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All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Hunter Mahan, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-19-hunter-mahan

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 19: Hunter Mahan

Born: May 17, 1982, Orange, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,036,164 (18th) World Ranking: 32

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Hunter Mahan continues to improve, which, when you get to his level, comes with some risk, as attention to one area necessarily distracts from another. In 2013, every facet of Mahan's game was better than it was the year before, and those improvements landed him in the final group on Sunday of the U.S. Open and The Open Championship. Familiarity with that type of pressure takes some time and is the last piece of a complex puzzle to reach the highest levels of professional golf. If Hunter finds himself in the same position this year, he will no doubt be a different player, and as such 2014 promises to be a great year for the former OSU Cowboy.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 32
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T9
PGA Championship - T57

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T8 (2010)
U.S. Open - T4 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2007)
PGA Championship - T16 (2009)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 13
Missed Cuts: 12

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.


Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-19-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 19.

• This bracket's pretty evenly matched: The 68 cheerleading squads of March Madness.

Vin Scully meeting a koala. The Internet was created for things such as this.

Here's a painting of George Washington dunking on Kim Jong-un, with Lincoln boxing out Stalin. I want this painting.

• Today's longform must-read: The Game that Saved March Madness. (Georgetown-Princeton, in case you're wondering.)

Bruce Pearl arrived at Auburn like the Beatles at JFK. Auburn fans finally realized they have a basketball program.

The First Four takes a good thrashing from Greg Doyel.

How the top 16 seeds fared against other tournament teams in the regular season. Hard to believe that Kansas played 20 games against tourney teams (12-8). They're well seasoned, I'd say.

Watch the Twins mascot catch a foul ball with his mouth.

This LeBron assist defies description. So I won't describe it.

Tom Brady and Gisele are selling their LA mansion for $50 mil. Seems a little steep, but it does have an infinity pool, which is nice.

Here's a handy map showing what each state is worst at. My state has the most bankruptcy filings.

• Watch a Canadian college player go Reggie Miller with 12 points in less than 30 seconds.


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

Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 10:52
Path: /college-football/penn-state-nittany-lions-2014-spring-football-preview

Bill O’Brien was exactly what Penn State needed.

He was an outsider who kept the program together and, more importantly, competitive during the worst scandal in NCAA history. In the face of horrific sanctions, not only did O’Brien win games but he also recruited extremely well. So when James Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, returned home to assume control of the historic program, the cupboard wasn’t even close to being bare.

Franklin arrives in Happy Valley off of the most successful run of football in Vanderbilt school history. He beat his rivals, he recruited at an unprecedented level and inspired a once dormant community of fans in Nashville. At Penn State, Franklin won’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit and certainly won’t have to beg fans to come to games any longer.

Franklin now has all of the natural advantages at his disposal in order to compete for national championships — something that could not be said on West End. O’Brien was a perfect bridge from one State College lifer to what could turn out to be another.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 (Dublin)
Sept. 6
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4Bye Week
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18Bye Week
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at
Nov. 15
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

Penn State Nittany Lions 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: March 17

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 4

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in Penn State's 2014 Spring Practice

Replace Allen Robinson
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg returns for his second full season as the starting quarterback with massive expectations. But who will catch his passes? Allen Robinson was a Biltenikoff candidate for much of the year because he made huge plays in critical situations — in particular, vertically down the field. Robinson is arguably the best wideout ever to play in Happy Valley and replacing his 97 receptions and 1,432 yards won’t be easy. Eugene Lewis, Richy Anderson, Alex Kenney and Matt Zanellato caught 38 passes combined last year with Lewis’ 18 catches leading the way among all returning wideouts. One of these names needs to step into a bigger role and offer Hackenberg a trusty go-to target on the outside. The development of tight ends Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman, all of whom are very talented, will help the situation. Franklin boasted the SEC’s all-time leading receiver last year at Vanderbilt in Jordan Matthews so he clearly knows how to get his playmakers the ball. But unless he can find a top target, it won’t matter how talented his signal-caller may be, defenses won’t respect the downfield passing game.

Plug holes along the O-line
Two All-Big Ten blockers in guard John Urschel and center Ty Howle have moved on as well as tackle Adam Gress (nine starts). With an elite quarterback and a trio of excellent running backs — Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch — protecting his offensive assets becomes a huge focus this spring for Franklin and the Lions. Offensive line coach Herb Hand is one of the most dynamic personalities the SEC had a year ago and now his first job is to rebuild the Lions' front five. Left tackle Donovan Smith is a great place to start and Miles Dieffenbach has begun to live up to the recruiting hype. Still, other names need to step into bigger roles. Stabilizing the line is imperative if Penn State wants to move the ball on the ground and keep its star signal-caller upright.

Find leadership and depth at linebacker
Two years ago, O’Brien had to step into a horrendous situation few would be willing to attack. But he did so with the help and leadership of Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti at linebacker. Those two seniors helped galvanize the Penn State locker room and family in 2012. Last year, senior Glenn Carson played that role for a team that won seven games. Mike Hull returns after 78 tackles a year ago but Franklin and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop need to find playmakers and depth around him at linebacker. This is Penn State, Linebacker U, and not having star power at this position is borderline unacceptable. Nyeem Wartman (32 tackles), Brandon Bell (23 tackles) and Ben Kline (18) have some experience and upside but need to take on more ownership of the defense. Shoop has a talented defensive line returning and lots of options in the secondary, so finding playmakers and depth at linebacker is key this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10

There is a lot to like about this team. The new regime was a proven commodity in the big bad SEC and now it’s facing a much less daunting Big Ten schedule. There is plenty of talent left on the roster after O’Brien surprised with his high level of recruiting during his two-year tenure. Having Hackenberg in place for the next two seasons is a luxury most new coaches rarely get and Franklin will maximize his quarterback’s enormous upside. And with a defense that returns a lot of weapons, filling in holes around the star quarterback will be critical this offseason. Getting both Ohio State and Michigan State at home are huge and the conference road slate is extremely manageable — at Michigan is the toughest task. This is a very talented team working under a very talented coaching staff with a schedule that sets up nicely for a postseason run — should the NCAA lift the bowl ban in the next few months.

Penn State Nittany Lions 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-trojans-2014-spring-football-preview

Pat Haden really didn’t want Lane Kiffin around any longer. So the USC athletic director made a decisive move just a few weeks into the season when he fired Kiffin on the tarmac at LAX.

A few months later, Haden announced that Steve Sarkisian was returning to Heritage Hall to become USC’s next head football coach. Coach Sark had rebuilt Washington into a winner but could never get the Huskies over the proverbial hump in Seattle. Yet, the timing was right for both parties and Sark made his triumphant homecoming to Los Angeles.

Sarkisian immediately began building one of the more impressive coaching staffs in the nation using both incumbents (Clay Helton, Tee Martin) and familiar faces from UW (Justin Wilcox).

And so, with an elite roster chock-full of five-star talent, Sark embarks on a journey USC fans are hoping returns the Men of Troy to the top of the college football mountain.

Finding replacements for names like wide receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin, end George Uko, linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Dion Bailey will be Sarkisian's first task this spring.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 13
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

USC Trojans 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 10-4 (6-3 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 11

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in USC's 2014 Spring Practice

Adapt to the new tempo
Even in his introductory press conference, Sarkisian intimated at how fast USC’s offense will run under the new regime. He wants his team to play fast. Getting his players accustomed to running the offense at breakneck speed will be critical for returning quarterback Cody Kessler and backup Max Browne, as well as a host of talented but fairly young skill players. The players have reportedly taken to the tempo quickly and are enjoying the new M.O. Sark has said that every position will be up for grabs, including quarterback, and that has fueled competition and intrigue throughout spring camp. It appears that USC practices are fun to be a part of once again.

Rebuild the offensive line
Martin was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick last year and he must be replaced at center. Gone also are Kevin Graf and John Martinez. New offensive line coach Tim Drevno is looking to totally recast this front and has some really nice pieces to work with in left tackle Chad Wheeler and the versatile Max Tuerk. Tuerk, who has played both tackle and guard, appears to be earmarked as Martin’s replacement at center as Drevno builds from the inside out along the line. Khaliel Rodgers and Aundrey Walker were both big-time recruits who the staff has high expectations for as well. Toss in names like Giovanni Di Poalo and Nathan Guertler and the Trojans could have the makings of an elite offensive line. If they can all stay healthy.

Find some edge rushers
Three of the top four sack masters for USC last year are gone. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9.0), defensive end George Uko (5.0) and Morgan Breslin (4.5, six games) have all moved on from the Trojans' defense. J.R. Tavai filled in admirably for Breslin a year ago and he should lock down one outside spot while Scott Starr, Quinton Powell, Michael Hutchings and Anthony Sarao are in the mix for serious playing time as well. There is no shortage of talented bodies, so defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox should be excited about his future front seven. Finding an elite pass rusher off the edge, be it with a hand in the dirt or not, has to be an area of focus for the new coaching staff this spring — especially, considering the quarterback play and offensive coaching prowess that the Pac-12 boasts.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Steve Sarkisian was an underwhelming hire at USC but coaches shouldn’t be selected based on their ability to win the press conference (just ask UCLA). Coach Sark knows the landscape at USC and has assembled an all-star coaching staff to both recruit and motivate. This team returns a ton of weapons on offense and has loads of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. Recruiting was never Kiffin’s problem and he left the cupboard totally stocked for Sark. So even with a brutal schedule in 2014, fans in USC should expect to compete for South Division and Pac-12 titles right away under the new regime. In fact, a berth in the Pac-12 title game in Sark’s first year is well within reach.

USC Trojans 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/accs-top-25-players-bcs-era

The ACC has experienced some peaks and valleys during the BCS Era. It began with three consecutive BCS title game appearances followed by massive expansion with the additions of marquee programs Miami, Virginia Tech (2004) and Boston College (’05).

However, the league continued to fall behind its big league brethren on the field with a horrendous record in BCS bowls (5-13) and off the field with instability among the ranks. Rumors about Florida State and Clemson's future in the league persisted, and Maryland decided to bolt the league for greener pastures.

But as the BCS Era came to a close, John Swofford’s conference finished with a bang. A Grant of Rights agreement, the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville and a return to glory on the field with Florida State’s national title capped the BCS Era in style for the once-unsettled conference.

So even though the conference went through some rough years on the field, there is still a long list of elite NCAA Hall of Famers who graced an ACC field during the BCS Era.

Trying to narrow this list down to 25 names was nearly impossible but here are Athlon Sports' Top 25 ACC players of the BCS Era. The only stipulation is that you must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina (1999-01)

From a talent standpoint, few players have ever been able to match Peppers' freakish quickness and size. As a two-sport star in Chapel Hill, Peppers was a freshman All-American in 1999 before leading the nation in sacks (15.0) as a sophomore. He capped his junior season as a consensus All-American and by winning Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Trophy honors. Peppers finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 2001. He started 33 of 34 possible career games and finished with 167 tackles and 30.5 sacks, good for sixth all-time in ACC history and second during the BCS Era. His 53.0 tackles for a loss are 13th all-time in league history as well. Peppers was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

2. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (2004-06)
Stats: 178 rec., 2,927 yds, 28 TDs, 40 rush, TD

Appropriately nicknamed Megatron, no player has demonstrated the combination of size and speed that Johnson brought to the Ramblin Wreck offense. The Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek prospect was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004 before earning back-to-back All-American honors in 2005-06. He owns school records for receiving yards and touchdowns during his time at Tech and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as well as ACC Player of the Year honors in 2006. He is one of 13 wide receivers to finish in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting during the BCS Era (10th). He is simply a freak of nature.

3. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State (1997-00)
Stats: 9,839 yds, 79 TDs, 32 INTs, 58.7%, 2 rush TDs

There was little left unaccomplished in Weinke's college career. He led his stacked Florida State squad to an undefeated BCS national title in 1999 over Virginia Tech before returning to win the Heisman Trophy as well as the Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas and Davey O'Brien awards the next season. His team lost two games over that span and one was the 2000 BCS title game against Oklahoma. He is still the ACC's all-time leader in yards per pass attempt (8.9) and was the conference’s all-time most efficient passer with a 151.15 rating until Tajh Boyd (and possibly Jameis Winston) came along.

4. Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State (1995-99)
Stats: 207 rec., 3,517 yds, 32 TDs, 188 rush, 4 TDs, 937 ret. yds, 6 TDs

The phrase all-purpose wasn’t en vogue when Warrick broke onto the scene so the Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast superstar might deserve credit for the invention. And if not for an incident at Dillard’s Department Store that resulted in a two-game suspension, Warrick likely would have won the Heisman Trophy. The two-time consensus All-American could do it all. His joystick, open-field moves made him dynamic in the passing game, on special teams and he was one of the first wideouts used in the running game. His Sugar Bowl MVP performance — and touchdown catch — in the 1999 national championship game (six rec., 163 yds, three total TDs) will go down as one of the greatest national title performances in NCAA history.

5. Philip Rivers, QB, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 13,484 yds, 95 TDs, 34 INTs, 63.5%, 98 yds, 17 TDs

The most productive passer in ACC history, Rivers owns the ACC record for completions (1,087), attempts (1,711), passing yards, total yards and set the record for passing touchdowns and total touchdowns (since broken). He won ACC Player of the Year honors in 2003 and finished seventh in the Heisman balloting. That year he led the nation in completion percent (72.0, an ACC record at the time) and set the ACC single-season passing yards record (since broken). His 18 career 300-yard games were an ACC record (broken). Rivers also is a member of the historic 2004 NFL Draft class that includes fellow quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

6. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (2013-present)
Stats: 4,057 yds, 40 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.9%, 219 yds, 4 TDs

No player, especially no freshman, has ever posted a season like Winston in college football history much less in the ACC. His 184.8 passer rating was an ACC record (and would be No. 1 for a career as well), he set an NCAA freshman and all-time ACC single-season record with 40 touchdown passes and his 4,057 yards are fourth all-time in ACC history. Winston won the Heisman Trophy, the BCS national championship, the ACC Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards as well. He has yet to lose a game on the gridiron and is poised to make another run at all of the above accolades as a sophomore.

7. E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland (1999-02)

Henderson left Maryland with multiple NCAA records and numerous awards and honors. He owns the career tackles per game record (12.5), career solo tackles per game (8.8) and the single-season unassisted tackle record with 135 in 2002. That year, Henderson won his second ACC Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the Butkus, Lambert and Bednarik Awards nationally. He was a two-time All-American, Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP, is second all-time in ACC history with 62.5 career tackles for loss and 11th all-time with 473 tackles. Henderson was a second-round pick by the Vikings in 2003.

8. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (2009-11)

Tackling. Machine. That is really all that needs to be said about the Boston College star defender. He was second nationally with 158 tackles as just a freshman, led the nation in tackles with 183 as a sophomore and led the world again in stops with 191 as a junior. So in just three seasons, Kuechly set the BC and ACC career tackle records en route to numerous awards. He was a two-time All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-round NFL Draft pick by Carolina in 2012 and won the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Lambert national trophies.

9. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, OL, Virginia (2002-05)

Ferguson started 49 games in his Virginia career — all at left tackle —  helping the Cavaliers to four straight bowl games. He was a two-time, first-team All-ACC selection and earned All-American honors in his final season in Charlottesville. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Jets and has gone to three Pro Bowls.

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

Versatility and explosiveness are the words that come to mind when describing Spiller. With elite burst and big-play ability, Clemson used Spiller in every aspect of the game to great success. He is No. 2 in ACC history in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns and is the NCAA’s all-time leader with seven kickoff return touchdowns. His 2,680 all-purpose yards in 2009 are a single-season ACC record and his 7,588 all-purpose yards are the all-time career record in the ACC by almost 2,000 yards (Leon Johnson, 5,828). No ACC player has scored in more games (34) than Spiller did while at Clemson.

11. Chris Long, DE, Virginia (2004-07)

The son of NFL great Howie Long entered the starting lineup as a sophomore, totaling 46 tackles, 10.0 for a loss and two sacks. As a junior, Long posted 57 tackles, 12.0 for a loss and 4.0 sacks. As a senior, he claimed ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as the Dudley and Hendricks Awards. He was a unanimous All-American after 79 total tackles, an ACC-best 19.0 tackles for a loss and ACC-best 14.0 sacks in his final season in which he finished 10th in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 182 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 20.0 sacks before being selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.

12. Russell Wilson, QB, NC State/Wisconsin (2008-11)
Stats: 11,720 yds, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 60.9%, 1,421 yds, 23 TDs

Not many players own school records for two different programs but Wilson excelled in both the ACC and Big Ten and his overall career must be taken into account when measuring his greatness. The Super Bowl champion posted the single greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback in history en route to a league crown and near national title berth. He owns the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38) and the single-season mark for passing efficiency at 191.8. In just three years in the ACC, Wilson finished eighth all-time in total offense (9,628), third in total offense per game (267.5 ypg), third in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns and set the ACC record with 379 consecutive passes without an interception. Imagine if he had stayed his final season in Raleigh.

13. Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt (2010-13)

Donald only played one season in the ACC but it was one of the, if not the, best by an ACC defensive lineman in league history. He swept the national awards by claiming the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik as essentially the most decorated defensive player of the BCS Era not named Manti Te’o. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting 59 tackles, 28.5 for a loss and 11.0 sacks from his defensive tackle position. His 28.5 TFLs were second only to Keith Adams’ ACC record 33 in 1999. His career 29.5 sacks would be eighth in ACC history and his 66.0 tackles for a loss would be a new career ACC record had he played his entire career in the league. 

14. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (2011-13)
Stats: 240 rec., 3,391 yards, 27 TDs, 339 rush, TD, 1,399 ret. yards, TD

Watkins did it all at Clemson. A freakish athlete with the ability to score on any play from anywhere on the field, Watkins helped lead Clemson to a 32-8 record during his three seasons. He finished No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 240 receptions, No. 3 all-time with 3,391 yards receiving and tied for eighth all-time with 27 receiving touchdowns. And he did all of this in just three seasons, while bringing an ACC title back to Clemson for the first time in decades. His 5,129 all-purpose yards are ninth all-time in league history. His 101 receptions in 2013 would have been a single-season ACC record if not for Duke’s Jamison Crowder and his 108 catches this fall. His 1,464 yards in his final season is second all-time to Torry Holt (1,604) and his 82 catches and 12 TDs in 2011 were both ACC records for freshmen.

15. Torry Holt, WR, NC State (1995-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 3,379 yds, 31 TDs, 119 rush

One of the greatest receivers to ever play the game on any level, Holt capped his outstanding Wolfpack career with an ACC Player of the Year award in the first year of the BCS. Over his final two seasons in Raleigh, the Gibsonville (N.C.) Eastern Guilford receiver caught 150 passes for 2,703 yards and 27 touchdowns (he also threw a 45-yard TD pass), finishing eighth in the Heisman voting in 1998. Holt set all types of NC State and ACC records during his college career and he went on to become one of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers. No one ever had a better game during the BCS Era than Holt when he posted 255 yards against Baylor in 1998.

16. Dre Bly, CB, North Carolina (1996-98)

Not only one of the coolest names in college football but one of the coolest customers on an island all by himself. Bly set the ACC single-season record with 11 interceptions in 1996 and left school with an ACC record 20 INTs in his career (both since broken). He was a consensus All-American as a freshman and sophomore (one of few in NCAA history to accomplish the feat) and was a second-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

17. D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Maryland (2002-05)

The undersized tackler played in all 14 games as a freshman, started all 11 games as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior and senior. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 after 137 tackles and four sacks. Jackson finished with 447 tackles, good for fourth in school history and 19th in ACC history — seventh among all players during the BCS Era. Jackson was a second-round pick of the Browns in the 2006 NFL Draft.

18. Anthony Poindexter, S, Virginia (1995-98)

He was a leader and one of the hardest-hitting players to ever play the game — and made one of the most famous tackles in NCAA history. He set a school record with 98 tackles as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior in 1997. Despite getting injured late in the year, Poindexter earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and became a two-time All-American. He was the only defensive back in the ACC to win conference Defensive Player of the Year honors during the BCS Era. The three-time, first-team All-ACC pick finished his career with 12 interceptions.

19. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (2009-13)
Stats: 11,904 yds, 107 TDs, 39 INTs, 64.3%, 1,165 yds, 26 TDs

In just three full seasons as the starter, Boyd set every major Clemson passing record and is the ACC’s all-time leader in total touchdowns (133) and touchdown passes (107). He is No. 2 all-time in yards, won 2012 ACC Player of the Year honors, led Clemson back to an ACC championship in '11 and finished as the league’s most efficient passer in history with a QB rating of 155.2 (topping Weinke). Clemson went 32-8 over his final three years — all three of which he topped 3,800 yards and 33 TD passes. Boyd produced three of the top seven seasons in regards to total offense in league history. His 20 career 300-yard games broke Rivers’ previous ACC record of 18.

20. Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College (2004-07)
Stats: 9,313 yds, 56 TDs, 37 INTs, 60.0%, 39 yds, 11 TDs

Ryan did more for Boston College than any player since Doug Flutie. He won the ACC Player of the Year and led the Eagles to the ACC title game. He was seventh in the Heisman ballot and won the Johnny Unitas and Archie Manning Awards before beginning his elite career in the NFL. Ryan owns the ACC single-season record for passing yards (4,507), completions (388) and attempts (654), all of which were set in 2007, and is second all-time with his 4,509 yards of total offense that year as well. From a raw talent standpoint, few players on this list are better quarterbacks than Matty-Ice.

21. Joe Hamilton, QB, Georgia Tech (1996-99)
Stats: 8,882 yds, 65 TDs, 39 INTs, 61.7%, 1,758 yds, 18 TDs

One of the most dynamic players in league history, Hamilton led the Jackets to three straight winning seasons, three straight bowl games and only Tech’s third 10-win season since 1956. Hamilton won ACC Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, finished second in the Heisman voting and won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1999. He threw for 3,060 yards and 29 scores while running for 734 and eight touchdowns in his final season. The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick is third all-time in total offense and he currently stands as the ACC’s No. 5 most efficient passer with a rating of 148.19.

22. Alex Barron, OL, Florida State (2001-04)

The 6-foot-8, 315-pounder was Florida State’s top lineman of the BCS Era. He was a consensus All-American in 2003 and a unanimous All-American in 2004. Barron was an Outland Trophy finalist in his final season as well. His teams never won fewer than eight games, won two ACC titles and went 26-6 in conference play over that span. Barron was the 19th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Rams.

23. Heath Miller, Virginia (2002-04)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,703 yds, 20 TDs

Perhaps the greatest tight end in ACC history, Miller became the first player in league history to win the John Mackey Award in 2004. He wrote his name into the school and conference record books for receiving by a tight end, setting a new benchmark in all three major receiving categories despite only playing three seasons. However, it wasn’t just his elite receiving ability that made the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder one of the game’s best. Miller relished the blocking side of the game and his physicality and dependability is what has made the consensus All-American one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the last decade.

24. Thomas Jones, RB, Virginia (1996-99)
Stats: 823 att., 4,065 yds, 37 TDs, 72 rec., 578 yds, 3 TDs

Until 2013, Jones boasted a long list of illustrious ACC rushing records. His 334 carries and 1,798 yards in 1999 were both single-season ACC records until Andre Williams broke both this past season. His six 200-yard games are an ACC record still (Williams has five) and he is seventh all-time with 18 100-yard games. Jones is sixth all-time in the ACC in rushing, leading the league twice in 1998-99, and is tied for 12th all-time with 40 total touchdowns. Jones finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 1999 and was one of two consensus All-American running backs during the BCS Era (Spiller).

25. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (2008-10)

The No. 1 prospect in the nation battled a knee injury during his sophomore year but still posted 58 tackles — including 11 in the ACC Championship Game win over Georgia Tech — 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. However, Bowers exploded as a senior by leading the nation in tackles for a loss (26.0) and sacks (15.5) to go with his 67 total tackles. Those 15.5 sacks were sixth all-time in ACC history. Bowers was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous first-team All-American and claimed both the Nagurski Trophy and the Hendricks Award. More knee issues cost him on draft day as he slipped to the end of the second round where Tampa Bay selected him with the 51st overall pick.

The Next 10:

26. Mario Williams, DE, NC State (2003-05)

In just three seasons, the physical freak from NC State posted 25.5 career sacks — good for 18th all-time in ACC history — and 55.5 tackles for a  loss — good for 10th all-time. In his final season, he led the ACC with 24.0 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. As one of the most gifted athletes to ever play in any league, Williams was one of just two defensive players selected as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft during the BCS Era (Courtney Brown, 2000).

27. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College (2011-13)
Stats: 704 att., 3,739 yds, 28 TDs, 10 rec., 60 yds

From a single-season perspective, no player in ACC history can match what Williams accomplished in 2013. Williams set the ACC single-season rushing record for carries (355) and yards (2,177) when he rolled up five 200-yard games and 18 touchdowns en route to a fourth-place Heisman Trophy finish. He is the only ACC player to win the Doak Walker Award during the BCS Era and he was named an All-American in the process. He is 11th all-time in the conference in rushing yards.

28. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest (2005-08)

Curry was a freshman All-American after starting 10 games in his first season. He posted 83 tackles as a sophomore and tied an NCAA record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he won the Butkus Award, was an All-American and registered 105 tackles. Curry finished with 331 tackles, 44.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles in his career. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and in '06 helped lead Wake to its only BCS bowl berth and ACC title of the BCS Era.

29. Steve Justice, C, Wake Forest (2004-07)

Few players have meant more to their school than Justice did to Wake Forest. After enduring two losing seasons as an underclassman, Justice was the first-team All-ACC pivot for arguably the greatest team in school history. He led the way on the 11-win, ACC championship squad of 2006. He came back for his senior year and earned his second first-team All-ACC nod and was a consensus All-American as well. Justice was a Rimington finalist and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top lineman in the ACC in ’07.

30. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State (1997-00)

Reynolds helped lead the Seminoles to three consecutive BCS National Championship Games, including the 1999 title. He was named the Lombardi and Willis Trophy winner after a 58-tackle, 12-sack season in 2000 as a senior and was a finalist for the national Defensive Player of the Year award. He was named a unanimous All-American and taken with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His 23.5 career sacks are 24th all-time in ACC history and are the most by any Seminole during the BCS Era.

31. Jimmy Williams, DB, Virginia Tech (2002-05)

Playing multiple positions all over the defense, Williams entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. He was a first-team All-ACC pick as a junior while leading Tech to an ACC championship with a league-leading five interceptions and 19 passes defensed. In 2005, Williams was a unanimous All-American and Jack Tatum Trophy winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He was a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

32. Rodney Hudson, OL, Florida State (2007-10)

The mauler from Mobile was a three-time, first-team All-ACC selection, a two-time, first-team All-American and a two-time winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top lineman in the ACC. He is one of only two guards to ever win the award twice (Elton Brown). He helped return Florida State to the ACC championship game as a senior in 2010 for the first time since '05. Hudson was a second-round pick of the Chiefs in 2011.

33. Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson (2003-06)

The 2006 ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished with 157 total tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss and 28.0 sacks in 46 career games. His 28.0 QB takedowns are 10th all-time in ACC history and are fourth by any player during the BCS Era. His 15.5 sacks in 2010 led the nation and are sixth-best in ACC history. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior and was taken fourth overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Sadly, Adams passed away at age 26 due to cardiac arrest in January 2010 but he will be forever remembered as one of the ACC’s greatest defensive linemen.

34. Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 200 rec., 3,119 yards, 21 TDs, 102 rush, TD, 300 ret. yards, TD

Following in Holt’s footsteps in Raleigh, Cotchery nearly duplicated his predecessor’s production. The Wolfpack playmaker is tied for second in ACC history with 15 100-yard receiving games, posted the fourth-best single-season yardage total in 2003 (1,369) and, at the time, was No. 2 all-time with 86 receptions that same year. Cotchery is ninth all-time in league history with 200 receptions and sixth all-time with 3,119 yards, the first of which is still an NC State record.

35t. Antrel Rolle, DB, Miami 2001-04)

He only played one season in the ACC but it was a good one. Along with Sean Taylor, Rolle was one of just four true freshmen to play on the dominant 2001 BCS National Championship team. He was an All-Big East pick as a sophomore and a unanimous All-American in the ACC in 2004 as a senior. He played safety in the NFL after being selected eighth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but he was an elite college cornerback, shutting down names like Larry Fitzgerald (3 rec., 26 yds) and Calvin Johnson (2 rec., 10 yds) during his career.

35t. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest (2005-08)

The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick led the ACC in interceptions and passes defended in both 2007 and '08. He totaled 15 picks and 38 passes broken up over that span. He was a consensus All-American as a senior and his 21 career interceptions is an ACC all-time record. Additionally, he scored on four INT returns, tying Randy Neal of Virginia for the all-time ACC record. 

The ACC's Top 25 Players of the BCS Era
Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/who-are-top-players-ncaa-tournament-superlatives-60-them

The five-man All-America team is just too constricting.

That’s why in each year’s preseason annuals, Athlon Sports awards the top 10 players at each “superlative.”

Rather than stick a player at guard or forward, these superlatives are broken up by skill sets — floor leaders, scorers, shooters, slashers and inside-out and post.

We’ve taken a similar tact with the players in the field for the NCAA Tournament for the players you need to watch as the final three weeks of the season leading into the national championship game on April 7.


1. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
The SEC Player of the Year sets the tone for one of the least selfish (or is it most selfless?) teams in the country. The Gators have plenty of potential scorers from Casey Prather to Michael Frazier II to Patric Young to Dorian Finney-Smith, but Wilbekin is the one in charge. He doesn’t have the assist numbers of other players on this list (3.8 per game), and his shooting numbers could be better (39.6 from the field). But No. 1 overall seed Florida would be lost without him.

2. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
A part-timer on last year’s Final Four team has become indispensable on an undefeated team.

3. T.J. McConnell, Arizona
The other impact newcomer for the Wildcats this season alongside Aaron Gordon, McConnell arrived from Duquesne to average 5.5 assists per game.

4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
For a while, he was the nation’s top freshman. He’s still an unflappable point guard for a team that started 25-0.

5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The three-game suspension seemed to re-energize Smart after a frustrating stretch at midseason.

6. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
7. Keith Appling, Michigan State
8. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
9. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
10. Chaz Williams, UMass


1. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
The sophomore has a more well-rounded game than he did when last season he was 3-point specialist for a team that reached the national title game. He averaged 17.5 points per game with 3.3 assists, but his bread and butter is still long-range shooting. Stauskas went 80 of 178 (44.9 percent) from 3-point range this season.

2. Gary Harris, Michigan State
With Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson ailing at different times this season, Harris has been the one to carry the Spartans for stretches. Harris shot only 35.1 percent from 3-point range, but he had to take 208 shots. That workload has diminished with everyone healthy. Look for him to be better for it.

3. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Baker hit 9 of 16 3-pointers during last year’s Final Four run and continued to be a go-to player from 3 for the Shockers.

4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
The Tar Heels need Paige to hit shots, which he did late in the season. He shot 42.7 percent from 3 since Jan. 20.

5. Brady Heslip, Baylor
How’s this for a specialist: Heslip took 274 shots this season, 237 from beyond the arc.

6. Ethan Wragge, Creighton
7. Michael Frazier II, Florida
8. Ben Brust, Wisconsin
9. Joe Harris, Virginia
10. Luke Hancock, Louisville


1. T.J. Warren, NC State
The sophomore has put NC State on his back for a surprise inclusion in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large in the First Four. Warren’s credentials as an elite scorer aren’t in doubt, but just to add to the case, Warren hasn’t failed to score fewer than 20 points since Jan. 11, including back-to-back 40-point games.

2. Russ Smith, Louisville
Smith is still one of the national leaders in usage rate, and he’s been even more efficient (47.5 percent shooting, 40.5 percent from 3).

3. Shabazz Napier, UConn
Perhaps its tough to pigeonhole Napier as a shooter as he leads the Huskies in rebounding in assists, but his 17.4 points per game can’t be ignored.

4. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Kilpatrick is, in essence, Cincinnati’s only scorer. The senior guard makes up more than 25 percent of their scoring.

5. Tyler Haws, BYU
The next big-time scorer for BYU averages 21.7 points per game, tied for seventh nationally.

6. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
7. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
8. Bryce Cotton, Providence
9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
10. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa


1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Will the NCAA Tournament be Wiggins’ time to shine as a college player? With Joel Embiid hurt for the first weekend, it might need to be. His 41-point game and 30-point game late in the season shows the nation’s top incoming freshman might be ready.

2. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
The Big 12’s Player of the Year led Iowa State’s prolific offense with 18.1 points per game while averaging 8.5 rebounds.

3. Terran Petteway, Nebraska
The Texas Tech transfer spearheaded Nebraska’s return to the NCAA Tournament with 18.1 points per game, including 26 points and 10 rebounds in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin.

4. Jordan McRae, Tennessee
McRae had a career year at 18.6 points per game and career-high 43.2 points per game as UT ended its NCAA Tournament drought.

5. Casey Prather, Florida
Prather was one of the nation’s surprise players with a hot start this season. Now, he’s the Gators’ top mid-range weapon on a balanced team.

6. Caris LeVert, Michigan
7. Cory Jefferson, Baylor
8. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
9. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
10. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State


1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
The no-brainer national player of the year is playing some of his best basketball at the end of the year, which is saying something. McDermott is more than his 3,000 points. He leads the nation’s most efficient offense thanks to his 52.5 shooting on 17.9 shots per game. And let’s not forget that he’s an above average rebounder at 7.0 per game, a career low.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker has 14 double-doubles this season, but he can also be lethal from 3-point range if it’s asked of him.

3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Here’s the cool thing about Payne: He only became a 3-point threat in the last season and a half.

4. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
It’s tough to find a spot for this 6-foot-9 point guard. He might be a floor general or a scorer. We’ll stick him here thanks to his 8.8 rebounds.

5. Rodney Hood, Duke
The Mississippi State transfer gets overshadowed by Parker. Hood might be an All-American elsewhere.

6. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
7. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
8. Georges Niang, Iowa State
9. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
10. Mike Moser, Oregon


1. Julius Randle, Kentucky
No question Kentucky didn’t expect to be a No. 8 seed, but Randle has been one of the few consistent pieces for the Wildcats this season. The star freshman averaged 15 points and 10.5 rebounds.

