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Go just about anywhere in Las Vegas this time of year and you are likely to spot at least one beautiful blond Southern California girl in sunglasses talking on a cell phone.
Most of them have arrived on a quick flight or taken the short drive through the desert hoping to hit the trendiest pools and clubs in the world.
Ronda Rousey is here to work, having blazed her own path and left in her wake a trail of broken bones and torn tendons. The 5'6" stunner doesn’t look very intimidating in the shadows of The Palms as she finishes up a phone call in an office park that houses the set of “The Ultimate Fighter 18,” a reality TV show that pits two teams of fighters and coaches against each other. The show has helped transform the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) into the top mixed martial arts (MMA) organization in the world and one of the hottest properties in all of sports.
Rousey, a self-described surfer chick from Venice Beach, is coaching one of the teams. Along with her opposing coach and bitter rival Miesha Tate, the women add a striking degree of femininity (half the 16 sequestered contestants are also female) to one of the most testosterone-driven programs in all of television.
A womanly touch was obvious upon arriving at the gym as the UFC women’s champion decoratively cut a series of holes into a pattern on her “Team Rousey” tank top.
Not that the 26-year-old is some delicate flower.
Despite the starlet looks and disarming personality, Rousey possesses the quick wit and salty vocabulary to more than hold her own at even the most vulgar poker table in Sin City.
“She’s real,” says UFC fighter Chael Sonnen of the most successful and popular female fighter in the world. “She has a great set of skills and lots of personality. She isn’t afraid to let them both shine through.”
Rousey, the first American woman to medal in judo when she took bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics, has won all 10 fights in her MMA career (seven professional and three amateur) by armbar in the first round. Everyone knows it’s coming, but there is nothing anyone can do about it.
“The armbar I do is very common in judo. You put your legs over the opponent’s torso and neck while you’re perpendicular to them and pull their arm between your legs and hug it to your chest,” she deadpans. “Then you arch your back to the point where their arm can’t straighten anymore and the opponent has the choice to quit or let you keep arching your back.
“The back goes back farther than an elbow can, so the elbow is forced to follow the curvature of the back. So ...”
Tap or snap. Either “tap out,” the MMA term for giving up and conceding the fight, or allow Rousey to do considerable damage to your arm.
If Rousey sounds cavalier about potentially ruining the limbs of women who dare step in the cage with her, perhaps it’s because martial arts has always been an integral part of her life. She was bred to be a star judo competitor by her mother, Dr. Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, who would awaken her daughter with morning armbar drills. DeMars herself was a great judoka, becoming the first American to win a world title in 1984.
DeMars felt that judo could play a positive role for young Ronda, who been through a lifetime of struggles before she was even 8 years old.
Rousey endured her father’s suicide and birth complications that significantly slowed her development as a child.
In spite of all that, or perhaps more accurately, because of it, Rousey was driven to succeed. She was the youngest judo competitor at the 2004 Olympics at just 17. Four years later, she won the bronze medal that she thought would make all the hard work worthwhile.
“The 2008 Olympic run, the whole process of preparing and training for it, I didn’t really enjoy it. I just realized the bronze medal didn’t make me happy for very long,” Rousey says.
She knew she would be in prime position to improve on the bronze at the 2012 Games, but Rousey decided it just wasn’t meant to be.
“To be miserable for four years so I can possibly be happy for a few weeks, I just knew I had to find something else to do with myself,” she says.
Rousey took a year off from the sport in search of a more normal existence. She drove a Honda with three broken windows and no air conditioning to her various bartending jobs. Her apartment had no water pressure or gas, but plenty of cockroaches. She ate a lot of Top Ramen noodles, a staple for any college student, but hardly the typical diet for a world-class athlete.
“All I worried about was keeping gas in my car, keeping the rent paid and feeding my dog (Mochi, a 90-pound Mastiff).”
As drab as life was, Rousey decided it was preferable to returning to judo.
“I was happy enough that I couldn’t return to that old lifestyle, but I was discontented enough to not stick with what I was doing,” Rousey says.
She considered becoming a rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard. Her mom wanted her to go back to school. Instead, she turned a hobby she started as a way to stay in shape into a new career. Combining her natural abilities and an overwhelming desire to succeed, Rousey threw herself into becoming a mixed martial artist. “I started getting into it, and once I devote myself to something, that’s it. I obsessed over it,” she says. “I was (expletive) shadow boxing in the shower all the time. It’s all I would think about.”
She would eventually get carried away. Shortly after her fourth pro win, Rousey literally drove herself to exhaustion. After a full day of training, she was returning home from the gym in the early-morning hours on Thanksgiving weekend, knowing her next training session was only a few hours away.
“I got in my car and it was just so warm and quiet. Even at that time, it was stop-and-go traffic because of the holiday,” she recalls. “I just dozed off in traffic and crashed. I smashed my face on the steering wheel and broke my nose. I just ended up crying on the freeway. I was so tired and I just wanted to go home.”
She didn’t skip a beat, though.
“I wasn’t going to stop,” Rousey says. “It wasn’t going to change anything at all because I’m a stubborn (expletive). That’s my biggest problem and my biggest asset.”
From the beginning, Rousey knew her pursuit of success was going to have to be about more than just training hard. If most women in society face a glass ceiling, female fighters were toiling under a concrete roof. At the time, there was no women’s division in the UFC, and the organization’s famously outspoken president Dana White was adamantly against the idea.
Rousey didn’t care. “I had it in my mind I was going to change everything. I felt like I had all the skills and all the attributes to make this successful. These people don’t believe it’s possible because they haven’t seen me yet and they haven’t noticed me yet. I just had to make myself impossible to miss,” she says. “Then began my own campaign to become un-ignorable. I started saying some crazy (expletive) and putting on some good fights. I just felt like combining the two together was the only way to do it. First, I’ve got to get people to look. Then, I’ve got to give them a reason to stay.”
So Rousey started winning. Actually dominating. Three straight amateur wins — all by armbar, all under a minute — led to a pro contract.
And the wins came just as easily there, as she won her first four pro fights by armbar, all in less than a minute. The ruthless finishes were accompanied by outrageous comments, ranging from trash talk about her opponents to her now-famous thoughts on having plenty of sex before fights to ripping fellow Olympian Michael Phelps.
By Rousey’s fifth pro fight — for the Strikeforce title in March 2012 against her nemesis Tate — she had indeed become impossible to ignore. White points to that fight as the one that convinced him to reverse course. He decided later that year to merge Strikeforce, including the women’s division, into the UFC and freely admitted Rousey was the lone reason for the change of heart.
“She has the whole package,” he said on “The Jim Rome Show.” “She’s a real fighter and real talented. She has the credentials and the pedigree. And she has the ‘it’ factor. I think she’s going to be a big superstar.”
He was right. Rousey’s first UFC fight in February, a first-round armbar victory over Liz Carmouche, headlined a pay-per-view event that far out-performed company estimates with between 400,000 and 500,000 buys. Bloomberg recently reported she is the sport’s first female millionaire.
Rousey had officially arrived. Now she wants to help build the rest of the UFC 135-pound women’s division, which currently consists of 13 fighters, to a more sustainable place — one of the things she hopes to accomplish with her starring role on Season 18 of the reality show, which will air Wednesday nights starting in September on the soon-to-launch Fox Sports 1 network. She also hopes non-MMA fans can connect with her story.
“I feel like I manifested and willed a lot of this. I worked really hard for it,” she says. “One thing I hope I can do for other people is to show them no matter what their goals are, they’re doable. Even if nobody else believes they are.”
At the end of the season, Tate and Rousey will renew hostilities when they meet in a much-anticipated rematch. Rousey hopes to leave her rival with the same two options she has given each of her opponents.
Tap or snap?
Story by Adam Hill
Sunday wasn’t the only time Ryan Newman has stolen a win from under Jimmie Johnson’s nose. The Brickyard 400 pole sitter, who capitalized on “Five-Time’s” late-race slow pit stop to take Indianapolis, edged out his rival over a decade ago for the 2002 Rookie of the Year title. As a freshman, Johnson was flashy but Newman was more consistent, collecting 14 top-5 finishes and 22 top 10s to eke out the award in a close race.
Surprised? Don’t be. That under-the-radar, workmanlike performance harkens back to “old school” drivers like Terry Labonte. “The Iceman” was never an emotional sort but always delivered to some degree each season en route to two championships. Newman, as excitable as a librarian running the checkout line (he was stoic Sunday even after living the dream of Victory Lane in his home state) is delivering a similar type of resume (sans the championships). The stats for him now include 50 poles, wins in four straight seasons and trophies that include two of the sport’s biggest races, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Some of the sport’s biggest names — from Tony Stewart to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch to Matt Kenseth — can’t claim that.
Newman’s Sprint Cup future is in doubt after Stewart-Haas Racing made it official earlier this month that it will replace him with Kevin Harvick rather than expand to four teams next season; that’s why every driver, to a man, was running up and congratulating him Sunday. At first glance, it’s hard not to ask “Why such a pity party?” You have to think a guy who’s quietly put himself in position for consistent success, year-in and year-out, would be able to land a ride somewhere easily, even inside a shrinking garage. Then again, we said the same thing about a sponsor for Earnhardt, the sport’s most popular driver, whose No. 88 may now need to be partially funded by owner Rick Hendrick come September. Ever so quietly, Earnhardt let slip this weekend that they’re sponsorship focus is more on 2014 — meaning a year’s worth of speculation may end with HendrickCars.com on the hood rather than a “new backer” they’ve been talking about for months.
