Articles By All

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
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-81-100

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.

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 here and 61-80 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: 81-100

81. South Florida
Give coach Willie Taggart credit for this: Even after a horrendous 53–21 home loss against McNeese State to open the season, even after watching his offense struggle mightily just to move the chains, he remained undaunted. He insists his approach will work. It just needs patience and hard work.

The up-and-coming program that once upset the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson and West Virginia? That’s now ancient history. USF must rebuild from the ground up. The intermediate goal is obvious. If Taggart can coax USF’s first bowl trip since 2010, then the Bulls are definitely on their way back.

Read the full 2014 South Florida Bulls Team Preview

82. Nevada
With 16 returning starters, including quarterback Cody Fajardo, Nevada should improve over last season. The Wolf Pack’s 2014 slate lightens up from a brutal 2013. Mountain West heavyweights Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State all come to Reno. If the Wolf Pack improve substantially on defense and solve their second-half woes, they should make a bowl game and contend for the West Division title.

Read the full 2014 Nevada Wolf Pack Team Preview

83. San Diego State
San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.

That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.

Read the full 2014 San Diego State Aztecs Team Preview

84. South Alabama
USA finished its first full-fledged season of FBS play with bowl eligibility (6–6 record) and one win shy of the Sun Belt title. Now the bar is raised, and the Jaguars are no longer the ever-changing conference’s newcomer.

“We are not a veteran in this conference by any means, but things have changed quickly,” coach Joey Jones says. “We were about a play or two away from winning a conference championship and going to a bowl. There is some pep in our step.”

Taking another step forward is plausible but carries conditions. Last year’s team won by committing very few turnovers on offense and causing disruption on the defensive front. The 2014 squad must do the same with a new quarterback and new starters on the defensive line. After a tough home opener against Mississippi State, the Jaguars face five consecutive winnable conference games before difficult road trips to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. If the Jaguars are riding a winning streak at midseason, title contention could be a possibility.

Read the full 2014 South Alabama Jaguars Team Preview

85. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to five bowl games, but after five straight losing seasons, Grobe knew that the program needed new energy. Enter Dave Clawson, fresh off a successful stint at Bowling Green.

Clawson won’t have an easy time turning the program around. The offense was the ACC’s worst, and gone are the top passer, rusher and receiver. The defense should be the stronger unit, and he may have to rely on creating turnovers to help the offense. His biggest task so far has been to wipe away the losing culture:

“It’s definitely a higher standard that they are setting for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” safety Ryan Janvion says.

Read the full 2014 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Team Preview

86. North Texas
A new starting quarterback and a rebuilt defensive front seven usually point to a rebuilding year, and that still may be the case for the Mean Green. But there are enough concerns elsewhere in the C-USA West Division to keep North Texas right in the mix for contention. Plus, the program has a different feel after posting nine wins and the Mean Green’s first bowl victory in 11 years last season.

“(Rebuilding) is fair for people to say, but great programs reload,” coach Dan McCarney says. “Not many people knew about us when I got here. We need to keep it going and not go back into the woods.”

A home opener against SMU should be telling about the team’s potential. And if the Mean Green are still in the hunt, an Oct. 25 trip to Rice could provide a title shot. North Texas handed C-USA champion Rice its lone league loss last season.

Read the full 2014 North Texas Mean Green Team Preview

87. Rice
The Owls won 10 games last year and took the C-USA title by whipping Marshall in the championship game. Two years ago, Rice fans wondered whether David Bailiff was the man to run the program. Now, they are convinced of his ability to lead. The Owls are in a position where they can redshirt just about all their freshmen. That’s huge.

But Rice will be tested this year. The schedule features seven road games with four of the first five away from home. If quarterback Driphus Jackson can return to the form he flashed at the end of the 2012 season, Rice will be dangerous on offense, thanks to a strong supporting cast around him. The defense is deep and experienced. Another C-USA title may be asking too much, but the Owls should be bowling, for sure.

Read the full 2014 Rice Owls Team Preview

88. UConn
Bob Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. That’s why Diaco was given a five-year contract worth $8 million.

Read the full 2014 UConn Huskies Team Preview

89. UTSA
UTSA’s rise in its first three seasons as a football program has been remarkable. The Roadrunners have gone from not having a team to being a legitimate threat to reach the Conference USA Championship Game in just four years. This is a senior-laden squad with experience at every position except quarterback, and this group has been building toward the 2014 season, since it’s the first year that the program is eligible to participate in a bowl game.

Coach Larry Coker has built his team primarily from the Texas high schools, especially the San Antonio area, which is home to almost 30 players on the current roster. The transitional phase to the FBS has been smoother than expected, and now comes a new hurdle for this very new program — expectations.

Read the full 2014 UTSA Roadrunners Team Preview

90. MTSU
Almost always a contender but rarely a champion, MTSU has been bowl-eligible five times in Rick Stockstill’s eight seasons but has earned only a share of one conference title. Back-to-back eight-win seasons in two different conferences (Sun Belt, C-USA) provide a good springboard for another bowl bid this year.

With East Carolina out of the league, MTSU likely must beat out Marshall, Florida Atlantic and old Sun Belt rival Western Kentucky for the C-USA East title. Finding a dependable quarterback and duplicating last season’s terrific turnover margin will be key if the Blue Raiders want to make a run at a conference title rather than just hang around .500.

“Each year your team changes, but you know we’re close,” Stockstill says. “We were a game out of winning it in our last year in the Sun Belt. And we were basically a game out from winning it this past year in Conference USA. Marshall will obviously be the favorite, but we’re close.”

Read the full 2014 MTSU Blue Raiders Team Preview

91. FAU
If the offensive line can find cohesion, FAU has the weapons to put up a lot of points in 2014. The defense lacks depth but boasts an outstanding secondary and a defensive tackle rotation that should limit big gains by opponents via the ground game. FAU should make a bowl for the first time in six years and could gain some national notoriety with an upset in Week 1 at Nebraska. But the season will be defined in back-to-back weeks in October, when FAU hosts Western Kentucky and then travels to C-USA favorite Marshall.

Read the full 2014 FAU Owls Team Preview

92. Western Kentucky
After seven seasons as an NFL backup quarterback with six teams, Jeff Brohm quickly transitioned to college coaching. A dozen years later, he is getting his first opportunity as a head coach. And of the 20 new coaches in the FBS ranks, Brohm is the only one promoted to the top job from the previous staff. Six assistants also stayed instead of following Bobby Petrino or jumping elsewhere. That rare continuity after a coaching change should bode well for a team that was snubbed for a bowl berth despite winning eight games. The Hilltoppers figure to have a tough time matching last year’s win total — the schedule is more difficult — but this is a program that can compete for C-USA titles in the near future.

Read the full 2014 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Team Preview

93. Arkansas State
Coaching changes followed conference championships in each of the last three seasons at ASU. With a $3 million buyout in the first two years of his contract, Blake Anderson figures to have a longer stay than immediate predecessors Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. The former North Carolina offensive coordinator inherits more than expectations, too. The Red Wolves figure to experience some of the typical transition issues, and there are key players to replace on both sides of the ball, but they have enough talent to contend for another Sun Belt title and bowl bid.

Read the full 2014 Arkansas State Red Wolves Team Preview

94. Wyoming
Wyoming hired a proven winner in Craig Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS national titles. But the transition in all phases of the game will take time. The Cowboys lost to five teams that finished above them in the conference standings by nearly 30 points per contest last season. This season’s schedule does them no favors, with road games at Oregon and Michigan State in September. Anything close to a .500 record should be considered a success.

“We made good progress during the course of the spring, but we are not anything to where we are a finished product,” Bohl says.

Read the full 2014 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview

95. Ohio
Ohio has developed into a consistent winner under coach Frank Solich, and with a veteran defense and solid special teams, the Bobcats should again be a contender for a winning season and possible bowl bid. But with a complete rebuild in store for the offense, Ohio will have a tough time contending for a league title in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Ohio Bobcats Team Preview

96. SMU
The Mustangs came close to playing in their fifth straight bowl game despite a porous defense and virtually no running game in 2013. But they face even tougher obstacles with a new quarterback, a patchwork line and no proven running back. Best-case scenario, the defense plays over its head, buying some time for Neal Burcham to develop, and the incoming class is better than advertised. A tough non-conference schedule complicates matters. The Mustangs open at Baylor’s new stadium and then face other former Southwest Conference rivals Texas A&M and TCU.

Read the full 2014 SMU Mustangs Team Preview

97. Akron
Akron made major strides last season with a 5–7 record after winning only six games total in the previous four seasons. A winning season is possible if enough players turn potential into productivity. It helps that the league schedule seems more forgiving than in the recent past.

The offense needs quarterback Kyle Pohl to make better decisions and be more consistent than he was in 2013. The receiving corps may have put up some decent numbers, but there were far too many drops. A senior-style performance from Jawon Chisholm would take some pressure off the passing game.

Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Amato believes that question marks can be turned into exclamation points.

The feeling around the conference is that the Zips are finally going to have a team befitting the beautiful InfoCision Stadium. The university must feel the same way, because Terry Bowden was awarded a new two-year contract extension through 2018.

Bowden has built from the bottom, filled pieces slowly but surely and has a team that might be a surprise.

Read the full 2014 Akron Zips Team Preview

98. Memphis
It appears all the elements are in place for the Tigers to make a move in the American Athletic Conference. Coach Justin Fuente has increased the tempo of his offense and has a quarterback who he believes can lead the charge. Defensively, the Tigers likely will improve further under the direction of Barry Odom and make a run at bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2008.

Read the full 2014 Memphis Tigers Team Preview

99. Tulane
Was the 2013 success a legitimate breakthrough or the product of a weak schedule? Tulane’s move to the more competitive American Athletic Conference will provide that answer. On paper, the Green Wave could be an underdog to eight or nine of their 2014 opponents. Of course, the Wave were favored only three times last year, so coach Curtis Johnson is used to that role. Recruiting heavily in South Louisiana, he and his staff have upgraded the talent level significantly. The program is on the upswing, but the record may not reflect that growth as Tulane moves to an on-campus stadium (Yulman Stadium) for the first time in 40 years.

Read the full 2014 Tulane Green Wave Team Preview

100. Temple
The Owls made the switch from Steve Addazio’s run-first philosophy to Matt Rhule’s more wide-open approach, and the transition was far from smooth. Temple slumped to 2–10, the program’s worst record since 2006. But it wasn’t a complete disaster: Seven of the losses were by 10 points or fewer and four by three or fewer, including three on long, late passes. The Owls led by 21 in two losses. A few defensive plays at the right time could have led to another win or two.

Rhule was on the staff when Temple won 26 games while in the MAC from 2009-11. He’s confident that it can happen again, perhaps even soon. A lot depends on P.J. Walker’s continued progress. And the defense, which ranked last — by a wide margin — in the league, must improve considerably for Temple to take a step forward in the American Athletic Conference.

Read the full 2014 Temple Owls Team Preview

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascars-hall-fame-part-1-next-five

NASCAR’s 2015 Hall of Fame class was announced last week. An all-driver quintet of Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White made for a fine induction group with a natural mix of contemporary and pioneer.

In this first of two posts, Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese highlights the people he believes should occupy the next two classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

1. Curtis Turner
One of the most storied names in NASCAR, Curtis “Pops” Turner was one of the pioneers of a sport that, at the time, many had heard of but few truly knew.

Turner wasn’t cut from the mold of others of his time (think Junior Johnson and Lee Petty) and he didn’t race because he needed to — Turner was a millionaire lumber baron (in 1950s millions) who raced because he liked it and partied because he loved it. He was also the driving force behind getting Charlotte Motor Speedway built, investing over $2 million of his own money — including $70,000 to blow up a giant piece of granite — and wielded a pistol to get guys back to work once the money ran out.

That reverse bootlegger turn made famous in Thunder Road? It was perfected by Turner, who once did it with a trunk full of moonshine — and without spilling a drop. When asked how he was able to do that, he replied with the classic, “I couldn’t let all that good whiskey go to waste.”

Working against Turner at the time — and maybe to this day — was his efforts, along with Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts, form a Driver’s Union. Banned from the sport for it in 1961, he was allowed back for the 1965 season, when he won the final race of the season at Rockingham.

Turner’s life was cut short when was killed in a 1970 plane crash in Punxsutawney, Penn. Benny Parson once said of the legend: “Ask any race fan under the age of 50 who the greatest driver is and they’ll say ‘Dale Earnhardt.’ Ask anyone over 50, and they’ll say ‘Curtis Turner.’”

2. Bobby Isaac
While NASCAR historians are keen to focus on the 1970 Plymouth Superbird as one of the greatest race cars ever built, it was actually its cousin, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, that won a title for Bobby Isaac in 1970.

Born during the Great Depression in Catawba, N.C., Isaac quit school after the sixth grade to work in a sawmill — so he could buy himself new shoes. When his mother died he became the family provider at the age of 13. Isaac was forced to become a scrapper out of necessity, having the words “Love and Hate” tattooed across each hand.

When he joined with Nord Krauskopf’s No.71 K&K Insurance team, his fortunes changed. In 1969, he posted 17 wins in 50 starts and a record 20 pole positions on the Grand National circuit. In 1970, the team won 11 races in 47 starts, posting 32 top-5 and 37 top-10 finishes. That year he also set a closed-course record of 201.104 mph in a legit stock car with 1970’s rubber. A year later, Isaac and the “winged wonder” set 28 world speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, many of which still stand.

Isaac’s career ended in 1976 with 37 wins and 170 top 10s — and the 1970 title — earned over 308 starts.

3. Alan Kulwicki
Alan Kulwicki was a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a briefcase in one hand and a comb in the other. He was also years ahead of his time as a college graduate gone racin’ with an engineering degree.

Kulwicki headed south to race stock cars and make a name for himself on his terms. He began running Fords in 1985 at a time when the only guys running and winning with the Blue Oval were Bill Elliott and Cale Yarborough. By 1987 he set out with his self-owned team and captured his first Cup triumph in 1988 at Phoenix — where upon he whipped it around and did his self-described Polish Victory Lap.

His car wore the colors of the U.S. Army as Operation Desert Storm prepared to launch at Daytona in 1991, but when sponsor Hooters joined two races later, it all came together for his rag-tag outfit. Kulwicki won the championship the following season over Bill Elliott by way of leading the most laps in the season finale in Atlanta — fittingly, in the Hooters 500 — in what is lauded as one of the most notable races of NASCAR’s modern era.

A true independent, he was the last owner-driver to win the title until Tony Stewart in 2011 (although it should be noted that Stewart’s team receives engines and engineering from the most powerful organization in the sport). Hall of Famer Junior Johnson maintains there are only two drivers that never had the chance to race for him that he regrets missing out on: Dale Earnhardt and Alan Kulwicki.

