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Path: /college-basketball/reviewing-athlons-top-25-college-basketball-freshmen-2012

Even by recruiting class standards, the top prospects of 2012 ran the gamut.

On one hand, the class produced the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in UNLV’s Anthony Bennett (though fellow freshman Nerlens Noel of Kentucky seemed the more likely pick until draft day). On the other, it produced one bona fide bust in Alabama’s Devonta Pollard, who has already withdrawn from school amid legal issues.

The 2012 class gave us everything in between, including eight early entries to the NBA Draft. All eight early entries were drafted, though two will not receive guaranteed contracts after going in the second round.

For the 2013-14 season, the 2012 recruiting class will have its share of stars like Marcus Smart, a high-profile transfer in Rodney Purvis and a handful of wait-and-see projects.

Now that the draft is complete and teams are starting to look ahead to 2013-14, this is a good time to look back at how Athlon Sports’ top 25 recruits for the class of 2012 fared in the last year.


1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Freshman recap: Noel was a top candidate to be the national defensive player of the year, averaging 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals. He also crept close to averaging a double double at 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds before a season-ending torn ACL against Florida on Feb. 12. His presence kept Kentucky in NCAA Tournament contention, but the Wildcats lost four of their last five without Noel, including a loss to Robert Morris in the NIT. Despite his injury, Noel was the SEC’s freshman of the year and defensive player of the year.
For 2013-14: Considered a potential No. 1 overall pick, Noel slipped to sixth in the NBA Draft, selected by the New Orleans Pelicans before being traded to Philadelphia.

2. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Freshman recap: Muhammad began his season ineligible as the NCAA investigated impermissible benefits. He finished the season as it was revealed he was a year older than his father had been claiming. In between, Muhammad was named the Pac-12’s co-freshman of the year while averaging 17.9 points per game.
For 2013-14: Muhammad was the final pick in the lottery, drafted 14th overall by Utah before being traded to Minnesota. That’s probably a lower spot than was envisioned for Muhammad out of high school, but he became UCLA’s highest draft pick since Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love went fourth and fifth in 2008.

3. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Freshman recap:
Austin averaged 13 points and 8.3 rebounds for a disappointing Baylor team. The Bears won the NIT, but Baylor was expected to contend for a Big 12 title (Athlon ranked Baylor second in the Big 12 and 17th nationally). Austin, a 7-1 center, was expected to declare for the NBA Draft before surgery to repair a torn labrum meant he would not be able to participate in workouts. Austin instead elected to return to school.
For 2013-14: Hopes will be high again for a talented Baylor team. Austin will team with Cory Jefferson and Ricardo Gathers for one of the nation’s top frontcourts.

4. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Freshman recap:
Anderson wasn’t UCLA’s top-scoring freshman (that was Muhammad) or most important freshman (Jordan Adams), but he was the most well-rounded. Anderson averaged 9.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a rookie, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team.
For 2013-14: Muhammad is gone, as is point guard Larry Drew II. New coach Steve Alford will look to Anderson to take the next step from one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players to simply one of the league’s best. The 6-foot-9 Anderson could take over point guard duties with Drew gone. Muhammad and Drew enabled UCLA to run a faster offense, but Alford likely will run things at a slower tempo.

5. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Freshman recap:
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon historically hasn’t relied much on freshmen. That was the case even with Adams, one of the most high profile recruits to sign with the Panthers. Adams averaged 7.2 points and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds per game.
For 2013-14: The seven-foot New Zealander shot up draft boards before being selected 12th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

6. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Freshman recap:
Tarczewski started all season, averaging 6.9 points and 6.1 rebounds as a back-to-the-basket center.
For 2013-14: Tarczewski will be a part of a stellar frontcourt on a potential top-five team with the 6-8 star freshman Aaron Gordon and 6-8 sophomore Brandon Ashley. A major progression for the seven-footer could make him an NBA Draft candidate.

7. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
Freshman recap:
Like the rest of Kentucky, Poythress endured a disappointing season. His minutes dipped through SEC play, when he averaged 9.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds.
For 2013-14: Kentucky coach John Calipari would like to see Poythress improve his consistency and maturity as a sophomore. Poythress shot 58.1 percent from the field, but he had his slumps (1 of 9 against Florida, 0 of 3 against Texas A&M, 3 of 9 against Vanderbilt). With a freshman cast capable of contending for a title, Kentucky will need Poythress to be one of the few veteran influences.

8. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Freshman recap:
Bennett was in contention for national freshman of the year before inconsistent results in Mountain West play. Bennett averaged 12.1 points in conference games, but failed to score in double figures seven times against MWC competition.
For 2013-14: The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the first shock of the draft when they picked Bennett No. 1 rather than Nerlens Noel or Maryland’s Alex Len.

9. Grant Jerrett, Arizona
Freshman recap:
Jerrett turned in a lackluster debut season with 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
For 2013-14: His decision to leave for the NBA Draft was a surprising one, but Jerrett’s gamble resulted in being a second-round pick. Jerrett saw limited playing time as freshman, a trend that may have continued as a sophomore.

10. Brandon Ashley, Arizona
Freshman recap:
Like Tarczewski and Jerrett, Ashley’s contributions were limited on a veteran team with Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson. Ashley averaged 6.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in conference play.
For 2013-14: Part of the reason the Wildcats will be a preseason favorite in the Pac-12 is the predicted improvement in the frontcourt with he and Tarczewski expected to take a major step as sophomores. He struggled in USA Basketball’s Under-19 tryouts, which could either be a motivator for offseason improvements or a troubling sign for his second season.

11. Cameron Ridley, Texas
Freshman recap:
Ridley had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to UCLA on Dec. 8 but was rarely a factor for the remainder of the season despite shedding weight when he arrived on campus. That was the last time all season he scored in double figures.
For 2013-14: Texas is in trouble with Myck Kabongo leaving for the Draft and a pair of transfers (Sheldon McClellan and Jaylen Bond) heading out of Austin. The Longhorns can ill-afford a top recruit on the roster who’s struggling to provide 10 minutes per game.

12. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Freshman recap:
Duke didn’t need Sulaimon to carry the Blue Devils, but he proved to be capable enough at times. He scored 21 against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament, 27 against Boston College and 25 against Maryland. He also had his freshman moments, going 0-for-10 in the first game without teammate Ryan Kelly against NC State and 1 of 10 in the Elite Eight against Louisville.
For 2013-14: Sulaimon will continue to be a standout perimeter defender, but Duke will look for him to improve from long distance (37.1 percent from 3-point range).

13. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Freshman recap:
Smart was everything Oklahoma State expected him to be, taking a leadership role from Day One and manning the point guard spot. he finished with 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game as Oklahoma State returned to the NCAA Tournament before running into a hot Oregon team in the round of 64.
For 2013-14: Smart surprisingly returned for his sophomore season when he could have been the first point guard taken in the NBA Draft. The Cowboys will challenge for a Big 12 title and more with Smart leading a nucleus of Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte. He’ll be on the short list for National Player of the Year honors when the season begins.

14. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Freshman recap:
Before the season started, there was talk Goodwin could be Kentucky’s best freshman. That never materialized, but Goodwin still averaged 14.1 points per game. He manned the point guard spot at times but finished with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio while shooting 26.6 percent on 64 3-point attempts for the season.
For 2013-14: Goodwin left school after one season to become the No. 29 pick in the NBA draft, selected by the Thunder and eventually landing with the Suns. He’s already been tapped as possible steal in the draft.

15. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Freshman recap:
A rare big-time recruit for Wisconsin, Dekker was in contention for Big Ten freshman of the year for most of the season. He finished with 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while rankings seventh in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage.
For 2013-14: Wisconsin is looking to Dekker to become the Badgers’ next great big man. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans are all gone, so the spotlight will be on Dekker.

16. Gary Harris, Michigan State
Freshman recap:
Like teammate Adreian Payne, Harris dabbled with going to the NBA Draft but elected to return to school to compete for a national title. Harris was one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, making 65-of-158 shots (41.1 percent) from long range.
For 2013-14: Harris played all of last season with a shoulder injury, and Michigan State still went 13-5 in the Big Ten. What can Michigan State do if he’s healthy?

17. Ricky Ledo, Providence
Freshman recap:
Ledo sat out his entire freshman season as a partial qualifier.
For 2013-14: Hopes were high Ledo would help lead Providence back to relevance even as he was not eligible to play, but he left for the NBA Draft despite not playing a game. He was a second-round pick.

18. Rodney Purvis, NC State
Freshman recap:
A disappointing season for NC State extended to Purvis, who was part of the inconsistency for the Wolfpack last season. Purvis was NC State’s sixth-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game.
For 2013-14: Purvis will sit out the season following his transfer to Connecticut.

19. DaJuan Coleman, Syracuse
Freshman recap:
Coleman started the first 20 games of the season but eventually watched his role diminish. He missed eight games following knee surgery in January and played a grand total of 26 minutes after his return.
For 2013-14: Like many rookie big men, Coleman is struggling to find his role, but the Orange have had success in developing centers in their latter years, most recently Fab Melo.

20. Tony Parker, UCLA
Freshman recap:
Parker struggled in his season under Ben Howland. A transfer wasn’t out of the question after Parker averaged 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 points.
For 2013-14: Parker elected to stay at UCLA to play for new coach Steve Alford, who will hope the leadership change will help Parker contribute more than 6.3 minutes per game.

21. Amile Jefferson, Duke
Freshman recap:
Jefferson watched his role increase dramatically when Ryan Kelly was injured in January. The forward scored in double figures in five of 11 games when he played regular minutes with Kelly out of the lineup.
For 2013-14: Kelly is gone for good, and so is Mason Plumlee. Jefferson has added weight since he arrived on campus with the goal of stabilizing Duke’s post presence.

22. Robert Carter, Georgia Tech
Freshman recap:
The hometown prospect helped Georgia Tech’s modest improvement in 2012-13. Carter was second on the Yellow Jackets at 9.9 points per game and 6.7 rebounds.
For 2013-14: With Carter plus Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech should start to contend for a postseason tournament in Brian Gregory’s third season.

23. Kris Dunn, Providence
Freshman recap:
A shoulder injury limited Dunn early in the season, and he never quite broke out. The guard finished with 5.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
For 2013-14: Vincent Council is gone, so coach Ed Cooley needs Dunn to assume point guard duties. Providence may be a postseason contender in 2013-14, but the Friars may wonder what could have happened if Ledo remained on the roster.

24. Semaj Christon, Xavier
Freshman recap:
Christon wasn’t fully healthy last season and still led Xavier wtih 15.2 points per game and 4.6 assists.
For 2013-14: The Atlantic 10 rookie of the year should keep Xavier in Big East contention even though the Musketeers missed the postseason a year ago. Christon is looking to become a more complete guard, both as a floor general and outside shooter.

25. Devonta Pollard, Alabama
Freshman recap:
Pollard averaged 3.9 points and didn’t score in double figures in SEC play or the NIT.
For 2013-14: Pollard withdrew from Alabama after being arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Pollard is accused of serving as the driver and an organizer to aid his mother in the kidnapping of a 6-year-old girl.

The Class of 2012 offered top draft picks, wait-and-see prospects and busts
Post date: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/young-ohio-state-fan-grant-reed-names-his-cancer-michigan-and-beats-it

Sometimes we are powerfully reminded of how important sports can be to us all. Especially, in the college sports world where connections between fans and favorite teams almost always rank as the most dedicated and committed in all of major American sports.

Grant Reed is a 12-year-old Ohio State fan whose parents, Troy and Denise, are clearly raising him correctly. Reed was released from the Columbus, Ohio area Nationwide Children's Hospital last Friday after a 10-week recovery period following a 16-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor back in May. All of this after months of chemotherapy.

Well, as only our children can, Reed has inspired and entertained all of us all by putting a new twist on his battle with cancer by naming his tumor “Michigan.” For roughly two years, Reed has fought his way through this horrifying situation to come out victorious against “that team up North.”

His father said when he was released on Friday, “Our prognosis is very good. It shows that he has indeed beat Michigan.”

Troy and Denise met in the Ohio State Marching Band in college and got engaged at a Buckeyes game in 1994. Obviously, the family is very proud of its favorite team. But both Michigan and Ohio State fans should be proud of their rivalry and what it meant to this 12-year old boy.

Reed will enter the 7th grade this fall.


Young Ohio State Fan Grant Reed Names His Cancer "Michigan"; and Beats It
Post date: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-10-2013

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 10.


It's the week of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. It's okay to link to, because it's, you know, sports. That's drag racer Ashley Force in the picture.


They take their bets seriously across the pond (NSFW ugly naked butt alert).


NFL thuggery has made its way to front offices across the league.


Who knew that a female athlete's toughest opponent is a part of her own anatomy? Also, boobehs!


• We all like to think we know what will happen in the SEC this season. In a twist on the old prediction game, here are five things that will happen down south this season, and here are five things that won't.


Speaking of the SEC, is it the villain of college football?


The Biebs continues to insert himself into sports-related situations. He must be stopped.


• Scary stuff: Anna Benson was armed for battle when she went to see Kris Benson. Hell hath no fury like a psycho chick scorned.


The Fourth was last week, but it's never not a good time to celebrate American heroes.


The LolMets strike again. They could screw up a one-car funeral.


• Miguel Montero gave rookie hot-shot Yasiel Puig the old "not in my house" treatment, complete with a Mutombo finger wag.



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

Post date: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 10:42
All taxonomy terms: Funny, NHL, Stanley Cup, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/justin-bieber-has-his-hands-stanley-cup

Apparently the Stanley Cup will pose with anyone these days. Peter Hassen, Sr. Director of Market Development and Community Affairs for the Chicago Blackhaws, tweeted out this picture of Justin Bieber (aka The Biebs) with the Stanley Cup.

If you listen carefully, you can hear hockey fans sobbing in the background.

Fortunately, Biebs is wearing sunglasses to shield the Cup from his awesomeness
Post date: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 08:59
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /college-football/clemson-football-game-game-predictions-2013

Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history, but the program’s sights are set even higher in 2013.

With quarterback Tajh Boyd turning down the NFL for one more year in Death Valley, the Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the ACC title. In addition to Boyd, Clemson returns 12 other starters, including receiver Sammy Watkins and a handful of key defenders.

With a favorable schedule, the Tigers are positioned to make a run at the national title. A Florida State team that’s reloading on both sides of the ball will be Clemson’s toughest ACC opponent, while Georgia and South Carolina are in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

If Clemson can navigate its schedule for a 13-0 mark, this team should be in a good position to play for the national title. With games against potential top-10 teams in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, the Tigers have opportunities for quality wins.