Add in perhaps a race-low number of fans in the stands at Indianapolis and we may look back on this weekend as being more an indictment of the sport’s current economic state getting ever more serious as opposed to a version of a signature race that we’d all like to forget. This point gets us going “Through the Gears” coming out of Gasoline Alley …
FIRST GEAR: Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was the most boring in the history of the event.During a time when NASCAR should be celebrating, having landed a record television deal with NBC beginning in 2015, the network instead saw the gargantuan task in front of it. The Indy grandstands, looking empty to begin with (the facility can hold north of 250,000) started emptying by halfway as fans tired of the single-file procession. Up front, lead changes were the result of pit road, not on-track, action as Johnson turned the early part of the race into a runaway. A two-hour and 36-minute event — the fastest Brickyard 400 in history — could also be compared to watching cars lazily drive down a highway (465, anyone?) in midsummer. Fans could watch that on top of a hill near their hometown; they’re not going to pay top dollar to sit in metal seats and see the same predictable thing, albeit at 190 miles per hour.
No one will rip Indy for being safe; there were no wrecks and just three cautions, each for cars being stopped on track for mechanical issues. But aerodynamics, combined with a one-groove track, made it look like every car had taken out a lifetime restraining order on the field. Aside from three restarts, where one crazy lap apiece left cars up to four-wide jockeying for position, the rest of the race revealed passing was a virtual impossibility.
Some drivers, like Stewart, got angry when questioned about the race being boring, as Smoke claimed “passing” does not always make a good product. Others, like Kasey Kahne, were more realistic, recognizing the difficulties and suggesting a different tire compound or new banking (the latter won’t happen) to fix the problem. Whatever the solution, there has to be one; a lack of on-track passes for the lead may be “racing” in Stewart’s mind but won’t fund his paycheck. Sports, in the end, are a business and fans aren’t going to sit in the stands and watch one that is not delivering to their expectations. NASCAR is not now nor ever will never be Formula One.
Contrary to popular belief, not every Indy race has been a snoozefest (1994 and ’97 come to mind) and the sport can spice things up with a little work from Goodyear. The key is getting everyone to push it, from the drivers — who often seem like they’re playing it conservative on-track — to engineers after Tiregate 2008 left half the field wrecked, rubber blowing every 10 to 12 laps and a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. The key to fixing it isn’t playing it safe, as that just leaves the wound fresh and fans leaving in droves. Hopefully, Sunday ignited a sense of urgency in someone’s mind, otherwise NASCAR may be running to the captive audience of a small group of security guards at Indy.
SECOND GEAR: Newman’s win spices up the Chase race.Newman’s victory, capping off an A-plus weekend for the No. 39 team, also throws a wrench into the Chase race. Now, Newman, the “lame duck,” sits just 20 points from a “wild card” position with six races left with a real chance of sneaking in. His presence means drivers with a victory, like Stewart, Greg Biffle or Martin Truex Jr., have to keep from having a problem down the stretch. It also means that for road course aces like Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose, two victories is a necessity to make the Chase and it all but knocks them out of contention even if they win Watkins Glen.
Perhaps another intriguing subplot involves the winless seasons of Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski. Gordon as of now holds the last spot inside the top 10 in points; Keselowski sits six points outside it and would miss the Chase if the postseason started now. Both drivers have no margin of error if they miss Victory Lane, as there’s no chance running 11th or 12th in points would earn them a “wild card.” It’s find a way to win, stay consistent enough to edge ahead of their rivals or spend the fall wondering what might have been. At this point, one of those big names looks like they’ll miss this season’s playoffs. It’s just a matter of which one.
THIRD GEAR: Johnson’s costly pit road error. Let’s not take anything away from Newman and crew chief Matt Borland, who ran a flawless race and put their team in position to capitalize with a gutsy two-tire stop to get out in front. But there’s no way the No. 39 sits in Victory Lane if Johnson’s crew doesn’t cost him six seconds on pit road. All day, the No. 48 had made mincemeat of the field, leading 73 laps and sitting on cruise control in the final stages. It was an 18-second mistake, a four-tire massacre, that left them sitting second and one-position short of a record-setting five wins at Indianapolis.
“We win as a team, lose as a team,” Johnson said. “I hate to let this opportunity slip by, but it's gone, not a lot we can do about it.”
Now 75 points in front of second-place Clint Bowyer in the championship standings, it’s not like the No. 48 took a major hit. This group is the type where one boo-boo, even in a major race, won’t change their momentum greatly; they’ve been the fastest by a country mile for months, to the point Keselowski even complained to his spotter, mid-race, “You think (Johnson) feels bad having a car that much better every f***ing week?!” Still, it’s notable that they’ve given away nine bonus points for the postseason in the past two months alone: Sunday at Indy, the restart penalty at Dover and a similar fiasco-turned-spin at Kentucky. Lose the title by nine points or less at Homestead and they’ll be looking back at days like this one as to why.
FOURTH GEAR: Hendrick vs. Gibbs.
Sunday’s race was won by Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick-powered cars now have won seven of 20 races this season, edging out the six from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Look deeper and you’ll find those cars own seven of the 12 spots in the Chase (Hendrick/SHR: 5; JGR: 2). While Michael Waltrip Racing and Roush Fenway Racing own two spots apiece, neither has shown the ability to run up front consistently enough to contend. Ditto for Richard Childress Racing, earning a spot through Kevin Harvick, but whose strategy is to top 10 ‘em to death (despite a pair of wins) and hope a victory falls in their direction late. That probably won’t get it done.
All season, we’ve been waiting patiently for other teams to step up to the plate and challenge the two heavyweights. The Dog Days of August are beginning … and we’re still waiting. When will the rest of the field step up?
OVERDRIVEYou gotta feel for Jeff Burton, who has been top 12 every week since Memorial Day and quietly snuck back into Chase contention this summer. Mechanical problems during a safe day at the Brickyard left him behind the wall for a time and dead last, dropping 60 points outside the top 10 and all but certainly out of the postseason. … Speaking of “safe,” Sunday was the first time in almost five years the entire 43-car field finished the race. You have to give credit to NASCAR for changing its purse rules, keeping fewer cars start-and-parking as they race for more money; although Indy’s healthy payday certainly didn’t hurt. … Mark Martin struggled to a 23rd-place finish on Sunday, with a team Brian Vickers had taken to victory at New Hampshire two weeks earlier. Without a top-5 finish since the Daytona 500 in the No. 55 car, along with no part-time opportunities out there for 2014, speculation is increasing that this season may be the 54-year-old Martin’s final one.
Baseball is back in full swing as the pennant races heat up and the non-waiver trade deadline comes Wednesday afternoon. 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 bring you last week's top hitters, some starting pitchers who are on a roll, and also identify the waiver wire pick ups and spot starters you need to keep an eye on.
Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (July 22-28):
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Weekly Waiver Wire:
Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, SEA (42% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
Since getting called up in late May, Franklin has hit 10 home runs. While that may not seem like a lot, consider that among all MI-eligible players, only 16 players have hit more this season, and of that group only two (Ryan Raburn and Hanley Ramirez) have done so in fewer at-bats than Franklin's 195. Franklin, a switch-hitter, connected for three bombs last week alone and if there's one thing that's highly coveted when it comes to a middle infielder, it's power.
Junior Lake, 3B/OF, CHC (32%)
With Alfonso Soriano back in Yankee pinstripes, it appears that the left field job belongs to Lake. The rookie exploded onto the scene with 15 hits in his first seven career games (.484 average). He has gone hitless in his last three, but the tools he has already shown (2 HRs, 1 SB), are tantalizing, especially given the fact he should get plenty of playing time moving forward as the Cubs focus on next season, and he carries 3B eligibility too.
David Lough, OF, KC (3%)
Similar to Lake, Lough is probably an option for deeper and in his case AL-only leagues, but one of the reasons the Royals finally cut ties with Jeff Francoeur is the emergence of Lough. The 27 year-old rookie has made the most of the playing time he has received, hitting .297 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 202 at-bats. As a lefty, he will probably sit against the majority of southpaws, but he's gotten consistent at-bats over the last several weeks and teammate Lorenzo Cain is dealing with a groin issue right now. Depending on your league, Lough could be a decent short-term option to take a look at.
Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHC (23%)
Soriano and Scott Hairston were the first Cub outfielders to go, and Schierholtz (or David DeJesus) may be the next one traded before Wednesday's deadline. The veteran is quietly putting together a solid season, as he ranks among the top 50 fantasy outfielders despite having less than 300 at-bats (281). A left-handed swinger, Schierholtz has primarily sat against fellow southpaws, but he has done plenty of damage (.289-14-42) against righties. While he may only be a situational player, Schierholtz' production this season is worth roster consideration, whether he gets traded or stays with the Cubs.
Christian Yelich, OF, MIA (22%)
To the surprise of no one, the Marlins have decided to call up some of their top prospects and give them a chance to play in the big leagues. Yelich, the organization's top hitting prospect, was one of the first to be promoted, and through six games the 21-year-old has acquitted himself quite nicely. The 23rd overall pick of the 2010 draft, the left-handed swinger had nearly as many hits (seven) as strikeouts (eight) in his first week of facing major-league pitching. While it's certainly safe to assume his fantasy impact for the rest of this season could be limited, especially considering the lineup support around him, Yelich is definitely a guy to keep on the radar in keeper and dynasty leagues.
Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):
1. Chris Archer, TB (Fri.) vs. San Francisco (60% owned)
I am not sure what else the young right-hander needs to do to get his ownership up to the 70-percent level. He has won his last four decisions, tossing two shutouts and allowing just one earned run over 31 innings. He may have only 17 strikeouts during this span, but he's surrendered even fewer hits (15) and walked only four. Even with Madison Bumgarner scheduled to oppose him, it's not like the Giants' offense is putting up a ton of runs lately. They managed a grand total of three in getting swept by the Cubs at home this past weekend.