4. Robert Yates
When you think of big-time horsepower, Robert Yates is the name that most recognize. His NASCAR career started with the Holman-Moody team and moved on to Junior Johnson & Associates to oversee engine development. Joining DiGard Racing in 1976, he built the engines that powered Bobby Allison to the 1983 championship. A year later he built the engine that Richard Petty used to power past Cale Yarborough coming to the line to win race No. 200 at Daytona.

He started Robert Yates Racing in 1988 from what was Harry Rainer’s operation, with Bobby Allison’s son Davey at the wheel. They finished second to Bobby in their first outing at the Daytona 500. The two would pair to form one of the most potent and, sadly, short-lived combinations in the sport’s history. The duo would win the Daytona 500, the Winston All-Star Race, came within a Swervin’ Irvan of winning the 1992 championship, and would become a Ford firebrand in the early 1990s.

When Dale Jarrett joined the team following Allison’s passing and Ernie Irvan’s injury, Yates was rewarded with two more Daytona 500 wins, two Brickyard 400s and the 1999 Winston Cup. In 2004, he joined forces with another Ford legend, Jack Roush, to establish Yates-Roush Engines, the sole engine supplier for Ford’s NASCAR efforts.

5. Buddy Baker
During the 1970s when NASCAR began migrating from the bullrings to the superspeedways, there was one name that was synonymous with standing on the gas: Buddy Baker.

Nicknamed “Leadfoot,” the son of two-time champion Buck Baker, at 6’6” and nearly 300 lbs, also went by the monker “Gentle Giant.”

Seventeen of Baker’s 19 Cup Series wins came on superspeedways, and he was the first driver to win at NASCAR’s four biggest tracks — Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Darlington. On March 24th, 1970, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier in a stock car, running 200.447 mph at Talladega in the No. 88 Cotton Owens Dodge Charger Daytona. 

Speaking of Daytona, Baker still holds the record for the fastest Daytona 500, winning the race that averaged 177.602 mph in 1980 — the final year of the land barges of the era. His final win, in 1983, also came at Daytona while driving for The Wood Brothers in the Firecracker 400.

Following his career behind the wheel, Baker was equally stout behind the microphone, joining former drivers Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons as the voice of NASCAR through the 1990s. He acted as a driver coach for Ryan Newman when he took Rookie of the Year Honors in 2002 over Jimmie Johnson. Still active in NASCAR, Baker continues his career today on Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90, hosting the popular program “The Late Shift.”

Follow Vito Pugliese on Twitter: @VitoPugliese

NASCAR’s 2015 Hall of Fame class was announced last week. An all-driver quintet of Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White made for a fine induction group with a natural mix of contemporary and pioneer. In this first of two posts, Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese highlights the people he believes should occupy the next two classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 17:21
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnsons-summer-reign-beginning

Jimmie Johnson’s summer reign may be just beginning  Jimmie Johnson
It was a bad, horrible and no-good storyline in the run up to last week’s Coca-Cola 600: a “struggling” Jimmie Johnson was winless and looked more average than a six-time champion really should in the season’s opening stint.

As Johnson tamped the conversation forcefully with his Sunday night win, he also may have initiated the story that will dominate NASCAR’s June stretch: the No. 48 taking the rest of the sport out behind the shed for a classic whooping.

The next two races — Dover this weekend and Pocono next — have routinely played host to Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus putting on flag-to-flag clinics. At Dover, Johnson has eight career wins after taking checkered flags in five of his last 10 starts on the one-mile track. More impressive? Johnson has failed to lead fewer than 143 laps in one of those 10 starts.

At Pocono, Johnson has three career wins — it really should be four or five, save for flat tires that cost him races in 2012 and 2013 — and had the most dominant car there at both races a year ago.

For all of the hand wringing in recent weeks, Johnson may just be embarking on a complete flip of the narrative.

Tony Stewart back at site of last Sprint Cup win  
A lot around Tony Stewart has changed since his last trip to Sprint Cup Victory Lane. He’s got two new teammates, new metal pins in his leg, an active Twitter account and the beginnings of a Formula 1 team rising just beyond the front door of his co-owned Sprint Cup team.  Tony Stewart

And after all that, he’s just eight races away from matching his career-long winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series. During some lean times at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2007 and ’08, Stewart waited 44 races between wins at NASCAR’s top level. With his most recent coming at Dover last June, Sunday marks his 37th start since that triumph.

It was a race that Stewart somewhat lucked in to. After a restart penalty dropped Jimmie Johnson out of a contention, Stewart passed Juan Pablo Montoya with three laps remaining to snare the win.

With the performance of Stewart-Haas Racing and his No. 14 season-to-date, a win doesn’t seem imminent. But it didn’t seem that way a year ago, either.

Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards enter interesting stretch
The rumors will only continue to perpetuate as Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards remain mum on their plans for 2015. Both Roush Fenway drivers are in the final years of their respective contracts at the Ford team, and both seem to be smartly fielding any and all options going forward.

A big reason for that, of course, has been a slow downward slide of RFR performance.

That uncertainty makes the new few weeks an interesting period for both drivers with typically Roush-friendly tracks on the docket. Between Dover and Michigan (the race that follows next week’s turn in Pocono), Roush-owned teams have scored 22 of the organization’s 134 total Cup series wins. A full 15 percent of RFR top-5 finishes in the team’s history have come at the two tracks.

The period could go a long way in helping Biffle and Edwards decide if a long-term future at RFR is the best case scenario, or if jumping ship — like former teammate Matt Kenseth did to Joe Gibbs Racing last season — is the better alternative.

Kurt Busch in danger of exiting top 30? Hardly.
With Kurt Busch’s expired engine in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 came the fifth DNF in 12 races for the 2004 champion. It was a continuation, really, of a largely disappointing season on the stock car front for the newest Stewart-Haas Racing driver. Aside from his Martinsville win — and isn’t that win looking quite important now? — Busch has just one finish better than 21st in 2014.

A season ago with Furniture Row Racing, Busch had seven finishes better than 23rd after 12 races.

The strange start to 2014 has landed Busch way back in the points – 28th to be exact – heading to Dover. Numerically, that puts him awful close to the 30th-place cutoff drivers must be above in order for regular season wins to count toward Chase eligibility. So Kurt is teetering on a dangerous edge, right?

Not exactly. To fall to 31st, Busch would have to cede 61 points Cole Whitt, or even more to David Gilliland, Alex Bowman, David Ragan or Reed Sorenson. Frankly, that’s just not happening.

The biggest issue with Busch’s miserable start is that he now has a very, very small cushion should something keep him from starting a few races. The possibility of that, however, diminished greatly when he emerged from his Indianapolis 500 experience without injury.

When do we get concerned about Ricky Stenhouse Jr.?
A two-time Nationwide Series champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. always seemed an obvious fit and strong candidate to take over a Sprint Cup seat for Roush Fenway Racing. But now he’s nearly one and a half seasons in to a full-time Cup career and the choice isn’t looking so strong based on mediocre results.

What should be made of it?

There are two roads to walk. First, Stenhouse could be the classic case of “too much, too soon” — not unlike the now front-running Joey Logano. In that theory, Stenhouse should be afforded more time — three to four seasons at Cup level — to get his bearings and show his worth.

The second thought is that Stenhouse’s credentials were overhyped based on internal and external competition. Externally, he was twice a champion in a Nationwide Series that featured regular winners who weren’t eligible for points. The second of those title-winning seasons did include an impressive six wins — but also came in a year where Kyle Busch raced his own equipment and could never win. Internally, his strongest opposition for the Cup ride in 2013 came from Trevor Bayne. Bayne’s talented, sure, but hasn’t proven to have the ability to consistently beat top Cup-level drivers.

Yes, it’s still early in Stenhouse’s career. He’s had just 53 total starts and only 48 as a full-time driver. But a slight regression in average finish year-to-year (Stenhouse finished 2013 at 18.9 and is at 22.5 after 12 races in 2014) plus a lead-lap finish pace nine marks under last year isn’t positive evidence of improved performance.

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.


Five things to watch in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Dover international Speedway
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 16:13
Path: /college-football/american-athletic-conference-announces-division-alignment-2015

The American Athletic Conference has announced its new divisional alignment for the 2015 season. With Navy set to join the league in 2015, the American Athletic Conference will have 12 teams and will play a championship game on a campus site at the end of the year.

Here are the divisional breakdowns for 2015 and beyond:

East CarolinaMemphis
South FloridaTulsa

On paper, the balance of power seems to be tilted to the East Division. UCF is the defending league champion, and Cincinnati has been one of the league’s top programs over the last five years.

However, the West Division features a solid program in Houston, along with an annual bowl team in Navy. Tulsa struggled in 2013 but is a program capable of winning the league title. And teams like Memphis, SMU and Tulane have made improvement in recent years.

And with the American Athletic Conference going with a friendly geographic alignment, this should be easy for the fans to remember.

American Athletic Conference Announces Division Alignment for 2015
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-30-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 30.

• Remember Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner? The one who wore her displeasure with the judges on her face? She went to the beach and dressed accordingly.

Looks like jilted Caroline Wozniacki is planning something sinister for Rory McIlroy. Seems to be working, last I checked his score today.

• So, 50 Cent's first pitch really was the worst in history (and Dubya's after 9/11 was the best).

John Harbaugh's not backing away from the Ravens' difficult offseason.

Jadeveon Clowney beclowned some TMZ reporter. Well played.

An Oklahoma State recruit was arrested for armed robbery after threatening to "bust a cap." He apparently arrived in Stillwater from the year 1996.

Bryan Cranston teases us by refusing to rule out more "Breaking Bad."

Fun with screencaps.

The week's funniest tweets. A sneak preview: My coworker used to joke "I'm allergic to most nuts, but not donuts!". Until Bill brought in peanut butter donuts. He died in the ambulance.

• Say what you will about Yasiel Puig: He never fails to entertain.

A fun gallery of Lance Stephenson memes.

• Pop's exchanges with reporters are money, every time.


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

Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 11:21
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-61-80

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 No. 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. The No. 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).

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 here and No. 41-60 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: 61-80

61. Syracuse
With numerous returners on each side of the ball and the momentum from the Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Syracuse is poised to take another step in 2014. Yet the talent gap between the Orange and ACC Atlantic Division members Florida State and Clemson remains huge. Every other game will be a crapshoot, and another upper-division finish and bowl are attainable.

Read the full 2014 Syracuse Orange Team Preview

62. Fresno State
Tim DeRuyter has enjoyed a pretty good run: two seasons and two MWC titles. But the job’s about to get a lot tougher, breaking in a new quarterback against a brutal early schedule.

After tangling with USC, Utah and Nebraska, it’s possible Fresno State will be 1–3 for the conference opener. Yet there’s enough talent to hang another championship banner. It may depend on whether the Bulldogs are steeled by those early games — or battered by them.

Read the full 2014 Fresno State Bulldogs Team Preview

63. Arkansas
Arkansas should be improved on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean another winless SEC season is out of the question for the Razorbacks, who are still trying to stabilize and upgrade their roster after the disruption of the Bobby Petrino affair. Qualifying for a bowl berth would be a significant step in Year 2 under Bret Bielema, as Arkansas chugs forward with a difficult rebuild.

Read the full 2014 Arkansas Razorbacks Team Preview

64. Boston College
Steve Addazio was responsible for one of the more underrated coaching jobs last year, boosting Boston College from two to seven wins in his debut season by packaging a power-run attack around Andre Williams. Addazio’s creativity could be tested even more in 2014 since nearly all of the Eagles’ all-conference performers from a year ago are gone. Boston College is counting on the young players left over from the Frank Spaziani era and Addazio’s first two recruiting classes to form the Eagles’ identity.

The running game and solid line play will always be Boston College staples, but how will the Eagles stretch the field? They’ll need at least one or two young wide receivers to grow up in a hurry. The defense has a chance to improve after last year’s unit under coordinator Don Brown was opportunistic but not overwhelming in any one area.

A return to a bowl game is a realistic expectation, but the Eagles aren’t likely to pose much of a threat to the top teams in the ACC Atlantic Division.

Read the full 2014 Boston College Eagles Team Preview

65. NC State
Little went right for Dave Doeren in his first season. The Wolfpack lost their final eight games and went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959. But with Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and a staggering 51 new true or redshirt freshmen on the roster, Doeren’s hoping the only way to go is up. With a manageable schedule, especially out of the league, there might be a way to speed up the rebuilding process and get back to a bowl game.

After such a poor finish in 2013, the Wolfpack do have motivation on their side.

“We want to make people forget last year," Bryan Underwood says. “This is us now, we’re a new team.”

Read the full 2014 NC State Wolfpack Team Preview

66. Iowa State
Iowa State must improve significantly on both sides of the ball if it hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing three-win season. With Mark Mangino on the staff, there is legitimate hope for better production on offense. There are some nice pieces at the skill positions for the former Kansas head coach to work with. Defensively, however, there are major issues. The staff will be relying on several junior college transfers — always a dangerous proposition. If the Cyclones want to reach a bowl game in 2014, they will have to do it by simply outscoring the opposition.

Read the full 2014 Iowa State Cyclones Team Preview 

67. West Virginia
It may be summer in Morgantown, but the heat has been on Dana Holgorsen for a couple of seasons. In 2012, the Mountaineers went 2–6 after a 5–0 start that included a win at Texas. Last year, WVU finished 4–8 and out of the bowl picture. Athletic director Oliver Luck felt compelled to issue a statement after the latter “difficult and trying” season and backed the coach, if seemingly only for this season, adding he has “high expectations” for 2014. The problem for Holgorsen is that the Mountaineers might be better, but that might not translate into a sterling record. WVU opens with Alabama, visits Maryland and plays a full Big 12 schedule.

Read the full 2014 West Virginia Mountaineers Team Preview

68. Illinois
The third year has usually been the charm for Illinois head coaches. Mike White, John Mackovic, Lou Tepper, Ron Turner and Ron Zook all reached bowls in their third seasons. Now, it’s Tim Beckman’s turn to try to keep the streak going. While the school hasn’t issued an ultimatum, a bowl bid would help secure Beckman’s future. The non-conference schedule is set up for success, with winnable home games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State. Take those three, and the Illini are halfway to a postseason berth.

The offense should continue to pile up yards and points, and the defense can’t be much worse. If Tim Banks’ guys climb 20 spots or so in national defensive rankings, it will translate to more wins. Beckman’s short-term goal is to solidify his position as head coach. Competing for a division title is down the road.

Read the full 2014 Illinois Fighting Illini Team Preview

69. Houston
There’s a lot to like about Houston, which has acquitted itself well in the call-up from C-USA to the American. This year’s schedule is manageable, and at least eight wins should be the expectation. Houston is a proud place — two of the country’s most established coaches, Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, were roaming UH sidelines not too long ago. This team always seems to thrive off quarterback play, so the question is whether O’Korn has peaked or is just lifting off. The latter appears to be the case. Playmaking is there on both sides of the ball. Houston should be in the conversation as preseason American favorites along with Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF.