What will be Clemson’s record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates: 

Clemson's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions

GameSteven LassanBraden GallJohn CassilloMark RossDavid
8/31 Georgia
9/7 So. Carolina State
9/19 at NC State*
9/28 Wake Forest*
10/5 at Syracuse*
10/12 Boston College*
10/19 Florida State*
10/26 at Maryland*
11/2 at Virginia*
11/14 Ga. Tech*
11/23 The Citadel
11/30 at S. Carolina
Final Projection11-1 11-111-111-19-310-210-2

* Indicates ACC game.

John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), Atlantic Coast Convos
If you're an ACC team, this is exactly how you need to lay out your schedule in order to compete for a National Championship. The Georgia and South Carolina bookends keep you top-of-mind for the media at both the start and end of the season, making it very likely the Palmetto State will be hosting ESPN's College Gameday multiple times this season, too. Clemson also received a gift with a couple weeks or so in between each of the four real challenges on this slate (Georgia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina). I see Clemson going 1-1 against the two SEC teams, and while I picked them to beat UGA and lose to SC, you could easily flip that around, too. Unsure which is better for the team's title hopes, though: losing in the first or the last game. But with Tajh Boyd at quarterback, they may not have to worry about losing either contest.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The opener against Georgia is a toss-up, but the Bulldogs have a checkered past with some of these high-profile opening games (see: Boise State and Oklahoma State). I like Clemson at home with the Bulldogs missing safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Hard to believe Clemson hasn’t lost back-to-back games to Florida State in more than a decade, but I’ll take FSU coming off the bye week. The big surprise may be a loss to Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets give Clemson fits, handing the Tigers their first loss of 2011. Paul Johnson is 3-2 against Dabo Swinney, and Clemson has won seven of the last 10 overall.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Clemson might boast the best offense in the nation with an elite quarterback-wide receiver combination, a veteran offensive line and innovative play-caller pulling the strings. This team should be playing for an ACC title on Championship Saturday regardless of what happens in the two huge SEC bookends. The Tigers beat two such opponents last year — LSU and Auburn — and will have to do it again if it wants to be in the national title mix in 2013. While that seems unlikely, a one-loss, ACC title, BCS bowl bid campaign would have to be viewed as a major success.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson has to be considered one of the top-10 teams to have a chance to win the national championship this year. Even though Florida State has plenty of time to reload on both sides of the ball by Oct. 19, I don’t see the Tigers losing in conference play. And if Clemson runs the table in the ACC, it essentially sets up a two-game schedule to stay in the national title picture. With Georgia’s defense breaking in a handful of new starters, the Tigers are playing the Bulldogs at the right time in the season opener. However, Clemson has lost four straight to South Carolina, and I think the Gamecocks make it five in a row in 2013. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Nothing too surprising out of my projections for Clemson this season. I don't believe the Tigers will go a perfect 8-0 in league play during the regular season, but I had trouble identifying which game (or games) they will lose. If you are looking for a potential upset, watch out for the trip to Maryland in late October. The opener against Georgia is obviously a huge game for both teams. It's a good time to play Georgia — the Dawgs will be breaking in a bunch of new starters on defense and will be without linebacker/safety Josh Harvey-Clemons — but it will hard for the Clemson defense to slow down the Georgia offense, which can be devastating on the ground and through the air. 

Mark Ross
I like Clemson a lot this season, especially on offense. The ACC Atlantic Division will most likely come down to the Tigers and Seminoles, and I am giving Clemson the edge based on the game with FSU being at home. Clemson's national title hopes will come down to the two non-conference games against the SEC, which just so happen to bookend its regular season. I think it's too much to ask of this Tigers team to beat both SEC powerhouses, as I have some skepticism of just how improved Brent Venables' defense will be. So I am going to play it safe and give Clemson a split against Georgia and South Carolina with the win coming over the hated, in-state rival Gamecocks. I know that's how Dabo Swinney would want it if he had to choose between the two.

Related College Football Content

ACC Predictions for 2013
ACC 2013 All-Conference Team
ACC's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013
High Expectations Have Returned for Florida State
5 First-Year Starting QBs That Could Win the National Title
College Football's Top 15 Winners From Conference Realignment
College Football's Top 50 Defensive Linemen of the BCS Era
College Football's All-Freshmen Team for 2013
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Clemson Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Post date: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/12-amazing-mlb-stats-week-july-1-7
Homer Bailey twirls at no-no over the defending champs, the Cardinals finally get a sweep at home, Brian McCann breaks out, Mike Trout keeps doing his thing and maybe the Marlins aren’t so bad after all. These notable numbers and more amazing MLB stats from the week of July 1-7.
Homer Bailey.021 Batting average for Giants hitters off Homer Bailey in last two starts
It began with a seven-inning, one-hit outing in the playoffs last season. Then Bailey followed that with a no-hitter in his next appearance against the defending champs. Over his last two starts vs. the Giants, San Francisco batters are 1-for-47 with two walks against the righthander.
1 3-Game Sweep at Home for St. Louis
When the Cardinals finished off the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, it marked the first time this season that the Redbirds had swept a three-game series at home.
4.5 Largest Division Lead
The Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks are 4.5 games up in their divisions — the largest leads as of Sunday. Heading into the All-Star break next week, all six divisions are still very much in doubt. As many as 14 teams are within five games of leading their divisions.
.600 Brian McCann’s batting average last week
The Braves have been waiting for their catcher to break out this season, and last week he did just that. Batting an even .600 for the week, McCann raised his average from .250 to .304. He has multiple hits in his last four games.
20 Runs scored by Baltimore in last seven games
The Baltimore offense leads the majors with 121 home runs, but they couldn’t muster many runs last week. They scored four runs in three games, winning two of them. They tallied just two runs in four games, winning one. One of those two-run wins came courtesy of a two-run, ninth-inning home run by Adam Jones off future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.
16-11 Marlins record since June 8
The lowly Miami Marlins have gotten decent pitching for most of the season. And recently, the lineup has begun to respond with some run support. Beginning June 8, the Marlins are 16-11, good enough for third-best in the National League during that time. However, the Fish still have the worst overall record in the league.
Mike Trout50 Career home runs for Mike Trout of the Angels
With 73 stolen bases in his young career, Trout has accumulated 50 homers and 50 steals in fewer career games than anyone in history. He has done it in just 266 games.
71-10 Texas Rangers’ record in games in which Adrian Beltre homers
The slugging third baseman has 86 home runs since joining the Rangers in 2011, and when he goes deep, good things usually happen for Texas.
55-22 Jered Weaver’s record at Angel Stadium in his career
That mark is the highest winning percentage at the ballpark of any pitcher in history with 60 or more decisions.
3 Players among the 10 highest-paid in baseball who were named All-Stars
That is based on the 10 highest average annual value contracts. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are the three players.
1.64 Jeremy Hefner’s ERA since June 4
According to ESPN Stats, the Mets’ righthander has the lowest mark in the majors during that time. He joins Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler to provide fans in New York some hope for the future.
9 Losses to the Baltimore Orioles by the great Mariano Rivera
On Sunday, Rivera gave up a ninth-inning homer to Adam Jones of the Orioles for his second blown save this season. His ninth loss to Baltimore represents the most losses to any team in his career. However, the all-time leader in saves also has 76 saves vs. the Orioles, 13 more than any other team.
Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 18:29
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR Amazing Stats, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-new-hampshire

How good is this No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team, really?  