2. Ricky Nolasco, LAD (Thurs.) at Chicago (39%)
Nolasco is just 1-1 in his first four starts with the Dodgers, but he's given up just eight earned runs in those 23 innings (3.13 ERA). The Dodgers are one of the hottest teams in all of baseball right now as the offense has come alive, and should be able to continue its production in Wrigley Field against young left-hander Chris Rusin. It may not be the prettiest or cleanest victory, but Nolasco should have a good chance of getting the W, as the Cubs may have a makeshift lineup in place by that point following Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline.
3. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (Tues.) vs. Houston (38%)
Since spending two months on the DL with an oblique strain, Chen has posted three straight quality starts. The left-hander has allowed just five earned runs over these starts, and was a tough-luck loser against Kansas City last Wednesday despite allowing just three earned runs (two home runs) in 7 1/3 innings. In three home starts this season, Chen is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Chen also is scheduled to start at Camden Yards on Sunday against Seattle.
4. Edwin Jackson, CHC (Wed.) vs. Milwaukee (28%)
After getting off to a rough start (6-10, 5.11 ERA before the All-Star break) with his new team, Jackson has pitched much better lately. The veteran right-hander has put together three straight quality outings in which he has posted a 2.18 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. Next up for him is a Brewers' lineup that is without Ryan Braun (suspended) and Aramis Ramirez (DL) and one that is tied for 26th in the majors in runs scored (187 in 49 G) on the road.
5. Brandon Beachy, ATL (Mon.) vs. Colorado (46%)
Beachy will make his first start in more than a year when he takes the next, and hopefully final, step in his return from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander last pitched for the Braves on June 16, 2012 when he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against Baltimore. Before suffering the elbow injury, Beachy was 5-5 with a sparkling 2.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 81 innings. While it may be risky to start someone in their first game back after missing so much time, consider that only two teams (Washington and Miami) have scored fewer runs than Colorado on the road and slugger Carlos Gonzalez has missed the last three games with a finger issue. If all goes well on Monday night, Beachy should get the ball again on Saturday in Philadelphia.
The non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday afternoon could cause several teams' bullpens to take on different shapes. The first two chips to fall were Houston closer Jose Veras and Los Angels Angels' setup man Scott Downs ... Veras was traded by the Astros to the Tigers on Monday for two minor-league players. Veras has been steady this season, posting a 2.93 ERA and saving 19 games for the lowly Astros, and Detroit manager Jim Leyland is hoping the veteran can help stabilize the back end of his bullpen. For now, there's no reason to think that current Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit will lose his job, but it does give Leyland another experienced option to turn to if need be. While Veras' save opportunities figure to diminish, if not disappear altogether, he is now an appealing option for leagues which use holds in their pitching categories ... Downs was traded to Atlanta for minor-league pitcher Cory Rasmus, as the Braves look to shore up their bullpen for the stretch run. Downs (2-3, 1.84 ERA, 18 holds) should team with former Angels teammate Jordan Walden in serving as the bridge between the starter and closer Craig Kimbrel. Downs also gives Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez another closing option should Kimbrel need a break. If anything, Downs' value actually increases slightly with this deal based on the switch in leagues and the fact the Braves have been a better team this year compared to the Angels ... Other relievers that could be changing uniforms this week that bear watching include closer Kevin Gregg and setup man Jeff Russell of the Cubs, the Padres' Luke Gregerson and Joe Thatcher, and depending on what takes place, possibly the likes of closers Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins and Jonathan Papelbon. If any of these three end up getting traded, that will definitely shake a bullpen or two up.
Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid
The next round of Molsons is on Sneds.
An intriguing weekend at Ontario's Glen Abbey Golf Club concluded with the World's No. 7 player, Brandt Snedeker, outlasting Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, among others, to win the RBC Canadian Open, earning his sixth career PGA Tour title and moving to third in the 2013 FedExCup points chase. The win was especially gratifying for Snedeker, whose caddie, Scott Vail, is a native Canadian. "Just ecstatic right now," Snedeker said. "This is a tournament I said early on in my career I wanted to win just because my caddie (Scott Vail) is actually from Canada and it's his national open. It meant a lot to him, meant a lot to me. Third-oldest tournament on Tour and it's got some great history to it, and now to put my name on that trophy it means a lot."
Snedeker tipped his Bridgestone cap to 36-hole leader Hunter Mahan, who withdrew to be present for the birth of his daughter Zoe. "Zoe will be getting a very nice baby gift from me," Snedeker said. "I can't thank Kandi (Mahan) enough for going into labor early. I don't know if I'd be sitting here if she hadn't. But that is a way more important thing than a golf tournament. I missed a golf tournament when my first was born, and it was the best decision I ever made. I'm sure Hunter would say the same thing."
Here are some numbers to ponder from the weekend's action:
1 After moving to third in the latest FedExCup points standings, Snedeker is in prime position to become the first FedExCup champ to defend his Cup title successfully.
7 Having surged into a tie for the lead with two holes to play, Johnson sailed his tee shot on 17 out of bounds, hit his second drive into a bunker, hit the lip to leave it in the bunker, then had to drain a tough five-footer for a triple-bogey 7. A par would have put him in a playoff.
7 The Canadian Open represents the only real gap in Jack Nicklaus' legendary resume. The Golden Bear finished second in the event an astounding seven times.
8 The win marked Snedeker's eighth top-10 finish of the season in 16 appearances. That's tied for the most on Tour with Bill Haas (eight top 10s in 18 appearances).
-12 Dustin Johnson's dominance of the par-5s on the PGA Tour is breathtaking. For the week, Johnson was 12-under on Glen Abbey's par-5s, and that includes a couple of bogeys, which were offset by eagles. Johnson is tied for the Tour lead with 11 eagles in only 49 rounds.
With games against Arkansas and Kansas State to open the 2013 season (and an excellent coach on the sidelines in Mark Hudspeth), UL Lafayette has a chance at a couple of high-profile upsets. And it certainly won’t hurt the Ragin’ Cajuns cause that the team unveiled some impressive uniforms for this year.
These photo tweeted by Eric Narcisse (@TDANarcisse) showcase UL Lafayette’s new uniforms, which feature white, black and red fleur-de-lis helmets, along with the traditional stacked Ragin’ Cajuns look.
Overall, this is a strong group of uniforms for UL Lafayette. Maybe the best-dressed team in the Sun Belt?
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 29.
• Brandt Snedeker won the RBC Canadian Open this weekend, but he was careful to share credit with Kandi Mahan, who went into labor and prompted hubby Hunter to withdraw with the 36-hole lead. Here are some pictures of Kandi in her pre-pregnancy, Dallas Cowboy cheerleader days.
• The Offseason of Johnny Football continues. He showed up at a Texas frat party, where he was not welcome. He then had a classic drop-the-mic-like-Kanye moment on Twitter where he basically scoreboarded a hater.
• Terrelle Pryor says he "never really knew how to throw a football before" working with his coaches in Oakland. Good work, Jim Tressel.
• Coach Cal has launched his own clothing line. I have no doubts that it will succeed; the guy could sell sand in the Sahara.
• Deadspin has been documenting the activities of bored baseball fans at big-league parks this season — knitting, solitaire, reading. But this chick wins.
• This is a hilarious genre: Horrendous TV dubs and edits. Yipee ki yay, Mr. Falcon.
• Superstar athletes and their rock-star equivalents. I like the Ryan Lochte-Jessica Simpson comparison.
• Anthony Weiner's sexting partner did a bikini shoot. The results were … underwhelming. Hope it was worth it, Weiner.
• Jonathan Papelbon didn't sign up for this. At least he has his $50 million to console him.
• Move over, Reggie: This six-year-old kid saw five pitches in a game and launched all five into the parking lot.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It’s a never-ending arms race in the SEC and for the rest of college football. With the television dollars flowing into each program, athletic facilities are getting facelifts, especially as teams try to keep up on the recruiting trail.
Arkansas recently opened the Fred W. Smith Football Center, and the new photos and video coming out of Fayetteville are impressive.
Here’s a short video tour of the new facility, which should be one of the best in the SEC this season:
Sprinter Usain Bolt returned to Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games on Friday, making his entrance on a rocket. Fortunately for him, he won the 100 meters in 9.85 seconds. Otherwise, it might have been really, really awkward.
South Carolina, Ole Miss and now Auburn. Chrome helmet concepts have made the internet rounds over the last couple of weeks for the Gamecocks and Rebels, and one for the Tigers popped up over the weekend.
It’s uncertain if this helmet will ever see the field for Auburn, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty cool concept. Chrome schemes seem to be one of the newest and hottest trends when it comes to helmets, so expect to see more of these designs over the next few years.
Should Auburn wear this helmet in 2013?
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been in and out of the spotlight most of the offseason, and the sophomore quarterback was back in college football's TMZ news edition over the weekend.
As this video below shows, Manziel was tossed from a Texas frat party - I mean, it’s no surprise the Longhorns don’t want an Aggie on campus, right?
Before the Heisman Trophy winner was escorted from the party, he has beer cans tossed in his direction, as well as a few choice words. (Wouldn't it be awesome if we could settle the Longhorns-Aggies rivalry on the field again?)
Much has been made of Manziel’s offseason, but what happens in July means nothing for the upcoming college football season. The sophomore should still be one of the top players in college football this year, and all of his offseason travels and tweets will be forgotten once the season starts in August.
Note: Video contains some graphic language.
With the one-year bowl ban completed, Ohio State is loaded for a run at the national championship in 2013.
Despite having nothing to play for except pride last year, the Buckeyes went 12-0 in coach Urban Meyer’s first season, which included a win over Michigan and a 63-38 thrashing of Nebraska.
Ohio State is considered the biggest threat to the SEC’s national title streak in 2013, with the Buckeyes ranking No. 2 in Athlon’s projected final 125. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the top Heisman contenders, and his supporting cast should be better than it was last year.
If there’s a concern for Ohio State, it’s a defense that returns only four starters. The line was hit hard by departures, and cornerback Bradley Roby’s status is uncertain after an off-the-field incident in July.