2. Joel Embiid, Kansas
The Jayhawks have major questions if Embiid is not a factor when he returns next weekend, provided Kansas makes it that far.

3. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Since Feb. 22, Harrell is averaging 19.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

4. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
A revelation this season, Bairstow emerged for 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

5. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
No one could have tabbed Kaminsky as Wisconsin’s top scorer entering this season. The 6-foot-11 center

6. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
7. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
8. Patric Young, Florida
9. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
10. Alex Kirk, New Mexico

Who are the top players in the NCAA Tournament? Superlatives on 60 of them
Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /2014-march-madness/12-teams-begging-be-upset-ncaa-tournament
Plenty of cases can be made for the anatomy of an upset and all the great things about potential Cinderellas.

At the same time, maybe not enough of the focus goes to the other half of the upset, the losing team heading back from the NCAA Tournament with its championship dreams shattered.

Certainly, plenty of lower seeded teams are talented enough and good enough on a particular day to win, but a handful of major programs are courting an upset. With the way some of these teams finished the season, they’re practically begging to lose early.

For the teams we’re breaking down as potential upset targets, we’re looking primarily at teams seeded seventh or higher that could lose their first game or teams seeded fourth or higher that could lose in the round of 32. Why not the No. 8 seeds? The 8-9 game is practically a toss up anyway, and No. 9 seeds historically have the advantage at 56-48 all time against the No. 8s.

A quick reaction to the exercise: The South region topped by Florida may be the most chaotic, starting with the injury to Kansas’ Joel Embiid and the slump to finish the season.

Meanwhile, the West region topped by Arizona appears to have the most chalk with only one team (Baylor) on our list for an early loss.

In true NCAA Tournament fashion, then, the favorites will rule the South and the West will destroy your bracket.

SOUTH REGION (No. 1 seed Florida)
No. 2 Kansas
Round of 64 opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Without Joel Embiid around the rim, Kansas’ defense has been a problem, allowing 92 points to West Virginia (1.26 points per possession) and 94 to Iowa State (1.2 per possession). Eastern Kentucky is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the field, and upsets by No. 15 seeds are far less rare than they used to be. If EKU can’t pull the mammoth upset, then the inside-out duo of Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams at New Mexico could give KU trouble.

No. 3 Syracuse
Round of 64 opponent: Western Michigan
Even before Syracuse’s first loss of the season, that shocker to Boston College, the offense for the Orange had started to slip. Since Feb. 15, Syracuse averaged less than a point per possession (95 per 100). Only Virginia Tech averaged worse during that span in the ACC. The Syracuse slump helped Virginia get a No. 1 seed and NC State claim a bid, while serving as the season highlights for Boston College and Georgia Tech. Western Michigan and either Ohio State or Dayton are plenty capable knocking out Syracuse.

No. 4 UCLA
Round of 64 opponent: Tulsa
This is perhaps the top-four seed that has received the least amount of attention this season despite Kyle Anderson’s phenomenal close to the year. Maybe it’s East Coast bias, but maybe it’s because UCLA’s most recent loss was by 18 to a Washington State team that just fired its coach. UCLA didn’t win the second leg of a Pac-12 road game this season, so the round of 32 game is just as problematic. At New Mexico and Iowa, UCLA coach Steve Alford has presided over three losses to double-digit seeds in his last four trips to the Tourney.

No. 5 VCU
Round of 64 opponent: Stephen F. Austin
In one of the most fascinating first round games, VCU faces the hottest team in the country not named Wichita State. Regardless of opponent, VCU may not be the team you remember making NCAA Tournament runs in years past. Even though the Havoc defense is still creating problems, the Rams have the lowest-rated team in offensive efficiency of the Shaka Smart era. Stephen F. Austin forces turnovers at a rate similar to VCU.

No. 6 Ohio State
Round of 64 opponent: Dayton
Ohio State finished the season with a pair of encouraging wins over Michigan State and Nebraska before a 72-69 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  But this is also a team that lost five of six in January and dropped back-to-back games to Penn State and Indiana. The Buckeyes lack shooters, which is something Dayton has in Jordan Sibert. Incidentally, Sibert started his career at Ohio State in a signing class with Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.

EAST REGION (No. 1 seed Virginia)

No. 5 Cincinnati
Round of 64 opponent: Harvard
Harvard was the upset few people pegged last season when the Crimson defeated No. 3 seed New Mexico. Now, Harvard, with nearly every key player back, is one of the most trendy upset picks. If Harvard can shut down Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati has few other options to score.

No. 6 North Carolina
Round of 64 opponent:
Providence is a classic case of a team that either has all the momentum after winning the Big East tournament or spent all its energy trying to get into the NCAA Tournament in the first place. The Friars have their offensive issues, but you won’t find a game with a greater disparity at the free throw line: Providence is second nationally at 78.1 percent while North Carolina is 344th at 62.5 percent.

No. 7 Connecticut
Round of 64 opponent: Saint Joseph’s
UConn is a flawed enough team to lose to the Atlantic 10 Tournament champions. Shabazz Napier can be wild with his shot, and the Huskies have been at a size disadvantage all season. St. Joe’s counters with a pair of senior 6-8 forwards in Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic.

WEST REGION (No. 1 seed Arizona)

No. 6 Baylor
Round of 64 opponent: Nebraska
This may not be the time to start picking against Baylor, given that the Bears have reached the Elite Eight in the last two Tournaments in even-numbered years (while missing the Tournament in the last three odd-numbered years). But Baylor is notoriously streaky and will be facing a Nebraska team with plenty of big wins on its ledger this season. The Bears can’t neither afford center Isaiah Austin to return to one of his funks nor poor free throw shooting.

MIDWEST (No. 1 Wichita State)

No. 1 Wichita State
Round of 64 opponent: Cal Poly or Texas Southern
First off, there’s no way Wichita State will lost its game against the No. 16 seed. How the Shockers will hold up against the winner of the No. 8-9 game is another matter. Kentucky would be the more talented team on the floor if the Shockers face Big Blue in the second game, but Kansas State is a tough opponent, too, especially in the defensive end.

No. 5 Saint Louis
Round of 64 opponent: NC State
The offense has been a liability for Saint Louis all season, even as the Billikens won their first 12 games in the A-10. Saint Louis averages 1.01 points per possession and less than a point per possession in conference play. That didn’t start to bite the Billikens until late in the season when they lost four of their last four, including the A-10 tourney opener against St. Bonaventure.

No. 6 UMass
Round of 64 opponent: Iowa or Tennessee
UMass is seeded here largely because of a non-conference resume that included wins over Nebraska, New Mexico, BYU and Providence. While that’s impressive, consider UMass was inconsistent in A-10 play, going 11-7. This is a team that often struggles to find its shot, which could spell trouble against Iowa or Tennessee.

12 Teams Begging to be Upset in the NCAA Tournament
Post date: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-flawed-roty-system-rewards-best-team-not-best-driver

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers, and more.

Today, David openly questions how the title of “Rookie of the Year” is awarded.

Do you know who Luke Willson is? No, he’s not an actor — that’s Luke Wilson, with one “L.” Willson was a rookie tight end on the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks who ranked sixth on the team in receiving yards and was a mere bit player on a perennial playoff team loaded with talent. Needless to say, his name wasn’t bandied about as a potential recipient of the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award.

True story: If NASCAR rules applied to the NFL, Willson would be the Rookie of the Year.

I often avoid bemoaning the rules and procedures of a sanctioning body whose actions are polarizing. This, though, is egregious. How NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year is awarded is through a bizarre point system that allocates 10 points for the best finishing rookie, nine points for the second best, eight points for the third best, et al. Then it omits all results not among a candidate’s best 17 races (it’s 16 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series and 14 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series).

In essence, NASCAR has done two things. First, it’s rewarding an individual for what a team accomplishes. Then, it’s suggesting only the best 50 percent of their season matters.

According to, Austin Dillon is the current leader in the Rookie of the Year standings following Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, by six points over Kyle Larson. Dillon’s finishes relative to other rookies (15th-place average finish) is vastly superior; however, Dillon is the only driver among this year’s crop that climbed into a car tailor-made for making the Chase. In three of the last four seasons, Dillon’s team with Kevin Harvick as the driver finished third in the overall point standings. Last year, Harvick averaged an 11.2-place finish. Currently 13th in overall points, Dillon’s addition has made his race team roughly four positions worse per race and 10 positions worse in the standings.

Is Dillon just benefiting from pre-existing strength? If he is, as of today, the deserving ROTY recipient, then NASCAR isn’t allowing anyone to make that distinction. That’s something that should change.

How a Rookie of the Year winner is decided in other sports is based on a media vote. It allows accredited media members a chance to think, debate, converse and make observations that a bad point system cannot. I’m Athlon’s resident stat analyst and by the unwritten code of statisticians, I’m supposed to be steadfast in my opposition to the human element; however, I have more faith in letting Bob Pockrass, Nate Ryan, Jeff Gluck and Jenna Fryer anoint a Rookie of the Year than I do in a decision based on an arcane point standing.


Did You Notice? ... Toyota trouble, limping into action and testing the waters


Two weeks ago I interviewed Parker Kligerman in this column and he spoke of his goal to help bring his No. 30 Swan Racing team to a top-25 points finish. That’d be an admirable leap, considering the team that fielded its entry primarily for David Stremme last season finished 33rd in the standings. In modern day NASCAR, an eight-point jump in the standings represents a gigantic step forward. Per the current rookie standing rules, Kligerman’s effort in this regard likely will go unnoticed. A more talented team can score a better points finish — a product of better results — and gift-wrap its rookie a career-defining accolade. If there were an official vote, Kligerman would at least receive consideration and probably be the subject of some well-written, finely researched articles.

The same goes for the likes of Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt, Michael Annett and Ryan Truex, who with 32 races left on the 2014 schedule, still have a chance to perform better than their predecessors in previous seasons. Such an impact on an organization deserves to be considered for recognition, for which voters would be responsible.

Human vote and voice would have also prevented some of the sport’s most dubious ROTY recipients.

In 2000, Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored the first Cup Series win in the history of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and went on to score two more victories, including a win in the All-Star Race, but lost in the Rookie of the Year standings to Matt Kenseth, who notched six more top-10 finishes for established power Roush Fenway Racing.

In 2002, Jimmie Johnson joined a startup Hendrick Motorsports team and scored three wins, ranked fourth in laps led, fourth in average finish (13.5) and finished fifth in the point standings, just one position better than Rookie of the Year Ryan Newman, who scored two less wins (though he did win the All-Star Race) for Team Penske. This, if anything, should have led to a Co-Rookie of the Year decision, something familiar to fans of other sports.

Questions pertaining to eligibility would have likely been raised in 2005 when Carl Edwards, in his first full Cup Series season, scored four victories and finished within sniffing distance of a Cup Series championship in what was statistically the most impressive season by a newcomer in the Chase era. Because he competed in 13 Cup races the prior season, he was ineligible to receive the Rookie of the Year award, of which Kyle Busch took home in a runaway. If the eligibility requirements today were retroactively applied, Edwards would be the winner, both by the NASCAR rookie standing and, likely, a vote.

A movement not to vote — or the Richard Pryor stance — would have been appreciated in 2012 when Stephen Leicht started and parked his way to winning the award. Even NASCAR quietly realized that his “win” was a joke and didn’t ask Leicht to speak at any of the year-end award banquets.

Understanding how results came to be is arguably more important than the results themselves. The human element is prone to error, yes, but it’s also able to decipher the impact of race results better than a point system built with flawed logic.

Luke Willson’s team won the Super Bowl and for that, he and his teammates will receive rings. Willson’s impact on the team, minimal compared to the work of other more established players, does not deserve to be recognized, so it isn't. That’s the way it should be.

The Rookie of the Year should be awarded to the best rookie, not the rookie with the best team.

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

Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

NASCAR's Rookie of the Year should be awarded to the best rookie, not the rookie with the best team, writes David Smith.
Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Zach Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-20-zach-johnson

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 20: Zach Johnson

Born: Feb. 24, 1976, Cedar Rapids, Iowa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 11 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,044,509 (9th) World Ranking: 10

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Zach Johnson finished in the top 10 in seven of his last eight events on Tour in 2013. In addition, he won Tiger’s event in December (the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge) with a dramatic holed wedge at 18 to get into a playoff with the host and then won on the first extra hole, making the end of 2013 one of the highlights of Zach’s career. He then won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in early January. Always consistent, he seemed to find even a new level and for the first time had back-to-back top tens in majors, finishing sixth and eighth in the British Open and PGA Championship. Perhaps he found a way around his low ball flight in the game’s biggest events; in his entire career, he’s only twice been in the top 10 in greens in regulation in a major, winning one of them at the 2007 Masters. If that’s the case, 2014 might be his best year ever.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 39
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - T35
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T6
PGA Championship - T8

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2007)
U.S. Open - T30 (2011)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T3 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 10
Missed Cuts: 14

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.


Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 11:09
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-18-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 18.

Angels pitcher CJ Wilson is married to supermodel Lisalla Montenegro. Lucky guy.

This, my friends, is what a $25 corn dog looks like. It's a foot and a half long, and it can be yours at D-backs games this season.

Three ways to win your office pool.

Greg Doyel says the history-making potential of this year's tournament is riding on Doug McDermott's shoulders.

Vegas is not impressed with the work of this year's Selection Committee. And Vegas would know.

• When underachieving has-beens collide: Vince Vaughn bought Lane Kiffin's Manhattan Beach house.

Dikembe Mutombo punked Rocky, the Denver Nuggets mascot, and even added a finger wag. Things continue to go poorly for Rocky, last seen here being lowered lifeless from the ceiling to the horror of children in the arena.

Enjoy this Gerald Green double-clutch dunk. I know I did.

Watch the Tennessee baseball team clean off their home field in 30 seconds. All that's missing is the Benny Hill music.

Few things are as amusing as unfortunate typos.

• Watch an MMA fighter get knocked out in less than two seconds.


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

Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 10:39
Path: /college-football/florida-state-unveils-national-championship-rings

Florida State closed out the BCS era with an impressive run to the national title. The Seminoles finished 14-0 and rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat Auburn in the championship game.

Not only did Florida State take home the crystal ball trophy, the players, coaches and support staff will receive three rings for their successful 2013 season.

The picture below tweeted by assistant coach Tim Brewster showcases the rings, which includes one from winning the ACC title and one from the BCS to celebrate the team’s national title.

Check out Florida State’s national championship rings:

Florida State Reveals Rings for National Championship
Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-25-players-bcs-era

The Pac-12 has long been considered an offensive football conference.

With a rich history of elite quarterbacks, offensive playmakers and innovative coaching staffs, it’s not too difficult to back that claim up with facts. Bill Walsh, Don James, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll set the bar for offensive advancement over the years while new faces like Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach and Todd Graham continue to elevate this league’s standing nationally.

During the BCS Era, the Pac-12 boasts three Heisman Trophy winners, four Biletnikoff winners, three Doak Walker winners, four Johnny Unitas Golden Arm winners, three Walter Camp winners and three John Mackey winners. And that’s just the offensive skill players in this league.

The Pac-12 has developed into one of the nation’s best leagues, and, with excellent new leadership at the conference and school level, should be around for decades to come as one of the preeminent leagues in college football.

Trying to narrow this list down to 25 names was nearly impossible but here are Athlon Sports' Top 25 Pac-12 players of the BCS Era. The only stipulation is that you must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Matt Leinart, QB, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 10,693 yds, 99 TDs, 23 INTs, 64.8%, 9 rush TDs

Leinart won two national titles and played for a third in three years starting at powerhouse USC under Pete Carroll. He finished in the top six of Heisman voting in all three seasons, winning the award in 2004, finishing sixth in '03 and third in '05. He also earned AP Player of the Year, Manning, Walter Camp, Unitas and consensus All-American honors during his remarkable Heisman campaign. He capped the season with arguably the second-best performance by a quarterback in a national title game by dissecting Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. He threw for 332 yards and a championship game-record five touchdowns in the most lopsided win in series history. Leinart owns the career conference record with 36 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and his 99 TD passes were a league record until Matt Barkley came along. He also is just one of three players in league history to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons (Derek Anderson, Andrew Walter).

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (2009-11)
Stats: 9,430 yds, 82 TDs, 22 INTs, 67.0%, 957 yds, 7 TDs

The best quarterback prospect in over two decades broke all kinds of rookie NFL records in his first trip through the professional ranks. This merely lends credence to his remarkable college career. Few players have meant more to their school in history than Luck at Stanford. He led his program to its first BCS bowl win and set every school passing record en route. The two-time Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year finished second in the Heisman twice (2010, '11) and won the Unitas, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards in 2011. He is the Pac-12's all-time leader in completion percentage, yards per play (8.5) and passing efficiency (162.8). He was 27-4 in his last 31 starts, earned a degree in architecture from Stanford, and is one of just nine players in league history to throw for at least 2,500 yards in three different seasons.

3. Terrell Suggs, DE, Arizona State (2000-02)

The star pass-rusher is best known as the NCAA’s all-time single-season sack master when he totaled 24 QB takedowns in 2002. That year, Suggs was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the inaugural Ted Hendricks Award winner. The accolades didn’t end there, however, as he also took home the Lombardi, Nagurski and Willis trophies as well. He led the NCAA with 31.5 tackles for a loss (still a Pac-12 record) and forced six fumbles that year. He finished his Sun Devils career with 163 tackles, a school-record 65.5 for a loss (second all-time in league history), 44 sacks (second all-time in league history) and 14 forced fumbles. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.]