Do not misconstrue that question. I didn’t ask, ‘How good is Matt Kenseth?’ (Spoiler alert: pretty damn). I asked ‘How good is that team?’
How strong are those JGR-built Camrys? How much fuel can those suckers hold, legally or illegally? Can that Toyota Racing Development engine hold up? And this Jason Ratcliff character who took a big gamble with his still-rising star to secure the win at Kentucky … is he actually a good crew chief?

I ask these questions because I see the sum of the parts succeeding at a high level, with four victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year. How good are they, really? Are they fit to win a championship? Championships are won when a few of the parts can out-value, or carry, some other weaker parts.

Kenseth, a consummate producer and a contending driver independently of his team (he has a 2.722 season-long PEER, which ranks as the fourth-best in the series this season) is atrocious at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Awful. I’ll touch on the gravity of how bad below, but this weekend might be the first true test for the remaining parts of the No. 20 team’s total package. Can the rest of the parts carry Kenseth?

-0.083  Kenseth has a -0.083 PEER in the last 12 races at New Hampshire, ranking him as the 45th-most productive driver in that time frame out of 53 drivers with three or more starts.

So, JGR’s manna from heaven is fallible. What now? His average finish in completed races — which is 11 out of the last 12 events in Loudon, N.H. — is 15.6. Those came in Roush Fenway Racing cars. Roush Fenway — emphasis on the Fenway — puts a premium on running well at New Hampshire, which the usually astute Kenseth hasn’t historically been able to do. He earned zero top-5 finishes in the CoT era. Does the JGR No. 20 bunch have enough to lift its driver? A good day could transpire if the performance of a fellow JGR employee is any indication.

66.7%  JGR’s Denny Hamlin passed with a superb 66.7 percent efficiency in two New Hampshire races last season.

Hamlin, who finished second and first in those races, has been horrendous in the passing game this season. He sports a 44.30 percent mark (anything lower than 50 illustrates that a driver is getting passed more than being passed) through the first half of 2013. Perhaps New Hampshire can change that and his overall run of bad finishes?

0.31  Hamlin’s terminal crash frequency, the per-race amount that he is crashing out of events, is a series-high 0.31.  

Crashes, for the most part, can be avoided. When crashes do happen, the driver doesn’t have much of a say as to how bad the damage will be. In Hamlin’s case, he has had a bad run of luck with crashes that are irreparable. Not only is that 0.31 mark dangerously high — the series average is 0.12 — it’s historically high. In the last seven years, no other driver has had a terminal crash frequency higher than 0.25 (Ward Burton, 2007). Eventually, that frequency will shrink. Until then, it’s ruining the season for a No. 11 team failing week to week in its attempt to resemble a reliable Cup Series operation.

454 and 452  The two drivers that have led the most laps in the last 12 New Hampshire races are, surprisingly, Tony Stewart (454) and Clint Bowyer (452).

Go ahead and admit that you guessed Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson as the laps-led leaders. It’s okay. Stewart and Bowyer aren’t known for running out front, at least not recently. What this tells us is that Stewart and Bowyer have been able to nail car setups well enough to do such a thing, whereas others haven’t (Johnson is the next highest driver in laps led, but is over 200 laps below Stewart and Bowyer’s level). Bowyer’s 10.3-place average finish this season is backed by a relatively strong 8.9 finish deviation, meaning he’s entrenched near the front of the point standings. Stewart doesn’t have that luxury. With a 16.6-place average finish this year, he’s in need of some more insurance (i.e., a win) to continue his chase for a fourth championship.

100%  Jeff Gordon has finished in the top half of the field 100 percent of the time in New Hampshire races dating back to 2007.

In fact, the lowest Gordon has finished in the last 12 races at NHMS is 15th. On eight occasions he finished sixth or better. He didn’t win, though, and for a driver who was bashed in the early part of his Cup Series tenure for “winning all the time and having a vanilla personality” — sound familiar? — not winning at all comes as a shock. This mile track might offer his best opportunity to win a race in 2013.

1.250  Expectations are high for Michael Waltrip Racing’s Brian Vickers, who holds a serviceable 1.250 PEER in nine starts at New Hampshire since 2007.

Why the expectations? Vickers’s Cup Series life is in limbo. It has been stated that MWR is interested in him becoming the full-time driver in the No. 55 following this season, but his on-track effort this season has been unbecoming of a potential free agent. He’s serviceable — barely at a 1.000 — but his 0.86 crash frequency is the worst in the series. With rumors swirling that MWR is giving long looks at other free agents-to-be, a solid New Hampshire effort of which Vickers is capable — he finished ninth there last fall — is almost required.


For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on

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


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 17:32
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /athlon-essential-11-links-day-july-9-2013

• We knew Anna Benson was crazy, but not this crazy. Just as a refresher, here's a picture of Mrs. Benson in happier, saner days (relatively speaking).


• Urban decay: Meyer's rep has taken a hit in the wake of Gonzo's arrest. Of course, some say it's more than fair to question Meyer's methods at Florida.


• Colin Kaepernick wore a Dolphins hat on the Fourth, much to the consternation of Niner Nation. He's responded to Lid-Gate by saying he's gonna wear what he wants.


Gary Player nude! Need we say more?


• Boy, the SEC's loaded — with coaches. Saturday Down South ranks them 1-14. When Dan Mullen's No. 11 after taking Mississippi State to three bowls in four years, you know it's a CEO's league.


A young Ohio State fan named his brain tumor "Michigan" then proceeded to kick its ass. I suspect even Michigan fans can get on board with that.


• Horror isn't the only movie genre where they follow rules, Scream-style. Here are seven rules every sports movie follows.


• Not every athlete commands a high price tag on the trade market. Here are some athletes who were traded for a song (or a case of bats, or $1, or 15 kilos of pork…)


Elvis Andrus loves to screw with Adrian Beltre on pop-ups. Not sure why, but it's GIF gold.


• Now this is a defensive play: Robbing your opponent of a go-ahead home run with two outs in the ninth inning.


• Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime. Teach an old man to fish with his hands, and he's an Essential 11 link.



Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 16:14
Path: /college-football/fighting-irish-tailgate-snacks

1 box Crispix cereal
2 sacks dried apples: 1 sack Golden Delicious and 1 sack Granny Smith
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tblsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans

Melt butter and add cinnamon & brown sugar. In Dutch oven (roasting) pan put in Crispix, pecans and apples. Pour butter, sugar, cinnamon mixture over cereal and stir well. Bake at 250 degrees uncovered for 1 hour,stirring every 15 minutes. After it is done, I spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry. Then put in a covered container, if it lasts that long. We love it!!


(Recipe submitted by Terry, Ela and Nicholas Tausch (# 40) Julie and Greg Eifert, Tyler Eifert  “80”)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:20
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tailgating
Path: /college-football/ramen-noodle-salad

1 bag shredded lettuce
1 bag shredded cabbage
1 package slivered almonds
2 packages Ramon noodles
Sauté in butter until slightly brown
Pour on top lettuce
1 can mandarin oranges  ( drain)
Pour on top lettuce


1/2 cup veg oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 sugar
4 slashes of soy sauce

Bring to a boil .. Take off heat and put over salad right before you serve the salad and toss..

