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Wisconsin had three different quarterbacks make a start last season.

Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien was thought to be the answer, but he struggled early in the year, which prompted the coaching staff to turn to Joel Stave. The former walk-on was solid in his performances, until suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State.

With Stave sidelined, Curt Phillips was pushed into the starting lineup. Phillips was steady in his stint as the No. 1 quarterback, but Stave or incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could win surpass him on the depth chart this fall.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. Wisconsin checks in as the No. 19 team for 2013

Who Should Start at Quarterback for Wisconsin in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This is going to be a tough decision, but Joel Stave seemed to be the quarterback coaches trusted the most last season. Granted, that’s a different coaching staff. Gary Andersen may see something he likes in Danny O’Brien, who struggled the most of Wisconsin’s three starters. Curt Phillips was the best of the three starters in terms of third down efficiency (45 percent in his five starts) and red zone efficiency (85 percent touchdowns in his starts), but that was when Montee Ball and the Wisconsin run game finally regained form. The Badgers rushed for 200 yards four times in Phillips’ starts including twice running for 500. Stave’s numbers tell a different story. Stave averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt and 14.9 passes per game, both way ahead of the numbers for O’Brien and Phillips. Simply put, Wisconsin’s last staff thought Stave gave the Badgers a better chance to run a more effective balanced offense. While handing the offense to Ball and James White was enough to beat Penn State and Nebraska, I don’t think that’s going to be enough for Wisconsin to stay competitive over the course of the season, especially with Ball gone.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I would be shocked if anyone other than Joel Stave was the starter in Madison. The walk-on redshirt sophomore was the only player on the roster last season who gave the Badgers offense any balance whatsoever. He was leading the Big Ten in efficiency before getting hurt against both Nebraska and Michigan State — the only two games UW lost when Stave started. Curt Phillips has some nice athletic ability and proved he could lead clutch drives but is one cut away from a fourth knee injury. And he was very Tebow-ish in that he struggled for the first 59 minutes of the game before leading game-tying drives (Penn State, Ohio State). Does Stave, and his lack of mobility, fit into Gary Andersen's offensive scheme perfectly? No, but he is the most polished passer and gives Wisconsin the ability to accurately go down the field more so than any other option on the roster. Look for Stave to take most of the snaps with Phillips' legs earning him a few snaps from time to time. There are worse problems to have than multiple quarterbacks with starting experience.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although Curt Phillips was steady in his late-season stint as the starting quarterback, I think Joel Stave is the answer for Wisconsin. New coordinator Andy Ludwig and coach Gary Andersen want a little mobility from their passer, but Stave gives this team the best chance to win. In eight games last season, the former walk-on threw for 1,104 yards and six touchdowns, while completing 58.8 percent of his throws. The Wisconsin native had three consecutive games of 200 or more passing yards (UTEP, Nebraska and Illinois) and threw for 127 yards on 9 of 11 passes before suffering an injury that kept him out of game action until the Rose Bowl.

Junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy was recruited by Andersen to add to the competition right away, and he seems to be the best fit for the offense. However, McEvoy has no experience on the FBS level, and junior college recruits usually have an adjustment period to the increased competition.

Stave might not be perfect for what the coaching staff wants to do. But with one of the nation’s top backfields returning and a solid defense, having a quarterback that is capable of being efficient and steady in the pocket is a huge plus for new coach Gary Andersen. 
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
It's that time of the year again when the Wisconsin quarterback question tends to yield no answers. I have joked about this topic with a few people already but it is really anybody's guess who will be leading the offense when the season kicks off in Madison. I think the competition between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips is a draw, with each having certain qualities the other doesn't that would lead to a potential dual-QB offense if nothing is figured out before the start of the year.

It sounds as though JUCO transfer Tanner McEvoy is going to get every opportunity to compete for the starting job, and with neither Phillips or Stave making it an obvious choice to go with them, that would lead me to consider McEvoy will be Gary Andersen's guy at some point. Part of me also wants to think Danny O'Brien somehow rebounds but until he does anything to prove he is worthy of the starting job I'll have to wait and see.

So we have a situation where Wisconsin is looking to pick a name out of a hat, and that's generally not a great sign. When push comes to shove, I'll go with the guy who got the most out of the offense last season and that is Stave.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
So we're absolutely sure that Russell Wilson is out of eligibility? What about Scott Tolzien? In that case, I'll have to go with the guy who made the most starts under center for the Badgers last season - Joel Stave. The sophomore was doing just fine before breaking his clavicle against Michigan State, becoming the first freshman quarterback at Wisconsin since Jim Sorgi (2000) to start a game.

Not only did Stave win his first start against UTEP, he led the Badgers to a 4-1 record in the five games he completed (which included three conference victories) and was leading the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating (149.6) at the time of his injury. He also became the eighth QB in school history to throw for more than 200 yards in three consecutive games and the first to do so in his first three starts since Tyler Donovan (2006, '07).

Stave may not be as athletic as senior Curt Phillips or the ideal fit for new head coach Gary Andersen's system like redshirt freshman Bart Houston is reported to be, but he has shown that he's more than capable of leading the team to victory when he's on the field. He didn't do anything performance-wise to lose the job last season, so I see no reason to make a change on the depth chart to start off 2013 either.
 

Related College Football Content

No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers 2013 Team Preview
Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks for 2013

Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs for 2013

Ranking the Big Ten Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Who Should Start at Quarterback for Wisconsin in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 06:33
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/10-athletes-turned-musicians
Body:

Many superstar athletes have been bitten by the musical bug and have created successful second acts for themselves on stage. Others should have just ignored the urge to sing, or at least practiced in front of a mirror (we're looking at you, Carl Lewis).

We'll start with some of the best and throw in a few of the worst for giggles.

Mike Reid
Reid's two All-Pro seasons as a Bengals defensive tackle (1972-73) weren't enough to get him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his songwriting prowess, primarily in the country genre, was enough to get him in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Here's his No. 1 hit from 1990, "Walk on Faith."

 

Wayman Tisdale
The late Wayman Tisdale had a solid 12-year NBA career during which he averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game. He was also an exceptionally accomplished musician. Tisdale, who got his musical start playing bass guitar at his dad's church, ultimately mastered the instrument and recorded eight jazz albums prior to his tragic death in 2009. One of those albums, "Face to Face," reached No. 1 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart.

 

Bernie Williams
Williams was a key part of the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s-early 2000s, but even then, he had one eye on Latin-flavored music. The smooth-swinging center fielder specializes in smooth jazz guitar in his post-baseball life.

 

Johnny Mathis
The legendary crooner was also an accomplished track athlete and was even asked to try out for the 1956 Olympic Team in the high jump, but instead went to New York to keep an appointment to pursue a recording contract. Chances are, we would have heard his smooth tenor eventually even if he had gone to Melbourne.

 

Justin McBride
McBride is a veteran professional bullrider and two-time PBR world champion (2005, 2007). He's turned his attention to music, and I'll give you one guess what genre he's pursuing.

 

Julio Iglesias
Not my taste, but there's no denying Iglesias' international superstardom. Not many people know that he was a budding soccer star when an auto accident laid him up for an extended period. Depressed, he turned to music to pass the time. The rest is easy-listening history.

 

Cassius Clay
Even before changing his name, Muhammad Ali was laying claim to the title of The Greatest. He even recorded a mostly spoken-word album in the early 1960s called "I Am the Greatest." That doesn't make him a musician, but hey — it's an album, and there's music playing, and he's Muhammad Ali. He makes the list. Here is his rendition of "Stand by Me."

 

Shaquille O'Neal
The Big Aristotle tried his hand at rap. I'm not a connoisseur of the genre, so I'll leave any quality judgments to others. He did sell a lot of albums. Here he is freestyling about his former friend and teammate Kobe Bryant. I think there were some hard feelings.

 

Oscar de la Hoya
The boxing champ put out an album that — astonishingly, if this clip is any indication — was nominated for a Grammy Award.

 

John McEnroe
Tennis' bad boy wielded a rock-and-roll axe for The Johnny Smyth Band back in the 1990s, and he's retained his chops through the years. And when you're John McEnroe, you get invited on stage to jam with The Pretenders.

 

Now, just for fun, a couple less successful forays into the music scene.

Deion Sanders
Prime Time recorded a poorly received eponymous funk album in the early 1990s. There's a reason it was poorly received; it was poorly recorded. Enjoy.

 

Carl Lewis
The granddaddy of all failed musical moments from athletes. Lewis butchers our National Anthem, giving us the version written by Francis Scott "Off" Key (to quote Charlie Steiner). Steiner's reaction might be the best part of this clip.

Teaser:
<p> Some famous jocks have tried music, with varying degrees of success</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 14:10
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Football
Path: /college-football/notable-names-who-will-be-snubbed-college-football-hall-fame
Body:

Tommie Frazier’s long wait for the College Football Hall of Fame ended Tuesday when the former Nebraska quarterback was inducted after his third year on the ballot.

That Frazier, who quarterbacked two national championship teams and finished second for the Heisman in 1995, waited three seasons was a mystery. But Frazier is in this year, along with Florida’s Danny Wuerffel, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, Ohio State’s Orlando Pace, Miami’s Vinny Testaverde and nine other players and coaches.

Other accomplished players and coaches will have a much more difficult time reaching Hall of Fame status, if at all.

The College Football Hall of Fame has criteria that will make it tough for a few notable names.

In all caps, the Hall says, “FIRST AND FOREMOST, A PLAYER MUST HAVE RECEIVED FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA RECOGNITION BY A SELECTOR RECOGNIZED BY THE NCAA AND UTILIZED TO COMPRISE THEIR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICA TEAMS.”

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

Maybe not, All-America teams feature only one quarterback. Play in a season with one or two quarterbacks who stand above all others and it’s awfully tough to get that one first-team All-America nod. Players from non-traditional powers will also have a tough time meeting that criteria.

(Arizona State's Pat Tillman, who was not a first-team All-American by the major services, has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. A worthy exception to the rules.)

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

These rules are — putting it kindly — problematic.

Names who will be snubbed in the College Football Hall of Fame

Jason Babin
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: The defensive end is the FBS career leader in tackles for a loss, and he’s second to Terrell Suggs in sacks. But he played at Western Michigan and topped out at second-team All-America honors from The Sporting News in 2003. Not that all mid-major stat sheet-stuffers are worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion, but Babin was a first-round pick who went on to be a two-time Pro Bowler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pat Hill and David Carr
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage/not a first-team All-American
Why they should be in: Hill won 58.3 percent of his games at Fresno State, but it’s tough to imagine that program without him. The same could be said for Carr, a Heisman finalist who passed for 4,299 yards in 2001 when it wasn’t commonplace to have numbers like that.

June Jones and Colt Brennan
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage/not a first-team All-American
Why they should be in: June Jones has been as successful as anyone running the Run and Shoot. Along the way, he’s revived two programs in trouble. Jones still holds the record for best single-season turning around, improving Hawaii from 0-12 to 9-4 in his first season there, eight years before taking Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl. Later, he became the first coach to take SMU to a bowl game since NCAA's death penalty. Hawaii's Brennan holds FBS records for touchdown passes in a season (58 in 2006), and career passing yards per game (387.9)

AJ McCarron
Why he might not meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: It’s worth including this active player because it’s conceivable McCarron could be the starting quarterback for three national-title winning teams and never be a first-team All-America quarterback thanks to dynamic contemporaries like Griffin, Manziel and more.
Ed. note: McCarron was named Walter Camp first-team All-American following the 2013 season, making him eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Joe Montana and Tony Rice
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not first-team All-Americans
Why he should be in: Yes, Notre Dame players can be snubbed for awards. Rice was a Heisman finalist and a national-championship quarterback who happened to play at the same time as Andre Ware, Troy Aikman and Major Harris. Montana’s pro career, of course, overshadowed the time he finished eighth in the nation in passing in 1978.

Ray Rice
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Rice’s best season coincided with consensus All-America mentions for Arkansas’s Darren McFadden and UCF’s Kevin Smith. Rice has two of the top four single-season rushing totals in Big East history and his the second-leading rusher in the history of the league with 4,926 yards. He was the top player on the best Rutgers team in program history.

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

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

Michael Turner and Garrett Wolfe
Why they doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not first-team All-Americans
Why he should be in: Wolfe (5,164) and Turner (4,941) are the MAC’s No. 1 and 2 career rushers, but playing for Northern Illinois made it tough to crack All-America teams. Turner was a Sporting News second-team selection in 2003, and Wolfe was an AP third-teamer in 2006.

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

Teaser:
<p> Notable names who will be snubbed in the College Football Hall of Fame</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-southern-500-darlington
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to venerable Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Saturday evening. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Geoffrey’s fantasy predictions for Darlington ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least surviving an evening of dancing with the Lady in Black.


A-List
1. Jeff Gordon

The four-time champ survived two wrecks at Talladega to squeak out an 11th-place finish. In Darlington, he hits a track where he leads all active drivers with seven wins and 18 top 5s. In the last eight Darlington races, Gordon has a series-high average position of 8.3.

2. Jimmie Johnson
How will Jimmie screw up Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race this week? He could do it by replicating 2012 at Darlington when he led 134 laps and took the checkered flag. His two other Darlington wins came back-to-back in 2004.

3. Kasey Kahne
Kahne has yet to score a Darlington win, but he's done something nearly as impressive: Kahne has finished all 10 of his Darlington starts. We'll see if Kyle Busch has anything to say about that statistic Saturday night.

4. Matt Kenseth
All 19 of Matt Kenseth's Darlington starts have netted him a mediocre average finish of 17th, but those were also in Roush Fenway Racing cars. How will the Joe Gibbs Racing setups treat one of the strongest drivers on the circuit?

5. Denny Hamlin
He's been better than Gordon in the last seven Darlington races, but it's still not clear if Hamlin will finish Saturday night's race. That makes you wonder if he can grab top 10 No. 7 at Darlington — a feat he's accomplished in 85 percent of his starts there.

6. Kevin Harvick
NASCAR's self-proclaimed lame duck has averaged 223 laps per race in the top 15 in his last eight Darlington starts, but has just two top-5 finishes and zero wins.

7. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski's never led a lap in his four Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. That's probably legitimate because he hasn't taken to Twitter to blame another competitor for the lack of performance.

8. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer's average Darlington finish is worse than drivers like Ambrose, Bliss, Montoya, Ragan and Sadler. His 11th-place finish last season was his first lead lap Darlington result since 2008.

9. Tony Stewart
Smoke has 20 starts at Darlington since 1999, completing 6,567 laps. He's never won, though, and has led a total of only 20 laps in that period. Combine that with his No. 14's performance in 2013 and … well, you get the point.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 10:20
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-key-stats-darlington-raceway
Body:

Denny Hamlin’s much-discussed return to the seat of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry became an afterthought at Talladega once Brian Vickers climbed into the seat and provided Hamlin with a paltry 10 points thanks to a crash-caused 34th-place result. Ouch.

Hamlin’s actual return comes at a racetrack which he’s enjoyed a fair share of success. His go-to tracks are commonly considered Martinsville and Richmond — rightfully, so — but Darlington Raceway has been a fixture in Hamlin’s career, rooted in significance. The driver made his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start there in 2004 when, as an unknown aspiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racer, he finished eighth. He’s had the attention of the stock car industry ever since.

This weekend, it will provide another key moment in the career of a potential champion. Just the return from serious injury in any sport is a monumental occurrence, but in Hamlin’s case, the track that he has chosen to make his full-race return might have bigger aspirations in store, so says this week’s numbers.


5.100  Welcome back, Denny Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 is returning from injury at a track where he ranks first in driver production with a 5.100 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating).

The storybook ending is entirely possible, and no, NASCAR doesn’t have to “rig the playing field” to make it happen. Hamlin is staggeringly adept at the 1.366-mile track. He is the only driver to score top-15 finishes in each Darlington race of the CoT era. This also gives him the highest average finish (5.8) in the series during that time frame.


27.58%  Think Denny Hamlin can’t make the Chase? Think again. He currently has a 27.58 percent probability of qualifying into the Chase via an automatic top-10 spot, which is the 16th-best percentage among 33 eligible drivers.

Yes, he’s six spots out of a desired top-10 position, but it’s unlikely, based on relevant past averages, that he’ll qualify for the Chase in this manner (he is currently 31st in the point standings). His entry into NASCAR’s playoff would be by way of a wild card spot. In order to land one of these two golden tickets, a driver must first be in the top 20 in points (which the probability suggests he will be by the conclusion of Race 26 at Richmond). Then, the driver has to have the most or second-most wins out of drivers that meet the prerequisite. Hamlin will have to compile wins and that realistically could start as soon as this weekend.


322  Kyle Busch has led 322 laps, the most in the series, in the last five Darlington races.

Leading just over 17.5 percent of the laps through a five-race span usually results in winning. It did for Busch, who put on a spectacular display of car control in the 2008 race. It’s normal for Busch, who ranks second in Darlington-specific PEER (4.800), to lead a large quantity of laps, but he is strong in the finish column as well. He is one of two winning drivers to have earned three top-10 finishes during the CoT era.

RELATED: Fantasy NASCAR Picks for the Southern 500 at Darlington
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 20:38
Path: /nascar/5-young-nascar-drivers-who-could-be-hall-famers
Body:

To suggest that any player, athlete, coach or driver in any sport after just a few seasons is a lock to make the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. But it is always fun to look at guys who have had instant success and try to extrapolate long-term potential. Limiting the scope to the last three rookie classes, here are the most likely future NASCAR Hall of Famers.

Related: Top 15 Young Future NFL Hall of Famers

1. Brad Keselowski
Team: Penske Racing

At age 29, Keselowski isn't a spring chicken, however, his rookie season was just three years ago in 2010 and his instant success is impossible to ignore. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Penske Ford Fusion finished 25th in his first season, fifth in the points in his second year and became the defending Sprint Cup Champion after edging Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson for the title in just his third full season. Keselowski has nine wins and 28 top-five finishes in just 135 starts. His refreshing yet old-school attitude as a driver is magnetic to the fans, media and, at times, other cars on the track. However, his raw driving talent is painfully obvious and is the reason for such lofty expectations. He is one of just three drivers to win the points championship in the last eight years. This list of potential HOFers begins and ends with Brad-K, and should he continue to achieve at his current rate, an induction into the newly created NASCAR Hall of Fame is well within reach.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Team: Roush Fenway Racing

The 25-year-old is making his debut in the Sprint Cup series this year and already expectations are soaring for the driver of the historic No. 17 Roush Ford Fusion. The Olive Branch, Miss., native was a dominant force in the Nationwide Series, winning back-to-back championships the last two seasons before making the full-time jump to Cup racing. He posted eight wins and 35 top-five finishes in his last 67 races during his championship seasons and has proven in short order that he can compete on the next level. He finished no worse than 18th in his first four races of the 2013 season and currently sits 16th in the points, just outside of the Chase with only two finishes outside of the top 20. In fact, in 15 career Sprint Cup races, Stenhouse has finished worse than 20th only four times, including one engine failure. His high-profile relationship with Danica Patrick will only help raise his national awareness. He is the best young talent to enter the sport full-time since Keselowski.

