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With one school claiming the top three returning scorers in the Big 12, the rest of the league will depend on newcomers to challenge Oklahoma State’s veteran roster.
Nowhere is that more clear than at Kansas where the Jayhawks’ outlook changed in an instant when super-freshman Andrew Wiggins signed to play for Bill Self. He’s not the only big-time newcomer going to Lawrence, but he might be the most important new face for any team in the country.
Beyond Kansas and Oklahoma State, the league’s two frontrunners, other teams are counting on transfers to keep them in NCAA contention (Iowa State) or to return them to the field after a rare one-year drought (West Virginia, Texas).
Our series has looked at the key transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury in the ACC and the American. Now we take a look at the new faces in the Big 12.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Before March 3, Kansas’ streak of nine seasons with at least a share of the Big 12 title was in question. After March 3, the Jayhawks became an instant top-10 contender with the signing of Wiggins. He’s the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and he’s already predicted to be the next Kevin Durant in the college game. Like Durant, Wiggins is a long forward who can play all over the court. The bar is high — Durant averaged 25.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds in one season at Texas — but Wiggins can reach it.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Few teams have had more success in the transfer market than Iowa State. The Cyclones have added Royce White and Will Clyburn for NCAA Tournament runs, and now Iowa State adds Kane. Kane was a major recruit to sign with Marshall, but the Thundering Herd never made the NCAA Tournament despite Kane’s 15.6 points per game average in three seasons. The statsheet stuffer averaged 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, including seven helpers per game last season.
Tarik Black, Kansas
Black wasn’t the top player on a Memphis team that lost in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, but that didn’t make him any less of a coveted transfer after the season. He averaged 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds for the Tigers, but Kansas believes he can provide a physical presence for the Jayhawks’ frontcourt. After Kansas lost all five starters, Black's experience will be an asset.
Kenny Chery, Baylor
Junior college transfer
With center Isaiah Austin returning, Baylor’s biggest hole to fill was left by point guard Pierre Jackson. The Bears will fill it with Chery, a productive point guard from the junior college ranks. He averaged 16.4 points per game at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., but he’s going to have to be a distributor with Baylor’s talent in the frontcourt plus long-range shooter Brady Heslip.
Jonathan Holton, West Virginia
Junior college transfer
Bob Huggins will try his hand at another Atlantic 10 product in the frontcourt after La Salle’s Aaric Murray flamed out in Morgantown this past season. Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds at Rhode Island in 2011-12 before going to junior college. In 2013-14, he could be West Virginia’s top player, but he also has off-court issues in his past. Holton pleaded no contest to charges of voyeurism in May and was placed on probation.
Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp and Joel Embiid, Kansas
Wiggins and Black were the latest additions to Kansas’ group of newcomers, but it would be foolish to overlook the rest of the No. 2 signing class in the country after Kentucky. Selden will see plenty of minutes with his ability to play point guard and shooting guard, especially if Naadir Tharpe can’t hold down the point. Embiid is raw but an outstanding shot-blocker, while Greene and Frankamp will give KU a presence from 3-point range.
Kendal Yancy-Harris, Texas
Texas is looking for any answer it can find after collapsing to 16-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12 last season. Yancy-Harris is ready to contribute immediately, but the Longhorns have not had the best recent track record with highly touted guards, from Avery Bradley to Cory Joseph to Myck Kabongo.
Karviar Shepherd, TCU
Shepherd's season was in limbo until the weekend, when he was declared academically eligible to play for the Frogs. The 6-10, 225-pound center is a top-100 recruit leading a freshman class the Frogs hope will turn around the program in the Big 12.
Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma
Spangler averaged only 6.6 minutes per game in his time at Gonzaga, but he’s being asked to fill the shoes of All-Big 12 performer Romero Osby with the Sooners. Osby has given Spangler, who starred in high school at Blanchard (Okla.) Bridge Creek, a resounding seal of approval.
Devin Williams, West Virginia
The Mountaineers' top signee comes from Huggins’ old stomping grounds in Cincinnati and could be a key building block as West Virginia tries to regain its footing in the Big 12. The 6-8 power forward also considered Ohio State and Memphis, but he could be a force in the paint for West Virginia as a rookie.