Read the full 2014 Houston Cougars Team Preview

70. Kentucky
Mark Stoops has done the impossible — keep fans and recruits excited after a 2–10 debut season. He signed a top-25 class and had 35,000 people show up for this year’s spring game, second-most in program history. Now he just needs to win. Although he posted exactly the same record that got Joker Phillips fired a year earlier, the Cats were more competitive in 2013, losing five games by two touchdowns or less and three by single digits. The big payoff is probably still a year away, but a four- or five-win season this fall would probably keep everyone happy.

Read the full 2014 Kentucky Wildcats Team Preview

71. Colorado
The depth and talent are improving in Boulder under Mike MacIntyre. But the program is still in rebuilding mode. The Buffaloes have won a combined four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league, including one win in each of the past two years. Last season, the Buffs’ average margin of defeat in their eight conference losses was 29 points. More wins would be nice, but simply being competitive on a consistent basis would show progress in the short term.

Read the full 2014 Colorado Buffaloes Team Preview

72. Virginia
For these keeping track, and everyone is, Virginia’s 2–10 finish last year represented its fewest wins since 1982. The Cavaliers were winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

Mike London won’t survive another campaign like that. He might not even make it to midseason. With a maturing roster and the continuity that comes with a second season in offensive and defensive systems installed last year, Virginia should be better. The question, given a challenging schedule and a culture of coming up short, is how much that improvement will be reflected in the bottom line.

Read the full 2014 Virginia Cavaliers Team Preview

73. Rutgers
Rutgers welcomes back a solid group of returning starters, but there is uncertainty at the all-important quarterback position, and the schedule is the most difficult in school history. The defense, torched by teams from the American Athletic Conference in 2013, must show significant improvement. There is a chance Rutgers will be better in 2014 but fail to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since ’04.

Read the full 2014 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Team Preview

74. Colorado State
The Rams lost some significant star power with running back Kapri Bibbs’ decision to forego his final two seasons to turn pro and the graduations of Weston Richburg, Shaquil Barrett and All-MW tight end Crockett Gillmore. But they’ve still got a lot to work with in Garrett Grayson and a talented corps of receivers, including three who redshirted last fall. They’ll have to develop enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest but should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. The secondary has to improve for the Rams to be a factor in the pass-happy MW.

A favorable schedule that does not include MW West Division powers Fresno State and San Diego State gives the Rams a legitimate chance to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2002-03, when Sonny Lubick was the coach.

Read the full 2014 Colorado State Rams Team Preview

75. Toledo
Toledo has 17 starters back to work on purging the sour taste left from last season, when the Rockets went 7–5 overall and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. The schedule is not easy; the Rockets play Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State in non-conference action and host Bowling Green, the defending league champs, from the MAC East.

Toledo has a wealth of experience and talent along its offensive front and at linebacker, but the Rockets will be featuring a new starter at quarterback — always a dangerous proposition. If Logan Woodside emerges as viable playmaker and the defense improves, the Rockets should be right back in the MAC East title picture.

Read the full 2014 Toledo Rockets Team Preview

76. California
The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Sonny Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.

“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Khalfani Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.”

Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.

Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”

Read the full 2014 California Golden Bears Team Preview

77. Northern Illinois
After the best two-year run in school history, Northern Illinois faces a daunting task trying to maintain its level of excellence. There should be some early-season growing pains without Jordan Lynch’s leadership and big-time production spearheading the offense. Following the season opener, the Huskies hit the road to play at Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas.

Although NIU is loaded at several offensive positions, most notably at tailback, offensive line and wide receiver, Lynch is tough to replace. Rod Carey is emphasizing the importance of finishing strong, with the Huskies losing their last two games last season and not winning a bowl game in the last two years. Even without Lynch, the Huskies return enough talent to contend in the tough MAC West.

Read the full 2014 Northern Illinois Huskies Team Preview

78. Kansas
During his first two years at KU, Weis was careful to not set specific win total goals for his rebuilding football team. That’s changed this season, as he enters Year 3 with the most talent he’s had and a solid base of upperclassmen.

“Before you can be a perennial winning program, the first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500,” Charlie Weis says.

Though this probably isn’t a “bowl or bust” season for the Jayhawks, Weis likely will need to improve his win total to avoid the hot seat in the third year of a five-year contract.

Read the full 2014 Kansas Jayhawks Team Preview

79. Ball State
Northern Illinois is the standard-bearer in the MAC West, but nobody in the division has played the Huskies tougher than Ball State. While the Cardinals might not improve their win total for the fourth time in Pete Lembo’s four years at the helm, they appear positioned to stay in the MAC’s elite for years to come.

Read the full 2014 Ball State Cardinals Team Preview

80. Purdue
Most Purdue fans realized Darrell Hazell was inheriting a rebuilding situation, but last season still ended up being a nightmare. The lone victory was over FCS foe Indiana State, and the season ended with the Boilermakers getting thumped by archrival Indiana.

The non-conference schedule is more forgiving this year, and Purdue gets a break in conference play. It doesn’t play Michigan or Ohio State. Wisconsin and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State visit Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, it’s hard to envision this team making a move in the Big Ten in 2014. The talent level simply isn’t good enough at this point.

Read the full 2014 Purdue Boilermakers Team Preview

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #61-80
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/what-we-learned-sec-meetings-destin

The SEC Meetings in Destin, Fla., every year normally bring very little in the way of news.

But with the NCAA and the SEC on the verge of sweeping reform as well as a new era of postseason football, the 2014 version was anything but boring.

Every topic from autonomy to NFL agents to spread offenses to beer sales to recruiting calendars to basketball schedules to the new playoff system was addressed and discussed at length.

In attendance were College Football Playoff czar Bill Hancock, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, athletic directors and 14 head coaches from around the game’s most powerful conference. So there was no shortage of interesting topics to seep out of the panhandle this week.

Here is what you need to know about the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin:

Autonomy leads the way

This is easily the biggest issue for commissioner Slive. The SEC boss is always calculating in his speech and the resounding theme of his visit in Destin this week was autonomy. He danced around other issues like an early signing period and scheduling, but his thoughts on self-governance for the Big 5 and Notre Dame is pretty clear.

“Today, we began the conversation about NCAA governance and restructuring, which I’ve said before, is the primary issue.”

In fact, he called it the “cornerstone of their discussions” this week. When Slive normally speaks, he does so very directly and there is no doubting his stance on the issue.

“The NCAA committee put forth a model and we are in the comment period. We will respond to it sometime after this meeting in preparation of the NCAA Board of Directors voting on a revised governance process in August,” Slive told the media in Destin.

Let’s be clear. This is going to happen. And it will impact things like the size of the coaching staff — there was a push for a 10th member of the staff this week — cost of attendance stipends, academic policies and player health coverage. This will be a sweeping change in the college football landscape and it’s going to happen. Be prepared.

Let’s control the agents

One of the biggest and most unifying concepts in college football today is the reformation of NFL agent policies. Nearly everyone agrees that something needs to be changed. Prospective employees (aka, the athletes) have a right to seek advice, build relationships and, for lack of a better term, interview prospective employers (aka, the NFL).

Slive agrees, "The NCAA's current rules are really part of the problem, not part of the solution." The SEC commish wants to provide “quality and timely advice” to his student athletes in all sports.

And there is no reason why there cannot be dead periods, signing periods and interview periods for current athletes and professional agents just like on the recruiting calendar. Instead of trying to fight a part of the process that will never go away and only gets all three parties into NCAA trouble, why not embrace it, monitor it and legislate it. It helps the agent, the school and the athlete. What could possibly go wrong?

“Unanimous” support for an early signing period

Or so said LSU head coach Les Miles. The reports from individual coaches don’t seem to be as “unanimous” as Miles has reported, however, most coaches in the SEC (and around the nation) are in favor of some sort of early signing period. The proposal from the SEC involves the Monday following Thanksgiving and only if a recruit hasn’t taken an official visit in the fall. Otherwise, said recruit will have to wait to sign two months later on National Signing Day. Garnering support from athletic directors and presidents is a totally different issue all together.

"I think we need to vet that out and see if the conference wants to change its position,” commissioner Slive said to reporters, “but up until now the SEC has been opposed to it."

The only time an early signing period works is after the regular season sometime. Coaches change jobs and players develop during their senior year, so a summer signing date would be nearly impossible to implement effectively and intelligently. This is likely still a few years away but could be coming quickly once autonomy is established for the bigger programs.

Florida really, really hates Georgia Southern

“We’re probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents,” Florida coach Will Muschamp told reporters. While his athletic director Jeremy Foley may not fully agree with him, many people believe this is the overall direction of scheduling. And, no, it actually has nothing to do with the Gators' loss to an FCS opponent in 2013. It has everything to do with delivering a better quality product to the fans in the stands as well as the TV partners who pay billions to broadcast the games and eventually gaining value among the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Strength of schedule is going to continue to gain more importance as the Playoff moves forward and beating significantly inferior teams by 60 points will no longer garner favor with the postseason decision-makers. By nearly all empirical measures — with the exception of coaches trying to keep their jobs — scheduling tougher, better games is good for the sport. It’s good for the fans, good for the local businesses and economies, better for TV negotiations and makes your favorite team’s case for a playoff berth more substantial.

“I’m in favor of our strength of schedule being as good as it can be," Slive said.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban agrees, “No, we do not want to play those types of teams.”

Getting rid of FCS opponents — particularly from November, when the SEC seems to backload its schedule with horrible games — is the first step towards extensive schedule modification. The next step will be to eliminate “low-major” games before adding a ninth conference game and scheduling only Big 5 opponents.

Who doesn’t want to see the best face the best every single week?

No playoff expansion looming

Bill Hancock is the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff and he was in Destin this week to speak with coaches and ADs about how the Playoff Selection Committee will work, what the parameters will be moving forward in deciding the newly minted four-team postseason tournament and the future growth of the postseason. It’s great that decision makers, both on the sidelines and in the “front offices,” get to hear firsthand from Hancock what exactly the committee will be looking for when it comes to deciding the four teams who will earn postseason berths.

While those meetings were behind closed doors, Hancock did address publicly the potential for expansion — or the lack thereof.

“It is going to be four [teams] for 12 years,” Hancock said, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. “There is no talk in our group about [expanding the playoff].”

While Hancock has been very firm with his statements about playoff expansion during the current 12-year contract with ESPN, there are many — like Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson — who believe that expansion is eminent.

There are two overriding reasons to believe expansion will happen before 2026. (A) The money will be astronomical and too great to pass up with expansion and (B) Those who get left out, be it a blue blood snuff or small school playoff-buster, are going to fight tooth and nail for the playoff to include more teams.

I lean towards expansion taking place well before ’26 rolls around.

Listen to a complete Playoff breakdown on this week's Cover 2 podcast:

Quarterback movement

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced this week that redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson will not be back with his program in fall. Rumors have swirled about why Ferguson is back home in North Carolina this week and why he won’t be back. The timing is certainly interesting and something tells me there is more to this story coming soon.

Ferguson was considered by many to be the best pure passer on the Vols' roster and his departure has cleared things up a bit in the Tennessee backfield. Now, Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs appear to be in a two-horse race for the reins of Mike Bajakian’s offense.

Alabama also lost a signal-caller this week as redshirt freshman Parker McLeod is set to transfer as well, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports. This one is much less surprising as the Bama backfield is very crowded and someone had to decide to try their luck elsewhere. McLeod, who hails from Marietta, Ga., was a three-star recruit and the 37th-ranked pro-style quarterback prospect in the nation by 247Sports' composite rankings (2013).

ShowMe what you got

The SEC basketball tournament schedule has been set through 2025 and there was one interesting twist in the announcement this week. The state of Missouri will play host to the tourney in 2018 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. This is a prime basketball area of the country and getting his tournament in front of a new audience was key for Slive and company in the SEC offices.

Additionally, the 2022 tournament will be headed to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Florida. It will be the second such event in Tampa as the 2009 championship was held there for the first time. Every other tournament between 2015 and 2025 will be held in Nashville.

Hoops scheduling gets a makeover

It’s not a huge change but fans should applaud the new basketball conference schedule that was announced this week. The SEC has done away with the 1-4-8 conference scheduling structure for a rivalry-supportive 3-2-8 format. So instead of one permanent home-and-home rivalry each year, schools will now get three such guaranteed home-and-homes. Instead of four rotating home-and-homes within the league, there will now be two. The eight home-OR-road games will still exist and will still rotate in the same manner as they have in the past. This is good news for programs that have more than one rival with in the league — say, like, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky.

What We Learned From the SEC Meetings in Destin
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 12:20
Path: /college-football/vanderbilts-derek-mason-has-most-awesome-business-card-college-football

Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason has a tough assignment in Nashville, as the first-year coach has to follow James Franklin after back-to-back nine-win seasons for the Commodores.

But Mason appears to be up to the task, especially after coordinating one of the nation’s top defenses at Stanford over the last few years.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt Mason’s profile that he has one of the best business cards in the nation. This photo tweeted out by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples showcases Mason’s gold business card for 2014:

Vanderbilt's Derek Mason has the Most Awesome Business Card in College Football
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 12:07
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/lance-stephenson-blowing-lebrons-ear-gives-us-great-memes

The Pacers' Lance Stephenson blew into LeBron James' ear last night in Indiana's 93-96 win in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals.

That's right. Playoffs. Stephenson. LeBron. Blowing into his ear.


Of course, we've got jokes, everybody. Lance Stephenson, king of memes in this year's playoffs.







Lance Stephenson blowing on LeBron's Gives Us Great Memes
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 11:07
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-29-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 29.

• Tom Brady's lady has still got it. Gisele did a rather naughty shoot for a French magazine. Not exactly safe for work.

King James has found a kindred spirit in Johnny Football.

• Speaking of LeBron, he didn't exactly get the star treatment from the refs last night.

Lance Stephenson's evening included blowing in Bron-Bron's ear, which yielded a delightful GIF.

• Providing the best commentary on the evening's activity: this random granny. Replace Mark Jackson with this lady.

Titans backup QB Charlie Whitehurst lost an arm-wrestling match over a jersey number to the punter. Apparently holding a clipboard doesn't do much for arm strength. I also read that this didn't actually happen, but I'm running with it. Sorry, Charlie.

What's the deal with Peyton Manning's green football?

So which sports network has the most obtrusive, annoying ticker?

• Luis Sardinas did a sweet bat flip and trot to first. Trouble was, it was ball three.

Some fan caught a home run ball in mid-cell phone conversation.

• 50 Cent isn't the only celeb to throw an abysmal first pitch. Here's a rundown of first-pitch fails.

• Enjoy this routine game-ending walk-off triple play.


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

Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 10:41
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-41-60

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 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. All four teams have potential to finish higher, but each has question marks entering the 2014 season. This range of teams also features Athlon's projected Mountain West (Boise State), MAC (Bowling Green) and American (Cincinnati) champion. 