3. Kyle Larson
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

The 20-year old phenom won the K&N Pro Series East in just his first full year racing stock cars in 2012 after growing up in the cockpit of all things open-wheel. The EGR developmental driver has quickly moved his way up the pro ranks, leap-frogging the Camping World Truck Series, and landing directly in the Nationwide Series in 2013 for Turner Scott Motorsports. In just eight races in the No. 32 Turner Chevrolet Camaro, Larson is 12th in the points — due mostly to two crashes — has posted three top 10s and finished runner-up at hallowed Bristol Motorspeedway. His meteoric rise through the sport could land him in a full-time ride at the highest level in a matter of months rather than years.

Related: Top 10 Young Future MLB Hall of Famers

4. Ty Dillon
Team: Richard Childress Racing

One of two star grandsons of famed NASCAR stallwart Richard Childress, the younger Dillon has all the talent to be an elite driver in the Sprint Cup Series. At 20 years of age, Dillon earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012 after finishing fourth in the points. He posted 17 top tens, seven top fives and got his first career win in a memorable battle with Kyle Busch at Atlanta. He made just three Nationwide starts a year ago and finished in the top 10 all three times. He will compete full-time in the No. 3 Childress Chevrolet Silverado while getting more than a few chances in a Nationwide ride. Expect Dillon to jump to the Nationwide series in 2014 with a Cup ride following close behind. Some believe that he might actually be more talented than his future-star older brother...

5. Austin Dillon
Team: Richard Childress Racing

The older grandson of Mr. Childress has flown through the NASCAR ranks much like his younger brother Ty. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 in the K&N Pro Series East before claiming a Camping World Truck Series championship in 2011. He moved up to the Nationwide series in 2012 and finished third in the points as a rookie. Dillon posted a ridiculous 27 top tens, 16 top fives and his first two victories during the 33-race schedule. The driver of the No. 3 Childress Chevrolet Camaro is one of the frontrunners for a championship this season. He has five Sprint Cup starts under his belt, including his Daytona 500 debut last month and is poised to drive in the Sprint Cup series full-time next season for his grandfather in the famed No. 3 Chevy Camaro. He is immensely talented and likely has the maturity and appreciation to revive the famous RCR car number.

Related: Top 10 Young Future NBA Hall of Famers

The Top Prospects to Watch:

Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports)
Son of past champion Bill Elliott drives for the best team in the business.

Ryan Blaney (Penske Racing)
Son of Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney is polished and mature beyond his 19 years.

Teaser:
<p> 5 Young NASCAR Drivers Who Could Be Hall of Famers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 13:30
Path: /mlb/16-amazing-mlb-stats-week-april-29-may-5
Body:

There's never a shortage for cool numbers in baseball. Cleanup hitters struggle, a former utilityman goes off and some dude who's never closed games before is perfect. Go figure (which is what we've been doing).

1.150    Bryce Harper’s OPS for April
At age 20, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals led the National League with a 1.150 OPS in April, becoming the youngest player to lead the NL in OPS after April since 1965 when Ed Kranepool of the Mets batted .418 with a 1.161 OPS. In case you’re wondering, the New York first baseman ended the season at .253/.675. 

12    Saves in 12 attempts for closer Jason Grilli of the Pirates
The 36-year-old righthander had just five saves at the major league level and three in the minors — in his career — prior to closing games for Pittsburgh this season.

16    Home runs for Boston at Toronto this season
In six games at Toronto this season, the Red Sox have clubbed 16 homers. Boston bats have been much quieter in their other 25 games totaling just 17 clouts.

.591    Ryan Raburn’s batting average for the week
The former Detroit utilityman has found a home in right field in Cleveland. Last week, Raburn hit .591 with two four-hit games, a three-hit game and a two-hit game. He homered twice in back-to-back games for his only four long balls of the season. During the week, he raised his season batting average from .214 to .344.

.188    Batting average for Milwaukee cleanup hitters this season
After losing Prince Fielder to free agency prior to last season, the Brewers enlisted third baseman Aramis Ramirez to hit cleanup and protect Ryan Braun in the lineup. Ramirez responded well last season. But the third baseman has spent most of this season on the DL and the Brewers have found no suitable replacement behind Braun.

8    RBIs by the Mets’ Ike Davis this season
It’s not for the lack of opportunity, Davis has come to bat with 37 runners in scoring position this season. He’s 4-for-27 with 13 Ks with ducks on the pond.

12    Stolen base attempts for St. Louis in 2013
These are not your father’s St. Louis Cardinals. The running Redbirds of the 1980s made the stolen base fashionable as Whiteyball turned the Cardinals into one of the best clubs throughout the decade. With just 12 stolen base attempts this season, St. Louis ranks last in the majors. At least the 83 percent success rate is tied for sixth. Two players have more steals than the entire Cardinals team.

14    Strikeouts for Yu Darvish vs Boston
In his last start, Darvish whiffed 14 Boston batters over seven innings. It was the second time this season that the young righthander has struck out 14. He punched out 14 Astros during the first week of the season. Darvish is only the second Texas Rangers pitcher to strike out at least 14 batters in one game twice. The other? Nolan Ryan, of course, who did it seven times.

11    Come-from-behind wins for Kansas City this season
In those 11 comeback wins, 10 different players have driven home the winning run.

6    Pinch-hit home runs for Jordany Valdespin
Jordany Valdespin of the New York Mets has six home runs in 59 career pinch-hitting appearances. The extra outfielder has four homers in 212 non-pinch-hitting plate appearances.

6    Consecutive seasons St. Louis has ended April in first place
The Cardinals’ conversion rate over the past five years for completing the season in first place is just 20 percent.

37.2    Innings pitched by the Oakland bullpen last week
The busy bullpen logged more innings than the starters last week. Of course, it didn’t help that the A’s and Angels played 19 innings on Monday. The starters threw 35.1 innings.

4 and 1    Saves and Wins for Sergio Romo of San Francisco last week
San Francisco’s closer made five appearances last week and notched four saves and a win. He retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced, allowing just three singles. His durability and reliability permit Bruce Bochy to manage games cautiously to the Giants’ advantage.

11    Wins by the Yankees of less than three runs
The Yankees are not afraid to play close games. And why not with Mariano Rivera lurking in the bullpen. Of the Yankees’ first 18 wins, five of them have been one-run games and six of the wins were by two runs.

6    Catcher Interference calls this season
Of the six catcher interference calls in the majors this season, D-backs hitters have been the beneficiaries three times. Can you coach that?

.182    Phillies batting average last week
The Phils surprisingly managed to win two of six games last week with the worst batting average in the majors for the week. Philadelphia defeated Miami twice, but was shutout twice, once by the Marlins and once at Cleveland.

-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> Cleanup hitters struggle, a former utilityman goes off and some dude who's never closed games before is perfect.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 11:55
Path: /mlb/2013-mlb-power-rankings-may-7
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best (Texas Rangers) and worst (Houston Astros) baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.

 
1. Rangers Yu Darvish has strikeout pitch working this season.
 
2. Red Sox Bats went silent in sweep at the hands of the Rangers.
 
3. Giants Buster Posey, Guillermo Quiroz hit walk-off HRs in sweep over L.A.
 
4. Cardinals A 13-6 road record boosts Redbirds to best overall mark in NL.
 
5. Tigers Miguel Cabrera three home runs shy of Triple Crown position.
 
6. Braves 10-game roadie on tap against three +.500 teams.
7. Yankees Just one of last eight wins by more than two runs. #CloseGames
8. A’s Busy bullpen logged more innings than starters last week.
 
9. Nationals Must get Adam LaRoche’s bat going.
 
10. Royals Five postponements already this season.
 
11. Rockies Haven’t won two in a row since April 20.
 
12. Reds Hit just two homers, but won four of six last week.
 
13. Pirates 16-9 since horrendous 1-5 start.
 
14. Orioles First team to play 20 road games already this season.
 
15. Diamondbacks Only team in NL West with winning road record.
 
16. Rays No Rays hitter has been intentionally walked this season.
 
17. Phillies Offense bottomed out at .182 over last seven days.
 
18. Mariners Batting just .223 on the road.
 
19. Twins Lead-off hitters have majors-worst .248 OBP.
 
20. Brewers Cleanup hitters batting .188 with no home runs. 
 
21. Padres Jedd Gyorko making Rookie of the Year push.
 
22. Indians Batted .338 last week, which led majors.
 
23. Dodgers 64 extra-base hits rank lowest in majors.
 
24. Mets Of 37 runners in scoring position, Ike Davis has driven in eight.
 
25. White Sox Only Miami has scored fewer runs this season.
 
26. Angels Too talented — and too expensive — to be this far down.
 
27. Cubs Anthony Rizzo beginning to heat up — .357 last week.
 
28. Blue Jays Quickly settling in at the bottom of this list.
 
29. Marlins Swapping places with Houston may happen a lot in 2013.
 
30. Astros With eight wins, only team stuck in single digits.
 
 
AL Pitcher of the Week
Justin Verlander, Detroit
The Tigers’ ace has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last five starts. Last week, in two outings, he pitched 14 innings and gave up just seven hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts. He won both games with an ERA of 0.64 and a 0.79 WHIP.
 
 
AL Player of the Week
Ryan Raburn, Cleveland
The former Detroit utilityman has found a home in right field in Cleveland. Last week, Raburn hit .591 with two four-hit games, a three-hit game and a two-hit game. He homered twice in back-to-back games for his only four long balls of the season. During the week, he raised his season batting average from .214 to .344.
 
 
 
NL Player of the Week
Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
It appears that the fleet center fielder known for his defensive prowess has turned the corner offensively. Last week he hit .462 with three home runs. His eight runs, six extra-base hits and five steals all tied for the best in the majors.
 
 
NL Pitcher of the Week
Sergio Romo, San Francisco
San Francisco’s closer made five appearances last week and notched four saves and a win. He retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced, allowing just three singles. His durability and reliability permit Bruce Bochy to manage games cautiously to the Giants’ advantage.
Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/how-many-big-ten-games-will-northwestern-win-2013
Body:

With Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern each deserving of consideration for the No. 1 spot, the Big Ten Legends Division should be one of the most competitive conference title races in college football.

Nebraska won the Legends Division with a 7-1 mark last season, while Northwestern finished two games back at 5-3. Although the Wildcats were just over .500 in conference play, they were just a few plays away from going 8-0. Northwestern lost by 11 to Penn State, by seven to Michigan and by one point to Nebraska.

Pat Fitzgerald’s team returns 15 starters for 2013, including quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The defense showed improvement last season and ranked 29th nationally in points allowed.

With a challenging schedule ahead, can Northwestern beat last year’s five wins in conference play?

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. Northwestern checks in as the No. 24 team for 2013. 

How Many Big Ten Games Will Northwestern Win in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’d be surprised if Northwestern finishes with a losing Big Ten record. I see four conference wins on the schedule (Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois), but that’s due to my pessimism about Iowa and Michigan State as much as anything else. The Wildcats look pretty good for 4-4 in the Big Ten with an outside shot at 5-3, but I know I’m a little more optimistic about Northwestern than most of my Athlon colleagues. I should know better, but it’s tough to ignore the skill position talent on offense with Kain Colter and Venric Mark. And that's just the start. Northwestern returns 15 starters from a team that won 10 games, led the Big Ten in takeaways, beat Mississippi State by two touchdowns in a bowl game and lost two of their three games in overtime and by one point. Throw in Northwestern’s chance to score an upset in Big Ten play, and I’ll take the over on four wins for the Cats.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The first thing to understand about the 2013 Northwestern team is that it might be the most talented squad ever assembled in Evanston. The coaching staff is excellent and the depth is better than it has ever been before. However, the schedule is nasty. Every team in the Legends Division with the exception of Iowa has gotten better around them while crossover play includes the best two teams in the Leaders Division — Ohio State and at Wisconsin. The good news is three crucial divisional showdowns with Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan will take place at home. There is a lot to be excited about with this team and if the offensive line can come together quickly, the Wildcats could develop into a surprise contender. But until this team proves it can consistently defeat teams that are clearly more talented — aka Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan a year ago — I can't pick Pat Fitzgerald's group to win more than three or four Big Ten games. Games on the road against Nebraska and Wisconsin as well at home tilts against conference championship game favorites Ohio State and Michigan mean anything over .500 in Big Ten would be a big success for Northwestern in '13. Give this team Michigan State's schedule and it could push for a Rose Bowl berth.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering how close Northwestern was to finishing 12-1 or even 13-0 last season, the Wildcats have to be in the discussion to win the Big Ten Legends Division in 2013. The only problem? A challenging schedule that features crossover matchups against Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats also have to play Nebraska on the road but host Michigan and Michigan State in Evanston.  

With the challenging crossover slate, matching last season’s 5-3 mark in conference play seems like the most realistic scenario. I think Northwestern can beat Michigan and Michigan State in November, although it won’t be easy with the games in back-to-back weeks. Assuming the Wildcats win those two matchups in November, that leaves Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin as the losses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pat Fitzgerald’s team pull off an upset over the Buckeyes or Badgers, but I have to go with 5-3 as the final record in Big Ten play.
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
I have said for years that Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald gets more out of his available talent than anyone else in the Big Ten. My biggest question about the Wildcats though is just how high is the ceiling?

Last year Northwestern was the master of blowing second half leads, but I think Fitzgerald has a good shot at finding ways to finish the job with a somewhat experienced roster coming back with 15 starters from a year ago. The Wildcats have players that can cause some problems for opposing defenses (Kain Colter, Venric Mark) but I have concerns about their offensive line and their defensive backs. Those two units are going to cost Northwestern at some point.

A quick look at the schedule shows a somewhat challenging year ahead of Northwestern. I would pencil in losses to Ohio State and Michigan but Northwestern gets those games at home. Road trips to Wisconsin and Nebraska could be losses if I were to pick right now, and there is something about going on the road to Cal to open the season against Sonny Dykes and his new-look Bears that worries me. I may be a bit of a pessimist looking at Northwestern this season, but I think they would be fortunate to end the regular season with eight wins, but I think seven is more realistic.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
The Wildcats will probably start the season as a top-25 team and I think they have a good shot of finishing as one too. I fully expect this team to make it six straight bowl games under coach Pat Fitzgerald and I also think they have a chance to match last year's win total of 10 when all is said and done. However, to accomplish the latter they will need to likewise match 2012's Big Ten record of 5-3, and based on this season's conference slate, this will be no easy task.

Northwestern can't avoid Michigan, Nebraska or Michigan State since they are all in the Legends Division. Those three games should be the toughest in their own division, although the Wildcats catch a slight break by getting the Wolverines and Spartans at home. That's pretty much where the breaks stop, however, with Fitzgerald's team drawing Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders side, along with what should be a gimme at Illinois to close out the regular season. Northwestern needs to win at least two of the Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin matchups to have any shot at repeating last season's 5-3 Big Ten mark.

I am a big Fitzgerald fan and also think the Wildcat offense led by running back Venric Mark and the quarterback tandem of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian has a chance to be pretty special. The optimist in me has Northwestern successfully navigating the aforementioned difficult games on its Big Ten schedule while taking care of business during the other weeks. In the end, these Wildcats find a way to do no worse than last season's third-place finish in the Legends division by going 5-3 in conference play.


Related College Football Content

No. 24 Northwestern Wildcats 2013 Team Preview
Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks for 2013

Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs for 2013

Ranking the Big Ten Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> How Many Big Ten Games Will Northwestern Win in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 06:58
Path: /nascar/david-ragan-slays-nascars-goliaths-talladega
Body:

Since it opened in 1969, Talladega has been NASCAR’s racetrack of extremes. When right, the sport’s decision to slap restrictor plates on brings out maximum excitement, the best opportunity for 43 teams to compete on a level playing field. Feel-good stories emerge, like the case of Bob Jenkins, a restaurant owner who has filtered more money into his three-car team just to run 25th, than most will make in a lifetime. Since 2005, he has toiled — once suffering through a season with more than 30 DNQs — and posting only two top-5 finishes in 403 starts prior to Sunday. The dream was to pursue a Sprint Cup victory, but a look at the stat sheet would point one towards financial self-destruction … or a man in need of mental help.

Now, Jenkins can point right back at his critics and towards a trophy that is rightfully his. Jenkins’ Front Row Motorsports drivers Ragan and David Gilliland produced the first 1-2 finish in team history in the Aaron’s 499, outclassing the Goliaths they race against through smarts and speed. At no other track — even Daytona, with NASCAR’s handling package — would such a victory be remotely possible. (Previous best finish for this team in 2013: Ragan’s 20th at Richmond.) It’s the type of victory that brings attention to the sport, giving executives something to sell, potential new car owners justification to compete and the backside of the NASCAR garage a reason for hope. No one will change the way these men feel about plate racing now; heck, you could strap a parachute to the car at Daytona and they’d be happy based on the parity that gives them a chance.

On the other side of the fence sits Ryan Newman whose season, if not more, was mere feet from being cut tragically short on Sunday when an entire car landed on the windshield of his No. 39 Chevrolet. As chaos unfolded in front of him, Kurt Busch’s Chevy entry landed, then rolled over Newman’s car in the midst of a 12-car melee that’s become all too common at Talladega. It’s not the first time the driver has been in physical danger; four years ago, this nasty flip (LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxE1_VZkQKI) left the roll cage bent mere inches from his head.

“We had a race here in the spring, complaining about cars getting airborne,” Newman said then. “I wish NASCAR would do something. That’s not what anyone wants to see.”

