas sparked by opponents’ homer-watching etiquette. McCann jawed with Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez about admiring his first career home run, educating the kid on the code in his self-deputized roles:

Judge. Jury. Catcher.

“The showing up part is one that’s really interesting to me because everybody’s got their own perception of what ‘showing up’ is,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon says. “For me, a lot of that has to do with the manager and maybe the leaders within that team. If they feel somebody has gone overboard (they) call them on it. … But it’s just a part of the culture in all sports. It’s generational. Hey, afros and high socks and everything changes, man, so just live with it.”

“It’s a macho game,” says Dirk Hayhurst, a former big-league pitcher who is now a bestselling author of The Bullpen Gospels and Bigger Than the Game. “It can be hard to explain. … It’s like, ‘I don’t want people to think that we can be messed with, so we’ll do this frontier justice thing. That will show them we’re men, just in case the 25 other men over there didn’t realize they were playing men. We’re not going to stand for it.’ It does sound kind of ludicrous.”

The Dodgers dealt with the nuances of the code as Puig tested patience with his polarizing, pyrotechnic displays. During the playoffs, veteran Carlos Beltran, then with the opposing Cardinals, said Puig “must think he’s still playing somewhere else” and had yet to learn “to act with more calm.” Displays like Puig’s proved cultural as much as generational. One player’s celebration is another’s affront. Some see joy where others see immaturity. Tolerance is different from age group to age group, culture to culture, and even franchise to franchise. The line, several players say, is crossed when a player’s showmanship “shows up” the opposing team.

Puig’s theatrics toed the line.

Gomez chiding Maholm crossed it.

“Absolutely there’s an ESPN factor,” says Gary Bennett, a former catcher who spent 13 years in the majors. “Getting the highlights. Dressing things up. It has changed how you police things. On a 3-0 pitch, if a young player tried to kill the ball (20 years ago), a veteran might put a pitch in his ribs. Now they can swing out of their shoes. The thing I learned is you had to find that line between enthusiasm and ‘showing someone up.’ That can be personal. You let them have their moment, but you don’t let them embarrass your pitcher.”

On June 11, Arizona righty Ian Kennedy popped Puig’s nose with a questionable pitch. L.A. starter Zack Greinke hit catcher Miguel Montero in what was later described as “an apple for apple” answer. Kennedy responded by pelting Greinke.

The code ran amok. Both teams stormed the field. A fracas ensued.

“Somebody knocks you on your fanny, you get a good clean lick, you take your number and get them back cleanly,” Arizona manager Kirk Gibson says. “Nobody is trying to hurt anybody, ever. It’s just good competition. They lick me, I lick them. And in the end sometimes it just comes down to who is standing, whether that’s physical or mental. Last year, we weren’t standing at the end.”

Utilityman Skip Schumaker saw how the beanbrawl galvanized the Dodgers. L.A. won 55 of its next 74 games, climbing from 7.5 games back in the NL West to 13.5 ahead.

“When we cleared with Arizona that was the start of our serious run,” Schumaker says. “It does a lot for bringing a team together. You’re fighting for one another; you see who wants to fight with you.

“Not everyone gets it. But if you know how to do it right, you can show a lot about the kind of teammate you are.”

Initial penalties from the brawl included suspensions of eight players or coaches for a combined 24 games, 10 for Kennedy.

The game’s increased likelihood of suspension has influenced the code, sometimes as a deterrent and sometimes by prolonging bitterness until a suspension doesn’t sting. Monitoring strike zones has caused a more subtle change. Two former catchers say years ago umpires would have schooled a young player like Puig. They describe how an irritated ump could expand the strike zone to send a message. QuesTec ended that. Advances in technology, suspensions, and salaries have turned the code from a binary decision — take a lick, give a lick — into calculus.

It’s foolish “to enforce morality with a 91 mph fastball,” Hayhurst says.

Tony La Russa, a National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 2014, always said such decisions made him queasy, but he had firm policies. La Russa insists that he never fired first. Any retaliation was going to be below the shoulders and be signaled by the manager. He didn’t want pitchers freelancing, and he’d rather have hitters furious at the manager than distrustful of a teammate. And, the target would be the best player. Big apple for apple. During the Cardinals’ frisky exchanges with Milwaukee in the La Russa era, Ryan Braun came to know the drill, literally. “That would stop everything. Tony wanted to end it,” a Cardinals player says. Other teams that respond similarly shift the onus from an individual to an entire club and “put that concern in their dugout, not ours,” Bennett says.

The code can be complex and contradictory. Hayhurst explains: “If you get caught stealing signs, you get drilled. If you peek back at the signs, you get drilled. If you figure out signs from the dugout, that’s good detective work.” Hard slides can earn a plunk, or praise. Context matters. The score does, too. Admonishing a player for celebrating a homer is far different than retaliating for a teammate getting hit, but both illustrate tenets of the code: A club will do what it takes to show it will not be embarrassed and that it cannot be intimidated.

“There (are) rules that we all understand,” Gibson says. “Situations call for it, and you want to do the right thing. You want to be a good teammate and a solid player. And the ones who don’t (understand it) don’t stay around.”

In the days after his run-in with McCann, Gomez apologized, expressing on Twitter that he “should have done better to control myself.” He acknowledged his code break and sought to avoid further injury or insult. The code’s cascade effect had McCann protect his pitcher, Gomez’s teammates protect him, and the Braves rush to protect their catcher. Yelling became pushing — and Gomez never did touch home plate.

By rule, the run counted.

By code, so did McCann’s point.

—Written by Derrick Goold for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Baseball's Unwritten Rules
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /tiger-woods-injury-history-visual-breakdown

Even while winning 79 PGA Tour events and 14 majors, Tiger Woods has suffered an alarming litany of injuries, to the point that we have to wonder whether he’ll ever be truly healthy again. On the occasion of his latest malady (back spasms that have forced his withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he's the eight-time champion), we present a breakdown of many (but not all) of the well-known injuries that have befallen Woods — and this doesn’t include anything that may or may not have happened to his face on that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009. Not to mention the injuries to his pride, reputation and self-esteem.