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 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: 41-60

41. Texas Tech
Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as quarterback Davis Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Texas Tech Red Raiders Team Preview

42. Tennessee
Even after a 5–7 debut season, coach Butch Jones has retained his relentlessly sunny attitude, and it seems to be infectious in Knoxville. But here’s the downer: While this team will eventually be better than the 2013 version, the roster turnover represented by 32 newcomers offers plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And this schedule (once again) offers little margin for error. Reaching six wins and a bowl game won’t be easy, but it will be a critical hurdle in keeping the Jones-fueled optimism alive and well in Knoxville.

Read the full 2014 Tennessee Volunteers Team Preview

43. Cincinnati
Much depends on the development of Gunner Kiel at quarterback. Kiel has the physical tools and has been a commanding presence at practice, but the test will be how he handles inevitable on-field adversity. UC started slowly last year (3–2) as the players adjusted to Tommy Tuberville and his staff. The coaches are entrenched now, but the lack of quarterback experience is an issue.

The non-league schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.), but the Bearcats should contend for another upper-echelon finish in the AAC. With talent at the skill positions and improved speed on defense, a fourth consecutive bowl game seems reasonable.

Read the full 2014 Cincinnati Bearcats 2014 Team Preview

44. Vanderbilt
Derek Mason is in uncharted territory for a first-year football coach at Vanderbilt. Unlike the vast majority of men who have occupied his seat, Mason is not facing a massive rebuild. The former defensive coordinator at Stanford inherits a program that has won 18 games over the last two seasons and been to three straight bowl games. There is enough talent on the roster to extend the postseason streak to four, but some playmakers need to emerge on offense, and the defense must adapt to a very different style of play for this team to finish higher than sixth in the SEC East.

Read the full 2014 Vanderbilt Commodores Team Preview

45. Arizona
Rich Rodriguez has twin 8–5 seasons in two years at Arizona, and he has more Pac-12-ready players on the roster for Year 3. The uncertainty at quarterback hovers over the entire operation, but the strengths at receiver and on the offensive line create an optimistic feeling about another winning season. The Wildcats are faster and deeper on defense. The schedule — four winnable games to open the season — sets up favorably.

Read the full 2014 Arizona Wildcats Team Preview

46. Boise State
Coming off an 8–5 season — the Broncos’ worst since 1998 — there is hope for a quick turnaround with an experienced roster and a new energy created by the coaching change. The schedule sets up well with Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State set to visit Boise, but the Broncos will count largely on the same players who failed to win the Mountain West Mountain Division last year. They need quarterback Grant Hedrick and the veteran defenders to make noticeable leaps and that young offensive line to jell quickly — particularly if they hope to impress a national audience in the made-for-TV opener against Ole Miss in Atlanta.

Read the full 2014 Boise State Broncos Team Preview

47. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets seem stuck around the seven-win mark, almost always competitive but usually falling short against top-tier competition. If all the variables fall their way, this could be a nine-win team that contends for the Coastal Division title. But if quarterback Justin Thomas struggles and the defense takes a step back, six or seven wins could be the ceiling.

Read the full 2014 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Team Preview

48. Maryland
There’s some talent in tow as Maryland makes the big move to the Big Ten, but there are also questions. After winning seven games last season, fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is still trying to get some traction while he continues to get players out of traction. The team’s top three receivers all return from injuries, and several defensive stalwarts are coming back from offseason surgery. If everyone’s healthy, Edsall has a team that could be explosive on offense (pending the play of the team’s biggest question mark, a makeshift offensive line). And the defense, with nine starters back, should be solid.

But how will a middlin’ (7–6 overall, 3–5 in conference) ACC team fare in the Big Ten? It’s one of this season’s most intriguing questions and one that Edsall’s most veteran Terrapin team — 87 percent of last year’s late-season two-deep returns — is anxious to answer.

“We’ll be ready,” C.J. Brown says.

Read the full 2014 Maryland Terrapins Team Preview

49. Utah State
Expectations just keep growing for the Aggies. In their first year in the Mountain West, they made it to the inaugural league championship game after capturing the Mountain Division. The largest crowd to attend a spring game turned out in April, and the second-year coach received a contract extension through 2018. USU has been to three straight bowls — something never before accomplished at the school — winning the last two.

Matt Wells lost two assistants on the defensive side, but the transition with the new coaches went smoothly in the spring. There are some challenges with the schedule: The Aggies travel to Tennessee, Arkansas State and BYU in non-conference action and end the season with a trip to Boise State. Another bowl berth and 10 wins are reasonable goals in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Utah State Aggies Team Preview

50. East Carolina
Coach Ruffin McNeill has a good thing going at his alma mater, where the Pirates have had the wind at their backs since he arrived, sailing to three bowl appearances in four years. They capped a meaty 10-win season with a 37–20 victory over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, and now they’re off to the American Athletic Conference — home to many of the Pirates’ old C-USA rivals.

East Carolina already got a big offseason win, hanging on to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who was pursued for the same job at some bigger programs. With the swashbuckling Shane Carden at quarterback and the NFL-ready Hardy on the other end of his passes, the Pirates are primed for another big season. That is, if the defense rebounds from heavy losses and a rebuilding offensive line can come together to give Carden time.

Read the full 2014 East Carolina Pirates Team Preview

51. Northwestern
The good vibes accompanying Northwestern for much of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure vanished after the program’s first bowl-less season since 2007, but Northwestern returns a roster strong enough to return to the postseason and play spoiler in a wide-open Big Ten West. The offense finally has a quarterback and an identity, but questions remain up front. The defense is still reliant on takeaways but boasts good depth throughout the unit.

Northwestern plays Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cal in non-league play but misses both Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Wildcats should return to the postseason in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Northwestern Wildcats Team Preview

52. Minnesota
Coming off its best season since 2003, Minnesota has the talent to improve again this year, if the Gophers can survive a more difficult schedule. Coach Jerry Kill’s teams have gone 3–9, 6–7 and 8–5 in his first three seasons. He sees parallels to the way his programs progressed at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. “We built it on defense, and now you’ve got to bring the offense (along),” he says. “That’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been.”

Kill, who turns 53 in August, faced more questions about his health last season after an in-game seizure against Western Illinois and another that kept him from traveling to Michigan.

He was the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten last year, at $1.1 million, but the university more than doubled his salary with a new deal that will pay him an average of $2.3 million through 2018.

“I think it shows our commitment to football,” Gophers AD Norwood Teague says. “It shows our commitment to Jerry, and it’s the right thing to do at this time.”

Now, Kill will seek to justify his big payday, as the Gophers move into the Big Ten West. They have a non-conference matchup against TCU and two tough draws from the Big Ten East — Michigan and Ohio State.

Read the full 2014 Minnesota Golden Gophers Team Preview

53. Oregon State
The Beavers return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Sean Mannion, but he will be operating without receiver Brandin Cooks and must adapt to new offensive coordinator John Garrett, who spent the last seven seasons in the NFL. The defense, with seven returning starters, should be better under veteran coordinator Mark Banker.

The Beavers should get off to a good start with non-conference home games against Portland State and San Diego State along with a trip to Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at USC and Colorado. This looks like another bowl team, but Oregon State doesn’t figure to pose too much of a threat to the top teams in the tough Pac-12 North.

Read the full 2014 Oregon State Beavers Team Preview

54. Utah
Kyle Whittingham believes the Utes are improving their talent level and depth in their fourth season of Pac-12 membership. They were competitive in every conference game in 2013, including an upset of eventual champion Stanford, but the Utes need to double last season’s total of two conference wins for 2014 to be judged as any kind of success.

Read the full 2014 Utah Utes Team Preview

55. UCF
UCF will have a tough task replicating its 2013 success without quarterback Blake Bortles, but they have the talent in place to put together another strong season. The Knights will rely on a stingy defense to keep them in every game and a pro-style offense that takes few risks but has playmakers at running back and wide receiver. If UCF finds an answer at quarterback, it should once again be a strong contender in the American.

Read the full 2014 UCF Knights Team Preview

56. Washington State
Mike Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.

Read the full 2014 Washington State Cougars Team Preview

57. Navy
Navy has been one of the most consistent programs in the FBS with a winning record in 10 of the last 11 years. The Midshipmen also have been the dominant service academy during that time, capturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy nine times since 2003. In its final season as an Independent before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Navy should sustain its success on both fronts. The Midshipmen have a contract to appear in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and should have no problem securing the six wins necessary to be eligible.

Read the full 2014 Navy Midshipmen Team Preview

58. Indiana
The Indiana football story needs to break the endless loop of great offense, awful defense. A shift should begin this season. The defense looked faster, stronger and more determined during the spring game. The offense has more questions than usual after losing three of its top four receivers. But Indiana has two quarterbacks who have played winning football, one of the Big Ten’s best runners in Tevin Coleman and IU’s best offensive line in a decade. A shift from eight home games to six will hurt. And the non-conference schedule, which includes trips to MAC-favorite Bowling Green and Missouri, is far from easy. Finding six wins will be a challenge.

Read the full 2014 Indiana Hoosiers Team Preview

59. Bowling Green
Immediately after winning its first conference championship in 21 years, Bowling Green lost coach Dave Clawson to Wake Forest. The Falcons recovered quickly, landing Dino Babers after he led Eastern Illinois to a No. 4 final ranking in the FCS — and did so with the division’s No. 1 total offense (589.5 ypg) and scoring offense (48.2 ppg). Babers and his staff — most of which followed him from EIU — changed some things that weren’t necessarily broken, and Bowling Green will be a different animal this fall as Babers unleashes his dizzying pace on offense. The defense has more holes to fill, but there is enough returning talent to make the Falcons the heavy favorite in the MAC East.

Read the full 2014 Bowling Green Falcons Team Preview

60. UL Lafayette
With a healthy Terrance Broadway at the helm, UL Lafayette won eight straight games and earned a share of the Sun Belt title for the first time since 2005. With him out of the lineup, the Cajuns lost two in a row before Broadway returned — not at a 100 percent — to lead them to a win in the bowl game. His value can’t be overstated as the triggerman of what could be the Sun Belt’s most potent offense.
There are some issues on defense, especially against the pass, but this is still the most talented team in the Sun Belt. As long as Broadway remains healthy, the Cajuns are the overwhelming favorite to win the league.

Read the full 2014 UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns Team Preview

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #41-60
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/only-12-college-football-playoff-contenders-2014

Just reading the words “playoff contender” warms the soul, doesn’t it?

Or “playoff berth,” “playoff contention” or “postseason bid.”

No one really knows what to expect from the College Football Playoff or Playoff Selection Committee — not the fans, not the media and not the coaches. But we all can agree that it’s going to be exciting no matter how many teams are left unbeaten at season’s end.

The 2014 Athlon Sports Top 25 has been released and Florida State (1), Alabama (2), Ohio State (3) and Oklahoma (4) are our picks to make the inaugural CFP. But getting to those four teams, the editorial staff — much like the selection committee — had to sift through copious amounts of data on all 128 teams.

What we learned is that there seems to be a clear line of demarcation between the top 12 teams and the rest of the nation. The first dozen teams in the Top 25 appear to be true playoff contenders and the rest feel like they are operating on a lower tier of expectation. Could someone outside of the top 12 make a playoff run? Of course, but history shows us that champions rarely come from outside the top dozen or so teams.

During the 16-year BCS Era, only twice did the national champion begin the season ranked outside of the top 15 in the preseason and never lower than 22nd (Auburn, 2010, No. 22; Oklahoma, 2000, No. 19). Only four times did the champion come from outside of the top 11 and nine of the last 10 champs were ranked 11th or better in the preseason AP Poll. Even further, eight of the last 10 crystal football winners were ranked seventh or better in the first ranking of the season.

Here is a breakdown of the only 12 teams we deem to be playoff contenders, why we like them and what could be their potential downfall.

Florida State Seminoles
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 13-0, 8-0
Key Games: Clemson, Notre Dame, at Louisville, Florida

Why we like them: The list is long. This roster is one of the top two in the nation along with Alabama. The Seminoles boast the best player in the nation under center, six first-team All-American selections and 11 total All-Americans. One shouldn’t need to explain oneself when talking highly of the defending national champions.

Potential downfall: Complacency and all that comes along with it. That means lack of focus on and off the field. It can mean playing not to lose rather than playing to win. The Noles should be a solid favorite in every game they play so they need to be on guard against a possible letdown.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 3 defense
Projected Record: 12-1, 7-1
Key Games: Florida, at Ole Miss, at LSU, Auburn

Why we like them: The Crimson Tide still have the best coach in the nation, arguably the best roster in the nation and will be playing a fairly manageable SEC schedule in 2014. Fans can bet Nick Saban will use the way his team ended last year (0-2) to motivate them this offseason. Anyone remember what happened the last time Alabama missed the national title game by losing the last two games of the year? Yup, it won the ’09 national title the following year — the only perfect record of Saban’s SEC tenure.

Potential downfall: Quarterback play and the secondary. Jacob Coker is largely an unknown but won’t be asked to do too much for Saban’s offense so if he can simply not turn the ball over, Bama should be fine under center. The cornerback position also was an issue last year and doesn’t appear to be back to 2009 or '11 strength. Covering big wideouts has been an issue for Bama the last two seasons.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 12-1, 7-1
Key Games: at Penn State, at Michigan State, Michigan

Why we like them: Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer and the best defensive line in the nation. The schedule also sets up very nicely with two quality (but very beatable) non-conference games and only three tough conference games with a possible letdown alert coming at Minnesota after the rematch with the Spartans. Few teams in the nation boast a head coach-quarterback duo like the Buckeyes.

Potential downfall: The offensive line is returning just one starter and the secondary is replacing first-round talents at both linebacker (Ryan Shazier) and cornerback (Bradley Roby). And the schedule might actually hurt Ohio State should it slip up somewhere along the way. A one-loss OSU team would likely be left out for a one-loss SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 team due to lack of schedule strength.

Oklahoma Sooners
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 9 defense
Projected Record: 11-1, 8-1
Key Games: Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Why we like them: The defensive front is as good as Bob Stoops has had in a decade and Trevor Knight flashed brilliance against Alabama to end the year. If Knight can stay healthy, the schedule sets up very well for Oklahoma to win the league. All of the key challengers in the league apart from Texas will come to Norman.

Potential downfall: The road schedule includes trips to distant Big 12 outposts in Morgantown, Lubbock, Ames and not-so-distant Fort Worth. Strange things happen to a lot of good teams in those towns. Additionally, many feel that this team could simply be overrated due to one great bowl performance against a less-than-motivated Alabama team.

Listen to a complete playoff breakdown on this week's Cover 2 Podcast:

Oregon Ducks
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 5 defense
Projected Record: 11-2, 7-2
Key Games: Michigan State, at UCLA, Washington, Stanford

Why we like them: Marcus Mariota might be the best player in the nation and, if he stays healthy, could smash Oregon record books this fall. The Ducks also get three of their four biggest games at home, including critical Pac-12 North Division games against the Cardinal and Huskies. From a talent standpoint, there are few teams on offense that can match the Ducks' prowess, speed and athleticism.