Amric Fields, TCU
Returning from injury
TCU is going to struggle, but the outlook is better with Shepherd and Fields available. TCU is looking to Fields to make a full recovery from a knee injury that knocked him out after the third week of the season. Before his injury, the 6-9, 220-pound Fields had played in 69 consecutive games, averaging 9.6 points per game as a sophomore.
Other new faces to watch:
Ishmael Wainright, Baylor
Baylor’s top recruit could fill a spot immediately on the wing. The Bears also added Denver transfer Royce O’Neal (11.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg last season) to boost depth at small forward.
Stevie Clark, Oklahoma State
Clark may become a big-time scorer, but for now he’s backing up Marcus Smart at the point.
Gary Gaskins, Oklahoma State
Junior college transfer
The Cowboys have a handful of athletic forwards starting with Mike Cobbins and Kamari Murphy, but the 6-10 Gaskins will offer more help off the bench.
Trey Zeigler, TCU
The former top-100 recruit has bounced from Central Michigan to Pittsburgh to TCU.
Aaron Ross, Texas Tech
Redshirt freshman/returning from injury
The Red Raiders had to wait a year for one of their top prospects when Ross went down with a torn ACL last season. Ross is a 6-8, 235-pound forward with a nice outside shot.
Spectators at a jet boat race got up close and personal with one of the boats at the Field of Dream in Tangent, Ore., on July 27. The boat left the water, crashed through a fence and scared the crap out of the crowd. No serious injuries were reported.
The ACC Coastal is one of the toughest divisions to project in 2013. Miami is considered a slight favorite by most, but Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina aren’t far behind.
The Hurricanes are still searching for their first trip to the conference title game and haven’t recorded a season of double-digit wins since posting 11 victories in 2003.
Coach Al Golden seems to have Miami back on the right track, and the Hurricanes return 12 starters from last year’s 7-5 team. The cloud from the ongoing NCAA investigation still hangs over the program, but Miami should have a resolution on its penalties before kickoff on Aug. 30 against FAU.
There’s no question Miami’s offense should score plenty of points, but the defense is a major concern after allowing 30.5 points a game in 2012.
What will Miami's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Miami's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|9/21 Savannah State|
|9/28 at USF|
|10/5 Georgia Tech|
|10/17 at North Carolina|
|10/26 Wake Forest|
|11/2 at Florida State|
|11/9 Virginia Tech|
|11/16 at Duke|
|11/29 at Pittsburgh|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The ACC Coastal is one of the most wide-open leagues in college football this season. Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech all have a strong case to be picked as the preseason favorite, and three of those teams (Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech) all tied for the top spot at 5-3 in conference play last year. The Hurricanes are still searching for their first ACC Coastal title, but there’s plenty of reasons to like this team in 2013. Assuming there’s a seamless transition to new coordinator James Coley, the offense should rank among the best in the ACC. Running back Duke Johnson has a standout line leading the way, while quarterback Stephen Morris should build off a solid 2012 campaign (3,345 yards, 21 touchdowns). Miami’s defense is in need of major repair after allowing 486.4 yards per game last year. However, this unit should get a boost with another set of offseason practices to develop some of the younger players like safety Deon Bush and linebacker Alex Figueroa. The schedule is manageable, as Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech visit Sun Life Stadium, and the Hurricanes play at North Carolina on 11 days of rest. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a tie atop the Coastal, but I’m taking Miami to represent the division in the conference championship game.
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), Atlantic Coast Convos
Miami's schedule gives us ample opportunity to figure out who they are early on. The Hurricanes' matchups against Florida and Georgia Tech in their first five games should be the barometer. Beat Florida, we're looking at a top-10 squad. Lose to the Gators and beat Georgia Tech, maybe they're just another eight-win team. Obviously, Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris will lead this group, but it'll come down to whether the defense can improve from last year. If they don't, it could serve as their downfall once again, despite what should be an even better offense.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’m probably wildly optimistic about my projections on Miami’s season, mainly because in our previous game-by-game picks to pick the Canes to upset Florida and Florida State. Those are bold projections, particularly if Florida State’s Jameis Winston becomes a superstar and Miami’s defense shows little improvement from last season. That’s why I’ve picked Georgia Tech and North Carolina to defeat Miami this season. Few other teams on its schedule are as certain on offense as those two. Georgia Tech’s option is always trouble, and North Carolina has skill position talent that’s been in Larry Fedora’s system for a season.
