Articles By All

Path: /college-football/conference-usa-2014-football-predictions
2014 C-USA Predictions 
East DivisionC-USAOverall 
1. Marshall (No. 40)8-013-0 
2. MTSU (No. 90)6-27-5 
3. FAU (No. 91)5-36-6 
4. WKU (No. 92)4-45-7 
5. UAB (No. 109)2-64-8 
6. Old Dominion (No. 116)2-64-8 
7. FIU (No. 127)0-82-10 
West DivisionC-USAOverall 
1. North Texas (No. 86)6-27-6 
2. Rice (No. 87)6-27-5 
3. UTSA (No. 89)6-27-5 
4. Louisiana Tech (No. 112)3-54-8 
5. Southern Miss (No. 115)2-64-8 
6. UTEP (No. 117)2-63-9 
C-USA Championship   
Marshall over North Texas 

Conference USA enters 2014 with more changes in its league roster, adding WKU and Old Dominion to replace East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa to have a 13-team format for one season. UNC Charlotte will join the league in 2015 to give Conference USA 14 teams and seven teams in each division.

While the future of the league appears to be stable, could 2014 be a special season for Marshall? The Thundering Herd will be favored in every game and return dynamic senior quarterback Rakeem Cato. With 13 overall starters returning and MTSU, FAU and Rice visiting Huntington, Marshall has a good shot at an unbeaten record, as well as the opportunity to be the No. 1 team from outside of the five power conferences. If the Thundering Herd finishes 2014 unbeaten and rank as the top team from outside of the power leagues, Marshall would play in one of college football’s top bowl games.

MTSU, FAU and WKU are the top challengers to Marshall in the East. The Blue Raiders return only three starters on offense, but the schedule is favorable. MTSU does not play one of the predicted top-three teams from the West.

New FAU coach Charlie Partridge inherits a team that won its final four games to finish 6-6. The Owls have talent, and Partridge is a noted recruiter in Florida. However, this will be Partridge’s first head coaching position, and the Owls have question marks on the offensive line. FAU’s strength should be a defense that ranked No. 1 in Conference USA against the pass and No. 1 in fewest yards allowed in 2013.

WKU has a tough schedule to navigate in its Conference USA debut, featuring road trips to MTSU, FAU and Marshall, along with a crossover game against UTSA. The Hilltoppers must replace standout running back Antonio Andrews, but junior Leon Allen is a capable replacement, and quarterback Brandon Doughty should improve his second year under center. WKU's biggest concern is a defense that returns only two starters.

UAB, Old Dominion and FIU round out the East Division predictions, with the Blazers picked at No. 5, the Monarchs at No. 6 and the Panthers at No. 7. New UAB coach Bill Clark is the right man for the job in Birmingham, but the Blazers lack experience at quarterback. Old Dominion should have no trouble scoring points behind quarterback Taylor Heinicke, but the defense is a huge issue. FIU struggled in Ron Turner’s debut and has several question marks to address before escaping the cellar of the division.

There’s not much separating the top three teams in the West. North Texas, Rice and UTSA are all contenders for the division title, with the Mean Green checking in as Athlon’s pick to win the West.

North Texas has plenty of personnel losses on offense, but the line will be a strength with four starters back. And even though the Mean Green return only four starters on defense, there’s plenty of optimism this unit will remain near the top of the conference.

Rice might have the most favorable schedule in the West, as North Texas and UTSA play at Rice Stadium in 2014. Of course, the Owls also have to play at Marshall in crossover play. If new quarterback Driphus Jackson picks up where he left off in a reserve role in 2012, Rice could push Marshall for the No. 1 spot in the conference.

UTSA is loaded with 17 starters back in 2014. The Roadrunners have a senior-laden depth chart and won’t have to play Marshall during the regular season. Coach Larry Coker and his staff built UTSA into a Conference USA title contender in just four years. Even with the talent in the San Antonio area, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and UTEP round out the predictions for the West Division.

The Bulldogs struggled in Skip Holtz’s debut, and offensive line concerns could keep Louisiana Tech out of the postseason once again. Running back Kenneth Dixon should be a 1,000-yard rusher, and the addition of Manny Diaz as coordinator should help the defense. But in addition to the concerns on the line, Louisiana Tech needs to find a quarterback.

Southern Miss has been on a surprising decline over the last few seasons, but it appears the program is headed on the right track. Second-year coach Todd Monken finished 2013 with a little momentum, and sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens is a promising prospect.

UTEP has a dangerous offense, but the Miners ranked near the bottom of the nation in scoring and total defense. With Jameill Showers back at quarterback and two solid running backs in Aaron Jones and Nathan Jeffery, UTEP has potential to average 30 points a game. However, the Miners may need to win a lot of shootouts to exceed last year’s two-win mark.

2014 Conference USA Team Previews

 Conference USA Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

New Mexico: C-USA vs. MW

Hawaii: MW vs. C-USA

Heart of Dallas: C-USA vs. Big Ten

Boca Raton: C-USA vs. MAC

New Mexico: MW vs. C-USA

East DivisionWest Division

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff:

Conference USA 2014 Football Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sun-belt-2014-football-predictions
2014 Sun Belt Predictions
 Sun BeltOverall
1. UL Lafayette (No. 60)8-010-2
2. South Alabama (No. 84)7-18-4
3. Arkansas State (No. 93)6-27-5
4. Troy (No. 108)5-36-6
5. ULM (No. 110)5-35-7
6. Texas State (No. 113)4-45-7
7. Georgia Southern (No. 122)3-54-8
8. Appalachian State (No. 123)2-64-8
9. Idaho (No. 125)2-62-10
10. Georgia State (No. 126)1-72-10
11. New Mexico State (No. 128)1-72-10

The Sun Belt is a conference in transition, but even with the changes around the league, the contenders remain the same. UL Lafayette has won nine games in each of the last three seasons and is Athlon’s projected champion for 2014.

The Ragin’ Cajuns return 15 starters and coach Mark Hudspeth is the best in the Sun Belt. Quarterback Terrance Broadway guides an offense that averaged 33.8 points per game last season and features a deep stable of running backs. Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire will both push for all-conference honors in 2014. Hudspeth’s team doesn’t have many personnel concerns, but the secondary and linebacking corps are two areas for the coaching staff to watch in the fall. UL Lafayette will also have a chance to play spoiler on the Sept. 13 date at Ole Miss.

UL Lafayette was a clear No. 1 in Athlon’s projected Sun Belt predictions, but it was a close battle for No. 2 with South Alabama and Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are on their fourth coach in four years, but a strong core of talent remains in Jonesboro. Running back Michael Gordon is poised for a breakout year, and receiver J.D. McKissic is back after catching 82 passes in 2013. The departure of Ryan Carrethers on the defensive line is one of Arkansas State’s biggest concerns for 2014.

South Alabama has made steady progress under Joey Jones, finishing 6-6 in its second year of Sun Belt play. The Jaguars return 12 starters, but quarterback Ross Metheny and a couple of key defenders must be replaced. South Alabama also has a tough November road stretch, featuring trips to Arkansas State and UL Lafayette. However, if Brandon Bridge settles in at quarterback, the Jaguars will have a chance to win both games.

After the top three teams, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Sun Belt.

Troy and ULM are proven programs within the Sun Belt, and both teams should be in the mix for bowl games in 2014. The Trojans need to replace quarterback Corey Robinson, but the skill players and offensive line should be among the best in the league. For Troy to push for a spot among the top three, the defense has to improve after allowing 35.9 points a game in 2013.

ULM will miss quarterback Kolton Browning, and a challenging non-conference schedule doesn’t leave much margin for error for a bowl appearance. But the Warhawks should be solid on defense with the return of nine starters, and NC State transfer Pete Thomas could be the answer at quarterback.

Texas State is a program on the rise, but only four starters are back on defense, and there figures to be a few growing pains in Tyler Jones’ second year under center. The Bobcats own one of the league’s top linebacking corps with senior Michael Orakpo and David Mayo leading the way.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State headline four newcomers into the Sun Belt for 2014. The Eagles finished the 2013 season by beating Florida in the Swamp and catch a break in scheduling by not playing UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. New coach Willie Fritz was one of the top hires of the offseason.

Appalachian State played better at the end of 2013, which was the first year under the direction of Scott Satterfield. The Mountaineers are a solid program and will eventually be a consistent winner in the Sun Belt. With running back Marcus Cox leading the way, Appalachian State could match last year’s win total.

Idaho and New Mexico State join the Sun Belt after spending 2013 as a FBS Independent. Both teams are in rebuild mode, with the Vandals in better shape in terms of personnel. However, Idaho is banned from postseason play in 2014. The Aggies return just eight starters and have uncertainty at quarterback and several holes to fill on defense.

Georgia State didn’t win a game in Trent Miles’ debut, but the Panthers showed progress. With Miles upgrading the roster through recruiting, as well as his track record of success at Indiana State, expect Georgia State to show more improvement in 2014. 

Sun Belt Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

New Orleans Bowl: MW vs. Sun Belt

GoDaddy Bowl: Sun Belt vs. MAC

Camellia Bowl: Sun Belt vs. MAC

2014 Sun Belt Team Previews
Georgia SouthernUL Lafayette
New Mexico State 
South Alabama 


Sun Belt 2014 Football Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-ten-win-total-projections-2014

The start of the 2014 college football season is still over 80 days away, but there is no shortage of news to fill the offseason in the Big Ten. Although there’s a long way until kickoff, the preview magazines for 2014 are already on newsstands, and Vegas isn’t far behind with its projections for the upcoming season.
CG Technology has released some its win total projections for 2014, and Athlon Sports examined the SEC totals on Thursday. With the early picks for the SEC in the books, it’s time to shift focus and examine the Big Ten.
With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the Big Ten is now a 14-team league and has shuffled the divisions once again.
The East is stronger than the West in 2014, as Ohio State and Michigan State are both contenders for the college football playoff. There’s also quality depth in the East with Penn State, Michigan and improving teams like Indiana and Maryland. The West Division is headlined by Wisconsin, with Iowa and Nebraska not too far behind.
There is plenty of time to refine predictions over the next few months, but with the release of the win total projections, let’s take a look at the early thoughts on the over/under projections.
Athlon’s Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) give their early thoughts on CG Technology’s projections for 2014.

Big Ten Win Total Projections for 2014: Over, Under or Push


Big Ten East Division


Indiana (Opening Number: 5)

Braden Gall: Push

The Hoosiers draw the much tougher division and non-conference games with Missouri and Bowling Green seem to indicate making a bowl game is a long shot. Push or under for Indiana.
Steven Lassan: Push
Indiana is on the right track under Kevin Wilson, but the schedule is brutal in 2014. Non-conference games against Bowling Green, Missouri and North Texas are challenging, and the Hoosiers get Iowa in crossover play. With an explosive offense, Indiana could sneak into an upset somewhere along the way. However, the Hoosiers need new coordinator Brian Knorr to quickly find answers on a defense that allowed 7.4 yards per play in conference games last year.

Maryland (Opening Number: 6.5)

Braden Gall: Under
Maryland is in much better shape to compete in the new league than Rutgers, but three interesting non-conference games and landing in a brutal division makes a winning season seem far-fetched. This team still gets to a bowl game but does so at .500.
Steven Lassan: Under
I think six wins is reasonable for Maryland in 2014. The Terrapins are transitioning to a tougher league, but the offense will be dangerous if receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Getting to seven victories is possible if Maryland picks up a win in a swing game against Syracuse in non-conference play.

Michigan (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Push
Vegas knows what it’s doing. This team has talent, and the new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier should be an improvement. But the schedule is still hard enough that challenging for the division is likely out of the conversation.
Steven Lassan: Push
Plenty of talent in Ann Arbor, but Michigan’s win total rests on an unsettled offensive line and rushing attack. Hitting the over likely rests on swing games against Notre Dame and Penn State.

Michigan State (Opening Number: 9.5)

Braden Gall: Over
There are a lot of losses on defense but some serious talent returning as well. The offense is a strength for the first time in years, and Mark Dantonio is still running the show in East Lansing. Getting Ohio State at home makes the over almost a foregone conclusion.
Steven Lassan: Over
This pick seems like one of the safest on the board in the Big Ten. I think Michigan State could win at Oregon, but road trips to Penn State and Maryland (one week after playing Ohio State) could be tougher than some may expect. Even though Mark Dantonio needs to replace a few names on defense, the offense will be dangerous with the return of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.

Ohio State (Opening Number: 10.5)

Braden Gall: Over
The Buckeyes have been 12-0 in the last two regular seasons and this defensive line is much better than the previous two teams. With Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer still joined at the hip on offense, there is no reason to think they won win at least 11 games again.
Steven Lassan: Over
There are few obstacles standing in the way of a playoff run by Ohio State. The offensive line is a concern, and the defense has to improve, but coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Braxton Miller is still one of the best combinations in the nation. The Buckeyes play at Penn State and Michigan State, but a split of those two games is likely.

Penn State (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Over
The offensive line is a major concern but the quarterback is special and the new coaching staff is one of the best in the land. Most importantly, the schedule is a cinch with two, maybe three, tough games all year.
Steven Lassan: Over
Perhaps our magazine prediction of 10 wins for Penn State is a bit high, but I think the over is very attainable. The Nittany Lions host both Ohio State and Michigan State this year and catch UCF without Blake Bortles in the opener. Also, new coach James Franklin always maximized the talent on the roster at Vanderbilt.

Rutgers (Opening Number: 4.5)

Braden Gall: Under
Rutgers got a really bad draw in its first Big Ten season with a tough non-conference game in Seattle against Washington State, as well as Wisconsin and Nebraska in crossover play. More than one Big Ten win is a long shot.
Steven Lassan: Under
Expect Ralph Friedgen to help the offense, but Rutgers still has concerns about its secondary and the consistency of quarterback Gary Nova. The schedule is brutal, and after winning six games in the American Athletic Conference, some regression is ahead in the Big Ten in 2014.

Big Ten West Division


Illinois (Opening Number: 5)

Braden Gall: Under
The talent simply isn’t there for Tim Beckman to work with. The offense under Bill Cubit will be solid, but this team has to play at Washington in non-conference action before getting Ohio State and Penn State in crossover matchups. Unlucky Illini win four times in 2014.
Steven Lassan: Under
Tempted to take the push here. I have no doubt Illinois is going to score a ton of points this year. Unfortunately, the Fighting Illini still has major concerns on defense. Perhaps Illinois pulls an upset at home against Minnesota or Penn State, but until I see improvement on defense, the under is the better pick.

Iowa (Opening Number: 8.5)

Braden Gall: Under
The schedule sets up nicely for Iowa, but this team rarely is good when it’s supposed to be. The defense is rebuilding and the offense is still one of the Big Ten’s worst (9th a year ago). The Hawkeyes will slip up once on the road (at Pitt, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois) and that gives me the under.
Steven Lassan: Over
Iowa is the biggest threat to Wisconsin in the West Division this year. Sure, the Hawkeyes need to replace all three linebackers, but that’s usually a strength under Kirk Ferentz. With the Badgers and Nebraska visiting Kinnick Stadium, Iowa will have a chance to surprise in 2014.

Minnesota (Opening Number: 6.5)

Braden Gall: Under
This program is heading in the right direction but some key pieces are gone from a team that won eight games last year. A non-conference road trip to TCU makes seven wins look very difficult.
Steven Lassan: Under
I think it’s likely the Golden Gophers could be a better overall team than they were in 2013, but it may not show in the win column in 2014. A road trip to TCU limits the win total to three in non-conference play, and the November slate is brutal with games against Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Seems like six is the perfect number for Minnesota.

Nebraska (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Push
Death, taxes and four losses for Bo Pelini. Another 8-4 season appears to be in the cards for Nebraska with two tricky non-conference game (at Fresno State, Miami) as well as a really tough road Big Ten slate: at Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Steven Lassan: Push
This one is tough. I think eight or nine is the right number, and I could probably switch my opinion on that one on a daily basis. With Miami breaking in a new quarterback, the Sept. 20 matchup against the Hurricanes looks very winnable. However, the road slate in the Big Ten is challenging, and Bo Pelini’s team catches Michigan State in crossover play.

Northwestern (Opening Number: 6)

Braden Gall: Push
There is no way the Wildcats are as unlucky as they were a year ago (See: Hail Mary and injuries). Logic would indicate with a coach as solid as Pat Fitzgerald and just a touch of luck, Northwestern will at least get back to a bowl game.
Steven Lassan: Over
Bad luck and injuries hindered Northwestern last season. A healthy Venric Mark makes a big difference at running back, and the defense takes a step forward with seven starters returning.

Purdue (Opening Number: 3.5)

Braden Gall: Under
This team was so uncompetitive a year ago that winning three more games in 2014 seems highly unlikely. The West Division is easier but Notre Dame and Michigan State are on the slate too. A 3-9 season would be marked improvement (right?).
Steven Lassan: Under
Darrell Hazell’s second year at Kent State resulted in a six-game improvement from a 5-7 record in 2011. Don’t expect to see a similar jump in the win total, but I do see Purdue making small progress in 2014. However, small progress is winning only three games and being more competitive against Big Ten opponents.

Wisconsin (Opening Number: 9.5)

Braden Gall: Over
The schedule is very manageable with the exception of one tough non-conference game (LSU) and two tough divisional bouts. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the Badgers losing very often.
Steven Lassan: Over
There’s a ton of new faces stepping into the starting lineup for the Badgers in 2014. However, the schedule is very manageable, with the toughest games against Nebraska and Iowa taking place late in the year – allowing plenty of time for Wisconsin to develop its passing attack.
Big Ten Win Total Projections for 2014
Post date: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-june-5-2014

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

The Oregon cheerleaders are apparently enjoying their summer.

• Spurs-themed haircuts have become a thing in San Antonio. Here's the best one I've seen.

Baseball lost a legend yesterday. RIP, Zim.

• Chris Davis' teammates ignored him after his home run, so he high-fived the teammates of his imagination.

Lip-readers will enjoy A.J. Pierzynski's takedown of the home-plate umpire. Worth the ejection.

A breakdown of the mistakes that led to the Kings' Game 1-winning goal.

Colin Kaepernick's insane-sounding contract is actually more team-friendly than it appears.

The 14 smartest players in college football in 2014.

An accused carjacker gave a live TV interview and even tried to hit on the reporter. He was later arrested.

• Creative senior prank: The kids hired a mariachi band to follow the principal around.

A Ghanian witch doctor is claming credit for Cristiano Ronaldo's injury problems

• A Rays reporter got choked up sharing the news of Don Zimmer's death.


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

Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/its-time-washington-redskins-change-their-name

Matthew McConaughey doesn’t look like he cares. Daniel Snyder certainly appears to have no cause for concern. Robert Griffin III doesn’t have time to worry. And I don’t really care either.


But, the thing is, it really isn’t up to any of us to decide if the Washington Redskins should change their name.


It’s up to our Native American brethren to decide — maybe, with a little help from some corporate sponsorship (or lack there of) — if the name “Redskins” is offensive.


Is the term offensive to me? Not particularly. I've never lost one minute of sleep over what any of our sports teams, college or pro, are called. But as a white male in this country, it’s not my place to decide if the name is hateful or not.


(Photo by Dianna Marie Russini)

As Snyder and many others have reported, there is plenty of support for the Redskins name among Native Americans. That is their prerogative and their right and we should all respect that. But that opinion is not one that is shared amongst all Native Americans, and if there is just one cross-section, one group or one tribe who deem this term insulting, then isn’t changing the name the right thing to do?