Potential downfall: Leadership from the sidelines and a dependency on one player could prove to be just enough to keep Oregon from the postseason. Mark Helfrich is still very much an unknown and when Mariota wasn’t healthy last year, Oregon lost both games with the division crown hanging in the balance. Toss in a nasty overall schedule and the Ducks will need to play near perfect football to reach the playoff. Also, much like Oklahoma, Oregon faces trap games on the road in tough places likes Pullman, Salt Lake City and Corvallis this season.

UCLA Bruins
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Projected Record: 10-3, 7-2
Key Games: at Arizona State, Oregon, at Washington, USC, Stanford

Why we like them: Getting critical swing games with Oregon, Stanford and USC at home is a huge positive for the Bruins, especially with the Trojans and Cardinal visiting in the last two weeks of the season. Brett Hundley is an elite player and the both lines of scrimmage appear to be developing around him.

Potential downfall: There is an overall lack of playmakers on offense and a lot of young faces dotting the starting lineup on defense. This is an extremely talented team but names in the secondary, along the defensive line and at wide receiver need to take big steps forward. Especially, against a schedule that features six games against preseason Top 25 teams.

Auburn Tigers
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 6-2
Key Games: Too many to list

Why we like them: Gus Malzahn is a genius and Nick Marshall runs his unstoppable option offense to perfection. In fact, this offense could be even better this year with a deeper receiving corps and four starters back along the offensive line. Marshall should only continue to add balance with his arm as well.

Potential downfall: The defense allowed 420 yards per game last year, gave up over 35 points per game in the final month and the schedule is as tough as any in the nation. Getting through road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama unscathed will be virtually impossible while LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all come to The Plains. Lastly, after one full year of game tape to study, Auburn won’t sneak up on anyone this year and won’t be nearly as fortunate as it was a year ago.

Michigan State Spartans
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 7-1
Key Games: at Oregon, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, at Penn State

Why we like them: Mark Dantonio has built a tradition of defensive prowess that should be able to withstand a lot of key departures. The offense is more stable than a year ago with star power returning in the backfield (Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford). And the schedule sets up nicely with critical conference home tests coming against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska.

Potential downfall: While the roster is in great shape, there are some heavy losses it must withstand on defense to be the nation’s best unit again in 2014. The offensive line also needs some work with just two returning starters. If nothing else, it will take some time for these units to return to form and an early road trip to nasty Autzen Stadium leaves Sparty’s margin for error razor thin within the Big Ten.

Georgia Bulldogs
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 9 defense
Projected Record: 10-3, 6-2
Key Games: at South Carolina, at Missouri, Florida, Auburn

Why we like them: Jeremy Pruitt steps into run a defense with nine returning starters after having a hand in three of the last four national titles. The offense, although filled with plenty of unknowns, should also be much healthier with Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell clicking on all cylinders this year.

Potential downfall: Georgia has to break in a new quarterback after four full seasons of Aaron Murray. Hutson Mason should have some nice talent to work with at the skill positions but three starters are gone from the O-line as is star tight end Arthur Lynch. The defense tends to underachieve and it’s unknown if Pruitt can simply flip the switch. Clemson and Georgia Tech are tough non-conference games and hosting Auburn in crossover is brutal. Throw in a normally difficult SEC East slate, including road trips to both Columbias, and UGA has one of the harder paths to a playoff berth.

South Carolina Gamecocks
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 6-2
Key Games: Georgia, Missouri, at Auburn, at Florida

Why we like them: The offensive line returns entirely intact with Mike Davis fully healthy and ready to churn out yards. The linebackers are now a strength of the defense after being a liability last year. And the Ol’ Ball Coach is still running the show. On the whole, Steve Spurrier has built his program to a new level where it can finally withstand key departures at key positions. Important SEC East games against Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri all come at home as well.

Potential downfall: Key departures at key positions. Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Bruce Ellington, Kelcy Quarles and both cornerbacks are all gone and filling those holes will be very difficult. Dylan Thompson has some experience at quarterback but took a small step back last year while the D-line is easily the biggest concern entering the summer against a nasty schedule that features half-a-dozen excellent running attacks.

Baylor Bears
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 4 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 7-2
Key Games: at Texas, at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Why we like them: Art Briles and Bryce Petty are as good a duo in the nation and the offense should once again be the Big 12’s best. The overall talent on the roster has been elevated to unprecedented levels and the new stadium will bring with it serious energy and expectations in Waco, including key swing home games against TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. This team did pound Oklahoma 41-12 last year.

Potential downfall: Heart and soul leaders are gone from the first Big 12 title team in school history and they will be difficult to replace, especially on defense. The schedule is also much more difficult this year with five tricky Big 12 road trips, including to conference front-runner Oklahoma — a place Baylor has never won (0-11). Fans across the nation will learn about Baylor’s staying power this fall.

Stanford Cardinal
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 7 defense
Projected Record: 9-3, 7-2
Key Games: USC, everyone else on the road

Why we like them: The overall depth of this roster is excellent and the physical attitude of this program is unlike any other in the conference. Stanford is the two-time defending champ for a reason. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is back for what should be his best season and the skill players around him are better than they have been in years as the tight end might be back in the playbook this year.

Potential downfall: The Cardinal road schedule is probably the toughest in the nation. Key divisional games against Washington and Oregon as well as important crossovers with UCLA and Arizona State and a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame all take place on the road (read that again). The offensive line and front seven on defense have major holes to plug even if those gaps are being filled with very talented prospects. And defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has big shoes to fill now that Derek Mason is in Nashville.

Next best options: USC Trojans, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Wisconsin Badgers, Ole Miss Rebels, LSU Tigers

The Only 12 College Football Playoff Contenders in 2014
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/12-college-basketball-teams-decline-2014-15

The days and weeks following the end of college basketball season can be an unfriendly time for coaches.

There are draft early entries, regular transfers, graduate transfers, and, of course, the possibility that some coaches will be asked to look for employment elsewhere.

Turnover can happen at a rapid pace, leaving rosters — and benches — full of fresh faces. Those are usually the teams with the most to lose from year to year, and next season will be no exception. Earlier this week, we brought you a dozen teams that could be on the rise in 2014-15. This is the other side of that list.

College Basketball Teams in Decline in 2014-15

Arizona State
The Sun Devils got to the NCAA Tournament, likely saving Herb Sendek’s job, but the final weeks of the season were forgettable. Arizona State lost its last four games and six of its final eight. With Jahii Carson going to the draft after his sophomore season and three seniors gone, Arizona State returns only one player who averaged more than five points per game. The Sendek hot seat watch begins anew.

Give Baylor credit for regrouping after a 2-8 start in Big 12 play. The Bears won 12 of their final 15 before losing to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. A few key cogs — big man Isaiah Austin and veterans Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — are gone. Baylor still has a point guard, Kenny Chery, to run the show. The rest of Chery’s signing class, sophomores Allerik Freeman, Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainwright, will be under pressure to perform.

No more Sean Kilpatrick is bad enough, but Mick Cronin is starting over without his top three scorers — Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Cincinnati’s top returning scorer, forward Shaquille Thomas, averaged 6.8 points last season.

The Bluejays are down to one McDermott for the first time in four seasons. Consensus national player of the year Doug McDermott isn’t the only loss, though. The departures of Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat means Creighton won’t come close to last season’s offensive numbers, even with a senior-laden team.

A guard-oriented team loses four guards, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon Jr. and Chris Crawford. There’s still talent here. Now it’s in the frontcourt, though, with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Memphis will be a top team in the American Athletic Conference, but the Tigers need to find a point guard to contend for bigger prizes.

John Beilein will piece something together — he always does. Still, the Wolverines lose Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the draft and Jon Horford as a transfer to Florida. Michigan still has a point guard in Derrick Walton and a budding star in Caris LeVert, not to mention the possibility of adding West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. After reaching the title game and the Elite Eight in the last two seasons, Michigan may be due for a down year.

Frank Haith picked a good year to get out of Columbia. This year’s team is going to struggle, no matter the coach. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown left early for the NBA Draft, leaving new coach Kim Anderson with a young roster.

New Mexico
The Lobos have won the Mountain West tournament in each of the last three seasons and at least a share of two of the last three regular season titles. Second-year coach Craig Neal will be starting over after seniors Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams have departed and junior Alex Kirk went to the NBA Draft. The Lobos may have trouble reaching the Tournament unless one or two underclassmen can take the leap Bairstow did a year ago.

Oklahoma State
Maybe Oklahoma State needs a fresh start after all the dramatics of last season. Still, any team without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will have to rebuild. Le’Bryan Nash is the member of the Cowboys’ big three remaining for 2014-15.  It’s tough to see Oklahoma State improving from last season in the short term, and meanwhile, Travis Ford’s contract, could be a hinderance in the long term.

The departures are one thing with Mike Moser and Jason Calliste gone, but they’re of secondary concern in Eugene. Dana Altman is embroiled in a scandal related to a sexual assault investigation involving three of his players. All three, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin, were dismissed in early May. Leading scorer James Young will be surrounded by newcomers.

The 25-0 start to 2013-14 is a distant memory as the Orange finished 3-6, including a round of 32 exit in the NCAA Tournament, a one-and-done in the ACC tournament and home losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech. Syracuse won’t be as good as it was at the start of last season and may not be as bad as it was late. Still, the middle ground between the two would qualify as a down year for the Orange. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa-Keita are gone, and Jim Boeheim will open his third consecutive season with a freshman point guard.

The Volunteers probably won’t be a Sweet 16 team or a top-10 team again. Tennessee may have trouble getting to the NCAA Tournament or NIT in Donnie Tyndall’s first season. While the former Southern Miss coach is a solid hire, he’ll be starting essentially from scratch. He lost all but one starter and all of Cuonzo Martin’s signees. Tyndall filled the gaps with eight newcomers, a haul that includes graduate transfers from Florida Gulf Coast and IUPUI, two junior college transfers and two prep school recruits.

12 College Basketball Teams on the Decline in 2014-15
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-playoff-picks-and-predictions

The final four teams in the Athlon Sports top 25 countdown were released this week, meaning we've seeded our projections for the first College Football playoff: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

This week, Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan talk about how we arrived at those matchups, how those games might be settled and other contenders for the the first Playoff.

Our hosts also discuss what changes they'd like to see before the Playoff has even begun and some predictions of what we'll see next.

As always, you can reach us on Twitter at @AthlonSports or by email at [email protected].

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Playoff Picks and Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 13:49
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/50-cent-throws-comedic-first-pitch-bad-puns-ensue

Rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson threw one of the all-time bad first pitches in MLB history last night against the Pirates, joining a lowlight reel that includes Carly Rae Jepsen, John Wall, Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory and Carl Lewis.

Unfortunately, writers and bloggers proved they weren't much better at making hip hop-related puns.

First, video of the failed first pitch and the puns that followed:

"There's no way 50 Cent gave it his 100%."
-USA Today

"Pitchin' ain't easy."
-New York Daily News

"50 Cent was on the mound, but not on the money."
-Associated Press

"You can find him in the clubhouse ... humiliated on a national level -- because Tuesday night 50 Cent may have thrown out the worst first pitch in MLB history."
-TMZ Sports

"He can throw beats but he can’t throw balls."
-The Sydney Morning Herald

"50 Cent certainly didn’t party like it was his birthday Tuesday night at the Mets-Pirates game."
-Fox 59 Indianapolis

"You can find 50 Cent in da club, but you can find his first pitch at Tuesday night's Mets game way outside the club somewhere."
-The Today Show

"50 Cent may be a P-I-M-P, but a major league pitcher, he is not."
-US Weekly

"If there's one thing we learned Tuesday, it's the 50 Cent should stay "In Da Club" and off the diamond."
-Newark (N.J.). Star-Ledger

"Rapper 50 Cent may have sold tons of records and been shot nine times, but his street cred veered off course Tuesday night in New York."
-Washington Times

"One of 50 Cent's "21 Questions" should have been, 'How do you throw a baseball?'"
-The Week

50 Cent Throws Comedic First Pitch, Bad Puns Ensue
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 12:59
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR Amazing Stats, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-outracing-their-reputations

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 discusses whether the top rookies in this year’s class have out-raced their reputations.

If you watched the three-day-long NFL Draft two weeks ago, you likely would have heard descriptions of the college players making the leap to the professional level. For three or four years, these players created an identity for themselves. “The book on this guy,” as described by ESPN’s Mel Kiper or NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, consisted of traits accumulated from statistics or anecdotes from people close to the player.

“The book on a guy” isn’t complete logic. It’s good for evaluation purposes — the makeup of a prospect is great intel — but it’s all subject to change. The identities young people develop can alter when the stakes rise, for better or worse. And sometimes it stays the same. “The book” is an inexact science — it is an incomplete book, after all — that also exists for budding NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prospects.

A few of the top Cup Series rookies in this year’s class had chapters of their book written prior to their full-time entrance into American racing’s grandest stage. Have their books altered, or stayed the course?

Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing  Kyle Larson
Larson’s book:
In his formative years in Dirt Sprint Cars and related USAC-sanctioned divisions, Larson gobbled up wins like he was Pac Man. He assimilated quickly to new rides within USAC’s most competitive series, Super Late Models (he won in his first race) and Stock Cars (he won the NASCAR K&N East championship in his rookie season). Through one year of NASCAR Nationwide Series racing he demonstrated an affinity for tracks with a competitive high groove and an efficient passing acumen. Although exciting to watch, he was not a prototypical “race dominator.”

What’s stayed the same? It’s safe to say his quick assimilation tendency remains intact. After ranking first in pass efficiency among Nationwide Series regulars in 2013 (53.42 percent), his penchant for passing efficiency has translated to Sundays. He currently ranks fifth in the Cup Series in adjusted pass efficiency with — get this — a 53.42 percent efficiency through the first 12 races. He also is scoring high finishes without leading many laps. He’s led zero this year in Cup and only 114 this year in Nationwide, which ranks just sixth in a division thin of talent (he ranked sixth in laps led in his title-winning K&N East season). His three best Cup Series finishes this year were at Fontana, Texas and Darlington, three tracks that offered a competitive high groove.

What’s changed? Not much. He is who we thought he was, which is a driver chock full of talent that’s likely to fulfill his potential.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing  Austin Dillon
Dillon’s book:
His bread and butter in four full seasons across the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series was intermediate tracks, on which he scored three of his five Truck Series race wins and both of his Nationwide Series race wins. A relatively poor passer, Dillon’s strength was being consistent on a race-to-race basis in retaining track position his team provided for him.

What’s stayed the same? Dillon got passed more than he passed last year in the Nationwide Series, amassing a 48.33 percent efficiency. That hasn’t changed thus far in Cup this season, where he holds a 49.27 percent adjusted efficiency that is, on average, 1.27 percent below his average running position’s expected value. Luckily, he is still adept at taking track position and running with it — crew chief Gil Martin has maintained Dillon’s position through green-flag pit cycles 60 percent of the time and trotted out strong closing setups that have helped award the driver an average gain of 2.5 positions in the final 10 percent of races.