Four years later, he’s saying the same words again, this time more viciously after not feeling that NASCAR has lifted a finger on the rules. No one will change the way Newman feels about plate racing now, he just doesn’t want himself or a competitor to end up dead.

Talladega. The land of extremes, where guilt, grief, miracles, merriment, disaster, disgust, rage and redemption come together as one. It’s why everyone is pushing for change, but as they do human nature makes it impossible to look away – keeping us in the same cycle forevermore.


FIRST GEAR: Two Davids snookered the field
Make no mistake, Ragan’s slice ‘n’ dice to the front of the pack would not have been possible without two things. One: Teammate David Gilliland, sitting on his back bumper and not letting go until the two cars were sitting out front. Those feeling like the “push” of tandem drafting was completely dead need to take a second look on how these cars were stuck together like superglue down the stretch.

“I know he wishes that he was sitting in my shoes right now,” said Ragan of his teammate, now winless in 232 Cup Series starts. “I kind of wish that he would have had a chance to win the race, too.”

I’m not sure Gilliland cared much, though. His whole family was in attendance to watch Ragan’s post-race presser, a sign of the teamwork atmosphere this underdog organization has pushed since the beginning. Fact: Ragan now has as many wins with this team (one) in just 15 months as he did in five full seasons driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Turns out all the money in the world can’t buy that all-important chemistry needed for those moments when people need to bring out the best in each other.

“He was driving for a top-tier team, had UPS as a sponsor and when he left, he bought into what we were trying to do at Front Row,” said Jenkins. “His expectations of himself and his team never changed. He didn't look at it as if, ‘Hey, I'm taking a step down here, I realize I'm going to be a back marker.’ He continues to expect a lot out of himself and a lot out of his team, and I think what happened is people bought into that and they followed behind him and we've seen results.”

That belief system brings me to point No. 2: it wasn’t shared by his Sprint Cup competitors. Go ahead, you have my permission to review that final lap. Notice how Matt Kenseth drifts up on the backstretch to draft with Carl Edwards as if he needs to stick with the No. 99 to have a shot. Had he stayed in the middle, the FRM duo would have been blocked and we’d be talking about a different winner today. As for Edwards, he just didn’t see the freight train until it was too late, taking a prime opportunity to win a plate race away from a man who’s been victimized far too often there.

“David just got us,” Edwards said. “He did his job. As long as I’m not upside down, in the fence, it was pretty clean.”

For an organization who, just a few weeks ago stated they needed extra sponsorship for several races the outcome at Talladega was nothing short of incredible.


SECOND GEAR: Is it all getting to Brad Keselowski?
One driver, though, was crying foul over Ragan’s miracle moment. Brad Keselowski, in several tweets after the race, felt his rival lined up in the wrong lane for the final restart. Several photos showed the cars trying to pass each other for position on the backstretch under yellow before NASCAR made the final call as to where Keselowski, Scott Speed and Ragan would line up. The verdict was Speed eighth, Keselowski ninth and Ragan 10th based on where they were at the last scoring loop when the caution came out. Were they right? Judge for yourself at the 2:42 mark of this clip. My take is that’s it’s far too close to call.

Either way, Keselowski was presumptuous to predict one change in lane would have earned him a victory – or cost Ragan one. Plate races are so unpredictable that you’ll get 1,000 different endings per 1,000 green-white-checker finishes. I just wonder, after a disappointing 15th-place finish, whether pressure is starting to get to the reigning champ. The final appeal for his Penske team is Tuesday, where 25 points and suspensions of his top four crew members appear imminent. Winless this season, he’s also posted back-to-back finishes outside the top 10 for the first time since Michigan and Sonoma last June. Every superstar, no matter his or her mental strength, goes through adversity; now might be Keselowski’s time, sitting fifth in points with just a single lap led over the last six events.

He just didn’t have to drag David Ragan into his own psychological hell.


THIRD GEAR: The racing was … what it was
I know. It sounds like a copout. Well, if you ask Newman, who joined Busch in the ranks of “Big One” Demolition Derbys, NASCAR racing here needs to be thrown in the trash bin:

"I am doing this interview to let everybody know I'm alright,” said Newman, who if NASCAR has any consistency (Denny Hamlin, anyone?) will be fined for the comments that follow. “They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can't get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that's pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y'all can figure out who 'they' is. That's no way to end a race ... I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain.”

To be fair, most didn’t share the driver’s sentiment about the conditions of the track itself down the stretch. Only sprinkles could be felt in the final minutes and, while dark, the race ended earlier than the Nationwide Series event the day before. It’s the other part of Newman’s diatribe — the plate package — that would be under greater scrutiny if not for Ragan’s headline-saving win. I felt like Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it best:

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I don’t know – I thought it was alright, I guess.”

A classic “C, C+” type of response, and clearly not what NASCAR wants out of one of its fan-favorite facilities, especially after Earnhardt raved about the racing in Daytona. But that’s the truth. 30 lead changes were the least since 2002, when Earnhardt laid waste to the field. The draft, while handling multiple grooves unlike its sister track, had a tendency to “stop ‘n’ start.” There would be times when drivers would get stir crazy, and others — like for 30 laps after the rain delay — where they fell in line and passed the time.

It still seemed like, apart from the final lap, the line that had the most cars could make a difference, with the outside groove still holding a substantial edge. There’s work to be done here, although different rules can only do so much. Drivers are smarter. They know nothing matters at these races until less than 20 laps to go. Trying to force them to stay aggressive in the wake of what happened to Newman and Busch is like throwing them in the lion’s den and asking them to play.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 12:10
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-6
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2013 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire report every Monday. Our fantasy junkies cover the hottest hitters, best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league each week.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (Apr. 29-May 5):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Carlos Gomez OF MIL 8 3 5 5 .462 1.495
2. Starling Marte OF PIT 7 4 8 3 .333 1.260
3. Ryan Raburn* 2B/OF CLE 5 4 9 0 .591 1.773
4. Miguel Cabrera 3B DET 8 3 10 0 .423 1.391
5. Mike Trout OF LAA 7 3 10 1 .313 1.121
6. Mark Trumbo 1B/3B/OF LAA 5 5 8 0 .286 1.286
7. Michael Saunders* OF SEA 8 3 6 1 .280 1.037
8. Prince Fielder 1B MIL 5 3 10 0 .333 1.122
9. Jason Kipnis 2B CLE 6 2 7 2 .308 1.049
10. Manny Machado 3B BAL 7 3 5 1 .333 1.108
11. Justin Ruggiano* OF MIA 8 3 5 1 .296 1.091
12. Carlos Gonzalez OF COL 6 2 4 1 .458 1.385
13. Nolan Arenado* 3B COL 5 3 8 0 .357 1.129
14. Matt Holliday OF STL 8 3 7 0 .259 .926
15. Jean Segura SS MIL 5 3 7 1 .286 1.043
16. Andy Dirks* OF DET 7 2 3 1 .385 1.140
17. Juan Pierre* OF MIA 6 0 1 5 .320 .734
18. Alfonso Soriano* OF CHC 5 2 7 0 .391 1.200
19. Allen Craig 1B/OF STL 6 1 7 0 .379 1.021
20. Adrian Beltre 3B TEX 5 2 7 0 .360 1.025
21. Mark Reynolds 1B/3B CLE 5 2 7 0 .348 .994
22. Yonder Alonso* 1B SD 4 2 8 1 .280 .841
23. David Wright 3B NYM 6 3 4 0 .333 1.257
24. Lorenzo Cain OF KC 5 0 5 2 .400 1.029
25. Michael Cuddyer 1B/OF COL 5 2 7 0 .333 1.060

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Yonder Alonso, 1B, SD (20% owned in Yahoo! leagues)
Guys with big-time pedigrees generally find their way onto my roster and if you need first base or batting average help, Alonso is a good place to look. He won't hit 30 bombs but he should be the top RBI man in San Diego and is on pace to blow past his rookie numbers from a year ago.

Ryan Rayburn, 2B/OF, CLE (27%)
The versatile two-sacker has always had spurts of fantasy greatness — try 45 homers in just over 1,000 at-bats from 2009-11 — but has never gotten a full season of action. His 387 ABs in 2011 were a career high. While he is in the lineup he is worth owning, especially with second-base eligibility.

Nolen Arenado, 3B, COL (49%)
True fantasy baseball geeks have known about the star Rockies third base prospect for some time now. But after 10 hits and three home runs in his first seven games, the whole world should know about Arenado. He is a big-time talent and while he is likely to hit his slumps, he is worth adding blindly if you need help at the corner infield position.

A.J. Pollock, OF, ARI (32%)
Last week I suggested an Arizona outfielder and Gerrardo Parra has six hits, a triple, home run and three RBIs in his last five games. This week, I am going back to the Diamondbacks' well with Pollock, one of manager Kirk Gibson's fill-in options until Adam Eaton (elbow) is ready. Pollock is a viable play in standard mixed leagues until Eaton returns, which still appears to be about a month away. Pollock won't give you much help in power departments — roughly one minor league HR per 100 at-bats — but he has always hit (.303 MiLB career BA) and can run. Sitting atop the D-Backs batting order makes him one of the hottest waiver wire names.

Last Week:

Nate McLouth: 3/19, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB
Gerrardo Parra: 4/19, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB
Oswaldo Arcia: 6/16, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Yuniesky Betancourt: 6/24, 3 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, BB

 

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Felix Hernandez SEA 22.0 3 23 0.41 0.77
2. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 17.0 2 12 0.00 0.24
3. Justin Verlander DET 21.0 2 21 0.86 0.95
4. Kevin Slowey* MIA 21.0 1 21 1.71 0.62
5. Clayton Kershaw LAD 20.0 1 22 1.35 0.85
6. Clay Buchholz BOS 14.2 2 18 1.23 0.89
7. Tony Cingrani CIN 19.0 1 25 2.84 0.63
8. Jaime Garcia* STL 21.2 3 9 1.25 0.97
9. Jeremy Guthrie* KC 15.2 2 8 0.00 0.89
10. Jeff Locke* PIT 18.0 2 13 1.50 0.83
11. Lance Lynn STL 14.0 2 14 1.29 0.86
12. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 16.0 2 10 1.13 0.81
13. Yu Darvish TEX 19.0 2 34 3.32 1.11
14. Anibal Sanchez DET 14.0 1 26 1.93 0.93
15. Chris Tillman* BAL 20.2 2 13 1.31 1.02
16. Phil Hughes* NYY 21.0 1 24 1.71 1.05
17. Scott Feldman* TEX 15.2 2 14 2.30 0.83
18. Cole Hamels PHI 22.0 1 20 2.05 0.91
19. Hisashi Iwakuma SEA 18.0 1 24 1.50 1.11
20. Max Scherzer DET 20.1 3 24 3.98 1.03

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):

1. Hyin-Jin Ryu, LAD: Sat., Miami (75% owned)
Ryu at home in three starts this year: 18.2 IP, 2-1, 16 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 23 K. Additionally, he has 20 strikeouts, three earned runs and just six hits allowed in his last two starts prior to Sunday's trip to the Bay. With at least eight punch-outs in each of his four starts prior to pitching against the World Champs on Sunday, the Marlins should pose no threat to the Korean import.

2. Patrick Corbin, ARI: Thur., Philadelphia (59%)
I went to the Corbin well last week and it netted me this: 7.0, W, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. Thursday's opponent will certainly be tougher than San Diego but Corbin has been lights out all year: 4-0, 1.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP.

3. Jose Fernandez, MIA: Fri., at LA Dodgers (33%)
Wins won't be easy for the young Cuban star, but he should still be able to help any rotation when he has his best stuff. He just got his first win at Philadelphia — no easy park to pitch in — by retiring 21 of the 23 batters he faced (7.0, H, B, 0 ER, 9 K). He has nasty stuff and is scheduled to face a HanRam-less Dodgers lineup the end of this week.

4. Kyle Kendrick, PHI: Tues., at San Francisco, Sun., at Arizona (43%)
Getting two starts against two solid teams isn't an elite option but Kendrick has been consistent for most of the year. In six starts since his first, he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has posted between four and six strikeouts in each game. He is also 3-0 in those trips to the mound. Two-start pitchers are always worth a look, especially in weekly leagues.

5. Jhoulys Chacin, COL: (Sat.) at St. Louis (47%)
His return from the DL was acceptable with five earned allowed over seven innings against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The year-to-date numbers (2.56/1.04), however, have been excellent and the Rockies have provided their pitching staff with the most run support in the majors.

Closing Morsels:

The Dodgers could be facing a developing situation in their pen. Brandon League has been the designated closer for the season and his eight saves are near the league leaders. Yet, he has allowed a run in four of his five outings and isn't striking people out. Paging Kenley Jansen (frankly, I never liked the League move anyway)... Arizona also has an issue brewing in its pen. Kirk Gibson gave J.J. Putz the dreaded vote of confidence this week after Putz blew his fourth save of the season. Putz has allowed six runs in 12.2 innings and has allowed a home run in three of his last seven outings. David Hernandez and Matt Reynolds appear to be the watch list names... Former set-up man turned closer turned set-up man Kyuji Fujikawa began his rehab assignment on Sunday and is close to returning. He will come back as Kevin Gregg's eighth inning guy for the time being. Gregg has yet to allow a run and is 4-for-4 in save chances through 7.0 innings this year.

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 6</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/10-teams-may-end-secs-national-title-streak-2013
Body:

Spring practice has finished for all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams for 2013. And with spring workouts over, the picture for the national championship battle is starting to come into focus.

The SEC has won seven championships in a row, but will that streak end in 2013? Alabama is a heavy favorite, but as every year shows, anything can happen. The main threat to another national champion coming from the SEC is Ohio State, but Oregon isn’t too far behind. And of course, there’s always a threat from within the conference. What happens if the SEC teams beat up on one another too much, preventing a team from finishing unbeaten? That’s the reason Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M make this list.

Can the SEC take another national title? Or will another team knock the SEC off its perch? Athlon will unveil its top 25 teams for 2013 beginning on May 7, with our pick to win the national title coming later this month.


Top 10 Teams Ready to End the SEC’s Title Streak

1. Ohio State
With the postseason ban over, Ohio State is positioned to be Alabama’s biggest threat to another national title in 2013. The Buckeyes return 13 starters, including one of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in quarterback Braxton Miller. Under coach Urban Meyer last season, Miller threw for 2,039 yards and 15 scores and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the supporting cast improving, Miller won’t have as much pressure on his shoulders and should be a more polished passer in 2013. And the junior will be protected by a line that returns four starters and should rank among the best nationally. The biggest question mark for Ohio State is a defense that struggled at times last year. The Buckeyes ranked 76th nationally against the pass and sixth in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense. Only four starters are back on defense, and the defensive line is essentially starting over with the departure of four key players. Despite those concerns, linebacker Ryan Shazier is back, and the secondary should be much improved. Even though the line was decimated by departures, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are future stars in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t too difficult, so another 12-0 season isn’t out of the question. If Miller stays healthy, the Buckeyes will be playing for a national title in January.
 

2. Oregon
Chip Kelly left for the NFL, but the cupboard in Eugene is far from bare. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas lead an offense that should once again rank among the best in the nation. The receiving corps is deep with options, which should allow Mariota to throw more in 2013. While losing end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay is a huge setback for the defense, seven starters are back, including cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell. The Ducks have to play at Stanford on Nov. 7 but catch UCLA at home and won’t play Arizona State or USC in crossover play. New coach Mark Helfrich is unproven, but his familiarity with the returning talent should keep Oregon among the top five teams in the nation next season.
 

3. Georgia and 4. South Carolina
It may seem strange to have an SEC team on this list, but there are scenarios in which a team from college football’s top conference misses the title game or a team from the East pulls an upset in the conference title game. Assuming Alabama finishes 12-0, Georgia (or South Carolina) could be its biggest threat. If the Bulldogs or Gamecocks have one loss and beat the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game, it’s unlikely Alabama could get back into the national title picture. Although Georgia and South Carolina are solid teams, neither appear to be as strong as Alabama. The Bulldogs will have one of the SEC’s best offenses, but the defense has to be rebuilt. The Gamecocks return a Heisman candidate in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, along with two potential starting quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Georgia and South Carolina both miss Alabama during the regular season, so the only chance both teams will have to try and knock out the Crimson Tide will be in Atlanta in early December.
 

5. Clemson
2013 isn’t shaping up to be a banner year for the ACC, but Clemson is comfortably one of the top 10 teams in the nation. The Tigers lost only two games last year – Florida State and South Carolina – and return 13 starters from 2012. Tajh Boyd is one of college football’s top five quarterbacks and directs an offense that averaged 41 points a game last season. Boyd will have to find a new go-to target with DeAndre Hopkins leaving for the NFL, but Sammy Watkins is poised to regain his freshman form (82 catches) in 2013. The biggest question mark on offense is finding a new go-to running back, along with finding a dependable tight end after Sam Cooper was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the spring. The defense made strides late last year, and more should be expected in the second go-round under coordinator Brent Venables. The front seven is deep on experience, but the secondary needs to tighten up after ranking 71st nationally against the pass last year. Outside of Florida State, Clemson doesn’t have much to worry about in the ACC. With the Seminoles coming to Death Valley, the Tigers are an overwhelming favorite to win the conference. Of course, beating two SEC opponents – Georgia in the season opener and South Carolina on Nov. 30 – is the key to Clemson’s national title hopes.
 

6. Stanford
The defending Pac-12 champs are loaded for another run at the national title. But the Cardinal will have to fill a few key areas, after the departures of running back Stepfan Taylor (4,300 yards), two of the nation’s top tight ends (Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo) and standout linebacker Chase Thomas. While the personnel losses are significant, Stanford does return quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Center Sam Schwartzstein must be replaced up front, but the Cardinal aren’t hurting for talent in the trenches. Stanford’s defense should remain strong despite the departure of Thomas, especially with Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy returning to anchor the linebacker unit. The secondary is also in great shape, especially with rising star Alex Carter at cornerback. The schedule is manageable, as Stanford hosts Oregon on Nov. 7 and catches two of the top three teams in the Pac-12 South at home (Arizona State and UCLA). If there’s a question mark on this team, it’s a passing attack that lost two key weapons at tight end and has no proven playmakers at receiver.
 