When Snyder created The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (OAF), the National Congress of American Indians responded:

“This foundation will only contribute to the problems in Indian Country if it does not address the very real issue of how Native people are consistently stereotyped, caricaturized and denigrated by mascot imagery and the use of the R-Word slur.”


Look up the word “redskin” in any dictionary. The one word that is consistent throughout all definitions is “offensive.” It doesn’t take an Ivy League professor of sociology to understand that the word isn’t meant as a compliment. Even if it is just used to describe a football team.


Imagine how horrific the response would be if “red” was changed to describe any other race of American citizen? We would, rightly so, explode in outrage.


From a moral standpoint, the decision seems pretty clear. Even if I’ve only ever used the word to describe a bunch of grown men running head-first into each other at full speed for millions of dollars.


As much as I don’t want this type of debate to be removed from the court of public opinion and placed into the hands of politicians, unfortunately, it’s the powerbrokers in D.C. and Corporate USA who could control the future of the name. Recently, 50 U.S. Senators signed a letter urging the NFL to formerly support a name change. In a perfect world, these elected officials are representing their constituents. In a perfect world, their motives would be completely pure and for the betterment of the people.


We all know this isn’t a world we live in and that money, not moral obligation, is the driving force behind most major decisions. The NFL won’t be forced into action based on a letter signed by Harry Reid. No, it would formally support a name change if — and only if — the debate begins to impact the bottom line. That means sponsorship dollars.


A recent social media ploy/blunder from the Redskins to garner public support over NOT changing their name completely backfired. If the responses to the below tweet are indicative of how the greater Native American population feels — which may still be up for debate — then the discussion has reached a tipping point.

It's Time for the Washington Redskins to Change Their Name
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nba/heat-spurs-2014-nba-finals-preview

The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat face off for the second year in a row in the NBA Finals. Last year, the flashy stars from South Beach prevailed over the fundamental, blue-collar team from the Lonestar State. But this year, the home court advantage is reversed, with the majority of the games being played at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. 

The reigning champions had a rocky road leading up to the playoffs, entering the bracket as the No. 2 seed behind the Indiana Pacers. However, the Miami Heat have flipped a switch in the postseason, displaying a dominance and efficiency that has the sports world on the edge of its seat. The Spurs, as usual, steadily steamrolled their opponents all season with a 62-20 record. Their win mark is one of the franchise’s best record in the past 10 years and although the Spur’s big three is cumulatively 106 years old, the team is playing with a remarkable level of youth and energy. 

The NBA Finals air on ABC during primetime (typically at 9 p.m. ET) and will likely register some of the highest TV ratings the NBA has ever seen.  The coaches are the same and the stars are the same, but there have been some changes that may affect the outcome of the series. The NBA Finals has switched the format from a 2-3-2 setup, which was implemented in order to reduce travel issues, to a 3-2-1-1-1 format. This slight change means that the Spurs have true home court advantage this year, which could prove to be a deciding factor since these squads are so evenly matched. Bookies at Bovada list the odds of the Spurs winning at 4/5 with the Heat as the underdog at 21/20. The teams wanted to see each other again, the fans wanted it too, and the NBA gods have blessed us with a Heat-Spurs II, a showdown that should be one for the ages.


Game No.DateTime
Game 1 (in San Antonio)Thursday, June 5th9:00 PM
Game 2 (in San Antonio)Sunday, June 8th8:00 PM
Game 3 (in Miami)Tuesday, June 10th9:00 PM
Game 4 (in Miami)Thursday, June 12th9:00 PM
Game 5 (in San Antonio)*Sunday, June 15th8:00 PM
Game 6 (in Miami)*Tuesday, June 17th9:00 PM
Game 7 (in San Antonio)*Friday, June 20th9:00 PM

Positional Matchups

Point Guard
Tony Parker continues to dazzle spectators with his quick and smooth style of play, even in his later years. There's no question that he's one of the premier guards in the NBA, one could even make the argument for Parker as the league’s best. He is, in my opinion, the most important cog in the Spurs’ well-oiled machine and plays well on both ends of the court.  Parker is nursing an ankle injury that could mean problems for the Spurs if he's not 100%.  A true warrior, Tony insists he's fine and will play in Game 1 so only time will tell if his body is in good enough condition to finish out the season on a high note.

The Heat have a less solid answer at the PG position, with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, LeBron James and even Dwyane Wade taking the ball up the floor at times. Against the Pacers, Cole slowly worked his way into playing big time minutes and was highly effective against the 1 seed, averaging a +12 impact in the Heat’s wins. But in this series last year, Chalmers played the fourth most minutes on the team. Additionally, in the regular season matchups, Chalmers has been featured as the main point guard and is capable of guarding Tony Parker. Chalmers is volatile, as evidenced by his explosion against the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. The most important way that Chalmers can affect the game though is on defense, since the Heat have enough scoring at other positions.

Verdict: Advantage Spurs

Shooting Guard
The Spurs are an extremely versatile team at the 2 spot, with terrific role players such as Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, and Marco Bellinelli filling in from time to time. All of those guys, except Ginobili, offer a dangerous weapon off the edge: deadly 3-point shooting. Last year, Green lit up the defending champs from beyond the arc, and Popovich will do all he can to create the same shooting barrage again this year, regardless of who it comes from.

The Heat have two future Hall of Famers playing at the SG position, so they have little to fear regarding this matchup. Dwyane Wade is much healthier now than he was at this time last year, which is one of the major reasons the Spurs shouldn’t be too confident heading into the series. Ray Allen is the best shooter in the history of the NBA and he usually comes off the bench. That’s how stacked this Heat team is.  As long as these two stay on the floor and play quality defensive minutes, the Heat can count on a win in this area.

Verdict: Advantage Heat 

Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard has been developing into a quietly talented player. Whenever the Spurs’ big three decide to retire (which will never happen), Kawhi will take over and become the team’s most important contributor. He has the size and athleticism to match LeBron James on defense, which is crucial for any team that wants to beat the Heat. Guarding the King is easier said than done though, and over the course of a 7-game series, you simply aren’t going to outplay the best player in the world.

LeBron James. You see him on TV everyday. He can guard every player on the court and he can score on anyone. If he plays his best on any given night, he wins the matchup and the Heat most likely win the game. Last year in the finals, LeBron nearly averaged a triple double. After being denied the MVP award this season, James is looking to send a message to the league that the King still reins over the NBA. LeBron forced Charlotte and Brooklyn's defenders into foul trouble and the Pacers were outright overwhelmed by his greatness. Even 1st Team NBA defender Paul George couldn't contain James, which leads one to believe that Kawhi Leonard is in for a long series.

Verdict: Advantage Heat

Power Forward

Tim Duncan is 38 years old and he’s better than you. If you made the case for him as the best PF of all time, I’d listen, so don’t feel too bad that he’d school you and the rest of the NBA’s big men in the low post over and over again. What Duncan lacks in athleticism he makes up for in wisdom and experience.  He’s won 50 or more games every season he’s been in the NBA, making him a model of consistency and the league’s golden standard of professionalism. He’s too tall for Chris Bosh and too skilled for Chris Andersen, so it’s a given that Duncan will produce during this series. The real issue will be slowing him down.

At power forward for the Heat, a couple of players can make an impact.  Udonis Haslem might see some minutes but he’s too small to guard Duncan. LeBron James can shift into the 4 offensively if the Heat want to play super-small-ball, which he did for a good portion of last year’s NBA Finals. Rashard Lewis has been playing decently as of late, but ultimately one of the Heat’s biggest challenges will be finding players to matchup against the Spurs’ bigs. Bosh usually checks in at center, but this series he may find himself paired with Birdman in order to add some size to the lineup. 

Verdict: Advantage Spurs

The Spurs’ weakest position is down low at center, but don’t let Tiago Splitter hear you say that. Splitter averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds this year and is probably best known for LeBron’s vicious rejection on his dunk attempt last year in the NBA Finals. Yet his size advantage (6’11) makes him a real factor in this series and a key player to watch. He may not be the most exciting athlete on the court, but if Splitter can corral a good amount of rebounds against the Heat, the Spurs may be hoisting the coveted golden ball over their heads this year.     

It’s often overlooked: Chris Bosh is a great player. Playing alongside Wade and James, Bosh can sometimes be overshadowed by his more explosive counterparts.  But when Bosh plays well, the Heat’s winning percentage is through the roof. No one can truly stop Tim Duncan, but if Chris Bosh gets his mid-range jumper going, the same can be said about him. Bosh has added a new facet to his game this year: the 3-pointer. If Bosh heats up from outside, he’ll force the Spurs’ big men to close out quicker on his shots. With the lane clear, LeBron and Wade will have a field day against the Spurs. Even when he plays his best basketball, Bosh is always more of a role player on this Heat team, creating space and diverting defenders away from his teammates. But this role is critical to the team’s success and Bosh seems to have gotten into a groove late in the 2014 playoffs.

Verdict: Advantage Heat


The Spurs have the best bench in basketball. Almost every player subbing in for San Antonio can knock down threes like James Jones can in a shooting contest. Manu Ginobili has the most left-handed points of all time in the playoffs, and he comes off the bench. When Boris Diaw isn’t occupied at the buffet line, he guards LeBron James surprisingly effectively. The Heat have some serviceable guards and forwards that can offer relief at times, but few of their bench players are that dependable. Rashard Lewis had a great series against the Pacers, even when he wasn’t scoring. But the biggest addition that the Heat can look to against the Spurs will be Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who brings the defending champs an intensity and an uncanny ability to block shots and finish plays that energizes the team and the fanbase. Overall, the Spurs just have too much firepower off the bench and because of their trio’s age, their role players have played valuable minutes over the course of the season that should benefit them down the stretch.

Verdict: Advantage Spurs

Coaching Matchup

Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. He won the Coach of the Year award this year for stringing together 62 wins with guys who physically shouldn’t be playing basketball any longer. But, Erik Spoelstra triumphed in this matchup last year, and many critics questioned Popovich’s lineup that allowed the Heat to earn an incredible comeback win in Game 6 last year. This is Spo’s fourth finals appearance in four years, as he has mastered the art of small-ball that is taking the league by storm. You have to give him credit for resting Wade for most of this year and still making it to the NBA Finals. Still, Pop is one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport. It's hard to bet against that.

Verdict: Advantage Spurs


Through the 6 matchups, I have the Heat and Spurs tied 3-3. Much like this outcome, I expect the series to be extremely closely contested. I give a slight edge to the Heat because they have the best player in the world and they are peaking at the perfect time. With Tony Parker’s ankle in doubt and Wade at prime physical form, the Heat have just enough gas left in the tank to grab another championship.

Verdict: Heat in 7

What It Means For Their Legacies

There are almost too many storylines to cover heading into this year’s NBA Finals. Coach Pop is aiming to become the fifth coach in league history to register five NBA championships (he would tie Pat Riley for fifth place). Coach Spo is trying to become the fourth coach to pull off the 3-peat. The Spurs are out for revenge and hoping to solidify themselves as the best post-Jordan’s Bulls franchise. The Heat are in their fourth NBA Finals, which hasn’t been done since the mid-'80s. Duncan and James are each gunning for a Finals MVP, which would give LeBron his third straight and Duncan his fourth total, both amazing accomplishments. The loser of this series could be deprived of an opportunity to make history. This is likely the Spurs’ last shot at a championship because of age restraints, but we’ve been saying that for years. If the Heat lose, with the upcoming free agency period looming, the roster could be altered monumentally and their fantasy-team potentially dismantled. Whatever the case is, this series is a high stakes rematch that will vault the winner into the argument for the greatest dynasties of all time. But no pressure.

Heat-Spurs: 2014 NBA Finals Preview
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/mountain-west-2014-football-predictions

2014 Mountain West Predictions

Mountain DivisionMWOverall 
1. Boise State (No. 46)7-111-2 
2. Utah State (No. 49)6-29-4 
3. Colorado State (No. 74)5-37-5 
4. Wyoming (No. 94)3-55-7 
5. Air Force (No. 105)1-74-8 
6. New Mexico (No. 106)1-73-9 
West DivisionMWOverall 
1. Fresno State (No. 62)8-57-1 
2. Nevada (No. 82)5-36-6 
3. San Diego State (No. 83)5-37-5 
4. UNLV (No. 101)4-45-8 
5. San Jose State (No. 103)3-54-8 
6. Hawaii (No. 118)1-72-11 
Mountain West Championship
 Boise State over Fresno State 
The Mountain West didn’t have any changes in membership or realignment talk this offseason, but it was a busy period for the conference’s top programs.
Boise State lost coach Chris Petersen to Washington, but former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired away from Arkansas State to keep the program at the top of the conference. Harsin inherits a team that returns 12 starters, but there are concerns for the Broncos on the offensive and defensive lines. Youth and injuries hurt Boise State’s overall depth last season, and a challenging schedule is on tap early in the year, including a neutral site game against Ole Miss.
Boise State is Athlon’s projected champion in the Mountain West, but the Broncos are ranked only No. 46 nationally. The Mountain West isn’t as strong as it was in 2013, largely due to the personnel losses at Utah State and Fresno State. The Aggies are a close No. 2 in the Mountain Division to Boise State, and quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back from a torn ACL suffered in early October. Keeton’s return is crucial for an offense that returns only three starters and must replace four key cogs on the line.
Even though Colorado State loses standout center Weston Richburg and running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams were a clear No. 3 in Athlon’s predictions for the Mountain Division. Quarterback Garrett Grayson leads an improving passing attack, and third-year coach Jim McElwain has the program trending in the right direction.
Rounding out the rest of the Mountain Division is Wyoming, Air Force and New Mexico. New Wyoming coach Craig Bohl was one of the top hires by any program this offseason, and the Cowboys could push for a bowl in 2014. Air Force and New Mexico will also show improvement, but both programs have to find answers on defense to push for a postseason appearance.
Fresno State is Athlon’s projected champion of the West Division, and the Bulldogs have a considerable edge over Nevada and San Diego State. Despite losing quarterback Derek Carr, Fresno State is still a Mountain West title contender, as receiver Josh Harper is one of the best in the conference, and eight starters return on an improving defense.

Mountain West Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

Las Vegas: MW vs. Pac-12
New Orleans: MW vs. Sun Belt
Poinsettia: MW vs. Navy
Hawaii: MW vs. C-USA
Famous Idaho Potato: MW vs. MAC
New Mexico: MW vs. C-USA
It’s a tossup between Nevada and San Diego State for the No. 2 spot, but the Wolf Pack should be better in the second year under Brian Polian. Quarterback Cody Fajardo battled injuries last season, and new coordinator Scott Boone should help a defense that allowed over 500 yards per game in 2013. The Aztecs should be solid once again, but a tough road schedule could prevent this team from matching last year’s eight wins.
UNLV made considerable progress under Bobby Hauck last year, but the Rebels are banned from postseason play. Hauck will have to fight motivation concerns all year, and standout guard Cameron Jefferson transferred to Arkansas this summer.
San Jose State has to find a replacement for quarterback David Fales, and coach Ron Caragher hopes the addition of veteran coordinator Greg Robinson will improve a defense that allowed 35.1 points per game in 2013.
Hawaii is picked to finish No. 6 in the West, as the Warriors have a handful of question marks on both sides of the ball. A full season from running back Joey Iosefa will help, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback, and the defense allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors showed some improvement in Norm Chow’s second year and need to take another step forward to escape the bottom of the West Division in 2014.
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff


Five Key Conference Games to Watch in 2014

San Diego State at Fresno State (Oct. 3)
Aztecs lost by seven in overtime last year. Without Derek Carr and Davante Adams, can the Bulldogs hold off San Diego State once again?
Fresno State at Boise State (Oct. 17)
Rematch of last year’s entertaining 41-40 shootout at Fresno, and this game could be an early preview of the Mountain West title game in December.
San Diego State at Boise State (Nov. 15)
Aztecs have won two in a row over Boise State. Can San Diego State continue their success against the Broncos?
Fresno State at Nevada (Nov. 22)
If the Wolf Pack want to challenge for the West Division title, beating the Bulldogs on Nov. 22 is a must.
Utah State at Boise State (Nov. 29)
The Aggies have not won a game at Boise since 1996. A win over the Broncos on Nov. 29 could decide the Mountain Division.
Mountain West 2014 Football Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2014-predictions
2014 Pac-12 Predictions
North DivisionPac-12Overall
1. Oregon (No. 6)7-211-2
2. Stanford (No. 12)7-29-3
3. Washington (No. 24)5-49-4
4. Oregon State (No. 53)3-66-6
5. Washington State (No. 56)3-66-6
6. California (No. 76)1-82-10
South DivisionPac-12Overall
1. UCLA (No. 7)7-210-3
2. USC (No. 14)6-39-3
3. Arizona State (No. 16)6-39-3
4. Arizona (No. 45)4-57-5
5. Utah (No. 54)4-56-6
6. Colorado (No. 71)1-84-8
Pac-12 Championship
Oregon over UCLA

The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has made considerable progress in closing the gap over the last few seasons. The Pac-12 is positioned to produce a few contenders in the new playoff format, and the league features a wide-open battle for the No. 1 spot in 2014.

Oregon is Athlon’s projected champion of the Pac-12, but Stanford, UCLA and USC aren’t far behind. The Ducks need to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy and find new set of receivers after the loss of Bralon Addison for the year due to injury.

Stanford has defeated Oregon in each of the last two years and is a close No. 2 in the North. Both teams are breaking in new defensive coordinators, but there is a clear advantage in the schedule to Oregon. The Cardinal has a tougher slate ahead – one that features five teams projected to finish in Athlon’s top 25 for 2014. Despite the changes on the coaching staff, Stanford should be solid on defense, while quarterback Kevin Hogan should benefit from a stocked receiving corps.

Washington is projected to finish No. 3 in the North, and the Huskies will be an intriguing team to watch. With quarterback Cyler Miles back in the mix, Chris Petersen’s first year in Seattle got a lot easier. Petersen was regarded as one of the nation’s top coaches from his stint at Boise State, and he inherits a team with enough talent to push Oregon or Stanford in the North standings.

Rounding out the North Division projections is Oregon State at No. 4, Washington State at No. 5 and California at No. 6. The Golden Bears struggled in Sonny Dykes’ first year, but injuries played a major role in the team’s win total. With better luck in the health department, combined with improvement by quarterback Jared Goff, California will be a much-improved team in 2014. Oregon State and Washington State have a chance to surprise this year, but both teams have considerable question marks on the offensive line.

Much like the North Division, the South is crowded at the top. UCLA is Athlon’s projected champion, but USC is a close No. 2. The Bruins have one of the conference’s toughest schedules in 2014. However, UCLA hosts USC, Stanford and Oregon this year. The Bruins also return quarterback Brett Hundley and seven starters from one of the Pac-12’s top defenses.

USC appears to have the right coach in Steve Sarkisian, but the Trojans still have depth issues from NCAA sanctions. If USC avoids major injuries – especially on the offensive line – the Trojans could be a top-10 team in 2014.

Arizona State is the defending Pac-12 South champion, and Todd Graham’s team will be in the mix once again. However, the Sun Devils have several holes to fill on defense. Only two starters are back, and standouts like tackle Will Sutton must be replaced.

Arizona is an intriguing team to watch in 2014. The Wildcats are making steady gains under third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback, and running back Ka’Deem Carey must be replaced.