What’s changed? His reputation for favoring intermediate tracks has dissipated, evident by his results. In the four races on 1.5-mile tracks, his average finish is 18th. His average finish on all other track types is 15.4. It seems as if this pony has more than one trick.

Justin Allgaier, No. 51 HScott Motorsports  Justin Allgaier
Allgaier’s book:
Slow to assimilate, it took Allgaier three full seasons of ARCA to become a regular winner, and eventually a champion, in the series. He was also slow to grow in the Nationwide Series, maturing from a replacement-level producer in 2008 with Team Penske to a winner and under-the-radar results-getter in his last two seasons with Turner Scott Motorsports. His aggressive entry into turns and defense of position proved somewhat successful for him in the passing game, but rubbed fellow drivers the wrong way. He shined on short tracks.

What’s stayed the same? After a brush-up with Danica Patrick at Phoenix this year, he discussed his rapport with other drivers with Athlon Sports. That aggression, regardless of perception, is translating to success in the passing game. He isn’t technically an efficient passer — his 49.92 percent efficiency indicates he is passed more than he passes — but that efficiency is 1.79 percent better than the expected output of his average running position, which stands at 25.458 following the Coca-Cola 600. His short(er) track success seems to have translated; his best four finishes came on tracks 1.366 miles or smaller (Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville and Darlington).

What’s changed? It’s entirely too early to call this since we don’t know what his future results are, but he is showing more life in his rookie Cup Series season than what was probably expected. A bad final restart killed a potential top-15 finish at Richmond (his stat line would be a lot prettier if he had just sealed the deal), and his passing has been one of his best positives of the year. Fans of Allgaier hope that his slow assimilation tendency continues — it’d mean this year’s performance is just the basement of what he is able to accomplish — but the driver needs a litany of good habits to point to in order to stay in a steady ride or get looks from more established organizations. That there is even a list is a small sign of change.

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.

Taking stock of the Cup Series' Rookie of the Year contenders
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 10:19
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-26-40

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. Iowa kicks off this batch of teams at No. 26, as the Hawkeyes are capable of winning the Big Ten's West Division. Virginia Tech is Athlon's projected Coastal champion and ranks No. 27. Another intriguing team this release of rankings is Marshall at No. 40 - the highest team from outside of the power conferences in 2014.

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, beginning with Nos. 26-40. 

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: 26-40

26. Iowa
Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under coach Kirk Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.

Read the full 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes Team Preview

27. Virginia Tech
The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in coordinator Scot Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that defensive coordinator Bud Foster will figure things out like he always does. Frank Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.

Read the full 2014 Virginia Tech Hokies Team Preview

28. Louisville
New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If quarterback Will Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.

Read the full 2014 Louisville Cardinals Team Preview

29. Nebraska
Bo Pelini’s record is 58–24, with at least nine victories in each of his six seasons. But he has yet to coach a conference champion. In fact, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, much too long for a program with three national titles in the five years prior to that.

In the aftermath of a 38–17 regular-season-ending loss to Iowa, speculation spread that Pelini’s tenure as coach might be over. But he has since received a contract extension through the 2018 season. Extension or not, however, there’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.

Read the full 2014 Nebraska Cornhuskers Team Preview

30. Miami
Ten wins were once the norm at Miami, and now it’s a place to set the bar for 2014. The last time UM reached double-digit victories was 2003, and the only way it happens this year is with an improved defense and solid quarterback play. Certainly the pieces are in place on offense for an explosive group, but new faces on both sides of the ball need to make significant impacts for Al Golden’s team to reach its goals.

Read the full 2014 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview

31. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have enough talent to challenge for first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs, but their margin of error is small. In truth, UNC looks to be in better shape for 2015 than for this season. The offense has only one senior on the two-deep depth chart, and the defense would benefit from another year of experience up front and in the secondary. But the Tar Heels have to play the 2014 season first. If they perform better than expected along the offensive line and get a breakout season from someone on a defense that lacks an established star, the future could be now.

Read the full 2014 North Carolina Tar Heels Team Preview

32. Michigan
After Michigan went 8–5 and 7–6 over the past two seasons, the shine from Brady Hoke’s 11–2 debut campaign is officially gone. The 2014 season is clearly the most important of Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. This is the youngest team Hoke has had during his time in Ann Arbor, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.

Michigan’s defense should be strong enough to keep it in games early in the season, but if the offense doesn’t show significant improvement, it’s hard to envision this team posing too much of a threat in the new Big Ten East Division.

Read the full 2014 Michigan Wolverines Team Preview

33. Mississippi State
Expectations are high in Starkville. Mississippi State enters the season with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and a defense that has the potential to be among the best in the league. If suitable replacements are found on the offensive line and the special teams improves, the 2014 season could be the best in Dan Mullen’s six years at the school.

Read the full 2014 Mississippi State Bulldogs Team Preview

34. Texas A&M
A&M’s stadium is undergoing a $450 million redevelopment that will make Kyle Field one of the premier venues in college football when construction is done in 2015. Until that time, however, Kyle Field remains a work in progress. The same could be said for the inhabitants of the facility. With a strong offensive line, a stable of promising, young skill players on offense and a defense that should improve, the Aggies could be a factor in the SEC West. But 2015 may be the year A&M steps back into in the national spotlight.

Read the full 2014 Texas A&M Aggies Team Preview

35. BYU
A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”

Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”

In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and quarterback Taysom Hill becomes a more consistent passer.

Read the full 2014 BYU Cougars Team Preview

36. Pittsburgh
In recent vintage, Pittsburgh would best be described as unimpressive and/or average. The words are cringe-worthy for those involved with the program, but not inaccurate. The Panthers are 13–13 in two seasons under Chryst and 19–20 since 2011. The good news is that the program firmly belongs to Chryst — only 17 players remain from previous regimes — and young players are making an impact. Chryst played 12 freshmen extensively last season. Still, the Panthers should expect to experience more growing pains, given the uncertainty at quarterback, the precarious nature of the offensive line and a defense that lost the best lineman in the nation. Victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Bowling Green in ’13 can serve as building blocks, but losses to Navy, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are reminders that more work must be done.

Read the full 2014 Pittsburgh Panthers Team Preview

37. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.

Read the full 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys Team Preview

38. Duke
The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

Read the full 2014 Duke Blue Devils Team Preview

39. TCU
It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play.

Read the full 2014 TCU Horned Frogs Team Preview

40. Marshall
Could Marshall go undefeated? When Louisville had to postpone its 2014 date with the Herd due to an ACC-obligated matchup with Notre Dame, Rhode Island became Marshall’s final non-conference opponent. The Herd certainly should be favored each week as long as Cato remains healthy (backup QB is a big concern heading into the fall). The three teams that beat Marshall last year that are on the schedule this year all must visit Huntington, where Marshall has won eight straight. A highly productive offense led by an elite quarterback and solid, veteran defense could lift the Herd to a historic season.

Read the full 2014 Marshall Thundering Herd Team Preview

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-head-coach-quarterback-tandems-2014

The old saying about the Jimmys and Joes is true.

Winning games in college football is about the players. If your favorite team has the best players, more times than not, your favorite team is going to win the game. And the most important player on any gridiron is the quarterback. This isn’t really up for debate.

That said, the head coach (obviously) is the most influential non-player piece to any college football program. So it stands to reason that, when combined, the team with the best quarterback-head coach combination has the best chance to win a division, league or national title.

Of course, predicting wins and losses in college football isn’t nearly this simple. The other 84 scholarship players do, in fact, count for something. As do the other eight members of the coaching staff. Scheduling, home-field advantage, off the field behavior and more can change the course of a season forever as well, and all play a huge role in Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25.

But possessing a great signal-caller mentored by a great head coach is the best way to start when building a championship foundation.

Which team will boast the best head coach-quarterback combination in college football in 2014?

1. Florida State: Jimbo Fisher-Jameis Winston
It’s hard to argue that the defending national champs don’t brag the best combination of quarterback and head coach in the nation. Winston proved a year ago that he is the best college football player in the country by winning the Heisman Trophy. Fisher, who ranks as the seventh-best coach in Athlon Sports ’14 preseason coaching ranks, has rebuilt a once-dormant powerhouse into a two-time ACC champ and will enter this season as the reigning champs. Fisher and Winston are 14-0 together on the field and, should the latter stay out of trouble off of the field, the duo could easily find themselves in a position to repeat.

2. Ohio State: Urban Meyer-Braxton Miller
Aside from Waco, Texas, there might not be a more perfect marriage of system and skill set than Meyer’s spread offense and Miller’s dual-threat talents. The duo has produced over 6,000 yards of total offense and a perfect 24-0 record in the regular season over the last two years since Meyer got to Columbus. Miller has improved his completion percentage (54.1 to 58.3 to 63.5) and passer rating (138.37 to 140.48 to 158.08) in each of his first three years and his career TD:INT ratio is a sterling 52:17. He’s also posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and was one win away from playing for a national title a year ago. The second-best coach in the land could feature a Heisman Trophy candidate under center this year for a team eyeing a playoff berth.

3. Baylor: Art Briles-Bryce Petty
Few coaches and quarterbacks meshed on the field better last year than the Baylor tandem. Briles excelled with both Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence but Petty’s numbers were the best of the bunch in his first season under center. As in, 4,409 total yards of offense, 46 total touchdowns and just three (3!) interceptions for a team that won its first Big 12 championship ever. Briles has proven to be one of the best in the land (fifth in Athlon Sports’ rankings) and Petty has already accomplished things in Waco no quarterback has ever achieved. A repeat performance this year with less talent to work with and this duo could prove to be the best in the nation.

4. Penn State: James Franklin-Christian Hackenberg
Hackenberg set 11 school records as a true freshman passer a year ago as the all-world recruit clearly lived up to the hype by throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 TDs in his first season. He also led Penn State to a winning record despite heavy sanctions and capped the year with a remarkable road performance against Wisconsin (339 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT). Hack is a No. 1 overall type of talent and, now, he has cult-of-personality James Franklin running the show in Happy Valley. Franklin is unproven in the Big Ten but his SEC resume speaks for itself, as he led the Commodores to unprecedented heights in Nashville. Huge things are in store for this duo, especially considering the easy schedule and the potential removal of the bowl ban in ’14.

5. Auburn: Gus Malzahn-Nick Marshall
Malzahn is a top 10 coach nationally after leading Auburn from worst to first in his first season in charge. Much of that was on the legs and shoulder of another first-year Tiger in quarterback Nick Marshall. The dual-threat signal-caller mastered the Malzahn spread in short order and turned in 3,044 yards of total offense, 26 total touchdowns and one SEC championship. With an even better grasp of the playbook and some development as a passer, Marshall is poised for a first-team All-SEC season on The Plains. How many teams boast a top 10 coach and a top 10 Heisman candidate?

Listen to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 podcast:

6. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio-Connor Cook
It seems odd that a tandem that won 13 games, a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl title would be underrated but that is how things go in East Lansing. Mark Dantonio is consistently overlooked when it comes to the nation’s best coaches and Cook wasn’t even the starter going into last season. Cook’s growth over the second half of the season was obvious as the Spartans' QB set career highs in passing yards in back-to-back wins over Ohio State (304 yds) in the B1G title game and Stanford (332 yds) in the Rose Bowl. Now, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder enters 2014 with massive expectations.

7. UCLA: Jim Mora-Brett Hundley
Mora was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 31 head coach in the nation. There is no doubting he has gotten more out of this Bruins team than the previous regimes, however, he is still a bit of an unknown commodity on the coaching circuit. His quarterback is not an unknown at all, though. In fact, Hundley is one of the best players in the nation regardless of position. The UCLA head coach-quarterback combination has won 19 games over the last two seasons and a Pac-12 crown in 2014 would vault them into Fisher-Winston range nationally. Hundley has 7,914 yards of total offense and 73 total touchdowns in two seasons in Westwood.

8. Arizona State: Todd Graham-Taylor Kelly
All this duo did was post the best record in the Pac-12 (8-1) a year ago while winning the division and coming one game away from a Rose Bowl berth. Kelly has topped 3,000 yards passing in each of his two seasons as the starter and has carried the ball 306 times for over 1,100 yards on the ground as well. Graham, despite his strange resume, is a proven winner and turned ASU into a Pac-12 contender in just two seasons at the helm. Look for this established tandem to produce big offensive numbers once again in the desert this fall.

9. Oregon: Mark Helfrich-Marcus Mariota
Much like the tandem at UCLA, the Ducks boast one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks and one of the game’s most unproven head coaches. Mariota is brilliant in all facets of the game and could be the only player in the nation capable of competing with Winston for No. 1 overall honors in next year’s NFL Draft. Helfrich had two chances to lock up the Pac-12 title in his first season and couldn’t do it last year. He currently ranks 58th in Athlon Sports’ coaching rankings but could make a huge jump should Oregon win the conference title in ’14.

10. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops-Trevor Knight
Knight was magnificent against Alabama but needs to prove his talents over the course of a full season. Staying healthy is atop this list after throwing just five regular season touchdown passes a year ago. Stoops’ resume speaks for itself — eight Big 12 titles, nine BCS bowls and four trips to the national title game. If Knight develops the way many think he can, this duo could lead the Sooners to a playoff berth and could enter next season as the best QB-head coach combo in the nation.

11. Brian Kelly-Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Kelly is among the nation’s best minds and he will have his guy under center once again when he welcomes Golson back to South Bend. Golson developed into a playmaker during his first year. How many tandems in the nation have been to a national title game together?

12. Gary Pinkel-Maty Mauk, Missouri
Longevity counts for something and Pinkel has that in spades. Along with a great QB resume that includes Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin. Mauk is the next great Mizzou passer.

13. Hugh Freeze-Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Wallace isn’t an overly special player but he’s one of the SEC’s best passers. Freeze has proven in short order to be a winner. This tandem needs to take the next step in ’14.

14. Bronco Mendenhall-Taysom Hill, BYU
Hill has special dual-threat playmaking talents and could find himself in the Heisman mix should BYU win enough games. Mendenhall has five 10-win seasons at BYU and has never posted a losing record.

15. Mike Leach-Connor Halliday, Washington State
The Wazzu combo broke some NCAA records last year, and, with a large contingent of receivers returning, the Mad Scientist could have one of his best statistical seasons in years.