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:17
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/caramel-apple-salad

4 large or 8 small apples, cored and diced
12 oz. cool whip
5 oz. box instant vanilla pudding
1 bag of small snickers bars, cut into small pieces
2 cups peanuts
caramel topping


1.  Fold pudding mix into cool whip.
2.  Add diced apples, cut up candy bars and peanuts.
3.  Mix well.
4. Drizzle with caramel topping.
5.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tailgating
Path: /college-football/coconut-chocolate-bar

3 c of crushed and grounded chocolate chip cookies and/or graham crackers crushed
1 c chocolate chip or semi sweet chocolate chips
1c pecan chopped pieces
1/4 c sugar
3/4 c or 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c shredded coconut (sweeten)


Mix together cookie crumbs, sugar and butter
Press mixture in a non stick, square baking pan
Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Bake mixture about 10 mins.
Cool on wire rack for about 20 mins.


Sprinkle cooled crust evenly with pecans and chocolate chips
Pour condense milk over the top and sprinkle with coconut


Bake 10 to 15 min or until coconut is toasted
Cool on rack, and cut into squares.

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:13
Path: /college-football/bbq-brisket-beans

The steps are quite simple, but it is knowing how the meat looks, feels, etc. so there is a lot of expertise in the cooking. The actual steps are:


bone in Boston butt (best fresh and never frozen)
salt the entire butt
put on smoker with fat side up
smoke with hickory wood
cook at about 275 degrees for 8-10 hours


For the BBQ, you can say it was Boston butts hickory smoked for 8-10 hours. It is award winning BBQ from the Gibson's BBQ restaurant family of Decatur, Al. which has won the World's Championship 5 times. Don Gibson, Cody Gibson's father, has won the state of Florida championship and competed at Memphis in May. When Cody comes home for visits, he sends butts back with him for his roomies and teammates to enjoy. One of his roommates, Marcus Lattimore, even asks Cody if his dad can ship them some, since he loves it so much.


(Recipe submitted by Jean Gibson, mother of South Carolina Gamecocks Cody Gibson.)


The Gibsons also made award-winning BBQ beans. A recipe that makes enough for a big crowd of tailgaters:


3 #10 cans pork n beans
1 1/2 boxes brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup Worchestershire sauce
1 cup sweet BBQ sauce
2 large onions chopped
1 cup water
garlic powder (lightly sprinkled over mixture)
cinnamon powder (sprinkled over mixture)
add chopped BBQ pork to mixture


Thoroughly mix all ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. If there is room, cook on the pit with the pork.

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:10
Path: /college-football/old-fashioned-lemon-pound-cake


1 1/2 cup butter

3 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp lemon extract

1 tbs fresh lemon zest

6 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 dash of salt

1/2 cup evaporated milk



Pre-heat oven 325 degrees. Grease and flour 10 inch tube pan. Beat butter in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add sugar creaming well. Stir in extracts and lemon zest. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add flour, baking powder and salt to creamed mixture, add milk. Pour into prepared pan.


Bake for 80 minutes


Drizzle with your favorite Cream Cheese Icing while still warm.


(Recipe submitted by Yolanda Smith, mother of Marcus Lattimore)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:06
Path: /college-football/finger-licking-spicy-bbq-pork-chops


8 1/2 inch Pork Chops

Honey BBQ Kraft Sauce

Weber N'Orleans Cajun Seasoning





•     Clean meat lightly sprinkle salt and pepper

•     Add bbq sauce

•       Cover meat with Cajun seasoning

•       Marinate for an hour

Grill until meat is tender.

Quick, easy, finger licking good and sticks to your ribs!


(Recipe submitted by Linda Gilmore, mother of South Carolina Gamecocks’ Stephon Gilmore #5)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:03
Path: /college-football/joy%E2%80%99s-buffalo-wing-dip

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup pepper sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot®)
1 cup Ranch-style salad dressing
2-3 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese and hot pepper sauce until well blended. Mix in the Ranch dressing, chicken and Cheddar cheese. Spread into a medium oval casserole dish.
3. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. If oil collects on the top, dab it off using a paper towel.  Make sure it is browned on top before taking out of oven.
4. Serve with Fritos or Tortilla Chips.


(Recipe submitted by Joy Rosner, Mom to former O-Lineman, #65 Michael Rosner )

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 01:00
Path: /college-football/horned-frog-eggs

A tailgate favorite!  Can’t make enough. Easy to prepare and easy to eat at a tailgate party before game time. I pre-cook the Horned Frog Eggs on my barbeque smoker before the tailgate. The cooked Horned Frog Eggs can be refrigerated and then warmed on a tailgate grill.  You can also prepare the Horned Frog Eggs and cook them directly on the tailgate grill if you don’t have time to pre-cook (smoke) the Horned Frog Eggs.


Jalapeno peppers Cream cheese
Yellow food coloring
Pan Sausage (I like to use Jimmy Dean Sausage) Bacon Strips (optional)
Garlic Powder
Barbeque rub (I like to use Rudy’s Barbeque rub)
Ranch Style dressing (optional)


Cut stems off jalapenos, cut jalapenos in half (cross cut, not length cut).  Core and remove the jalapeno seeds and veins.  Place soften cream cheese in a bowl and mix the yellow food coloring into cream cheese (until the cream cheese looks the color of an egg yolk).  Stuff each jalapeno half with some yellow cream cheese.


Finely dice a small onion. Mix onion, sausage and garlic powder  (to taste).  Pat sausage until flat, then wrap each stuffed jalapeno half with the sausage mixture into a ball shaped like an egg, about 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. Don’t make the sausage too thick around the stuff jalapeno, but make sure the jalapeno is sealed so the cream cheese does not leak out during cooking. Sprinkle the ball with your favorite barbeque rub. Optional: Wrap the ball with ½ slice of bacon (can secure with a toothpick).


Smoke the Horned Frog Eggs at 225-250 until done. The cooking time on the smoker will generally be about 1 to 1 ½ hours.   You can cook (or reheat) on the tailgate grill until done (or warm).  Remove toothpicks before serving.


With the toothpick removed, slice the hot Horned Frog Eggs in half before serving. The sliced halves will resemble eggs!  Serve hot off the grill! Some like to dip them in Ranch Style dressing (optional).  Post-game, I cook Horned Frog Eggs for the Offensive Line, but the players eat them before I have time to cut them in half! Horned Frog Eggs are true tailgate favorites!  Enjoy….GO FROGS!


Recipe submitted by By John T. Wooldridge,  Sr. (Dad of TCU Offensive Lineman, John Wooldridge, Jr., #75)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 00:57
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tailgating
Path: /college-football/grilled-portobello-mushrooms-gorgonzola-cheese-and-fresh-rosemary

4 Portobello mushrooms
Olive Oil
1 cup gorgonzola cheese
Sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper


Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat.

Put the portobello mushroom caps on a platter and brush both sides with olive oil.

Grill the caps, top side down, directly over high heat until liquid forms in the gills and the top is grill marked., 2-4 minutes.

Turn over, emptying any liquid into the fire. if flare ups occur, move the mushrooms to a cooler part of the grill. 

Grill for 1-2 minutes longer, and turn again.


Spoon 1/8 -1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese into each mushroom (amount varies according to size of mushroom -the bigger the mushroom the more cheese!) and add a few leaves  of fresh crushed rosemary and drizzle with more olive oil.

Cook for 1-2 minutes longer. 

Transfer to platter and season with salt and pepper.

These can be served just as they are or on a grilled hamburger bun!