Utah and Colorado are predicted to finish at the bottom of the South, but both teams will show improvement in 2014.

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)


Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions

Stanford has beaten Oregon two years in a row and won the division title two years in a row, yet Oregon is the pick again. Please explain.

Maybe we’re slow learners, but we still like Oregon in the Pac-12. A healthy Marcus Mariota is perhaps the top quarterback in the country and a Heisman contender. When Mariota’s mobility was hindered due to injury, Oregon’s offense stalled. He’ll have to stay healthy, and with five returning offensive linemen, that’s possible. We’re a little curious how the Ducks’ defense will turn out with Nick Aliotti gone, but Oregon has a building block at every level of the defense, led by Thorpe-contending cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford should remain a Pac-12 contender, but the Cardinal lost much of the foundation of the last two teams, both on the offensive line and in the linebacker corps. Stanford should be able to reload, but that process might not be immediate. We also have questions about Kevin Hogan’s potential. He doesn’t need to be as dynamic a quarterback as many of his counterparts in the Pac-12, but he needs to give Stanford more than he did last season. It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the North, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Oregon has a much easier schedule than Stanford in 2014. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Washington, with Chris Petersen now in charge, seems to be on the move. Can this team challenge Stanford for second place in the North?

Yes. In our rankings meeting, we even talked about Washington finishing as high as second in the North. Many of the big names are gone on offense, including Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but Washington’s offense should be in capable hands with highly regarded quarterback prospect Cyler Miles, who was reinstated to the team after spring practice. Five offensive line starters return, three of whom were honorable mention All-Pac-12 selections. The defense also returns seven starters. Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the roster with top-25 classes from 2010-13, so the core of this team is ready to compete. Throw in a Stanford team with question marks, and one that Washington has played well the last two seasons, and the Huskies could be ready to make a move. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

What gives UCLA the edge in the South? The Bruins have a tough schedule.

The schedule is tough, as UCLA draws Oregon and Stanford for the second consecutive season, plus a road trip to Washington from the North. But compared to last season, UCLA gets a bit of a break. The Bruins faced both Stanford and Oregon last year, both on the road and in back-to-back weeks. Having both games at home separated by seven weeks is a fortunate change of pace. In addition, UCLA may be equipped to handle a tough schedule. Brett Hundley will be one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, and he is surrounded by outstanding talent. With a coaching change at USC and the defense rebuilding at Arizona State, the timing has never been better for UCLA to compete for a Pac-12 title under Jim L. Mora. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Is there a potential sleeper in the North?

Washington is definitely a team that could surprise this year, but let’s use the sleeper designation on a team picked No. 5 in the standings – Washington State. The Cougars took a step forward under Mike Leach last year, finishing 6-7 and winning four games in Pac-12 play. With 12 starters back, Washington State could improve upon its win total even more in 2014. Quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 4,597 yards and 34 scores last season and has another offseason to learn Leach’s pass-first offense. The Cougars also have one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps, along with an underrated front seven on defense. The biggest areas of concern are in the secondary, and an offensive line that has just two starters back. Expect more improvement from Washington State in 2014, and this team has potential to pull an upset or two this year. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff

Arizona has a big question at quarterback. If the Wildcats find a suitable signal-caller, can they challenge?

That’s an interesting question, considering that at this point last season, no one would have picked B.J. Denker to be the quarterback to lead Arizona to an 8–5 season. With Denker gone, Arizona has a crowd at quarterback, but the pieces are there for the winner of the job to succeed — an experienced offensive line and standout receiving corps. We wonder how the running game will recover without Ka’Deem Carey, but, again, this is an area to trust Rich Rodriguez. The defense has improved under RichRod, but this is still a team with too many questions to realistically compete with UCLA, USC and Arizona State. Can this team challenge for a bowl berth and a surprising season? Yes. A South Division title? No. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

What is Utah’s outlook in the South?

After winning four conference games in their Pac-12 debut in 2011, the Utes are just 5-13 over the last two years. Utah has also missed a bowl for two consecutive seasons. Despite the losing record from 2012-13, the Utes could rebound back into the postseason in 2014. Sure, the schedule is tough. Crossover games against Oregon and Stanford will be challenging, and Utah has a non-conference date against Michigan. However, quarterback Travis Wilson is on track to return to the team, and new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen should help an offense that averaged only 29.2 points per game last season. As usual, Utah will be solid on defense. It may require an upset, but the Utes have a good shot to get back into the postseason in 2014. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Which of Cal or Colorado is closer to being relevant?

Both teams are a long way from returning to where they’ve been, but Colorado is in better shape for 2014 and the short-term future. Both teams struggled to compete against Pac-12 teams last year, but Colorado defeated Cal 41–24 in mid-November. Cal had an exodus of players leaving early for the NFL Draft, plus a restructuring of the defensive coaching staff. Colorado, which returns 14 starters, had no such turnover in Mike MacIntyre’s second offseason. That’s going to give Colorado a leg up as the Buffaloes try to return to bowl contention. Both teams are improving, but it would be a surprise to see either in a bowl this year. – David Fox (@DavidFox615) 

2014 Pac-12 Team Previews


Pac-12 Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

At-Large Access Bowl: Pac-12 Champion*

Alamo: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

Holiday: Pac-12 vs. Big Ten

San Francisco: Pac-12 vs. Big Ten

Sun: Pac-12 vs. ACC

Las Vegas: Pac-12 vs. Mountain West

Buffalo Wild Wings: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff

OregonArizona State
Oregon StateColorado
Washington StateUtah



Pac-12 Notebook


by Dan Raley


Help Wanted

In search of a starting quarterback, Arizona had six players take significant snaps in spring practice. There were recycled signal-callers galore, including little-used transfers from LSU, Louisiana Tech, USC and Texas. Big ones, short ones, everything but a clear-cut leader. It was a reality TV show in the making. Amazing Race II.

No Pac-12 position battle has more candidates, uncertainty or wackiness than the Wildcats’ long-running audition for someone to run the huddle. Coach Rich Rodriguez is still taking applications, checking references.

Just two of the spring QB candidates played in an actual game at the position, and their experience comes with a disclaimer: Nick Isham (transferred from Arizona after spring practice) started seven times for Louisiana Tech in 2011 and wound up that season as a wide receiver; Jesse Scroggins got in for a solitary play to end a USC game in 2011. That’s it.

Rodriguez likely will need most of fall camp to find his guy. Hey, does Nick Foles have any eligibility left?

“If you’re trying to figure that out, good luck,” Rodriguez says of the competition.

For Pete’s Sake 

He may be considered one of college football’s bright coaching minds after compiling a gaudy 92–12 record at Boise State, but Chris Petersen still has a lot to prove at Washington: Mainly, he needs to prove that, unlike his two Broncos coaching predecessors, he can make a splash at a bigger school.

In 2000, Dirk Koetter left Boise State — after collecting consecutive bowl victories and posting a 26–10 record — and landed at Arizona State, where he was fired after posting a mediocre 40–34 mark over six seasons. Dan Hawkins compiled a 53–11 record and won two of four bowl games in Boise through 2005, but he bombed at Colorado, winning just 19 of 58 outings in the Big 12. He was fired, too. 

“We just know our way,” a hopeful Petersen says of his Broncos-turned-Huskies staff. “It’s been successful for us.”

Leach’s Reach 

One of the Pac-12’s major developments in 2013 was Washington State’s return to the postseason. It had been a while — since the Holiday Bowl against Texas in 2003, to be exact. This particular step was an important barometer for rebuilding coach Mike Leach, overlooking the fact that the Cougars blew a 22-point lead to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl and lost 48–45.

“Even though we all felt like we left meat on the table, the program hadn’t been to a bowl game in 10 years,” Leach says. “So from that standpoint, we’re ahead of schedule.”

Oregon Identity Crisis

Arik Armstead is a 6’8”, 280-pound Oregon junior and a player long regarded as one of the top pro prospects in the Pac-12. The only question is where. The Ducks list him as a defensive tackle. He prefers defensive end. NFL scouts say, with his footwork, he should be an offensive tackle. One thing he’s not anymore: a college basketball player. After two abbreviated seasons with the Oregon hoops team, Armstead decided he was done trying to be a two-sport athlete and was ready to concentrate solely on football. “I have decided to focus my full attention on academics and being the best football player for the University of Oregon I could possibly be,” he said.

Secondary Issue

The late hiring didn’t get a lot of outside attention, coming on the eve of spring practice, but Stanford picked up one of the college game’s true characters in defensive backs coach Duane Akina. An inspirational and well-traveled leader, the fiery Akina was responsible for Texas being nicknamed “DBU” in his 13 seasons there, played a key role in the assembly of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense in his 14 seasons there, and first learned the game while handling two roles for Washington’s legendary coach, Don James, as a graduate assistant coach and Warren Moon’s backup quarterback. That’s a track record that's hard for anyone to beat.

Pros and Cons 

UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley took the bold step of passing on a certain NFL career and returning for one more season in Westwood. It was a decision worth millions. Had he come out, pro scouts considered Hundley a top-10 pick, possibly the top QB on the draft board.

Hundley, who will be a Heisman Trophy contender, consulted with former Bruins turned pro players in Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones, with the former telling him, “There are some things in life that you don’t want to rush.” Hundley’s decision likely would have been far different had UCLA coach Jim Mora accepted an offer to coach at Washington, his alma mater.


Pac-12 Coordinator Carousel


by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)


Arizona State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Chris Ball, Paul Randolph; New: Chris Ball, Keith Patterson

Randolph is still on staff and will continue to coach Arizona State’s defensive ends. Patterson, the defensive coordinator at West Virginia the past two seasons, has known Arizona State head coach Todd Graham for decades. The two were college roommates at East Central University in Texas, and Patterson previously worked for Graham at Pitt.

California: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Andy Buh; New: Art Kaufman

Buh is still at California but not in a coaching role. He was reassigned to a new role in the athletic department in March. Kaufman was fired as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in January despite leading the Bearcats’ defense to a final ranking of No. 9 nationally.

Oregon: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Nick Aliotti; New: Don Pellum

Aliotti retired following the 2013 season. Pellum was promoted after serving as a position coach — most recently linebackers — at Oregon since 1993. This is his first stint as a defensive coordinator on any level.

Oregon State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Danny Langsdorf; New: John Garrett

Langsdorf took a job as the quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants. Garrett was the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 after a six-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys. His brother, Jason, is the Cowboys’ head coach.

Stanford: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Derek Mason; New: Lance Anderson

Mason is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. Anderson was promoted from his position as outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.

UCLA: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Lou Spanos; New: Jeff Ulbrich

Spanos was hired by the Tennessee Titans to coach linebackers. Ulbrich was promoted after serving as UCLA’s linebackers coach the past two seasons. 

USC: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Lane Kiffin, Clay Helton; New: Clay Helton

Kiffin was fired as the Trojans’ head coach last October. He is now the offensive coordinator at Alabama. Helton was retained by new USC coach Steve Sarkisian.

USC: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Clancy Pendergast; New: Justin Wilcox

Pendergast was not retained by Steve Sarkisian and did not have a job as of late April. Wilcox followed Sarkisian from Washington, where he had been the Huskies’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons.

Utah: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Dennis Erickson, Brian Johnson; New: Dave Christensen

Erickson was demoted and will now only serve as the running backs coach. Johnson, a former starting quarterback at Utah, left in February to take a job as the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. Christensen was fired as the head coach at Wyoming following the 2013 season.

Washington: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Eric Kiesau; New: Jonathan Smith

Kiesau is now the wide receivers coach at Kansas. Smith, a former standout quarterback at Oregon State, previously was the quarterbacks coach at Boise State under new Washington coach Chris Petersen.

Washington: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Justin Wilcox; New: Pete Kwiatkowski

Wilcox followed Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC. Kwiatkowski was the defensive coordinator at Boise State the past four seasons. This is his first job in the Pac-12.

Pac-12 Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-win-total-projections-2014

The start of the 2014 college football season is still over 80 days away, but there is no shortage of news to fill the offseason in the SEC. The preview magazines for 2014 are already on newsstands, and Vegas isn’t far behind with its projections for the upcoming season.

CG Technology has released its win total projections for 2014, with Alabama picked the highest at the over/under of 10.5. The lowest team in the projections was Kentucky at just 3.5.

As expected, the East was a tossup. South Carolina checks in at the over/under of 9.5, while Georgia is on the board at nine. CG Technology also thinks Florida makes a big jump in the win total this year, as the Gators are placed at eight.

There is plenty of time to refine predictions over the next few months, but with the release of the win total projections, let’s take a look at the early thoughts on the over/under projections.

Athlon’s Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) give their early thoughts on CG Technology’s projections for 2014.

SEC Win Total Projections for 2014: Over, Under or Push

East Division

Opening Number: 8

Braden Gall: Under
A four-game improvement isn’t out of the question and this offense should be dramatically improved. But Alabama, Florida State and LSU are just the tip of the scheduling iceberg in Gainesville this year. I’ll say 7-5.

Steven Lassan: Under
Under, but not by much. Florida has too much talent to finish 4-8 again, and the Gators should have better luck in the injury department. New coordinator Kurt Roper should help Jeff Driskel develop into a solid quarterback, and Florida should be solid on defense once again. Crossover games against LSU and Alabama keep the Gators’ win total under eight.

Opening Number: 9

Braden Gall: Push
Two tough non-conference games and some brutal SEC tests (at South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, at Mizzou) means that the Bulldogs could win the East at 9-3 even if South Carolina has a better overall record.

Steven Lassan: Over
Georgia is my pick to win the SEC East this year, and I think the Bulldogs could push for 10 or 11 wins. Road games against Missouri and South Carolina are swing dates, and the annual trip to Jacksonville against Florida is never easy. The addition of Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, along with a healthy Todd Gurley at running back is enough for Georgia to get to 10 victories.

Opening Number: 3.5

Braden Gall: Over
The schedule is brutal, but the overall talent is improving for the Wildcats and this coaching staff has to be good for two more wins, right? Only one SEC win likely gets Kentucky to four wins.

Steven Lassan: Over
I see three guaranteed wins for Kentucky – Tennessee-Martin, Ohio and ULM. On paper, it’s hard to find a win in SEC play, but the Wildcats made progress under Mark Stoops last year and should take another step forward in 2014. I don’t know which team it will be, but I think Kentucky beats someone in the SEC this year.

Opening Number: 8

Braden Gall: Push
I really want to pick Mizzou to win the East but a couple of tough road games temper my expectations . I will take the push, however, due to a very weak non-conference slate. A 5-3 SEC mark wins the over on this bet.

Steven Lassan: Push
Missouri’s slate isn’t overwhelming, but it seems there are a lot of swing games. The Tigers play at Texas A&M and Tennessee late in the year – two teams that will improve as the season progresses. Could easy take the over here if Missouri finds a replacement for receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

South Carolina
Opening Number: 9.5

Braden Gall: Over
There are holes to plug on both sides (QB/DL) but this is a great year to rebuild in the East and the Gamecocks schedule isn’t overly taxing. South Carolina gets a lot of key games at home.

Steven Lassan: Over
Over, but it’s close. Road dates against Florida and Auburn will be challenging, and I like Georgia to win in Columbia this year. Even with the departure of quarterback Connor Shaw and a couple of key losses on the defensive line, South Carolina will be a top-10 team.

Opening Number: 5

Braden Gall: Push
This is the hardest schedule in the SEC in 2014 and it includes a road trip to Oklahoma in the non-conference. Even the Vols pull an upset, Tennessee has to win three SEC games to reach bowl eligibility and that is difficult to see.

Steven Lassan: Over
Admittedly, this is going to be tough. However, as I mentioned with Kentucky, I think Tennessee beats someone we don’t expect. The Volunteers should go 3-1 in non-conference play and will need to pickup three wins against SEC foes. The late-season slate – Kentucky, Missouri and at Vanderbilt – might be the best opportunity for the Volunteers to get to six victories.

Opening Number: 6

Braden Gall: Over
The non-conference schedule (or lack there of) provides four locks for the Dores so a 3-5 mark in the SEC would win the over. This is the toughest conference slate Vandy has played three years but three SEC wins feels very doable for a team with 18 wins in the last two seasons.

Steven Lassan: Push
Derek Mason has a tough assignment ahead as he tries to replace James Franklin after back-to-back nine-win seasons. If LSU transfer Stephen Rivers brings stability to the quarterback position, the Commodores have the defense and rushing attack to push for seven or eight wins. Vanderbilt should go 4-0 in non-conference play, with swing games against Kentucky and Mississippi State the key to whether or not the Commodores hit the over.


West Division

Opening Number: 10.5

Braden Gall: Over
But just barely. I have Bama winning the SEC and playing in the playoff so 11-1 is almost a must. Frankly, this isn’t an overly troublesome SEC schedule, especially for a team as talented as Bama.

Steven Lassan: Over
I get the preseason concerns about Alabama and the concern at quarterback. But let’s consider this: Only one of the Crimson Tide’s victories was decided by seven points or less last year (Texas A&M). Alabama still has plenty of talent, including a defense and rushing attack that will be among the best in the nation. It seems likely the Crimson Tide drops a game, but I can’t see two losses in the regular season.

Opening Number: 4.5

Braden Gall: Under
This one will be tight but with a really tough trip to Lubbock in the non-conference and another nasty slate in the SEC, it’s hard to find more than four wins for Bret Bielema and the Hogs.

Steven Lassan: Under
Much like Kentucky, Arkansas is going to show improvement in 2014. However, the SEC West is college football’s toughest division and there are few guaranteed wins. I would slot the Razorbacks in for wins against Nicholls State, Northern Illinois and UAB and bank on this team finding one in conference play. After all, Arkansas nearly beat LSU last year and lost by seven to Mississippi State on Nov. 23.

Opening Number: 9.5

Braden Gall: Under
This might be the toughest team to tackle (literally) in 2014. The offense should be unstoppable again but the defense has questions and the road schedule is nasty: at Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Miss. State and Kansas State.

Steven Lassan: Over
This might be the toughest prediction on the board. Auburn’s offense is lethal even without tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason. The defense will show improvement in the second year under coordinator Ellis Johnson. However, the biggest obstacle to Auburn’s win total is the schedule. Road dates against Mississippi State, Kansas State, Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss are all games the Tigers could lose.

Opening Number: 9

Braden Gall: Push
The Tigers have issues under center and play a pretty nasty slate, including a neutral site game with Wisconsin. The talent is still there to post another 9-10 wins but the rest of the league appears to have caught up with Les Miles. I'd go under if I had to pick one but Vegas seems to have this one right on.

Steven Lassan: Push
Don’t see LSU hitting the over, but I could see the under. The Tigers have loads of talent, but Les Miles’ team is very young at some key spots – quarterback, defensive tackle and wide receiver. The schedule isn’t terribly taxing, but Ole Miss and Mississippi State have closed the gap and road dates against Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida will be a challenge.

Mississippi State
Opening Number: 7

Braden Gall: Push
I really want to take the over and Hail State is surging on defense and under center. But the slate is still really tough and this team rarely finishes better than 3-5 in SEC play.

Steven Lassan: Over
The Bulldogs should be 4-0 in non-conference play, which means they need to get four wins in SEC play to hit the over. That seems reasonable with crossover games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, along with home dates against Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Ole Miss
Opening Number: 7.5

Braden Gall: Over
This feels like one of the safer bets on the board as the talent for Ole Miss is as strong as its ever been. It also gets some big swing games at home. An 8-4 seasons feels almost like a lock with 9-3 well within reach.