<p> Tiger Woods' Injury History: A Visual Breakdown</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 11:46
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/what-happened-top-players-2004-mlb-draft
In every sport, certain drafts stand out as stronger than others. The 2003 NBA version, which included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, is considered a landmark. The ’83 NFL crop that included John Elway, Dan Marino, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews and Jim Kelly was particularly robust. The ’04 MLB class may not have been on a par with those two, but it included some pretty impressive talent, like Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Jered Weaver, Billy Butler and Hunter Pence. Even the lesser lights distinguished themselves somewhat. For instance, Philip Humber threw a perfect game. 
» Of the 30 players selected in the first round, 19 were pitchers, and seven of those were lefties. The next most popular position was shortstop, with four prospects chosen.
» MLB clubs had an appetite for experience, choosing 17 players from the college ranks and all of them from four-year schools. Rice University produced three of the top eight choices.
» Only four of the players selected came from colleges or high schools above the Mason-Dixon Line. Everybody else was from the South — or California. 
1. Padres: Matt Bush, SS
Mission Bay (Calif.) HS
Bush never played an inning in the majors during a career that featured a position switch and legal troubles that eventually resulted in his being jailed for running over a man while intoxicated. San Diego converted Bush to a pitcher in May 2007, and he was signed by Tampa Bay in 2010. But Bush was never able to get past the Class AA ranks before the DUI incident derailed his career for good in March 2012.
2. Tigers: Justin Verlander, RHP 
Old Dominion (’05-13, Detroit)
After a brisk move through two levels of minor-league ball, Verlander made his debut with the Tigers in 2005, and in 2006 won 17 games. Verlander captured the 2011 Cy Young Award after going 24–5 with a 2.40 ERA and an MLB-leading 250 strikeouts. Verlander is one of the premier power pitchers in the game and has led the majors in Ks on three occasions. A stalwart who often gains velocity on his fastball as the game progresses, Verlander signed a seven-year, $180 million contract in March 2013 that could grow to $202 mil.
3. Mets: Philip Humber, RHP 
Rice (’06-07, Mets; ’08-09, Minnesota; ’10, Kansas City; ’11-12, Chicago White Sox; ’13, Houston)
Despite having collected only 16 wins during his eight-year major-league career, Humber is well known for the perfect game he threw for the ChiSox on April 21, 2012, against Seattle. Humber struggled with elbow problems during his minor-league career and had Tommy John surgery. Humber bounced between the big leagues and minors from 2006-10 and appeared in only 26 games, but he became a full-time starter with the White Sox in 2011 and went 9–9. After posting a 5–5 mark in 26 total appearances in 2012, Humber slid to 0–8 with the Astros in ’13.
4. Devil Rays: Jeff Niemann, RHP
Rice (’08-12, Tampa Bay)
Despite enduring a couple surgeries and a broken leg suffered from a batted ball, Niemann has been a solid starter during his five major-league seasons. He won 13 games in 2009, 12 the following season and 11 in ’11. But he suffered the broken leg after only eight starts in 2012 and later underwent shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2013 campaign. 
5. Brewers: Mark Rogers, RHP
Mount Ararat (Maine) HS (’10, ’12 Milwaukee)
Rogers has had a star-crossed career, thanks to injury and suspension. He has appeared in 11 games during his major-league career, with his most productive stint a 3–1 record in seven starts during the late part of the 2012 season. Rogers struck out 41 in 39 innings during the stint. He became a free agent after the 2013 season, which he spent in the minors. 
6. Indians: Jeremy Sowers, LHP
Vanderbilt (’06-09, Cleveland)
The lefty showed promise during his rookie season, compiling a 7–4 record with a 3.57 ERA and two shutouts in 2006. But arm troubles and ineffectiveness torpedoed his high hopes, and he was unable to post a record over .500 the next three seasons. After a 6–11 mark in 2009, Sowers did not make the big club the next year and was removed from the 40-man roster. He recently retired.
7. Reds: Homer Bailey, RHP
La Grange (Texas) HS
(’07-13, Cincinnati)
Despite not becoming a fully made member of the Reds’ starting rotation until 2012, Bailey has had a solid career. He has thrown no-hitters each of the last two seasons and tied for second in the majors with 33 starts in ’12, the year he went 13–10 with a 3.68 ERA. Despite going 11–12 in 2013, he had a 3.49 ERA and a career-high 199 strikeouts. 
8. Orioles: Wade Townsend, RHP
Townsend was drafted by Baltimore but couldn’t reach an agreement with the team and returned to school to finish his degree. Tampa Bay selected him in the ’05 Draft, but he lasted only parts of five years in pro ball, the last in the independent ranks, thanks to shoulder problems and ineffectiveness. In 2010, Toronto released him, effectively ending his career.
9. Rockies: Chris Nelson, SS
Redan (Ga.) HS (’10-13, Colorado; ’13, N.Y. Yankees, ’13 L.A. Angels)
It took a while for Nelson to reach the majors, but in 2010 he landed with the Rockies. His best year came in 2012, when he hit .301 in 111 games, with 21 doubles. The good times didn’t last, though, and he was traded to the Yankees in late April 2013. After a two-week tour in New York, Nelson was waived. He caught on with the Angels and played in 33 games.
10. Rangers: Thomas Diamond, RHP 
University of New Orleans (’10, Cubs)
Diamond appeared to be headed toward the majors on a fast track until a torn elbow ligament torpedoed his quick rise. Texas designated him for assignment in 2009, and the Cubs claimed him. Diamond pitched in 16 games for Chicago in 2010 and posted a 1–3 record. His debut came in a 4–3 loss to the Brewers, but he struck out 10 in six innings, tying a franchise record for most Ks in a first start. He never made it back to the majors.
11. Pirates: Neil Walker, C
Pine-Richland (Pa.) HS (’09-13, Pittsburgh)
Walker has spent five seasons in the majors with the Bucs, the last four as a lineup regular. But it wasn’t until ’11 that he settled in at his current position, second base, after playing all over the infield and outfield. In 2011, he pounded 36 doubles and knocked in 83 runs, while last year, he clubbed a career-best 16 homers. 
12. Angels: Jered Weaver, RHP
Long Beach State (’06-13 L.A. Angels)
During his eight years with the Angels, Weaver has been one of the most durable and productive pitchers in the big leagues. Before a broken elbow suffered on a line drive off the bat of Mitch Moreland sidelined him in April 2013, Weaver had made at least 30 starts in five straight seasons. He posted an 18–8 record with a 2.41 ERA in 2011 and a 20–5 mark with a 2.81 ERA the next season. In August 2011, Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million contract. 
13. Expos: Bill Bray, LHP
William & Mary (’06, Washington; ’06-12, Cincinnati)
For a three-season stretch between 2008-11 (he missed ’09 after Tommy John surgery), Bray was a reliable bullpen lefty for the Reds, pitching in 63 games in ’08 and 79 in 2011. Bray wasn’t overpowering, but he had solid control and didn’t allow too many runs. In 2008, he posted a 2.87 ERA. After pitching in just 14 games in 2012, Bray became a free agent but couldn’t catch on with the Nats in ’13.
14. Royals: Billy Butler, 3B
Samuel W. Wolfson (Fla.) HS (’07-13, Kansas City)
Throughout his seven-year career, Butler has proven to be a strong force in the lineup for K.C. He can hit for power and average and has been a steady first baseman. Butler’s biggest year was 2012, when he hit .313, with 29 homers and 107 RBIs. He earned an All-Star invitation that season and won the Silver Slugger for first basemen. Butler slugged 51 doubles in 2009 and has hit .300 three times.
15. Diamondbacks: Stephen Drew, SS
Florida State (’06-’12, Arizona; ’12, Oakland; ’13, Boston)
Although Drew’s career has been something of an up-and-down ride, the 2013 season was quite rewarding. Signed by Boston to a one-year deal, Drew spent most of the year in the lineup and tied his career best with 67 RBIs. In the sixth game of the World Series, Drew hit a homer that helped propel the Sox to victory and the World Series title. 
16. Blue Jays: David Purcey, LHP
Oklahoma (’08-11, Toronto;  ’11, Oakland, Detroit; ’13 Chicago White Sox)
Purcey spent the first two seasons of his major-league career as a starter but became a reliever after that and has spent four years bouncing between the minors and the big show. His most productive season was 2010, when he appeared in 33 games for the Blue Jays and posted a 3.71 ERA. The lefty pitched in 24 games for the White Sox in ’13 with a 2.13 ERA.
17. Dodgers: Scott Elbert, RHP
Seneca (Mo.) HS (’08-12, L.A. Dodgers)
Just when it appeared that Elbert’s big-league career was heating up, he succumbed to elbow problems and had Tommy John surgery in June 2013. Elbert pitched sparingly for the Dodgers from ’08-10, but he logged 47 appearances in 2011 and 43 in ’12, posting strong ERAs both times.
18. White Sox: Josh Fields, 3B
Oklahoma State (’06-09, Chicago White Sox; ’10, Kansas City)
In 2007, it appeared as if Fields had established himself as a slugging corner infielder and outfielder by hitting 23 homers in 100 games with the White Sox. But that was his high-water mark in the majors. Despite spending five seasons in the big leagues, Fields was out of MLB after 2010, and following a one-year stint in Japan, he bounced around the minors in several organizations. He spent 2013 with the Phillies’ Triple-A team.
19. Cardinals: Chris Lambert, RHP
Boston College (‘08-09, Detroit; ’09, Baltimore)
Lambert bounced between the majors and minors in 2008 and ’09, beginning as a starter but becoming a reliever. He compiled a 1–3 record with a 7.36 ERA during his big-league stops and was out of baseball after the 2009 campaign.
20. Twins: Trevor Plouffe, SS
Crespi Carmelite (Calif.) HS (’10-13, Minnesota)
Plouffe was used at short, second and third during his time in the minors, but he became the Twins’ main third baseman in 2012. Plouffe has shown a little bit of pop — he hit 11 homers in June 2012 — and he’s a solid fielder and a versatile player who can fill in all over the infield and also handle some work in left and right.
21. Phillies: Greg Golson, OF
Connally (Texas) HS (’08, Philadelphia; ’09, Texas; ’10-11, N.Y. Yankees)
The Phillies had big plans for Golson when they chose him, but he never developed into a big-league outfielder. Though he has played parts of four seasons in the major leagues, he never saw more than 24 games in one year and has a career batting average of .195.
22. Twins: Glen Perkins, LHP
Minnesota (’06-13, Minnesota)
When the hard-throwing Perkins went 12–4 in 26 starts in 2008, the Twins thought they had a stalwart. But he never replicated that success as a starter and ended up in the bullpen. It wasn’t a bad move. Perkins became a closer in 2012 and logged 16 saves during the second half of the year. In 2013, he compiled 36 saves and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team as an injury replacement.
23. Yankees: Phil Hughes, RHP
Foothill (Calif.) HS (’07-13, New York Yankees)
It’s hard to tell which version of Hughes you’re going to get. In 2010, he went 18–8 and made the All-Star Game. Two years later, he was 16–13. But Hughes was 4–14 with a 5.19 ERA last season and has been the type of maddening pitcher who teases with his potential to “turn the corner,” only to take a step back just as he heads in that direction. Still, the Minnesota Twins saw fit to give him a three-year, $24 million deal in late November.
24. A’s: Landon Powell, C
South Carolina  (’09-11, Oakland)
Powell spent parts of three years with the A’s, playing primarily at catcher but also some first base and DH. His best statistical season came in ’09, when he hit .229 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 46 games. He spent 2012 and ’13 in the minors before being released. 
25. Twins: Kyle Waldrop, RHP
Farragut (Tenn.) HS (’11-12, Minnesota)
Overall, the righty pitched in 24 games out of the bullpen for the Twins and posted a 2.53 ERA in 17 appearances in 2012, before elbow problems shelved him. He spent 2013 in the Pirates’ system but appeared in only five games.
26. A’s: Richie Robnett, CF
Fresno State
Robnett impressed scouts with his skills throughout his college career and into his first few seasons in the minors, but his raw talent never translated into big-league ability, and he never played a game in the majors.
27. Marlins: Taylor Tankersley, LHP
Alabama (’06-08; ’10, Florida)
Tankersley compiled an 8–2 record during the 2006 and ’07 seasons as a solid left-handed bullpen option for the Marlins but pitched in only 25 games during 2008, as an elbow stress fracture plagued him. He missed ’09 after undergoing surgery and had a strong ’10 campaign as a lefty specialist, holding left-handed hitters to a .200 average. He signed with the Mets in 2011 but spent the season in the minors.
28. Dodgers: Blake DeWitt, 2B
Sikeston (Mo.) HS (’08-10, L.A. Dodgers; ’10-12, Cubs; ’13, Atlanta)
A versatile player who can handle work at second, third and the outfield, DeWitt had his best year in 2010 when he hit .261 with 24 doubles and 52 RBIs in 135 games with the Dodgers and Cubs. He spent most of 2013 in the minors with the Atlanta organization, reaching the big leagues for just four games in April.
29. Royals: Matthew Campbell, RHP
South Carolina
Campbell spent a few years in the minors but never came close to reaching the big leagues, failing to climb out of Class A ball.
30. Rangers: Eric Hurley, RHP
Samuel W. Wolfson (Fla.) HS 
(’08 Texas)
Hurley made five starts for the Rangers in 2008 and posted a 1–2 record with a 5.47 ERA. He spent time in the Angels and Twins organizations but was never able to escape the minor leagues.
Other notable selections
Gio Gonzalez, LHP
White Sox (Rd. 1 – Supplemental) Monsignor Pace (Fla.) HS
Gonzalez has become one of the game’s top young pitchers, winning 63 games in the last four years.
Huston Street, RHP
A’s (Rd. 1 – Supplemental) Texas
The 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2012 All-Star has become a reliable closer for three teams.
Yovani Gallardo, RHP
Brewers (Rd. 2) Trimble (Texas) Technical HS
The Milwaukee power starter has won 72 games over the past five years, including 17 in 2011.
Hunter Pence, OF
Astros (Rd. 2) University of Texas-Arlington
His lively bat made him a key part of the Giants’ 2012 World Series championship team.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Red Sox (Rd. 2) Arizona State
The 2008 MVP and 2007 Rookie of the Year has been part of two Red Sox world championship teams.
Kurt Suzuki, C
A’s (Rd. 2) Cal State Fullerton
Has been a reliable backstop with limited pop in his bat whose best year came with Oakland in ’09.
Jason Vargas, LHP
Marlins (Rd. 2) Long Beach State
Vargas has won 33 games in the past three years, including 14 in 2012 with Seattle. 
Adam Lind, OF
Blue Jays (Rd. 3) South Alabama
Versatile player who has hit at least 23 home runs four times in his eight seasons with Toronto.
Ian Desmond, SS
Expos (Rd. 3) Sarasota (Fla.) HS
Fixture in Washington is a two-time Silver Slugger winner and earned an All-Star berth in 2012.
Ben Zobrist, SS
Astros (Rd. 6) Olivet Nazarene University
Over the past five years, there hasn’t been a more versatile player in the majors than Zobrist.
Dexter Fowler, OF
Rockies (Rd. 14) Milton (Ga.) HS
The Rockies' center fielder for the past five years has shown good speed and the ability to hit for average.
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Diamondbacks (Rd. 16) Virginia
A classic slugger, Reynolds has shown the ability to slam home runs while struggling to hit for average.
Mark Trumbo, 1B