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 00:53
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tailgating
Path: /college-football/champion-no-bean-chili

Football and food go hand in hand on game day. There’s nothing better than getting to your favorite game early, hanging out with friends and family and celebrating the game ahead while chowing down on an assortment of amazing food.


Champion No-Bean Chili


3 lbs of ground sirloin
2 lbs of lean ground pork
2 to 3 medium onions depending on taste preferences
2 29 oz cans of tomato sauce
3 29 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
3/8 cup of chili powder
1/4 to 1/3 cup of paprika
2 to 3 T of cumin
Kosher salt
3 to 4 T of granulated garlic
1 to 2 t of chipotle chili powder
1 to 2 t of ancho chili powder
1 t of cayenne pepper
Olive oil


Heat a small amount of olive oil in pan to keep meat from sticking as the meat browns. Brown ground sirloin and ground pork in batches. Salt with small portions of kosher salt. Add chopped onions as the meat gets close to being done. Finish cooking until all meat is done and onions are clear. Drain meat and onions.

In large dutch oven, add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, chili powders and garlic. Start on the low side of the chipotle, ancho, and cayenne peppers. Add chipotle, ancho, and cayenne pepper powders, granulated garlic, and kosher salt to match the taste of the intended audience. Add drained meat and onions. Simmer on low for several hours, stirring to prevent sticking. Add water to thin if needed. Add instant potatoes to thicken, if needed. (This is easier than flour or corn starch and is gluten free.)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 00:50
Path: /mlb/2013-mlb-power-rankings-july-8

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


Athlon Sports 2013 MLB Power Ranking
 1. Cardinals Earned first home three-game sweep over the weekend.
 2. Pirates Tied with St. Louis and host a five-game series later in July.
3. Red Sox Boston’s 54 wins are most in the majors.
 4. A’s Tough stretch at Pittsburgh and vs. Boston to end first half.
 5. Rangers Yu Darvish should be considered for All-Star start.
 6. Rays Good to have David Price back atop the rotation.
 7. Reds Homer Bailey’s no-hitter highlights the week.
8. Diamondbacks Tied with Boston for the majors’ largest division lead.
 9. Braves Look out below! The Nationals are coming.
10. Orioles Offense struggling; produced just 20 runs in last seven games.
11. Tigers Will face White Sox for the first time this season this week.
12. Indians Michael Brantley only Indian with more RBIs than whiffs.
13. Nationals Making a strong run at the Braves before the break.
14. Yankees Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez finally playing rehab games in minors.
15. Dodgers Officially back in the hunt.
16. Angels Creeping toward contention, but not there yet.
17. Phillies Unclear whether Phillies will be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
18. Blue Jays Need to finish first half strong at Cleveland and Baltimore.
19. Rockies Just 3-6 in last nine games vs. NL West.
20. Giants Team hit just .177 in six games last week.
21. Royals Third-fewest extra-base hits in the majors.
22. Padres Blew a gasket when they reached the .500 level.
23. Cubs Can Cubs find a trade partner for Alfonso Soriano this season?
24. Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez are 1-2 in ERA in AL.
25. Twins Lost 12 of 16 since June 20.
26. Mets Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeremy Hefner terrific young trio.
27. Brewers Deserve to have two starters in All-Star Game. 
28. White Sox Should begin unloading players any day now.
29. Marlins 16-11 since June 8, third-best in National League.
30. Astros Six losing streaks of five or more games this season.
AL Player of the Week
Adrian Beltre, Texas
The Rangers’ third baseman led the majors with four long balls last week ending a 22-game homerless streak. Beltre now has a nine-game hitting streak that includes four multi-hit games, as he batted .478 with a 1.607 OPS last week.
AL Pitcher of the Week
David Price, Tampa Bay
The Rays are ecstatic over having their ace back on the hill. Returning from a triceps injury, Price allowed just 11 hits with no walks over 16 innings in wins over Houston and the White Sox.
NL Player of the Week
Brian McCann, Atlanta
The Braves have been waiting for their catcher to break out this season, and last week he did just that. Batting an even .600 for the week, McCann raised his average from .250 to .304. He has multiple hits in his last four games.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
The former Cy Young winner and the Dodgers are rolling as Kershaw is the only pitcher in the bigs with a sub-2.00 ERA. Last week he shut out the Rockies on four hits, then followed with a masterful eight innings at San Fran.
A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.
Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 22:14
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR News & Notes, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/daytona-presents-moving-day-nascar-drivers-chase-contention

Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane following his win in Daytona. (ASP, Inc.)In golf, there’s a nickname for Saturday competition: Moving Day. It’s a point at which either people put themselves in position to win, shoot an ugly round that takes them off the leaderboard or top the charts to start the final 18 holes on Sunday as the one to beat.

In essence, the Chase race took on the same complexion during a night of survival in Daytona. It was a race won by the points leader with those fighting to overtake him in September split into two categories: feast or famine. There were 11 drivers, eighth through 18th in the standings entering the night, who were separated by just 42 points. Six of those men finished outside the top 30, parked inside the garage due to wrecks. Two more, hanging back in a last-lap melee, wound up 17th and 21st respectively, leaving their nights somewhat of a wash. That left a wide opening for three others, each of whom finished 10th or better to capitalize on a rare wide swing in the points.

Is it a be-all, end-all for Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, who all surged up the ladder after strong runs? Not yet. But looking at the eight races left on the regular season schedule there’s maybe one or two other opportunities, max, to collect this much on their rivals in one shot. The cookie-cutter racetracks just don’t lend themselves to wild finishes, while places like New Hampshire don’t have races long enough for mechanical problems to materialize. That means when Richmond comes and names like Kurt Busch are in contention to grab a coveted Chase spot, we’ll look back on this night as the one in which they “moved” into proper position to make it happen.

In “Through the Gears” we find out what else Daytona dealt us to talk about…

FIRST GEAR: A Sweep … Which Sweeps “Cracks in the Armor” Under the Rug
Last year, Jimmie Johnson had just eight finishes outside the top 15 — an outstanding record. Four of those occurred in plate races, a 100 percent disaster rate that included three DNFs and just one lap completed in the sport’s signature event, the Daytona 500. Rest assured the No. 48 team took that failure to heart, spending the offseason perfecting the plate-race version of the Gen-6 car so lightning wouldn’t strike twice.

Now, we’ve seen Johnson thunder through the field in a different way, leading a dominating 94 laps this Independence Day weekend in completing the first sweep of Cup Series Daytona races since Bobby Allison in 1982. How surprising was Johnson’s feat? He had only led 77 laps in his career at Daytona leading into the night — and that includes two victories at the sport’s Great American Race (2006, 2013).

For Johnson to flex his muscles in such fashion makes him the odds-on favorite to collect title No. 6 in November. But even in victory, just like several times the last six weeks, this five-time champ showcased some vulnerability. There was a perplexing late-race move, leaving teammate Kasey Kahne stranded when he was working as a virtual blocker. Moving to the top line, it eventually created an accident between Marcos Ambrose and Kahne once Johnson went to block on the backstretch. If the No. 9 car doesn’t wreck there and completes the pass, the No. 48 is sliding back through the field. (P.S. It could be the nail in the coffin for Ambrose, still winless on ovals and who has struggled on the Cup level to the point he could wind his way back to Australia in the offseason).

So there’s hope … just not much. Johnson’s four victories tie him with Matt Kenseth for most on tour, but that total could easily be seven were it not for three self-inflicted mistakes. It’s the No. 48 team’s racetrack right now. Everyone else is just playing on it.

Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing ... Chase contenders? (ASP, Inc.)SECOND GEAR: Kurt Busch’s Big-Time Comeback
Furniture Row Racing has done everything possible this season to shoot itself in the foot. There have been mechanical failures, poor pit calls, driver-induced penalties for speeding on pit road … and that’s without the assorted bad luck that finds its way into every team’s season. Employing a driver in Kurt Busch legendary for his ugly temper, there were plenty of times where a blowup, while never justified, would at least be understandable given the circumstances.

The catch, though, is that he hasn’t lost his cool — and finds himself on the brink of Chase qualification. If anything, he’s kept the team cool through a series of incidents, driving the car back into the top 5 and top 10 after digging a deep hole throughout the course of the season. Now ninth in points after a third straight top 10, it’s not a lock this team will get into the Chase. But the man behind the wheel is setting himself up for it, which is a miraculous effort considering the organization has never finished in the top 20 in points. Other drivers have received more recognition throughout the season, but Busch may be the big winner in the end, as he’s giving the best chance for a sponsor outside of FRR to take a flyer on him were he to end up in the seat of the No. 29 at Richard Childress Racing next season.

THIRD GEAR: Who’s the Big Loser?
I mentioned at the top that of 11 teams eighth through 18th in points, six finished outside the top 30 in Daytona. Certainly, wrecks were not what the doctor ordered for drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne (among others). But I’m not so worried about any of those three. Logano has momentum on his side, having posted six straight top-11 finishes before Saturday night while the other two have wins to fall back on. Chances are, Kahne will grab a second and I think Truex has put himself in position to make the postseason no matter what.

Instead, the guy I’m watching wasn’t even in that group of six. For Brad Keselowski, Daytona offered an opportunity to make a move. The team finished in the top 5 there in February with a front end that looked like a giant trash bag. Proving that strength, he was in the front row on Saturday night during a restart with less than 30 laps to go. But a series of bad-luck decisions in the draft left the No. 2 car 21st at the checkered flag, still sitting on the outside of the top 10 looking in. Now, the series heads to Loudon, Indianapolis and Pocono, all tracks where I don’t expect this team to contend for the win. And who knows what NASCAR’s penalties will be for those illegal roof flap spacers that the team — along with 15 others — was busted for in Daytona. If Keselowski hasn’t entered crisis mode behind the scenes at this point, I don’t know what it’s going to take.

FOURTH GEAR: Pondering the Future of Plate Racing
Saturday marked the third straight plate event where pack racing has returned to Cup competition, courtesy of the sport’s new Gen-6 bodies. But at times, the slow-moving lines made it feel like fans were watching two giant snarls of traffic on the highway. The sensation of “feeling the speed” wasn’t there; neither was the ability to make up three, five, even eight spots in just one lap. (Remember Dale Earnhardt’s epic charge at Talladega 13 years ago?)

That’s because the new Gen-6 car does not produce a closing rate that “pack racing” used to offer. Steve Letarte said on Monday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost 22 spots in one lap during one of the final restarts that pretty much eliminated him from competing for the win. In the past, with 10-20 laps to go, a driver would be able to come back from that and work his or her way back to the front. Not anymore; it’s been replaced by a game of high-speed, traffic-maneuver chess that takes all the mental strength available to get the push by one car.

I’d be shocked if we didn’t see a rule change following the 2013 season where there’s a different spoiler and air package, making it easier for drivers to pass — whether they like it or not.

Clint Bowyer was the latest to admit after the race that he was simply riding around Daytona for the first 130 laps. If the sport has drivers staying in place for the first two-plus hours, how is it going to advertise the product effectively? That’s not going to win over many new fans. … Danica Patrick, who wound up 14th, actually deserved better than her last-lap melee. The car was a top-10 contender for most of the night. And Patrick coincidentally tangled with David Gilliland, the latest in a series of on-track incidents between the two. … J.J. Yeley has an average finish of 11.5 at Daytona this season. Everywhere else? He has yet to post a result better than 24th. Just another way in which the gap between lower- and upper-class teams has never been larger — outside of Daytona and Talladega, of course. … Thirty-one teams in Nationwide and Cup were found with improper roof flap spacer modifications at Daytona. The competitive advantage, though, is so minimal you have to wonder if NASCAR will hit that many teams with a serious point deduction. Teams shouldn’t mess with safety, of course, but when they’re working within thousandths of a second, at what point does it become nitpicking?

by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter:

Reaction from Jimmie Johnson's win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 21:51
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /test-content


Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 14:22
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /weekend-golf-july-4-7-what-you-might-have-missed

A few highlights of an interesting holiday weekend in golf:

• Has anyone had a stranger season than Graeme McDowell? His last eight appearances on the PGA and European Tours go something like this: missed cut, win, missed cut, win, missed cut, missed cut, missed cut, win. He's the walking personification of feast or famine. McDowell won the French Open by four shots for his ninth European Tour victory, a win that moved him to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking. We would put him at the top of British Open favorites, but two of those missed cuts we mentioned came at The Masters and U.S. Open. "Thankfully I've managed to learn how to calm my emotions and learn how to respond under pressure, sometimes,'' McDowell said. Key word: sometimes. Here are the highlights:

• Meanwhile, Jonas Blixt rocketed up 100 spots — from 139th to 39th — in the FedExCup points standings with a two-shot win at the rain-interrupted Greenbrier Classic. Blixt earned a green jacket for his efforts, but the win gets him a shot at the Green Jacket that truly matters, as he's now in the 2014 Masters field. The win was his first top-10 finish of 2013 and moves him to 51st in the World Golf Ranking, giving him a shot at a spot in next week's British Open field as a top alternate. "This is what I play for," Blixt said. "I play to win. It just confirms that if you do the right things, that you work hard, dreams can come true." Here are the highlights:

Tom Watson spent time with the youngsters at the Greenbrier and more than held his own, finishing T38 after rounds of 68, 69, 72 and 67 to finish one stroke behind Bubba for low Watson. The ageless 63-year-old Watson is approaching shoot-your-age territory.

Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, Roto, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-july-8

It's the week before the All-Star break and Athlon Sports has everything you need to catch up on what took place on the fantasy diamond during the past seven days. Our fantasy junkies break down last week's top hitters and identify the waiver wire pick ups and spot starters you need to keep an eye on for this week.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (July 1-7):

1.Desmond JenningsOFTB9164.4141.121
2.Torii HunterOFDET52111.4441.248
3.Robinson Cano2BNYY63100.3751.317
4.Kyle Seager2B/3BSEA7250.5451.516
5.Adrian Beltre3BTEX4450.4781.607
6.Starling MarteOFPIT6115.345.793
7.Brian McCannCATL6140.6001.480
8.Ryan Zimmerman3BWAS5182.346.862
9.Miguel Cabrera3BDET3381.2921.081
10.Kirk Nieuwenhuis*OFNYM5161.4501.250
11.Cody Ross*OFARI6251.323.963
12.Colby Rasmus*OFTOR5280.3331.137
13.Juan Uribe*3BLAD32110.3001.050
14.Hanley Ramirez3B/SSLAD8120.4801.399
15.Jayson Werth*OFWAS6070.400.923
16.Domonic BrownOFPHI6250.3751.135
17.Carlos GomezOFMIL4144.280.813
18.Jose ReyesSSTOR6241.323.871
19.Eric Hosmer1BKC6250.360.970
20.Alfonso Soriano*OFCHC3390.250.865
21.Alex GordonOFKC3251.5001.730
22.Jacoby EllsburyOFBOS4114.360.927
23.Michael Brantley*OFCLE5260.3481.075
24.Adrian Gonzalez1B/OFLAD5350.296.988
25.Chris Johnson*1B/3BATL5160.4171.084

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Adam LaRoche, 1B, WAS (64% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
LaRoche got off to a terrible start (.136-3-8 in April), but since then has been more consistent and reliable. He's hit 10 home runs and driven in 32 in his last 59 games, and with Bryce Harper's and Jayson Werth's (see below) return to the lineup, he should continue to produce. Even with these early struggles, LaRoche has a track record of providing power and run production, while not hurting that much in the batting average category either, as evidenced by last season's .271-33-100 line.

Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, MIA (18%)
Morrison has been known for more than what he does off the field than on it, although injuries have been somewhat to blame. What is worth noting, however, is that the opinionated Marlin has gotten the job done (.314-4-10 in 20 G) since making his season debut in late June. He's just 25, so he figures to get plenty of at-bats moving forward, and his multiple-position eligibility (1B, CI, OF) only makes it easier to find a spot for him. He would make an ideal platoon partner given his success against righties (.370-4-10) early on.

Andrelton Simmons, SS, ATL (43%)
His glove and defense alone will keep him in the lineup, and Simmons is showing signs of becoming more of a presence at the plate too. While his spot in the batting order changes quite a bit, his presence in the lineup doesn't, which makes Simmons valuable in the runs department because of the Braves' other big bats. The 23-year-old is currently a top-10 fantasy producer at his position, ahead of the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Martin Prado and Jimmy Rollins.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC (35%)
It's summer, which means Soriano is starting to heat up. The veteran slugger's bat seems to follow the weather, so now may be a good time to invest. He will never hit for a high average and his value is limited somewhat as long as he stays with the Cubs, but he's one of the streakiest hitters around and when he gets hot, he can pile up some numbers. Don't forget that after the All-Star break last season Soriano produced a .258-17-60 line.

Jayson Werth, OF, WAS (57%)
Werth may finally be healthy as he's hitting .400 with seven RBIs and six runs scored through his first seven games of July. The high-priced outfielder has been replaced by Bryce Harper and others as the marquee names in the Nationals' lineup, but the added firepower also will help him put up better numbers if he continues to swing the bat well. In 24 fewer games compared to last season, Werth has already hit more home runs (8 so far, 5 in 2012) and has just about matched his RBI (28 to 31) and runs scored (36 to 42) totals. The key for Werth moving forward is staying healthy so he can stay in a lineup that's finally starting to produce like most expected entering the season.

Last week's picks:
Erick Aybar, SS, LAA: .350/.800, 4 R, 2 RBI
Rajai Davis, OF, TOR: .192/.661, 6 R, HR, 3 RBI, 3 SB
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC: .360/.970, 6 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS, BOS: .300/.741, R, 3 RBI
Mike Moustakas, 3B, KC: .176/.712, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

1.Clayton KershawLAD25.03181.080.52
2.Matt MooreTB19.13260.471.14
3.Jeremy Hellickson*TB20.03190.901.00
4.David PriceTB16.02150.560.69
5.Jeremy Hefner*NYM20.02171.350.75
6.John Lackey*BOS22.02272.050.95
7.Jered WeaverLAA20.22170.870.92
8.Madison BumgarnerSF21.02192.140.76
9.Matt GarzaCHC15.02151.201.07
10.Derek HollandTEX15.01171.200.87
11.Homer BaileyCIN15.01162.400.60
12.Kyle Lohse*MIL16.22122.160.84
13.Gio GonzalezWAS20.03162.251.20
14.Ivan Nova*NYY14.21152.450.68
15.Jose FernandezMIA19.01181.890.95
16.Francisco LirianoPIT15.02131.801.07
17.Jonathan Pettibone*PHI17.02162.651.00
18.Chris SaleCWS23.00323.130.91
19.R.A. DickeyTOR23.02133.130.83
20.Max ScherzerDET13.12173.380.98

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Ryan Dempster (Thurs.) at Seattle (57%)
To be honest, I am a little stunned by Dempster's sub-60-percent ownership rate. His ERA (4.04) may be a little high, but he's allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his last eight starts and is maintaining a nice 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (100:49 in 107 IP). The Mariners are 28th in the majors in runs scored and Dempster's offense is No. 1. What's not to like?

2. Jake Westbrook, STL (Thurs.) at Chicago Cubs (24%)
Westbrook rebounded nicely (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, W) against Miami following a disastrous outing (4 IP, 10 H, 6 ER) in Oakland. Next up are the Cubs, a team he has already beaten twice this season (12 1/3 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 3 ER). He won't strike out many, but his offense should score more than enough runs to put him a position to earn the victory.

3. Kyle Lohse, MIL (Mon.) vs. Cincinnati (58%)
Following a horrendous May (0-4, 6.51 ERA), Lohse has turned things around. Even though he's just 3-0 in his last seven starts, he has posted a tidy 2.11 ERA and 29:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch (42 2/3 IP). Also in Lohse's favor is the fact that the Reds are not near as potent offensively on the road compared to their home numbers.

4.  Jeremy Hefner, NYM (Fri.) at Pittsburgh (16%)
Hefner will never be mistaken for Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler, but the 27-year-old has been just as effective over the last two months. Hefner has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last seven starts and has posted a 37:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over those 44 innings. For all of their success this season, the Pirates are anything but an offensive juggernaut (24th in MLB in runs scored).

5. John Lackey, BOS (Fri.) at Oakland (62%)
Since the middle of May, Lackey has produced a quality start every time out with the exception of his June 10 performance in Tampa Bay (4 ER in 5 2/3 IP). The veteran is throwing as hard as he ever has, which is a big reason why he has 27 strikeouts in his last three starts (22 IP). He has held the Orioles, Tigers and Angels to exactly two runs in their own parks over the past month, so there's really no reason to not throw him out there against the A's this week.

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

Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: July 8
Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Essential 11
Path: /athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-8

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 8.

• Country songbird and Eric Decker better half Jessie James might be our new favorite WAG. Here are a few reasons why.

Here's how Andy Murray spent his post-Wimbledon morning. I'd say Britain is pleased — as were Bradley Cooper and Gerard Butler at their bro-tastic best.

Mr. and Mrs. RG3 made a weird, creepy video together and posted it on Facebook.

Here are 21 ways not to celebrate a championship. My only quibble with the list: Nothing wrong with hitting up Denny's. A grand slam breakfast is a perfectly good way to celebrate.

• Sometimes, ESPN does things well. This is one of those times. A moving story of a producer and two special athletes.

The Seahawks got together with Fail Mary replacement ref Lance Easley for a charity softball game, where Easley posed for a photo with Golden Tate that will be like picking a scab for Packers fans. 

• Pro hoops has a new power couple: Kevin Durant is engaged to Minnesota Lynx player Monica Wright.

Saturday Down South picked East-West SEC All-Star Teams a la MLB. That's a game I'd pay to see.

• More Roger Goodell moralizing: The NFL reportedly is considering not inviting academically ineligible players to the NFL Combine.

• Interesting historical footnote: Kid Rock was present for the Malice at the Palace.

• Manny Machado went all Brooks Robinson on the Yankees yesterday.


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

Post date: Monday, July 8, 2013 - 10:44