7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish finished the regular season 12-0 last year but were thoroughly dominated by Alabama in the national championship game. Notre Dame caught a few lucky bounces last season, winning five games by a touchdown or less – including two overtime thrillers against Stanford and Pittsburgh. Despite losing linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish could be a better team in 2013. The offense played better in the second half of the season, but quarterback Everett Golson was suspended in May for the 2013 season. With Golson out, Notre Dame will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter. Running back is a concern with the departures of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, but USC transfer Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III and incoming freshman Greg Bryant should be a capable trio. The defense is loaded in the trenches, as end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III are two of the best linemen in the nation. The schedule is challenging once again, but with a better offense, Notre Dame could make another run at the national championship.
 

8. Texas A&M
The Aggies could fire the first strike in knocking off the SEC from the top spot in 2013. Texas A&M hosts Alabama on Sept. 14 and hopes to repeat last year’s 29-24 upset win in Tuscaloosa. If the Aggies knock off the Crimson Tide, they would jump into the early driver’s seat for a spot in the national title game. And while Texas A&M could run the table and finish unbeaten, there’s also a good chance it loses at LSU. But are the Aggies a better team than last year? Probably not. Texas A&M must fill some voids on defense, as end Damontre Moore and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart are gone. And now that the rest of the SEC has a full year of game tape and time to plan for quarterback Johnny Manziel, it may be tough to repeat last year’s success. However, the Aggies are still one of college football’s top 10 teams. If Texas A&M knocks off Alabama in early September, it could be the first chance for the rest of college football to keep the SEC out of the national championship, provided Ohio State and Oregon run the table and finish unbeaten.
 

9. Louisville
With an easy schedule and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks under center, Louisville could have the most favorable path to a 12-0 mark in 2013. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards and 27 scores last season and had a standout performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida (266 yards, two touchdowns). Bridgewater will be throwing to one of the nation’s top receiving corps, but the offensive line must replace two key starters, including center Mario Benavides. The Cardinals ranked 23rd nationally in total defense last season but need to get tougher against the run after allowing 148 yards on the ground per game in 2012. Most of the defense returns intact, but cornerback Adrian Bushell is a big loss. Louisville doesn’t have a strong nonconference schedule, so winning and looking impressive in Big East play is a must.
 

10. Oklahoma State
Let’s be honest: It’s a longshot the SEC doesn’t win or at least play for the national title. And it could be an even bigger mountain for a team from the Big 12 to play for the championship in 2013. We list Oklahoma State as the very early front-runner to win the conference crown, but it’s really anyone’s guess with Texas, TCU and Oklahoma all having legitimate Big 12 title hopes. The Cowboys return 12 starters and should have one of the conference’s top offenses with the return of receiver Josh Stewart and running back Jeremy Smith. The defense has room to improve against the pass, and there’s very little in the way of proven depth at defensive end. With a favorable schedule, however, Oklahoma State seems to have the most favorable path to a Big 12 title. Make no mistake: It’s certainly a longshot that Oklahoma State can get to the title game this year. However, if Clint Chelf settles into the quarterback spot, a champion of the Big 12 can never be counted out of the national title picture.

Related Content: Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?


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Teaser:
<p> 10 Teams That May End the SEC's National Title Streak in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-top-five-team-2013
Body:

Notre Dame is always one of the most polarizing teams when it comes to preseason rankings.

The Fighting Irish are coming off a 12-1 season but was handled by Alabama in the national championship game.

The offense should be better in 2013, especially with quarterback Everett Golson having another offseason under his belt. Notre Dame also returns a solid offensive line, and the defense will remain one of the nation’s best, despite losing linebacker Manti Te’o.

Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t easy, but the Fighting Irish navigated a tough slate to finish unbeaten last year. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a great debate that has many different angles to consider. Traditionally, the Irish play one of, if not the, most difficult schedules in the nation. So if Notre Dame wins 10 or more games, they generally have earned a lofty ranking. However, two losses would likely knock Brian Kelly's squad out of the top five. Home games with Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC and BYU are brutal while road trips to Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh (and Purdue and Air Force) are tough. As is the neutral site test with the likely Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium.

Offensively, Notre Dame should be better as Everett Golson has become the clear leader of this team now that Manti Te'o is gone. Defensively, replacing Te'o won't be easy but the defensive line and secondary could actually be better in '13. Does this team run the table in the regular season again in '13? I say no. But one loss, say, to the Wolverines early in the year on the road, won't knock them out of the top five. The Irish will go 11-1, get a another BCS bowl bid and finish justifiably ranked in the top five.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Notre Dame may lose a regular season game or two this year, I think there’s a chance the Fighting Irish are a better overall team in 2013. That may seem strange to say considering Notre Dame made the national championship game last season, but the Fighting Irish are deeper in terms of talent, and quarterback Everett Golson will be better in his second year as the starter.

Linebacker Manti Te’o will be tough to replace, but Notre Dame’s defensive line will be one of the best in the nation, and the secondary is in great shape after allowing only 199.8 passing yards per game in 2012.

Despite being a better team, I don’t think Notre Dame will be ranked in the top-five at the end of the season. Every break seemed to go the Fighting Irish’s way last season, and the schedule features tough road games against Michigan, Stanford and a neutral site affair against Arizona State. Notre Dame will play in a BCS bowl this season, but I think they finish just outside of the top five. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
My initial inclination would be to say no, but then again I don't think anyone really predicted the Fighting Irish would run the table in the regular season last fall either. Motivation shouldn't be an issue for this team, considering how poorly Notre Dame performed in the BCS title game, but there will be no lack for competition atop the rankings either.

Starting with defending national champion Alabama, the SEC could have as many as three teams in the top five when you also throw Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M into the mix. Then there's Ohio State and possibly Michigan from the Big 12, Oregon and Stanford from the Pac-12 and Clemson from the ACC. That's without including anyone from the Big 12 (Oklahoma State? Oklahoma?) or a potential dark horse like Louisville from the AAC (former Big East) or Boise State from the MWC that has added a championship game to help improve its BCS profile.

In other words, there are a lot of teams Notre Dame would have to, in essence, climb over to get into the top five in the first place and then stay there. As was the case last year, the Irish do have one thing going for them - their schedule. As an independent, the Irish can largely dictate their own schedule, which because of established rivalries and other factors, is usually pretty strong. This season is no different with the aforementioned Cardinal, Sooners and Wolverines on tap, as well as Pac-12 contender Arizona State, BYU, Michigan State and USC.

It's really quite simple for Brian Kelly and his Irish - win them all (again) and they'll be right back in the BCS mix. Will they accomplish this in 2013? I have my doubts even though starting quarterback Everett Golson should be even better in his second season, and one of the nation's best defenses in 2012 returns eight starters including All-America candidates in linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

It's not easy to win every regular-season game once, let alone twice in a row, and let's face it, Notre Dame got several fortuitous bounces and breaks last season on it way to 12-0 by the end of November. I don't see the luck of the Irish in full effect this fall and the strength of the schedule will result in at least one slip up. That doesn't mean Kelly can't lead his team back to a BCS bowl, but I do think the Irish will end up outside of the top five when the regular season ends.

 

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Teaser:
<p> Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/wild-nationwide-finish-highlights-inconsistent-nascar-calls
Body:

A wild finish to Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway once again led to confusion concerning how the sanctioning body scores finishes on the sport’s two restrictor plate tracks.

A quick glance at the final lap of the race — in an event that was shortened due to impending darkness and that battled precipitation throughout the day — shows the three cars of Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Regan Smith racing to the start-finish line with the checkered flag in the air. Meanwhile, chaos ensues when a multi-car accident breaks out behind the trio as yellow caution lights flash.

NASCAR obviously made the right call to display the caution — and I rarely use the word “obviously.” Cars were wrecking at nearly 200 mph. I mean, how do you not wave the yellow flag?

However, confusion over who was flagged the winner reigned when NASCAR took time to review the final dash. Television commentators and print media on Twitter initially, and tentatively, believed Kahne beat Logano and Smith to the line by a nose. One NASCAR scoring monitor in the media center even showed Logano’s No. 22 car at the top of the scoring list. In post-race interviews, the drivers themselves admitted to racing to the start-finish line, believing that mark would determine the winner.

That wasn’t the case, though. In actuality, NASCAR scored Smith the victor for being in the lead when the caution was displayed. In essence, the field was frozen at that moment.

So what’s the beef? Seems clear-cut, right?

Wrong.

And the reason it’s not is because the race directors in the scoring tower seem to waver in their judgment each and every time the series visits Daytona and Talladega.

In Saturday’s instance, a massive wreck in the tri-oval on the final lap constituted a caution flag that, in NASCAR’s judgment, froze the field. Thus, racing to the start-finish line was negated; Smith was declared the winner for being in front at the second the yellow was displayed. However, in countless other cases the sanctioning body has thrown (or not thrown) a caution in a last-lap mess while allowing the leaders that were beyond the fray — and in the clear — to drag race back to the line where the winner was flagged.

The most notable instance? Look no further than the sport’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500. In 2007, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick raced through the tri-oval and back to the line as cars wrecked, in one case upside down and on fire, behind them. Martin’s initial reaction, as captured in audio on his in-car radio, was that he led at the time the melee unfolded. So he was the winner, right? NASCAR, however, did not freeze the field, flagging Harvick the winner at the start-finish line, instead.

Was this decision made because it was the Daytona 500? Because the sport’s most attentive audience watched by the millions on network television in a prime-time slot? Because it needed a “true” finish?

Hard to say. Though that should not factor into the decision-making process.

Admittedly, each race (and final-lap wreck) is different, with its own unique set of circumstances and perils. But the fact that the drivers — not to mention fans and media — are unclear as to what the ruling will be is a problem that dogs the sport’s decision makers. Further, the fact that on Saturday, Kahne, Logano and Smith ignored the caution lights and continued to race back to the start-finish line implies that it was their belief that that line — not a scoring loop or a frozen-field judgment call — would determine who went to Victory Lane. After all, how can they be expected to let off if the ruling could be any one of three alternatives? Cover all your bases, boys.

Few would argue that driver and fan safety is paramount. So why is it that safety is sometimes ignored in favor of a thrilling finish, while other times it prompts a “stoppage in play” as the leaders scream to the finish?

Who won and who lost is inconsequential in this, or any, instance. Consistency from NASCAR is all that is asked by fans, media and competitors. Unfortunately, the only consistency the sport has ever displayed is in its habitual subjectivity of how to score the most important lap of the race — the final one.

And that’s where confusion still reigns.
 

Teaser:
<p> An inconsistent call by NASCAR finds Regan Smith the winner in the Aaron's 312 at Talladega after a wild, accident-marred final lap.</p>
Post date: Sunday, May 5, 2013 - 12:12
Path: /nascar/should-denny-hamlin-return-racing-talladega
Body:

1. Should Denny Hamlin really return this weekend?
Denny Hamlin will likely start Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, his first since his back injury in March at Fontana. He's not expected to finish, much less make it past lap 20. Still, he's hoping it will help his Chase for the Sprint Cup odds.

Simultaneously, the idea is both genius and insane.

Hamlin only received clearance from both his personal doctors and NASCAR officials Thursday to actually get in the car this weekend. He and the No. 11 team initially plan to take advantage of the NASCAR scoring rule that awards championship points only to the drivers who actually start the race. In a Joe Gibbs Racing perfect world, a caution will wave inside the first five laps and Hamlin can come to pit road and hop out in favor of a relief driver. Hamlin will then be credited with the points earned by wherever the relief driver finishes.

Hamlin, who has been injured in a crash at Talladega before, doesn't want to further his injury at one of NASCAR's most wreck-prone racetracks. It's a line of thinking that makes perfect sense in NASCAR's point structure. But it also makes zero sense when factoring in how unpredictable that both racing and race cars can be. Even if Hamlin dropped a half-mile behind the pack at the race's start, there's still plenty that can go wrong in a hurry.

Because of that, it seems incredibly questionable as to why NASCAR would clear Hamlin to participate when he's fully acknowledged he's not prepared to run the whole race. Points about the strategy making a mockery of the sport aside, Hamlin seems to face some legitimate danger of only making his back injury worse.

Talladega, after all, isn't simply a morning commute.


2. Talladega style of racing still an unknown commodity for NASCAR's new car
What can we expect to fill Talladega's 500 miles on Sunday? As of now, it seems pretty wait-and-see.

Much like Daytona in February, Talladega brings another first for NASCAR's new car. At Daytona, the over-hyped machine produced largely flatline racing for much of NASCAR's signature event thanks to myriad factors like cool temperatures and tires failing to show signs of wear. By and large, drivers were fine with the aerodynamic package — many felt more in control at Daytona than in years past — and only wanted to mix it up at the end when the money bell was ready to sound.

Talladega could easily bring more of the same, if only because these teams have learned that leading a lap for one bonus point isn't quite enough to get aggressive early in the race. The result of such actions is often abundantly clear at Talladega and Daytona and it takes the form of the “Big One.”

Sunday's weather forecast also has the implication that it could limit the show's total product. Cool temperatures in the mid-60s are expected, meaning the track will have more grip in every lane. That reduces tire wear over a run and makes it less likely for handling to factor while racing in a pack. When handling is an issue, drivers often have little choice to start passing and getting a bit more daring.

One thing does seem sure for Sunday, however: Tandem racing has been largely abolished in the Sprint Cup Series thanks to the new car design with irregular front and rear design assemblies. If you're looking for that, check out Saturday's Nationwide Series race.


3. Harvick buoyed by Richmond success just wants to finish
Kevin Harvick was one driver who ultimately left Daytona Speedweeks in February disappointed with his luck in the Daytona 500. The No. 29 had seemed to assert itself as a pre-race favorite with commanding performances that became wins in the Sprint Unlimited and a Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

Instead he finished a lowly 42nd after being swept into a multi-car crash on lap 47.

“I like restrictor-plate racing, but our luck hasn’t been that great lately on that style track. Last season, we thought we were going to have a chance to win coming to the checkers during the second races of the season at Daytona and Talladega, but we wound up coming in on a wrecker," Harvick said. "We just haven’t gotten the finishes we thought we would at those tracks, even though we’ve had good runs."

Harvick followed Daytona with several races of mediocre to decent racing, but never looked like a contender to win. The late-race yellow changed that last week at Richmond International Raceway when Harvick benefited from a good final pit stop and a solid car to steal a win on a green-white-checker finish. He led just three laps all night.

Now inside the top 10 in Sprint Cup points for the first time in 2013, Harvick could continue his upward swing at a track where he's fared pretty well. Harvick's rate of finishing at Talladega is over 93 percent, easily the highest among active drivers with more than 10 Talladega starts. He otherwise has a win, six career top-5 finishes and 10 career top 10s at Talladega. You can also bet he'll find the lead at some point Sunday: he's led a lap at Talladega in seven straight races.


4. Puzzle pieces starting to fit for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Don't worry, you're reading this right: Juan Pablo Montoya dominated the closing stages of a NASCAR short track race.

Yes, Montoya, the road racing expert and otherwise decent if unlucky oval racer finally seemed to show some flashes of what we really expected from him in this, his seventh year of full-time Sprint Cup racing. Montoya ultimately led 67 laps and wound up with a third-place finish for his efforts after a late caution flag threw last Saturday's night's race into a dizzying finale of pit stops and track position.

It was Montoya's best finish since a third-place run more than two seasons ago at Las Vegas. For Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, the finish was its fourth of the season inside the top 10 after a 2012 campaign where it collected just five. Montoya's teammate, Jamie McMurray, may be the best candidate to tie the team's 2012 performance Sunday at Talladega.

Last fall, McMurray led a race a race-high 38 laps. A crash with just a handful of laps to go then took him out of the race and pushed him to a disappointing 34th-place finish. Still, McMurray has built a bit of name for himself on restrictor plate tracks in recent years. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner has a win at Talladega and five top-5 runs.

A win or decent finish for McMurray — he's now 12th in points — could have him pretty close to (if not in) the top 10 in the series point standings. A year ago, McMurray never was higher than 16th in points and finished in 20th.
 

Teaser:
<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron's 499.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 15:20
Path: /nfl/ranking-fantasy-footballs-top-rookies-2013
Body:

Doug Martin (1,454) and Trent Richardson (950) were No. 2 and 3 among all rookie NFL running backs last year in rushing yards. They were both first-round picks and played as such in their first season.

Alfred Morris (1,613) led all rookies after being drafted in the sixth round. Vick Ballard (814) was a fifth-round pick and was No. 4 among all rookies. Bryce Brown (564) was fifth among all rookie runners and he was a seventh-round selection.

Justin Blackmon (865 yds, 5 TD), Kendall Wright (626 yds, 4 TD) and Michael Floyd (562 yds, 2 TD) were No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 in receiving yards among rookies and all were first-round picks. But T.Y. Hilton (861 yds, 7 TD) and Chris Givens (698 yds, 3 TD) were No. 2 and 3 respectively as third- and fourth-round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The point of this exercise is to prove that fantasy production doesn’t always come from first-round picks.

So who are the top 15 fantasy rookies from the 2013 NFL Draft?

1. Montee Ball, RB, Denver
The Wisconsin running back was the most productive college fantasy running back ever. No player in the history of the sport scored more touchdowns — 77 rushing and 83 total — than the Badgers back. And now Peyton Manning is his quarterback and he will be running behind, much like in college, one of the best O-lines in the game. Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and/or Willis McGahee are not concerns as none have the workhorse skill set of Ball — and his 983 career NCAA touches. 

2. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis
The most dynamic weapon in the draft this year was easily the speedster from West Virginia. Is workload and durability a concern for the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder? Certainly, but his speed, big-play ability and chance to play right away are fantasy gold. He will run the ball and return kicks as well as catch passes, so his chances of starting right away are all but assured.

3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati
Bernard might be the most talented running back in the draft not named Marcus Lattimore. In just two college seasons — which means there is plenty of tread left on the tires — Bernard proved he could do it all. He rarely takes a big hit, is an excellent receiver, has elite open field speed and quickness, can return kicks and picks up the blitz. It means he should get upwards of 200 touches as the Bengals phase out the aging BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

4. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
The Clemson product has a big frame and is in a perfect situation. Is he overly explosive with game-changing speed? No, but he is productive and will be learning from one of the game’s greatest in Andre Johnson. The “situation” is perfect as the running game and other receivers (namely, Johnson) will take most of the focus from the defense. Hopkins should be in the starting lineup in Week 1 and that should provide adequate low WR2, high WR3 numbers.

5. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego
Few pure outside wide receivers are as polished and talented as the junior from Cal. An elite five-star prospect from North Carolina, Allen was an instant star as a freshman. He posted big numbers despite getting little support from quarterback and half brother Zach Maynard (58.2 percent completion rate, 37 career INT). He has elite ball skills, a natural understanding of the position, prototypical size and Philip Rivers throwing him passes instead of his sibling. Vincent Brown, Robert Meachem, Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd are nice players but Allen is the most gifted wideout on the roster the second he shows up to camp.

6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay
The Alabama running back steps into a great situation because he won’t be asked to carry the load. That is a good thing in that defenses will focus on No. 12 in Green Bay but it limits his fantasy upside because he is more likely to be in the 200-touch range as opposed to the 270-touch range. That said, he should get the first and second down carries as well as goal line looks. Had Johnathan Franklin not been added later in the draft, Lacy might have been No. 1 on this list.

7. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
From a situational standpoint, few rookies step into a bigger workload than Bell. He appears to be the starter right away in Pittsburgh and will be playing behind a solid offensive line and quality quarterback. Yet, the issue that will keep Bell’s fantasy value down might be his overall lack of talent. He isn’t overly explosive or quick and will have to work for every yard he gets. A sub-4.0 yards per carry and 6-8 touchdowns feels about right. A quality RB3.

8. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati
A shot was certainly fired across Jermaine Gresham's and Orson Charles' bow with this first-round pick. The clear-cut most talented and productive tight end in the draft lands in a great situation as Andy Dalton and his deep and talented supporting cast of receivers will take away focus. Look for plenty of two-tight end packages in Cincinnati making Eifert a fringe weekly starter in deeper leagues.

9. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona
Taylor was wildly underrated on “draft day” and could be a sneaky good fantasy play in 2013. He has workhorse talents inside and out of the tackles, can catch passes, pick up the blitz and rarely makes mistakes. He won’t get the start right away but he will force his way onto the field with his overall dependability.

10. Johnathan Franklin, RB, Green Bay
Few “third down” backs have first and second down capabilities but that is what Franklin can do. The Mayor of L.A. has speed, toughness, hands, leadership, productivity and overall play-making skill. He will be a change-of-pace back for Lacy at first but could force Mike McCarthy to split the carries more evenly. UCLA’s all-time leading rusher should be a late-round target for everyone.

11. EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
Heady, hard-working dual-threat is the only QB with fantasy upside in 2013.

12. Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo
Undersized but elite talent with huge numbers in college and should play right away.

13. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas
Polished player should finish the year as clear-cut No. 2 to Dez Bryant. Great situation.

14. Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh
Dynamic do-everything type who will be used all over the field right out of the gate.

15. Josh Boyce, WR, New England
Big-play threat can play inside or out. Is much more talented/dynamic than Aaron Dobson.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco
For you keeper GMs, there will be no such thing as too early for Lattimore. He likely won’t play much in 2013 but could be activated to contribute late in the season. When healthy, he is easily the most talented runner in this class and the Niners were the perfect landing spot for him to rehab and, eventually, explode in 2014.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota
Geno Smith, QB, NY Jets
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas
Matt Barkley, QB, Philadelphia

Teaser:
<p> Ranking Fantasy Football's Top Rookies in 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-29
Body:

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

What colleges produce the smartest, sexiest graduates? Harvard gave us Rashida Jones (pictured), so it's on the list.

• Tomorrow, people in comically oversized hats will gather to watch horses run. Here's a rundown of memorable Derby fashion statements. Speaking of the Derby, this article takes issue with calling it the greatest two minutes in sports.

A toddler with his pants at his ankles wandered through the background of the Houston Rockets postgame show. Given that this is the NBA. the kid could be anyone's, but my money's on Calvin Murphy.

Hockey player Lars Eller lay on the ice last night in a pool of his own blood. How was your night?

• Bizarre story of the day: The mother of an Alabama basketball player was arrested for kidnapping a six-year-old.

• For people my age, this is simultaneously interesting and depressing: Catching up with the greatest pro wrestlers of the '80s and '90s.

• Did you know that Texas A&M's Kyle Field will soon be the SEC's biggest stadium? You invite the new kid in and they think they own the place. Here's a list of all the SEC stadiums and their seating capacities.

Is Clay Buchholz a cheater? Buchholz says no; the Blue Jays broadcaster says yes.

The Angels game was delayed on account of bees. That's not the kind of buzz those fans came for, amirite?

• This one's for a niche audience, but here are the 15 Greatest Sports Moments from FX's hilarious spy spoof Archer.

• Golden State's Steph Curry has emerged as a superstar in these playoffs. Here are 12 minutes of Curry brilliance condensed into a one-minute video.

 

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


May 2

• It's NBA playoff season. SI has a dandy slideshow of dancers and cheerleaders from every playoff team.

• This is cool: Dream matchups brought to you via GIFs. I think the Babe was surprised by the movement on Yu's fastball.

Jay Bruce lashed out at his Twitter haters. His first mistake is paying attention to his Twitter haters.

A kid with cancer had a dream come true when he played in a soccer match against the Portland Timbers. In related news, there are too many kids with cancer.

In the case of Deion Sanders Jr., the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. He has Versace sheets on his dorm room bed, because of course he does.

• Les Miles has a dilemma: His star running back apparently can't stop living the thug life.

• Golfers aren't often considered cool. Steve Rushin may make you reconsider, at least in a few cases.

Who says there aren't any jobs to be had?

Here are the 10 best things about the month of May.

Awesome pictures of athletes with giant fish. Some of these guys are going to need a bigger boat.

The Sharks announcers got annoyed with Vancouver's Green Men fans, calling them "40-year-old virgins," among other things. Charlie Kelly does not approve.

• The Pirates lineup, SNL style. Somebody snarkier than me might say that the last time the Pirates were good, SNL was actually funny.

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


May 1

• One person who was surprised when she heard Jason Collins was gay? Carolyn Moos (pictured), his ex-fiancee.

Warriors-Nuggets is getting testy, and interesting.

• This is always interesting: How were this year's first-round picks ranked as recruits? Two of the top 5 had no star rating at all.

Adrian Peterson: By the way, this 2,500 yard thing? I'm serious about that.

Feel better, Bryce Harper. At least you didn't do a Canseco and let the ball bounce off your head for a homer.

100 photos of athletes as fresh-faced rookies, before the money and the trappings of fame corrupted them.

• Apparently, deer antler spray is A-OK with the PGA. Vijay Singh got cleared to play, then promptly withdrew.

The interesting, though complicated, backstory of the Tiger Woods ruling at The Masters.

• I'm no hockey expert, but shouldn't goaltenders stay kinda close to the goal? Like this guy, who cost his team a playoff game.

• Speaking of hockey, according to this broadcaster, the Blackhawks had a tremendous season in more ways than one.

Tommy Lasorda is about as impressed with PSY as I am.

• Danica Patrick tried some shots from center ice at the Blackhawks game. One went well, the other three not so much. Now we've found two sports Danica sucks at. I kid, I kid.

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


April 30

• I'm late to this little dust-up, but a female blogger got in hot water for suggesting that this Oklahoma City Thunder dancer was too fat. What say you, Essential Links readers?

• Jason Collins came out in SI this week. Yawn. I'm more interested in the fact that he was high school teammates with actor Jason Segal.

Here's some news you can really use: Pizza prevents cancer.

• Fans in Oakland got a two-for-one — a 19-inning marathon that ended in a walk-off and a pie in the face.

Move over, Grantland Rice. This is the greatest lead ever written: "Henry Gribbohm says he lost his life savings, $2,600, on a carnival game and all he has to show for it is a stuffed banana with dreadlocks."

Josh Hamilton has transformed the simple autograph into a new social medium.

Welcome to San Diego, Manti Te'o.

• For Draftniks, it's never too early to think about next year. Here are some SEC prospects for 2014. Athlon chimes in with its top 75 for next year's draft.

• Insult to injury: Tennessee's Tyler Bray declared, went undrafted, and didn't even make this year's all-undrafted team.

Cheer up, Tim Tebow. Somebody wants you.

• Sometimes, the posterizer gets posterized. Last night, Carlos Delfino victimized Kevin Durant.

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


April 29

• April is almost in the books, and the folks at Coed were kind enough to assemble the sports ladies who wowed us this month. Like the USC Song Girls (pictured).

Michael Jordan got married this weekend to longtime GF Yvette Prieto. The guest list was pretty impressive: Tiger Woods, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Toni Kukoc, Usher, Spike Lee. I don't think Juanita was there, though.

The Jets have waived Tim Tebow. I still think Jacksonville makes the most sense for Tebow. That, or Canada. Or The Bachelor. Here's a collection of amusing Tebow tweets in the wake of the announcement.

Rays reporter Kelly Nash took the most amazing selfie of all time (if it's real, which I'm still not convinced it is).

Nats pitcher Henry Rodriguez had some, ahem, control problems yesterday.

• Many athletes turn to the silver screen when their competing days are over. Some are not very successful at the transition. The worst athletes-turned-actors of all time.

• Staggering stat of the day: 25 percent of this year's NFL Draft picks were from the SEC. It's almost unfair at this point.

Smokin' Jay Cutler played along with the meme, with the help of his baby mama.

• Dwight Howard's had a rough season in LA. The low point: Getting called out on Twitter by Magic.

J.J. Watt charged the mound in a celebrity softball game benefiting his own charity. He was just goofin' around. I think.

• Got two minutes? Watch this cartpath-aided 500-yard drive by Louis Oosthuizen.

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

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 10:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/will-missouri-tigers-make-bowl-2013
Body:

As expected, Missouri found life in the SEC more difficult than the week-to-week grind of the Big 12.

The Tigers had their streak of seven straight winning seasons snapped, slipping to 5-7 and no bowl appearance since the 2004 season.

For Missouri to return to the postseason, the Tigers need a big season from quarterback James Franklin. And a replacement for standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson must be found.

The schedule won’t be easy. But Missouri could show improvement in 2013 and return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?

Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Outside of four teams on Missouri’s schedule – Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M, the rest of the eight games are truly winnable. If last year showed us anything, it’s that Missouri should play better on defense than we anticipate. The offense, on the other hand, remains the biggest question mark.

Injuries set the tone for the Tigers’ season before it even got started last year. If they can collectively stay healthy this season, they will make a bowl game. New offensive coordinator Josh Henson comes from a pro-style background, and Missouri’s style of play should be tweaked for the better. It’s hard to even win eight games with a straight spread offense in the SEC with a quarterback not named Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton or Tim Tebow. James Franklin isn’t any of the three, and implementing and tweaking the offense is necessary to even win six games. The good news is that the pieces around Franklin should be better this year, especially in the backfield and at wide receiver.

This is a make-or-break year for Gary Pinkel. He’s on the proverbial hottest seat in the conference entering 2013. Missouri winning six may still result in a bowl game, but it could also part ways with its coach in the process. 
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Missouri’s long-term prospects of competing in the SEC are iffy, especially now that the East is starting to regain balance with the West. I’m not even sure if a healthy season from James Franklin and Henry Josey will help matters for the Tigers in 2013. For one, a healthy Franklin isn’t assured of keeping his starting job with Maty Mauk gaining ground on the veteran signal caller. Josey had a great season in 2011, but he is coming off major knee surgery. The SEC isn’t always kind to players returning from injury. Throw in the loss of key players at each level of the defense, and I’m skeptical about Missouri being able to get to the six-win mark in the second season in the SEC.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Could the postseason fate of the Tigers be decided in a road non-conference trip to Indiana in Week 4? As shocking as that may sound, a win over the Hoosiers is a must for Mizzou to make it to a bowl game. Gary Pinkel's bunch will have to win three SEC games this year if it loses to the much-improved Indiana team and that seems virtually impossible. Crossover play in the league is tough with Texas A&M at home and a road trip to Ole Miss on the schedule, so 2-6 feels like the best case scenario in SEC play. Therefore, it all goes back to the Sept. 21 trip to Bloomington. Should the Tigers lose to IU, there is little chance of making it to a bowl game. I will call for the upset and say Mizzou fails to make it to the postseason for the second consecutive season. 


Mike Mitchell (@MrSEC), MrSEC.com
The 2013 Missouri Tigers could be this year’s version of Mississippi State – a team that starts fast and finishes slow. In both cases, the schedule plays a huge role. Mizzou opens with four non-conference games – Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State.  A 4-0 start is possible, perhaps even likely. But then the brutal reality of SEC play sets in.  Other than the home-road switch, the only other change to this year’s conference schedule is that the Tigers swap out a home game against Alabama for a road contest at Oxford to face a young and improving Ole Miss team.  Missouri will likely be favored against just two opponents, Tennessee and Kentucky, the only two teams the Tigers defeated in the conference last year. With a banged-up offensive line and injured quarterback James Franklin, the Tigers offense never gelled in 2012.  But with better health, the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of last season, and perhaps some fresh approaches from new offensive coordinator Josh Henson, the Tigers offense should be better.  But what about the defense?  Last year, the Tigers gave up 41 points to Georgia, 31 to South Carolina, 42 to Alabama and 59 to Texas A&M and that was with star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, now NFL-bound to the New York Jets.  With a projected 6-6 record, this is a bubble bowl team.  The Tigers should score more points but can the defense stop anybody?


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Missouri loses defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and two key linebackers, I think the Tigers will be a better overall team in 2013. The biggest reason for optimism is quarterback James Franklin, as he should be closer to 100 percent in his second year removed from shoulder surgery. The offense will also get a boost with the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 due to a knee injury. Missouri’s offensive line should have more stability this year, and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham proved this spring he is ready to be the No. 1 receiver.

Even if Missouri is an overall better team in 2013, will it translate to more than five wins? I’m not sure it will. The Tigers should go 4-0 in non-conference play, but Indiana and Toledo won’t be easy outs. Missouri draws an improving Ole Miss team from the West Division in conference play, along with a home date against Texas A&M. The Tigers host Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee but it’s hard to see two wins against that trio. Is pulling an upset against Vanderbilt or winning on the road against Kentucky possible? Absolutely. However, the Wildcats and Commodores are both on the upswing and will be tough to beat.

Gary Pinkel has done a lot of good things at Missouri, but another 5-7 season could spell the end of his tenure in Columbia. The Tigers will be in the mix to get to six wins, but I think another 5-7 season is the most-likely scenario. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Missouri endured a rough introduction into the SEC last season with key injuries only adding to the Tigers' woes. Gary Pinkel's team just missed out on a bowl in 2012 with a 5-7 overall record, but Mizzou also managed just two conference wins. On top of that, these wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee, who went a combined 1-15 in SEC play themselves. So with all of this said, things have to get better in 2013 right?

Maybe, but only if the Tigers make the most of a relatively soft non-conference slate and not slip up against an improving Indiana team in Bloomington or have Toledo or Arkansas State upset them at home. Three wins at minimum by the end of September are crucial to keeping any postseason hopes alive because after that it's all SEC action. Opportunities to beat Kentucky and Tennessee again are there and will need to be capitalized on, but more than likely an upset will be needed to against the likes of Ole Miss or Vanderbilt to get that necessary sixth win.

Missouri's got talent, especially if the Tigers catch a few more breaks on the injury front this season, but I still don't think they have the depth needed to compete in the SEC on a weekly basis. I believe the Tigers will be a better team, especially on offense, in 2013, but unfortunately I don't think it will be enough to get back to the postseason.
 


Related College Football Content

Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2013
Will Tennessee Make a Bowl in 2013?

Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Wins More SEC Games in 2013?

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013

Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top 10 Assistant Coaches on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/boise-state-or-fresno-state-who-wins-mountain-west-2013
Body:

Three teams tied for the Mountain West title last season, but with the addition of Utah State and San Jose State, determining a conference champion will much easier in 2013.

With 12 teams, the Mountain West will hold a conference title game in early December, which should add plenty of intrigue for the league this year.

Boise State and Fresno State are the frontrunners to win the Mountain West in 2013. The Broncos return only nine starters, but Chris Petersen’s team always reloads. The Bulldogs lost by 10 points at Boise State in 2012 but return All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr, along with a talented group of receivers.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
What was supposed to be a down year for Boise State still yielded an 11-2 season, a share of the Mountain West title and a pair of losses by a combined six points. Oh man, what a let down. Meanwhile, Fresno State’s best season in in five years still produced a share of the MWC title, but a 10-point loss to Boise State and another puzzling bowl loss. The Broncos have won every meeting in this series since 2005, and although the gap is closing, there’s no reason to mess with Boise State’s track record. As one would expect, first-year starting quarterback Joe Southwick improved as the season went along, with an efficiency rating 15 points higher in his final five games compared to the first eight. After throwing nine touchdowns and six interceptions in the first two months of the season, he had a 10-to-1 ratio in the final two. Boise State will have some questions on defense, especially against the pass. That could be problematic against Derek Carr and Fresno State on the road in September or a potential MWC title game, but I still like Boise State’s defensive front with Demarcus Lawrence and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe leading the way.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Boise State's two-point home loss to San Diego State was the deciding game in the Mountain West last season. It created a three-way tie between the Aztecs, Broncos and Bulldogs after Boise State slipped past Fresno State 20-10 at home. Boise State, behind leadership of second-year starter Joe Southwick, looks to be improved from a year ago and won't lose another league game in 2013 like it did against SDSU last fall. It will, however, have to visit Fresno State early in the year (Week 4) and the outcome of that game will likely decide the conference crown. Fresno State has an elite quarterback in Derek Carr and gets the game at home, but the rest of the team isn't as deep or talented as Boise, so I will take the Broncos to win the MWC for the second time in as many tries.
 

Jeremy Mauss, Mountain West Connection, (@JeremyMauss)
Based off of history, it is easy to say Boise State should win the Mountain West this year, and particularly against Fresno State who has always struggled against the Broncos. However, this year things look to be different for Fresno State as they have quarterback Derek Carr who is one of the nation's best, plus they have wide receiver Davante Adams who had 102 catches as a freshman as well as Isaiah Burse. That pair should be the best in the Mountain West.

A few of the concerns for Fresno State is that they lose All-Mountain West running back Robbie Rouse, and he will likely be replaced by BYU transfer Josh Quezada who was a three-star recruit in his own right coming out of high school. Also, their offensive line takes a hit by losing a pair of multi-year starters, but they do have some experience returners with five players who saw significant time or started this past year.