Steven Lassan: Over
There’s little doubt Ole Miss is trending in the right direction. The talent level is improving under coach Hugh Freeze, and the Rebels should have a healthy Bo Wallace at quarterback and C.J. Johnson at defensive end in 2014. Boise State and UL Lafayette are tough non-conference matchups, but with Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State visiting Oxford, the potential is there for Ole Miss to play spoiler. 8-4 is reasonable and don’t rule out a 9-3 finish.

Texas A&M
Opening Number: 7

Braden Gall: Push
This number is right on. The Aggies will really struggle early in the year but could be very dangerous late in the season (especially, with all those home games). Four easy wins in the non-conference makes the under tough to see.

Steven Lassan: Push
Tempted to take the under here, but I will guess Texas A&M finds a way to get to seven victories. The defense is a huge concern and losing linebacker Darian Claiborne and tackle Isaiah Golden certainly doesn’t help. The Aggies still have a ton of talent, and the offense will score plenty. Expect Texas A&M to improve throughout the year, making this team a threat to Missouri or LSU at the end of 2014.

SEC Win Total Projections for 2014
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /2014-college-football-summer-media-days-schedule

The Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 has been unveiled. This means that the next big date on the college football calendar will be summer media events.

Media Days are more matter of fact than breaking news but no matter how you view these kickoff luncheons, they signify the beginning of the season for most coaches, administrators, coaches and fans.

Here is a complete summer media days schedule for 2014:

SEC: July 14-July 17
Hoover, Ala. (Wynfrey Hotel)

Monday will feature Mike Slive and defending champ Gus Malzahn as well as Florida’s Will Muschamp and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason. Steve Spurrier, Dan Mullen, Kevin Sumlin and Butch Jones will visit with the throngs on Tuesday. Gary Pinkel, Les Miles and Bret Bielema go on Wednesday and Mark Richt, Hugh Freeze, Nick Saban and Mark Stoops show up on Thursday.

ACC: July 20-21
Greensboro, N.C. (Grandover Resort)

Always revolving around golf, the 14 schools will provide coaches and players as well as plenty of sunshine on the links.

Sun Belt: July 21
New Orleans, La. (Superdome)

Mountain West: July 22-23
Las Vegas, Nev. (The Cosmopolitan Hotel)

C-USA: July 22-23
Irving, Texas (TBD)

MAC: July 22-23
Detroit, Mich. (Ford Field)

Big 12: July 23-24
Dallas, Texas (Westin Galleria)

Wednesday will feature TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech while Thursday will be Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia.

Pac-12: July 23-24
Los Angeles, Calif. (The Studios at Paramount)

Few events are held at a cooler place than The Studios at Paramount. Players and coaches hobnob with media types from all over in the most laid back media days in the country.

Big Ten: July 28-29
Chicago, Ill. (Hilton Chicago)

The 43rd annual Kickoff Luncheon is always a highlight of the summer media tour as the keynote player speech has turned into a highlight. Kirk Cousins, Denard Robinson and John Urschel (last year) have given excellent performances of late.

American Athletic: July 28-29
Newport, R.I. (Hyatt Regency)

The final media event is always one of the more enjoyable from a media standpoint. Monday will feature a golf outing and dinner at the Hyatt Regency Newport while all players and coaches will visit with the media on Tuesday.

2014 College Football Summer Media Days Schedule
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 11:25
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-june-4-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for June 4.

Happy 29th birthday to swimsuit legend Bar Rafaeli.

Robocop threw out the first pitch at the Tigers game yesterday. He short-hopped it. Can't Detroit do anything right?

• This is fun: NHL logos redone, Simpsons-style.

• Vine of the day: 50 Cent vs. Bartolo Colon.

• Runner-up for Vine of the day: Jose Abreu almost kills a guy with a screaming liner. Put your head on a swivel when Abreu's batting.

• Second runner-up for Vine of the day: A video glitch gives Brett Lawrie a rather jittery batting stance.

So did Ben Tate diss Johnny Manziel or not? You be the judge.

Max Scherzer puzzled over a crossword clue about himself. The most interesting thing about the story to me: Scherzer's eyes are two different colors.

Wrestler Abdullah the Butcher gave another wrestler Hepatitis C in the ring. I'm going to go vomit now.

The Cubs are giving away a Babe Ruth "called shot" bobblehead. Three problems here: It looks nothing like him; he never actually called his shot; and the Cubs are honoring a moment that was bad for them. Other than that, great idea.

It'll be all business when tennis hotties Maria Sharapova and Genie Bouchard face off.

• Slightly terrifying moment from the Rays-Marlins game. Terrifying for Casey McGehee, anyway.


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

Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 10:59
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-finds-its-starting-qb-lsu-transfer-stephen-rivers

Vanderbilt heads into its first season under Derek Mason with uncertainty at quarterback, but the Commodores officially added LSU transfer Stephen Rivers into the mix on Wednesday. Rivers graduated from LSU, so he will be eligible to play immediately in 2014. The junior is expected to start for Vanderbilt in 2014, with Patton Robinette or Johnny McCrary battling for the No. 2 job.

In three years at LSU, Rivers threw two passes in mop-up duty and played in four career games.

The Alabama native is the brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and was a three-star recruit as a high school senior.

Although Rivers doesn’t have much experience, his addition bolsters a thin quarterback depth chart for Mason.

At 6-foot-7 and 223 pounds, Rivers is an intriguing prospect and will have to get acclimated to the offense in a hurry. Vanderbilt opens the year with Temple, followed by a SEC date against Ole Miss in Week 2.

New coordinator Karl Dorrell is expected to lean heavily on the ground game, but if Rivers develops into a solid option at quarterback, the Commodores should reach a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season.

Vanderbilt Finds its Starting QB in LSU Transfer Stephen Rivers
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 10:29
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/ranking-nfl-defensive-rookies-year-candidates-2014

Four rookies went to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Three played on offense and they all were from the NFC North — the Packers' Eddie Lacy, the Bears’ Kyle Long and Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson. The lone defensive Pro Bowler was San Francisco thumper Eric Reid.

However, the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year was Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The former Mizzou star and first-round pick (13th overall) was just the second non-linebacker to win the DROY award since 2002 (Ndamukong Suh in 2010). A linebacker has taken home nine of the last 11 DROY honors and no defensive back has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1998.

Additionally, the last seven DROYs were not only first-round picks but were all top-15 selections. DeMeco Ryans in 2006 was the last NFL DROY taken outside of the first round (33rd overall). So the best bets for 2014 ROY on defense would have to be a linebacker or a defensive lineman taken in the first half of the first round.

With that in mind, here are our favorites for AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014:

Note: Odds courtesy of

1. C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore (15/1)
He was taken with the 17th overall pick — basically, the halfway mark — and plays a pure linebacker position for a defense traditionally built around the position. Mosley is incredibly instinctual, will stuff the stat box, will play on a team pushing for a division title and/or playoff spot and should start from the first week of the season. Mosley is already a high-profile name after two national championships at Alabama, so he should be a household name quickly on the NFL level as well.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston (2/1)
Both literally and figuratively, the biggest name in the ’14 draft class is the star defensive end from South Carolina. The No. 1 overall pick could play a variety of spots for the Texans and is the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors according to Vegas lines. Clowney is a physical specimen the draft hasn’t seen since Julius Peppers won ROY a decade ago. With J.J. Watt opposite of Clowney, the Texans' hybrid pass-rusher has a great chance to live up to the remarkable hype.

3. Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh (8/1)
From a playmaking standpoint, few players were as good in college as the former Ohio State Buckeye. Shazier posted 144 tackles, 23.5 for a loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles last year. He was taken in the top 15 (15th) and lands on a team that is known for developing linebackers. Look for Shazier to play all over the defense, to stuff the stat sheet and find himself in the heart of the ROY race at year’s end.

4. Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland (4/1)
Mack is an explosive edge player that may get lost on  a really bad team. The former Buffalo Bulls linebacker could finish with admirable stats — 50 tackles, 12.0 TFL and 8.0 sacks, for example — and still not find himself atop the ROY charts. Playing in the Bay Area on a bad team is a recipe for obscurity. Barring a monstrous first season, Mack won’t win Rookie of the Year honors despite what many believe is electric playmaking ability.

5. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis (8/1)
The former Pitt Panthers nose guard posted arguably the most productive and decorated single-season in NCAA history for a D-lineman. He won every award and posted 59 tackles, 28.5 for a loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while stepping up in competition from the former Big East to the ACC. And with opposing offensive lines focused on Robert Quinn and Chris Long, Donald has a chance to have a Richardson-like season in St. Louis.

6. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Green Bay (25/1)
Few safeties step into a better situation than Clinton-Dix in Green Bay. He will learn alongside a great player in Morgan Burnett and comes from a school known for producing elite defensive backs. Clinton-Dix will start from day one and has a long track record of elite talent (five-star recruit) and big-time success (two-time NCAA champion). It’s tough for a defensive back to win the award but a playmaking safety in Titletown might be the best bet.

7. Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota (10/1)
Barr is a lengthy, prototypical hybrid edge rusher who was a terror getting after quarterbacks at UCLA. He posted 23 sacks over the last two seasons and has only been playing defense for a few seasons after entering college as an offensive player. Barr will have some development to get through but his size, athleticism and playmaking ability on a defense that is rebuilding quickly should make him a factor in the ROY race next year.

8. Deone Bucannon, S, Arizona (40/1)
On a team with an excellent front seven and plenty of other playmakers in the secondary, Bucannon has a chance to step right into a starting role and make a huge impact. What will make Bucannon a candidate for ROY, however, will be his highlight-reel hits. The former Washington State Cougars safety is arguably the hardest thumper in this class and his game film will stand out among most rookies.

9. Dee Ford, LB, Kansas City (15/1)
Normally, a first-round defensive lineman for the Chiefs would be a recipe for disaster but Ford should break that mold. First, he will play both end and linebacker but his bread and butter in college was rushing the passer. He will make plays off the edge for a team that is loaded with first-round picks all over the defense. He won’t be asked to be a star — which will help him develop into a better player but likely won’t get him into the ROY conversation.

10. Calvin Pryor, S, NY Jets (25/1)
As previously mentioned, defensive backs rarely win the ROY award but there is a trio of safeties in this class who are excellent players stepping into big roles on quality teams. Pryor is one of them as he should start right away for the defensive-minded Jets. He was a big-time winner and produced at an elite level for a Louisville team that won a lot of games during his career (try 23-3 in the last two seasons).

Other names to consider:

Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago (15/1)
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas (40/1)
Timmy Jernigan, DE, Baltimore (30/1)
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati (20/1)
Bradley Roby, CB, Denver (25/1)

Ranking the NFL Defensive Rookies of the Year Candidates for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/mac-football-2014-predictions

 2014 MAC Predictions

East DivisionMACOverall 
1. Bowling Green (No. 59)8-011-2 
2. Ohio (No. 95)5-37-5 
3. Akron (No. 97)5-36-6 
4. Buffalo (No. 104)4-46-6 
5. Kent State (No. 114)3-54-8 
6. Miami, Ohio (No. 120)2-63-9 
7. UMass (No. 121)2-62-10 
West DivisionMACOverall 
1. Toledo (No. 75)6-27-6 
2. N. Illinois (No. 77)6-28-4 
3. Ball State (No. 79)5-38-4 
4. Central Michigan (No. 107)4-45-7 
5. Western Michigan (No. 119)1-73-9 
6. Eastern Michigan (No. 124)1-72-10 
MAC Championship
 BGSU over Toledo 
College football’s new four-team playoff may have increased the gap between the power conference teams and the programs from conferences like the MAC, but the opportunity is still there for a team from outside the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC to make a splash on the national stage.
Northern Illinois crashed the BCS for the MAC during the 2012 season, and Bowling Green should be in contention for the top spot from teams outside of the power conferences. With college football’s new postseason format, the highest-ranked team from the five non-power conferences will play in one of college football’s top bowl games each year.
Guided by first-year coach Dino Babers, the Falcons are Athlon’s pick to win the MAC. Bowling Green averaged 34.8 points per game under former coach Dave Clawson, but with Babers at the controls and the return of quarterback Matt Johnson, the Falcons could push for 40 points a contest in 2014. Bowling Green’s schedule is very favorable, as a road trip to Toledo in late November is the toughest game on the slate.
After Bowling Green, the East appears to be up for grabs. Ohio versus Akron for the No. 2 spot was a huge debate in Athlon’s preseason prediction meeting, as the Bobcats have five consecutive winning seasons, while the Zips are making steady progress under Terry Bowden. The Nov. 18 road date in Athens could decide whether Ohio edges Akron for the No. 2 spot, or if the Zips are the biggest challenger to Bowling Green in the East.
Buffalo loses a handful of key players – including linebacker Khalil Mack and running back Branden Oliver – but Jeff Quinn’s team should remain in bowl contention. The Bulls return 11 starters, and quarterback Joe Licata threw only eight interceptions on 402 attempts last season. Buffalo will ask more of Licata in 2014, but a revamped receiving corps and a defense with seven new starters will be critical to the Bulls’ position in the MAC standings.
Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and UMass are the final three teams in the East predictions. The Minutemen and RedHawks should improve under new coaching staffs, while the Golden Flashes need to restock the offensive line and navigate a tough schedule that features crossover games against Northern Illinois and Toledo. The RedHawks were active in the transfer department under new coach Chuck Martin, with Notre Dame’s Andrew Hendrix (QB) and Lo Wood (CB) expected to play key roles in 2014. The Minutemen also landed a new quarterback in former Marshall product Blake Frohnapfel.
While the East Division pecking order seems to be more clear, the West Division is up for grabs. Three teams – Toledo, Ball State and Northern Illinois – are the frontrunners in 2014. However, there’s not much separation among those three programs. The Cardinals need to replace quarterback Keith Winning and receiver Willie Snead, but Pete Lembo – the No. 1 coach in the MAC, should find enough answers early in the year to keep Ball State in contention for the West Division title.
Toledo is Athlon’s pick to win the West, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Northern Illinois or Ball State finish No. 1. The Rockets should be explosive on offense with a standout offensive line and a solid set of skill players. Finding a new quarterback is the top priority for coach Matt Campbell.
Northern Illinois loses quarterback Jordan Lynch and safety Jimmie Ward, but there’s enough returning talent to compete for the West Division title. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Huskies’ MAC West title hopes that Toledo visits DeKalb in November.

Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014


MAC Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

GoDaddy: MAC vs. Sun Belt
Camellia: MAC vs. Sun Belt
Boca Raton: MAC vs. C-USA
Famous Idaho Potato: MAC vs. Mountain West
Bahamas: MAC vs. C-USA
Central Michigan returns 16 starters and should have a chance to get back to bowl eligibility in 2014. However, the Chippewas are just 1-11 under Dan Enos against the top three teams in the MAC West. For Central Michigan to take the next step under Enos, quarterback Cooper Rush needs to develop after a promising freshman season, and the defense has to get better against the run.
Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan rank as the bottom teams in the West Division, but there are signs of progress at both programs. The Broncos signed the MAC’s top recruiting class, while the Eagles seem to have found the right coach in Chris Creighton.


Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff


MAC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2014-predictions

2014 Big Ten Predictions

East DivisionBig TenOverall 
1. Ohio State (No. 3)7-112-1 
2. Michigan State (No. 11)7-110-2 
3. Penn State (No. 22)6-210-2 
4. Michigan (No. 32)5-38-4 
5. Maryland (No. 48)3-56-6 
6. Indiana (No. 58)2-65-7 
7. Rutgers (No. 73)1-74-8 
West DivisionBig TenOverall 
1. Wisconsin (No. 15)7-110-3 
2. Iowa (No. 26)6-29-3 
3. Nebraska (No. 29)5-39-3 
4. Northwestern (No. 51)3-56-6 
5. Minnesota (No. 52)3-56-6 
6. Illinois (No. 68)1-74-8 
7. Purdue (No. 80)0-83-9 
Big Ten Championship
 Ohio State over Wisconsin 
It’s a new era in the Big Ten in 2014. The conference expands by two to become a 14-team league, as Maryland joins from the ACC, while Rutgers was added from the American Athletic Conference.
While Rutgers and Maryland joining the league is a key offseason storyline for the Big Ten, the debate at No. 1 in the East Division will dominate the headlines. Michigan State is the defending conference champion, but the Spartans have key holes to fill. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough are big losses, and the defense also has to replace both starting tackles. Even though Michigan State has won two out of the last three games against Ohio State, the Buckeyes are Athlon’s pick to win the Big Ten in 2014. Quarterback Braxton Miller is among the nation’s best players, and coach Urban Meyer has assembled plenty of talent at the skill positions. Ohio State also has the nation’s No. 1 defensive line for 2014. Filling the holes in the back seven of the defense is critical for the Buckeyes’ chances of making an appearance in college football’s four-team playoff.
Penn State and Michigan are the two wildcard teams to watch in the East. New coach James Franklin inherits a solid roster, especially with sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg on the verge of a huge season. The biggest obstacle for the Nittany Lions will be an offensive line that is thin on proven depth. Michigan also has plenty of talent, but the Wolverines underachieved in 2013. Will the hire of Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator resurrect an offense that averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game last year? Quarterback Devin Gardner needs to be more consistent and more targets need to emerge at receiver.
Indiana is another team that could easily outperform its projected ranking, but the Hoosiers have a brutal schedule, along with a struggling defense. If Indiana can find answers on defense under new coordinator Brian Knorr, the Hoosiers should make a bowl for the first time under Kevin Wilson.

Big Ten Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

Big Ten Champ: At-Large Access Bowl*
Orange: Big Ten/ND/SEC vs. ACC No. 1
Capital One: SEC No. 2 vs. Big Ten/ACC
Outback: SEC No. 3-8 vs. Big Ten
Holiday: Big Ten vs. Pac-12 No. 3
San Francisco: Big Ten vs. Pac-12 No. 4
Pinstripe: Big Ten vs. ACC
Gator/Music City: Big Ten/ACC vs. SEC
Detroit: Big Ten vs. ACC
Heart of Dallas: Big Ten vs. C-USA
* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff
Despite returning only eight starters, Wisconsin is Athlon’s favorite to win the Big Ten’s West Division. The Badgers’ passing attack is a work in progress, but running back Melvin Gordon can carry the offense until new receivers emerge. The defense does not return a starter in its front seven.
Just behind Wisconsin in the West Division is Iowa and Nebraska. There’s not much separating the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers for the No. 2 spot. Iowa has a favorable schedule and will have a chance to win the division with Nebraska and Wisconsin both visiting Iowa City in late November.
Northwestern and Minnesota are darkhorses to watch, especially as the Wildcats regain the services of standout running back Venric Mark.
Illinois and Purdue round out the West Division predictions for 2014. Both teams are looking for signs of progress after a disappointing 2013, and there are reasons to be optimistic for the Boilermakers and Fighting Illini. However, considerable improvement needs to be made before either team makes a bowl game this year.
Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions


Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Was there much thought to picking the Spartans to win the Big Ten?