Angels (Rd. 18) Villa Park (Calif.) HS
Trumbo has proven he can hit for power, if not average, during his four years in the majors.

—Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

What Happened to the Top Players in the 2004 MLB Draft?
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-5-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 5.

• Lent has begun, but here's one last look back at Mardi Gras, courtesy of actress/model Melissa Bolona.

Kentucky's been so bad lately that a seven-point win over Alabama causes fans to break out the dance moves.

This Stony Brook fan wasn't going to let his moment in the spotlight go to waste. Gotta support the team.

Sarasota officials apparently feel a need to remind Orioles fans not to drink from the toilet.

Peyton Manning looks weird with a goatee.

Relief pitcher/noted flake Brian Wilson opened his outing with a knuckleball.

Watch a high school hockey player get destroyed, from the safety of your desk.

• Also from hockey: There's some strange satisfaction in watching a ref get accidentally decked, even if he doesn't deserve it.

• Kenny Dobbs fancies himself the world's best dunker. Here's behind the scenes footage of Dobbs dunking over a dude who's on fire.

A lot of credit for Wichita State's undefeated season goes to Fred VanVleet's stepdad.

This chart from Mandatory provides the ultimate sports fan breakdown.

• Russell Westbrook achieved a triple-double in only 21 minutes of action. That's impressive.


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

Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 10:41
Path: /nascar/exclusive-qa-nascar-rookie-parker-kligerman

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers, and more.

Following the race last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, rookie Parker Kligerman, driver of the No. 30 Swan Racing Toyota Camry sits down with David for an extended interview. What follows is an edited transcript their chat.

You’re a rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I'm sure because of this your wallet is becoming a little fatter. Have there been any celebratory purchases thus far?  Parker Kligerman
I’ve always been someone who has been really modest. I’ve been fortunate enough to be paid to drive race cars since I was 18. I’ve always been on one-year (contracts), so it’s one of those things that could always be gone tomorrow. Therefore, I’ve never really bought anything, outside of a car. I’ve thought about some things I might look into, but I don’t think the rookie season is the right time. The offseason after the rookie season might be the right time.

Then what’s the ideal purchase? Something like the obligatory McMansion on Lake Norman? A sick sports car? A cryogenic therapy chamber?
(Laughs) You know, a house isn’t something I’d purchase. I’m 23 and single and I’ve thought, “What’s the point of doing that?” The purchase would be a sports car. I’m huge into cars. I write for Jalopnik, which is one of the most-viewed car web sites in the world right now. I’m just a big time car guy, so collecting sports cars, especially classic sports cars, would be my hobby. Not expensive ones, but I love old Porsches, old British sports cars. I’d love to find an old Toyota GT. There’s a couple that aren’t really expensive, but after a while they’d add up. That’d be my hobby, but it’s something that would need to wait for at least a year.

You mentioned being a contributing writer for Jalopnik. You do those pieces yourself?
Yes. I write them all myself. They get checked for grammatical errors and such. They have a great group over there and they help me look smarter than I actually am. The hardest part is coming up with new ideas every two weeks or so. With how hectic our schedule can be, it kind of comes last in order of importance, because it is a side thing. But I do enjoy it.

You know – worst-case scenario – when you run out of ideas, you could just always do a Q&A.
You mean like this one?

Might be a good idea.

Let’s talk racing: It seems as if, in your climb to the Cup Series, your equipment became, let’s say “less desirable,” the higher you climbed. You had championship-worthy stuff in ARCA, good, but not necessarily great equipment in Trucks, had a brand name team (Kyle Busch Motorsports) that seemed to have a lot of struggles in Nationwide, and now you're with Swan Racing, which is a relatively new team to the sport, still finding its footing. Have you made the climb even more daunting than it should be on purpose?
I would not have done this on purpose (laughs). Back when I was at Penske, I only got a few opportunities to actually drive for Penske. My first race out (a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway in 2009), I got a pole. It was another two years until I got in Penske stuff again. So it was sporadic. Those are the only races I think there are things I could have done better, that could have forwarded my career in another way. Everything else I’ve been in I felt I extracted the most from that equipment and when I left the team, it was in a better position (than when I arrived). I took opportunities along the way to move up the ranks in situations that were less than desirable because it was an opportunity to move up and eventually help get you to the Sprint Cup level.

Following the Budweiser Duel races in Daytona, you cited some caution trends in the post-race press conference and mentioned that you knew statisticians would say you were wrong. This isn't a question. I just want this on the record that I was sitting in the press box at the time and acted completely civil. Didn’t flip any tables or anything.
(Laughs) Who was I talking about?

Oh, I don't know. Could have been anybody. Do you believe in “caution trends?” As in “a caution always comes out on lap 100” kind of thing?
I don’t. What I do see is that a race is like a classroom in a school. Every classroom has a personality, right? In some, all the kids in the first few days decide they’re going to work really hard, they like the teacher and they work really well together. Then there’s classrooms where it’s just crazy and they don't like the teacher and there’s a bunch of clowns in the classroom and before you know it, it’s a comedy show. Races are like that. You can tell within the first 50 laps whether a race is going to be crazy or calm and single-file. If you see a lot of crazy moves and guys pushing the issue right off the bat, you think you're in for a race that’s going to have a lot of cautions. I know it’s not statistical, but I see that. Do I think there’s going to be a caution on lap 101 every time? No. You’ve proven that with numbers, but I do apply what personality I see early on from a race into how I attack that race.

NASCAR this Week: Busch’s double duty and team’s needing a boost

When you were in the Truck Series, you put a tremendous emphasis on average finish, which you felt unlocked a path to title contention. What about this year in Cup with this Chase format? Is there any number or metric to which you'll be paying close attention?
For sure. For Swan Racing, we have to base ourselves off the old points system. Are we saying we need to go into this season and a win a race? No. It would be a large achievement to do that. We have a points position that serves as a big jump for our organization and its partners and puts us in a higher echelon of teams, somewhere around 16th- to 25th-place, somewhere I feel is one of the tightest spots in the Sprint Cup Series. All those teams are similarly funded and have the same number of employees. Some might get help from bigger teams. Our team finished 33rd in owner points last year. Our goal is to be in the top 25 (in 2014). So we look at the average finish that got teams into the top 25 in points last year and weigh the fact that this year we’ll see the same 40 teams run each race and figure that a 23rd-place average would put us somewhere between 22nd and 24th in points. We aim to be in the top 25. We know the goals and what it takes to get those goals and that’s what we stick to.

Do you feel that you’re the most underrated rookie in this year's crop?
I thought last year I had the best debut. A lot of (the drivers in this year’s crop) made their Cup debut last year. I think some noticed that — those educated about our industry noticed that. I hope most people can understand that I haven’t always been in the best situations and still been able to get really good results out of them. To say “underrated” … no. I think a lot of people just make their own assumptions and might not really know what to think. That’s a long answer. Is that all right?

I’d say that’s a reasonable answer.
OK, good!

David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.

Photos by Swan Racing




NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie Parker Kligerman sits down for an exclusive Q&A with Athlon Sports.
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 10:27
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes, News
Path: /college-football/miami-hurricanes-2014-spring-football-preview

The ACC Coastal has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in college football over the last couple of seasons. Miami was expected to be a consistent conference title contender when it joined the ACC, but the Hurricanes have yet to play in the championship game. Expect much of the same from the Coastal in 2014, as Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh are all expected to contend for the division title.

Al Golden came to Miami after resurrecting Temple from college football’s cellar to a bowl team in 2009. However, the results have been harder to come by in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are just 13-11 in ACC play over the last three seasons, and all four of their losses came by at least 18 points.

Golden has recruited talent to Coral Gables, but now it’s time for the Hurricanes to take the next step and win the Coastal Division.