The schedule is very manageable, but can the Buckeyes finish two straight seasons without a loss?
What will Ohio State's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Ohio State's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|9/7 San Diego State|
|9/14 at California|
|9/21 Florida A&M|
|10/5 at Northwestern|
|10/26 Penn State|
|11/2 at Purdue|
|11/16 at Illinois|
|11/30 at Michigan|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Finishing another regular season with an unbeaten record is going to be a tough assignment for Ohio State. However, I think the pieces are in place for the Buckeyes to run the table, especially with a favorable schedule. Keeping quarterback Braxton Miller is the top priority for coach Urban Meyer, but the junior signal-caller should have more help this year. The offensive line should be the best in the Big Ten, the receivers are deeper and improved and with or without Carlos Hyde, there's a solid stable of running backs. The defense still needs some work, as the line is littered with inexperience. There’s no question Ohio State has talent on defense, but it may take a few games for this unit to perform at a high level. If there’s a positive about the rebuilding effort on defense, it’s a favorable schedule that should give this unit plenty of time to get everything sorted out. Road games at Northwestern and Michigan, and the home Sept. 28 date against Wisconsin will be the toughest challenges for Ohio State. However, I think Meyer and his staff find a way to navigate the regular season with an unbeaten record once again, giving the Buckeyes a shot at Alabama in the national championship.
Brent Yarina, Big Ten Network, (@BTNBrentYarina)
Ohio State is a popular preseason pick to make the BCS title game, and for good reason. There are three overwhelming reasons, to be exact: 1.) Urban Meyer; 2.) Braxton Miller; and 3.) a favorable schedule. And all three are equally important to Ohio State’s 2013 fate. Pretty much, all the elements seem to be in place for a very special season in Columbus, Ohio. Now, it’s all about the Buckeyes staying healthy and winning 13 games – including the Big Ten title game – all of which they’ll likely be favored to win. Not the easiest task, of course, but, remember, Ohio State has a two-time national championship coach and a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback to help it navigate its manageable slate.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I don't know for certain if it will be Northwestern, but I don't think Ohio State will run the table this fall. I think they lose one game along the way as the defensive line isn't going to be undefeated season-good just yet. This is an elite team that is the clearcut frontrunner — and my pick — to win the Big Ten, but to reach the BCS National Championship game as a non-SEC team, a perfect record is a must. With the margin for error virtually paper thin, I don't see Ohio State going 13-0. This team is the most talented in the league, has a Heisman Trophy candidate under center and a two-time national title winning head coach roaming the sidelines - but it will slip-up one time in 2013.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
On paper, Ohio State may have the best odds to go undefeated of any team in the country other than Louisville. Its toughest nonconference trip is to rebuilding Cal, and the Big Ten schedule, for the most part, is manageable. The toughest spot may be Wisconsin and Northwestern. The Badgers will be the first real test, and Northwestern will give Ohio State’s defense fits in Evanston. Don’t forget: Ohio State’s defense did not have a great October last season against Nebraska, Indiana, Purdue and Penn State. Ohio State won all four, of course, and I’ve picked the Buckeyes to do the same here with its first two Big Ten games. When it comes down to it, I’ve picked Michigan with homefield advantage and Heisman darkhorse Devin Gardner to spoil Ohio State’s title hopes.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com
You don't have to over-think it when it comes to Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes went undefeated by finding every way needed to win last season, using defense one week and offense another. Whatever the situation was for Ohio State in 2012, they responded in spite of not being eligible for any postseason scenarios. You can credit a terrific coaching staff for much of that, but having a quarterback worthy of Heisman consideration in 2013 surely helps. Braxton Miller enters a junior season already with basically two years of starting experience behind him, and he could be better in 2013. One look at the schedule and it is easy for me to call Ohio State the favorite in every game in front of them, including the season finale at Michigan. There are two road games I think will test Ohio State, at California and Northwestern, but ultimately I think Ohio State has enough talent and drive to return home with victories to help them make a run for another undefeated regular season.
Kevin Noon (@Kevin_Noon), BuckeyeGrove.com
Even with the recent offseason turmoil the Buckeyes still have a schedule that is more than manageable and the right pieces to get through the season unscathed. With apologies to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan the biggest foe the Buckeyes will have to face this year will be themselves. Will a combination of being told that "you are expected to win" along with the threat of any further off-the-field issues submarine Ohio State's plans to Pasadena? I don't believe that will be the case with Urban Meyer as the master motivator and a 3rd-year Braxton Miller at the helm of the ship. Ohio State needs to find some leadership however on-the-field, and in a hurry. This season won't be the cakewalk that some in scarlet and gray glasses are calling for but the Buckeyes will be left standing with zero losses at the end of November.
I am very leery when it comes to predicting a team will go undefeated, but in Ohio State's case I'll make an exception. Recent turmoil aside, the Buckeyes are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Braxton Miller, and have had a year to get acclimated to Urban Meyer's spread offense. And don't forget this team went undefeated last season when they really had nothing to play for. This season won't be a cakewalk by any means, but when the toughest road game on the slate is in Ann Arbor to finish the regular season, it's hard for me to say where, if at all, these Buckeyes will slip up. Michigan will certainly be a tough test, especially in the Big House, but I'll take Meyer and company to find a way to come out with the win, especially if they are undefeated (and completely healthy) leading up to this one.
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Whether you hate or love the BCS, the bowl season is exciting time for college football fans. Although some believe there are too many bowl games, it's one last chance to see teams before the long offseason sets in. And considering how long the offseason is, maybe 35 bowl games isn't too many after all.
With college football's new playoff format coming with the 2014 season, this will be the final year for many of the tie-ins with current bowls. And of course, the BCS format will morph into a four-team playoff, with a national championship site awarded to the highest bidder. With more bowl games expected in 2014 and beyond, we may see at least 40 postseason matchups starting next season.
Athlon has released its 2013 rankings but it's time to unveil where teams will be spending the postseason.
Alabama and Ohio State are Athlon's prediction to play in the national title game, but who will play in college football's remaining 35 bowls?
College Football's 2013-2014 Bowl Projections
|New Mexico||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||Washington vs. Air Force|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 21||MAC vs. MWC||Nevada vs. Bowling Green|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||Oregon State vs. Fresno State|
|New Orleans Bowl||Dec. 21||Sun Belt vs. CUSA||Louisiana-Lafayette vs. MTSU|
|Beef 'O' Brady's||Dec. 23||American vs. CUSA||Pittsburgh* vs. Louisiana Tech|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||MWC vs. CUSA||San Jose State vs. East Carolina|
|Little Caesars Pizza||Dec. 26||MAC vs. Big Ten||Northern Illinois vs. Minnesota|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 26||Army vs. MWC||Arizona* vs. San Diego State|
|Military||Dec. 27||CUSA vs. ACC||Marshall vs. Maryland|
|Texas||Dec. 27||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||TCU vs. Indiana|
|Kraft Fight Hunger||Dec. 27||BYU vs. Pac-12||BYU vs. USC|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Rutgers vs. West Virginia|
|Belk||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||North Carolina vs. USF|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Cincinnati vs. Miami|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||Baylor vs. Northwestern|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||MWC vs. Navy||Navy vs. Utah State|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech|
|Alamo||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Stanford vs. Oklahoma|
|Holiday||Dec. 30||Pac-12 vs. Big 12||Arizona State vs. Kansas State|
|AdvoCare V100||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||NC State vs. Auburn|
|Sun||Dec. 31||Pac-12 vs. ACC||Virginia Tech vs. UCLA|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||SEC vs. CUSA||Tulsa vs. Tennessee|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||South Carolina vs. Florida State|
|Gator||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Vanderbilt vs. Michigan State|
|Heart of Dallas||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs. CUSA||Rice vs. Texas Tech*|
|Capital One||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Texas A&M vs. Wisconsin|
|Outback||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Florida vs. Nebraska|
|Rose||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Oregon vs. Michigan|
|Fiesta||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Oklahoma State vs. Boise State|
|Sugar||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Georgia vs. Louisville|
|Cotton||Jan. 3||SEC vs. Big 12||Texas vs. LSU|
|Orange||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Clemson vs. Notre Dame|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 4||SEC vs. American||Mississippi State vs. UCF|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 5||MAC vs. Sun Belt||ULM vs. Ball State|
|National Title||Jan. 6||BCS vs. BCS||Alabama vs. Ohio State|
* According to our 2013 conference predictions, Army, the Big Ten and American will fail to fill their allotted slots.
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Quarterback play is the most scrutinized position in college football each season. The difference between winning a conference championship or just getting bowl eligible could all depend on the player under center. Last season, Texas A&M’s offense thrived under the direction of Johnny Manziel. However, on the other side of the coin, Michigan State regressed after the departure of Kirk Cousins. Had the Spartans received better quarterback play from Andrew Maxwell, they could have won the Big Ten Legends Division.
Considering how much of an impact quarterbacks play in determining the outlook of a team, it’s no surprise to see this position discussed prominently when it comes to preseason predictions.
Debating which league has the best quarterbacks isn’t as prevalent as which conference ranks second to the SEC in terms of overall strength, but the overall depth of leagues in terms of quarterback talent is an interesting preseason discussion.
The SEC ranks as Athlon’s No. 1 quarterback league, but the Pac-12 and Mountain West are also a strong overall group. The ACC and Big Ten have solid options at the top, but plenty of question marks remain in the middle. The Big 12 is usually one of college football's top quarterback leagues, but the conference has an inexperienced group of signal-callers returning for 2013.