16. David Shaw-Kevin Hogan, Stanford
17. Steve Spurrier-Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
18. Bill Snyder-Jake Waters, Kansas State
19. Dan Mullen-Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
20. Mike Riley-Sean Mannion, Oregon State

5 we don’t know about yet:

Nick Saban-Jacob Coker, Alabama
Mark Richt-Hutson Mason, Georgia
Chris Petersen-Cyler Miles, Washington
Bobby Petrino-Will Gardner, Louisville
Kevin Sumlin-Kyle Allen, Texas A&M

Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-dominates-charlotte-wins-nascars-coca-cola-600

NASCAR has IndyCar’s number when it comes to television, revenue, pretty car colors … you name it, it’s simply a step above. We’ve been over this one time and again where even Indy qualifying lost out to stock car racing’s All-Star event in the latest Nielsen ratings. More than likely, this week it’s NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, not the Indy 500, that will draw the larger audience overall.  Jimmie Johnson

But Charlotte, which played to a less-than-packed house this weekend, paled in comparison to the fanfare of Indy, where well over 200,000 adoring “houseguests” surrounded the 2.5-mile facility. For the second straight year, they saw a competitive race, with 28 of 33 cars on the lead lap halfway through, a near-photo finish and even a little verbal sparring (however well-handled) by Ed Carpenter towards James Hinchcliffe following a nasty wreck. Former NASCAR pretender Juan Pablo Montoya shined, scoring a fifth-place result while teenage rookie Sage Karam ran inside the top 10 and current stock car full-timer Kurt Busch finished an impressive sixth. An American, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was the cherry on top of it all, scoring just the third victory for the U.S.A. this century in what’s supposed to be the largest and most historic version of this country’s 500-mile automobile race.

Compare that to Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600, which for all the military pomp and circumstance trotted out a bunch of bullets that fired blanks. The race had fewer lead-lap cars by Lap 50 – keep in mind NASCAR’s starting field is 43, not 33 – and ran with just a single lead change until the first green-flag pit stop. In the end, both races had 34 swaps up front but NASCAR also had twice the number of laps (400 to 200) to get there. And while IndyCar’s lead pack creates a “suckup” effect, making it hard not to pass the leader, NASCAR’s aero package is still so dreadful at Charlotte it acts as a magnetic repellent to cars coming within 50 feet. Even the wrecks (that taboo word) were more spectacular at Indy, as debris from the last one caused a red-flag condition that appeared a whole lot more realistic than the invisible trash NASCAR likes to pick up.

What happened at Indy was natural, captivating, something to build on. What happened in NASCAR was a reminder, during a rebuilding year of everything, of what got stock car racing into a rut. It’s a weird juxtaposition, where the underdog beat up on the favorite on a big stage that makes you wonder if the tide ever has a chance to turn. Indy’s crack marketing department (as in, cracked into pieces) would appear to tell you otherwise but NASCAR, on days like these, keeps leaving the door open, the same way that open-wheel split in the 1990s gave stock car racing a free pass to leap through parted waters.

One of these days some sort of auto racing “competition” has a shot of bursting through stock car’s monopoly … right? A healthy rival within the marketplace could serve to make both sides better, drumming up interest in what’s been a struggling sport. Or are fans so stuck in their ways, combined with an 18-to-34 generation currently showing limited interest towards cars in general both, that sides are doomed to mediocrity?

It’s a daunting first question for IndyCar, which is struggled to simply survive in recent years (a lesson for NASCAR in how not to market or build a schedule). The second? Too delicate a flower to mess with on a Memorial Day where we’re supposed to be honoring those who serve our country, not creating memorials for our country’s former fast-growing pastime.

Phew! Getting the soldier salute in, as we should, while hoping auto racing keeps soldiering through their tough times. “Through the Gears,” post-Charlotte, we go …

FIRST GEAR: The house that Jimmie built … again
Jimmie Johnson heard the naysayers. He heard that 0-for-11 start and the critics saying, “What if the No. 48 could be in position to miss the Chase?” After last Saturday, when both driver and crew chief got a little snippy on the radio — a theme over the past month of competition — people were starting to wonder if the six-time champ had finally lost his mojo.

Silly us. Johnson put a muzzle on everyone Sunday night, battling with Kevin Harvick early and then making the right adjustments late to burst through traffic and past Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 late. Leading a race-high 164 laps, Johnson returned to the form that once had NASCAR aficionados labeling Charlotte Motor Speedway “Johnson’s House.” His seven points victories at the track are now more than any driver in series history and yet another record to stack on his resume while back in pursuit of the ultimate number: seven championships.

“What the hell are you all going to write about now?” he joked to the media. “We won.”

Indeed. Now Johnson is all but locked into the Chase, can spend the summer testing like his other major rivals and work on squeezing out a little extra speed. Considering Charlotte is in the postseason, along with Dover this weekend (Johnson’s best oval) the No. 48 once again becomes your title favorite. How could he not be? Kevin Harvick has shown to have the fastest car this year, but he has yet to get over the hump — and has Stewart-Haas racing engines going blitzkrieg left and right.

SECOND GEAR: Charlotte really is the pits
A 600-mile race is the ultimate test of NASCAR teamwork for man and machine where focus is needed from everyone for the better part of four hours. Sometimes, that means nothing, as engines expire due to the stress of an extra 100 miles they never get on the track. We saw that for a few drivers on Sunday, most notably Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch (we’ll get to that) whose normally reliable Hendrick Motorsports powerplants went up in smoke.

But the biggest culprit Sunday night wasn’t inside the race car so much as Goodyear tires — or the thought of a Goodyear tire going down. A loose wheel ruined a potential winning combination for Brad Keselowski, his fuel strategy putting the No. 2 car in position to win until a poor stop made it all fall apart. For Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. it was the idea they had a tire go flat that brought them scurrying to unscheduled stops. It wasn’t the case for either, as they watched potential top-5 finishes go up in the smoke of mental spooks.

However, Kasey Kahne made the biggest mistake of all, missing his pit box on an early green-flag stop and having to circle around the track a second time. That cost the No. 5 car a lap — one it would never get back — at a track Kahne has won more than any other throughout his career. You know that winning setup Johnson used? The No. 48 got it straight from Kahne’s crew chief, Kenny Francis. No doubt this team could have been a factor up front, a lost opportunity to “steal one” during a year where it’s questionable whether they’ll be able to make the Chase on points alone.

THIRD GEAR: Kurt Busch’s “Double” goes boom  Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch’s Indy drive? Nothing short of splendid. A sixth-place finish, making him the top rookie, found him within striking distance of the leaders over the final laps. After spending much of the race running mid-pack, Busch seized opportunities late and sliced through the field during a time when most rookies get fall prey to more experienced drivers.

Compare that to Cup, where his No. 41 Chevy met another ugly end in the form of catastrophic engine failure. Busch now has half as many top 10s in IndyCar (one) as his NASCAR season that would be a bona fide “F” without a Martinsville victory in hand.

“The motor just expired,” said Busch. “It's a tough break. It takes a team if you're going to do 1,100 miles. It's not just one individual. We came up just short.”

Busch chose his words carefully but he has to be getting frustrating with SHR’s development. Sunday was a real opportunity to seize momentum, as Busch charged from the back into the top 15 and could have easily scored a lead-lap, top-10 finish to wrap up the double. Even Kevin Harvick’s radio channel (whom I was listening to at the time) had some choice words for the No. 41 that got cut off once they recognized the public was listening.

Bottom line, the feat was still impressive, but the confidence in Busch’s NASCAR program, if you read between the lines post-race, seems less secure than with his one-month tenure with Andretti Autosport. That’s where it really counts, creating a troubling disconnect, albeit justifiable considering the mechanical mayhem he’s been through in 2014.


Couch Potato Tuesday: Deadspin Moments Derail ESPN Racing Coverage

FOURTH GEAR: Kenseth keeping Gibbs in the game
Matt Kenseth fell short Sunday night, a running theme this season as 2013’s seven-time winner remains shut out of Victory Lane. So far in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has won twice in 12 races compared to three times each for rivals Hendrick, Stewart-Haas and Penske.

But a funny thing is happening with Kenseth’s series of “almosts:” league-leading consistency. No one questions the fact JGR has fallen a step behind on intermediates, yet this season Kenseth has no finish lower than 13th outside of Talladega. He’s second in points, just 11 behind Jeff Gordon and should make the Chase regardless of whether that trip to Victory Lane comes. It’s a tough time for JGR, but Kenseth has kept them close and breathing easy (nine top-10 finishes) so the next few months can be all about finding speed instead of scrambling.

“I feel like we’re gaining on it,” he said after. “I thought today, all things being equal and nobody having trouble that we had at least a fifth-place car. We’re not where we were last year yet, but I feel like certainly we’re gaining on it. We are just a little bit off and just need to get it a little better somehow.”

They will, but until then this former champ knows how to keep them in the ballgame without getting flustered. So don’t forget about JGR: all three teams will be there come September with just as much of a shot at this title as anyone.

Trevor Bayne
was invisible Sunday, driving to a ho-hum 20th for the Wood Brothers, but more will be expected next season. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner will finally move up to the Cup Series full-time driving the No. 6 for Nationwide Series employer Roush Fenway Racing, bringing back the car made famous by Mark Martin. The Wood Brothers are now searching for a 2015 replacement and are still expected to run a part-time schedule in their No. 21. … Martin Truex Jr. had the run he needed for the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 all wrapped up in a neat little bow at Charlotte. The combination seemed headed toward its first top-5 finish together, attempting to erase the smell of a stinky season until an axle broke with less than 10 laps left, erasing their most consistent performance of 2014. Truex wound up two laps back in 25th, hopefully harnessing some confidence from it all before heading to his hometown track in Dover, Del., this weekend. … Three of NASCAR’s four cautions during the first 227 laps of the race were for debris. Can we just call them timeouts already? The amount of unforced stoppages within the race are getting silly for things fans never see in the name of safety. That’s especially so when it changes the outcome on a night where Harvick and Johnson could have lapped up to the fifth- or sixth-place car the way those two were hooked up early on.

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

Post-race reaction from Jimmie Johnson's win in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 12:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/iowa-offensive-tackle-brandon-scherff-takes-unusual-path-stardom

Somewhere in Iowa, a few ex-high school athletes have stories to share.
One tale might be about a 250-pound sophomore quarterback running over linebackers on a second-and-5 sneak.

Another might be about the time a 230-pound high school freshman returned volleys effortlessly for the varsity tennis team.

“It was a sight,” Denison (Iowa) athletic director Dave Wiebers said. “You see a kid that big and you think he’ll never get to anything. But they’ll lob it over the top and he’ll be there in one or two steps.”

Both stories are about the same high school athlete from Denison, and there are probably more about the same 250-pounder all-state pitcher, a center flashing post moves or a state title-winner in the shot put.

“I’ve read somewhere where he was claiming 1,400-1,600 (passing) yards,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t doubt that it happened, but I want to see the video.”


Specialization didn’t come for Brandon Scherff until the last possible moment in high school at Denison. Only when Scherff committed to go to Iowa as an offensive linemen did Scherff start playing tackle full time on the football field.

Five years later, Scherff is one of the top offensive tackles in the country as an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and likely a first round NFL draft pick.

It’s no fluke that Iowa would find its latest great lineman — a tradition that includes Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff — first in the form of a high school quarterback/pitcher/center/tennis player. Molding Scherff into a star offensive tackle was on the radar from day one, even before Scherff moved to the line.

“Not many have the athletic ability that he has,” Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “He moves very well. You want to see guys who play with their feet. You want guys who play with their eyes. You can’t do anything if you don’t have good eyes.”

Wiebers, who coached Denison football and track, didn’t play Scherff at quarterback on a lark, though. He simply didn’t have anyone but the 250-pound sophomore to play the position at the time.

Scherff had a strong arm, but his real asset was picking up momentum in the run game in Denison’s veer offense.

“I threw the ball every once in a while,” Scherff said. “I tried to run quarterback sneaks on second and 5. Those were always nice.”

Still, Iowa essentially recruited Scherff as a lineman sight unseen.

Midway through Scherff’s junior year, Wiebers had a more traditional quarterback in Ricky Torres, who would go on to play basketball at the NAIA level. Scherff, who was on his way to becoming a 6-5, 295-pound high school senior, would move to tight end.

“You probably got to see more of his athletic ability from his tight end position,” Wiebers said. “In that transition, you could see what a good athlete he is in the trenches and catching the ball.”

For Scherff, the move from tight end to offensive tackle as a senior was more practical. He also gave up summer baseball to prepare for his new role in college.

“I didn’t want to come here not knowing what to do,” Scherff said.

He was still raw when he arrived at Iowa, but going up against All-America defensive end and eventual first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn on the scout team as a freshman forced him to catch up in a hurry.

Scherff started at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and moved to left tackle for each of the last two seasons.

He improved to a point where he had a legitimate dilemma on whether to go to the NFL Draft after his junior season. He elected to stay in school to improve fundamentals and technique.

For now, he’s “pure power,” Brian Ferentz said. Scherff is also only a year-and-a-half removed from a broken leg and dislocated ankle that cost him half of the 2012 season.

The return, though, gives Iowa a chance to win the Big Ten West division with Schreff blocking for returning starting quarterback Jake Rudock and grinding running back Mark Weisman.

“The biggest thing is, all those measurables, all those things where you’re testing, every one of those shows up when he plays,” Brian Ferentz said. “A lot of times there are guys have weight room strength, or guys who have football strength. He has everything. He’s an extremely functional football player.

“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”

And now Schreff is a football player only. He’ll still play basketball with friends, and he’s taken up golf. But he’s not going to show up in a quarterback meeting anytime soon.

“I absolutely don’t miss quarterback,” Scherff said. “It’s kind of fun throwing the ball around, but I love hitting people and being physical.”

Images courtesy of Iowa Athletic Communications.

Iowa Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff Takes Unusual Path to Stardom
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 11:51
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-27-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 27.

• Good news, fellas: Sofia Vergara dumped her fiance and is back on the open market.

• The weekend's best sports photo (of the ones I've seen, anyway): Kent State's T.J. Sutton goes airborne to join his team's celebration.

• The weekend's best sports fan: A female White Sox fan saved a baby with a one-handed snag of a flying bat while her male companion cowered.

This Vine captures a fan sharing his pit stank with his wife. People are disgusting.

• A palate-cleanser after that last story: A homeless girl earns a free ride to Georgetown.

Novak Djokovic shared a rain delay with a ball boy.

Getting to know U.S. Soccer captain and head case Clint Dempsey.

• Cool story: Astros prospect Conrad Gregor launched a three-run dinger. The ball was caught by his dad, who had driven up to Quad Cities to see his son play.

Vince Wilfork shows off his dance moves while grilling. Light on his feet for a big fella.

An idiot reporter congratulated a tennis player on his French Open loss. The reaction is priceless.

Johnny Manziel was in Vegas over the weekend, but he did take his playbook with him, so chill out, pearl-clutching reporters.

• The pool dunk genre has been taken about as far as it can go. But here's one last link to a pool dunk video to kick off the summer. The best part is watching the brahs celebrate their achievement.


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

Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 10:29
Path: /college-basketball/12-college-basketball-teams-rise-2014-15

No program last season was more ascendant than UConn, even if the Huskies didn’t look the part until the final six games of the season.

The Huskies were banned from the NCAA Tournament in 2013 due to low APR scores. They came back to go 12-6 in the American, a solid if unspectacular performance by UConn standards.

Then came the Shabazz Show as Napier led UConn to one of the most unlikely national championships since the Tournament field expanded.

Following up that kind of rise will be tough, but there are a handful of candidates of teams that could turn a disappointing 2013-14 into a surprising 2014-15.

Here are our top 12 contenders for programs on the rise for the upcoming season.