4. Troy Polamalu, S, USC (1999-2002)

The big-play machine was a three-year starter for the West Coast powerhouse. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a consensus All-American and stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. The big hitter finished with 278 tackles, 29.0 for loss, six interceptions and four blocked punts in 36 career starts for the Men of Troy. Polamalu led USC back to prominence with a league title and trip to the Orange Bowl before being taken in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

5. Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon (2003-05)

Arguably the best NFL defensive tackle of his generation, Ngata had to overcome a torn ACL in college. Once he recovered, the big interior stuffer posted 107 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and 6.5 sacks over his final two seasons in Eugene. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the Morris Trophy winner before being selected 12th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. He blocked seven kicks and led Oregon to a 10-win season in 2005 — just the school’s third such campaign in school history at the time.

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

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

7. Sam Baker, OT, USC (2004-07)

The stud left tackle charged with protecting Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush was a three-time, first-team All-American and three-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection. Baker helped lead the way on teams that played in back-to-back national championship games and won four straight Pac-10 titles. USC was 47-5 during his time and he went on to be a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2008 NFL Draft.

8. Carson Palmer, QB, USC (1998-02)
Stats: 11,668 yds, 72 TDs, 49 INTs, 9 rush TDs

Pete Carroll has always said that if he could design a quarterback from scratch that it would have the physical tools of Palmer. After two middle-of-the-pack seasons as the starter in L.A., Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, Unitas Award and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2002. That year, Palmer threw for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading USC to a conference championship and Orange Bowl win over Iowa. He is No. 2 all-time in league history in total offense (11,621) and yards passing (11,818). His 72 touchdown passes rank 10th all-time in Pac-12 history and he is one of nine players to throw for at least 2,500 yards in three seasons. Palmer was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

9. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal (2003-04)
Stats: 5,469 yds, 43 TDs, 13 INTs, 63.8%, 336 yds, 8 TDs

Clearly one of the greatest players to ever come through the league, Rodgers led Cal back to relevance, finishing 18-8 in two years as the starter and posting 10 wins in a season for the first time since 1991. He scored 51 times in just 25 games with only 13 interceptions, finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 2004, led the NCAA in completion percentage (66.1) and yards-per-attempt in his final season (8.1). Rodgers was a first-round pick of the Packers in the 2005 NFL Draft and is widely considered the best active quarterback on the planet today.

10. Rey Maualuga, LB, USC (2005-08)

The hard-hitting tackler was a freshman All-American on the 2005 USC team that barely lost to Texas in the national title game. He then started the next three seasons for the Trojans, earning consensus All-American honors, the Chuck Bednarik Award and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. The Men of Troy went 46-6 during his time on campus and few players were as feared nationally as Maualuga. He posted 272 career tackles, 22.5 for loss, 9.0 sacks and five interceptions before being taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

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

Few players accomplished more in three seasons than James. Three straight 1,500-yard campaigns, a Doak Walker Award, consensus All-American honors and a trip to the BCS title game make the speedy and allusive back one of the BCS Era’s greatest tailbacks. His 53 touchdowns and 5,082 yards on the ground are both second all-time in Pac-12 history. The Texarkana, Texas, native finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010 and 10th in '11 and led an Oregon team that went 34-6 and won three straight Pac-12 titles.

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

From a pure talent standpoint, Jackson is the best Oregon State player of all-time and is one of the most talented runners of the BCS Era. The Las Vegas native led the nation in rushing two straight seasons and set the OSU single-season rushing record with his 1,690-yard 2002 season. In just three years, Jackson ranks 17th in Pac-12 history in yards and 15th in touchdowns. He was a first-round draft pick and posted eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL for a team that rarely pressed for the postseason.

13. Mike Williams, WR, USC (2002-03)
Stats: 176 rec., 2,579 yds, 30 TDs

Fans in Los Angeles may always wonder what could have been had Williams not pressed NFL Draft eligibility rules. In his two underclass seasons for USC, Williams was extraordinary. As a true freshman, the massive 6-foot-5, 240-pounder caught 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 14 TDs. He returned to top those numbers as a sophomore with 95 receptions (third in league history at the time), 1,314 yards and 16 scores in 2003 (still third in league history). He was a consensus All-American and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. Williams declared for the draft following his sophomore season, but was ultimately ruled ineligible and couldn't return to USC either. Although he was taken 10th overall in the 2005 draft, he ended up being of the biggest draft busts in recent history, especially given the talent and potential he showed in college.

14. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona (2004-07)

The California native was a four-year contributor for Arizona, playing in 46 career games in Tucson. He burst onto the scene in his first collegiate game by winning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. He went on to win Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. He was named first-team all-league twice as an upperclassman and is the only player form the Pac-12 to win the Thorpe Award during the BCS Era (2007). He scored four times (two INTs, two punt returns), intercepted five passes and made 71 tackles as a senior. He finished with 253 tackles, 14.0 for loss, 15 interceptions and five total touchdowns. Cason was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

15. Marcedes Lewis, TE, UCLA (2002-05)
Stats: 126 rec., 1,571 yds, 21 TDs

The red-zone touchdown machine improved his production each of his four seasons at UCLA, culminating with All-American and John Mackey honors as a senior in 2005. He set school records in all three major categories for a tight end that year and helped UCLA to its best record (10-2) since 1998. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound consensus All-American was a matchup nightmare for defenses and was the Pac-10’s best player at his position during the BCS era in a league known for its great tight ends.

16. Alex Mack, C, Cal (2005-08)

The star center started 39 consecutive games for the Golden Bears. He won the “Academic Heisman” when was named the recipient of the Draddy Trophy in 2008 and was a two-time Rimington Finalist. Mack was the only Pac-12 player to win the Morris Trophy (Offensive) as the league’s top lineman twice during the BCS Era and was a three-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection. He also was a rare first-round pick as a center by the Browns in 2009 and has been sent to three Pro Bowls in his career.

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

The Norco (Calif.) High prospect had just 515 yards and one touchdown entering his junior year. In two years as the starter, Gerhart posted 43 rushing touchdowns and over 3,000 yards in his final two seasons. He won the Doak Walker and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year accolades and earned consensus All-American honors by leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (28), attempts (343) and yards (1,871). He finished second in the Heisman balloting that year and his 28 touchdowns are a single-season Pac-12 record.

18. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State (2009-13)

There are only two players in the history of the Pac-12 to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards and Sutton is one of them (Washington’s Steve Emtman is the other) as he claimed both the 2012 and '13 honor. Sutton was an All-American after a huge junior season in 2012 before returning to help lead Arizona State to the best record in the Pac-12 and a South Division title. He won back-to-back Morris Trophies as well as the league’s best D-liner in both seasons. From his tackle spot, he finished with 19.5 career sacks and 45.5 tackles for a loss.

19. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon (1998-01)
Stats: 6,911 yds, 59 TDs, 23 INTs, 55.2%, 210 yds, 18 TDs

He will always be remembered as the guy on the Times Square billboard and as the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. However, during his three-year run at Oregon, few players were ever as productive and successful as Harrington. He went 25-3 as a starter, including an 11-win Pac-10 championship and the program's first-ever BCS bowl appearance and win. He was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He accounted for 63 total touchdowns in his final two seasons in Eugene.

20. Ryan Kalil, C, USC (2003-06)

The Rimington Finalist was one of the stars of the USC offensive line during its national championship run in the early 2000s. He played a big role on both the 2004 and '05 BCS title game teams and was voted the Morris Trophy winner in 2006. He also earned All-American honors and was drafted in the second round of the 2007 Draft by the Panthers. He is a three-time Pro Bowler.

21. David Yankey, G, Stanford (2011-13)

In three short years, Yankey is likely the school’s most decorated offensive lineman. He earned consensus All-American honors as a sophomore for the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champs while also claiming the Morris Trophy as the league’s top OL. He returned as a junior and earned unanimous All-American honors en route to a second consecutive Pac-12 championship. He led Stanford to three straight BCS bowls and a 34-7 overall record over that span. He declared early for the NFL Draft after his 2013 junior season.

22. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (2011- 13)
Stats: 248 rec., 3,655 yds, 29 TDs, 146 rush, 1,351 ret. yds, 2 TDs

As just a sophomore, Lee won the Biletnikoff Award, was a consensus All-American, was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and broke multiple USC and Pac-12 receiving records. He is one of just two wideouts in BCS history to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting. Lee owns the single-game Pac-12 record with 345 yards against Arizona in 2012 and is third all-time with 16 catches in that game. His 118 catches and 1,721 yards were both Pac-12 records that stood for one year until Brandin Cooks showed up in 2013. He is fourth all-time in career receptions and yards in league history and ninth in TD catches.

23. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (2011-13)
Stats: 743 att., 4,239 yds, 48 TDs, 77 rec., 679 yds, 4 TDs, 565 ret. yds

There aren't too many records Carey doesn't own and had he stuck around for his final season, he would have rewritten the career rushing record book out West. He owns the single-game Pac-12 rushing record with 366 against Colorado as a sophomore. He led the nation in rushing as a sophomore and was second as a junior, finishing his career with 16 consecutive 100-yard games, and two of the top seven single-season rushing marks in league history. He is seventh all-time in rushing yards and fifth all-time in rushing touchdowns and could have broken both (59 and 6,245) with an equally impressive senior season. Carey was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year for his 1,885 yards and 19 TDs in 12 games this past fall.

24. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (2011-13)
Stats: 226 rec., 3,272 yds, 24 TDs, 340 rush, 2 TDs

Cooks set the Pac-12 single-season records for receptions and yards when he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and finished third all-time with 16 touchdown receptions in 2013. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver before leaving early for the NFL Draft. Cooks is arguably the best of a long list of elite do-everything Beaver wide receivers, finishing 10th in league history in receptions and eighth all-time in yards.

25. Chris Claiborne, LB, USC (1995-98)

The three-year star for the Trojans was the first and only Butkus Award winner in USC history when he was named the nation’s top linebacker in 1998 — the same year both Al Wilson and Andy Katzenmoyer were seniors. He also is the only Pac-12 player to win the Butkus in the three-decade history of the award. He was a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

The Next 10:

26. Deltha O’Neal, CB, Cal (1996-99)

The Golden Bear great is one of the most decorated defensive backs from the Pac-12 during the BCS Era. He is one of just two players to win conference Defensive Player of the Year when he set an NCAA record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns in his senior year. He also won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teamer and the Pop Warner Award as the most valuable player on the West Coast —  one of only six Pac-12 players to do so and one of only two Pac-12 defensive players. He was a consensus All-American and first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

27. Ken Simonton, RB, Oregon State (1998-01)
Stats: 1,041 att., 5,044 yds, 59 TDs, 58 rec., 472 yds, TD

Simonton was a four-year starter who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each season prior to his senior year. He set the school's single-season rushing record in 2000 with 1,546 yards (since broken) and is the all-time leading rusher at a program known for its running backs. Simonton is one of just three players in league history to top 5,000 yards rushing (James, Charles White) and he still owns the conference's career rushing touchdown mark with 59.

28. Adam Archuleta, Arizona State (1997-00)

The West Coast’s favorite walk-on became a three-year starter for the Sun Devils. He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and finished with 330 tackles, 54.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks. The star tackler was a first-round pick of the Rams in the 2001 NFL Draft.

29. Sedrick Ellis, DL, USC (2004-07)

Ellis was one of the big fellas up the middle who helped the Trojans to four straight conference titles and two BCS championship appearances (2004-05). He was one of three players to ever win the Morris Trophy twice during the BCS Era, earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and was a unanimous All-American in '07. Ellis finished with 144 total tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in 48 career games for the Men of Troy. USC was 47-5 during his four years and Ellis was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

30. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (2008-10)

This strong bull in the middle is one of the greatest players in OSU history. He was a two-time Morris Trophy winner in the Pac-10, one of only five players to ever accomplish the feat in league history (three during BCS Era). Paea earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and was named a consensus All-American. He finished with 129 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss and 14.0 sacks in his Beavers career. One of the strongest players in NFL Combine history, Paea was a second-round pick of the Bears in the 2011 draft.

31. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford (2009-13)

The heart and soul of two Pac-12 championship teams and three teams that played in BCS bowls, few players have meant more to their team than Skov. He finished his career with 355 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 16.0 sacks and played his biggest games against the best competition (See: Oregon). During his last four years, Stanford was one of the best defensive units in the nation and his teams went a combined 46-8 during that span. He earned all-conference honors in 2010, '12 and '13.

32. Nick Barnett, LB, Oregon State (1999-02)

One of the most consistent and dependable playmakers in league history, Barnett started three full seasons for the Beavers. He was a multi-year all-conference selection and led the league as a senior with 121 tackles in 2001. He was an integral part of the rebuilding of Oregon State football that included an 11-1 Fiesta Bowl championship season in 2001. Barnett was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2003.

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

Beast mode started back in Berkeley where Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry over a three-year college career. He never had one elite season but his 1,684 yards from scrimmage, 15-total touchdown season led to a Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2006. His power and speed was obvious ever since he signed with Cal out of Oakland (Calif.) Technical and he went on to be a first-round draft pick (12th overall) for Buffalo. Now leading the way in Seattle, Lynch has already earned four Pro Bowl invites and a Super Bowl ring in his NFL career.

34. Kris Farris, OL, UCLA (1995-98)

The 1998 Outland Trophy winner was a consensus All-American for the Bruins in 1998. In fact, Farris was one of only two players from the Pac-12 to win the Outland (Rien Long) and was the only offensive lineman to do so during the BCS Era. He helped lead UCLA to back-to-back 10-2 seasons and a Rose Bowl berth in his final season before being selected in the third round by the Bills in 1999.

35. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC (2004-06)
Stats: 216 rec., 3,138 yds, 41 TDs

A two-time consensus All-American, Jarrett was a touchdown machine. He scored 13, 16 and 12 receiving touchdowns respectively while helping USC earn trips to back-to-back BCS National Championship Games. His 2005 campaign was his best — 91 rec., 1,274 yds, 16 TDs — and he finished ninth in the Heisman voting as a junior in 2006 before turning pro. In the red zone, few players have ever been as dominant as his 41 career touchdown receptions are nine more than any other Pac-12 player. He’s 15th in league history in receptions and 14th all-time in yards.

The Pac-12's Top 25 Players of the BCS Era
Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2014-spring-football-preview

Arkansas had the worst football season in its existence in 2013.

And that was after firing an extremely popular and successful coach for getting caught illegally hiring his young mistress into the athletic department and finishing 4-8 under John L. Smith.

Needless to say, it’s been a rough few years for Razorbacks fans. In the toughest division in football, the uphill climb back to SEC respectability - much less the Sugar Bowl - appears to be extremely treacherous.

Arkansas was outgained by its opponents last season by an average of 138.3 yards per game — trailing only Kentucky in the SEC. It means Bret Bielema has his work cut out for him on both sides of the ball. The entire two-deep returns one player who got any All-SEC mention a year ago (Hunter Henry), and the running back position is in good hands with rising star sophomore Alex Collins.

However, other than that, the Razorbacks have major question marks all over the depth chart heading into spring camp.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30at 
Sept. 6Nicholls State
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Sept. 27 (Arlington)
Oct. 4Bye Week
Oct. 11
Oct. 18
Oct. 25
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Arkansas Razorbacks 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 16

Spring Game: April 26

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 4

Three Things to Watch in Arkansas' 2014 Spring Practice

Find balance on offense
Bielema made his living in the Big Ten pounding the football (unless Russell Wilson was under center) and that won’t change too dramatically at Arkansas. But after finishing 114th in passing offense and 21st in rushing offense, finding balance will be imperative for the Hogs moving forward. Does this mean that Brandon Allen is the final answer under center? He has the experience edge but after completing just 49.6-percent of his passes and dealing with a shoulder injury, Bielema has decided to open up the QB competition this spring. Redshirt freshmen Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell will both get tons of reps, and early enrollee Rafe Peavey enters campus with loads of recruiting hype and expectations. This team must find balance on offense if the Bielema regime expects to reach the postseason in its second year in town. This also includes finding a playmaking wide receiver as well as the top three returning receivers combined for 34 catches last fall.

Get to know the new defensive staff
After allowing 475.3 yards per game in SEC play (105th nationally), Bielema overhauled the defensive coaching staff. Robb Smith is now the defensive coordinator, Rory Segrest is the new defensive line coach and Clay Jennings in the new defensive backs coach. This group needs to get to know their roster and organize the depth chart as they show up from Rutgers, Samford and TCU, respectively. Arkansas ranked 104th nationally in pass efficiency defense and was 102nd nationally yards per play allowed at 6.1, which can’t continue if the Hogs expect to reach a bowl game in 2014. Specifically, filling the gaps left by end Chris Smith, linebacker Jarrett Lake and safety Eric Bennett will be critical this spring. Names like Trey Flowers, Braylon Mitchell and Alan Turner may be prepared to take starring roles but getting the nomenclature, signage and general rapport with the new coaching staff will be essential if this unit is going to improve.