Power Ranking the Conferences in Terms of Quarterback Strength
With three potential All-American signal-callers returning for 2013, the SEC gets the nod as the top quarterback conference. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel may have trouble repeating last year’s numbers, but the sophomore is still in line for another monster season. Alabama’s AJ McCarron isn’t going to match Manziel’s passing totals, but the senior has won back-to-back national titles and tossed just three picks on 314 attempts last year. Georgia’s Aaron Murray ranked second nationally in pass efficiency in 2012 and passed for a career-best 36 scores. There’s a drop off after the top three passers, but the next group – Connor Shaw, Tyler Russell and Bo Wallace – are all coming off solid seasons. Florida’s Jeff Driskel should be improved in his second year as the starter, while Missouri’s James Franklin is expected to be at full strength after playing at less than 100 percent from shoulder surgery in 2012. The bottom of the league has room to improve, but new coaches at Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky should breathe some much-needed life into their offenses.
Ranking the SEC Starters: (SEC predictions for 2013)
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2. AJ McCarron, Alabama
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia
4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
5. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
7. Jeff Driskel, Florida
8. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
9. James Franklin, Missouri
10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt
11. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky
12. Justin Worley, Tennessee
13. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
14. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn
Even though Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon’s offense should remain one of the best in the nation, largely due to the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sophomore is poised to take another step in his development in 2013, and if the Ducks are in the national title hunt again, look for Mariota to jump into Heisman discussion. UCLA’s Brett Hundley totaled 4,095 yards and 38 scores in his freshman campaign last year, and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly returns after finishing ninth in the nation in pass efficiency in 2012. Ranking the Pac-12 as the No. 2 quarterback conference will largely hinge on if Washington’s Keith Price can regain his form from 2011, along with the development of Stanford’s Kevin Hogan. This group could get even deeper if USC settles on a quarterback, and Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz seizes the job at Oregon State. Keep an eye on Utah’s Travis Wilson and California’s Zach Kline. Both quarterbacks could be in for a breakout season in 2013.
Ranking the Pac-12 Starters: (Pac-12 predictions for 2013)
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
4. Keith Price, Washington
5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
7. Max Wittek, USC
8. Connor Halliday, Washington State
9. Zach Kline, California
10. Travis Wilson, Utah
11. B.J. Denker, Arizona
12. Connor Wood, Colorado
3. Mountain West
The Mountain West has quietly assembled one of the nation’s top quarterback groups for 2013. Fresno State’s Derek Carr and San Jose State’s David Fales are on the radar for NFL scouts, and Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton shared first-team All-WAC honors last year. Nevada’s Cody Fajardo nearly had 4,000 yards of total offense in 2012, while Wyoming’s Brett Smith has 6,417 yards and 47 passing scores in two years in Laramie. Boise State’s Joe Southwick and UNLV’s Nick Sherry are set to improve in their second year as the No. 1 quarterback, with the bottom of the conference having potential with Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham (Hawaii) and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.
Ranking the Mountain West Starters:
(Mountain West predictions for 2013)
1. Derek Carr, Fresno State
2. David Fales, San Jose State
3. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
4. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
5. Brett Smith, Wyoming
6. Joe Southwick, Boise State
7. Nick Sherry, UNLV
8. Adam Dingwell, San Diego State
9. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
10. Cole Gautsche, New Mexico
11. Kale Pearson, Air Force
12. Taylor Graham, Hawaii
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is one of the top-10 signal-callers in the nation, and North Carolina’s Bryn Renner is due for an increase in in passing yards and touchdowns in the second year under coach Larry Fedora’s offense. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas was one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in 2011, but he struggled in 2012 and will have a new coordinator (Scot Loeffler) this year. Miami’s Stephen Morris should build off a solid junior year (3,345), while Florida State’s Jameis Winston is poised for a breakout season. Wake Forest’s Tanner Price and Boston College’s Chase Rettig are solid, and Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee was impressive in limited action in 2012. For the ACC to climb higher on this list, the bottom of the conference has to improve. NC State’s Brandon Mitchell, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage and Syracuse’s Drew Allen are three intriguing transfers to watch this year.
Ranking the ACC Starters: (ACC predictions for 2013)
1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
2. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
3. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
4. Stephen Morris, Miami
5. Jameis Winston, Florida State
6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest
7. Vad Lee, Georgia Tech
8. Chase Rettig, Boston College
9. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
10. Anthony Boone, Duke
11. Brandon Mitchell, NC State
12. C.J. Brown, Maryland
13. David Watford, Virginia
14. Drew Allen, Syracuse
5. Big Ten
The Big Ten boasts one of the nation’s top Heisman candidates (Braxton Miller), an improving senior (Taylor Martinez), and one of the year’s breakout candidates in Michigan’s Devin Gardner. While the top of the conference is strong, the rest of the Big Ten has much to prove. Northwestern’s Kain Colter is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players, but he splits time under center with Trevor Siemian. Indiana’s Tre Roberson missed most of last season with a leg injury, and Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell was a disappointment in his first year as the starter. Two names to watch: Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg and Minnesota sophomore Philip Nelson. If Hackenberg lives up to his recruiting hype, and Nelson continues to improve, it will strengthen the Big Ten’s overall quarterback outlook.
Ranking the Big Ten Starters: (Big Ten predictions for 2013)
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
2. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
3. Devin Gardner, Michigan
4. Kain Colter, Northwestern
5. Tre Roberson, Indiana
6. Joel Stave, Wisconsin
7. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
8. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
9. Philip Nelson, Minnesota
10. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
11. Rob Henry, Purdue
12. Jake Rudock, Iowa
6. Big 12
Transition is the key word when it comes to Big 12 quarterbacks this year. There’s no clear No. 1 signal-caller for first-team all-conference honors. Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf played well over the final weeks of 2012, throwing for 14 touchdowns in the last six games. TCU’s Casey Pachall is back after missing most of last year due to a suspension. Oklahoma’s Blake Bell has played well in limited action but still has plenty to prove with his arm. Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Daniel Sams and Texas Tech’s Michael Brewer are in for breakout years, while Kansas hopes Jake Heaps lives up to his recruiting hype. Texas’ David Ash improved from 2011 to 2012 and has the most career starts by a quarterback in the Big 12. Overall, this group is a weakness heading into the preseason. But by the end of 2012, the Big 12 could have a strong group of signal-callers.
Ranking the Big 12 Starters: (Big 12 predictions for 2013)
1. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
2. Casey Pachall, TCU
3. Blake Bell, Oklahoma
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor
5. David Ash, Texas
6. Michael Brewer, Texas Tech
7. Daniel Sams, Kansas State
8. Clint Trickett, West Virginia
9. Jake Heaps, Kansas
10. Sam Richardson, Iowa State
The MAC is in good shape at the top of the conference. Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch finished seventh in Heisman voting last season and is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton and Ball State’s Keith Wenning both ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense last year, while Toledo’s Terrance Owens returns after throwing for 2,707 yards and 14 scores last season. Western Michigan’s Tyler Van Tubbergen takes over for Alex Carder and has played well in limited action. The bottom of the conference has a lot of unknowns, especially with Central Michigan, Akron and UMass.
Ranking the MAC Starters: (MAC predictions for 2013)
1. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
2. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
3. Keith Wenning, Ball State
4. Terrance Owens, Toledo
5. Matt Schilz, Bowling Green
6. Tyler Van Tubbergen, Western Michigan
7. Austin Boucher, Miami (Ohio)
8. Joe Licata, Buffalo
9. David Fisher, Kent State
10. Cody Kater, Central Michigan
11. Kyle Pohl, Akron
12. Tyler Benz, Eastern Michigan
13. Mike Wegzyn, UMass
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but the rest of the American Athletic Conference has room to improve. UCF’s Blake Bortles was solid in his first season as a starter last year, throwing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. However, after Bortles, that’s where the question marks begin. Brendon Kay stabilized the quarterback play for Cincinnati in the second half of 2012, but he will transition to a new offense under new coach Tommy Tuberville. After a solid start, Rutgers’ Gary Nova tossed 14 picks over the final seven games. SMU’s Garrett Gilbert has yet to live up to his five-star billing out of high school, and Connecticut’s Chandler Whitmer struggled (although he didn’t have much help around him) in his first season with the Huskies. The rest of the conference has quarterback question marks, but picking up Steven Bench as a transfer from Penn State should help stabilize USF’s play under center.
Ranking the American Starters: (American predictions for 2013)
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2. Blake Bortles, UCF
3. Brendon Kay, Cincinnati
4. Gary Nova, Rutgers
5. Garrett Gilbert, SMU
6. Chandler Whitmer, Connecticut
7. Steven Bench, USF
8. David Piland, Houston
9. Jacob Karam, Memphis
10. Connor Reilly, Temple
9. Conference USA
Marshall’s Rakeem Cato is one of the top non-BCS quarterbacks in the nation, and East Carolina’s Shane Carden is back after throwing for 3,116 yards and 23 scores last year. Tulsa’s Cody Green was solid in his first season with the Golden Hurricane, and Rice’s Taylor McHargue has been effective when he can stay healthy. The middle of Conference USA’s quarterback depth chart should get stronger this year, as Jameill Showers and Scotty Young are two of the top transfer signal-callers in the nation. UTSA’s Eric Soza impressed in the Roadrunners’ first season on the FBS level, and Tulane’s Nick Montana – yes, the son of the NFL Hall of Famer – should help keep the Green Wave’s offense averaging over 250 passing yards per game.
Ranking the Conference USA Starters: (C-USA predictions for 2013)
1. Rakeem Cato, Marshall
2. Shane Carden, East Carolina
3. Cody Green, Tulsa
4. Taylor McHargue, Rice
5. Jameill Showers, UTEP
6. Logan Kilgore, MTSU
7. Jake Medlock, FIU
8. Eric Soza, UTSA
9. Austin Brown, UAB
10. Scotty Young, Louisiana Tech
11. Nick Montana, Tulane
12. Derek Thompson, North Texas
13. Cole Weeks, Southern Miss
14. Melvin German III, FAU
10. Sun Belt
The Sun Belt’s quarterback play is top-heavy in 2013. ULM’s Kolton Browning and Louisiana’s Terrance Broadway are standout performers, and Troy’s Corey Robinson returns after throwing for 3,121 yards last year. Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy was a solid pickup for Arkansas State. However, the rest of the conference is filled with question marks under center this season.