Getting Boise State at home is the first step in winning the Mountain West title, because a win would mean that Fresno State would likely host the conference title game. For Fresno State to win the title they will have to defeat Boise State for the first time since 2005, and also gave the Broncos two conference loses for the first time in over a decade. If this Fresno State team does not win the title it may be a long time before they do.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s very tempting to pick Fresno State, but it’s hard to see Boise State losing the Mountain West in 2013. The Bulldogs’ only defeat in conference play last season came against the Broncos, losing 20-10 in Boise. Fresno State returns most of its core, including All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams. The defense will miss linebacker Travis Brown and safety Phillip Thomas, but nine starters are back from a unit that ranked 22nd nationally in yards allowed.

Boise State had a rebuilding season last year, yet still finished 11-2 overall and 7-1 in Mountain West games. A handful of key players are departing, but the Broncos should still end up as conference champs. Quarterback Joe Southwick will be more comfortable in his second year under center, and running back Jay Ajayi is a rising star. The front seven should be solid, but the secondary is a question mark with the departure of cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.

If there’s a reason to pick Fresno State, it’s Boise State’s weakness in the secondary, along with a Sept. 20 home date against the Broncos. Considering the winner of that matchup could end up with homefield advantage in the conference title game, it’s crucial for Fresno State to win the early season matchup. Despite the reasons to like the Bulldogs, I still think Boise State claims the Mountain West title in 2013.  
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Both Boise State and Fresno State are similar in that they are led by experienced quarterbacks who direct productive offenses, but also have defenses who can get the job done. I fully expect both teams to win their respective divisions in the new-look Mountain West this season, with Boise State reaching the apex of the Mountain Division and Fresno State showing its the best of the West Division.

Even though the Bulldogs are returning more starters (16 compared to Boise State's 9) and have a potential Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Derek Carr, I still think the Broncos' overall talent and track record under head coach Chris Petersen will win out. Boise State Petersen is 51-4 in conference play (five seasons in the WAC, last two in the MWC) as the Broncos' head coach, which includes five outright or shared conference titles in seven seasons.

It's tough for me to pick against that type of sustained success, although Fresno State will get its chance to send a strong message when it hosts Boise on Sept. 20. Regardless of how the opening round goes, I'll take the Broncos to claim the contest that really counts - the MWC championship game on Dec. 7.
 

Related College Football Content

Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013
Ranking College Football's Coaching Jobs for 2013

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:35
Path: /college-football/25-things-know-spring-football
Body:

Depending on your point of view, spring practice is either a respite from the football-free months of winter and a taste of things to come in August. On the other hand, it’s only appealing to the hardcore football fan.

Sure, there’s the same questions every year -- is my team’s defense really good or is the offense really bad, or vice versa. But there’s also plenty of news and notes.

Spring practice has ended for every team across the country. Athlon Sports takes a quick snapshot at the nation, cutting through some of the minutiae for the top 25 things you need to know from spring football.

25 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM SPRING FOOTBALL

Braxton Miller airs it out
Urban Meyer seems intent to prove Braxton Miller can command a two-dimensional offense. The junior quarterback completed 16 of 25 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game for a passing performance that would have been one of his best during the 2012 season. Miller threw more than 25 passes in a game once last season and topped 200 yards four times.

Oregon’s offense is just fine
No Chip Kelly, no Kenjon Barner, but the Oregon offense rolls on. Take it for what it’s worth, but the two offenses in the spring game combined for 802 yards and nine touchdowns with Marcus Mariota going 13 of 15 for 169 yards and two touchdowns in four series against the second-team defense. Beyond Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, wide receiver Bralon Addison (243 yards, 11 yards per catch in 2012) and running back Byron Marshall (447 yards, 5.1 yards per carry last season looked like potential breakout players for Mark Helfrich’s first season.

ACL injuries claim Michigan’s top linebacker, backup quarterback
Michigan has aspirations to win the Big Ten Legends Division, but the Wolverines may have to do it without their leading tackler and backup quarterback. Jake Ryan (88 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss) and Russell Bellomy both went down with torn ACL since March, putting both of their seasons in doubt. The most decorated defensive player for Michigan last season, Ryan is the bigger loss, though the Wolverines are hopeful he could return by mid-October. Without Bellomy, who threw four interceptions in 21 attempts last season, Michigan may look to incoming freshman Shane Morris to handle backup QB duty.

Jameis Winston’s emergence at Florida State is West Virginia’s gain
The redshirt freshman is looking the part as the starter at the quarterback position, where Florida State has produced more first-round draft picks (EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder) in recent years than All-ACC first-teamers. Winston was 12 of 15 for 205 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game while Jacob Coker went 11 of 19 for 153 yards and a score. Winston’s rise was enough to convince veteran Clint Trickett to transfer to West Virginia, where he’ll compete with Ford Childress and Paul Millard to replace Geno Smith. Trickett was 66 of 106 for 947 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions the last two seasons.

Banged up at South Carolina
South Carolina tried to calm the masses after defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the top defensive player in college football, missed the end of spring with neck and back pain and a possible concussion. He’s expected back for the fall, and the injuries aren’t out of the ordinary. But Clowney is the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014 and a Heisman contender. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Connor Shaw missed the spring to nurse a foot injury sustained in the Outback Bowl. As he did last year, backup Dylan Thompson looked capable of taking over if needed.

Arrest clouds Jeremy Hill’s season at LSU
Running back is traditionally a spot where LSU has plenty of depth. That may be put to the test with leading rusher Jeremy Hill (755 yards, 12 touchdowns) indefinitely suspended. Hill was arrested on charges of simple battery early in the morning April 27 after an altercation in a Baton Rouge bar. The Tigers still return Kenny Hilliard (463 yards, six touchdowns) and Alfred Blue (6.8 yards per carry), but Hill will be missed if his suspension leads into the opener against TCU or longer.

Florida putting together a puzzle
For a team that returns only four defensive starters, the Gators don’t have much to worry about on defense. Will Muschamp spent most of the spring figuring out where to play his top players on defense. Spring drills ended with Dominique Easley at tackle (he started at end last season), Dante Fowler at the “buck” end/linebacker position, Ronald Powell at strongside linebacker (his natural position is “buck”) and Jaylen Watkins at safety (he started last year at corner). Meanwhile, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy spent time on offense to boost a lackluster wide receiver position.

Penn State will start from scratch at quarterback
Steven Bench, who threw a total of eight passes last season, elected to transfer after the spring, meaning Penn State will have no experienced quarterbacks vying for the job in spring. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson appeared to take the lead in the race during the spring, but he’ll be joined in the fall by freshman Christian Hackenberg, the No. 13 prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100.

Dominique Brown at tailback for Louisville
The former quarterback is preparing for his first full season at running back after missing all of last year with an injury. Brown rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in the spring game, adding six catches for 30 yards. His emergence will be key for a run game that field to produce 100 yards in a game after the season-ending injury to Senorise Perry.

Oklahoma State’s competition goes on
A year ago, Mike Gundy named then-freshman Wes Lunt his starting quarterback during the spring. This decision won’t be quite so easy. Gundy first said Clint Chelf was his frontrunner but then backtracked to say J.W. Walsh and Lunt were neck-and-neck-and-neck. Doesn’t seem like he could go wrong with any, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bruised egos come Aug. 31.

Oregon State still choosing
Like Oklahoma State, Oregon State has multiple qualified quarterbacks who won games last season. Neither Sean Mannion nor Cody Vaz won the job in the spring, meaning Mike Riley will wait until fall to choose between his veteran QBs.

Not so fast on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell and USC’s Max Wittek
Two quarterbacks who saw spot duty at national powers aren't assured of starting in 2013. Athlon Sports still thinks Bell is a player on the rise for 2013, but Bob Stoops isn’t saying as much. He’s the most experience quarterback on the roster, but almost all of that is running in short-yardage situations. Sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight gave him competition in the spring for Oklahoma’s first quarterback battle since 2007. At USC, Wittek went down for a week with a knee injury opening the door for Cody Kessler and freshman Max Browne, one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2013.

Pachall returns to TCU
Gary Patterson has been guarded in his comments about Casey Pachall’s return to TCU after leaving the team after four games to deal with substance abuse. Pachall is the odds-on favorite, but Trevone Boykin, who went 3-6 as a starter against nine bowl teams, can’t be ignored. How Pachall fits into the offense in his return will be a storyline worth watching as TCU hopes to contend for a Big 12 title.

Texas linebackers get a makeover
The Longhorns’ run defense was a mess last season, allowing 200 yards or more five times and giving up 4.6 yards per carry. Spring indicated there may be some help with a new-look linebacker corps. Jordan Hicks, who was injured for most of the season, will return healthy along two promising sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens.

Virginia Tech still limping on offense
The Hokies were in the bottom four of the ACC in passing, scoring offense and total offense, but Virginia Tech didn’t have its usual performance in the run game, either. Virginia Tech’s 3.7 yards per carry was its worst since 2007, and the returning cast might not have a lot of hope to improve. Michael Holmes is facing a felony charge after a fight in Blacksburg two weeks ago, and Tony Gregory missed the spring with a rib injury. The pair were among the Hokies’ top four rushers, but failed to top 300 yards.

Arizona loses top receiver
The Wildcats are starting over in the passing game, first with Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility and now with a torn ACL for wide receiver Austin Hill. The junior was as second-team All-Pac-12 performer with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. The injury leaves David Richards (29 catches, 264 yards, three touchdowns) as the top returning wide receiver.

Rushel Shell bolts from Pittsburgh
It wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh offseason without a little bit of turmoil. As the Panthers moving into the ACC, they’ll do so without a rising star at running back. Expected to take over for Ray Graham, Rushel Shell transferred to UCLA. Shell was one of Pittsburgh’s top recruits in the 2012 class, rushing for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett, who combined for 191 yards and 41 carries last season, will take over ball-carrying duties.

Wisconsin’s David Gilbert calls it quits
Recurring foot injuries caused Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert to end his career before spring practice. After recording 9.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season, Gilbert was expected to anchor the Badgers’ pass rush in coach Gary Andersen’s first season.

Georgia’s defense is going to be OK
With a handful of injuries and suspensions, Georgia ranked 12th in the SEC in rush defense and sixth in total defense despite two first-round picks in the front seven and seven overall draft picks on the defense. With early enrollee Tray Matthews and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons shining in spring practice, Georgia hopes for better results with less name recognition.

Johnny Manziel played actual football during the spring and did OK
The defending Heisman winner worked to trademark his nickname, spent some time on vacation, got courtside seats for NBA games and had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. He also played actual football, passing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in his spring game against the second-team defense.

James Franklin’s job is in jeopardy at Missouri
As a sophomore, Missouri quarterback James Franklin looked ready to step into a the Tigers’ quarterback lineage of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. After an injury-plagued junior season and a lackluster spring practice, Franklin may have trouble hanging onto his job as a senior. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk impressed during the spring as the Tigers have had a changing of the guard of sorts on offense with longtime Gary Pinkel assistant David Yost leaving for Washington State.

Notre Dame finds replacement for Manti Te’o
The early returns on Jarrett Grace replacing Te’o at middle linebacker were positive, though no one expects the junior from Cincinnati to duplicate Te’o’s season. He’ll have the advantage of playing behind Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Despite an uneventful spring game, George Atkinson III impressed during spring practice, now that he could be Notre Dame’s primary back.

Boise State’s Joe Southwick continues to improve
Southwick didn’t throw an interception in Boise State’s final four games, all wins, after throwing seven picks in the first nine. In his second spring as the starter, Southwick completed 79 percent of his passes in team drills, for what that’s worth. The senior also showed more willingness to run after rushing for 121 yards last season.

Stanford’s Josh Nunes retires after freak injury
Nunes, who was beat out by Kevin Hogan for the quarterback job at midseason, ended his career after a painful weight room injury resulting in a torn right pectoral muscle. His departure will cut into Stanford’s depth at quarterback beyond Hogan.

Nick Saban is unhappy
Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and is likely the No. 1 team in the preseason. So, of course, Nick Saban is a little cranky on his tour of Alabama alumni groups, saying: “They all want me to make a comparison between this year’s team and last year’s team and the team before that and the team before that. I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point. If I was happy with them, we wouldn't have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, we wouldn't have 30 practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We'd just pack it in and say, 'All right, let's go to Atlanta and play the game.' We're not there yet."


Related College Football Content

Ranking the Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013

Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Spring practice has ended, here are all the key injuries, personnel decisions and storylines</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-pac-12-south-2013
Body:

The power in the Pac-12 is clearly titled to the North Division, which should have Oregon and Stanford ranked among the top-10 in most preseason polls.

The South Division lacks a top-15 team but four squads will be in the mix for the conference title.

UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the South Division. Arizona State and Arizona are headed in the right direction under second-year coaches, while USC has far too much talent to be finishing 7-6 each season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
UCLA would be my favorite in the South, but we learned last year the Bruins can’t beat Stanford. Never mind defeating Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back weeks. What might be the best team in the South could be out of it by the end of October thanks to a brutal schedule. By default, the pick is Arizona State, the fewest major flaws and a team with a solid coach, no matter what you think of Todd Graham. As long as an early season schedule which includes a road trip to Stanford and games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame don’t take their toll on Arizona State. The Sun Devils are the pick here.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Arizona State is primed for a run to the South division crown, and a Pac-12 championship appearance. The Sun Devils became the odds-on favorite for me when tackle Will Sutton eschewed the NFL draft. He is one of the best defensive lineman in the country and sets the tone for the No. 2 sacking defense last year. Linebacker Carl Bradford is another potential All-American keying the defensive side, while dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly settled into his role by season's end.

ASU put up a surprising 38.4 points per game -- only Oregon was more prolific among Pac-12 teams. Perhaps most importantly, the Sun Devils look like the only South team without glaring questions marks: USC is still paper thin, UCLA must replace its record-setting running back, and Arizona is replacing star quarterback Matt Scott while trying to solve its defensive woes. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the Pac-12 South and returns most of its core, so it’s hard to pick against the Bruins. However, I think UCLA will be dethroned this year, as Arizona State is my pick to claim the division title in Todd Graham’s second season in Tempe.

The Sun Devils nearly won the South Division last year but a 45-43 defeat to UCLA in late October was just enough for the Bruins to play Stanford in the conference championship. Graham made a big difference in Tempe last season, as Arizona State cut down on the bad mental mistakes that plagued this team under Dennis Erickson and ranked in the top 30 of total offense and defense. Both units are in great shape for 2013, as the offense returns quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of the nation’s top running back duos in Marion Grice and DJ Foster, along with an offensive line that returns three starters. The defense has room to improve, but this unit can only get better with Will Sutton turning down the NFL for one more year in Tempe, along with the return of seven other starters.

In addition to the returning talent on both sides of the ball, Arizona State’s schedule is very favorable. Yes, the Sun Devils have to play at UCLA, but the other teams in contention for the South title – USC and Arizona – both come to Sun Devil Stadium. Also, Arizona State does not play Oregon in crossover play and hosts Oregon State and Washington in games with the North Division. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
An argument can be made for either California team (UCLA, USC) or either Arizona team (Arizona, Arizona State) to win the Pac-12 South this season. That's what happens when a team like USC, which was pretty much everyone's preseason national champion last fall, goes 7-6 and ends up in the Sun Bowl, not the BCS title game.

Can UCLA make it two division titles in a row for second-year coach Jim Mora Jr.? The Bruins have the quarterback in Brett Hundley, but gone is running back Johnathan Franklin and several other starters on both sides of the ball. Then there's the schedule, which is pretty brutal. Of the four South teams mentioned, UCLA is the only one that has to play both Oregon and Stanford from the North. And both of these games are on the road, as is a non-conference tilt with Nebraska and divisional games against Arizona and USC.

Speaking of the other team from Los Angeles, USC is trying to pick up the pieces from last season's debacle, but will have to do so without quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, among others. Talent has never been an issue for the Trojans, but if last season showed us anything, it's that talent's not enough. I expect Lane Kiffin's crew to be better in 2013, but not division champion-caliber.

Out in the desert, Rich Rodriguez has Arizona fans excited about football thanks to a high-octane offense powered by the nation's leading rusher in 2012, Ka'Deem Carey. Quarterback, however, is a bit of a question mark with the departure of Matt Scott and even though every starter returns on defense, this is a unit that has a long ways to go (last in the Pac-12, No. 118 in the nation in yards allowed in 2012). Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats involved in a bunch of high-scoring affairs this fall.

No, my pick to reign supreme in the South is the Sun Devils. Todd Graham appears to have something brewing in Tempe and it could all come together in 2013. The offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly and a collection of productive backs and receivers. The defense has All-American lineman Will Sutton and seven other starters back. The Sun Devils were second only to Stanford last year in the Pac-12 in total defense and could be even better this season if they can improve against the run (182.9 ypg, 10th).

Arizona State will get a chance to show how good they are early with Wisconsin coming to Tempe on Sept. 14 followed by consecutive games against Stanford (road), USC and Notre Dame (both home). If the Sun Devils can navigate this part without too much difficulty, they should be in good shape as the sledding gets much easier with both Arizona and USC at home. I think Arizona State, true to its nickname, will "rise" to the occasion in 2013 and finish atop the Pac-12 South standings.

 

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Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?
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Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?

Pac-12 Schedule Analysis for 2013

Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-big-12-2013
Body:

Unpredictable is the best word to sum up the Big 12 heading into the 2013 season.

The defending Big 12 champs (Kansas State) lost several key pieces, including quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. However, it’s hard to bet against Bill Snyder.

Texas seems to be on the right track after going 9-4 last year. But is the defense capable of turning things around after a disappointing 2012 campaign?

Oklahoma loses quarterback Landry Jones and is short on bodies on the defensive line, but the Sooners can’t be counted out of the title picture.

Oklahoma State and TCU could have the most upside of any of the teams in the conference and will be popular selections at the top of the league for 2013.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Oklahoma State says it doesn’t know who will be the quarterback when the season starts, but even if you take that at face value (not saying that I do), there’s still more of a comfort level with the Cowboys quarterbacks than there was a year ago. Mike Gundy has good reason to feel comfortable with any of his QBs - Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or Wes Lunt - to win their share of games in a watered-down Big 12. Oklahoma State lost its last three road games last season - Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State - but the Cowboys comeback with more experience at QB and a veteran-laden defense. As much as I don’t want to pick against Oklahoma, a team that finds a way to win the Big 12 time and time again, or Texas, which should rebound, I’m sticking with Oklahoma State. Gundy went 8-5 in a year in which everyone thought the Cowboys would struggle and on top of that Okie State had a revolving door at quarterback. He’s a coach you can trust.
 