Replace Travis Swanson...
And to a lesser extent, tackle David Hurd. The running game will always be the foundation of Bielema’s offensive attack and there is some nice talent for line coach Sam Pittman to work with in ’14. However, Swanson was arguably the best player on the team and was the only first-team All-SEC selection last fall. Finding a new pivot to manage the offense line, developing young talent like Denver Kirkland and stabilizing the pecking order at the tackle position is huge for a team that did only one thing well in 2013 — run the ball and protect the quarterback. Luke Charpentier is a senior and possibly the top candidate to replace Swanson but sophomore Cordale Boyd will press him for time this spring. Additionally, keep Frank Ragnow on the back burner as he will arrive on campus this summer and could be the long-term solution to replace Swanson.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 3-5
Arkansas should be able to run the football on offense again in 2014 with seven starters returning, including one of the best backfields in the SEC. But this coaching staff doesn’t really know what it has at either quarterback or wide receiver and is replacing its top offensive lineman. Finding balance on offense will be crucial because it doesn’t appear that the defense will be all that improved. Only four starters are back and the star power is gone (Smith, Bennett). Even the schedule is nasty for Bielema, as things get started with road trips to Auburn and Texas Tech in the first three weeks. Three wins in the non-conference would be a great step and an upset (or two) at home against an SEC power — Alabama, Georgia, LSU or Ole Miss — will be mandatory if the Razorbacks are going to be bowling at season’s end.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/potential-cinderella-teams-2014-ncaa-tournament

The concept of a mid-major may be out of date thanks to the last few seasons.

Think about it: Butler and VCU have routinely put up high-major program results. Wichita State invests in its program in ways some programs in major conferences do not. Creighton and Xavier now share the Big East banner.

Even the pool of potential Cinderellas this season even seemed to take a hit. A dozen regular season champions in one-bid leagues lost in the conference tournaments. That either means the hottest teams from the low-majors are in the field or the most capable teams are playing in the NIT.

We’ll find out soon enough, but there’s still no shortage of teams that look like they can make a run in the NCAA Tournament even if they’re not household names. Here’s what we like about some of the best candidates.

SOUTH REGION (No. 1 seed Florida)

Record: 23-10, 10-6 Atlantic 10
Seed: 11
Round of 64 opponent: Ohio State
Is Dayton too good a program to be considered a potential Cinderella? Perhaps. The Flyers play in a first-class arena and claimed one of the Atlantic 10’s six NCAA bids. But Dayton also has one NCAA Tournament win since 2004. The Flyers started the season in fine form, beating Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational and taking Baylor to the wire, and then won 10 of the final 12. This is a team that can hang with major programs. Dayton’s not a great defensive team, but the Flyers’ pod includes Ohio State and Syracuse, teams that haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard during the final stretch of the season.

Stephen F. Austin
Record: 31-2, 18-0 Southland
Seed: 12
Round of 64 opponent: VCU
The Lumberjacks rolled through the Southland Conference for a second consecutive season, this time under a first-year coach. Former Kansas State assistant Brad Underwood took over for the successful Danny Kaspar to lead Stephen F. Austin to 28 consecutive wins to finish the season. The Lumberjacks were rarely tested in the Southland, where they won their conference games by an average of 15.7 points per contest. The drawback to this 31-2 record: SFA’s best win all season was over Towson. Look for the round of 64 game against VCU to be a wild one: Both rank in the top three nationally in defensive turnover rate.

Record: 21-12, 13-3 Conference USA
Seed: 13
Round of 64 opponent: UCLA
Tulsa didn’t make much noise in Conference USA until late in the season, but there’s plenty to like about the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa is the home of eventual national championship coaches Bill Self, Tubby Smith and Nolan Richardson and has another intriguing name on the bench in Kansas legend Danny Manning. This season’s team has been tested plenty. Even if the Golden Hurricane didn’t win many games against big-time competition early, Tulsa has been tested against top-five seeded teams Wichita State, Creighton and Oklahoma.

Western Michigan
Record: 23-9, 14-4 MAC
Seed: 14
Round of 64 opponent: Syracuse
The Broncos won 12 of their last 13 games, the only loss coming in overtime on the road to the next best team in the MAC in Toledo. Western Michigan has a pair of potential pros in 6-11 center Shayne Whittington and 6-3, 210-point guard David Brown. Throw in a first-round matchup against a Syracuse team that has fallen apart since the 25-0 start, and Western Michigan will be a popular pick for a 14-3 upset.

EAST REGION (No. 1 seed Virginia)

George Washington
Record: 24-8, 11-5 Atlantic 10
Seed: 9
Round of 64 opponent: Memphis
Like some of the other A-10 teams, George Washington may or may not qualify as a Cinderella. The Colonials are seeded ninth and defeated Creighton early in the season in a tournament in Anaheim. They also defeated high-majors Georgia and Maryland, for what that’s worth. Affable coach Mike Lonergan has two players recruited by major powers. Maurice Creek has flourished at G-Dub after his career at Indiana was cut short by multiple injuries, and Isaiah Armwood has been a double-double machine since transferring from Villanova.

Record: 26-4, 13-1 Ivy
Seed: 12
Round of 64 opponent: Cincinnati
Harvard returns nearly every key player from the team that upset No. 3 seed New Mexico last season. The Crimson are a solid enough team to take advantage of a Cincinnati team that struggles to score. The Bearcats are one of the best teams in the defensive end, but they ranked worse than 200th nationally in shooting from 2-point and 3-point range.

North Carolina Central
Record: 28-5, 15-1 MEAC
Seed: 14
Round of 64 opponent: Iowa State
North Carolina Central enters the NCAA Tournament on a 20-game winning streak, but the Eagles have a more impressive non-conference profile than previous MEAC champions. North Carolina Central defeated NC State on the road and faced Cincinnati, Wichita State and Maryland in guarantee games.

WEST REGION (No. 1 seed Arizona)

North Dakota State
Record: 25-6, 12-2 Summit League
Seed: 12
Round of 64 opponent: Oklahoma
North Dakota State on paper has an offense that can hang with Oklahoma. The veteran Bison are 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in effective field goal percentage. North Dakota State isn’t a great 3-point shooting team, but the Bison don’t need to be, shooting 56 percent from inside the arc.

Record: 23-11, 11-7 Sun Belt
Seed: 14
Round of 64 opponent: Creighton
Few players are more valuable to their teams than Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton may be one of them. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ guard averages 19.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.2 steals. Throw in a forward averaging a double-double (Shawn Long) and UL Lafayette has a twosome that maybe able to counter McDermott.

MIDWEST REGION (No. 1 seed Wichita State)

Record: 26-9, 14-4 Atlantic Sun
Seed: 14
Round of 64 opponent: Duke
Looking for another example of a Cinderella team that can get hot from 3-point range? Try Mercer. The Bears made an average of 8.1 3-point attempts per game. Mercer won the Atlantic Sun regular season title last season and tied for the crown this season. If Duke’s defensive lapses from early this season return, Mercer could be a team to watch.

Potential Cinderella Teams in the 2014 NCAA Tournament
Post date: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/edwards-endures-rain-soaked-sunday-bristol

March Madness is supposed to apply to this week’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, not NASCAR, which endured an eight-hour, marathon of a race for the second time in less than a month Sunday. Mother Nature wreaked havoc at Bristol Motor Speedway, causing two rain delays and finally ending the event prematurely when caution lights malfunctioned for inexplicable reasons.  Bristol Motor Speedway

According to NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton, a person in the flag stand leaned on the manual override switch, turning on the caution lights on lap 499. Six seconds after the lights were turned on, the flagman — seeing the lights on — waved the yellow flag. Pemberton said that the flagman can wave the caution flag without a call from series officials in the tower if they see a proper reason. A raging downpour then ensued, and NASCAR called the race for Carl Edwards instead of forcing an ugly, final restart.

No rain tires leaves NASCAR with no option in these situations, so the officials err on the side of safety at first sight of a sprinkle. But you wonder, with its two best races ruined by rain, whether it’s time to pour some research into alternatives. Baseball is the only modern sport where rain delays still apply; even there, if a team has to endure a rough day there’s 80 other home dates to make back the profit. Not so in NASCAR, with its individual tracks having two dates max to justify their existence. That meant one of its best facilities, the rugged, half-mile Bristol, lost millions based on a wet weather forecast. Thousands of fans stayed home, knowing with the 100 percent chance of precipitation that they would be waiting around for hours, if not forced to come back on Monday.

The sport isn’t what it used to be, meaning there was a small window Sunday for Bristol to take center stage before the true meaning of March Madness took over. For hardcore fans that hung in there into the late evening, their reward was that some couldn’t even see it on television (FOX moved the finish to its sports channel, FOX Sports 1 after hanging on most of the day). That’s not the way to keep viewers sticking around, right? Good racing — like after the Daytona rain delay — was the hallmark of this Bristol stop, but fans had to jump through hoops to be a part of it.

Twenty years ago, in the midst of major growth, millions obsessed with this sport would put up with it. But 2014 is a different era, not just in NASCAR, but life in general. People are busy, faced with more distractions in this information age and waiting around for 10 hours just isn’t in the cards. While the Air Titan, which dries tracks faster, is a major step in the right direction, a better option is to eliminate the delay altogether, preemptively calling a race based on a 100 percent chance of rain or simply finding a way to keep cars on-track.

Normal people drive in the rain all the time, as do other racing series. In a sport driven by strategy, now more than ever, the sport would be wise to work towards a long-term solution because long-term fans will only put up with so much — even when Mother Nature is the culprit.

“Through the Gears” we go …

FIRST GEAR: Surprising Edwards leads Ford’s fight to fix problems  Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola
How ironic that one of NASCAR’s healthiest, fittest drivers was the one standing atop Bristol’s marathon. Edwards, like in Las Vegas the week before, benefited from the pit calls of crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Choosing to keep old tires during a late caution with 75 laps to go, track position was enough to keep the No. 99 car in position to win.

“Our car was just fast or faster than it had been all night after that,” Edwards said. “So there was no detriment to our performance.  It didn't hurt us in any way.”

Edwards also benefited from NASCAR’s insistence to end the race off that final caution. A restart would have seen Edwards’ teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., alongside and Aric Almirola right behind, both longshots for wins this season and in position to use their bumpers for a Chase bid. Mayhem would have likely ensued, ruining a banner night for the Blue Oval crowd.

Instead, Ford came home with a second straight win, the first time the manufacturer has done that on the Cup level since Watkins Glen and Michigan in August 2012. A 1-2-3 finish, with Edwards-Stenhouse-Almirola, is their first since Talladega last May. Brad Keselowski, driving a Fusion for Penske Racing, is leading the point standings. What’s spurred the changes?

“Ford has given us more resources,” claimed owner Jack Roush. “They've expanded their engineering involvement one more notch and given us some more.  Of course, the thing that it comes down to, as it always has with people in stock car racing is you can have talented people, but if you don't work on the right things, you won't get the results you're looking for.”

My take is the minds on top of the pit box are making a difference. Paul Wolfe and Keselowski came out of the gate clicking on all cylinders. Fennig won the race Sunday for Edwards, earning him a top-5 finish at Las Vegas the week before with a bad car. Penske Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have more brainstorming sessions than ever.

While RFR as a whole still has a ways to go (Greg Biffle, in particular, is struggling mightily) Sunday’s race can make a big difference in momentum. They may all still be chasing Hendrick’s Chevy crowd in the long run, but consecutive wins in Las Vegas, an intermediate track, and Bristol, a short track, are notable in this early season.

SECOND GEAR: Richard Petty Motorsports on Cloud Nine
Third for Almirola was a career best, joining teammate Marcos Ambrose in the top 5 for Richard Petty Motorsports. It’s the first time since scaling back to a two-car operation with new investors in late 2010, that RPM has accomplished the feat.

“This is how we expect to run,” said Almirola, who claims new crew chief Trent Owens has made a difference with the Petty Blue No. 43. “We thought when we brought Trent over he would come with some new ideas … everybody has been working really hard, and that hard work pays off.”

Still, the runs were surprising, as neither team has sniffed the top 10 this season until Sunday. Why the sudden step up in performance? RPM could be funneling its funding (limited compared to the big teams) on improving at short tracks and road courses. All it takes is one victory to make the field, and Ambrose has shown an affinity at both those types of facilities. Almirola himself is strong at the short tracks (along with Kansas) which makes one wonder whether that’s where RPM will test and take some sort of large-scale gamble to cash in.

Fellow middle-class owner Harry Scott, whose No. 51 was a season-best 18th with Justin Allgaier at Bristol, confirmed that type of strategy on Friday.

“It gives the smaller teams some incentive and changes our allocation of resources a little bit,” he said of the new Chase format. “For us to spend more time on those races where we think we have the best shot at pulling an upset.”

No wonder Almirola, whose team is a step below at Ford, was more upset than he should be with third after the race.


Bowles: Asking NASCAR fans to tough it out? A risky play

THIRD GEAR: Big teams suffer big problems
Joe Gibbs Racing was a favorite coming into Bristol before suffering through bad luck. Matt Kenseth arguably had the best car before getting drilled by an ignorant Timmy Hill midway through the race. When a caution flew for Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt, Hill didn’t see the yellow come out and damaged the back of Kenseth’s No. 20 at well over 70 miles an hour.

Kenseth actually recovered from that, driving back to the lead, but inevitably made the wrong pit call for tires late to keep him stuck in traffic. He was a disappointing 13th, while teammate Kyle Busch crashed and wound up seven laps down in 29th. Denny Hamlin, while winning the pole, slumped to sixth, meaning JGR remains 0-for-Victory Lane this season.

Hendrick Motorsports had its troubles, too with Jimmie Johnson having a flat tire under green and Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffering mechanical problems. Junior’s top-2 streak is over, dropping him to second in points, while Johnson’s Bristol nightmares continue. He’s won just once at the non-Chase track in 25 career starts and now has three consecutive finishes outside the top 10 at Thunder Valley.

FOURTH GEAR: Rookies look towards the front
There’s been a lot of talk over rookies struggling these first few weeks of the season. But this weekend at Bristol was Kyle Larson’s introduction to millions. Fighting for the lead at times early in the race, Larson never led a lap officially, but kept the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy at or near the front all night. A 10th at Bristol was his best of the season and followed a runner-up performance in the Nationwide Series the day before. 

“It's crazy to think it's kind of a disappointing finish for the way we ran for most of the race, but all in all it was a good race,” Larson said. “It was a lot of fun racing with Austin Dillon there at the end.  We must have ran side by side or so for the last 20 laps.”

Dillon, the other main contender for Rookie of the Year honors, came home 11th, signifying a battle they’ll likely wage most of the year. It’s a nice recovery for two youngsters who have started off on a bit of a rollercoaster.

Tony Stewart
, after a season-best fourth, had a message for fans weary over Bristol’s many changes through recent years. “The closing rates weren’t quite as big, but if people don’t like the racing here tonight I don’t know what they want,” he said. “Unless they just want a wreckfest I thought the racing was pretty good.  Like I said, you run mid 15 second laps on a half mile track and run three wide, that is pretty impressive.” Smoke is right, as while the crashes at Bristol were down the actual competition was among the best we’ve ever seen at the half-mile facility. … NASCAR called not one but two “competition” cautions to check tire wear during the race. Why can’t they trust Goodyear that things will be fine when it rains? And why call these “competition” yellows but then call “debris” yellows later in the race for pieces of metal we never see? Call a spade a spade. … What appeared to be toilet paper littered the track during one of the early cautions, catching onto the back of Landon Cassill’s No. 40 Chevy while making a mangled mess of the speedway. NASCAR truly has seen everything these past few years.

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


Carl Edwards wins a rain-soaked Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 19:06
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/must-follow-twitter-accounts-each-68-ncaa-tournament-teams

First, our sincere condolences for anyone who isn’t able to sneak away from work on Thursday or Friday to take in one of the greatest days in the sports calendar.

With 16 games, 32 teams to follow in one day is tough enough with multiple screens but perhaps impossible with the boss looking over your shoulder.

Athlon Sports will do what it can to help you follow each team in the field with these Twitter accounts for every team in the NCAA Tournament.

For a bird’s-eye view, we’ve also included 16 must-follow national accounts to aid your viewing experience.

And of course, even if you did call in sick, we’d urge you follow these accounts for insight on every team.