Miami Hurricanes 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 1

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

Five Things to Watch in Miami’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
Sept. 1at 
Sept. 6Florida A&M
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 23at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 15
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

1. The quarterback battle: Stephen Morris earned third-team All-ACC honors last season and finished with 3,028 yards and 21 scores. Although losing a proven quarterback is never a good thing, Morris was inconsistent at times and the Hurricanes have four intriguing options vying for time this spring. Ryan Williams has played in nine games since transferring to Miami and threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role last year. He enters spring as the frontrunner, but sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and true freshman Brad Kaaya are in the mix. Kaaya won’t arrive until the summer, so he will have some ground to make up in the fall. Olsen ranked as the No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season learning the ropes behind Morris. While the winner of this job needs to have a good year to propel Miami into Coastal Division contention, there is a strong supporting cast in place to ease their transition into the starting lineup.

2. Replacing two starters on the offensive line: With Ereck Flowers, Shane McDermott and Jon Feliciano returning, Miami should have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC next year. However, there are two vacancies to fill in the spring. Guard Brandon Linder departed after earning second-team All-ACC honors last season, while tackle Seantrel Henderson expired his eligibility after 2013. This unit’s depth took a hit when Malcolm Bunche decided to transfer to UCLA. Can line coach Art Kehoe find the right answers this spring? Incoming freshman KC McDermott could be an answer at one spot, while redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu is another name to watch in preseason workouts. Sophomores Danny Isidora and Taylor Gadbois gained experience last season and will push for starting jobs in the spring. Trevor Darling will enroll early this spring and should provide valuable depth this spring.

3. Who steps up at running back?: In the fall, this position won’t be a concern for Miami. Duke Johnson is sidelined this spring due to a leg injury, while touted freshman Joseph Yearby is also out. Dallas Crawford finished second on the team with 558 yards last season but is expected to move to defensive back. With Crawford playing defense, Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker are the top two options at running back. This position isn’t necessarily a concern, but the spring is a good opportunity for Edwards and Tucker to get comfortable working with the No. 1 offense in case Johnson or Yearby is sidelined during the year.

4. Fixing the defense: It’s a large storyline, but the defense has several issues and it’s easier to group them into one. Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is under fire for the performance of the defense over the last few years, as Miami finished 12th in the ACC (conference-only games) in points allowed in 2013. The Hurricanes also allowed 5.8 yards per play, which ranked 12th in the conference. That’s the bad news. The good news for D’Onofrio? Seven starters are back, including likely All-ACC selections in end Anthony Chickillo, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tracy Howard. The depth seems to have improved thanks to recruiting, so there is hope for some growth by the defense in 2014. The additions of Calvin Heurtelou and Michael Wyche from the junior college ranks will bolster the available bodies on the line, and a full season from safety Deon Bush should help the secondary. Getting results on third down also has to be a priority for D’Onofrio. The Hurricanes were 90th nationally on third down conversions, which ranked last in the ACC. Another problem for Miami was the pass rush. After registering only 12 sacks in conference games, the Hurricanes have to push that number closer to 20 in 2014. Is the biggest problem with this unit experience or talent? Or is depth the biggest issue?

5. Finding a punter: Go ahead and laugh because we mentioned the punter. However, Pat O’Donnell was one of the best in the nation last year, averaging 47.1 yards per kick. Sophomore Aaron Martinez, redshirt freshman Grant Coffman and senior Ricky Carroll are the three options on the spring roster vying for time. Will Golden and this staff find the right answer to replace O’Donnell? 

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9

The Coastal Division is there for the taking for Miami. The Hurricanes have the pieces to win the Coastal, but a questionable defense and an uncertain quarterback situation could hold this team back in 2014. Golden has assembled the No. 2 roster in the ACC. Assuming running back Duke Johnson returns at full strength, and the defense shows slight improvement, Miami should be the favorite in this division. The schedule isn’t too taxing, but a non-conference date at Nebraska will be tough, and the Hurricanes won’t be favored to beat Florida State on Nov. 15. Miami has increased its win total in each of the last three years. Will that continue in 2014?

Miami Hurricanes 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-tar-heels-2014-spring-football-preview

It was a tale of two halves for North Carolina last season. Larry Fedora’s team lost five of its first six games, including a disheartening 55-31 home loss to East Carolina and 0-3 start in ACC play. From late October until the end of the season, however, the Tar Heels lost just one game, a 27-25 thrilling contest to Coastal Division champion Duke in the regular-season finale. Carolina then closed 2013 out on the right note, soundly defeating Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to put the finishing touches on an impressive turnaround.

Now entering Fedora’s third season and with a total of 14 starters returning, expectations are on the rise in Chapel Hill. Fedora’s calling card has been his up-tempo, spread offense and the 2014 version has the potential to be one of the nation’s most explosive units. That said, whether or not the Tar Heels can contend for the top spot in the Atlantic this fall will likely come down to the improvement shown on the other side of the ball.

North Carolina Tar Heels 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 7

Four Things to Watch in North Carolina’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
Aug. 30Liberty
Sept. 6
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 15
Nov. 20at 
Nov. 29

1. There’s a new OC in town. For the first time in five seasons, Larry Fedora had to find a new offensive coordinator after Blake Anderson, whose ties with Fedora go back to Southern Miss, accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State in December. To replace Anderson, Fedora hired Seth Littrell, Indiana’s co-offensive coordinator the past two seasons. Littrell’s official title is assistant head coach for offense and he also will oversee the tight ends, something he did at Indiana as well as Arizona, where he coached from 2009-11. While in Bloomington, Littrell paired with Kevin Johns to help the Hoosiers post some of the biggest offensive numbers in program history. Last season, Indiana finished ninth in the country in total offense while setting numerous school single-season records, including ones for total yards, points, passing touchdowns and first downs. The Hoosiers also were just one of three teams (Baylor, Florida State) in the nation to average more than 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per game in 2013. The Tar Heels’ offense isn’t exactly “broken,” as they finished 49th in the country in yards and 28th through the air last season, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement either. Carolina was just 84th in rushing offense last season. It will be interesting to see how Littrell’s philosophies and ideas mesh with Fedora’s own and the personnel this spring.

2. Restocking the offensive line. Just like last year, one of the busiest position coaches during spring practice figures to be offensive line coach Chris Kapilovich. After the 2012 season, North Carolina lost three standout offensive linemen, including first-round NFL Draft pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, and now Kapilovich’s newest challenge will be replacing a pair of All-ACC honorees in left tackle James Hurst (first team) and center Russell Bodine (honorable mention). The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, not with guards Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner and tackle John Heck, each of whom started at least 12 games last season, returning. While this trio forms a solid foundation that Kapilovich can build around, it doesn’t change the fact that one way or the other the Tar Heels will have two new faces along the offensive line in 2014 and these “rookies” could be inserted into arguably the most important positions up front – left tackle and center. Among the newcomers expected to vie for these spots is redshirt freshman R.J. Prince and incoming freshmen Josh Allen, Jared Cohen and Bentley Spain. Of these Spain is definitely a name to watch as the highly regarded (No. 115 in the 247Sports Composite) in-state prospect from Charlotte enrolled early so he could participate in spring practice.

3. Quarterback battle. Despite being one of the few quarterbacks in the ACC that returns with any starting experience, there is no guarantee that Marquise Williams will get the call for the Aug. 30 season opener against Liberty. Even though Williams helped spark his team to a strong finish last fall, the junior finds himself in a battle this spring with sophomore Kanler Coker and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Williams made a total of five starts last season, finishing 2013 with 1,698 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 536 yards and six touchdowns and caught two passes for 52 yards and a score. Williams clearly has the playing experience edge over Coker and Trubisky, but the latter was one of the top prospects of last year’s signing class and could wind up being Williams’ main competition. Whomever ends up under center for the Tar Heels won’t lack for weapons even with the departure of first-team All-ACC tight end Eric Ebron. The backfield includes returnees T.J. Logan (533 yards rushing, 4 TDs), Romar Morris (296, 5) and Khris Francis (236, 1) and will add one-time Notre Dame commit Elijah Hood, a top-10 running back prospect according to 247 Sports, Rivals and Scout. At wide receiver, Quinshad Davis is back after earning Honorable Mention All-ACC recognition in 2013, along with freshman All-American return specialist Ryan Switzer and wideouts Bug Howard and T.J. Thorpe.

4. Continued progress with the 4-2-5. This is Year 3 for the unique 4-2-5 defensive scheme employed by coordinators Vic Koenning (Associate Head Coach for Defense/Safeties) and Ron West (co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers) and, hopefully, the unit will continue to make strides. During last season’s 1-5 start, the Tar Heels’ defense gave up at least 27 points in all but one game and surrendered more than 550 yards of offense twice. Over the final seven games, the damage on the scoreboard was limited to 19.1 points per game and the most yards the defense gave up in a single game were 461 in the two-point loss to Duke. This side of the ball has lost some key players, notably first-team All-ACC defensive end Kareem Martin and secondary stalwarts Tre Boston and Jabari Price. However, seven starters and a host of key contributors return along with some additional reinforcements for the defensive line in the form of several redshirt freshmen and a pair of intriguing, incoming prospects. The linebackers could be pretty deep and the secondary boasts some talent and experience of its own. There appear to be plenty of pieces for Koenning, West and the rest of the defensive staff to work with and the spring will allow them to get a head start on putting the complicated puzzle that is the 4-2-5 together.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
North Carolina saved its best for last in 2013, winning six of its final seven games, including the Belk Bowl over Cincinnati, to finish 7-6. While the Tar Heels have some questions to address on offense and plenty of room for improvement on defense, they should at least get off to a better start this fall. Instead of opening against South Carolina, Larry Fedora’s team welcomes Liberty to Chapel Hill. You also know Fedora won’t have to worry about a lack of motivation for the rematch with East Carolina on the road.