We projected Michigan State and Ohio State to have similar records, but the Buckeyes are one of our picks to reach the College Football Playoff. The Spartans should be in the mix again, and they have the advantage of playing Ohio State at home. Even though Michigan State won head-to-head last season and won the Rose Bowl while Ohio State lost in the Orange, the Buckeyes have won 22 of their first 24 games under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes could have the top quarterback in the league and the top defensive line in the nation. True, Ohio State’s defense struggled at times last season, especially against the pass, but we like the additions of Larry Johnson and Chris Ash to the coaching staff. It’s tough to see Ohio State’s defense being such a liability once again. Michigan State’s offense rounded into form by the end of the season, but the Spartans are replacing three starters on the offensive line. And while we have faith in the defense, major pieces like two starting linebackers and lockdown corner Darqueze Dennard need to be replaced. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Penn State is still short-handed due to NCAA sanctions. Doesn’t third in the division seem a little high?

The depth concerns will be notable at Penn State for a few more years. Injuries here and there certainly will hinder the Nittany Lions’ ability to move up in the East division. But if we know anything about new Penn State coach James Franklin, it’s that he can thrive in adverse situations. At Vanderbilt, he started without an SEC-caliber roster and no track record of success. At Penn State, he’ll have to overcome having fewer players than his competition. At the same time, though, he’ll have something he never had at Vanderbilt — an elite quarterback. That should be an exciting prospect for Franklin. The main competition for the No. 3 spot in the East is probably Michigan, a team Penn State defeated 43–40 in four overtimes last season. That perhaps indicates that the gap between Penn State and Michigan is narrow, but given the roster circumstances, should it really be that close? – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Maryland or Rutgers: Which Big Ten newcomer will have a better record in 2014?

Maryland. Rutgers has played in a bowl in eight of the last nine years, but the Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season and have personnel concerns at quarterback and in the secondary. Maryland is in much better shape as it enters the Big Ten, as receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return to full strength after season-ending injuries in 2013. The defense also returns nine starters and swing games against Iowa and Rutgers are at home. Both teams will have a challenge transitioning to the Big Ten, but Maryland has the edge in personnel and should edge the Scarlet Knights in the final standings. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014

Wisconsin lost a lot of key personnel yet is still the pick for No. 1 in the West. Was there much debate?

Not really. Wisconsin still returns Melvin Gordon and four starters on the offensive line. That’s the perfect recipe for the Badgers to win games. In addition, being the best team in the Big Ten West doesn’t necessarily make Wisconsin one of the best teams in the league. The Badgers are our third-ranked team in the Big Ten overall, behind Ohio State and Michigan State. Simply put, most of the West simply has more obvious flaws than Wisconsin, which ranked in the top 20 nationally in both total offense and total defense a year ago. We’re not quite ready to cast our lot with either Nebraska or Iowa or a sleeper like Minnesota or Northwestern to win the division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Northwestern or Minnesota: Which team has a better chance to win the West in 2014?

Close call, but we like Northwestern over Minnesota. The Wildcats have experienced a lot of bad luck over the last two seasons, and an injury to running back Venric Mark limited the offense in 2013. Mark is expected to return to full strength by the fall, and the offense could benefit from having one quarterback (Trevor Siemian) and not a two-quarterback system. The defense returns seven starters and improvement is expected after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in points allowed. Minnesota surprised last year by finishing 8-5 and earning wins over Nebraska and Penn State. The Golden Gophers should be in the mix for another bowl, but developing a consistent passing attack and replacing standout tackle Ra’Shede Hageman are two huge question marks going into 2014. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Michigan and Nebraska are both storied programs picked to finish in the middle of the pack. Which team is more likely to surprise in a good way?

That’s a tough question and probably a symptom of why these powers have been so infuriating of late. Michigan was actually plus-10 in turnover margin during the last nine games and still finished the season on a 3–6 slide. Clearly, Michigan has its share of holes to fill. Nebraska might be more likely to surprise. For one, we expect the West to be the weaker of the two new Big Ten divisions. 

Nebraska has the bread-and-butter of its offense in place with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross running the ball, and the Cornhuskers managed to win nine games despite quarterback injuries and turnover problems (minus-11 margin) a year ago. If things start to go Nebraska’s way, the Cornhuskers may be in a better position to make noise in the Big Ten title race. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Is a bowl a reasonable expectations for Illinois?

It should be. The Fighting Illini averaged 400.8 yards per game on offense last season, but the defense struggled by allowing 6.9 yards per play. Illinois will be dangerous on offense once again in 2014, especially with talented sophomore Wes Lunt stepping into the starting lineup at quarterback. Lunt needs a few receivers to emerge, but running back Josh Ferguson is an All-Big Ten candidate, and four starters are back on the line. While the offense will be deadly, Illinois’ defense is still a huge concern. There’s hope for improvement with eight starters back, but the overall talent is still a concern. The Fighting Illini will be favored in three non-conference games and an early October home date against Purdue. But where will the other two wins come from to make a bowl? Perhaps Nov. 22 versus Penn State or Oct. 25 against Minnesota? A bowl is a reasonable expectation, but the odds are stacked against Illinois to get to six wins. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Eastern Bloc

Many Big Ten fans are glad to see Legends and Leaders go, but the league’s new geographically named divisions create another potential complaint — lack of balance. The East Division appears to be significantly stronger entering 2014 and could stay that way if traditional powers Michigan and Penn State regain form.
Michigan State moves into the East after a breakthrough season that ended with Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships and a No. 3 ranking in the final polls. The Spartans have won 11 or more games in three of the past four seasons and aren’t slowing down under Mark Dantonio. Ohio State also will be in the East after winning the past two Leaders division titles and going 16–0 in regular-season Big Ten contests under Urban Meyer.
Although Michigan comes off of a disappointing 7–6 season and Penn State is midway through a four-year period of severe NCAA sanctions, the Big Ten East, some fear, could tip the scales much like the SEC West, Big 12 South and Pac-12 North have in previous seasons.

Bowl Reset

The Big Ten will feature not only a new bowl lineup in 2014, but also a new method for assigning teams to the postseason.
New additions include both the Holiday Bowl and the Fight Hunger Bowl, which give the Big Ten two more California destinations and two more matchups against the Pac-12. The Big Ten also will appear in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, and a new bowl in Detroit to be managed by the Detroit Lions. Big Ten teams will play in the Orange Bowl, the Music City Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl on a rotating basis.
The league retains agreements with the Rose, Capital One, Outback, Gator (rotating) and Heart of Dallas (rotating).
The Big Ten also is adopting a tiered system for assigning teams to bowls, designed to keep matchups fresh. Bowl officials will be involved, but the league will have more control over which team goes where. For example, at least five different Big Ten teams will appear in both the Holiday and Fight Hunger bowls during the next six years.

Home Runs

The Big Ten historically has been a running back’s league, and this season should be no different.
The league’s top two rushers return in Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, both of whom spurned the NFL Draft for another year in college. Michigan State returns a 1,400-yard rusher in Jeremy Langford, while Minnesota’s David Cobb, who gained 1,202 yards in his first year as a featured ball-carrier, also is back in the fold. Indiana and Illinois both return explosive backs in Tevin Coleman and Josh Ferguson, respectively, and Venric Mark, an All-Big Ten selection in 2012, is back at Northwestern for a fifth year after missing most of last season with leg injuries.
Depth also should be a strength around the league as both Iowa and Penn State return their top three backs from 2013. Minnesota should have more options with redshirt freshman Berkeley Edwards and decorated recruit Jeff Jones entering the fold. Teams like Maryland, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska look well-stocked in the backfield as well.

Pac-12 Connection 

The Big Ten’s scheduling alliance with the Pac-12 never came to fruition, but the leagues will see plenty of one another in the future, thanks to individual agreements. Michigan State begins a home-and-home series with Oregon this fall. Nebraska will face the Ducks in 2016 and 2017, as well as Colorado four times between 2018-24.
Wisconsin has finalized series with both Washington and Washington State, while Northwestern finishes a series with Cal this fall and is set to play Stanford six times between 2015-22. Rutgers will open two of the next three seasons in Seattle against Pac-12 foes Washington State (2014) and Washington (2016). Michigan faces two Pac-12 teams in 2015 (Utah and Oregon State) and another (Colorado) in 2016.
Illinois wraps up a series this fall against Washington.
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014

Coaching Shuffle 

The Big Ten had only one complete coaching overhaul (Penn State) and fewer total changes (27) than either of the previous two offseasons. But there were several intriguing hires around the conference.
Longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson had a chance to remain on James Franklin’s staff, but after twice being passed over for the top job in Happy Valley, he left for rival Ohio State.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill lost his first assistant since taking the job, as linebackers coach Bill Miller departed for Florida State. Maryland added former NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan McCardell to its staff to coach wideouts. Speaking of the Terrapins, the Big Ten now features current Maryland boss, Randy Edsall; his predecessor, Ralph Friedgen, the new offensive coordinator at Rutgers; and Franklin, who had been coach-in-waiting behind Friedgen.
Four programs — Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern — kept all of their coaches from last season.

Big Ten Coordinator Carousel

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

Indiana: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Kevin Johns, Seth Littrell; 
New: Kevin Johns
Littrell left to take the offensive coordinator position at North Carolina. Johns, the co-coordinator last season, has been at Indiana since 2011. He will also coach the quarterbacks and wide receivers. 

Indiana: Defensive Coordinator

Old: William Inge, Doug Mallory; 
New: William Inge, Brian Knorr
Mallory was fired after the Hoosiers finished last in the Big Ten in total defense for the third straight season. Inge will remain as co-coordinator and linebackers coach. Knorr was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest last year and served as the head coach at Ohio from 2001-04.

Michigan: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Al Borges; 
New: Doug Nussmeier
Borges was fired after three seasons at Michigan (five total with Michigan coach Brady Hoke). Nussmeier was the offensive coordinator at Alabama the past two seasons and was previously the coordinator at Washington.

Ohio State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Luke Fickell, Everett Withers; 
New: Chris Ash, Luke Fickell
Withers is now the head coach at James Madison. Ash was the defensive coordinator at Arkansas last year and was previously the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.

Penn State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Bill O’Brien; 
New: John Donovan
O’Brien left Penn State after two years and is now the head coach of the Houston Texans. Donovan followed new Penn State head coach James Franklin from Vanderbilt. He was the Commodores’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons.

Penn State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: John Butler; 
New: Brent Pry, Bob Shoop
Butler is the secondary coach of the Houston Texans, working for Bill O’Brien, his old boss at Penn State. Pry and Shoop were with James Franklin at Vanderbilt the past three seasons. Pry, who also serves as the linebackers coach, has the co-coordinator title, but Shoop is the man who runs the defense.

Rutgers: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Ron Prince; 
New: Ralph Friedgen
Prince left Rutgers after one season to take a job as the tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions. Friedgen was the head coach at Maryland from 2001-10 and has been out of coaching since.

Rutgers: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Dave Cohen; 
New: Joe Rossi
Cohen was fired after one season as the defensive coordinator at Rutgers. He was the Scarlet Knights’ defensive line coach in 2012 before becoming the coordinator. He is now the linebackers coach at Wake Forest. Rossi was promoted to coordinator after spending two seasons as Rutgers’ special teams coach.
Big Ten Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-how-do-they-stack-against-their-predecessors

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.

Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.

When seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams elected to tab a rookie to climb aboard their entry for the 2014 season, it meant at least seven drivers — those cars’ previous occupants — were left looking for new jobs.

Though the act of taking on a rookie is a long-term investment that shouldn’t be expected to yield any immediate dividends, a team’s performance will certainly change — more often for the worse — right after the driver switch is made.

Do immediate returns dictate whether a transaction of this manner was “good?” Not necessarily, but it’s still a fun exercise. How do the drivers in this year’s rookie crop compare to the previous drivers of their equipment?

This week’s Athlon Sports Rookie Rankings compares this year’s results to those of each rookie’s predecessor:

1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)  Kyle Larson
Replaced Juan Pablo Montoya.
Larson tops all rookies with a 0.981 Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) through 13 races and his 15th-place average finish with chief wrench Chris Heroy ranks ninth in the series among driver-crew chief combinations (it currently bests what 2012 champion Brad Keselowski has accomplished in 12 races with Paul Wolfe on the box: a 15.1-place average result). Through 13 races in 2013, Montoya averaged a 20.6-place finish and had corralled just one top-5 outing. Larson has earned two thus far. Their time spent running in the top 15 is close to equal; 43.7 percent of Montoya’s laps through the Dover race weekend were in 15th place or better, while Larson’s tally this season comes in around 44.7 percent.

Austin Dillon2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)
Replaced Kevin Harvick.
Perhaps the most unfair task asked of all of this year’s rookies, Dillon was/is never going to emulate the production output of a potential Hall of Famer in his first year. Harvick averaged a 14.2-place finish through the first 13 races of 2013 in what was, outside of wins at Richmond and Charlotte, a slow start to the season — he had no other top-5 finishes beyond the wins. Dillon has zero top-5 finishes, but his average result is only off of Harvick’s by 2.3 spots. Consistency, in this case, is killing. Dillon’s 16.5 average finish is the second-most consistent in the series, per a finish deviation of 5.5, trailing only David Ragan’s 3.4 on top of a pitiful 32.1-place average.

3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)  Justin Allgaier
Replaced Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Dillon.
Amazingly, previous team owner James Finch earned an average finish of 17.9 through the first 13 races with the Smith-Allmendinger-Dillon amalgamation, which was collectively better than the average finish of would-be Chase participants Kurt Busch (18.5) and Ryan Newman (19.5) through that initial slate. This kind of output was never expected from Allgaier, who is averaging a 26.9-place finish for a new team owner (Harry Scott), crew chief (Steve Addington, who replaced the highly underrated Nick Harrison) and an organization still seeking solid ground in NASCAR’s most competitive series.

Michael Annett4. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 5)
Replaced Dave Blaney.
Blaney averaged a 27.2-place finish — over two spots better than Annett’s 29.5 — but his best two finishes came in the more randomized restrictor plate races, where he brought home results of 16th and 17th at Daytona and Talladega, respectively. Where Annett has produced dutiful results is at the 1.5-mile intermediate tracks, where he is averaging a consistent 27.8-place finish that bests Blaney’s 30.5 mark in the same races last year. Annett has also experienced a bit of the bizarre: He ran as high as 19th at Dover, but encountered front end damage via the track’s crumbling concrete, a flat tire and a broken shock mount, all in 100-lap span. He was registered with a 35th-place finish.

5. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 4)  Cole Whitt
Replaced David Stremme (prior to team change).
Whitt has the potential to be better than what his replacement-level minus-0.019 PEER indicates. Caught in a tumultuous season that already spans two different teams (Swan Racing and BK Racing), he hasn’t had the equipment he needs to showcase what made him a hot commodity in the USAC ranks, but he also isn’t distancing himself from the previous occupants of his equipment. In eight races with Swan, he averaged a 30.9-place finish, while David Stremme also averaged a 30.9 for them in the same races in 2013. In the five-race jaunt from Richmond to Dover with BK, Whitt averaged a 28.8-place finish, which is more than a position off of what David Reutimann was able to do (27.6) at the same facilities.

Alex Bowman6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 6)
Replaced Travis Kvapil. Bowman sat down with Athlon Sports earlier this year and discussed some of the strange goings-on he experienced in his initial starts. Weirdness aside — the battery pack fell out of his car at Bristol — he has still managed to be an immediate upgrade over Kvapil, both in on-track results (Bowman’s 32nd-place average trumps Kvapil’s 33.8 from last year) and off-track conduct (Kvapil pleaded guilty to domestic assault charges late last year). There is room for improvement, though. He hasn’t cracked the top half of the field (21st or better) for a finish yet, which has been done nine times by six different drivers with similar average running positions.

7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)  Ryan Truex
Replaced David Reutimann. BK Racing went younger by 21 years when they let Reutimann walk out the door and replaced him with Truex. Though this was a long-haul decision, it hasn’t yet panned out. Reutimann averaged a 29.5-place finish through the first 13 races last season, while Truex has an average of 35.3 through 11 races and has failed to qualify for two. That large gap in results could easily shrink once Truex’s series-worst 0.55-per-race crash frequency dissipates.

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 Action Sports, Inc.

Ranking the Sprint Cup Series' Rookie of the Year contenders
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 17:55
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-june-3-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for June 3.

Aaron Murray's girlfriend and AJ McCarron's fiancee took a picture together. That's the photo at right.

So here's Gronk going full-on bro, dancing and making boob jokes on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

• Planning your college football attendance schedule? Here are the most expensive tickets in the college game.

A player was DQ'd from a U.S. Open qualifier for signing an incorrect scorecard. A called himself a "huge idiot." No arguments here.

When will people learn not to gather in large numbers on docks for weddings?

Will California Chrome steal Kentucky's thunder by being the first Cali-bred Triple Crown winner?

• Hakeem, Patrick and the White Bronco: An interesting look back at the Forgotten Finals, 20 years later.

Steve Ballmer has plans for his shiny new toy.

An unfortunate ump took a screaming liner to the nether regions. Fortunately, it was a wiffle ball.

John Elway's son allegedly pushed a woman from a moving car. Hey, we've all been there, right? No?

Sportsmanship can be costly, as one track coach proved.

• Sometimes you just have to stop eating your sandwich and applaud Robinson Cano.


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

Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 11:39
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-101-128

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. The Nos. 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. The Nos. 61-80 projection features a few bowl teams from last season, including Syracuse, Boston College and Rutgers, along with some top teams from outside the power conferences (Northern Illinois, Ball State, Fresno State and Colorado State). The Nos. 81-100 range includes an improving South Florida team, several of Conference USA's top squads for 2014 (UTSA, RIce and North Texas), along with Wyoming under first-year coach Craig Bohl. The Nos. 101-128 completes the release of the projected 2014 rankings, with teams like New Mexico State, FIU and Idaho looking to build some positive momentum after a rough 2013 campaign.

With the completion of Athlon's college football Top 25 for 2014, it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings. You can view No. 26-40 hereNo. 41-60 here61-80 here and No. 81-100 here.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25. Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and David Fox (@DavidFox615).

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 101-128

101. UNLV
UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. Talk about bad timing. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hoped to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stood a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Instead, UNLV will have to settle for trying to put together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1983-84.

Read the full 2014 UNLV Rebels Team Preview

102. Tulsa
Tulsa won a conference championship in 2012 and finished with only three victories in 2013, the lowest total since a one-win campaign in 2002. TU will try to regroup in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season.

Read the full 2014 Tulsa Golden Hurricane Team Preview

103. San Jose State
The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Joe Gray or Blake Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.

Read the full 2014 San Jose State Spartans Team Preview

104. Buffalo
Plenty of attention has been paid to Buffalo’s heavy losses to graduation, and perhaps deservedly so, but the return of quarterback Joe Licata should be enough to carry the offense. It will be challenging to avoid a projected slide on defense, but a soft schedule in the early season should ease the growing pains. Four of the first five games are at home, including games with two FCS opponents in Duquesne and Norfolk State.

Bowling Green is clearly the team to beat in the MAC East, but the Bulls, if the defense comes through, will have a chance to be a factor once again in the division race.

Read the full 2014 Buffalo Bulls Team Preview

105. Air Force
Troy Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Kale Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.

However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.

Read the full 2014 Air Force Falcons Team Preview

106. New Mexico
Bob Davie has seen mild progress with seven wins in his first two years after taking over a program that went 3–33 in the previous three years. But he and his coaching staff know that there is a long way to go for the Lobos to compete in the upper half of the Mountain West. The offense should again be above average. The relative success of 2014 will be determined by what type of progress the defense can make.