Allen Kenney, @BlatantHomerism, BlatantHomerism.com
Once dominated by its power programs, the Big 12 has morphed into possibly the most competitive conference in the country. Pound for pound, the Big 12 might have the best collection of coaches around, and with Oklahoma and Texas sliding back to the pack, the door has been cracked open for some of the league's upstarts to sneak in and grab the conference crown.

I really think you're talking about as many as five teams in contention to win the league this year: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State. Ultimately, I'm betting it comes down to the Horned Frogs and Cowboys.

Gary Patterson's TCU team might be the best in the conference. The Horned Frogs have a defense led by defensive lineman Devonte Fields that is well-suited to slowing down the rocket-powered offenses in the Big 12. The bigger news is on the other side of the ball, where talented quarterback Casey Pachall returns to give TCU some offensive firepower.

I make the Cowboys the favorite this year, though. OSU went 7-5 in the 2012 regular, but the Cowboys lost close games to Baylor, Texas and OU. They also had a bizarre meltdown against Arizona that could be chalked up to inexperience.

The Pokes bring back the majority of their key performers from a season ago, including three quarterbacks who can win games. Yet, the biggest advantage OSU has is the schedule. Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all come to Stillwater this fall. I expect that will tip the scales in favor of Mike Gundy's squad.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 is the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. There’s no clear frontrunner, as a case could be made that four teams are deserving of the No. 1 spot. And if Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU are the top four favorites, Baylor and Kansas State aren’t far behind. A big reason for the unpredictability is the turnover at quarterback. Of the six teams mentioned above, three lost their starter, and Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU entered the offseason with some uncertainty under center.

Although Oklahoma State has some holes to fill, I like the Cowboys to win the Big 12 title in 2013. Mike Gundy’s team went 8-5 last season in a rebuilding year, and even though he hasn’t started a full year, Clint Chelf should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2013. The skill players are loaded with talent, including running back Jeremy Smith and receiver Josh Stewart. The biggest concern is a defense that is thin on proven ends and needs it secondary to play better after ranking 110th nationally against the pass last year.

While the Cowboys are in great shape personnel-wise, the schedule is one of the biggest reasons to pick Mike Gundy's team as the Big 12 favorite. Oklahoma State gets Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at home. The Cowboys have to play Texas and Texas Tech on the road, but it seems two or three Big 12 losses may win the conference.

I have a hard time seeing any of the Big 12 teams being ranked inside of the top-10 in most preseason polls this year. However, this could be one of the most-competitive leagues in the nation with six teams having a shot to win the conference crown. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
In the Big 12, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas appear to be the likeliest contenders. Oklahoma will be breaking in a new quarterback, Oklahoma State has three solid ones to choose from, TCU could turn its offense back over to its former starter and Texas is hoping for more consistent production out of its signal caller.

That said, it shouldn't be that surprising that I am leaning towards the Cowboys or Horned Frogs to win the conference this season. Mike Gundy has built a consistent winner in Stillwater, Okla., and the same can be said for Gary Patterson in Forth Worth, Texas, who has show everyone that his Frogs belong in one of the so-called power conferences.

Oklahoma State's offense should be among the nation's most productive, but this team will only get as far as its defense, which returns seven starters, takes them. On the other hand, TCU's offense could be pretty potent in its own right with former starter Casey Pachall poised to reclaim the quarterback job and enough weapons returning in the backfield and at receiver. The difference between these two could be on defense. TCU returns nine starters from a defense that finished first or second in the Big 12 in total, scoring and rushing defense last season.

My only concerns when it comes to TCU is that the Frogs are still relatively new to the rigors of the Big 12 and their schedule. TCU opens the season against LSU in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will play both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road, as well as Kansas State. The Cowboys have a difficult season-opener of their own (vs. Mississippi State in Houston), but their toughest road conference games are against West Virginia and the Longhorns. TCU won't go down without a fight, but I think Gundy and the Cowboys lasso another Big 12 title this fall.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-50-running-backs-bcs-era
Body:

Greatness is defined in so many different ways. Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.

So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest running backs of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 50 ball carriers since the BCS was implemented in 1998:

Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter at @AthlonSports, using the hashtag #AthlonRB50.

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Stats: 747 att., 4,045 yds, 41 TD, 24 rec., 198 yds, TD

The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time first-team All-Big 12 runner finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards was an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS era. He rushed for 970 yards for the Vikings in 2011 in a season shortened by a torn ACL, the only time since high school that A.D. hasn’t rushed for at least 1,000 yards. He is the Sooners No. 3 all-time leading rusher.

2. Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98)
Stats: 1,011 att., 6,279 yds, 72 TD, 85 rec., 927 yds, 3 TD

One of Williams’ spectacular seasons took place during the BCS era so he is eligible. The power back from San Diego gave fans in Austin a preview of things to come when he rushed for 990 yards as a true freshman fullback. His two-year run as an upperclassmen may never be matched as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns.

3. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99)
Stats: 1,220 att., 7,125 yds, 71 TD, 31 rec., 304 yds

Williams’ NCAA rushing record didn’t last for very long as the New Jersey native came along the next year to break the record held by Williams and, before that, by Pitt's Tony Dorsett and Ohio State's Archie Griffin. Dayne is the only player in history with 7,000 yards rushing and is one of four players to score at least 70 rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball more than any player in history (1,220) and he owns multiple BCS bowl rushing records with his two Rose Bowl MVP performances. He capped his illustrious career with a 2,000-yard Heisman Trophy and Big Ten championship season. The consensus All-American won Big Ten Player of the Year, Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker recognition in his final season in Madison.

4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2005-07)
Stats: 785 att., 4,590 yds, 41 TD, 46 rec., 365 yds, 2 TD (2, 2)

When it comes to pure breakaway speed and big play ability, few can match Run-DMC’s talent. The North Little Rock prospect finished second in Heisman balloting in back-to-back seasons, coming up just short to Troy Smith in 2006 and Tim Tebow in 2007. McFadden won the Doak Walker and SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards in both consensus All-American seasons. His 4,590 yards is No. 2 all-time in SEC history to only Herschel Walker. He helped lead Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game in 2006 but came up short against eventual national champion Florida.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU (1997-00)
Stats: 943 att., 5,387 yds, 43 TD, 43 rec., 267

Tomlinson might be the greatest NFL running back in history so some may feel he is getting slighted for being No. 5 on this list. The mid-level recruit from Rosebud (Texas) Waco had one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. After two solid but uneventful seasons, L.T. took over the national scene as a junior with 1,974 yards and 20 touchdowns, including the NCAA single-game rushing record of 406 yards against UTEP. He backed that up with another 2,158 yards and 22 scores, winning the Doak Walker, his second WAC Offensive Player of the Year award, consensus All-American honors and a fourth place finish in the Heisman voting. He scored 162 TDs in his NFL career.

6. Reggie Bush, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 433 att., 3,169 yds, 25 TD, 95 rec., 1,301 yds, 13 TD, 2,081 ret. yds, 3 TD

The superstar recruit from La Mesa (Calif.) Helix brought a unique skill set to the evolving running back position. Sort of a first of his kind, the all-purpose talent was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He played a prominent role on the 2003 National Championship team before providing 908 yards rushing, 509 yards receiving, nearly 1,000 return yards and 15 total touchdowns during USC’s 2004 romp to a second national title. He exploded as a junior, rushing for 1,740 yards on a ridiculous 8.7 yards per carry and scoring 19 total touchdowns, coming up just short of his third national title. He earned his second consecutive Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award as well as the Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Heisman Trophy. His career 7.3 per carry average is fourth all-time and his legacy is only vaguely tarnished by the scandal that put USC on probation and caused him to "return" his Heisman.

7. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04)
Stats: 815 att., 4,979 yds, 45 TD, 66 rec., 609 yds, 2 TD, 1,224 ret yds, TD

Few players have ever been as valuable to their school as the diminutive Sproles was to Kansas State. The all-purpose dynamo rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and he helped lead the Wildcats to an improbable Big 12 championship in 2003. His 323 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns against Oklahoma in the title game will go down in history as arguably the greatest single game performance by any Wildcat in history. The Sunflower State native finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year and has proven himself by carving out an extremely productive niche in the NFL as an all-purpose talent.

8. Ray Rice, Rutgers (2005-07)
Stats: 910 att., 4,926 yds, 49 TD, 37 rec., 334 yds, TD

Much like Sproles, Rice meant more to his team and university than most everyone else on this list. He rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in three years after back-to-back seasons with at least 335 carries, 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is second all-time in rushing yards and carries in Big East history and has developed into one of the most talented running backs in the NFL. A stout lower body has allowed the smaller back from unlikely New Rochelle (N.Y.) High to withstand the punishment of being a true workhorse, making him one of the game’s most talented players.

9. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-12)
Stats: 924 att., 5,140 yds, 77 TD, 59 rec., 598 yds, 6 TD

Ball won’t be confused with the most talented running backs of the BCS era but few have been as successful and productive. No one player in the history of the sport has scored as many touchdowns (77 rushing, 83 total) as the Missouri native. He also finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as a junior and won the Doak Walker as senior while leading the Badgers to three straight Big Ten championships. His 39 touchdowns in 2011 tied Barry Sanders for the all-time single-season record and Ball earned consensus All-American honors in both seasons.

10. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis (2002-05)
Stats: 969 att., 6,026 yds, 55 TD, 70 rec., 723 yds, 5 TD, 824 ret yds

Not many players have claimed three conference player of the year honors but the Wynne (Ark.) High prospect did so in Conference USA for Memphis. He finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting in 2005 after his second straight 1,900-yard season. He is one of only three players with at least 6,000 yards rushing and he scored 60 total touchdowns during his career. Only once (2003) did Williams not average more than 6.0 yards per carry.

Related: The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

11. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04)
Stats: 1,112 att., 5,540 yds, 64 TD, 69 rec., 621 yds, 3 TD (6, 6)

The Longhorns running back is one of the most productive running backs in history. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting two separate times and is one of only six players to score at least 60 rushing touchdowns. The Midland (Texas) Lee star posted four season of at least 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns while in Austin.

12. Trent Richardson, Alabama (2009-11)
Stats: 540 att., 3,130 yds, 35 TD, 68 rec., 730 yds, 7 TD, 720 ret. yds, TD (3)

Richardson is one of the most physically imposing running backs to ever play the game. The Pensacola product only started for one season but became the only SEC running back to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. He won two national titles and is one of the rarest combinations of size, speed and agility.

13. Mark Ingram, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 572 att., 3,261 yds, 42 TD, 60 rec., 670 yds, 4 TD

Ingram is the only Heisman winner in Alabama’s storied history, and he might not have been the best back on his own team. From Flint, Mich., Ingram led Bama to the national championship in 2009 with 1,658 yards and 17 scores. It was his only 1,000-yard season while in Tuscaloosa. No Bama player has scored more rushing touchdowns than Ingram.

14. C.J. Spiller, Clemson (2006-09)
Stats: 606 att., 3,547 yds, 32 TD, 123 rec., 1,420 yds, 11 TD, 2,621 ret. yds, 8 TD

Versatility and explosiveness are the words that come to mind when dealing with Spiller. With elite burst and big-play ability, Clemson used Spiller as a multi-faceted weapon. He is No. 2 in ACC history in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns and is the NCAA’s all-time leader with seven kickoff return touchdowns.

15. LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11)
Stats: 771 att., 5,082 yds, 53 TD, 51 rec., 586 yds, 4 TD

Few players accomplished more in three seasons than James. Three straight 1,500-yard campaigns, a Doak Walker Award, consensus All-American honors and a trip to the BCS title game make the speedy and allusive back one of the BCS era’s greatest tailbacks. The Texarkana, Texas, native finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010 and 10th in 2011.

16. Steven Jackson, Oregon State (2000-03)
Stats: 743 att., 3,625 yds, 39 TD, 66 rec., 680 yds, 6 TD

From a pure talent standpoint, Jackson is the best Oregon State player of all-time and is one of the most talented runners of the BCS era. The Las Vegas native led the nation in rushing two straight seasons and owns the OSU single-season rushing record. He has eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL for a team that rarely pressed for the postseason.

17. Larry Johnson, Penn State (1999-02)
Stats: 460 att., 2,953 yds, 26 TD, 65 rec., 681 yds, 7 TD, 1,181 ret. yds, 3 TD (3)

The State College  prospect only started for one season, but that one year was special. He rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns on 7.7 yards per carry in '02, earning consensus All-American honors as well as winning the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and brought elite size and speed to the backfield.

18. Toby Gerhart, Stanford (2006-09)
Stats: 671 att., 3,522 yds, 44 TD, 39 rec., 395 yds

The Norco (Calif.) High prospect had just 515 yards and one touchdown entering his junior year. In two years as the starter, Gerhart posted 43 rushing touchdowns and over 3,000 yards in his final two seasons. He won the Doak Walker and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year awards and earned consensus All-American honors by leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (28), attempts (343) and yards (1,871).

19. Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (1999-02)
Stats: 714 att., 3,842 yds, 43 TD, 154 rec., 1,282 yds, 7 TD

A steady performer in both the running and receiving game, Griffin blossomed as a superstar in his senior season. He rushed for 783 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 45 passes for the unbeaten 2000 National Champions before exploding in his final season in 2002. He finished 10th in the Heisman voting after 1,884 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns in 2002. 

20. Shaun Alexander, Alabama (1996-99)
Stats: 727 att., 3,565 yds, 41 TD, 62 rec., 798 yds, 8 TD

Alexander was a steady, four-year player at Alabama. The Florence, Ky., talent is the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history and he capped his career with an SEC Offensive Player of the Year season when he scored 23 total touchdowns and rushed for a career high 1,383 yards rushing in 1999.

21. Steve Slaton, West Virginia (2005-07)
Stats: 664 att., 3,923 yds, 50 TD, 65 rec., 805 yds, 5 TD (4)

The mid-level recruit from Pennsylvania showed college coaches around the nation what they missed on by rushing for at least 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in each of his three seasons. His speed and big-play potential fit perfectly in Rich Rodriguez’s zone read scheme, and had he not left early for the NFL, would have rewritten the WVU record books.

22. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech (2001-03)
Stats: 616 att., 3,475 yds, 35 TD, 24 rec., 229 yds 

Jones was one of the most important signings of the Frank Beamer era out of Chester, Pa. His talent was obvious from day one as he nearly topped 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. His 1,647-yard, 21-TD junior year earned him consensus All-American honors and led him to depart early for the NFL. Jones was the first in a long line of elite Hokies running backs.

23. Avon Cobourne, West Virginia (1999-02)
Stats: 1,023 att., 5,039 yds, 42 TD, 57 rec., 459 yds

The Big East’s all-time leading rusher burst onto the scene with a 1,138-yard, 10-TD season as a true freshman in 1999. The Camden, N.J., prospect capped his stellar four-year starting career with a 1,710-yard, 17-TD season as a senior. The short but burly back was a true workhorse who still sits atop the Mountaineers all-time rushing list.

24. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Stats: 759 att., 3,685 yds, 50 TD, 157 rec., 1,571 yds, 13 TD, 1,462 ret. yds, 2 TD

An underrated talent from Las Vegas, Murray was as productive across the board as any player in Sooners history. He is sixth in school history in rushing, first in total touchdowns, fixth in receptions and No. 1 in all-purpose yards.

25. Chris Perry, Michigan (2000-03)
Stats: 794 att., 3,657 yds, 39 TD, 64 rec., 569 yds, 2 TD

Perry capped a solid Michigan career with an elite Doak Walker-winning, Heisman finalist season in 2003. He claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and was a consensus All-American. Perry touched the ball 382 times on offense for 2,041 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season.

26. Marshawn Lynch, Cal (2004-06)
Stats: 490 att., 3,230 yds, 29 TD, 68 rec., 600 yds, 6 TD, 744 ret yds 

Beast mode started back in Berkeley where Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry over a three-year college career. He never had one elite season but his 1,684-yards from scrimmage, 15-total touchdown season led to a Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2006. His power and speed was obvious ever since he signed with Cal out of Oakland (Calif.) Technical.

27. Cadillac Williams, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 741 att., 3,831 yds, 45 TD, 45 rec., 342 yds, TD, 911 ret. yds 

He never got the ball all to himself and that likely keeps him from being in the top 25. He topped out in 2003 with 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns before his second 1,000-yard season during the unbeaten 2004 campaign. He has scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in school history and is No. 2 to only Bo Jackson in rushing. 

28. Michael Turner, Northern Illinois (2000-03)
Stats: 940 att., 4,941 yds, 43 TD, 43 rec., 451 yds, 3 TD, 646 ret. yds, 2 TD

Turner the Burner was a star in DeKalb before blossoming as an NFL workhorse. He had three seasons with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage and at least two with 1,900 yards from scrimmage. He isn’t the MAC’s all-time leading rusher, but he is the league’s most talented running back alum.

29. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State (2008-10)
Stats: 788 att., 3,877 yds, 46 TD, 151 rec., 1,056 yds, 5 TD

Little “Quizz” defied logic by producing at workhorse levels despite his 5-foot-7 stature. He carried at least 250 times in all three seasons and never rushed for less than 1,184 yards. He also averaged over 50 receptions per season and won the 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award.

30. Ken Simonton, Oregon State (1998-01)
Stats: 1,023 att., 4,959 yds, 58 TD, 58 rec., 472 yds, TD

A four-year starter who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each season prior to his senior year. He set the school's single-season rushing record (since broken) and is the all-time leading rusher at a program known for its running backs.

Related: The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

31. Maurice Jones-Drew, UCLA (2003-05)
Stats: 481 att., 2,503 yds, 26 TD, 64 rec., 819 yds, 7 TD, 1,366 ret. yds, 6 TD
Formerly Maurice Drew, the UCLA tailback was a consensus All-American in 2005, yet never rushed for more than 1,007 yards in any season. An all-around talent.