North Carolina opens ACC play at Clemson and by hosting Virginia Tech and also has Notre Dame on the schedule this season. However, scoring points shouldn’t be that hard for this offense and if the defense continues to improve with another season’s worth of experience in the 4-2-5 under its belt, there is no reason the Tar Heels can’t match last season’s win total before the postseason comes around. In fact, if both the offense and defense take that next step this fall, then Fedora and company could find themselves contending for the top spot in the Coastal Division and a chance to play for the conference championship in December.

North Carolina Tar Heels 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-10-acc-quarterbacks-bcs-era

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

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

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

The ACC has seen some elite signal-callers come through the ranks over the last 16 years. One went on to win a Big Ten title, more than a few were first-round picks and one is the reigning Heisman Trophy and BCS national championship winner. Unfortunately, two of the BCS' greats in Michael Vick and Ken Dorsey don't qualify because Virginia Tech and Miami weren't in the ACC during their collegiate careers.

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

1. Chris Weinke, Florida State (1997-00)
Stats: 9,839 yds, 79 TDs, 32 INTs, 58.7%, 2 rush TDs

There was little left unaccomplished in Weinke's college career. He led his stacked Florida State squad to an undefeated BCS national title in 1999 over Virginia Tech before returning to win the Heisman Trophy as well as the Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas and Davey O'Brien awards the next season. His team lost two games over that span and one was the 2000 BCS title game against Oklahoma. He is still the ACC's all-time leader in yards per pass attempt (8.9) and was the conference’s all-time most efficient passer with a 151.15 rating until Tajh Boyd (and possibly Jameis Winston) came along.

2. Philip Rivers, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 13,484 yds, 95 TDs, 34 INTs, 63.5%, 98 yds, 17 TDs

The most productive passer in ACC history, Rivers owns the ACC record for completions (1,087), attempts (1,711), passing yards, total yards and set the record for passing touchdowns and total touchdowns (since broken). He won ACC Player of the Year honors in 2003 and finished seventh in the Heisman balloting. That year he led the nation in completion percent (72.0, an ACC record at the time) and set the ACC single-season passing yards record (since broken). His 18 career 300-yard games were an ACC record (broken). Rivers also is a member of the historic 2004 NFL Draft class that includes fellow quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

3. Jameis Winston, Florida State (2013-present)
Stats: 4,057 yds, 40 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.9%, 219 yds, 4 TDs

No player, especially no freshman, has ever posted a season like Winston in college football history much less in the ACC. His 184.8 passer rating was an ACC record (and would be No. 1 for a career as well), he set an NCAA freshman and all-time ACC single-season record with 40 touchdown passes and his 4,057 yards are fourth all-time in ACC history. Winston won the Heisman Trophy, the BCS national championship, the ACC Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards as well. He has yet to lose a game on the gridiron and is poised to make another run at all of the above accolades as a sophomore.

4. Russell Wilson, NC State/Wisconsin (2008-11)
Stats: 11,720 yds, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 60.9%, 1,421 yds, 23 TDs

Not many players own school records for two different programs but Wilson excelled in both the ACC and Big Ten and his overall career must be taken into account when measuring his greatness. The Super Bowl champion posted the single greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback in history en route to a league crown and near national title berth. He owns the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38) and the single-season mark for passing efficiency at 191.8. In just three years in the ACC, Wilson finished eighth all-time in total offense (9,628), third in total offense per game (267.5 ypg), third in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns and set the ACC record with 379 consecutive passes without an interception. Imagine if he had stayed his final season in Raleigh.

5. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (2009-13)
Stats: 11,904 yds, 107 TDs, 39 INTs, 64.3%, 1,165 yds, 26 TDs

In just three full seasons as the starter, Boyd set every major Clemson passing record and is the ACC’s all-time leader in total touchdowns (133) and touchdown passes (107). He is No. 2 all-time in yards, won 2012 ACC Player of the Year honors, led Clemson back to an ACC championship in '11 and finished as the league’s most efficient passer in history with a QB rating of 155.2 (topping Weinke). Clemson went 32-8 over his final three years — all three of which he topped 3,800 yards and 33 TD passes. Boyd produced three of the top seven seasons in regards to total offense in league history. His 20 career 300-yard games broke Rivers’ previous ACC record of 18.

6. Matt Ryan, Boston College (2004-07)
Stats: 9,313 yds, 56 TDs, 37 INTs, 60.0%, 39 yds, 11 TDs

Ryan did more for Boston College than any player since Doug Flutie. He won the ACC Player of the Year and led the Eagles to the ACC title game. He was seventh in the Heisman ballot and won the Johnny Unitas and Archie Manning Awards before beginning his elite career in the NFL. Ryan owns the ACC single-season record for passing yards (4,507), completions (388) and attempts (654), all of which were set in 2007, and is second all-time with his 4,509 yards of total offense that year as well. From a raw talent standpoint, few players on this list are better quarterbacks than Matty-Ice.

7. Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech (1996-99)
Stats: 8,882 yds, 65 TDs, 39 INTs, 61.7%, 1,758 yds, 18 TDs

One of the most dynamic players in league history, Hamilton led the Jackets to three straight winning seasons, three straight bowl games and only Tech’s third 10-win season since 1956. Hamilton won ACC Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, finished second in the Heisman voting and won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1999. He threw for 3,060 yards and 29 scores while running for 734 and eight touchdowns in his final season. The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick is third all-time in total offense and he currently stands as the ACC’s No. 5 most efficient passer with a rating of 148.19.

8. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (2007-10)
Stats: 7,017 yds, 44 TDs, 20 INTs, 57.2%, 2,196 yds, 23 TDs

From a production and success standpoint, its impossible to argue with Tyrod Taylor. He is fourteenth all-time in ACC history for total offense with 9,213 yards. He set and then broke Virginia Tech’s single-season total offense record in his junior and then senior seasons, leading the ACC in passing both years. Tech won three ACC championships and 42 games total during Taylor’s time in Blacksburg, including two titles and two Orange Bowl berths with him under center. He is also fourth all-time in rushing yards by any ACC quarterback.

9. Matt Schaub, Virginia (2000-03)
Stats: 7,502 yds, 56 TDs, 26 INTs, 67.0%, 58 yds, 5 TDs

As a junior, Schaub was the best player in the ACC when he threw for 2,976 yards, 28 touchdowns, only seven interceptions and completed 68.9 percent of his passes. He was named ACC Player of the Year. His career 67.0 percent completion rate is the all-time ACC benchmark and he is the 10th-rated passer in ACC history (138.35).

10. Woodrow Dantzler, Clemson (1998-01)
Stats: 5,634 yds, 36 TDs, 23 INTs, 58.0%, 2,761 yds, 27 TDs

One of the truly remarkable athletes to play quarterback, Dantzler was ahead of his time as a true dual threat. He owns the ACC’s single-game (220) and single-season (1,061) rushing records by a quarterback and has two of only three 1,000-yard rushing seasons by an ACC quarterback. His 2,761 yards rushing are second all-time among all ACC QBs and his 68 total touchdowns rank 13th all-time in league history. Clemson went from a three-win team his freshman season to three straight bowls in his final three.

Just missed the cut:

11. Bryan Randall, Virginia Tech (2001-04)
Stats: 6,508 yds, 48 TDs, 31 INTs, 58.8%, 1,526 yds, 11 TDs

He only played one year in the ACC, but Randall was a star in his new league. Randall was named ACC Player of the Year in 2004 as he lead Tech to the ACC crown in its first season. He won 28 games as a starter in three seasons and helped transition the Hokies from Big East play into a string of eight consecutive 10-win teams in the ACC. The only losses Tech sustained during his final year were to No. 1 national champ USC, unbeaten Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and a one-point upset to NC State.

12. Scott McBrien, West Virginia/Maryland (2000, '02-03)
Stats: 5,924 yds, 37 TDs, 19 INTs, 543 yds, 13 TDs

After one year at West Virginia, McBrien transferred to Maryland and sat out the 2001 season. He started every game after that for two Terps teams that went 21-6 and won both the Gator and Peach Bowls. He helped win Maryland’s first and only ACC title since 1985. He is the 10th-most efficient passer in ACC history as well as the No. 3 left-handed passer in the conference record books.

13. Riley Skinner, Wake Forest (2006-09)
Stats: 9,762 yds, 60 TDs, 37 INTs, 66.9%, 161 yds, 4 TDs

Skinner could have played just his freshman season and gone down in history as one of the greatest Demon Deacons of all-time. The ACC Freshman of the Year quarterbacked Wake Forest to its only title during the BCS Era, only BCS bowl berth and first title of any kind since 1970. He is fifth all-time in ACC history in total yards (9,923) and set the ACC single-season record with a 72.4 percent completion rate in 2007. Skinner is fifth all-time in passing yards, 12th all-time with 60 passing touchdowns and second all-time with 903 completions.

14. EJ Manuel, Florida State (2008-12)
Stats: 7,741 yds, 47 TDs, 28 INTs, 66.9%, 827 yds, 11 TDs

Only two players in NCAA history have started and won four bowl games during their college career and Manuel is one of them (Pat White). The elite recruit led the Noles back to an ACC championship as a senior, the school’s first since 2005, and is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in ACC history. His career 66.9 percent completion rate trails only Schaub as the ACC’s top mark all-time and his 150.13 passer rating trails only Winston, Boyd and Weinke all-time among all ACC signal-callers. Manuel was a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

15. Joshua Nesbitt, Georgia Tech (2007-10)
Stats: 3,276 yds, 20 TDs, 16 INTs, 42.9%, 2,806 yds, 35 TDs

The ACC’s all-time leading rusher by a quarterback topped 6,000 yards of total offense running Paul Johnson's triple option attack. Nesbitt led the Jackets to their first outright ACC title since 1990 and has one of only three 1,000-yard rushing seasons by an ACC quarterback in history (Dantzler). His 18 rushing TDs that season are tied for fourth all-time by any player in any one season in ACC history (Ryan Williams, 21).