Read the full 2014 New Mexico Lobos Team Preview

107. Central Michigan
Central Michigan was bowl-eligible in 2013 with a 6–6 record but did not receive a postseason invite. There is considerable pressure on Dan Enos and his staff to get the Chips back among the elite in the MAC West. Enos inherited a program that went 32–7 in the MAC from 2005-09, but is 13–19 in league play in four seasons.

There are reasons for optimism: The Chips return 16 starters from a team that went 5–3 in the league. But there are also reasons for concern: Four of the five victories came against teams that either went 1–7 or 0–8 in the MAC.

Bottom line: This team is competitive but still not ready to contend in the West.

Read the full 2014 Central Michigan Chippewas Team Preview

108. Troy
Troy’s offense kept things close last season — the Trojans lost 41–36 and 41–34 to Sun Belt co-champions UL Lafayette and Arkansas State, respectively — but the defense couldn’t get key stops in a 6–6 season. Troy’s three straight non-winning seasons are a first in revered coach Larry Blakeney’s 24-year career, and the weight of snapping that streak falls on the shoulders of untested quarterbacks. The Trojans loaded up on junior college talent to shore up the defense, but that group’s ability to mesh and finding a leader for a potentially dangerous offense remain huge questions.

Read the full 2014 Troy Trojans Team Preview

109. UAB
Don’t expect miracles from new coach Bill Clark in his first season, but do expect improvement from Garrick McGee’s short tenure as the program’s head coach. Defensive improvement is a must, and someone needs to secure the quarterback job. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see UAB double its win total from last season, which was two, but they are probably a couple of years away from turning things completely in the right direction.

Read the full 2014 UAB Blazers Team Preview

110. ULM
As usual, ULM has a challenging non-conference schedule with games against Wake Forest, LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. That makes it even tougher to get one of the Sun Belt Conference’s limited bowl slots, as its 6–6 record last season did not land a bid.

“We have got to schedule like that every year from a financial standpoint, so our players are all acclimated to those type of challenges,” coach Todd Berry says. “It can have an impact with the bowl tie-ins in our conference because of your overall record.”

ULM will have more experience than the majority of its opponents, but a lot rests on the performance of the starting quarterback, especially since Kolton Browning provided the team’s identity for so long. Berry’s teams have often overachieved, but with four new Sun Belt members it’s difficult to figure where the Warhawks should rank in the new lineup.

Read the full 2014 ULM Warhawks Team Preview

111. Army
Jeff Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.

Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule.

Read the full 2014 Army Black Knights Team Preview

112. Louisiana Tech
It was a rough first season for Skip Holtz, and Year 2 may be a struggle as well. Four of the first five games are on the road, including trips to Oklahoma and Auburn. For Louisiana Tech to improve, the quarterback situation needs to sort itself out, and the offensive line has to provide more help for the talented running back tandem of Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King. The defense has a chance to be decent if the front four can get stronger against the run. Bowl eligibility would be a significant step forward for Holtz and the Bulldogs.

Read the full 2014 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Team Preview

113. Texas State
This season will mark the first time in the past four years that the Bobcats will have spent back-to-back campaigns in the same conference after moving from the Southland to the WAC to the Sun Belt. Dennis Franchione has already said that this is the most FBS-ready roster he’s had at Texas State. The team will again have a backloaded schedule with plenty of tough games in the latter half of the season. The good news is that the Bobcats will play both UL Lafayette and Arkansas State — the Sun Belt co-champions in 2013 — at home.

After Texas State went 6–6 in 2013, a winning season and bowl game would be the next logical step for this program. For that to happen, though, the defense — with a rebuilt line and secondary — will have to overachieve while learning a new system. 

Read the full 2014 Texas State Bobcats Team Preview

114. Kent State
No one was quite ready for last year’s fall from grace. The 2012 season was marked by a school-record 11 victories and the first bowl game since 1972. Then coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, and Paul Haynes, a former Kent State player, replaced him. With a new quarterback and a new coach, KSU stumbled to a 4–8 record overall and a 3–5 mark in the MAC.

That was a collective shock to the Kent State faithful, and now comes the uncertainty about whether the program just suffered a temporary setback or whether the bad old days of the past are back.

This promises to be an interesting season around the confines of Dix Stadium. Whether it will be a successful one is far from assured.

Read the full 2014 Kent State Golden Flashes Team Preview

115. Southern Miss
Perhaps the nightmare is over for Southern Miss. After setting a standard for success in Conference USA, the Golden Eagles went winless in 2012 and lost their first 11 games in 2013. The Nick Mullens-Chip Lindsey combination seems destined to improve the offense, and the return of several key players from injury should bolster the defense. There’s a rough non-conference slate, but Todd Monken should have a competitive and relatively experienced squad —  as many as 14 freshmen and sophomores starting by season’s end — prepared to compete in league play.

Read the full 2014 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Team Preview

116. Old Dominion
Since the program restarted in 2009, the Monarchs have shown that they can adapt. In their second year in the powerful CAA, they won a league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. In their first season as an FBS program, they knocked off Idaho and hung with bowl teams East Carolina and Pittsburgh. In five seasons, all under Bobby Wilder, the Monarchs are 46–14.

The challenge will be steeper this season as there’s only one FCS school on the schedule as opposed to the seven that the Monarchs played in 2013.

But with quarterback Taylor Heinicke as the face of the program and last season’s young talent maturing, Old Dominion appears to have what it needs to keep that steady upward trajectory in place.

Read the full 2014 Old Dominion Monarchs Team Preview

117. UTEP
As long as the Miners stay healthy at the offensive skill positions, they should score enough points to keep them in most games. That happened for the first part of last season, but they didn’t win many games because the defense was so porous.

A combination of a second year in the system and a host of experience in the back seven should lead to improvement on defense, but it will have to be dramatic for UTEP to win six games and challenge for a bowl.

Read the full 2014 UTEP Miners Team Preview

118. Hawaii
After the worst two-season start (4–20) ever for a Hawaii head coach, the pressure is on for Norm Chow to show major improvement in 2014. That, however, will not be easy. The schedule is difficult — especially early with three Pac-12 opponents in the season’s first month — and there are significant personnel issues on both sides of the ball. The Rainbow Warriors appear headed toward another last-place finish.

Read the full 2014 Hawaii Warriors Team Preview

119. Western Michigan
P.J. Fleck strolled into Kalamazoo with plenty of bravado, ignoring critics of his age and his “Row the Boat” mantra. A humbling season did nothing to slow recruiting — Rivals ranked his 2014 class No. 59 nationally, ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — or his optimism for the future.

In the short term, Fleck sounds more realistic than a year ago, and more comfortable in his skin, aware that the odds are stacked against a team with only 29 upperclassmen, not enough of them up front on either side of the ball. “It’s a patient process, which in college football isn’t the friendliest process,” he says.

Read the full 2014 Western Michigan Broncos Team Preview

120. Miami, Ohio
Chuck Martin won two Division II national championships as the head coach at Grand Valley State and helped Notre Dame reach the BCS National Championship Game two years ago. He is used to winning. But this is a major rebuild. The RedHawks went 0–12 in 2013 and were perhaps the worst team in the nation. Quick turnarounds are possible in the MAC — see Ball State under Pete Lembo — but it’s hard to envision the RedHawks climbing too far up the league’s food chain in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Miami, Ohio RedHawks Team Preview

121. UMass
After two tough years under Molnar, who was fired in the offseason, UMass is hoping Mark Whipple can turn the program around for the second time. In his first stint in Amherst (1998-2003), Whipple turned a team that was 2–9 the year before he arrived into the 1998 Division I-AA champions, which made his return popular in Amherst. He coached UMass for six years before working as an assistant in the NFL and at the University of Miami.

The task could be tougher this time as he inherits a team that won only one game in each of the last two seasons.

Read the full 2014 UMass Minutemen Team Preview

122. Georgia Southern
In an otherwise average 2013 season, Georgia Southern received significant attention on Nov. 23 for beating Florida, 26–20, in its first-ever victory over an FBS opponent. Though some at Georgia Southern might have seen that performance as validation for the school’s decision to move up to FBS, there are still significant challenges ahead. It will also be a new experience for Willie Fritz, who has moved up the ladder from junior colleges to Division II Central Missouri, where he went 97–47, to his wildly successful run at Sam Houston State.

Though the Eagles had a solid structure in place before making the move, there are plenty of unknowns. “Instead of slaying one dragon a year,” Fritz says, “we’ve got to do it with great consistency. We’ve got to get a lot better.”

Read the full 2014 Georgia Southern Eagles Team Preview

123. Appalachian State
One of the dominant programs in the Southern Conference and on the FCS level for decades, Appalachian State is on the brink of its first season in the FBS ranks.

The Mountaineers — who matched their lowest win total since 1993 last season — will face several challenges, like depth issues stemming from the push to reach their full complement of scholarships and a lineup of new Sun Belt Conference opponents. So for a team and a fan base that’s used to success, this season could be a big adjustment.

But if things are kept in perspective, there’s reason for optimism.

While on the staff at Florida International, Scott Satterfield did win a Sun Belt title, so he understands what Appalachian State is up against. And with a team that will lean on young talent, there’s reason to believe that the Mountaineers will eventually be a force in their new league. Still, there’s a strong chance their first taste of FBS life — which begins with a trip to Michigan, site of their unforgettable 2007 upset — will have some bumpy moments.

Read the full 2014 Appalachian State Mountaineers Team Preview

124. Eastern Michigan
Eastern is not the type of program that can be fixed overnight by any coach, let alone one with zero experience — as a player, assistant or head coach — at the FBS level, although no experience should be required to improve upon the four wins Eastern has accumulated the past two seasons. Chris Creighton has a solid résumé, with an overall record of 139–46 as a head coach with stops at Ottawa (NAIA), Wabash (Division III) and Drake (FCS). His task at Eastern Michigan is immense. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995 and have been one of the worst FBS programs in the nation in recent years.

Read the full 2014 Eastern Michigan Eagles Team Preview

125. Idaho
Things can’t get any worse for Idaho, right? The Vandals are coming off a 1–11 season in which they weren’t very competitive as an independent. The Sun Belt Conference once again is home, which will lower the degree of difficulty on the schedule (Florida is the only major-conference opponent). But the conference affiliation brings additional travel — the Vandals will play half of their games in the Eastern and Central time zones.

If Paul Petrino can overcome the travel and find some consistency in all phases, Idaho has a chance at making some noise in the overhauled conference. But even if the Vandals do surprise and find a way to get to six wins, they will not be spending the holidays at a bowl game. It was announced in late April that low APR scores had made the program ineligible for a postseason game in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Idaho Vandals Team Preview

126. Georgia State
Entering its fifth year of existence overall and second as an FBS program, Georgia State has experienced very little success, winning just once over the past two seasons. As players who were recruited for the FCS level cycle out of the program — including 27 seniors last season — the opportunity exists for Miles to upgrade the roster’s size, speed and depth. Still, the Panthers are probably two recruiting classes away from getting their numbers up to par, and in the meantime will have to rely heavily on underclassmen for production.

The Panthers were competitive at times in 2013, losing three times in conference play by a touchdown or less, but they’re still closer to the beginning than the end of a long rebuilding process.

Read the full 2014 Georgia State Panthers Team Preview

127. FIU
While the natural progression of players and the return of Richard Leonard at cornerback provide hope that FIU can improve, holes in the defensive front seven and the possibility that a true freshman will start at quarterback extinguish those small bits of positivity. Games against Louisville, Pitt, Marshall and even rival FAU are likely to be embarrassingly lopsided. The Panthers have a better chance of going winless than making a bowl game. 

Read the full 2014 FIU Panthers Team Preview

128. New Mexico State
The Aggies are a team in transition, if for no other reason than their youth and inexperience. The program signed 23 freshmen, a number of whom will be counted on this year.

The team does have a much more manageable schedule this season, moving to the Sun Belt Conference after competing as an FBS Independent. After winning only two games in Doug Martin’s first season as head coach, there will be pressure on the Aggies to be competitive with the lower half of the new-look Sun Belt. It will be a troubling sign if New Mexico State struggles with FBS newcomers like Georgia State and Georgia Southern.

Read the full 2014 New Mexico State Aggies Team Preview

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #101-128
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2014-predictions
2014 SEC Predictions
East DivisionSECOverall
 1. Georgia (No. 8)6-210-3
2. South Carolina (No. 9)6-210-2
 3. Florida (No. 23)4-47-5
4. Missouri (No. 25)4-48-4
5. Tennessee (No. 42)3-56-6
6. Vanderbilt (No. 44)2-66-6
7. Kentucky (No. 70)1-74-8
West DivisionSECOverall
1. Alabama (No. 2)7-112-1
2. Auburn (No. 5)6-210-2
3. Ole Miss (No. 18)5-39-3
4. LSU (No. 19)4-48-4
5. Mississippi State (No. 33)4-48-4
6. Texas A&M (No. 34)3-57-5
7. Arkansas (No. 63)1-74-8
SEC Championship
Alabama over Georgia

The SEC’s dominance for the national championship ended last season, but the conference can still flex its muscles as the best in college football. The gap between the SEC and Pac-12 has narrowed, but the SEC will be tough to unseat as the No. 1 conference anytime soon.

As college football shifts to a new four-team playoff in 2014, the SEC is positioned to potentially have two teams in the new format. Alabama ranks as Athlon’s No. 2 team for 2014, with Auburn (No. 5), Georgia (No. 8) and South Carolina (No. 9) all viable options this year.

Picking the champion of both divisions will be a tough assignment this preseason. The East has more contenders for the top spot in its division than the West, but both sides of the SEC are strong. The East is headlined by Georgia and South Carolina, with Florida and Missouri also in the mix. The Gators are due to rebound after a disappointing 4-8 record last season, and the Bulldogs should have better injury luck in 2014 after a rash of key losses in 2013.

Alabama vs. Auburn for No. 1 in the SEC is one of college football’s top offseason topics, and the debate will continue into August. Athlon projects the Crimson Tide to get revenge on the Tigers this year and to play Florida State in the National Championship in early January. Why Alabama over Auburn? The Crimson Tide get the Tigers at home, and even though quarterback is a huge concern in Tuscaloosa, a strong running game and defense should carry Nick Saban's team until Jacob Coker is ready.

While Alabama and Auburn seem to be the clear contenders in the West, sorting No. 3-6 is difficult. Can LSU quickly reload once again? Will Ole Miss or Mississippi State take a step forward? Is Texas A&M’s defense ready to turn a corner? In the No. 3-6 race, keep an eye on quarterback play. Whichever team can settle its concerns under center the fastest will have an edge to challenge Auburn and Alabama.

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)


Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions

What gave Georgia the edge over South Carolina, especially since the game is in Columbia?

South Carolina has been one of the most consistent teams in the league over the last three or four years, but the 2014 Gamecocks have more key players to replace than any recent Steve Spurrier team. You have to start at the quarterback position. Connor Shaw was one of the most valuable players in the league the last few years, both with his play on the field and his leadership in the locker room. Dylan Thompson is a solid player who has performed well when called upon, but it’s doubtful he will bring the same intangibles to the position. South Carolina also must replace its best wide receiver (Bruce Ellington), two All-America defensive linemen (Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles) and both starting cornerbacks (Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree). Georgia suffered a big loss at the quarterback position with the graduation of Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs have far fewer personnel issues elsewhere. And the defense, which underachieved in recent years, should be improved with the arrival of new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Georgia also had several key injuries last season and struggled in the turnover department (-7). The Bulldogs have to travel to South Carolina but otherwise has the slight edge with the schedule; both teams play Auburn, but Georgia gets the Tigers at home. In the other game against the SEC West, Georgia travels to Arkansas (winless in the league in 2013), while South Carolina hosts Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs keep running back Todd Gurley healthy, and Mason settles into the starting quarterback job as expected, Georgia will be a wildcard contender in college football’s new playoff format. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)

What is a reasonable expectation for Tennessee?

Butch Jones’ second season on Rocky Top isn’t going to be easy. The Volunteers still have talent (No. 6 ranked roster in the SEC), but the schedule is brutal. Tennessee opens non-conference play with a dangerous Utah State team in the opener, followed by a trip to Oklahoma to play the Sooners two weeks later. It doesn’t get any easier in the SEC, as the Volunteers catch Alabama and Ole Miss in crossover play and travel to Vanderbilt to close out the regular season. As if the schedule wasn’t enough, Tennessee needs to replace all five starters on the offensive line, and there’s very little in the way of proven depth on the defensive front. The Volunteers have talent at the skill positions and should be able to get better play from their quarterbacks. Due to the holes on the depth chart and schedule, a good season for Jones is just getting to a bowl game. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

LSU has finished ahead of Ole Miss in the SEC West standings in each of the last five years and in 12 of the last 14 (with one tie). Why will it be different this year? 

This was the toughest decision among all of the predictions in the SEC. LSU has been so good for so long, it would be easy to pencil the Tigers in for third behind Alabama and Auburn (or even ahead of one of them) and assume they have the talent to once again win 10 or 11 games. And they still might, but this team has some issues. The quarterback position is a bit of a mystery; Anthony Jennings is No. 1 on the depth chart heading into preseason camp, but don’t be surprised if true freshman Brandon Harris seizes control of the job. The Tigers also lost their top two wide receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) and have issues at defensive tackle and linebacker. LSU was 5-3 in conference play last year, and considering the personnel concerns, slipping to 4-4 isn't out of the question. Ole Miss probably doesn’t have as much overall roster depth as LSU, but you could argue that the Rebels have fewer weaknesses heading into the 2014 season. The key for Ole Miss is senior quarterback Bo Wallace. If he plays up to his potential on a consistent basis — and of course remains healthy — the Rebels should enjoy their first winning SEC season since 2008, Houston Nutt’s first year in Oxford. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)

What is Florida’s ceiling?

Florida could be the most difficult team to forecast in the entire country. It would not be surprising if the Gators won the SEC East or if they finished fifth or six in the division. From a pure talent standpoint, Florida ranks among the top two or three teams in the league. But the majority of that talent is on the defensive side of the ball. The Gators are hoping the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper (from Duke) can solve some of the issues on that side of the ball, but what are realistic expectations for an offense that was so bad last year? Jeff Driskel gives Roper a solid option at quarterback (if he stays healthy), but there are few proven playmakers at the skill positions, and the offensive line has lacked toughness the last two seasons. The schedule is a mixed bag; Florida has to play Alabama and LSU in crossover games, but LSU, which shouldn’t be as formidable this year, visits Gainesville. Also, the Gators host both South Carolina and Missouri, giving them a possible edge against two teams they will be jockeying with for position in the East. There is considerable pressure on Will Muschamp in his fourth season in Gainesville. It’s likely Florida will need to emerge as a legitimate contender in the East for him to keep his job. That’s quite possible, but the guess here is that the Gators are closer to fourth than first or second in the division. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Is 2014 a rebuilding year at Texas A&M?

Yes, it appears so. Let’s keep this in mind: Texas A&M went 4-4 in the SEC last year with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Without those three players on offense, just getting back to .500 in conference action would be a good season for coach Kevin Sumlin. Another huge concern for the Aggies remains on defense. Texas A&M allowed a whopping 6.7 yards per play in SEC games in 2013. With eight starters back and improved depth thanks to an outstanding recruiting class, the Aggies should be better on defense. But how much can this unit improve to take the pressure of off an offense that figures to have a few growing pains as Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen replaces Manziel at quarterback remains to be seen Texas A&M will take a step back in 2014. However, keep an eye on the Aggies throughout the year, as this should be a dangerous team in 2015. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

2014 SEC Team Previews
South CarolinaMississippi State
TennesseeOle Miss
VanderbiltTexas A&M

SEC Notebook

by Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson)

Big Questions at QB

Never before has the SEC had such a departure of talent at the game’s most important position. That sets up a lot of uncertainty in 2014. There was an inordinate amount of star power among SEC quarterbacks last year, with the numbers to back it up: Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw and James Franklin.