Ranking the Sun Belt Starters:
(Sun Belt predictions for 2013)
1. Kolton Browning, ULM
2. Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
3. Corey Robinson, Troy
4. Adam Kennedy, Arkansas State
5. Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
6. Ross Metheny, South Alabama
7. Tyler Arndt, Texas State
8. Ben McLane, Georgia State
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Despite what coaches have said at media days in the last two weeks, not all position battles and breakout players are equal. Some will be more pressing than others.
That’s why Athlon Sports is taking a look at what we’re calling “pivotal players.” We took a look at teams that are a piece or two away from a conference or division title and the players those teams need to perform in order to win big.
Last season in the ACC we tabbed Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving as a pivotal player to the Seminoles’ ACC title hopes. Erving didn’t earn All-ACC honors, but he started all season for the conference championship-winning Seminoles.
We also picked Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland as a pivotal player for the Tigers, who needed to improve play on the back end of the defense. Breeland struggled with injuries, and Clemson shows up here again looking for someone to step up in a leaky secondary.
In other words, a pivotal player can go either way and be the difference in a title-winning season.
Our criteria for pivotal players:
1. He plays for a conference or division contender.
2. He is an unproven commodity in some way.
3. He plays at a position his team needs to perform in order to win a division or conference title.
We begin our look at pivotal players with the ACC with other conferences to follow:
Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
Chickillo’s sophomore slump wasn’t the only reason the Hurricanes slipped in sacks (from 2 per game to 1.1) and tackles for a loss (from 6.2 to 4.4). His fellow starting end didn’t have a sack all season. Still, Miami needs Chickillo to return to his form from his freshman season to contend for an ACC title. The 6-4, 269-pound defensive end led Miami with four sacks last season, which is a pretty clear indictment of the Hurricanes’ pass rush. As the the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chickillo had eight tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2011.
Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech
Logan Thomas didn’t play like the first-round draft pick he was projected to be, but the Hokies’ running game didn’t produce last season, either. The 3.7 yards per carry was their worst since 2007. With Michael Holmes dismissed, Virginia Tech’s numbers at a position of weakness are already down. The redshirt freshman Edmunds could solidify the position if he can improve ball security. He’s shown nice potential, and he has the frame at 6-1, 215 pounds to take a pounding. That’s good news since projected starter J.C. Coleman stands at 5-8, 177 pounds.
Caleb Peterson, OG, North Carolina
Left guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft, was the Tar Heels’ top offensive player last season. He’ll be replaced by a redshirt freshman in Peterson on a team that has aspirations of reaching the ACC title game. A strength last season, the Heels’ offensive line returns only two starters (left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine). North Carolina has ample skill position talent, so Peterson’s development on the offensive line could be a key to the Heels’ success in the ACC.
Darius Robinson, CB, Clemson
Clemson’s pass defense was pressing issue before the 2012 season and never really got fixed, even though the Tigers went 11-2. Clemson allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt (ninth in the ACC) and 23 touchdowns through the air (tied for eighth). Robinson missed the final six games last season, but he’ll be one of the Tigers’ DBs front and center in the opener against Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. If Robinson can’t solidify the Clemson secondary, the Tigers have promising freshman Mackensie Alexander waiting in the wings.
Darren Waller, WR, Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets would like to be able to take advantage of Vad Lee’s ability as a passer, but Georgia Tech needs a receiver to emerge. Waller has only eight career catches, but the 6-5, 228-pound receiver has a size and speed mix reminiscent of Damaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Expectations for the redshirt freshman Winston are already high for Winston, who is slated to be Florida State’s first rookie starting quarterback since Drew Weatherford in 2005. FSU’s skill talent on offense hasn’t been bad — the last two Seminoles starting quarterbacks were first-round draft picks — but the Noles haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn, a first-team All-ACC receiver since Craphonso Thorpe or a first-team All-ACC quarterback since Chris Weinke. That's a crazy drought for a Florida State team used to swimming in top talent. Winston, the freshman at quarterback from Hueytown (Ala.), is the key to Florida State’s long-term plans, but he’ll be put on the spot early when he tries to keep up with Clemson’s high-powered offense on the road on Oct. 19.
It's been a busy week in the college football world.
In addition to the latest news, Friday's links will try to highlight some of the best posts of week - just in case you didn't catch our posts from earlier in the week.
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories From the Week of July 22-26
Can Kliff Kingsbury replicate Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's path?
The Big Ten Network's Brent Yarina conducted a player poll at media days. Some interesting answers here.
Bruce Feldman goes one-on-one with Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
The NCAA has finally reinstated Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston.
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville is slated to go on trial in August in a civil securities fraud case.
Penn State and West Virginia are close to finalizing a home-and-home series.
BYU and Utah State have adjusted their future series, which adds one more matchup between these two teams.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops received a contract extension. What does Stoops' extension mean for the Sooners?
Saturday Down South ranks the cornerbacks in the SEC for 2013.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr played all of 2012 with an abdominal tear.
Texas receiver Cayleb Jones has decided to transfer.
Crystal Ball Run breaks down the latest in the Carlos Hyde saga at Ohio State.
Here's an excellent Q and A with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Southern Miss coach Todd Monken had some interesting thoughts on an NCAA split.
Mike Leach blasts the new targeting rule.
A timeline has been set for the renovation of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium.
How will Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin split the quarterback duties for TCU in 2013?
An Arizona safety was dismissed from the team after being charged with four felonies.
Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks had his request for a medical redshirt approved.
Rob Moseley previews Oregon's depth chart at running back for 2013.
Kansas could be without one of its top linebacker recruits this season, and the status of receiver Nick Harwell is still unsettled.
UCLA safety Dietrich Riley will retire from football.
Syracuse and Maryland will likely play in a non-conference series once the Terrapins depart for the Big Ten.
Is Michael Dyer close to joining Louisville for the 2013 season?
Wake Forest could be without running back Josh Harris this year.
Wisconsin's incoming JUCO quarterback Tanner McEvoy was the victim of a robbery in Madison.
In case you missed it, no press release will top the one FIU had to send out on Friday.
A great feature from Lost Lettermen: Can Brady Hoke Match Urban Meyer?
What changes should be expected from LSU’s offense with Cam Cameron calling the plays?
West Virginia defensive lineman Korey Harris is no longer with the team. The defensive tackle was arrested on first-degree armed robbery charges earlier this month. (You have to read how he was identified by the victims).
Wake Forest has picked up a safety transfer from Air Force.
Could two redshirt freshmen start on Michigan’s offensive line this year?
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his passing attacks, but the Mountaineers picked up a key transfer to help the offense on the ground for 2014. Former Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell has selected West Virginia as his next home. The Pennsylvania native will have to sit out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules.
In his only season at Pittsburgh, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four scores, while catching nine passes for 103 yards. He originally selected UCLA as his transfer destination but decided against going to Los Angeles earlier this summer. Shell ranked as the No. 33 recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100.
Although West Virginia will lean on its passing attack, Shell should see plenty of carries in 2014. The Pennsylvania native could be one of the top running backs in the Big 12 next season and will add to a backfield that features Dreamius Smith, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison.
Shell's addition is especially crucial with West Virginia facing an uncertain future at quarterback. The Mountaineers reeled in Clint Trickett from Florida State this spring, but Ford Childress and Paul Millard are also in the mix to start. If West Virginia struggles to get consistency from its quarterbacks - which would be a major surprise considering Holgorsen's track record - the Mountaineers may have to focus on the ground game more over the next two years.
And it's never too early to look ahead, as West Virginia will face Alabama in Atlanta in its season opener in 2014.
College football has a blown officiating call to thank for South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney blowing up a ball-carrier in the hit seen around the Internet.
Before Clowney’s devastatingly legal Outback Bowl hit last season, Big East referee Jeff Maconaghy allowed Michigan to retain possession by awarding a first down. One problem: The nose of the football clearly didn’t reach the first-down marker.
“It’s just a mistake, and I know that’s tough for people to deal with given social media and technology,” says Terry McAulay, the officiating coordinator of the American Athletic Conference (former Big East). “They say, ‘How can I get it right on the couch and they can’t?’ They don’t understand the pressure these guys are under and the fact they’re very, very good with 99 percent accuracy. But one percent can sometimes hurt us.”
College football officials have never been under so much scrutiny. On the flip side, their bosses have never communicated and leaned on each other as much as they do now.
Officiating needs all the help it can get this season. With player safety now a heavy focus, consistency will be called into question in a new way by a rule that automatically ejects a player who delivers a hit to the head of a defenseless player.
The state of college football officiating is evolving. To understand where it’s at, Athlon Sports talked individually with the six officiating coordinators at BCS conferences — Steve Shaw of the SEC, Doug Rhoads of the ACC, Bill Carollo of the Big Ten, Walt Anderson of the Big 12, Tony Corrente of the Pac-12 and McAulay of the American — plus former NFL officiating supervisor and current Fox NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira. Here are excerpts from those candid conversations about the men fans love to hate.
What do you think of the ejection rule for targeting a defenseless player?
Carollo, Big Ten: “We want officials to know if they get a little too anxious and they’re wrong and throw the starting linebacker out of the game, we’ll support them and we have replay to confirm. If we really do care about these players 10 to 15 years from now, we have to change the rule. That’s a big price to pay, but we’re willing to take that risk.”