The Sweet 16
@MarchMadnessTV: CBS’ official account with video of every key play
@SethDavisHoops: CBS, “Sharpie” czar
@GoodmanESPN: Jeff Goodman, ESPN
@GaryParrishCBS: Gary Parrish,
@RobDauster: Rob Dauster,
@MattNorlander: Matt Norlander,
@NicoleAuerbach: Nicole Auerbach, USA Today
@KenPomeroy: Ken Pomeroy,
@JayBilas: Jay Bilas, ESPN
@PacerCK: Clark Kellogg, CBS
@bubbaprog: Tim Burke, Deadspin, GIFs and screen grabs
@BrianHamiltonSI: Brian Hamilton,
@FranFraschilla: Fran Fraschilla, ESPN
@JasonKingBR: Jason King, Bleacher Report
@ESPNDanaOneil: Dana O’Neil,
@DickieV: Dick Vitale, ESPN


1. Florida: @Goldkamp247, Thomas Goldkamp,
16. Albany: @tjwilkin, Albany (N.Y.) Times Union
16. Mount St. Mary’s: @mounthoops
1. Arizona: @ghansen711, Greg Hansen, Arizona Daily Star
16. Weber State: @bigskybball, Jonathan Reed,
8. Colorado: @tomkensler, Tom Kensler, Denver Post
9. Pittsburgh: @PantherLair, Chris Peak,
8. Gonzaga: @SRJimm, Jim Meehan, Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review
9. Oklahoma State: @jjhelsley, John Helsley, The Oklahoman
5. VCU: @timpearrelltd, Tim Pearrell, Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch
12. Stephen F. Austin: @CoachBradSFA, Brad Underwood, head coach
5. Oklahoma: @ryaber, Ryan Aber, The Oklahoman
12. North Dakota State: @NDSUmbb
4. UCLA: @DufresneLATimes, Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times
13. Tulsa: @CoachDManning, Danny Manning, head coach
4. San Diego State: @sdutzeigler, Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union Tribune
13. New Mexico State: @SimBhullar2, Sim Bhullar, 7-5 center
6. Ohio State: @CRAFTRoomies, Aaron Craft’s roommates
11. Dayton: @KevinKuwik, Dayton assistant
6. Baylor: @OurDailyBears, SB Nation
11. Nebraska: @HuskerExtraBR, Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
3. Syracuse: @NunesMagician, Sean Keeley, SBNation
14. Western Michigan: @Drew_on_WMU, David Drew, Kalamazoo Gazette
3. Creighton: @PivOWH, Steve Pivovar, Omaha (Neb.) World-World Herald
14. UL Lafayette: @TDARaginCajuns, Tim Buckley, The Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser
7. New Mexico: @GeoffGrammer, Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune
10. Stanford: @wilnerhotline, Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News
7. Oregon: @TheOregonDuck, mascot
10. BYU: @drewjay, Jay Drew, Salt Lake Tribune
2. Kansas: @RustinDodd, Rustin Dodd, Kansas City Star
15. Eastern Kentucky: @EKUHoops
2. Wisconsin: @JimPolzinWSJ, Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal
15. American: @auhoops, “American University Basketball. In Blog Form”
1. Virginia: @WhiteysWorld365, Whitelaw Reid, Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress
16. Coastal Carolina: @CCUHoops
1. Wichita State: @Clearly_BallLyf, Cleanthony Early, Wichita State forward
16. Cal Poly: @SLOcollegebeat, Josh Scroggin,
16. Texas Southern: @TSUMBB
8. Memphis: @TheCAJasonSmith, L. Jason Smith, The Memphis Commercial Appeal
9. George Washington: @MikeLonergan, Mike Lonergan, GW head coach
8. Kentucky: @KyleTucker_CJ, Kyle Tucker, Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal
9. Kansas State: @DScottFritchen, D. Scott Fritchen,
5. Cincinnati: @SeanKilpatrick_, Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati guard
12. Harvard: @THCSports, The Harvard Crimson
5. Saint Louis: @TomTimm, Tom Timmermann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
12. Xavier: @slrussell, Shannon Russell, Cincinnati Enquirer
12. NC State: @RyanTice, Ryan Tice, The Wolfpacker
4. Michigan State: @joerexrode, Joe Rexrode, Lansing (Mich.) State Journal
13. Delaware: @kevintresolini,
4. Louisville: @mengus22, Mark Ennis,
13. Manhattan: @nybuckets, John Templon,
6. North Carolina: @_andrewcarter, Andrew Carter, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
11. Providence: @friarblog,
6. UMass: @steve_hewitt, Steve Hewitt, UMass Daily Collegian
11. Iowa: @PatHarty, Pat Harty, Iowa Press Citizen
11. Tennessee: @Ben_Fred, Ben Frederickson, Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel
3. Iowa State: @TravisHines21, Travis Hines, Ames (Iowa) Daily Tribune
14. North Carolina Central: @NCCUAthletics
3. Duke: @LauraKeeley, Laura Keeley, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
14. Mercer: @MercerMBB
7. UConn: @NeillOstrout, Neill Ostrout, Manchester (Conn.) Journal Inquirer
10. Saint Joseph’s: @HHHardwood,
7. Texas: @kbohls, Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman
10. Arizona State: @DougHaller, Doug Haller, Arizona Republic
2. Villanova: @Brian_Ewart,
15. Milwaukee: @CoachJeterUWM, Rob Jeter, Milwaukee coach
2. Michigan: @daycheck3, Andrew Dakich, Michigan walk on/bench mob
15. Wofford: @WoffordMBB


Must-Follow Twitter Accounts for Each of the 68 NCAA Tournament Teams
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 16:06
Path: /mlb/washington-nationals-2014-preview

Washington Nationals

The 2013 Nationals were built to win the World Series — then-manager Davey Johnson’s infamous boast, “World Series or bust,” became their de facto motto, and later their epitaph — which makes their flame-out all the more puzzling. Now, after getting younger in the manager’s office (with the hiring of Matt Williams to replace the retired Johnson), deeper in the rotation (a trade for Doug Fister that didn’t cost them any essential parts) and a year older and wiser across the board, it would be easy to sit back and say the 2014 Nationals appear on paper to be a championship-caliber squad. But we all know how that worked out for them last year.

The December trade that brought Fister from Detroit to Washington may go down as one of GM Mike Rizzo’s finest moments. While everyone expected the Nats to acquire a fifth starter to replace the departed Dan Haren, Rizzo went out and nabbed a No. 2 starter — although thanks to the Nationals’ enviable depth, Fister is more realistically a No. 4 in D.C. In any case, a front four of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Fister (not necessarily in that order) is as good or better than any in the game. The fifth spot could be either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan; most likely Roark, who was impressive in four of his five September starts in 2013. Lefthander Ross Detwiler moves to the bullpen.

What was expected to be a strength for the Nats in 2013, after the free-agent signing of closer Rafael Soriano, instead became a liability. Soriano was fine, but Drew Storen regressed all the way to Triple-A, and the lack of a reliable lefty specialist cost the Nationals in the first months of the season. For now, most of their top horses — Soriano, Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ross Ohlendorf — return to the pen in 2014, and a trade with Oakland brought them situational lefty Jerry Blevins. Detwiler will pitch out of the pen — at least to start the season — and could be extremely valuable. But Storen, who lost the closer’s job in 2012, remains a candidate to be traded, and a cynic might point out that Clippard’s declining strikeout rate (from 11.1 per nine innings in 2010 to 9.3 last season) portends trouble for their top eighth-inning man. In other words, as with all bullpens, the Nationals’ is a bit of a crapshoot. But there are many major league managers who would love to have a Storen-Clippard-Soriano trio in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Middle Infield
Fourth-year second baseman Danny Espinosa was hit by the perfect storm of adversity in 2013 — a nagging shoulder injury, a precipitous drop in performance (.158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances) and the looming presence of a younger replacement (Anthony Rendon) — and fell all the way to Triple-A Syracuse, where he spent the rest of the season after his June demotion. Rendon, meantime, more than held his own, hitting .265/.329/.396 as a 23-year-old and validating his status as the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft. A natural third baseman, he also made a mostly flawless switch to the middle of the infield. It remains to be seen what Espinosa’s future with the Nats looks like, but the departure of utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi in the Fister trade makes that one possibility. As for shortstop, it is the most iron-clad position on the entire field for the Nationals, with veteran Ian Desmond coming off a second straight Silver Slugger award. The only question with him is how much it will cost the Nationals to extend him when the time comes.

At the beginning of 2013, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam LaRoche were two of the surest things on the Nats’ roster. By the end of the season folks were questioning if either would be back in 2014 — at least at their incumbent positions. Zimmerman’s problems throwing the ball across the diamond, at times, were bad enough that a move to first base appeared on the near horizon. And LaRoche, after a dazzling 2012 at the plate, dropped more than 100 points of OPS in 2013. But both showed enough improvement late in the season to restore some faith, at least for now, and they return in 2014 to their usual spots. Zimmerman remains a consistent .280/25-homer/90-RBI, middle-of-the-order bat, and when his throwing motion is smooth, one of the top glove men in the game at his position. And LaRoche is still just a year removed from a 33-homer, 100-RBI year. Given the salary commitments ($12 million for LaRoche, $14 million for Zimmerman), the Nationals can only hope they stay healthy and produce.

Center fielder Denard Span was the Nationals’ biggest acquisition of last offseason — a speedy center fielder, acquired in a trade with Minnesota, who was supposed to shore up the leadoff spot and allow Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth to man the corners. Span, though, was a disappointment offensively, posting a .327 on-base percentage that was the worst of his career and was 30 points below his career average. By July, he had lost his everyday leadoff job and was often benched against lefties. Nonetheless, the entire Nationals’ outfield returns intact. With Span, the team must hope he gets on base at a higher clip. Washington signed free agent Nate McLouth away from Baltimore and he should push Span. And with Harper and Werth, the only hope is that they stay healthy. Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, put up impressive numbers last year for a 20-year-old (.274/.368/.486) but was never the same after running into the wall at Dodger Stadium in May. Werth, too, had a resurgent season that saw him post the highest OPS (.931) of his career, but he also missed 33 games due to a variety of injuries.

All that you need to know about Wilson Ramos’ impact on the Nationals is the fact that they went 48–29 when he was in the starting lineup last season, and 38–47 when he wasn’t. The problem is the number of games in the latter category. He missed most of 2012 following knee surgery and lost huge chunks of time in 2013 due to hamstring issues, with the Nationals relying on Kurt Suzuki in his place. But once Ramos returned for good, on July 4, the team’s fortunes began to change. He posted a .784 OPS the rest of the way, and the Nats got hot enough to make a run — which ultimately fell short — at the playoffs. If Ramos stays healthy all season in 2014, he will be among the best catchers in the game.

The Nationals had what they thought was a versatile, functional bench in 2013, except that almost everyone — Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina, et al. — underperformed. All but Moore are gone now, and the Nationals seem prepared to go into 2014 with a bench anchored by right-handed corner types Moore and Scott Hairston, and the lefty hitting McLouth. There isn’t a strong utility infielder candidate, although Espinosa could wind up in that role if he doesn’t re-claim the second base job from Rendon. The backup catching duties will be handled by Jose Lobaton, who was acquired from Tampa Bay.

It was clear by the end of 2013 that the Nationals needed a fresh direction and a fresh voice in the manager’s office, and Rizzo tapped into his own past to make it happen, hiring the 48-year-old Williams — whom Rizzo had come to respect years ago when both were in the Diamondbacks organization — to replace the 70-year-old Johnson. Williams brings a fiery demeanor and an appreciation for sabermetrics to the job, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Williams hire was how firmly Rizzo controls the reins of the Nationals’ baseball operations after five years on the job.

Final Analysis
The Nationals spent most of 2013 stagnating. In hindsight, much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Johnson, whose “World Series or bust” decree was an albatross in the clubhouse and who never managed to motivate his talented team. Fister was the shiniest addition to the Nats’ 2014 roster, but the biggest move may have been the hiring of Williams as manager. What the Nationals needed even more than innings pitched was a culture change, and if Williams’ approach works, 2014 may see the Nationals fulfill Johnson’s 2013 boast.

CF    Denard Span (L)    
He owns a career .351 OBP, but dropped to career-worst .327 in 2013.
SS    Ian Desmond (R)    
Third-round pick in 2004 is Nats’ final link to franchise’s Montreal days.
LF    Bryce Harper (L)    
Most important stat in 2014? Games played. If he’s on the field, he’ll produce.
3B    Ryan Zimmerman (R)    
Finished strong in 2013, with 11 of his 26 homers coming after Aug. 31.
RF    Jayson Werth (R)    
He was one of game’s best hitters in second half of 2013, but turns 35 in May.
1B    Adam LaRoche (L)    
Could find himself sitting against lefties if production doesn’t improve over 2013.
2B    Anthony Rendon (R)    
Only seven homers as rookie in 2013, but Nats believe he will develop more power.
C    Wilson Ramos (R)    
If he’s healthy, he’ll hit — but played only 103 games in 2012-13 combined.

OF    Nate McLouth (L)    
Free-agent signee plays all three outfield positions and is one of top baserunners in the game.
OF    Scott Hairston (R)    
Production slipped in 2013, but still only two years removed from 20-homer season for Mets.
1B/OF    Tyler Moore (R)    
Never got untracked in 2013, but was crucial part of Nats’ vaunted 2012 bench.
INF    Danny Espinosa (S)    
Nats still believe he’s an MLB-level starter, but lost his job ast second base to Rendon early last season.
C    Jose Lobaton (S)    
Not much of a hitter, but Nats like his defense and intangibles behind the plate.

RH     Stephen Strasburg    
Pivotal year ahead: Nats want him to make leap to unquestioned ace, workhorse.
LH    Gio Gonzalez    
Gave up nearly twice as many homers in 2013 as year before, in similar number of innings.
RH    Jordan Zimmermann    
His 19–9, 3.25 season in 2013 announced his arrival as co-ace of Nationals’ staff.
RH    Doug Fister    
With no DH and a better defensive infield behind him, he should thrive in Washington.
RH   Tanner Roark
Nats believe he's ready after posting a 0.913 WHIP in 53.2 innings last season.

RH    Rafael Soriano (Closer)    
Strikeouts per nine innings pitched fell from 9.2 in 2012 to 6.9 in 2013.
RH    Tyler Clippard    
Made 30 multiple-inning appearances in 2010, but only four the past two seasons combined.
RH    Drew Storen    
Midseason demotion to Triple-A was controversial, but he was better pitcher when he returned.
LH    Jerry Blevins    
Effectiveness against both lefties and righties means Nats will use for full inning on occasion.
LH    Ross Detwiler    
Has front-line stuff, but took step back in 2013 amid injuries, inconsistency.
RH    Craig Stammen    
Underappreciated piece, he has two straight years of sub-3.00 ERA and 80-plus innings pitched.
RH    Ross Ohlendorf    
Invaluable in 2013 as swing man, with seven starts (3–1, 3.52 ERA) and nine relief appearances.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Jake Johansen, RHP
Having lost their first-round pick to the Yankees as compensation for the signing of Rafael Soriano, the Nationals had to wait until the 68th overall pick to make a selection in the June amateur draft. But their choice of Dallas Baptist University righthander Jake Johansen already looks like a coup. Johansen, a 6'6" flamethrower, signed within 24 hours of the draft and breezed through the short-season New York-Penn League, posting a 1.06 ERA in 10 starts while holding opposing batters to a .147 average — good enough that the Nationals decided to challenge him with a promotion to Low-A Hagerstown, where he struggled initially but also threw five scoreless innings in a playoff victory. With a fastball that tops out at 99 mph and a full arsenal of complementary pitches, he has a bright future — beginning, one suspects, with a return to Hagerstown in April and a possible move to High-A Potomac by midseason.

Top Prospects
RHP Lucas Giolito (19)
The Nats’ top pick in 2012 returned from elbow surgery to post fine 2013, with 1.96 ERA combined in rookie ball/short-season A.
RHP A.J. Cole (22)
Traded to Oakland in Gio Gonzalez deal, reacquired in Michael Morse trade; could arrive in D.C. in 2014.
OF Brian Goodwin (23)
Good athlete, also has great strike-zone awareness; played 2013 at Double-A (.252/.355/.407).
1B/3B Matt Skole (24)
Freak elbow injury cost him nearly all of 2013, but returned to play in Arizona Fall League.
OF Steven Souza (24)
Big numbers at Double-A (.300/.396/.557), strong showing in Arizona Fall League have him poised for big leagues in 2014.
OF Michael Taylor (23)
Speedster repeated High-A in 2013 and hit .263/.340/.426 with 51 stolen bases in 58 attempts.

Beyond the Box Score
Balance of power It isn’t difficult to see where Bryce Harper must improve in 2014 if he is to progress from phenom to perennial MVP candidate, as his talent suggests he should. In 2013, he posted a .947 OPS against right-handed pitching, but just a .648 mark against lefties — a difference of nearly .300 points. He was actually better against lefties as a 19-year-old rookie in 2012, which suggests that the regression may have been a result of his nagging injuries.
Elbow issues Stephen Strasburg pitched through discomfort in his right elbow and forearm throughout much of 2013, according to agent Scott Boras, the result of bone chips that were removed over the winter. Strasburg still managed a fine season, posting a 3.00 ERA, but was plagued by chronic lack of run support in finishing with an 8–9 record.
On Board The Nationals decided to keep their coaching staff largely intact, including retaining bench coach Randy Knorr. This held the potential for an awkward situation, since Knorr also interviewed for the managing job that ultimately went to Matt Williams. In an effort to cut through the awkwardness, Knorr flew to Williams’ home in Phoenix in November and spent four days with him discussing baseball and watching Arizona Fall League games.
Werth the money At the 2013 All-Star break, Jayson Werth had posted numbers (.297/.363./.466) that were roughly in line with his career norms. The Nationals’ highest-paid player, Werth was nearly three years removed from the breakout 2010 season that earned him the seven-year $126 million contract. But then, Werth got hot and never cooled off. He hit .339/.432/.600 in the second half, winning NL Player of the Month for July and placing 13th in MVP voting.
Big Money The Nationals’ payroll has risen significantly, from around $68 million in 2011 to around $93 million in 2012 to around $118 million in 2013, and it is likely to rise again in 2014, given the contractual and arbitration-based raises of some of their core players, as well as the addition of Doug Fister. But the Nationals are also coming off a large attendance bump in 2013, and despite an ongoing dispute with the Orioles over right fees from their shared MASN deal, the Nationals will also receive higher fees in future years.