16. Bryn Renner, North Carolina (2010-13)
Stats: 8,221 yds, 64 TDs, 25 INTs, 66.5%, 4 rush TDs

Renner entered the starting lineup as a sophomore and proceeded to produce back-to-back 3,000-yard, 25-TD seasons for the Tar Heels. He set all the major school passing records in his first year (3,086 yds, 26 TDs) and then broke them all in his junior year (3,356, 28). Had he not been hurt during his senior season, his career stats would be among the league’s best. His 64 TD passes are ninth all-time in ACC history.

17. Mike Glennon, NC State (2009-12)
Stats: 7,411 yds, 63 TDs, 31 INTs, 60.4%, 3 rush TDs

The 6-foot-6 monster posted one of the best two-year runs at QB the ACC has ever seen. After forcing Russell Wilson to transfer in a round about way, Glennon produced back-to-back seasons with 31 touchdown passes and over 7,000 yards passing. Despite starting just two years, he is ninth all-time with 63 TD passes and he is one of just five ACC players ever to top 4,000 yards passing in a season (Ryan, Rivers, Weinke, Winston).

18. Darian Durant, North Carolina (2001-04)
Stats: 8,754 yds, 68 TDs, 38 INTs, 60.5%, 875 yds, 11 TDs

When he left Chapel Hill, Durant had 51 school records under his belt. Most of them have been broken since and North Carolina didn’t win a ton of games (going to only two bowl games during his career). He is eighth all-time in ACC history in total offense (No. 1 at UNC) and is seventh all-time in total touchdowns with 79 (UNC record). He is sixth all-time in ACC history with 68 scoring strikes.

19. Thaddeus Lewis, Duke (2006-09)
Stats: 10,065 yds, 67 TDs, 40 INTs, 58.1%, 9 rush TDs

Lewis has the numbers and the longevity and has to be given some credit for helping to rebuild an ACC doormat. Duke increased its win total in each of Lewis’ four seasons and he finished third all-time in passing yards (Rivers, Boyd), seventh all-time in TD passes, second in attempts (1,510), fourth in completions (877) and once went 206 passes without an INT (sixth-best in ACC history). His 76 total touchdowns are ninth all-time as well.

20. Sean Renfree, Duke (2009-12)
Stats: 9,465 yds, 51 TDs, 40 INTs, 64.7%, 9 rush TDs

Biding his time behind Lewis, Renfree stepped in and started for three full seasons, eventually leading Duke back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. He had three straight seasons with at least 2,800 yards passing, including two seasons in excess of 3,100 yards. He started 36 games over his final three seasons.

Best of the rest:

21. Christian Ponder, Florida State
22. T.J. Yates, North Carolina
23. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech
24. Chris Rix, Florida State
25. Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech

Top 10 ACC Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/25-college-football-spring-storylines-watch-2014

Most college football fans generally consider Signing Day the official start of a new season, but spring practice is the first time all 128 FBS teams will hit the field in preparation for the upcoming year. Of course, it’s hard to glean much from spring practice. However, there’s excitement for every team as spring practice starts, especially at places like Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State where a national championship is within reach this season.

With spring practice underway across the nation, teams are looking to address a handful of issues, including finding new playmakers, answering questions at quarterback or filling voids in the trenches.

To preview spring practice, Athlon is taking a look at some of the top storylines to watch. As we mentioned above, it’s not guaranteed answers will be found, especially as the freshmen are slated to arrive this summer. However, there are plenty of question marks that could be answered by late April.

College Football's Top 25 Storylines for Spring Practice


The quarterbacks:

AJ McCarron’s place among SEC quarterbacks, as well as his candidacy as it related to All-American recognition and the Heisman Trophy was heavily debated throughout his senior campaign. Regardless of where anyone thinks McCarron belongs in those discussions, no one can dispute that he threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his career (9,019) and finished with 74 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. So while McCarron may not have had the talent of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he was a key piece of Alabama’s success over the last three seasons. Now, a wide-open quarterback battle is set to begin this spring and will carry into the fall with the arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Blake Sims was listed as McCarron’s backup last season and has attempted 39 passes over the last two years. But Sims is considered a longshot to win the starting job, as Coker is considered the favorite to claim the top spot when he arrives this summer. Coker and Sims won’t be the only quarterbacks battling for time in the spring, as Parker McLeod, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell are set to stake their claim for the job. Cornwell was the No. 79 prospect in the 247Sports Composite but is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the fall. While Coker is considered the favorite, can Sims or one of the other quarterbacks make a strong push for the No. 1 spot before fall practice? Or will Alabama head into the fall with a wide-open quarterback derby once again?

Florida State

Restocking at defensive tackle:

With 13 starters returning, the Seminoles are in good shape to defend their national championship. Repeating as college football’s national champion won’t be easy, but Florida State has no shortage of talent waiting to step onto the field. New coordinator Charles Kelly should ensure there’s little drop in production on defense, but there’s a big concern at defensive tackle. Timmy Jernigan was one of the nation’s best last season, and he bolted early for the NFL. Additionally, Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister expired their eligibility. With Jernigan, McDaniel and McAllister gone, the depth is thin at tackle. Nile Lawrence-Stample is the top returner on the interior, with Desmond Hollin, Justin Shanks, Eddie Goldman and Keith Bryant battling for snaps this spring. The Seminoles will add more talent to the mix in the fall when Adam Torres, Arthur Williams, Derrick Nnadi, Fredrick Jones and Demarcus Christmas arrive for their freshman season. Not all of the incoming freshmen will compete for time, but some could be needed for depth in 2014. Finding answers at defensive tackle is even more critical when you consider the losses at linebacker (Telvin Smith and Christian Jones), along with active defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks.


Can Trevor Knight build off his Sugar Bowl performance?:

With 16 starters returning, and momentum from the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama in place, Oklahoma is considered a slight favorite over Baylor for the Big 12 title in 2014. The Sooners return most of their core from last season, and Knight’s performance in the bowl has provided plenty of optimism that Oklahoma is ready to contend for a playoff spot. Knight gashed Alabama’s defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns – easily his best performance of 2013. Should we expect to see similar numbers in 2014? Or was that just an aberration? With Blake Bell moving to tight end, it’s clear Knight has the starting job. Now it’s time for the sophomore to take the next step in his development, which will be a challenge with Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester gone at receiver.

Notre Dame

The return of Everett Golson

After guiding the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the national championship as a redshirt freshman, Golson missed all of 2013 due to academic issues. With Tommy Rees expiring his eligibility, Golson’s return comes at the perfect time for Notre Dame. And even though he was away from college football for the fall semester, Golson didn’t necessarily sit on the sidelines. Instead, he worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield. Golson drew praise from coach Brian Kelly this spring for his increased awareness in the offense. Golson is clearly an upgrade at quarterback over Rees, and Kelly needs to get him acclimated to the offense and his supporting cast this spring. If Golson continues to improve, Notre Dame’s offense will help alleviate some of the concerns on defense from losing a couple of key players, including end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III.

Ohio State

Starting over on the offensive line:

Going into the 2013 season, the Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation. What a difference a year makes. Ohio State is essentially starting over in the trenches with only one starter returning as the team is set to open spring practice on March 4. The list of departed players is heavy on all-conference performers, with center Corey Linsley, guard Andrew Norwell and tackle Jack Mewhort all taking home first-team honors last year. Guard Marcus Hall didn’t earn a first or second-team mention, but he garnered an honorable mention spot for the all-conference team. Ohio State recruits as well as any team in the nation, so talent won’t be an issue. However, it may take some time for the line to jell and develop consistency. Taylor Decker is the unit’s only returning starter and is expected to shift from right to left tackle this spring. Replacing Decker on the right side could be senior Darryl Baldwin, and guard Pat Elflein should be a starter at one of the guard spots. But who replaces Linsley at center? Will that be Jacoby Boren? Could converted defensive lineman Joel Hale earn a spot? Ohio State should have a spot among the top-10 teams in the nation in 2014. However, the Buckeyes won’t finish ahead of Michigan State in their division unless the line quickly emerges as a strength.


First look at the new faces on defense:

An underrated part of Baylor’s Big 12 championship last season was the defense. The Bears held opponents to 4.8 yards per play in 2013 after allowing 6.3 in 2012. Coordinator Phil Bennett has a busy spring ahead if he wants his defense to improve off of those totals in 2014. Only four starters return from last year’s unit, and All-Big 12 performers in safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey and end Chris McAllister have expired their eligibility. Baylor’s recruiting has improved under Art Briles, and there’s talent waiting to step onto the field. Defensive end Shawn Oakman is a name to remember after recording 33 tackles last year, while help is also in the way in the form of three junior college transfers this spring. Will this unit continue to build off the improvement showcased last season? Or will all of the new faces create a transition year in 2014?


Starting over on offense:

After a 4-8 mark last season, Will Muschamp enters 2014 on the hot seat. The Gators’ defense held up their end of the bargain last year, as they allowed just 308.6 yards per game. But the offense was simply dreadful. It’s hard to find many positives on this unit after 2013, as Florida barely averaged over 300 yards per game in SEC action (312.5) and managed just 4.7 yards per play. Muschamp fired coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis and brought Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays, while former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers will coach the line. The staff moves were clearly necessary, and Muschamp appears to have made the right hires. But the bigger problem for the Gators is with the personnel. Is quarterback Jeff Driskel ready to take the next step in his development? Or will incoming freshman Will Grier push for the job? At running back, Kelvin Taylor is a future star. However, the offensive line is a concern. The Gators still lack proven options at receiver, but Andre Debose is back in the mix after missing all of last season with a knee injury. There’s no question Florida should be solid on defense next year. But Muschamp’s future in Gainesville will hinge on how far the offense develops this offseason.