Corrente, Pac-12: “What happens when it’s a deliberate action vs. an accidental action? That’s what we want clarity on. … I’ve heard some coaches say, ‘You guys are changing the game and this isn’t football.’ I say, ‘You’re right. This isn’t football.’ The player safety issues we’re seeing today were not part of the game 20 years ago. I tell coaches five percent of their players will be pro players, meaning 90 to 95 percent will need to be functioning adults down the road. Don’t you want them to be functioning adults and not vegetables? I think it’s going to take a while for the culture to change, and we’ll start to see high hits diminish.”
Shaw, SEC: “I think making the ejection immediate in a game will change the mindset of the players. I can show you video last year of a player making a high hit on a receiver, he sees three flags thrown, and he’s back there chest-bumping his fellow players. That mindset now has to go to, ‘Oh no, I’m out of the game.’ We’re going to be very vigilant to make those calls.”
McAulay, American: “I think our struggle is going to be 13 minutes to go in the first quarter, this situation pops up, and you lose your free safety for the rest of the game because he did lower his target, but there’s still helmet-to-helmet contact that has to be called. There’s no leeway for the official. I’m struggling with that aspect of it. I understand the argument that there’s such a serious consequence and we can live with an ejection here and there that may not be warranted. They may be right. I don’t dismiss that argument. I’m not there yet.”
Pereira, ex-NFL: “When the penalty is so severe that it includes automatic ejection, boy, you better have a consistent philosophy. Although they’re backing it up with replay to make sure the ejection is warranted, I still think consistency is going to be an issue. Replay is going to have to prove without a shadow of a doubt that he shouldn’t be ejected.”
How challenging will it be for replay officials to decide whether to uphold the ejection?
Corrente, Pac-12: “I’m advocating we bring replay down on the field like the NFL does. The referee is the ultimate rules decision-maker on the field.”
McAulay, American: “We take the biggest plays out of the referee’s hands. I think the referees’ eyes give us a better chance of reaching near 100 percent accuracy. This is going to be a very, very tough process to get through for officials, replay and coordinators.”
Last year, College Football Officiating, LLC, used a committee of officiating coordinators to review hits to the head and recommend player disciplinary action to conferences. How often did conferences go along with those non-binding recommendations?
Corrente, Pac-12: “We read the committee’s recommendations but we kept everything in house. We believed we had a due process program in place that was understood. … Like any committee, you always have a degree of skepticism of whether anybody who is associated with a conference could have underlying reasons for removing someone else’s players. But I believe everybody in that room was above that approach.”
Carollo, Big Ten: “I brought the Aaron Murray hit (by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial in the SEC Championship Game) and a dozen other plays to the rules committee about hitting a defenseless player and launching. The Murray play would be an automatic ejection and suspension now because we will define a defenseless player more in line with NFL rules. The CFO committee recommended a suspension (which didn’t happen). I know the SEC handles some things internally and there were a couple other plays in that game. I don’t second-guess these guys. If you really want consistency, that’s why we created that panel. We’re not very consistent in calling it and disciplining it around the country. Everyone kind of interpreted it their own way. Some sent letters of reprimand and didn’t start the game. Some had a half-game suspension. Some had an entire game suspension.” (Shaw, whose conference handed out three one-game suspensions in 2012, declined to discuss the Murray hit.)
The Pac-12 threw more flags by far than any conference last season. Why was that?
Corrente, Pac-12: “We had a tremendous increase last year of false starts. I had coaches tell me, ‘Tony, I don’t have the players to run our offense yet.’ If that happens, you’re making a lot of basic mistakes. So we saw an awful lot of penalties that I think this year will diminish dramatically. We also took a very aggressive stance with regard to player safety fouls, and in doing so, those numbers went up.”
Pereira, ex-NFL: “Of the games I saw, the Pac-12 probably had a little overemphasis on some of the post-play fouls, the pushing and shoving that they might be better getting in between of without resulting in a flag. I think it happens when you get a new coordinator like Corrente, who made a multitude of training tapes and put out a lot of information to officials.”
Could you envision College Football Officiating, headed by national coordinator Rogers Redding, ever receiving more authority to make binding decisions so there is greater uniformity between conferences?
McAulay, American: “Basketball got way ahead of us on uniformity. Conferences have their own little world that they get to do what they want to do without some absolute controlling authority to get everybody on the same page. We’re doing the best we can in that culture. But without that one commissioner overseeing everything like the NFL, it makes it more difficult to herd the cats. … You see what’s going on with (conference) realignment. If you can’t control that aspect for the good of the game, how can you control the lower parts of it? We’re all working together better than we ever have. Rogers does a good job of managing the strong-willed personalities of the coordinators.”
Anderson, Big 12: “I don’t think you’ll ever see one person trying to oversee (10 FBS) conferences. But what we are experimenting with is doing it on more of a regional basis, such as our partnership with the Mountain West and Southland Conference.”
Carollo, Big Ten: “One of our goals is you should turn the game on and don’t know which conference is officiating. We should have one set of mechanics and one rulebook and one philosophy on how we interpret calls. Is that aspirational? Maybe slightly today. Can we get everybody in the country doing it the same way? It’s pretty hard, but doable. I have seen in my four years in college where individual conferences have said this is how we do it, and those walls have been knocked down.”
Rhoads, ACC: “We need to continue to keep the pressure on us to make sure the uniformity/consistency piece is there. The NFL has 32 teams and they own the rules. College football is much broader with more than 120 teams alone in the FBS level. To get consistency in the application of a rule is a Herculean task for anybody. … Here’s the truth: The percentage of mistakes is very, very low. When you look at calls under the microscope with the media and social media, you’re going to find about a third of the time the official was wrong, a third of the time the official was right, and a third of it is judgment and you can talk about judgment until you die. The equal cry should be these guys are right a bunch of the time.”
What needs to be changed in officiating?
Carollo, Big Ten: “The coaches and players improve at a 45-degree angle. We (as officials) sometimes don’t stay in that 45-degree angle that keeps improving, and I see the gap widening a little more. … In college, we’ll make 5.5 to 6 mistakes every game. Our goal is maybe average four mistakes. The NFL target is 3.5 mistakes per game. We’re trying, but we’re kind of chasing the game. If you look at video 10 years ago of the SEC Championship Game, you go, ‘Whoa.’ You can see the change in the type of athletes out there. We need to be able to change.”
McAulay, American: “We started looking at team tendencies a couple years ago. There was always a sense if you look at the teams, you’ll make prejudgments and make an error, so we started slowly by looking at formations and pre-snap movements. We found, ‘Oh, this team runs the bubble screen a lot, so what does that mean in terms of how we look?’ We found it doesn’t make us prejudge on what fouls they might commit. We were able to judge it without surprise.”
Shaw, SEC: “We have to continue to modify our mechanics. If you’re in the proper place at the right time and trained where you should be, you’ll be a better official. We have some really good new mechanics we’re going to look at.”
What’s your philosophy on whether more experienced and qualified officials should work the highest-profile games?
Anderson, Big 12: “Just like players, officials are rookies at some point in their career. Even though you have confidence in them or they wouldn’t be there, it’s not like a guy who’s a veteran official and everybody knows him and is comfortable with him. I’m a very big proponent there will be some assignments you’ll put your very best officials in those environments because of the environments they’re working.”
Shaw, SEC: “Every game is important. But there are certain games that it’s easier to work a young official in, so that’s what we try to do.”
Rhoads, ACC: “I don’t look at it as that’s my No. 1 crew and that’s my No. 6 crew and this is a big game so we should put No. 1 there. There may be a fan perspective or a coach perspective to that. But if you have that much disparity from one crew to another, then you’re not training them correctly.”
The Big 12 plans to experiment with eight officials instead of seven, putting an extra one in the offensive backfield with the referee. What’s the thinking behind that concept?
Anderson, Big 12: “We have to keep pace with the game because it’s constantly evolving. With offenses going much more spread, (officiating) coverages that were for decades defined by seven officials are really appearing to be inadequate. There are a lot of passing plays that create blanket areas that aren’t covered by anybody, such as the tackle area opposite the referee. It also gives another set of eyes for hits on a quarterback.”
Pereira, ex-NFL: “I don’t like it. To me, the perfect number is seven. All you get is another opinion and it doesn’t mean it’s another good one.”
Given the scrutiny on officiating these days, how hard is it to find new officials?
Shaw, SEC: “At the entry level, we’re not getting the former players or people like we have before. That’s where the risk is now. It’s not in the next four to five years for the SEC because we’ve got great talent out there to choose from.”
McAulay, American: “You’re not getting 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds anymore hardly ever getting into officiating. If they do it, it’s later after college at 28, 32, 35, which is really too late. I started at 16 and that experience was invaluable. You lose a lot of snaps getting into it later.”
Pereira, ex-NFL: “There’s so much emphasis on officiating, including myself on TV, that if you’re trying to get into high school football and get yelled at by coaches and parents, maybe you say, ‘Is it worth it?’ The rate of retention of new officials at the high school level and even the Pop Warner level is not very good. You have to be a different person to put up with the abuse that goes along with this job.”
Technology continues to evolve. The SEC uses wireless headsets for officials to talk. The Big Ten has studied goal line cameras. There are even companies proposing chips in footballs to determine first downs and touchdowns. Where is this headed?
Anderson, Big 12: “There’s a strong lobby that if we had the technology to determine where that football is, would it not be worth having it? Those are the decisions as the game evolves that will have to be made. Then the question is which parts of the game just by tradition do you want to preserve? There’s not ever going to be a perfect solution.”
McAulay, American: “If we ever get to the point where we have almost a sterile, perfect environment, I think people are going to turn away from the game. We’re humans in a game played by humans. I think that’s one of the great things about our game. People the next day can talk about the bad pass, the poor call on defense or the missed call by an official.”
Written by Jon Solomon for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 Regional Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 college football season.
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Is South Carolina the latest team to have a chrome helmet in the uniform rotation? It’s possible.