Last year the SEC had five of the of the nation’s top 12 quarterbacks, as measured by pass efficiency rating, and eight of the top 36. Auburn’s Nick Marshall is the only one of those who is back this year.

Several new quarterbacks did get some early action, thanks to injuries: Georgia’s Hutson Mason got two starts and LSU’s Anthony Jennings one, though he still had to compete in the spring for the job. Missouri’s Maty Mauk received extensive action last year with Franklin hurt, and put up pretty good numbers (11 TDs, two INTs, 229 rushing yards.)

Then there’s Florida, which gets back Jeff Driskel after he suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. But marquee teams like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M enter the year with big questions at quarterback. Then again, that doesn’t mean their seasons are doomed: Last year Marshall wasn’t named Auburn’s starter until just before the season began, and look what happened.

On the Other Hand 

Bret Bielema and Nick Saban lost the argument this year on slowing down the up-tempo offenses. But their conference could still end up returning to its reputation for defense and running the football, at least this season.

Yes, Gus Malzahn still has Nick Marshall and his offense. But will Texas A&M be as prolific without Manziel, or Missouri without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham? In fact, not a single member of the AP All-SEC first-team offense is back.

But here’s who does return: Tailbacks Todd Gurley (Georgia), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Mike Davis (South Carolina) and Alex Collins (Arkansas). All but Gurley rushed for at least 1,000 yards last year, and Gurley was only 11 yards short despite missing three games.

The SEC also returns more players on defense — four who were on the AP first team, including the conference’s leaders in interceptions (Ole Miss cornerback Cody Prewitt) and tackles (Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson.)

Playoff Positioning

The SEC is one of the few major conferences sticking with an eight-game schedule. (At least for now.) So will that hurt its teams with the playoff selection committee?

SEC teams are not using their four open spots to load up on major opponents: This year only one SEC team (Georgia) is playing as many as two teams from one of the other four major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12).

That’s not to say there aren’t marquee non-conference games, especially the opening weekend: Alabama plays West Virginia in Atlanta, LSU plays Wisconsin in Houston, Georgia hosts Clemson, and Ole Miss plays Boise State, also in Atlanta. Later on you have Auburn at Kansas State, Tennessee at Oklahoma, and then the annual rivalry games (Florida at Florida State, Kentucky at Louisville, Georgia Tech at Georgia).

Ultimately, the SEC’s reputation should help it by the end of the year. One wonders if selection committee members like Condoleezza Rice and Archie Manning are going to be crunching the Sagarin rankings and schedule strength ratings.

But if it’s close, how the SEC does in those marquee games the first few weeks could end up being critical.

The Big Debut Arrives 

What do you give the conference that already seems to have it all? A television network to call its own. The SEC Network debuts in August and begins carrying football games this season.

The conference has pulled out a lot of stops for the channel, hiring Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer to call games, Paul Finebaum to stir it up in studio, and filling the roster with other established and rising broadcasting names.

In the long run, it should be great for the network, and good for fans of the conference who want their SEC (specifically, SEC football) fix as much as possible. In the short term, however, there will be bumps. The first is getting on cable systems, which creates a delicate balance for the conference: It wants to entice cable systems by putting marquee games on the SEC Network, but it also wants fans to watch the game. (And doesn’t want to alienate CBS.)

It will also take some time to figure out what to put on the channel all the time. It won’t be quite like the early days of ESPN, with tractor pulls and Australian Rules Football. But the SEC Network also can’t just put non-revenue sports on all the time, for logistical and financial reasons. So expect plenty of airings of classic SEC games, and a lot of in-studio analysis shows, which will re-air liberally.

SEC Coordinator Carousel

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Alabama: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Doug Nussmeier; New: Lane Kiffin

Nussmeier left Alabama after two seasons to take the same position at Michigan. Kiffin was fired last October after three-plus seasons as the head coach at USC. He previously was the head coach for one season at Tennessee and for one-plus seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

Arkansas: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Chris Ash; New: Robb Smith

Ash left Arkansas to take a position as the defensive co-coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. Smith last season was the linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator at Rutgers.

Florida: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Brent Pease; New: Kurt Roper

Pease was fired after two years at Florida and is now the wide receivers coach at Washington, working for his old boss at Boise State, Chris Petersen. Roper previously was the offensive coordinator at Duke, and he also spent time at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Georgia: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Todd Grantham; New: Jeremy Pruitt

Grantham left after four years at Georgia for the same job at Louisville. Pruitt was hired away from Florida State, where he was the defensive coordinator for the 2013 national champions. Pruitt was the 247Sports Recruiter of the Year in ’12 while on the Alabama staff.

Mississippi State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Les Koenning; New: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy

Koenning is now the wide receivers coach at Texas. Gonzales coached wide receivers at Mississippi State in 2013. He will continue to do so while adding passing game coordinator to his title. Hevesy has been the offensive line coach and running game coordinator at Mississippi State since 2009. Head coach Dan Mullen will call the plays.

Texas A&M: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital; New: Jake Spavital

Spavital takes over play-calling duties from McKinney, who is still on staff but will serve only as the running backs coach.

Vanderbilt: Offensive Coordinator

Old: John Donovan; New: Karl Dorrell

Donovan, who came to Vanderbilt from Maryland with James Franklin in 2011, followed his boss to Penn State, where he will coach tight ends and serve as the offensive coordinator. Dorrell, a former head coach at UCLA, most recently was the quarterbacks coach with the Houston Texans. He was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in the early 1990s while new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was a defensive back for the Lumberjacks. 

Vanderbilt: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Bob Shoop; New: David Kotulski

Shoop joined James Franklin at Penn State. Kotulski was the inside linebackers coach at Stanford the past two seasons, working for new Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. He has been a defensive coordinator at Lehigh, Holy Cross, Utah State, Bucknell and Saint Mary’s.

SEC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/ranking-nfl-offensive-rookies-year-2014

Four rookies went to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Three played on offense and they all were from the NFC North — the Packers' Eddie Lacy, the Bears’ Kyle Long and Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson. The lone defensive Pro Bowler was San Francisco thumper Eric Reid.

Lacy, the former Alabama running back, was the 61st overall pick in the NFL Draft and was the NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was the first Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) not taken in the first round since Anquan Boldin won the award for the Cardinals in 2003 with 101 receptions, 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns. Boldin was the 54th pick in the second round of the ’03 draft.

Otherwise, the modern OROY comes from the first round and is most likely a quarterback. From 1971 to 2003, not one quarterback won Rookie of the Year honors but six of the last 10 winners were signal-callers. In fact, Lacy was the first non-QB to win the award since Percy Harvin in 2009. Additionally, Harvin and Boldin are two of the three wide receivers (Randy Moss) to win OROY honors since Carl Pickens in 1992.

With that in mind, here are our favorites for AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014:

Odds as of 4 p.m. ET, Monday, June 2 according to Bovada.

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland (6/1)
Manziel is one of only three players who is both a first-round pick and a quarterback. He is also the biggest rock star of the ’14 draft class, which could both help or hurt his chances at ROY. He has the most big-play ability of anyone in this class at any position and he should earn his way into the starting lineup fairly quickly. He has a chance to perform very similarly to Robert Griffin III two years ago. Win some games, post huge numbers and get hurt at the end of the year.

2. Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee (12/1)
A running back has won 32 of 47 NFL OROY awards and Sankey is the best option in the ’14 draft class. He was a workhorse for Washington, carrying over 600 times in the last two seasons for over 3,300 yards and 36 touchdowns. Most importantly, he was a star against Stanford twice — the toughest defense he faced each year — with 265 yards and three scores on 47 carries (including one win in ‘12). Sankey has the clearest path to extended carries of any rookie back and the Titans are out to prove there was a reason they took him as the first RB off the board in this draft.

3. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans (10/1)
Only two wideouts since 1999 have won OROY and only eight pass-catchers have ever won the award (since 1967). But if I had to bet on a rookie wide receiver in this class, it would be Cooks. There is a reason the Saints traded up to get the Biletnikoff winner. Cooks caught an absurd 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and is as hard a worker as this class has to offer. He also falls into a great system with a Hall of Fame quarterback under center. Look for big numbers from the rookie out of Oregon State.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota (12/1)
Bizarre Pro Day workout aside, there are many who believe that Bridgewater is the best quarterback in this class. With Matt Cassel the only obstacle standing in his way, the odds are Bridgewater is the starter in the Twin Cities very quickly. He has toughness, great leadership, a grasp of the pro offense and an excellent arm. With a superstar at tailback to take the pressure off, Bridgewater might be the best option for Rookie of the Year — if I was a betting man (which I’m not).

5. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo (4/1)
Watkins is tied with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans as the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year in 2014. However, unlike Evans, Watkins has the ability to do everything for his offense, despite potential quarterback issues. The former Clemson star can be lined up in the slot, given the ball in the backfield and could be a star on special teams a la Patterson last year. Watkins has rare playmaking ability and he will be put to good use right away in Buffalo. He is a much better bet to succeed than Evans in Tampa (more on him later).

6. Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia (18/1)
Chip Kelly may be many things but stupid isn’t one of them. Matthews was the most productive wideout in SEC history and now he is playing in an offense known for huge numbers, big plays and lots of scoring. The consummate professional, Matthews is as stable and consistent a draft pick as any in the entire ’14 class. Look for an excellent season, regardless of ROY consideration, for the pass-catcher known as J-Matt.

7. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit (14/1)
The former Tar Heel standout was clearly the most gifted player at his position in this class. And Ebron couldn’t have asked for a better situation than having Matthew Stafford throwing him passes while defenses focus on Calvin Johnson on the outside. Ebron is an instant impact player at a position not known for instant offense. A tight end has never won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and Ebron might be one of the best bets to snap that trend in quite some time.

8. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati (33/1)
Giovani Bernard is the starter and will likely command more than 200 touches but there is plenty to go around for Hill — a guy with a totally different skill set at 235 pounds. The former LSU workhorse ran for nearly seven yards per carry in the nation’s toughest league and he has plenty of tread left on the tires (just 345 carries in only two college seasons). Hill might be the best back in this class and he should get his fair share of carries this fall, especially around the goal line. The Bengals' bruiser is the best long-shot bet in this draft class.

9. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina (14/1)
Carolina was in desperate need of playmakers after releasing Steve Smith and it went and got one in Benjamin. He won’t flash Megatron-like speed or burst but he has a massive frame and came up big in big-time spots at Florida State. Benjamin should be the go-to target for Cam Newton right away and that alone should put him into the mix for OROY honors in 2014.

10. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay (4/1)
Evans is a nice talent. He has a huge frame and posted big numbers for the Aggies. He also played in a pass-happy system, ran one of two routes, was completely shut down at times, has maturity issues and is playing for a team with a questionable quarterback situation. Again, Evans is a nice player but I wouldn’t bet a penny on him for Rookie of the Year and certainly won’t own him in any fantasy leagues.

Other names to consider:

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (16/1)
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville (20/1)
Cody Latimer, WR, Denver (20/1)
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Chicago (off)
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville (14/1)
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay (20/1)

Ranking the NFL Offensive Rookies of the Year for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/johnson-knaus-heating-win-second-straight-authority-dover

Two and a half weeks ago, a NASCAR storyline was growing: Jimmie Johnson was doomed. The No. 48 was winless, crew chief Chad Knaus and his driver were fighting with one another and a Chase bid, let alone a bid for a seventh championship, could be in jeopardy.

Now? Johnson’s won two straight, jumped atop the charts in laps led (963) and is tied with Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano for the Cup lead in victories. Fourth in points, he’d be tops there too without a couple of inconvenient flat tires at Bristol and Fontana. Turns out the demise of the No. 48 team, as always, was greatly exaggerated.

Oh, almost forgot the best part for all the Jimmie haters out there (of which there are many who show their dislike through the cruelest form of unflattery: indifference): turns out this group still thinks it’s running at about a B to B-minus pace.

“I think we’re behind on just a little bit of everything,” said crew chief Chad Knaus after Sunday’s win. “As we pursued the 2013 season championship, we lost focus on 2014. But that’s just inherent. That’s what happens because you have to focus on one goal that’s directly in front of you.

“I feel like we’ve got a long ways to go yet to understand exactly what we need. With the new ride height changes and rules that they’ve got out there, it’s a different animal, and I know it’s difficult to understand and it’s not easy for everybody. The advantages we had last year were minimized … the last couple weeks have shown great strides, but we’re not where we need to be.”

Oh, how quickly things can change. Perhaps it is wishful thinking when there’s a dynasty dominating the way in which Johnson and Co. has imposed their will on the sport. But there are a whole lot of us feeling very, very stupid right now. There’s no question who’s still the heavy favorite to end Homestead on top, no matter how much we try and write around it.

The question is whether the fans feel the same way, strongly enough, that they’re just not going to bother watching the coronation all over again.

“Through the Gears” we go, following the FedEx 400 in Dover …

FIRST GEAR: Dover domination  Jimmie Johnson
Johnson laid waste to the field Sunday, recording his record ninth win on the one-mile oval he’s taken to task since debuting as a rookie in the Cup Series in 2002. It’s one of his most impressive accomplishments, turning a track into the type of personal playground rarely achieved by anyone in NASCAR history. For comparison’s sake, you think of Darrell Waltrip’s 12 career victories at Bristol — against lesser competition — along with Richard Petty’s 15 wins apiece at North Wilkesboro and Martinsville. There’s David Pearson’s 10 Darlington trophies, taming the Lady in Black in a way no one else has.

And then? Well, that’s about it. Johnson’s record-breaking performance includes 2,976 laps led, more than any other driver in the history of Dover. He’s won six of the last 11 events there, led at least 143 laps in 10 of the last 11 and completed all but two laps during that stretch. The only misses include fuel mileage (second, 2011); a restart penalty (17th, 2013) and a handful of flat tires. Without them, a record like 10-for-11 would easily be within reach.

Walking around Dover this weekend, I got a sense the rest of the field was in a bit of a daze. Drivers hate talking about Johnson’s dominance to the point where I’m honestly starting to feel it’s getting inside people’s heads. How could it not? You can only get beaten into submission so many times.

“I think for sure when you come to Dover, it's always the 48,” said third-place runner Matt Kenseth with a hint of sarcasm. “I mean, they are just unbelievable here. If you're going to have a shot to win, that's the car you're going to have to beat every time unless they break.

“It’s not unexpected when they come here, and I don’t know if you guys notice, but (Johnson’s) pretty good at all the racetracks.”

Latent frustration, laid out for all to see. Also telling, because it’s when the mental wear and tear gets into their competitors that the Johnson/Knaus combo truly jumps out and pounces. In the month of June, I see a giant Lowe’s Chevrolet coming at you. Watch out.

SECOND GEAR: A giant hole in the proceedings  Dover pothole
The Dover race, already a bit of a rout up front between Johnson and Kevin Harvick, was grinded to a halt on Lap 159 once Jamie McMurray hit a piece of concrete that came loose from the track. The resulting hit sent the No. 1 Chevy into the wall, sprayed pieces up into the glass on one of Dover’s pedestrian bridges and resulted in a 22-minute red-flag repair that left some drivers complaining about the track surface.

For most, though, it was a non-issue, as praise was given to the speediness of a repair that held up for the rest of the 400-lap race distance. “It is an epoxy type filler that we use,” explained NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton. “And it's basically the same filler that's used any time we make a repair at the track, whether it be asphalt or concrete.”

Race-winner Johnson was among several drivers who noticed the breakage during driver intros before the race but no one apparently informed NASCAR of the problem. The biggest losers from it were McMurray, whose repairs could not be performed under red flag conditions, and perhaps Harvick, who insinuated a piece of concrete broke the valve stem on his tire after returning to green-flag conditions. The resulting pit stop left him two laps down and unable to mount a charge against Johnson, perhaps one of two drivers that could have done so.

Should the track be repaved? Dover’s surface is 19 years old at this point. But as we’ve seen throughout the sport’s history, these things happen and can never be completely prevented. I also have a sinking feeling that if the racing here is struggling now, new asphalt won’t exactly make it better. See: Michigan, Phoenix, Kansas, Charlotte … need I say more?

THIRD GEAR: Game-changing debris cautions
Dover’s finish was altered by a debris caution with about 40 laps left in the midst of teams saving fuel for what they expected to be a finish based on mileage. Johnson seemed capable of going the distance, not changing the outcome several others were hoping to stretch it in hopes of a better result.

Yet FOX, like it has too often done this season, never showed the piece of whatever that changed race strategy for the entire field. Could you imagine if a penalty was thrown in the NFL that put a team in field goal range and it was never shown? How about a home run negated with no replay and no chance to challenge the call? You can see why it’s not just NASCAR fans, but drivers and teams in the garage, who get increasingly frustrated.

“I tell you, if it wasn’t for debris cautions and stuff like that that keep coming out I think we can be in contention to win one of these things,” insinuated Clint Bowyer. “We certainly had the fuel mileage and everything else. (We) did our homework with the facts that were given, and unfortunately, those facts changed.”

Johnson later added that you “expect” cautions to come out late in the going — a passive-aggressive way of tilting their opinions on how NASCAR might be injecting too much of its own officiating into the outcome. The last caution for debris clearly shown on the backstretch was also controversial, as it bunched up the field one last time with less than 10 laps to go. Many drivers thought they could have raced around it, but this scenario is exactly how the sanctioning body paints itself in a box. How could you avoid calling a late debris caution for pieces you clearly see on the racetrack when you do it for something that might not exist?

The philosophy, much better early in the season, is creeping back to “overreaching” on these cautions and there’s plenty within the sport who hope it changes back ASAP, as the meat of the summer schedule to determine the Chase looms dead ahead.

FOURTH GEAR: Kyle Busch’s triple torn apart  Kyle Busch
Another great weekend for Kyle Busch had a tough ending, courtesy of Clint Bowyer midway through the Dover event. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who had already won Truck and Nationwide Series races at the Monster Mile in the two previous days, got clipped when Bowyer’s spotter said he was clear of the No. 18. That left Busch, who led 81 of the first 124 laps before Johnson’s car got going, sitting dormant in the garage, wondering what might have been after unsuccessfully trying to enact revenge on the racetrack.

“I hated to be in that situation with the 18,” said Bowyer. “It’s one of those deals where I thought I was clear, obviously, and wasn’t. Ruined his day and certainly didn’t help mine.”

Busch, who left the track without comment, is now unofficially one-for-nine on these “triple” opportunities. Typically, it’s the Cup race where he whiffs, a pattern which doesn’t help a reputation some say is built on consistently beating up lesser opponents. If Busch reaches 201 victories in NASCAR’s top three series, beating Petty’s mythical 200, but only earns about 35 of those on the Cup level, what does that say about his career? Do you really want to be known as the minor leaguer who outgrew your competition but never left, needing a continual injection of confidence to keep going?

These are questions Busch will eventually need to answer, rather uncomfortably. “No comment” never works when it comes to making that type of history.