College Basketball Teams on the Rise in 2014-15

Talent hasn’t been the issue for Mike Anderson’s teams at Arkansas. For whatever reason, the Razorbacks haven’t been able to put together an NCAA-worthy season. That may change this season as the Hogs return six of their top seven scorers including the inside-out duo of forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls. After struggling on the road in Anderson’s first two seasons, the Hogs started to prove they could win away from Fayetteville last season.

For the second consecutive season, Georgia was the team no bubble team in the SEC wanted to play. The Bulldogs went 12-7 in the league, but they lacked the non-conference resume to be a legitimate NCAA contender. Maybe that changes this season. After getting hit with untimely early entries to the NBA Draft, Mark Fox has his top five scorers returning.

Gonzaga had a typical Gonzaga season in 2013-14, 29 wins, a West Coast Conference title and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The record, though, was somewhat hollow. Gonzaga defeated one top-50 team all year (BYU, twice). With a solid backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. plus the arrival of Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga will have top-10 potential.

The Illini won six of its last nine Big Ten games including the league tournament. Not a bad turnaround for a team that reeled off eight consecutive Big Ten losses at one point. After a lost year, John Groce has rebuilt his roster around returners Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. He’ll add another round of transfers and a top-50 freshman forward, Leron Black, to the mix this season.

How could Kentucky be a team on the rise after reaching the national title game? Well, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and now experience, Kentucky should have a more consistent season from beginning to end after last year’s freshman-laden team lost 11 games last season.

The Hurricanes lost nearly every key player from the team that won the 2012 ACC title. Help was on the way, even if it was delayed a year. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClendon (Texas) will be eligible. Don’t count out coach Jim Larranaga, who coaxed an 8-12 ACC season out of last season’s short-handed team.

One starter, Austin Hollins, is gone from the NIT champions. The Gophers still have Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu, a duo who helped Minnesota defeat Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa to get onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place. The Big Ten doesn’t figure to be the gauntlet it has been in the last two seasons, so Richard Pitino’s team could take a significant step forward after going 9-11 in the league in his first season.

How can the Cornhuskers’ top last last season when Nebraska reached its first NCAA Tournament since 1998? With the way Nebraska finished, it’s easy to forget the Huskers were 9-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten on Jan. 23. With Terran Petteway returning and only one significant departure (guard Ray Gallegos), Tim Miles’ team is set to carry the momentum from last season into 2014-15.

Notre Dame
Not much went right in Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC. The Irish played the entire conference schedule without Jerian Grant, who was averaging 19 points per game before he was an academic casualty. The normally stable Irish went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. With Grant returning alongside senior Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame should top 20 wins in 2014-15.

The NCAA selection committee snubbed the Mustangs, but Larry Brown’s team figures to make the in-or-out decision easier this time around. SMU reached the NIT final last season with just two seniors on the roster. The returning cast alone would make SMU worth watching, but the Mustangs add freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The 6-5 point guard from Arlington could be an All-American and one of the top prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.

After two subpar seasons, including an early loss to Houston in the 2013 CBI, Texas is in the midst of a resurgence under Rick Barnes that once seemed unlikely. The Longhorns return every key contributor from a team that went 24-11 and finished third in the Big 12. More important for Barnes’ long-term hopes, the Longhorns are pulling major in-state recruits again with the arrival of freshman center Myles Turner.

Larry Krystkowiak has led one of the most impressive turnarounds in the the country in the last three seasons. When he started at Utah in 2011-12, Krystkowiak took over a roster with only four returning players for the program’s first season in the Pac-12. After going 6-25 in his first season, Utah has improved to 21-12 in his third. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge leading a now-veteran team, Utah will push for a winning record in the Pac-12 and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009.

12 College Basketball Teams on the Rise for 2014-15
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/13-amazing-indianapolis-500-stats-you-need-know

The Indianapolis 500 is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason.

Nestled in the suburbs just west and north of downtown Indianapolis, the greatest racetrack and the biggest sporting venue in the world is host to the most prestigious event in motor sports every Memorial Day weekend.

The Indy 500, for those in the know. And, trust me, I know.

I’ve been to seven such events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — and one Brickyard 400 — and there is no experience in sports like watching 33 open-wheel rocketships fly past your nose at over 220 miles per hour. And all seven, even the ones that ended early by rain (looking at you Ashley Judd), gifted me an unforgettable experience.

We celebrate those who have fought and died to protect this country on Memorial Day weekend, and for three decades, my family has done that by enjoying the most coveted championship in racing.

The 98th running of the esteemed 500-mile sprint won’t be any different. Here are my favorite stats you need to know before settling in for 200 laps around IMS on Sunday afternoon:

187.433: Record average speed for 2013 race
The fastest Indy 500 ever run took place just last year when fan favorite Tony Kanaan won the event with an average speed of 187.433 MPHs. It was only the second time in the history of the race in which the average speed was in excess of 180 MPH — Arie Luyendyk in 1990 at 185.981 MPH. The race took a record two hours, 40 minutes and three seconds to finish. The ’13 race also featured the most lead changes (68) and different leaders (14) in Indy 500 history. Never before had a race seen more than 35 lead changes until ’13.

236.986: Fastest qualifying lap in history
Speaking of Luyendyk, the French champion owns the fastest qualifying lap in race history when he won the pole in 1996 with an average speed over four laps of 236.986 miles per hour. Hometown hero Ed Carpenter won his second consecutive pole this year with an average four-lap speed of 230.661 MPH.

6: Former winners racing in this year’s event
Including the defending champion Kanaan, there are six former winners in the field in 2014. Helio Castroneves (2001-02, ‘09), Scott Dixon (2008), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1995) all have hoisted the Borg-Werner Trophy. The record for most race winners in one field is 10 back in 1992 and this year’s field also will include seven rookies. Castroneves is attempting to join elite company…

4: Most Indy 500 championships by a driver
Only three drivers in history have ever won the Indy 500 four times. A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77), Al Unser (1970, ’71, ’78, ’87) and Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91) are the three most successful names in IMS history and Castroneves could join them with a win this weekend. Foyt also owns the record for most consecutive starts in the race at 35 while Roger Penske’s 15 wins are a record for an owner.

257,325: Capacity of Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Affectionately known as IMS, the historic track is the largest sporting venue in the world. The official seating capacity is reported at 257,325 seats but the infield space and standing-room-only crowd push attendance over 300,000 annually. The Associated Press has reported in the past, at the height of its popularity, that the race drew roughly 400,000 spectators a year — making it the largest sporting event in the world every year.

0.043: Seconds of margin of victory in 1992
The closest finish in race history took place when Al Unser Jr. held off Scott Goodyear in 1992 by a fraction of a second. The duo battled for laps and were nose-to-tail coming off of turn four on lap No. 200. Goodyear peaked inside “Little Al” right at the finish line but was unable to complete the pass. The IMS Radio Network call still gives me chills and nearly brings me to tears to this day:

253: Acres within the track
The infield at IMS is a sight to behold. Four holes of The Brickyard Crossing golf course are located along the backstretch of the 253-acre infield. The remaining 14 holes run just outside of the backstretch. According to, the infield could house Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, The Rose Bowl, The Roman Coliseum and The Vatican City combined.

1.9: Miles-to-the-gallon the current Indy car obtains
One lap around the famed Brickyard is 2.5 miles and it takes roughly 1.3 gallons of fuel to make it all the way around the perfect oval. So the current Indy car gets roughly 1.9 miles/gallon in fuel mileage. The fuel capacity of the current vehicle is 18.5 gallons (70 liters), meaning the fuel window for the machines is roughly 35 laps.

28: Worst starting spot for a race winner
The race has been run 97 times and only 10 times has a winner started 20th or worse. The lowest starting spot to crown a winner is 28th and it happened when Ray Harroun won the inaugural event in 1911 and then again in 1936 when Louis Meyer was a champion. Only twice since 1936 has a winner come from 20th or worst — Johnny Rutherford started 25th in 1974 and Al Unser began the race 20th in 1987. The best starting position to never win a race is 18th. Oriol Servia has the unlucky draw of beginning the race on the outside of Row 6 this weekend.

1: Fewest race laps led by a champion
The late Dan Wheldon won arguably the most painful finish of any of the 97 Indy 500s. Rookie J.R. Hildebrand held the lead by a wide margin entering the final turn of the 500-mile race when he slid into the outside wall while passing a much slower car. The wreck allowed Wheldon to make the final lap pass and clinch his second Indy 500 win. It was the only lap Wheldon led all race long, giving him the fewest laps led by any winner. Only one other time has a winner led fewer than 10 total laps and that was American Joe Dawson in 1912 when he led just two laps. The final lap pass by Wheldon was also only the second last lap lead change in race history. This historic final lap by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 might have been the most dramatic finish in race history (and I was lucky enough to see both) and is the only other final lap pass by a champion:

8,116 and 17,527: Oldest and youngest champions in race history (in days)
The youngest driver to win the Indy 500 was Troy Ruttman in 1952. He was 22 years, two months and 19 days old — or 8,116 days. The oldest driver to win the championship was Al Unser in 1987, who was 47 years, 11 months and 25 days old — or 17,527 days.

1,100: Miles Kurt Busch will attempt to race on Sunday
It’s been a decade since Robby Gordon attempted to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Kurt Busch will attempt the double-dip this weekend. He will start on the outside of Row 4 at Indy and there is no possible way he won’t qualify for the 600. In all, should he finish both races, Busch will race 1,100 miles in one day on two tracks while also traversing the 500-mile distance between Indianapolis and Charlotte. The help of a Cessna Citation X 750 — which flies at 600 miles per hour — will allow Busch to run both races.

1: Pace car wrecks
In only once in Indy 500 history has the pace car wrecked. In 1971, Eldon Palmer, a local car dealer in Indiana, paced the start of the race in a gorgeous red Dodge Challenger. The only problem is he lost control of the car and crashed into an entire grandstand at the end of pit lane. Unbelievably and fortunately, no one died in the bizarre incident.

13 Amazing Indianapolis 500 Stats You Need to Know
Post date: Friday, May 23, 2014 - 14:00
Path: /nascar/busch-prepares-tackle-double-coke-600-need-spark

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 share center stage over racing’s biggest weekend.

Coca-Cola 600 in need of a spark
Racing 600 miles at Charlotte has long been NASCAR's attempt at one-upping the open-wheel gang and that group's lasting importance of the Indianapolis 500.

The 600 has certainly turned in to one of the sport's favorite traditions — I'd recommend ignoring anyone who complains about the length of the race this weekend — largely based on the excess of the mileage but also due to its move to a day-night event in 1993. It was a race that had developed its own unique flair, allowing it to stand out on an otherwise long calendar.

A combination of events, however, have come together to reduce some of the race's prestige. Advances in racing technology have made the race less of a taste of endurance, a glut of NASCAR night racing has lessened the unique day-night draw and, for more than a decade, the event hasn't been part of NASCAR's former bonus program that established the race as a crown jewel event. Faster speeds and a heavier dependence on aerodynamics has also caused some separation in the racing.

Mind you, the Coca-Cola 600 isn't failing and it’s not on a last leg. But the race certainly isn't held in the same reverence on the NASCAR calendar that it once was.

What's the best cure? It's impossible to know. But the race needs a shot in the arm.

Car transition period key for Busch at Charlotte  Kurt Busch
"Doing the double" is a phrase that has once again become relevant at Charlotte Motor Speedway beyond special requests at the concession stand, all thanks to Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch. Busch, of course, is planning to race 1,100-plus miles Sunday by becoming the first NASCAR driver since 2004 to start both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600.

After a brief taste of that back-and-forth racing lifestyle last weekend, crew chief Daniel Knost noted this week that Busch's greatest challenge in the double won't necessarily be fitness. Instead, it'll be about transitioning from IndyCar handling sensibilities to Cup car sensibilities upon Charlotte arrival.

"I think that the cars are really different, so it may take him a little while to get settled into our car," Knost said.

Knost is talking from experience. In an interview at Indianapolis 500 qualifying Sunday, Busch noted that he spent most of the All-Star Race's first segment getting back acquainted with the heavier, less nimble car. Such a process makes it tough to make significant strides forward in race conditions.

Busch's teammate knows that firsthand. After racing the Indianpolis 500 in 2001, Tony Stewart became the 600's first caution when he spun on Lap 3. However, he recovered to a third-place finish. Good race cars, after all, cure most ills.

"I think, if the car is good enough, (Busch will) be able to go up there and compete," Knost said.

Now time for Danica's consistency  Danica Patrick
There is no doubt that Danica Patrick's top-10 finish at Kansas Speedway was her best overall Sprint Cup race to date. Patrick methodically improved the car and her track position during the race, though largely seemed to lose most of her gained ground during restarts.

Regardless, Patrick's Kansas run — she's long been known to hate driving loose race cars and felt the Kansas car was fast largely because she finally felt secure on the track — was a success on the level of expectation. The key now for Patrick is turning runs like Kansas into significant streaks of success.

Starting fourth on Sunday night is a step in the right direction. But the biggest hurdle she still faces is consistency.

Charlotte ages back to Jimmie's liking?  Jimmie Johnson
An underlying current of last week's All-Star Race was an improved groove around Charlotte's 1.5-mile track. Finally, some eight years after Charlotte went through its full repave in 2006, the track seems to be finding some age and character again.

It's undoubtedly still lightning fast — drivers were barely blipping the throttle and dragging the brake during qualifying laps in the 27-second range during last week's All-Star qualifying — and remains an aero-dependent track. However, drivers seemed less and less perturbed by the dreaded aero push and had some longer runs side-by-side and nose-to-tail than previously seen in recent CMS races.

Familiar bumps on the backstretch and entering Turn 3 also seem to be reappearing.

All told, that may be music to Jimmie Johnson's ears. In the eight races immediately prefacing the 2006 repave, Johnson won five times. In the 16 races since, he has one win and just five top-5 finishes.

Botched qualifying for several top names
Thursday night's group qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600 went quite well for Jimmie Johnson. For other big names, it didn't go so hot.

The first sign of trouble came from Ryan Newman when significant handling issues quickly brought him back to pit road. The culprit? A left side tire had been inadvertently mounted on the right of the car — heavily skewing the car out of balance.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch slogged through the opening round with poor performing cars. Neither advanced to the second round, leaving the former champions scheduled to start 27th and 28th.

The last bit of silly business happened at the close of the final five-minute round for the pole. Two drivers — Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth — tried to play the countdown clock to their advantage by taking the green flag just before it expired. The thinking behind that strategy allows a car to cool down longer than others and attempt a lap in the coolest possible conditions.

Those objectives are lost, of course, when a driver fails to click by the start-finish line on a flying lap before the clock hits zero. Harvick and Kenseth both made that embarrassing mistake Thursday, relegating their starting positions to 11th and 12th and missing any shot at the pole.

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Five things to watch on racing's biggest weekend with IndyCar's Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on tap.
Post date: Friday, May 23, 2014 - 11:03