Ryan Tice (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
Miami, which boasts 19 returning starters including 10 on offense, is looking for defensive improvements this year. However, they might be able to outscore the majority of their opponents regardless, thanks to the return of quarterback Stephen Morris, running back Duke Johnson, a solid wide receiving corps led by Phillip Dorsett and an experienced group up front. The schedule is also favorable with two of the three toss-up games — Florida, Florida State and Virginia Tech — on the slate coming at home. It’s possible they could even go 0-3 in that trio of games and still represent the wide-open Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game, as long as they take care of business the other nine weeks. The two most important games in the division race will be vs. Virginia Tech and at North Carolina. The ceiling for this season is extremely high in Coral Gables, which is probably why the Canes self-imposed sanctions and sat out last postseason for the second-straight year despite a possible trip to the ACC Championship contest on the line when the decision was made.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about the Miami Hurricanes. This is a deep and competitive division, Miami is dealing with severe off-the-field turmoil, the defense was horrendous last year and the team is still very young. However, there is much to like about this team as well. Al Golden might be the best coach in the conference, all those young underclassmen are one year older and the despite being very competitive, the Coastal Division is very winnable. With Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech both coming to South Florida and Clemson noticeably absent from the schedule, the Canes are the pick to win the division and have an outside chance at 10 wins. Keep in mind, had this team played four easy non-conference games last year instead of Notre Dame and Kansas State on the road, it would have won nine games.
Miami has re-entered the ACC championship discussion, although the NCAA could pull the rug out from under its feet before the season starts. Until then, however, the Hurricanes have to at least be considered a potential title contender with all-purpose dynamo Duke Johnson leading what could be an explosive offense. The 'Canes' success will likely come down to how much improvement a young defense, one that finished near the bottom of the national rankings in the main defensive categories last season, shows. The defense will be what holds Miami back from beating either Florida or Florida State and it also will cost them at least one ACC game. To that end, the key conference swing games to watch are on the road against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, along with home dates with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Even then, there is more than enough talent on both sides of the ball for Al Golden's team to contend for supremacy in the ACC Coastal division and its first trip to the conference championship game.
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Oregon has been a model of consistency in the Pac-12 recently, winning 10 or more games in each of the last five years. The Ducks have been on the doorstep of playing for a national title and they finished last season with a 12-1 mark, with the only defeat coming to Stanford in mid-November.
Chip Kelly left for the NFL, and the keys to one of the nation’s top programs was handed to assistant Mark Helfrich. Oregon has had success by promoting from within, but there’s a lot of pressure for Helfrich to keep the program at the top of the Pac-12.
Even though 2013 will be a year of training for Helfrich, the Ducks are still in great shape to compete for a national title. 16 starters are back, including sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas. The defense ranked third in the Pac-12 in points allowed and should boast one of the nation’s top defensive backfields with the return of junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
The schedule is manageable, but road dates against Washington and Stanford could decide whether or not Oregon plays for the national title in 2013.