Concerns at defensive tackle:

With quarterback Marcus Mariota and eight other starters returning on offense, the Ducks will be one of the Pac-12’s most prolific offenses once again in 2014. However, the defense – which has been underrated nationally at times – enters spring with question marks. New coordinator Don Pellum will be replacing veteran Nick Aliotti as the Ducks’ play-caller on defense, and five starters return from a unit that held opponents to 4.9 yards per play last year. This will be Pellum’s first opportunity to coordinate the defense, but he is familiar with the personnel and keeps continuity in place for Oregon. Pellum’s biggest concern is on the line, where the Ducks must replace Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli. Alex Balducci was listed as Keliikipi’s backup last season, and he should take on a major role in the line in 2014. Outside of Balducci, the Ducks need more from Sam Kamp at the position, and there could be some shuffling of bodies this spring to anchor the interior. Arik Armstead, Stetzon Bair and DeForest Buckner have the size to play tackle and should see plenty of snaps in 2014. Another name to watch is junior college recruit Tui Talia. Where will he factor into the mix? If Oregon finds the right mix up front, this team will be in the mix for a playoff spot in Helfrich’s second season in Eugene.


Finding the right answers on defense:

When you first glance at the stat sheet from 2013, the numbers aren’t pretty for Auburn. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards and 29.6 points per game through nine SEC contests. However, a deeper look at the numbers suggests this defense made stops when it had to. Auburn led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions allowed and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. Timely stops are a good sign, but the Tigers still need to be better on this side of the ball in 2014. Thanks to outstanding 2014 recruiting class, Auburn has improved its depth and talent on this side of the ball. But there are holes to fill with end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, linebacker Jake Holland, cornerback Chris Davis and safeties Ryan White and Ryan Smith expiring their eligibility. Ford and Eguae will be missed on the line, but there appears to be a wave of new standout linemen waiting in the wings with Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel set to play major snaps in 2014. At linebacker, Kris Frost is poised for a big season after finishing 2013 with seven tackles in the national championship game against Florida State. The secondary can lean on Jonathon Mincy at cornerback and Jermaine Whitehead at safety. But more depth is needed in the defensive backfield, which could open the door for junior college recruit Derrick Moncrief to play right away at safety. Ellis Johnson is one of the SEC’s top defensive coordinators, and the veteran assistant will be busy this spring as he looks to keep Auburn’s defense on a positive trajectory.

Texas A&M

Finding answers on defense:

There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers in a positive way on defense for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with quarterback Johnny Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game again. Considering the offense is expected to slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth (much like this unit had in 2013) in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. Claiborne and Golden were suspended after an off-the-field incident in February. It’s uncertain how the arrest will affect either player heading into the upcoming season. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.


Jeremy Pruitt’s first chance to work with the defense:

After one very successful year at Florida State, Pruitt left Tallahassee for a chance to call the defensive signals at Georgia. Pruitt is no stranger to the SEC, as he spent six seasons at Alabama prior to his one-year stint with the Seminoles. Even though Aaron Murray departs at quarterback, the Bulldogs are in good shape on offense with Todd Gurley returning at running back, along with new signal-caller Hutson Mason. But for Georgia to return to the SEC title game, it has to find some answers on defense. Youth was a factor in the struggles last season, with the Bulldogs allowing 31.8 points per game in SEC contests. With 10 starters back and another year for the young players to develop, Georgia’s defense is poised to make significant progress on the stat sheet. Now it’s up to Pruitt to take this defense to the next level. This spring is all about Pruitt putting his stamp on a defense and making the necessary changes after a disappointing effort last year.


Looking for improvement on defense:

Sure, there’s a quarterback battle set to take place in Coral Gables this spring, but most of the attention for the coaching staff should be on the defense. The Hurricanes ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense last season, which came one year after finishing last in the conference. The numbers weren’t pretty for Al Golden’s defense, which allowed 6.2 yards per play in ACC-only games and gave up 32.8 points per game in eight conference contests. For a team that has the No. 2 ranked roster in the ACC, the ongoing defensive struggles are a mystery. While the numbers from last year are ugly, there’s hope for improvement with seven starters returning, while another solid recruiting class will help with overall depth. Each level of the defense has a potential impact player, starting with Anthony Chickillo at defensive end, Denzel Perryman at linebacker and Tracy Howard at cornerback. But can coordinator Mark D’Onofrio develop or find more difference makers on defense this spring?


Starting over on offense:

The Tigers have been a model of consistency under Les Miles, winning at least 10 games in seven out of the last nine years. Even though LSU has played in only one BCS bowl in the last six seasons, this program is still one of the best in the SEC. After rebuilding a defense that featured only three returning starters last year, the focus for Miles turns to the offense. Six starters are back from a unit that made significant progress in 2013. First-year coordinator Cam Cameron helped the Tigers average over six yards per play for the first time since 2006. But Cameron will have his hands full this spring as LSU has to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, guard Trai Turner and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl with Mettenberger out due to a knee injury and completed 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards against the Hawkeyes. Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but true freshman Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig will have a chance to win the job. Top recruit Leonard Fournette should be the answer at running back, and the New Orleans native will have no trouble finding running room behind one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. Outside of finding a new starting quarterback, replacing Landry and Beckham is the top spring priority for Miles. Last season, Landry and Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 receptions. There’s not much in the way of proven talent at receiver, which opens the door for incoming recruit Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshman Avery Peterson to play significant snaps in 2014. This spring is LSU’s first opportunity to start the rebuilding effort on offense and reload for another run at the SEC title.


Filling voids at quarterback and running back:

Chris Petersen’s first spring as Washington’s head coach is already clouded with some mystery. Cyler Miles was expected to be the Huskies’ starting quarterback in 2014, but he was suspended after an off-the-field incident. It’s uncertain when Miles might return to the team, leaving sophomore Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman Troy Williams and incoming freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels as the three candidates vying for time this offseason. Carta-Samuels won’t arrive until the summer, so it’s Lindquist and Williams for the top two spots – for now. Bishop Sankey will be missed at running back, but there’s a handful of options ready to take the top spot on the depth chart. Dwayne Washington was impressive in limited time last season, and Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper have battled back from knee injuries to play a key role in the backfield. Will Washington emerge as the No. 1 back? Or will the Huskies use a committee approach? Petersen and coordinator Jonathan Smith will start to answer those questions when practice opens on March 4.

Arizona State

Rebuilding the defense:

It’s a good thing the Sun Devils return seven starters on offense this year. With only two starters returning on defense, Arizona State will be involved in plenty of shootouts in 2014. Of course, that’s easier to do when you return a quarterback like Taylor Kelly, as well as skill players in the form of running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. But coach Todd Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will have their hands full rebuilding a defense that ranked fifth in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) in points allowed (26.9 ppg). The list of departures is heavy, starting with defensive linemen Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Will Sutton, continuing into the linebacking corps with Carl Bradford and Chris Young, while the secondary loses cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor, and safety Alden Darby must be replaced. Each level of the defense needs to be retooled, and Graham dipped into the junior college ranks for immediate help. Linemen Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey should factor into the mix right away, and linebacker Darrius Caldwell and cornerback Kweishi Brown will be expected to do the same. Expect the Sun Devils to find the right answers as the season progresses, but this defense will receive some extra attention from Graham and Patterson this spring with a ton of fresh faces stepping into new roles.


Developing an offensive line:

Yes, Michigan needs more consistency from quarterback Devin Gardner, and the rushing attack has to give Gardner more help, but the biggest question mark for coach Brady Hoke this spring is clearly the offensive line. This unit struggled with consistency last season, and the Wolverines recorded just 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten action. Making matters worse is the line loses tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield - easily the top two players on the unit in 2013. There is talent returning in the trenches, as Michigan reeled in back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes from 2012-13. The entire starting five is up for grabs. It’s time for players like Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch to emerge as the leaders for the offensive line.

North Carolina

Replacements on the offensive line:

The top spot in the Coastal Division is expected to be up for grabs once again next year. The Tar Heels finished 2013 by winning six out of their final seven games, and with seven starters back on both sides of the ball, Larry Fedora’s team is positioned for a run at the division title. Marquise Williams will have to compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, but the promising junior is expected to win the No. 1 spot. The Tar Heels are loaded with talent at the skill positions, including receiver Quinshad Davis and running back T.J. Logan. If there’s a concern on offense, it’s a line that loses two standout players in left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine. Guards Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner and tackle Jon Heck provide a solid foundation, but left tackle and center are arguably the two most-important positions on the line. Can Fedora and new coordinator Seth Littrell find answers in the spring? One name to watch is incoming freshman Bentley Spain – the No. 115 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – who enrolled early to compete this spring.


New faces on defense:

The defending SEC East champs return only nine starters from last year’s team. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, and Missouri still has enough talent to challenge for the division crown. New quarterback Maty Mauk was impressive last season, while the skill positions are set with Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy returning at running back, along with Dorial Green-Beckham and Bud Sasser at receiver. The offense will face a transition period, but there is little reason to be concerned about this unit. The defense figures to get the most attention from coach Gary Pinkel and coordinator Dave Steckel this spring. The Tigers are losing a handful of key players, including ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and cornerback E.J. Gaines. The line may not miss a beat assuming Markus Golden and Shane Ray continue to play at a high level. Replacing Gaines won’t be easy, but sophomores Aarion Penton (16 tackles) and John Gibson (14 tackles) played their share of snaps in 2013. Missouri may take a step back on defense next season with a handful of key performers departing. However, the drop-off may not be as great as some may suspect with a solid core of talent still in place in Columbia.