It would be easy to sit back and say the 2014 Nationals appear on paper to be a championship-caliber squad. But we all know how that worked out for them last year.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 15:23
Path: /mlb/philadelphia-phillies-2014-preview

The Phillies had a bleak winter. Coming off their first losing season since 2002, they made only modest additions to a team that had trouble scoring runs — and preventing them — in 2013. The framework of the club that won five NL East titles and a World Series from 2007 to 2011 remains, but age and poor health have taken the shine off what was once a star-laden group. On the hot seat, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hopes that a high-mileage core — five of the team’s eight starting position players are 34 or older — can turn back the odometer and return the team to contention in its first full season under manager Ryne Sandberg. It won’t be easy. This club still looks closer to the breakdown lane than the high-speed lane.

The team’s strength sits atop the starting rotation, where lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee form one of the elite tandems in the game. No other set of teammates in the majors combined for more innings than the 442.2 that Hamels and Lee delivered in 2013. But these guys aren’t just workhorses; they’re thoroughbreds who can dominate opposing lineups with command, smarts and pure stuff. Both reached 200 strikeouts in 2013, and they combined for 49 quality starts. If run support hadn’t been such a problem, they certainly would have combined for more than 22 wins. Hamels, the younger of the two, has dealt with a balky shoulder all spring. He will likely start the season on the disabled list, but shouldn’t miss more than two starts. Even with Hamels and Lee combining for a 2.97 ERA after the All-Star Break, Phillies starters finished with a 4.41 ERA, second-worst in the NL. There remains a huge drop after Hamels and Lee, and this team could struggle to get enough innings from the back end of its rotation. A.J. Burnett, who enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in Pittsburgh the last two seasons, is slotted in the No. 3 hole. Burnett has made at least 30 starts for the past six seasons, but at age 37 doesn’t make the rotation any longer. Kyle Kendrick, who profiles as a No. 5 starter, had a wobbly second half in 2013 that does not instill confidence. The Phils spent $12 million on power-armed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, but he has pitched just a handful of competitive innings the last two years because of a suspension in his homeland, and has also had elbow issues. Nonetheless, the Phillies hope he can be in the starting five. In recent offseasons, the Phils acquired Lee and Roy Halladay. Wary of more long-term, big-dollar commitments, the team opted for less pricey Burnett and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona), who has a 5.03 ERA the last six seasons.

Less than two seasons after signing Jonathan Papelbon to the largest contract ever for a reliever — four years, $50 million — the Phillies began shopping their closer last July. There were no takers then and none this offseason, so the Phillies hope Papelbon, age 33 and owed $26 million through 2015, can rebound from a season in which he blew seven saves and aired his frustrations about the direction of the team. Papelbon’s fastball sagged from the mid- to the low-90s in 2013, and his strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 8.3 per nine innings. Papelbon wasn’t the only Phillies reliever to struggle in 2013. The bullpen’s ERA of 4.19 ranked 27th in the majors. The Phils need more than just Papelbon to rebound in 2014. Lefty Antonio Bastardo missed the final 50 games of 2013 on a PED suspension, and veteran Mike Adams is a huge question mark as he tries to come back from shoulder surgery at 35. Veteran Brad Lincoln, added in a trade with Toronto, should help, while three homegrown power arms offer reason for hope. Lefty Jake Diekman and righthanders B.J. Rosenberg and Justin De Fratus all gained valuable experience last season. They need to build on that and become strong contributors to a unit that needs help. The side-arming Diekman is particularly promising. He averaged 95 mph in 2013 and hit 99 several times.

Middle Infield
Over the last decade, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have started 1,072 games together, the most by a current middle-infield tandem. Rollins is reaching some rarified statistical air; he needs only 60 hits to pass Mike Schmidt as the franchise’s all-time leader. Utley, a blue-collar reflection of the town he plays in, is one of the most popular players in team history. While both players are club icons, the reality is they have gotten old. Both are 35 and past the apex of their careers. Rollins had the lowest OPS of his career in 2013 but did play in 160 games and remains a top defender. Utley rebounded from two years of degenerative knee problems and was productive offensively and defensively in 131 games, his most since 2009. Utley must stay healthy and productive and Rollins must improve offensively for this team to have a chance.

Is Ryan Howard ready to rock after two injury-plagued seasons? This might be the most important question facing this fragile club. Howard has missed more than half of the Phillies’ games the last two seasons, and the offense has sputtered badly. If he’s on the field — and all signs point to him being healthy — he’s a threat for 30 homers and 100 RBIs. If he’s not, the Phillies are looking at another rough season. Across the diamond, the Phils haven’t produced a homegrown regular at third base since Scott Rolen. Cody Asche showed promise in the field and at the plate in a two-month cameo in 2013 and might end up being the guy.

Desperate for some youth, the Phils received positive offensive contributions from left fielder Domonic Brown and center fielder Ben Revere in 2013. Brown, 26, was an All-Star and led the team in homers and RBIs but tailed off in the second half. Revere, 25, survived a rough April and slapped his way to .300 before suffering a season-ending broken ankle in mid-July. Neither player is strong defensively, and that’s a concern. Unwilling to pursue top free agents, the Phils signed 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to play right field. His production has ranged from poor to very good in recent seasons. The Phillies hope to see Byrd’s best as his right-handed bat balances out a lefty-heavy lineup.

Amaro raised eyebrows when he re-signed 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz for three years and $26 million. Amaro wanted a top game-caller and receiver to handle the pitching staff, and with no one ready in the minors, paid the price for Ruiz. The Phillies hope they are not paying for a lot of past performance. Ruiz had a career year in 2012 but tested positive for a banned stimulant. He struggled at the plate in the first half of 2013 but came alive in the second half, fueling hopes that he could be a solid contributor for the bulk of his contract. Pitchers love throwing to Ruiz, so they are happy he’s back. At this stage of his career, Ruiz is about a 110-game guy, so backup Wil Nieves will be important.


Sandberg, devoted to the ways of the NL, has vowed to use his bench and will have to as he tries to get the most from a well-worn roster. The problem is, this isn’t a high-quality bench. Freddy Galvis, a premium defender at three infield positions, is the best of a group that includes Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf. Former Philadelphia All-Star Bobby Abreu is in camp, with a good chance to make the team.

Amaro has admitted to being embarrassed by the team’s decline, and his popularity in his hometown has sunk along with the club’s place in the standings. With Charlie Manuel gone, the bull’s-eye is on the GM, and he knows it. “I put myself under the gun,” Amaro said after last season’s fourth-place finish. “I’m accountable for the things that have happened.” The Phillies went 20–22 after Sandberg took over last August. He will run a tighter ship than Manuel, and with a three-year deal, has more job security than Amaro.

Final Analysis
This club doesn’t appear to be much improved from the 73-win clunker of 2013. But with perfect health, continued excellence from Hamels and Lee at the top of the rotation, strong contributions from Utley, Brown, Revere, Ruiz and Byrd, and big rebounds from Rollins, Howard and Papelbon, the Phillies might be able to hang around long enough to make it an interesting summer. If not, Lee could be gone by the trade deadline, and management could finally commit to rebuilding.

CF     Ben Revere (L)     
Hit .347 in his final 65 games before season-ending broken ankle last July.
SS     Jimmy Rollins (S)     
He made just three errors in his final 101 games in 2013.
2B     Chase Utley (L)     
His .823 OPS ranked third among MLB second basemen in 2013.
1B     Ryan Howard (L)     
Thirty-two percent of his plate appearances the last two seasons have ended with a strikeout.
RF     Marlon Byrd (R)     
Career year in 2013 included .511 slugging percentage, fifth-best in the NL.
LF     Domonic Brown (L)     
Twelve of 27 homers and 25 of 83 RBIs last season came in torrid May.
C    Carlos Ruiz (R)     
Leads Phillies in batting average (.295) and on-base percentage (.374) since 2010.
3B     Cody Asche (L)     
Had 43 extra-base hits in 404 at-bats at Triple-A prior to July 30 promotion.

INF     Freddy Galvis (S)     
Valuable glove man will see time at second base and shortstop.
INF     Kevin Frandsen (R)     
Had 14 pinch-hits in 2013, but hit just .192 after the All-Star break.
OF/1B Darin Ruf (R)     
Made 70 starts in 2013 and led club with 12 homers after the All-Star break.
OF     John Mayberry Jr. (R)     
Hit just .237 with .687 OPS in 863 plate appearances last two seasons.
C     Wil Nieves (R)     
Hit .299 in 278 at-bats for Colorado and Arizona last two seasons.

LH    Cole Hamels    
Received ninth-worst average run support (3.36) in MLB en route to career-high 14 losses in 2013.
LH    Cliff Lee      
Has 1.049 WHIP, third-best in MLB, in 666.1 innings during last three seasons.
RH    A.J. Burnett     
Phils need his 30-start streak to continue as well as his sub-4.00 ERA trend.
RH    Kyle Kendrick     
After solid start to the season,  had 6.48 ERA in his final 14 starts in 2013.
RH    Roberto Hernandez     
Left-handed hitters feasted to .305 batting average and .905 OPS in 2013.

RH    Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)     
Converted just 81 percent of save chances in 2013, a career low.
RH    Mike Adams     
Once a top setup man, he’s a big unknown as he comes back from shoulder surgery.
LH    Antonio Bastardo     
A valuable contributor, but what will he be after 2013 PED suspension?
LH    Jake Diekman    
Hard-throwing sidearmer improved control, had 1.82 ERA in final 34 games in 2013.
RH    B.J. Rosenberg     
Gained confidence while striking out 17 over final 14.2 innings in 2013.
RH    Justin De Fratus    
Finished the season with a scoreless streak of 8.2 innings.
RH    Brad Lincoln     
Former first-round pick could be ready to blossom with third team.

2013 Top Draft Pick
J.P. Crawford, SS
As Phillies scouts studied pitcher Shane Watson, their eventual top pick, before the 2012 draft, they became smitten with the smooth-fielding shortstop behind him. For a year, the Phillies targeted Crawford, and they got him with the 16th overall pick in 2013. Lakewood (Calif.) High School is a favorite of the Phillies. Before Crawford and Watson, they landed catcher Travis d’Arnaud, now a Met, from the school. Crawford, a left-handed hitter with long limbs, has the athleticism Phillies scouts love, but he’s no project. He has advanced baseball skills and projects to be a difference-maker offensively and defensively. Crawford dazzled in the Gulf Coast League last summer, hitting .345 with a .908 OPS in 39 games. He finished in the South Atlantic League, a nice jump for an 18-year-old. Moments after being drafted, Crawford said he wanted to take Jimmy Rollins’ job. In time, that should happen.

Top Prospects
LHP Jesse Biddle (22)
The 6'4" lefty projects as a big-league starter, but might need to return to Double-A to hone control.
OF Kelly Dugan (23)
Hard-working corner outfielder has hit his way onto the 40-man roster.
3B Maikel Franco (21)
Corner infielder projects as the middle-of-the-order right-handed bat Phils have long sought.
RHP Severino Gonzalez (21)
Panamanian came out of nowhere in 2013 and dazzled with control and pitching savvy.
C Tommy Joseph (22)
Still highly regarded even though concussion at Triple-A hurt his development in 2013.
OF Carlos Tocci (18)
Batted just .209 at Single-A last season, but the Phillies love his upside and expect him in Philadelphia in 2017.

Beyond the Box Score
Back to his roots Ryne Sandberg made his name and Hall of Fame playing career with the Cubs, but don’t forget that he was originally a Phillie. He was drafted by the Phillies in 1978, made a cameo with the club in 1981 and was traded to the Cubs as a “throw-in” in the Larry Bowa-Ivan DeJesus swap that offseason. Passed over for the Cubs’ manager job in 2010, Sandberg managed the Phils’ Triple-A team for two years and now has the top job. At Sandberg’s insistence, Bowa is back with the club (he’s been a player, coach and manager) for a fourth time.
To rebuild or not Phillies management has been reluctant to rebuild, but a third straight season of no playoffs might give it no choice. “At some point we might have to do that, but not right now,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said in December. The comment was the first time a club official had acknowledged that rebuilding was a possibility.
Right here, kid Chase Utley took a liking to Cody Asche during spring training 2013. When Asche was promoted from Triple-A in late July, he was assigned the locker next to Utley’s. It was no accident; Utley arranged it. “I know when you’re a young guy, it’s nice to have someone who has been around to help navigate you in the right direction,” Utley says.
At the turnstiles Though the Phillies have drawn three million for seven straight seasons, attendance has dropped as the team has slipped. The Phils had drawn at least 3.5 million four straight seasons before slipping to 3,012,403 in 2013. The average attendance dropped from 44,021 in 2012 to 37,190 in 2013.
Hello, 21st century The Phillies have long been a scouting-based organization. In fact, the team’s two World Series-winning clubs were led by scouts, Paul Owens and Dallas Green in 1980 and Pat Gillick in 2008. But the Phils have added analytics to player evaluations. They added Scott Freedman, on loan from the commissioner’s office, to help institute more analytical practices during the offseason. Before you knew it, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was citing Roberto Hernandez’ ground-ball rate as a reason for signing the righthander. “We’re going to continue to be a scouting organization,” Amaro says. “That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate.”

This club doesn’t appear to be much improved from the 73-win clunker of 2013.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 14:56
Path: /mlb/new-york-mets-2014-preview

The Mets have had five losing seasons in a row, tied with the Astros for the longest such streak in baseball. The streak coincides with the 2009 opening of Citi Field, where attendance has dropped every year. The Mets do not seem ready to contend, but with reinforcements from the free-agent market, they could challenge .500 as they wait for their breakout ace, Matt Harvey, to return from Tommy John surgery in 2015.

Even without Harvey, the Mets have a respectable rotation. They signed Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million contract, hoping that Colon, who turns 41 in May and has a 2012 PED suspension on his résumé, can maintain the All-Star form he showed for the A’s last season, when his 2.65 ERA was the best of his career. Jon Niese withstood a partial rotator cuff tear to return near the end of the season, but he’s had some arm issues this spring that bear watching. He is a solid middle-of-the rotation guy, essentially a left-handed version of Dillon Gee. The healthy starter with the most upside is Zack Wheeler, who made an impressive debut last season with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts. Wheeler, who turns 24 in May, worked 168.2 innings between Class AAA and the majors, meaning that he should be ready to cross the 200-inning threshold this season. Daisuke Matsuaka appears likely to make the rotation as a non-roster player this spring. He made seven starts for the Mets at the end of last season. In his final outing, he threw 7.2 shutout innings in a 1-0 win at Cincinnati. Elbow tendinitis cost Jeurys Familia much of the season, but he enters camp as a leading candidate for spot starts should Niese not be ready by Opening Day. One factor to watch: Colon and Gee both ranked in the top 25 last season in fly ball percentage — not as much of an advantage as it once was at Citi Field, where the walls are closer than they originally were, but still a source of strength that the Mets can exploit.

The Mets finally gave the closer’s job to hard-throwing Bobby Parnell last season, and he responded with 22 saves in 26 chances and a 1.00 WHIP, the best of his career. At 95 miles per hour, Parnell’s fastball remains his best pitch. But he threw it less often last season and utilized his curveball on more than a quarter of his pitches. The Mets lost veteran LaTroy Hawkins, who had 13 saves, to the Colorado Rockies as a free agent, but they like what they have in righty Vic Black, a former first-round pick by the Pirates, who traded him to the Mets last August in a deal for Marlon Byrd and John Buck. Black had 217 strikeouts in fewer than 180 innings in the minors. Scott Rice emerged from the shadows of a long minor-league career to establish himself as a dependable lefty from the pen. But the rest of the unit is suspect, with largely unproven Josh Edgin and Gonzalez Germen getting a chance to make the team. The Mets brought veterans Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth to camp to compete for spots in spring training. Both have experience as closers, but are viewed as stopgap material at this point.

Middle Infield
The Mets’ second baseman, Daniel Murphy, had 188 hits and 92 runs scored last season, but his on-base percentage was only .319. Murphy had some pop, with a team-leading 55 extra-base hits, but advanced metrics showed that his defense was among the worst in the majors, ranking 17th of 19 qualified second basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to Fangraphs. The likely shortstop, Ruben Tejada, is a better defender but backslid badly at the plate last season, hitting just .202 in 208 at-bats, and general manager Sandy Alderson called his dedication into question. Naturally, the Mets explored options to upgrade and likely will continue to look. But Tejada is only 24 and did hit .289 as a regular in 2012.

David Wright injured his hamstring on Aug. 2, missed a month and a half, and when he returned in late September, homered in his first two games to lead the Mets to victories. Even with the downtime, Wright had a fantastic season, with a .904 OPS that was his best since 2008, the Mets’ last season at Shea Stadium. He is easily the team’s best player, and the Mets must win with him while he is still in his prime. Across the diamond, the team has options at first in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, two lefty hitters with power who struggle against left-handed pitching. Davis is a much better fielder, while Duda reaches base more reliably. The presence of somewhat redundant players means that the Mets may trade one before the season.