What will Oregon's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Oregon's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|8/31 Nicholls State|
|9/7 at Virginia|
|10/5 at Colorado|
|10/12 at Washington|
|10/19 Washington State|
|11/7 at Stanford|
|11/23 at Arizona|
|11/29 Oregon State|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Mark Helfrich is stepping into one of the best situations for a first-year coach in 2013. Oregon suffered a few key personnel departures (Kenjon Barner, Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso), but the Ducks are still one of the top-five national title contenders. Expect to see a few tweaks on offense, as Oregon may look to throw more with quarterback Marcus Mariota and a solid group of receivers returning. The defense will need some time to jell, but there’s not an offense that should threaten this team until Oct. 12 at Washington. And even though the front seven will have four new starters, the replacements have played plenty of snaps over the last few years. Coaching transition is never easy, and there may be a few bumps in the road for Oregon in 2013. However, the Ducks should win 10 or 11 games in the regular season this year, with the only loss coming at Stanford in early November. Even if Oregon loses to the Cardinal, I still expect the Ducks to be playing in a BCS bowl in January.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Oregon could easily produce another one-loss, top-five season despite the loss of prolific head coach Chip Kelly. And just like last year, that one loss will come to Stanford and once again cost the Ducks in a big way. With one slip-up, this team will not only miss out on a BCS National Championship berth but also a Pac-12 title. In fact, this team could be a top-five team nationally and not even win the division — just like a year ago. The Oregon offense could be the most dangerous in school history and the best in the nation, but the defense will take a major step back. With teams like Oregon State and Washington improving around them, in particular on defense, the Ducks will again barely miss out on the national title.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That's the theme for Oregon's 2013 season, as Mark Helfrich replaces Chip Kelly as the head Duck and the team keeps on churning out wins, not to mention a bunch of yards and points. Helfrich's flock shouldn't break much of a sweat until the second week of October in Seattle against Washington, and even then I think the Ducks have too much firepower for the Huskies to match. No, Oregon's season will more than likely again come down to its matchup with Stanford. Even though this one takes place on The Farm, I think quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back De'Anthony Thomas and company learned their lesson from last season's heart-breaking 17-14 overtime loss at home to the Cardinal. This time the Ducks take care of business against their Pac-12 North rival and ride the momentum to an unbeaten regular season and potential BCS title game shot.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Yeah, yeah. I know it’s boring to pick Oregon to go 11-1 with one loss on the road against its best opponent. Road trips to rivals Washington and Oregon State will be difficult, but the Ducks haven’t had trouble with them in the last three seasons. The coaching change is a question mark, but we’re still talking about a dominant team. Oregon was one of only two teams to defeat its home and road opponents each by at least three touchdowns (the other was Alabama). That doesn’t go away over night.
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Steve Spurrier was worried. He had just returned from the Outback Bowl after the 2008 season. Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks had lost 31–10 to Iowa, their third straight loss, following defeats of 56–6 at Florida, Spurrier’s former team, and 31–14 at Clemson, the Gamecocks’ heated rival. It was a sour way to end a season that the Gamecocks started 7–3.
Four years into his tenure at South Carolina, Spurrier was 28–22 and 15–17 in the Southeastern Conference, never finishing better than 8–5 overall and 5–3 in the league. But Spurrier’s staff had begun to make in-state recruiting progress for the Class of 2009, which included cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was scheduled to enroll early, in January 2009.
But after a bowl game in which South Carolina “stunk it up,” as Spurrier recalled, he said he had a sinking thought on his mind when he returned to Columbia: “Man, I’m hoping somebody didn’t get to Gilmore and change his mind because of what we had done in that game.”
Sure enough, Gilmore and his mother were in Spurrier’s office, as they promised they would be. Spurrier and his staff were happy, obviously, but even as they look back on the moment, they didn’t know if Gilmore would be a program-changing recruit.
There was no doubting his talent, as the nation’s sixth-ranked “athlete” in his class, according to Rivals, and Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina. Gilmore’s teammate at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C., DeVonte Holloman, arrived in Columbia in the summer of 2009 as Rivals’ 10th-ranked outside linebacker. He and Gilmore provided a tipping point for the Gamecocks.
“If we would have lost them, that would have hurt us,” says Steve Spurrier Jr., who serves as his father’s wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. “They’re the ones who, when we started recruiting, would get guys around.”
The talent — particularly in-state kids — began flowing to South Carolina in the ensuing years, and the wins came with greater frequency than ever before, albeit in a different fashion than Spurrier’s Florida teams. The athletic department committed to facilities improvements, an important recruiting chip. Fans began to believe and expect success, and now Spurrier can sit in his office on a spring day and say, with all the confidence that he flashed in the mid-1990s at Florida, “We’re a top-10 program now.”
After going 7–6 (3–5 SEC) in 2009, with a 1–4 finish, South Carolina was 9–5 (5–3) in 2010 and played in the SEC Championship Game for the first time. Each of the past two seasons, South Carolina went 11–2 and 6–2 — its best overall and league records in school history. It finished in the top 10 for the first time ever in 2011, at No. 9, and bettered that by one spot in 2012. Moreover, South Carolina has four straight wins over Clemson for the second time ever, and first since 1951-54. The Gamecocks have never won five in a row over the Tigers.