The team’s equipment staff tweeted out a photo of this chrome helmet, but also mentioned later on that South Carolina will be wearing its traditional white helmet in 2013.
So will this helmet see the field? Who knows. But it’s a pretty cool (and shiny) look for the Gamecocks.
1. Expect Brickyard speeds to be up considerably
NASCAR’s new car and the ever-looming fear of a repeat of 2008’s tire issues at Indianapolis sent several teams to the 2.5-mile speedway over the spring and summer for testing sessions. The tires, at least during those sessions, lasted.
But there was still a big surprise: The Gen-6 was impressively quicker than recent years in laps around the track that turns 104-years-old in August.
“With everything they’ve worked on with the Gen-6 car, I feel like it’s really relaying over to this racetrack,” Trevor Bayne said after a test in April. “Some tracks we go to you can’t tell a big difference, but with this place, with as much speed as you’re carrying into the corner, the aero packages are really amplified here. I think it’s a great package, and we’ve had a lot of grip.”
That grip has translated into speed. Jeff Gordon reported during the same test that his engineers reported a reading of 214 miles per hour on an on-board speedometer at the end of the straightaway.
Temperatures for that April test were decidedly cool and unlike the typical July weekend in Indianapolis. But an odd weather pattern has settled over the Hoosier state this weekend, leaving forecasted temperatures nearly 20 degrees under the average. The lower temperatures should keep the corner grip level higher than normal, thus increasing speed.
How the added speed will affect the racing won’t be known until Sunday, but it can often be a detractor thanks to the increased need for drivers to race in clean, non-turbulent air.
2. Jimmie, Jeff Go For Five at Indy Five has long been a hallowed number at Indianapolis.
In the other big oval race there — you may have heard of the Indianapolis 500 — no driver has ever crossed the plateau of four wins shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Michael Schumacher scored five Indianapolis wins during the brief stint of Formula 1 on the IMS road course, but that’s a fact often brushed aside faster than Bernie Ecclestone's ability to endorse a check.
Heading to its 20th running this weekend, the Brickyard 400 already has two drivers looking to cross into the five-win tier: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, of course, got win No. 4 last year — just seven years after his first Indianapolis victory. Gordon won the inaugural trip to Indianapolis in 1994 and recorded Brickyard win No. 4 in 2004.
Gordon has 15 career top 10s in his 19 Brickyard starts — the most in the series — but Johnson heads to Indianapolis sounding extra confident. He claims there’s a specific way to drive the car at Indianapolis that once discovered and mastered will lead to plenty of success.
“I found it through a lot of frustrating test sessions, races, a few crashed cars, and then it finally clicked,” Johnson said. “I don’t remember the exact moment. I do at Martinsville, but I don’t at Indy. It was just one weekend we came back and the light went off in my mind and I’m like, ‘That’s how!’ And then we won.”
3. Greg Biffle seeks redemption from 2012 near-miss Another confident Sprint Cup driver heading to Indy is Greg Biffle.
Easily lost in the shuffle of Johnson’s fourth Indianapolis win last season was that Biffle had a car plenty capable of winning until a risky pit strategy play didn’t work out. The No. 16 averaged a running position of fourth during the race (only Johnson was better) and took two tires during the final pit stop to grab the lead and advantage of clean air.
But it wasn’t enough, and Biffle led just four laps (two under green) before Johnson passed him and cruised to victory over the final 29 laps.
Beyond last year’s near-miss, Biffle has the sixth-best average finish at the Brickyard among Sprint Cup active drivers with six top 10s in 10 starts.
“I love racing at Indy, we always seem to run well there. I can’t wait to kiss the bricks,” Biffle said. “I feel like we have a good car, we’ve gained a lot on downforce and a lot on drag. I’m looking forward to having a good engine and qualifying up front. This thing is going to be ours.”
4. Eldora puts Brickyard in a shadow
Somehow, someway, a small half-mile Ohio dirt track that sells $2 beers and a white t-shirt with a screen-printed mud stain under the slogan “Got dirt?” has managed to zap nearly all of the buzz from NASCAR’s biggest racing series racing at the most well-known speedway in the country.
That’s pretty crazy, right? It’s also true.
The excitement for Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway was, as many would say, palpable. It was NASCAR’s first return of a national touring series to a non-pavement track in over four decades. And the show? Well, even though the trucks looked disappointingly slow, they produced a race worth watching again and again.
It was without a doubt a rousing success for NASCAR — if only because it re-energized a segment of the fan base put off by the slot car racing seen too often on the sport’s larger, paved tracks.
But what was the cost of that great event to this weekend’s show at the Brickyard?
The visuals are going to be jarring with the stands looking barren and the racing spread out. Unless something from the Gen-6 has changed things wildly and unpredictably at Indianapolis — I’m not holding my breath — most of the passing will come on restarts and pit road.
I’m glad NASCAR tried the dirt race. I hope they do it again. But when the powers that be are trying so hard to re-invent NASCAR at Indianapolis in order to draw back 200,000-person crowds, it seems a bit silly to let the lead up to the race be overshadowed by an event everyone knew would be the main attention grab coming off the Sprint Cup off-weekend.
5. Nationwide “Dashing for Cash” at the BrickyardIt’s still going to be plenty odd for a NASCAR weekend in Indianapolis to not feature the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series at the rough-and-tumble .526-mile short track on the west edge of the city, Lucas Oil Raceway Park. It’s also plenty odd to see how empty Indianapolis’ behemoth grandstands will look for Saturday’s Nationwide race in the late afternoon.
But that doesn’t mean Saturday’s race won’t have a bit of intrigue.
In the last year’s inaugural running, controversy ruled the day when Elliott Sadler was penalized for apparently jumping a late restart. The penalty ultimately cost Sadler the race — he pitted to serve the penalty from the lead — and left him incensed over both the lost win and the championship implications.
You can bet NASCAR will be asked to clarify those restart rules this weekend.
Saturday also marks the end of the Nationwide Series’ four-race “Dash 4 Cash” program that makes a $100,000 bonus to the highest-finishing series regulars who were in the top 4 of that list at Chicagoland Speedway last week. Eligible this week are Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers.
Sadler took the first of the four bonuses at Daytona with Dillon scoring the second and third.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 26.
• Geno Smith, Eric Fisher, Ziggy Ansah, et al aren't the only rookies we'll be watching this year. Here's a slideshow of 50 rookie cheerleaders you'll be seeing on NFL sidelines, including Houston's Caitlyn (pictured).
• A Brewers fan wanted to make a statement via her jersey. Security did not comply with her wishes.
• Atlanta's Matt Ryan just signed a $103.75 million deal. For the math impaired, that equates to $103.75 million per career playoff win for Ryan thus far.
• Here's a list of things every man should have in his place. I lack many of these things. Now questioning my manhood.
• Touching story of the day: a Memphis quarterback, a piano and an 11-year-old cancer patient. There's hope for humanity.
• The 49ers' Tarell Brown learned via Twitter that by missing offseason workouts, he had cost himself $2 million. So he fired his agent. Sounds like he wanted to kill the messenger, but you can't kill Twitter, I guess.
• Darnell Dockett has a pet tiger, because of course he does.
• Todd Herremans of the Eagles decided he wanted to look like a Viking (not the Adrian Peterson kind).
• Enjoy this video of a U.S. airman throwing down a windmill in fatigues and boots.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Most of college football’s preseason hot seat coach rankings list USC coach Lane Kiffin at the top or in the top five. But if you believe athletic director Pat Haden, there’s no reason for Kiffin to worry about his job security.
In a video posted by USC, Haden details the state of USC football, which is especially important timing with Pac-12 Media Days coming up on Friday.
During Haden’s remarks, he specifically addresses Kiffin’s status:
“I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year. Here is my answer, and will be my answer whenever I’m asked. He is not.”
Haden also comments he is “behind Lane Kiffin 100 percent.”
Of course, if USC’s season completely goes awry, it’s hard to believe Haden would keep Kiffin around.
However, the Trojans have the talent to win the Pac-12 South and won’t play Oregon or Washington in crossover play with the North.
While Kiffin has been a lightning rod for criticism, it’s also important to remember USC is still dealing with NCAA sanctions and is expected to have just 70 scholarship players on the roster this year. While the 7-6 record was a disappointment last season, the Trojans did go 10-2 in 2011. There's no question Kiffin deserves blame for what happened last year. But let's also remember he's not working with a full roster, and depth during the season has become a huge issue.
Kiffin has the potential to be a good coach, and credit to Haden for letting him grow into the job, as well as getting out front of the potential barrage of hot seat questions.
If USC goes 8-4 or 9-3, then some of the talk about Kiffin being on the hot seat will subside. However, a 6-6 regular season certainly wouldn’t sit well with many in Los Angeles, regardless of what Haden says in July.
Here’s the full video of Haden’s comments:
Apparently Washington Redskins fan Kimberly Lewis didn't get an autograph after hanging out all day at the team's training camp, along with thousands of other fans. She was not happy. We, however, laughed a lot.
It's like something out of Lifetime movie. Reliever Dane De La Rosa discovered an injured bird near the Angels' bullpen and brought his new feathered friend to the clubhouse. All that's missing is Sarah McLachlan's "Ams of an Angel" playing in the background.
New Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck has brought some much-needed energy into the program, and the Broncos are already off to a good start on the recruiting trail for the 2014 signing class. And Fleck's task is to get Western Michigan back into the MAC West title picture, which won't be easy in 2013 with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State all coming off bowl appearances last year.
When trying to build some positive momentum for a program, it certainly doesn’t hurt for the Broncos to unveil a new jersey and helmet combination for 2013. This new look for Western Michigan isn’t quite as drastic at Miami (Ohio), but these are a pretty solid overall design for the Broncos.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the design is the “Ghost Bronco” logo on the helmets, along with the crossing oars as helmet stickers, which fits Fleck’s motto of “Row the Boat.”