Who replaces guard Xavier Su’a-Filo?:

Sacks allowed aren’t necessarily the best indicator of offensive line success or failure, but UCLA gave up 29 in nine Pac-12 contests last year. The Bruins also managed only 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Needless to say, there is room for this unit to improve. That task is complicated by the departure of guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL Draft. Jim Mora has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles over the last few seasons, and some of that youth got involved in the trenches last year, as Alex Redmond started all 13 games at guard, while Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch combined for 15 starts as true freshmen. With Redmond, Quessenberry and Benenoch having another offseason to work with the coaching staff and weight room, this trio should be even better in 2014. UCLA’s line will be bolstered by the addition of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and four-star recruit Kolton Miller in this year’s signing class. Replacing Su’a-Filo is no easy assignment, and he was one of the top guards in the nation last year. Kenny Lacy was listed as the backup at guard last season, but the coaching staff could shuffle some players around this spring. Keeping quarterback Brett Hundley healthy is priority No. 1 for UCLA in 2014. Finding a replacement for Su’a-Filo and the right mix on the line will go a long way to keeping Hundley in the mix to win the Heisman.


Finding answers on offense:

In what seems to be an ongoing question mark, the Longhorns enter spring practice looking for answers on offense. Texas has not ranked higher than sixth in the Big 12 in scoring in each of the last four years and averaged only 5.1 yards per play in conference action in 2013. New coach Charlie Strong and co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will be looking for solutions this spring, starting under center where David Ash returns after missing most of last year with a concussion. Ash will face competition from Tyrone Swoopes this spring, while touted freshman Jerrod Heard arrives this summer. In addition to finding a quarterback, Texas has to replace three starters on the line, while receiver Mike Davis departs after averaging 14.3 yards per catch last season. Wickline has a strong track record of developing offensive linemen, and with a strong backfield returning, Texas can lean on the ground until the passing attack stabilizes. However, for the Longhorns to be a factor in the Big 12 title picture, a quarterback needs to step up before the season opener.

South Carolina

Rebuilding the defensive line:

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and line coach Deke Adams will have their hands full this spring. The Gamecocks lose three key performers from last year’s defensive line, including ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Clowney and Quarles were both first-team All-SEC selections, and Sutton registered three sacks last season. South Carolina isn’t hurting for options in the trenches, but it’s hard to replace the talent that Clowney, Sutton and Quarles are taking to the NFL. Darius English has flashed potential in a backup role over the last two years and was listed as the backup to Clowney in 2013. Gerald Dixon and Mason Harris are slated to battle to replace Sutton, while J.T. Surratt will anchor the middle with Quarles departing. Other names to watch include Gerald Dixon Jr. and Kelsey Griffin at tackle, along with incoming junior college recruit Jhaustin Thomas. Dante Sawyer was expected to push for time in the fall, but the Georgia product will instead go to junior college. As we mentioned earlier, there’s certainly talent and potential here. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the same caliber of play of last year’s group. With matchups against Texas A&M and Georgia in the first few weeks of the season next year, this defensive line will be tested early in 2014.


Adjusting to the new 3-4 defense:

Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is no easy task, but Will Gardner has potential and played well in limited action last year. While the quarterback situation is something to watch, Bobby Petrino should push the right buttons on offense. With Petrino back on the sidelines in Louisville, the focus of spring practice should shift to the defense. The Cardinals led the nation against the run last season and finished second in points allowed. However, only four starters return from last year’s unit, and there’s a transition period as new coordinator Todd Grantham shifts the personnel to a 3-4 scheme. Lorenzo Mauldin is expected to be an All-ACC performer, and the senior will move from end to linebacker this spring. Other personnel moves are anticipated, especially as Louisville looks for replacements at safety with the departure of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare on defense, but it may take some time for the players to adjust to a new 3-4 approach.


Improving the passing attack:

The Badgers lose several key pieces from the defense, but the passing offense is expected to receive the most attention from coach Gary Andersen this spring. In eight Big Ten games last year, Wisconsin averaged only 201.9 yards per game and tossed nine picks to just 13 touchdowns. Joel Stave started all 13 games last season, but he will face competition from Tanner McEvoy, who is slated to return under center after spending time at safety in 2013. In addition to McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins are expected to get an extended look under center in the preseason. The Badgers’ passing concerns don’t stop at quarterback. Receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen have expired their eligibility, leaving the cupboard a little thin in proven options in the receiving corps. This spring presents a huge opportunity for players like Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright to make an impression at receiver.


New starters at quarterback and running back:

Considering Rich Rodriguez’s track record of developing quarterbacks and finding standouts at running back, there’s not too much concern in Tucson over the new faces stepping in on offense. Quarterback B.J. Denker departs after recording 3,465 total yards last season, while running back Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL after another standout year. There’s no clear answer at either position as spring practice opens on March 3 for the Wildcats. At quarterback, Texas transfer Connor Brewer, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and junior college transfers Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall are considered the frontrunners to replace Denker. The picture remains muddy at running back, as Jared Baker (127 yards) is the top statistical returner, but redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green, Myles Smith and true freshmen Jonathan Haden and Nick Wilson will all have a chance to compete for carries. Baker is recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected to participate in spring practice. Cormier is a slight favorite to handle the bulk of the carries in 2014, but the Wildcats could use a committee approach. Can Rodriguez and his staff narrow the competition or find a starter at both positions this spring?

Virginia Tech

Finding a spark on offense:

The final numbers for Virginia Tech’s offense weren’t pretty last season. The Hokies finished 13th in the ACC in total offense and averaged just five yards per play. Under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech managed just 28 points in its final two games and scored under 20 points seven times in 2013. This unit enters spring practice with a myriad of question marks, starting under center where Logan Thomas expired his eligibility after the Sun Bowl loss to UCLA. Mark Leal is the favorite to replace Thomas, but he has just 48 pass attempts in his career. Leal needs to prove he has control of the No. 1 spot this spring, while Loeffler has to provide the senior with more help in the supporting cast. The Hokies averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season, while inconsistency was a concern in the receiving corps and on the offensive line. Virginia Tech will be fine on defense, but it’s hard to see improvement off last year’s 8-5 mark without significant growth on offense.

25 College Football Spring Storylines to Watch for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-rebels-2014-spring-football-preview

Ole Miss went 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the SEC the two years prior to Hugh Freeze taking over as head coach in Oxford.

While Freeze has two losing records in conference play in two years, there is little doubt that he was clearly the right guy for the job. Ole Miss has posted back-to-back winning seasons capped by bowl wins. More importantly, Freeze has totally revamped Ole Miss recruiting and has a roster returning in 2014 that could be the best Rebels' fans have seen in years.

Questions still remain about the rosters, in particular along the offensive line, but the biggest hurdles are those swirling in the dangerous waters of the SEC West. In a division with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M, can Ole Miss compete for an SEC championship?

That's something the Rebs haven’t won since 1963.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 28 (Atlanta)
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Presbyterian
Nov. 15Bye Week
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

Ole Miss Rebels 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 3

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 9

Three Things to Watch in Ole Miss' 2014 Spring Practice

Develop the offensive line
Playing in the treacherous SEC requires an excellent offensive line. Protecting the quarterback and running the football are even more important against the elite SEC defensive lines. With the loss three full time starters and a key reserve, the offensive line is going to be a major area of concern for Freeze and company this spring. Five-star prospect Laremy Tunsil more than acquitted himself a year ago as a true freshman and fans will look for him to take another step in his development, along with the return of All-SEC-type guard Aaron Morris from his season-ending injury. These two playing at the top of their game this fall is a great place to start. However, other names like Justin Bell (13 starts) need to step into leadership roles to stabilize an offensive line that was 98th in the nation a year ago in allowing sacks. Shoring up the front line is a great way to protect one of the better returning quarterbacks in the conference in Bo Wallace.

Find experience and leadership
There aren’t many glaring holes on this depth chart other than the offensive line. Would Freeze like to find a workhorse back? Would he like to develop depth in his front seven? Certainly, but he isn’t hurting for options at either position, so finding experienced field generals who can lead by example appears to be one of the most important goals of the spring. Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, for example, were two veteran leaders on the offense who are no longer around. Replacing their production shouldn’t be difficult with a host of talented players returning to Oxford. However, with five junior college transfers and a handful of redshirt freshmen working their way into the rotation, developing a pecking order on the practice field should be a focus of the staff. Laquon Treadwell, Tunsil, Tony Conner and Channing Ward have elite raw physical talent and upside but this team will go only as far as their leadership and maturity takes them. Speaking of maturity…

Stay focused on and off the field
Both Nkemdiche brothers, Denzel and Robert, have dealt with serious off-the-field issues as have a variety of other members of the Ole Miss roster. Spring practice is a time of learning, development and camaraderie, especially for a roster as young and talented as the one in Oxford. Freeze’s staff needs to be sure his players understand the goal/opportunity at hand for 2014. Winning an SEC title is difficult enough without off the field distractions dragging a team down the standings. The ’14 season could be a special one for the Rebels if things fall right in Oxford, but the margin for error is razor thin. The tiniest issues — be it injuries, arrests or immaturity — can derail a championship run in this conference, especially for a team like Ole Miss that won’t be favored against the big boys on its schedule.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Ole Miss is certainly trending in the right direction. Freeze returns 14 of 22 starters, including his quarterback and the majority of his defense. The highly touted freshmen class of 2013 not only lived up to the hype but could develop into one of the great collections of talent ever signed in Oxford. There are few holes on this depth chart other than offensive line. Should leadership develop, a trip to the SEC title game in Atlanta isn’t out of the question. However, the schedule is absolutely brutal with Boise State in the non-conference and a typical run of nasty road SEC games (LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Arkansas) is intertwined with monumental home showdowns against the last two SEC champions in Alabama and Auburn. After improving from seven to eight wins in his first two seasons, improvement to nine or ten seems like a tall order but isn't out of the question should Colonel Reb pull and upset or two.

Ole Miss Rebels 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:15