Once an SEC doormat — see 1–10 and 0–11 seasons in 1998 and 1999, with no league wins either year — the Gamecocks in 2013 will chase their first conference title, with a defense led by All-America end Jadeveon Clowney, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and a potential Heisman Trophy finalist this season.
Spurrier reached this point with steady growth. When he arrived at Florida, his alma mater, in 1990, the Gators had enough talent to go 9–2 and 6–1 in the SEC that first year. In Lou Holtz’s final three years at South Carolina, before Spurrier took over in 2005, the Gamecocks went 5–7, 5–7 and 6–5. The program wasn’t ready to thrive.
Spurrier sat out the 2004 season after two frustrating years with the Washington Redskins. He wanted back into coaching in 2005 and closely monitored the situation at North Carolina, where John Bunting was on the hot seat. Spurrier was familiar with the area from his days coaching at Duke in the late 1980s.
But North Carolina decided to retain Bunting after the 2004 season, so Spurrier turned his focus to South Carolina, an area he was less familiar with and a program with a minimal history of success. Spurrier still relishes telling the story about how his friends in Florida asked him why he wanted the South Carolina job — after all, they told him, he could never win there.
“I really wanted this job because I felt like there was nowhere to go but up, and we had a chance to achieve so many firsts,” Spurrier says. “If (North Carolina) had fired (Bunting) that year, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Spurrier and his staff were not familiar with the dynamics of recruiting the state of South Carolina when they arrived in Columbia, and it took some time to adjust. The 2009 class was particularly valuable, as Alshon Jeffery (Rivals’ No. 13 receiver) came from nearby St. Matthews to join Holloman and Gilmore, who was the first of four consecutive South Carolina Mr. Footballs to choose the Gamecocks. Clowney, the No. 1 overall recruit in 2011, attended the same high school as Holloman and Gilmore.
“I think there was a little bit of a disconnect between the high school coaches in the state of South Carolina and the coaches at the University of South Carolina,” says Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer, who worked at South Carolina from 2007-10 and was recruiting coordinator in his final two seasons in Columbia. “So we just went out of our way to try and reach out to those guys and be very welcoming, go out of our way to get them on our campus. I think the biggest thing was just getting to know people.”
Though Clowney’s decision was huge, perhaps South Carolina’s most important recruit ever, and another South Carolina Mr. Football, arrived in 2010 — Marcus Lattimore, the nation’s No. 1 running back and No. 10 overall recruit.
“When Clowney came down on a (recruiting) visit, Marcus sat with him at a basketball game,” Spurrier says. “Marcus was one of our best recruiters, definitely. Marcus, I think as a player, he’s the most important. His influence around here was just terrific. He was always on time. He was one of the hardest workers in the weight room and in the offseason conditioning.”
Lattimore put up impressive numbers, including a school-record 38 career rushing touchdowns, but South Carolina has won the past two years with defense. The Gamecocks ranked No. 3 nationally in yards allowed per game in 2011 and No. 11 in 2012 — improvements from No. 46 in 2010.
Spurrier has embraced the notion that the foundation to winning the modern SEC is a power running game and stout defense. While he would still love for South Carolina to throw the ball more, like his Florida teams did, it is the winning, above all else, that keeps him coaching at age 68.
He isn’t setting any timetables for retirement, and he believes South Carolina’s progress is sustainable, because of things like a $13 million academic center for athletes that opened in 2010 and a $6.5 million video board at Williams-Brice Stadium that debuted last season. Those are major factors in recruiting.
“You’ve got to do that, but it was the first time we clearly made it an absolute issue: This is what we have to do to compete at the highest level,” Spurrier Jr. says. “And we started doing it. That made a clear difference.”
As Spurrier Jr. searches for the next Gilmore, Holloman, Jeffery, Lattimore or even Clowney, he can be more selective.
“Three years ago, we offered 200 guys,” he says. “Now we’re offering 30, 40, 50. We know we can offer a smaller pool of people. We can offer that top group and know we’re going to get a decent number of them.”
South Carolina offered scholarships to two rising in-state sophomores when they were ninth graders — another sign of how South Carolina’s staff has begun to master in-state recruiting. “We’ve watched them for two years,” Spurrier Jr. says of the sophomores. “We know who our schools are, who the players are. That certainly makes a difference.”