Let’s give a “Barney Hall call” to Brett Moffitt. Driving the underfunded No. 66, a test ride of sorts that, at times, is a joint venture with Michael Waltrip Racing. The rookie driver ran 22nd in his Cup debut. Only Jeff Burton (17th) has had a better finish with the car all season and the team just has one other top 25, courtesy of Michael Waltrip himself, at Talladega. Not bad for a 21-year-old TRD test driver with three combined starts in Nationwide and Trucks. … Could Tony Stewart be on the verge of turning things around? The Cup driver ran seventh at Dover after secretly testing and nearly running a Sprint car in a race last week. It’s a labor of love the busy driver/owner needs after injuring his leg pursuing his “hobby competition” last August. Without it, his mental game suffers on and off the track and it makes him even lesser than 100 percent while recovering from that serious injury. … Martin Truex Jr. also hit the Dover jackpot, running sixth for his best result all year. It’s the best the No. 78 team has looked since the New Jersey native, who considers this his home track, took over for Kurt Busch. … The Dover crowd wasn’t as bad as made out to be. Keep in mind the track has 135,000 seats. You put Fontana’s “sold out” crowd of 70,000 in there from a few months ago and the buzz would be that California should lose its day. Visual perception means everything; that said, interest has fallen fast in the one-mile facility and as one of NASCAR’s last independent tracks, a 2015 schedule revamp could put a second date in jeopardy. … NASCAR On FOX director Artie Kempner waved the green flag while spreading the cause for Autism Awareness. His latest campaign has already raised nearly $20,000 as the generosity of NASCAR fans shine through.

Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Post-race reaction from Jimmie Johnson's win in NASCAR's FedEx 400 at Dover international Speedway.
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 14:49
Path: /golf/5-key-stats-memorial

It was an eventful finish for Hideki Matsuyama at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. First, the 22-year-old Japanese phenom went double bogey-bogey at 16-17 to lose his lead to Kevin Na, who had finished off a 64 a couple hours earlier. Then he snapped the head off his driver on the 18th tee with a seemingly gentle club slam. Undaunted, he proceeded to post birdie on the toughest hole on the course for the fourth straight day to force a playoff with Na before finally finishing off his day with a driver-less, scrambling par to earn his first career PGA Tour win in his Memorial debut.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday. "I’m really, really happy,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter. “It’s a dream come true to win at Mr. Nicklaus’ course."
Matsuyama credited his experience of playing on the International Presidents Cup team last year with partner Adam Scott for his comfort level with the tricky Muirfield layout. "It had a great effect on how I played this week,” Matsuyama said. “I owe a lot to him."
The tournament host was suitably impressed. "I just think you've just seen the start of what's going to be truly one of your world's great players over the next 10 to 15 years," Nicklaus said.

Here are some key numbers from a wild weekend:

1 Matsuyama's ball-striking was beyond reproach this weekend. He ranked first in the field in proximity to the hole on his approach shots, averaging 25 feet, the fourth-best mark by a field leader in an event this season

7 Bubba Watson's double bogey 7 at 15, the easiest hole on the course, came courtesy of a drive that he launched into an adjoining subdivision. "I made one bad decision," he said. "If I hit 4-wood off the tee instead of driver on the par 5, we make 5 and we win by one. But I made double, so we lost by one."

+4 World No. 1 Adam Scott was tied for the lead before playing the final seven holes in 4-over par. "The whole thing is frustrating as I stand here right now," Scott said after a 71. "But everyone is going to feel like that. We all could have done something different. If we all did, who knows what the result would be?"

40 Kevin Na moved to 40th in the Official World Golf Ranking, qualifying him for the U.S. Open. Na had planned to play in a 36-hole qualifier Monday morning.

0 Phil Mickelson, embroiled in an insider trading investigation, finished T-49 and has yet to post a top-10 finish this season as he focuses on the tournament he wants most, the U.S. Open.

Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 11:26
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/greatest-college-football-hype-video-ever

theSeanGshow is already winning the internet this week.

It is the beginning of June and College Football is still more than 80 days away from getting started. But that hasn't stopped one guy from getting the entire country jacked up for the start of the season. 

The compilation features the famous "Kick Six" and "Prayer at Jordan-Hare" but also remembers the greatest plays of the 2013 season. Johnny Manziel vs. Duke, Nebraska's Hail Mary, Carlos Hyde, Nick O'Leary, Jeremy Gallon, a host of one-handed catches, huge truck-stick hits, turnovers and critical performances make this one of the must-see summer internet videos. 

For pure college football fans, this might be the greatest hype video ever produced. Trust us, kick back and enjoy:

Greatest College Football Hype Video... Ever?
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 11:23
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-june-2-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for June 2.

May was a particularly bountiful month in sports-related pulchritude. Enjoy.

• Some photos need no commentary. Like this one: Prince at the French Open, holding a scepter.

• A little piece of history: For the first time, both managers challenged on the same play. Both lost.

Sorry, ladies: Bryce Harper's engaged.

A little wild footage of an ultra-marathon being interrupted by a careening out-of-control car.

Video of a fat guy eating pizza while he's working out. I guess he's multi-tasking.

Donald Sterling attended a black church service. Uh, Donald, it's a little late to be doing damage control.

• The dangers of auto-fill: The Blackhawks accidentally tweeted out a Spanish obscenity.

This high school kid's pose and bat-flip were positively Puig-ian. At least the situation called for it.

Serena Williams crashed a beach wedding in a leopard-print bathing suit.

• Got half a minute to kill? Watch Scott Langley's putt hang on the lip for 23 seconds. Spoiler alert: It drops.

• Florida pulled off a hidden ball trick. Didn't prevent their elimination from the NCAA Regionals.


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

Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 10:45
Path: /college-football/acc-football-2014-predictions
2014 ACC Predictions
Atlantic DivisionACCOverall
1. Florida State (No. 1)8-013-0
2. Clemson (No. 21)7-19-3
3. Louisville (No. 28)5-38-4
4. Syracuse (No. 61)3-56-6
5. Boston College (No. 64)3-56-6
6. NC State (No. 65)2-66-6
7. Wake Forest (No. 85)0-83-9
Coastal DivisionACCOverall
1. Virginia Tech (No. 27)6-29-4
2. Miami (No. 30)5-38-4
3. North Carolina (No. 31)5-38-4
4. Pittsburgh (No. 36)4-48-4
5. Duke (No. 38)4-48-4
6. Georgia Tech (No. 47)3-56-6
7. Virginia (No. 72)1-73-9
ACC Championship 
Florida State over Va. Tech 

The ACC heads into 2014 on stable ground and with plenty of forward momentum surrounding the conference.

Maryland is set to depart for the Big Ten on July 1, and the ACC welcomes Louisville into its 14-team setup. The Cardinals were one of the top programs in the American Athletic/Big East and should be a solid addition to the conference.

Not only is the ACC adding a program with the ability to be a top-25 team each season, the conference is home to college football’s defending national champion – Florida State. The Seminoles own arguably the No. 1 roster in college football for 2014, one of the nation’s top coaches in Jimbo Fisher, and the defending Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Only one team during the BCS era (Alabama) was able to go back-to-back.

After Florida State in the Atlantic, Clemson ranks as the No. 2 team. The Tigers lose quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there’s still a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. With end Vic Beasley deciding to stay at Clemson for his senior year, the defensive line is among the best in the nation. Despite the departures of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and coach Charlie Strong, Louisville is projected to finish No. 3 in the Atlantic. The Cardinals should remain explosive on offense with quarterback Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker, but the defense has some holes to fill, especially in the secondary with the loss of standout safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.

The second tier of the Atlantic Division starts with Syracuse, projected to finish No. 61 nationally. The Orange finished 2013 by winning four of their last six games and return an improving quarterback in Terrel Hunt, along with one of the ACC’s top offensive tackles in Sean Hickey.

Syracuse is projected to finish No. 4 in the Atlantic, but Boston College and NC State aren’t far behind. The Wolfpack could be the most-improved teams in the ACC behind transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

While the Atlantic Division has a clear pecking order, the Coastal is up for grabs. Six teams appear to have a shot at the division title, with Virginia projected to finish a distant seventh.

Virginia Tech is Athlon’s projected Coastal Division champion, but there’s very little separation between Frank Beamer’s team and Miami or North Carolina. The Hurricanes have concerns at quarterback and on defense, but in terms of overall talent, Miami owns the No. 2 roster in the ACC. The Tar Heels have an explosive offense, which will be needed with a defense that has concerns on each level.

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)


Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions

What gave Virginia Tech the edge in the Coastal?

The 2014 Coastal Division is as wide open as any division in any league that we can remember. Six of the seven teams — all but Virginia — were in the discussion for No. 1. Eventually, we boiled it down to Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. The biggest issues for North Carolina are a suspect offensive line and concerns on the defensive line and in the secondary. Miami’s schedule is very difficult — Louisville and Florida State are the crossover opponents — and the Canes’ defense has struggled in recent years. Also, there is now a concern at quarterback with Ryan Williams out with a torn ACL.

That leaves us with Virginia Tech. The Hokies have their problems on offense, but the defense will be outstanding. The schedule is also very favorable. They play Miami at home and do not play the top three teams in the Atlantic Division — Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. We’re not sure Virginia Tech will be the best team in the ACC Coastal in 2014, but it looks as though it is the team most likely to win the division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

With so many key players back, how can Duke go from division champs to fifth place?

Duke was one of the nation’s biggest surprises in 2013, but it took some fortunate bounces for the Blue Devils to win the Coastal Division crown. They managed a 6–2 league record despite being outgained by an average of 41.4 yards in their eight regular-season ACC games. They actually won a game on the road in which they did not convert a third-down attempt, beating Virginia Tech 13–10 in Blacksburg. This is in no way meant to discredit Duke’s accomplishments in 2013. It was an amazing season for a program that for years had been among the worst in the nation. But the numbers don’t lie; Duke was a good, but hardly great, team that could just as easily gone .500 in the league. Going forward, Duke should remain competitive, but it’s hard to envision this team posing a serious challenge in the Coastal. The offense should once again be potent, but the defense will remain a problem. The Devils ranked 13th in the league (in ACC games) in total defense last year, allowing 451.0 yards per game. That has to improve significantly. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Is there a sleeper team to watch in the ACC in 2014?

Pittsburgh. Aaron Donald is a huge loss for the defense, but the offense has a chance to improve in the third year under coach Paul Chryst. New quarterback Chad Voytik is promising and had a good showing in the bowl win over Bowling Green. The Panthers also have a solid backfield with James Conner and Isaac Bennett returning after each rushed for over 700 yards last season. Receiver Tyler Boyd is one of the best in the nation, and the offensive line – a source of concern in recent years – appears to be taking a step forward. Also, Pittsburgh’s schedule is favorable. The Panthers won’t play Florida State, Louisville or Clemson in crossover play with the Atlantic. Instead, Pittsburgh plays a manageable slate of Syracuse and Boston College. And key games against Coastal foes Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are at home. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Which prediction scares us the most?

Georgia Tech seems a little low at No. 6 in the Coastal Division. The Yellow Jackets went 5–3 in the league last year — highlighted by a 24-point win over Coastal Division champ Duke — and have a remarkable streak of 19 straight seasons without a losing record in league play. So why so low this year? Well, as we mentioned earlier, the Coastal is wide open, and not much separates the top six teams in the division. But we had to pick someone sixth, and Georgia Tech was the choice to finish behind Pittsburgh and Duke. The Jackets have some concerns at the skill positions, most notably at quarterback after the surprising transfer of quarterback Vad Lee. Some Georgia Tech fans might consider Justin Thomas an upgrade, but he has yet to prove he can operate Paul Johnson’s option attack with consistency. Also, Tech’s top two rushers (David Sims and Robert Godhigh) are gone, and the defense must replace six starters. The schedule presents some challenges as well; the Jackets — unlike Miami, Pitt and Duke — have to play Clemson from the Atlantic Division and two of their key swing games are on the road — at Pittsburgh and North Carolina. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

What is Florida State’s biggest obstacle to repeat?

Good question. Take a look at Florida State’s roster and schedule. See many holes or concerns? Didn’t think so. The receiving corps needs to be revamped with the departure of Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, but there’s also a lot of talent. Five-star recruits Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph add depth and could make an instant impact if Christian Green or Jesus Wilson fails to secure a starting spot. The secondary is among the best in the nation, but the front seven has a few pieces to replace. Tackle Timmy Jernigan is the biggest loss from the 2013 unit, as there’s not a ton of proven depth on the interior. How the defense responds to new coordinator Charles Kelly will also be interesting to watch. Punting is also concern as Cason Beatty struggled in 2013. None of the mentioned obstacles could impact Florida State during the regular season but could be a bigger issue in the playoffs. Barring a complete meltdown with turnovers or sluggish play, the Seminoles should finish the regular season unbeaten and own the top spot in college football’s four-team playoff. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Is there any hope for Virginia to finish anywhere but last in the Coastal?

Obviously, anything can happen, but the Cavaliers have a huge hill to climb in 2014. Virginia went 0–8 in the league last year — with all but one loss coming by 10 points or more — and doesn’t appear much better (on paper) this season. Plus, the schedule is very difficult, with crossover games against Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic Division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)


2014 ACC Team Previews


ACC Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

ACC Champ: Orange* vs. SEC/Big Ten/N. Dame

Capital One: Big Ten or ACC vs. SEC

Russell Athletic: ACC vs. Big 12

Gator/Music City: ACC or Big Ten vs. SEC

Belk: ACC vs. SEC

Sun: ACC vs. Pac-12

Pinstripe: ACC vs. Big Ten

Military: ACC vs. American

Independence: ACC vs. SEC

Detroit: ACC vs. Big Ten

St. Petersburg: ACC vs. American

* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff

NC StatePittsburgh
Wake ForestVirginia
                    Notre Dame

ACC Notebook


by Nolan Hayes (@tnolanhayes)


QB Or Not QB?

Jameis Winston made the most of his first opportunity to be Florida State’s starting quarterback, winning the Heisman Trophy and guiding the Seminoles to the national championship last season. He returns for his sophomore season with only 14 career starts to his credit, but he is a grizzled veteran when it comes to ACC quarterbacks in 2014.

Amazingly, Winston has more career starts than any other signal-caller in the league.

Just five of the conference’s 14 teams — Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia — return their starting quarterback from last season. UNC is included in that group only because an injury to Bryn Renner allowed Marquise Williams to start five games that he would not have started otherwise.

Six of the teams in the conference do not have a quarterback who has started a major-college game. The number almost could be seven, with Miami’s Ryan Williams (who started 10 games for Memphis in 2010) suffering a torn ACL during the spring.

Clemson must move on without Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s career leader in passing efficiency. Louisville kicks off its first season in the league after saying goodbye to Teddy Bridgewater. Virginia Tech needs a replacement for Logan Thomas, the school record-holder for career total offense. Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee decided to transfer.

The list goes on and on, creating a sharp contrast to the experience the conference had at quarterback entering 2013. Last year, the ACC had a league-record five quarterbacks returning who had at least 6,000 career passing yards.

What are the consequences of the ACC’s inexperience at football’s most important position? It’s reasonable to expect more mistakes and less efficiency from ACC quarterbacks as a whole this season. While that’s less than ideal for a conference that is trying to build on the momentum created by a national championship and two consecutive Orange Bowl victories, some hope remains.

Maybe there’s another Jameis Winston ready to shine.

Prestigious Addition 

The ACC welcomes Notre Dame to the league this season … sort of. The Fighting Irish are not members of the conference in football, but they will play four ACC teams this season as part of an agreement with the league that granted Notre Dame’s other athletic teams membership in the ACC. Notre Dame plays Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. (Sept. 27), home against North Carolina (Oct. 11), at Florida State (Oct. 18), and home against Louisville (Nov. 22).

Notre Dame will play six games against ACC teams in 2015 and then five games against ACC foes in 2016. As part of the agreement with the conference, the Fighting Irish will play every ACC team at least once every three seasons.

A New ‘Big Game’ 

Speaking of the Coastal Division and its 2013 champion, Duke’s rise has been nothing short of amazing under coach David Cutcliffe. Opposing teams used to worry about playing at Duke because the atmosphere and opponent were so bad that it was hard to get excited about the game. These days, Duke’s opponents worry about playing against a team that can beat them.

How much progress have the Blue Devils made? They won six conference games last season — exactly twice the amount they won in eight years combined before Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008. After back-to-back bowl appearances and back-to-back wins over rival North Carolina, this much is clear: The nation needs a new punchline, and the ACC needs a new doormat. Duke no longer fits the bill on either account.

“As far as I’m concerned, Duke is one of the top-tier programs right now,” UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer says. “Coach Cutcliffe has got them on a roll. They came into Kenan last year and whipped us. They’ve beaten us the past two years, so you can’t not put Duke as a big game. You can’t do it anymore. You can’t look past them.”

A League Divided

The critics of the ACC’s two-division format got louder after Louisville replaced Maryland, which bounced to the Big Ten, in the Atlantic Division. The Cardinals went 23–3 over the past two seasons, including a 3–1 mark against schools now in the ACC, and they have Bobby Petrino back as their head coach. So it’s safe to assume that Louisville will make life tougher for the other teams in the Atlantic than Maryland would have.

The reality for fans of Atlantic Division members Boston College, NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest is sobering. They already had it tough with Florida State and Clemson, the top two programs in the league in recent years, in their division. But now they must find a way to hurdle another strong program just to earn a trip to the ACC Championship Game.

On the other side in the Coastal Division, the story is different. Miami and Virginia Tech have been perennially great in the past, and they might be perennially great again. But they aren’t special programs right now, and that has left the door open for other teams (hello, Duke) to walk through on the way to the league championship game.

ACC Coordinator Carousel


by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)


Duke: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Scottie Montgomery, Kurt Roper; New: Scottie Montgomery

Roper, a longtime David Cutcliffe assistant, is now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Montgomery, who was an All-SEC wide receiver at Duke in the late 1990s, is now the lone offensive coordinator.

Florida State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Jeremy Pruitt; New: Charles Kelly

Pruitt bolted after only one season at Florida State and is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia. Kelly was promoted from linebackers to coach to defensive coordinator. His duties will shift from coaching linebackers to defensive backs. He has been a coordinator at Jacksonville State, Nicholls State and Henderson State.

Louisville: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Shawn Watson; New: Garrick McGee

Watson followed Charlie Strong from Louisville to Texas. McGee resigned as the head coach at UAB to become the offensive coordinator at Louisville. McGee worked for Petrino at Arkansas from 2008-11 and had a previous stint as the offensive coordinator at Northwestern. He began his playing career at Arizona State but played his final two seasons at Oklahoma.

Louisville: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Vance Bedford; New: Todd Grantham

Bedford is now the defensive coordinator at Texas, working for his old boss at Louisville, Charlie Strong. Grantham spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Georgia. He also has experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, with the Browns from 2005-07.

North Carolina: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Blake Anderson; New: Seth Littrell

Anderson is now the head coach at Arkansas State — the fourth in the last four seasons for the Red Wolves. Littrell spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Indiana, where his offenses ranked near the top of the Big Ten. 

Wake Forest: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Steed Lobotzke; New: Warren Ruggiero

Lobotzke was not retained by the new staff and landed as the offensive coordinator at Division II Winston-Salem State. Ruggiero followed new Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green.

Wake Forest: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Brian Knorr; New: Mike Elko

Knorr accepted a position as the defensive coordinator at Air Force but left 10 days later for the same position at Indiana. Elko made the move from Bowling Green with Dave Clawson. He was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator for five seasons.

ACC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 07:15