32. Anthony Thomas, Michigan (1997-00)
Stats: 867 att., 4,230 yds, 52 TD, 79 rec., 762 yds, TD
Michigan's No. 4 rusher with three straight seasons with at least 15 rushing TDs. Was a big part of the Wolverines unbeaten national title as a freshman.

33. Michael Hart, Michigan (2004-07)
Stats: 1,015 att., 5,040 yds, 41 TD, 67 rec., 566 yds, 2 TD
Michigan's all-time leading rusher was a consistent overachiever. The hard worker got the most of his ability led his team to two Rose Bowls.

34. Kevin Smith, UCF (2005-07)
Stats: 905 att., 4,679 yds, 45 TD, 55 rec., 444 yds, TD
Posted the NCAA's No. 2 season with 2,567 yards on an NCAA record 450 carries to go with 29 rushing touchdowns. Level of competition is only knock.

35. Thomas Jones, Virginia (1996-99)
Stats: 823 att., 4,065 yds, 37 TD, 72 rec., 578 yds, 4 TD
A consensus All-American who finished eighth in the Heisman voting ('99) and is Virginia's all-time leading rusher.

36. Willis McGahee, Miami (2001-02)
Stats: 349 att., 2,067 yds, 31 TD, 28 rec., 355 yds
One-year starter who was a consensus All-American, conference player of the year and finished fourth in the Heisman while leading Miami to a second BCS title game in a row.

37. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois (2004-06)
Stats: 807 att., 5,164 yds, 52 TD, 58 rec., 588 yds, 5 TD
Explosive tailback who posted career LOWS of 242 carries, 1,580 yards and 16 TDs (all in 2005). Could have been an all-time great had he not left early.

38. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (2009-12)
Stats: 843 att., 4,300 yds, 40 TD, 97 rec., 778 yds, 5 TD
Workhorse back who is Stanford's all-time leading rusher after three straight seasons with at least 250 touches. Is No. 1 all-time in total touchdowns scored (45) at Stanford.

39. Shonn Greene, Iowa (2005-08)
Stats: 376 att., 2,228 yds, 22 TD, 11 rec., 72 yds
Posted one elite Doak Walker-winning season after having to leave Iowa for community college for one year. A consensus All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

40. LenDale White, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 541 att., 3,159 yds, 52 TD, 31 rec., 331 yds, 5 TD
Leads USC all-time in rushing touchdowns and was the perfect compliment to Reggie Bush for two national championship teams.

41. Travis Prentice, Miami (OH) (1996-99)
Stats: 1,138 att., 5,596 yds, 73 TD, 54 rec., 522 yds, 5 TD

42. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (2010-12)
Stats: 555 att., 2,677 yds, 38 TD, 74 rec., 767 yds, 3 TD

43. Kevin Faulk, LSU (1995-98)
Stats: 856 att., 4,557 yds, 46 TD, 53 rec., 600 yds, 4 TD

44. Ian Johnson, Boise State (2005-08)
Stats: 752 att., 4,184 yds, 58 TD, 60 rec., 642 yds, 1 TD

45. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (2007-08)
Stats: 498 att., 2,734 yds, 30 TD, 53 rec., 645 yds, 2 TD

46. J.J. Arrington, Cal (2003-04)
Stats: 396 att., 2,625 yds, 20 TD, 42 rec., 299 yds, 3 TD

47. Chris Brown, Colorado (2001-02)
Stats: 493 att., 2,787 yds, 35 TD, 11 rec., 76 yds

48. Doug Martin, Boise State (2007-11)
Stats: 617 att., 3,431 yds, 43 TD, 67 rec., 715 yds, 4 TD, 739 ret. yds, TD

49. Javon Ringer, Michigan State (2005-08)
Stats: 843 att., 4,398 yds, 34 TD, 96 rec., 719 yds, TD

50. Damien Anderson, Northwestern (1998-01)
Stats: 925 att., 4,336 yds, 37 TD, 54 rec., 490 yds

The Next 50:

51. Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech: 587 att., 3,241 yds, 50 TD, 303 rec., 2,058 yds, 19 TD
52. Luke Staley, BYU: 418 att., 2,493 yds, 41 TD, 86 rec., 1,000 yds, 7 TD
53. Matt Forte, Tulane: 833 att., 4,265 yds, 39 TD, 103 rec., 985 yds, 5 TD
54. Chris Johnson, East Carolina: 624 att., 2,982 yds, 32 TD, 125 rec., 1,296 yds, 10 TD, 2,715 ret. yds, TD
55. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: 423 att., 2,481 yds, 25 TD, 92 rec., 852 yds, 6 TD
56. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 788 att., 4,403 yds, 31 TD, 58 rec., 517 yds, 3 TD
57. Laurence Maroney, Minnesota: 660 att., 3,933 yds, 32 TD, 21 rec., 197 yds, TD, 667 ret. yds, TD
58. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona: 394 att., 2,354 yds, 29 TD, 51 rec., 506 yds, 3 TD, 565 ret. yds
59. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky: 895 att., 4,542 yds, 35 TD, 80 rec., 682 yds, 5 TD, 1,682 ret yds 
60. Lee Suggs, Virginia Tech: 535 att., 2,767 yds, 53 TD, 15 rec., 171 yds, 3 TD
61. Donald Brown, UConn: 698 att., 3,800 yds, 33 TD, 48 rec., 276 yds, 2 TD
62. Edgerrin James, Miami: 497 att., 2,960 yds, 32 TD, 42 rec., 595 yds, 3 TD
63. Jamaal Charles, Texas: 533 att., 3,328 yds, 36 TD, 49 rec., 539 yds, 3 TD
64. LeSean McCoy, Pitt: 584 att., 2,816 yds, 35 TD, 65 rec., 549 yds, TD
65. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: 534 att., 3,280 yds, 39 TD, 19 rec., 268 yds, 2 TD
66. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State: 910 att., 3,994 yds, 42 TD, 56 rec., 449 yds, 4 TD 
67. Chris Wells, Ohio State: 585 att., 3,382 yds, 30 TD, 15 rec., 84 yds
68. Bernard Pierce, Temple: 663 att., 3,570 yds, 53 TD, 19 rec., 178 yds, TD
69. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: 403 att., 2,132 yds, 30 TD, 26 rec., 289 yds, 2 TD
70. Jamal Lewis, Tennessee: 487 att., 2,677 yds, 17 TD, 39 rec., 475 yds, 4 TD
71. Ronnie Brown, Auburn: 513 att., 2,707 yds, 28 TD, 58 rec., 668 yds, 2 TD
72. Brock Forsey, Boise State: 813 att., 4,045 yds, 50 TD, 101 rec., 1,175 yds, 18 TD, 1,113 ret. yds
73. Travis Henry, Tennessee: 556 att., 3,078 yds, 26 TD, 20 rec., 99 yds 
74. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State: 708 att., 4,181 yds, 37 TD, 63 rec., 519 yds, 2 TD
75. Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 582 att., 3,623 yds, 41 TD, 54 rec., 591 yds, 7 TD, 1,634 ret. yds, 2 TD
76. Chris Barclay, Wake Forest: 840 att., 4,032 yds, 40 TD, 62 rec., 381 yds, 517 ret. yds
77. Brian Calhoun, Colorado/Wisconsin: 619 att., 2,760 yds, 27 TD, 90 rec., 909 yds, 4 TD
78. Michael Bush, Louisville: 435 att., 2,508 yds, 39 TD, 50 rec., 651 yds, 2 TD
79. Maurice Clarett, Ohio State: 222 att., 1,237 yds, 16 TD, 12 rec., 104 yds, 2 TD
80. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech: 517 att., 3,226 yds, 35 TD, 15 rec., 263 yds, TD 
81. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: 462 att., 2,662 yds, 18 TD, 37 rec., 363 yds, 5 TD, 1,324 ret. yds, 2 TD
82. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon: 516 att., 2,891 yds, 27 TD, 49 rec., 334 yds, 4 TD, 1,664 ret. yds, 2 TD
83. Felix Jones, Arkansas: 386 att., 2,956 yds, 20 TD, 39 rec., 383 yds, 3 TD, 1,760 ret. yds, 4 TD
84. James Davis, Clemson: 753 att., 3,881 yds, 47 TD, 51 rec., 441 yds, 2 TD
85. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: 581 att., 3,143 yds, 30 TD, 46 rec., 415 yds
86. Andre Ellington, Clemson: 621 att., 3,436 yds, 33 TD, 59 rec., 505 yds, 2 TD, 645 ret. yds, TD 
87. Robbie Rouse, Fresno State: 898 att., 4,647 yds, 37 TD, 110 rec., 794 yds, 5 TD
88. Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss: 1,009 att., 5,302 yds, 44 TD, 109 rec., 904 yds, 2 TD
89. Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State: 876 att., 3,862 yds, 38 TD, 118 rec., 790 yds, 3 TD
90. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska: 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TD, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TD
91. Anthony Davis, Wisconsin: 908 att., 4,676 yds, 42 TD, 22 rec., 198 yds
92. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: 564 att., 3,085 yds, 40 TD, 108 rec., 917 yds, 3 TD
93. Noel Devine, West Virginia: 729 att., 4,317 yds, 29 TD, 98 rec., 710 yds, 2 TD, 736 ret. yds
94. Marion Barber, Minnesota: 575 att., 3,276 yds, 35 TD, 21 rec., 190 yds, 1,029 ret. yds
95. William Green, Boston College: 501 att., 2,974 yds, 33 TD, 31 rec., 343 yds, 2 TD
96. Evan Royster, Penn State: 686 att., 3,932 yds, 29 TD, 61 rec., 562 yds, 3 TD
97. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: 545 att., 2,850 yds, 30 TD, 52 rec., 428 yds
98. Chester Taylor, Toledo: 803 att., 4,646 yds, 55 TD, 61 rec., 554 yds, 5 TD
99. Lamont Jordan, Maryland: 807 att., 4,147 yds, 36 TD, 76 rec., 737 yds, TD
100. Dontrell Moore, New Mexico: 1,028 yds, 4,973 yds, 51 TD, 92 rec., 857 yds, 8 TD


Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter (@AthlonSports), using the hashtag #AthlonRB50

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/michigan-favorite-2013-legends-division-title
Body:

With four teams battling for the top spot, the Legends Division should be one of the most competitive title races in college football this season.

Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern each have a strong case to be ranked No. 1 in the division next year, but each team is chasing Ohio State in the overall Big Ten standings.

Nebraska claimed the division title last season, but the Cornhuskers enter 2013 with significant question marks on defense. Nebraska isn’t the only team dealing with its share of preseason issues, as Michigan has holes to fill on the offensive line and developing more skill players for quarterback Devin Gardner, Northwestern must replace a couple of key performers from its offensive line, and Michigan State has to develop consistency on offense after averaging only 20 points a game last season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Michigan is a favorite in the Legends, but not the runaway favorite Ohio State is in the Leaders Division. Let’s not forget Nebraska won this division a year ago thanks to a 23-9 win over Michigan. I understand this was a game in which Denard Robinson got hurt before halftime, but Nebraska’s defense was a mess last season. Michigan managed only two field goals with Robinson and then a third thereafter with Russell Bellamy, not Devin Gardner, throwing three interceptions. The Wolverines should continue to improve, but we’re all assuming Gardner is going to be a standout player through the course of the season. What if he’s not? Nebraska has the more proven offense that led the league in rushing and total offense. I don’t think Northwestern is out of the Legends Division race, either. In other words, I’ll pick Michigan, but there are too many other things that could happen to make it a slam dunk.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Just because I think Michigan is the frontrunner in the Legends Division doesn't make them my pick to win it. Brady Hoke enters his third season with a quarterback that finally fits his system in Devin Gardner. Getting Taylor Lewan back to protect the blindside helps in a big way as well. That said, there are still minor questions along the line, in the running game and outside at wide receiver. The defense continues to evolve under Hoke, going from fourth in the Big Ten in total defense to second a year ago. There is a lot to like about the Maize and Blue and the odds will favor the Wolverines to win the Division this fall, however, the schedule is downright nasty. Home games with Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State will be brutal while road trips to Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa won't be easy. Meanwhile, Nebraska features the league's best offense and won't have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin in crossover play. With two fairly evenly matched teams led by two electric senior quarterbacks, this division should be one of the most entertaining to watch all season long. A home win or loss against Ohio State in the season finale will likely determine if Michigan heads to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis or not.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern all have legitimate Legends Division title hopes. But even though the Wolverines are a team with plenty of question marks, I like Brady Hoke’s team to win the division in 2013.

With only 11 starters returning, Hoke and his staff have some work to do this preseason. Quarterback Devin Gardner is a rising star, and the offense caught a break when tackle Taylor Lewan decided to turn down the NFL for his senior year in Ann Arbor. The biggest question mark for Michigan’s offense has to be skill players. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is coming off a broken leg, which should open the door for true freshman Derrick Green to make an instant impact. Jeremy Gallon was a big-play threat last year, but the Wolverines need to develop more playmakers on the outside. The interior of the offensive line is an issue with only two starters returning.

Although linebacker Jake Ryan may miss the season with a torn ACL, I think Michigan’s defense will rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. Finding a pass rusher to replace Craig Roh is coordinator Greg Mattison’s top spring priority, but the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL - and the emergence of linebacker James Ross III  - that should be enough to withstand Ryan’s injury and the lack of a proven edge rusher.

The Big Ten schedule is challenging, especially with road dates at Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern and a home matchup against Ohio State in the regular season finale. Considering how competitive the Big Ten Legends Division will be in 2013, two or three conference losses could win the division. In terms of overall record, Michigan could finish 9-3 and play Ohio State once again in the Big Ten title for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl.
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com andNittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
Michigan is quite an interesting team in the Big Ten in 2013. They lose a good chunk of starters on both sides of the football, including a good portion of the offensive line and that concerns me in a year when the offense may be short on skill player depth. But the offense should have a new look this year and for that I think the Wolverines will be better suited to make a run to Indianapolis.  They must get back to basics on offense and trim down on the turnovers after finsihing 10th in the Big Ten in turnover differential in 2012. If they can establish a healthy ground game with a healthy Fitzgerald Toussaint and incoming stud freshman Derrick Green to take the pressure off of quarterback Devin Gardner, the Wolverines should be able to pick up a number of wins.  But are they the favorite?

I look at Michigan's schedule and I see some tough hurdles to get by, highlighted by a home game in the regular season finale against an Ohio State team I expect to conference's best. Michigan also gets their next toughest game in conference play at home, against Nebraska. Michigan also plays at Penn State in October. But there be no team in the Big Ten playing a more brutal November schedule. Road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa combined with the home games against the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers means if Michigan comes out on top of the Legends Division, they will undoubtedly have earned it.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
There are four teams in the discussion when it comes to contenders in the Legends Division - Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern. Sorry, Iowa and Minnesota fans, not this year. The first team I am eliminating is the Spartans. As much as I like that defense, I think MSU will struggle on offense, as there are questions at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be solid, but last time I checked they don't throw, run or catch the football.

Next on my chopping block is Northwestern. I really want to like this team more, as I am big fan of coach Pat Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats drew a tough conference slate this season. Not only do they play both Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders division, these two games are in a row. Northwestern should make it six straight bowl bids with no problem, but I don't foresee a trip to the Big Ten championship game in its future, at least not in 2013.

That leaves us with Michigan and Nebraska. Both the Wolverines and Cornhuskers have potent offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks. And while Nebraska's Taylor Martinez clearly has the experience advantage over Michigan's Devin Gardner, who is entering his first season as the full-time starter, I think Gardner is better suited for the type of offense Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges want to run. If the Maize and Blue can find a reliable running game, I think Gardner could put up some decent numbers through the air.

As far as the respective defenses go, Michigan's has quickly developed into one of Big Ten's best under coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines lost some key pieces from last year's unit, which finished second in the conference and 13th in the nation in total defense, but the cupboard is far from bare with young talent ready to step up. On the other hand, Nebraska loses all but one starter from last season's front seven, which struggled at times against the run (192.5 ypg) in 2012. The secondary should be one of the best in the Big Ten, but I'm not as confident in the other levels of the Cornhuskers' defense.

There's also this - Michigan hosts Nebraska at the Big House on Nov. 9. While I'm typically inclined to take the home team in these types of matchups, that's especially the case here because of who will be walking the sidelines. At home or on the road, I'll take Hoke over Nebraska's Bo Pelini when it comes to head coaches. That's why I think Michigan fans will have plenty of reasons to head to Indianapolis in early December.


Related College Football Content

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Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013

Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 25 Pre-Spring Heisman Contenders

Teaser:
<p> Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 07:34
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-aarons-499-talladega
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to the Deep South this weekend to big, bad Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 499. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Goeffrey’s fantasy predictions for Talaldega ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:


A-List
1. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth has the most laps in the top-15 during the last 16 Talladega races of any driver (63 percent) and he’s the defending track winner. Of course, that was before the whole “three grams” incident.

2. Clint Bowyer
No one has scored more points at Talladega in the last 10 races than NASCAR’s favorite Kansan. Seven career Talladega top 10s with two wins in 14 starts isn’t shabby, either. He might even stop by your Talladega infield party.

3. Brad Keselowski
Two wins, three top 5s and six top 10s in his last eight Talladega races. Oh, and he's back in that familiar Blue Deuce instead of that bad luck red Richmond car.

4. Kevin Harvick
Don't sleep on how good Harvick and that No. 29 were at Daytona. Talladega's a great place to continue his anti-lame duck crusade.

5. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson basically has a whole race on the rest of the field in the point standings and, after Richmond, an angry Chad Knaus. Doesn't have a top 5 at Talladega since his win in 2011.

6. Jeff Gordon
Six-time Talladega winner seems to have gotten really good at making the wrong move just in time for the checkered flag at restrictor plate tracks. Still, how much can you bet against the sport's active Talladega wins and top-5 finishes leader?

7. Tony Stewart
He'll certainly block someone on Sunday, causing a stink thanks to his outspoken anti-blocking crusade of late. It's a bit hard to believe Stewart has just one top-15 finish at 'Dega since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.

8. Kasey Kahne
He might have an average Talladega finish of 20.3, but his last three Talladega races have produced a slightly better average of 7.3.

9. Denny Hamlin
Even if starts the race, he's not finishing it thanks to the back issues. Still, if you pick Hamlin, he starts the race, and then his substitute driver pulls off a miracle, you'll get full points Sunday. Of all the places it could happen, Talladega is it.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 20:22

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