Written by Darryl Slater for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 SEC Preview Edition. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 SEC season.
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Believe it or not, Louisville has not been crowned the American Athletic Conference champions quite yet.
The Cardinals are the presumptive favorite in the league and one of a handful teams in the country capable of going undefeated during the regular season. But Louisville does have holes. The Cards ranked last in the Big East in sacks and tackles for a loss last season, contributing to a run defense that ranked sixth.
Moreover, Louisville’s opponents don’t want to see the Cardinals win a league title in their final season in the league. A Sugar Bowl dismantling of Florida may have built momentum for Louisville for 2013, but many AAC opponents remember Louisville losing to Syracuse in convincing fashion and to bowl no-show Connecticut.
Our pivotal players for the American pinpoints a player Louisville needs to assert its dominance in the league, plus three other players other AAC contenders will need to step up in order to challenge Louisville.
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 continue our look at pivotal players with the American after we profiled the ACC yesterday:
Ralph David Abernathy IV, RB, Cincinnati
Cincinnati made things work last season despite changing quarterbacks from Munchie Legaux to Brendon Kay largely because of workhorse back George Winn, who rushed for 1,334 yards on 243 carries last season. Abernathy is a about 60 pounds lighter than Winn, so expecting another 200 carries from him may be a bit optimistic. Still, Abernathy has been a multi-faceted offensive threat, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 69 attempts and 12.1 yards on 28 catches last season. Junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams will take some of the pressure off his workload at tailback, but Abernathy needs to be a breakaway threat.
Demetris Anderson, DT, UCF
UCF isthe only Conference USA import ready to compete for an American Athletic Conference title this season. And after Louisville’s Teddy Bridgwater, UCF’s Blake Bortles is the top quarterback in the league. UCF had one of the better defenses in Conference USA, but that unit returns only four starters. One of the key new faces will be the defensive tackle Anderson, who was recruited by Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois before grayshirting with the Knights.
Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers
A nationally prominent recruit in 2011 who elected to stay in New Jersey, Huggins has yet to break out with Rutgers. He’s shown flashes, most notably a 179-yard effort against Cincinnati last season, but Huggins has yet to play a full season. With Jawan Jamison gone, now is the time for Huggins to deliver on his potential.
Lorenzo Mauldin, DE, Louisville
The Cardinals had 19 sacks during the regular season and nine of those came in a two-game span against Pittsburgh and USF. They mustered only two in the losses against Syracuse and UConn. Even though Louisville loses standout cornerback Adrian Bushell, the pass rush and run defense has to be one of the most worrisome parts of the Cardinals team. Mauldin led the way up front on defense in the wins over Pitt and USF, so he’ll be closely watched in 2013.
Catching up from a busy weekend around the college football world.
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Monday, July 29th
Saturday Down South looks at five scheme changes to watch in the SEC this year.
All signs point to Michael Dyer landing at Louisville this year.
Chris Williams of Cyclone Fanatic projects Iowa State's record for 2013.
Lost Lettermen looks at players with famous fathers in college football this year.
A good read from WVUPressbox.com on Dana Holgorsen: Is he building a foundation or a golden parachute?
Can Jeremy Johnson or Nick Marshall push Kiehl Frazier or Jonathan Wallace for the starting quarterback job at Auburn?
Here are five keys to West Virginia's season.
Where does Barry Sanders fit into Stanford's running back rotation?
Florida should have one of the best defensive backfields in college football this year. Here's a breakdown of how the Gators will look in the secondary.
Texas A&M has announced a timeline on the renovations to Kyle Field.
Anthon Samuel talks about his decision to leave Bowling Green for FIU.
Syracuse needs to find a few more playmakers at receiver this fall.
Who will start at nose tackle for Georgia this year?
Temple has picked up a Maryland transfer that’s eligible to play this year.
Here are five key questions surrounding Minnesota in 2013.
Current California coach Sonny Dykes is reaching out to the man he replaced - Jeff Tedford.
Ira Schoffel has an excellent Q & A with ACC commissioner John Swofford about Florida State athletics.
Former Oklahoma State defensive end Naim Mustafaa is planning on attending Hawaii.
Saturday Blitz ranks Conference USA’s coaches for 2013.
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.