The Mets’ outfield was such a shambles last offseason that Alderson cracked, “What outfield?” when reporters asked about it. He’s not joking anymore, after making three moves to put legitimate major leaguers in each position. Eric Young Jr. led the NL in steals with 46 and made 84 starts in left field for the Mets after a giveaway trade from Colorado. Center fielder Chris Young was an All-Star for Arizona in 2010, and the Mets hope he can restore his power and timing in an everyday role after slumping in part-time duty with Oakland last season. Right fielder Curtis Granderson, signed for $60 million over four years, will be counted on to have the biggest impact, with his power complementing Wright and Young in the middle of the order. Granderson is also polished and fan-friendly, an important value for the Mets as they seek to restore a tattered brand. “He brings a tremendous amount of professionalism,” Alderson said while introducing Granderson at the winter meetings in December. “He brings a personality. He brings credibility. He brings experience, and he brings talent.” That last aspect, of course, matters most of all, and after losing most of 2013 to broken bones, Granderson is eager to prove he still has it. At 33, it’s safe to expect that he does.

Travis d’Arnaud was traded for two Cy Young Award winners, Roy Halladay and R.A. Dickey, before turning 24. Injuries have restricted his playing time, but not his advancement up the professional ladder. He fractured his left foot when it was hit by a foul ball last April and played only 32 games in the minors before making his major-league debut in August. The results were inconclusive (20-for-99 with a home run), but d’Arnaud hit .286 with solid power in the minors, and there is every reason to believe he will soon be among the better hitting catchers in the game.

The Mets have some positional flexibility in Young, who can play the outfield and second base, and Duda, who can play first and a corner outfield spot, although not especially well. Josh Satin can back up at first and third, with a knack for reaching base. Juan Lagares offers superior outfield defense, while Anthony Recker is a capable backup to d’Arnaud behind the plate. Omar Quintanilla, who can play second, third and short, is a reliable backup infielder.

The financial problems plaguing Fred Wilpon, whose son Jeff runs the team, severely impacted the Mets in recent seasons. They still do not operate like a big-market behemoth, but with the burdensome contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay finally off their books, the Mets did spend nearly $90 million in free-agent deals. That gives Alderson and his talented assistants a better chance to build the roster as they see fit, adding the right pieces to the Mets’ exciting young talent. Manager Terry Collins, a good soldier through three years of rebuilding, has more to work with in the first season of his two-year contract extension. Collins comes from the Jim Leyland mold — neither of them played in the majors, but both command respect from their teams for the way they treat players and for keeping open lines of communication. Collins even wears No. 10 as a tribute to Leyland, who gave him his first major-league coaching job with Pittsburgh in 1992. The feisty Collins turns 65 in May, but his energy for the job has never been in question.

Final Analysis
It feels like another bridge season for the Mets, with their ace on the disabled list all season. But it is safe to say that the team is transitioning, not merely rebuilding, and with more pricey veterans on the roster, expectations should tick upward. The Mets could surprise this season — Granderson, at his introductory press conference, noted that the Red Sox went from last place to a championship, while the Mets just finished third. But the first winning season of the Citi Field era would represent real progress, and without much star power besides Wright, that is probably the most realistic ambition to have.

LF    Eric Young Jr. (S)     
Credit GM Sandy Alderson with a steal (38 to be exact) in getting Young from the Rockies for Collin McHugh.
2B    Daniel Murphy (L)     
Set career highs in games, at-bats, hits, runs, homers, RBIs and steals last season.
3B    David Wright (R)     
Mets’ ongoing struggles make him the rare New York player who is probably underrated nationally.
RF    Curtis Granderson (L)     
Brings credibility and power, but lots of strikeouts, to a needy lineup.
CF    Chris Young (R)     
Mets are betting $7.25 million that his .200 average last season was an aberration.
1B    Ike Davis (L)     
Hit .267 in July and August before oblique injury cost him all of September.
C    Travis d’Arnaud (R)     
At 25, he will have the chance to start delivering on his potential, if he stays healthy.
SS    Ruben Tejada (R)     
Alderson said it was like “pulling teeth” to get Tejada to do extra work, but the Mets have limited options.

INF    Josh Satin (R)     
His .398 OBP in minors supports the notion that his .376 mark with the Mets last season was no fluke.
OF    Juan Lagares (R)     
Standout defender must improve .281 OBP to become an everyday player.
1B/OF    Lucas Duda (L)     
Big power, but similarity to Davis gives the Mets an attractive trade chip.
C    Anthony Recker (R)     
The team will look to improve this spot, given d’Arnaud’s youth and health history.
INF    Omar Quintanilla (R)     
Made 89 starts at shortstop for the Mets last season.

RH    Bartolo Colon     
Made 30 starts last season for the first time since 2005. Turns 41 in May.
LH    Jon Niese     
Partially tore rotator cuff in June but returned after seven weeks to finish strong.
RH    Zack Wheeler     
Won seven games in impressive debut season, with fastball averaging 94.3 miles per hour.
RH    Dillon Gee     
Lowered walk rate while leading staff with 199 innings. Has a 33–26 career record.
RH    Daisuke Matsuzaka    
In his seven starts for the Mets last season, Dice-K had a better WHIP (1.271) than in any of his years with Boston.

RH    Bobby Parnell (Closer)    
Lowered WHIP to 1.00 with career-best 2.16 ERA in his first full year as closer.
LH    Scott Rice     
Six years ago, had a 15.68 ERA for the Long Island Ducks. Now, he’s cemented a spot in the bullpen.
RH    Vic Black     
Came to the Mets from Pittsburgh in Marlon Byrd/John Buck trade last August.
RH    Jeurys Familia     
Healthy and still only 24, he gets a chance to reestablish himself in rotation.
RH    Kyle Farnsworth     
Had 25 saves for the Rays in 2011, but only one save and a 4.41 ERA and 1.362 WHIP in 82 games since then.
RH    Carlos Torres     
Rotation option is 4–8 with a 5.61 ERA in 15 career starts for White Sox and Mets.
RH    Jose Valverde     
Averaged 38 saves between 2007-12, but seems much older than 36 now.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Dominic Smith, 1B
After years of chasing veterans, the Mets have stubbornly held to a plan that offers no quick fixes. They have underscored that philosophy in the draft, selecting high school position players with their top picks in each of the last three years, willing to wait for the talent to blossom. Last June it was Smith’s turn to become a Met, signing for $2.6 million out of Serra High School in Gardena, Calif.; it was the most the Mets have ever given a high school prospect. Smith, who attended the draft in New Jersey, rewarded them with a strong first impression, hitting .287 with a .384 on-base percentage in the Gulf Coast League and swatting four doubles in six at-bats at rookie-level Kingsport in the Appalachian League playoffs. Smith, who attended an MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., while growing up near Los Angeles, has a mature approach at the plate, with a smooth swing, solid power potential and a slick glove at first base.

Top Prospects
SS Gavin Cecchini (20)
Has one home run and .256 average in 390 pro at-bats; Cardinals took Michael Wacha seven picks later.
OF Brandon Nimmo (20)
Had .397 OBP at Low-A Savannah, but fanned once every three at-bats.
RHP Noah Syndergaard (21)
Husky power starter could advance to majors this season. Former first-round pick of the Blue Jays.
RHP Rafael Montero (23)
Breakout season puts him on verge of big-league rotation, perhaps before Syndergaard.
C/1B Kevin Plawecki (23)
On-base machine who devours left-handed pitching.
RHP Jacob deGrom (25)
Lanky righty has overcome Tommy John surgery to become a rotation option for 2014.
SS Amed Rosario (18)
Received Mets’ largest international bonus ($1.75 million) in 2012; scouts love overall tools.
INF Wilmer Flores (22)
Can’t quite settle on a position, but is a three-time top-100 prospect on Baseball America lists.

Beyond the Box Score
Seizing the opportunity Lefty reliever Scott Rice was leading the majors in appearances, with 73, before sports-hernia surgery ended his season in early September. He allowed just one homer and at the time of his injury had the sixth-best ground-ball percentage among relievers. It was a feel-good story for Rice, who spent 14 seasons in the minors with five organizations and three independent teams.
Veterans Stadium The Mets will institute “Military Mondays” in 2014, saluting veterans by wearing beige-and-brown camouflage jerseys and caps for every Monday home game. On April 21, July 7, July 28, Sept. 8 and Sept. 15, the Mets will give complimentary tickets to active and retired military members and up to three guests. Staff, players and former Mets will visit VA hospitals on those dates, when the team will also honor a “Veteran of the Game.”
Two more for Terry Despite three losing seasons as Mets manager, Terry Collins earned a three-year contract extension just after the regular season. Collins, who turns 65 in May, has shown boundless enthusiasm and energy with an often undermanned roster. “To have a chance to take those pieces and move on absolutely is pretty exciting for me,” Collins says. “So I was thrilled when (GM Sandy Alderson) said, 'Hey, we want you to come back.' You know what? Maybe we can finish what we started.”
Lead recruiter After tying himself to the Mets through 2020, David Wright embraces the role of cheerleader and headhunter for the organization. Wright sent a text message to Curtis Granderson urging him to sign and acknowledged that bringing players to Flushing was not easy after five losing seasons. “Sometimes that first move is the hardest one, to convince a player of that caliber to come here, and maybe we get things turned around,” Wright told Newsday.
Jerry From Queens Jerry Seinfeld, who has a suite on the lower level behind home plate at Citi Field, joined the SNY broadcast booth in September for a few innings behind the mic with Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. He said he enjoyed watching young players break in. “When you want to rebuild the team, you want to see some light on the horizon,” Seinfeld said, “and that’s what young players are.”

It feels like another bridge season for the Mets, with their ace on the disabled list all season. But it is safe to say that the team is transitioning, not merely rebuilding, and with more pricey veterans on the roster, expectations should tick upward.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 14:38
Path: /mlb/miami-marlins-2014-preview

Asked about his offseason priorities, new Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill didn’t have trouble prioritizing. “Offense, offense, offense,” he said. Formerly the club’s general manager under long-time president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, Hill and his revamped front office went free-agent shopping. The mission: Improve the 13th team in the modern era to score 513 runs or fewer in a 162-game season. By complementing the club’s strength — a promising, young starting rotation — with more run support, the Marlins hope to achieve vastly better results in 2014. What ensued by Marlins’ standards was a spending spree. In no way did it resemble the reckless expenditures that preceded the organization’s opening of Marlins Park in 2012, when it committed $191 million to free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. All were traded after a disastrous campaign, leaving the Marlins with a prospect-rich farm system and at times an unwatchable major-league product. The Marlins, in their trudge back toward respectability, reverted to their cost-conscious spending blueprint. The additions of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year deal, first baseman Garrett Jones for two years, and third baseman Casey McGehee and middle infielder Rafael Furcal on one-year commitments required a modest $32.85 million outlay. What’s to keep the Marlins from a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the National League East? Start with NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who arguably had the best age-20 season since Dwight Gooden in 1985. Three of the Marlins’ four other projected starters — Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez — all will be under age 25 when the regular season opens March 31. How much the club improves hinges on the progress of young position players. Outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna both had promising rookie campaigns in 2013. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is an athletic, gifted defender with a developing bat, and few in the game rival right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s raw power.

On a 170-inning limit in 2013, Fernandez will have the reins loosened in 2014. He should be on everybody’s preseason Cy Young watch list. Mature beyond his 21 years due in part to a harrowing escape from Cuba as a 15-year-old, Fernandez has to transition from a nothing-to-lose scenario to shouldering big time expectations. In Eovaldi, whom the Marlins acquired from the Dodgers for Hanley Ramirez, the team has another power arm looking for a breakthrough season. He has yet to total more than 22 starts in any of his three big-league campaigns. Like Eovaldi, Alvarez could not complete a full season in 2013. He showed just how dominant he could be in the regular-season finale, when he no-hit the Detroit Tigers. That was his 17th start of 2013 and 58th of his major-league career. Turner is a former Tigers’ first-round pick who opened last season in Triple-A after a horrid spring. He was fantastic during stretches after his promotion, but like the rest of his young counterparts, he needs experience and consistency. Tom Koehler, if he doesn’t open in the rotation, likely will pitch out of the bullpen.

In non-tendering Ryan Webb and opting not to re-sign free agent Chad Qualls, the Marlins lost 142.1 innings from last season’s relief corps. The team believes they have enough in-house options to cover it. Back to handle ninth-inning duties is Steve Cishek, who in 2014 can join Juan Carlos Oviedo and Robb Nen as the only closers in club history with back-to-back 30-save seasons. As a rookie in 2013, A.J. Ramos pitched in every conceivable bullpen role and racked up 80 innings. He should vie for the club’s primary right-handed setup role. Mike Dunn will handle late-inning lefty duties, pairing with fellow southpaw Dan Jennings. Two interesting right-handed arms are Brad Hand and long-time Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol. The Marlins acquired another promising, hard-throwing righthander in Carter Capps from the Mariners, who with a little more polish could be outstanding. Arquimedes Caminero features another power arm. He can fill Webb’s multi-purpose role of a year ago.

Middle Infield
A rocket-armed shortstop, Furcal missed all of 2013 with the Cardinals after Tommy John surgery. The Marlins approached Furcal, 36, about starting at second, and the idea appealed to him. Conceivably, he could add a couple more years to his career on the right side of the bag. The Marlins believe Furcal paired with Hechavarria at short gives them iron-clad up-the-middle defense. Offensively, the switch-hitting Furcal is a seasoned top-of-the-order table-setter, allowing the club to move Yelich down into a run-producing spot. A glove-first shortstop, Hechavarria rivals Braves Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons in athleticism. Manager Mike Redmond sees a future No. 2 hitter in Hechavarria, but last season’s .227/.267/.298 slash line won’t keep him there consistently.

Although the Marlins weren’t averse to tapping into their pitching depth to acquire a third baseman via trade, they settled on McGehee, who re-discovered his swing during a championship-winning season in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He hopes to duplicate those results with the Marlins as he keeps the position warm for top position player prospect and 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran. Across the diamond at first is Jones, an ex-Pirates teammate of McGehee’s. When the Marlins signed the left-handed-hitting Jones, it became apparent that they had given up on the oft-injured Logan Morrison. Though Jones hasn’t shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching consistently, the Marlins at least initially don’t plan to platoon him.

The general consensus is that Stanton’s days in South Florida are numbered, but the Marlins hope to build around the power-hitting right fielder. With a better supporting cast, the idea is that he’ll see more pitches and become the 40-homer, 120-RBI force the club envisions. Homegrown prospects Yelich and Ozuna both had encouraging starts to their major-league careers in 2013. Yelich is the club’s best pure hitter, and Ozuna, before going down with a fractured hand, showed much-improved plate discipline. Should Ozuna falter, the Marlins have another well-regarded prospect at the ready in Jake Marisnick.

The Marlins thought they had a cornerstone piece in Rob Brantly, but he regressed both defensively and offensively. That prompted the Saltalamacchia signing. The concern is that spacious Marlins Park might negate Saltalamacchia’s power, but the Marlins like his ability to put balls in the gap. Though the Marlins love the way Jeff Mathis works with the young staff, he hits like a backup catcher and should be limited to 50-60 games.

The Marlins signed utility man Jeff Baker, who started games at left, right, first, second, third and DH for the Rangers last season. Not only does he give the club lineup flexibility, but he batted .279 and slugged .545 with a .905 OPS in 2013. He could be a nice right-handed complement to Jones at first. Greg Dobbs will reprise his role as the club’s primary left-handed pinch-hitting option. The Marlins swapped fourth outfielders with the Cubs, sacrificing Justin Ruggiano’s power for Brian Bogusevic’s contact. Donovan Solano is the primary candidate for the remaining backup infielder spot.

The Marlins dumped Beinfest and promoted Hill and Dan Jennings (no relation to the reliever) to the top two spots in baseball operations. The front office also brought in well-respected talent evaluators Craig Weissmann, Mike Berger and Jeff McAvoy. On the field, Redmond returns for his second season as manager.

Final Analysis
Taking a wrecking ball to last year’s lineup was a start, but don’t look for the Marlins to contend just yet. With the possible exception of Saltalamacchia, the club’s moves are stopgaps. The hope is that an injection of somewhat flawed yet battle-tested veterans not only spurs a more dynamic offense, but also enhances the development of young, cornerstone players.

2B    Rafael Furcal (S)    
Three-time All-Star shortstop transitioning to second after missing ’13 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
LF    Christian Yelich (L)    
Marlins’ first-round pick in 2010 hit .288/.370/.396 in first 273 major-league plate appearances last season.
RF    Giancarlo Stanton (R)    
Increased walk rate from 9.2 percent in 2012 to 14.7, but isolated power plummeted from .318 to .231.
C    Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)    
Coming off career year with World Series champion Red Sox, hitting 40 doubles and knocking in 65.
1B    Garrett Jones (L)    
Over last two seasons has a combined .266 AVG vs. righties (783 at-bats), .168 (95 at-bats) off lefties.
CF     Marcell Ozuna (R)    
Promoted to fill in for an injured Stanton in right field, hit .331/.371/.472 over first 142 big-league at-bats.
3B    Casey McGehee (R)    
Offensive catalyst for Japan Series champion Rakuten, hitting .292-28-93 with 30 doubles in 144 games.
SS     Adeiny Hechavarria (R)    
11 of 42 RBIs came on three HR swings, including grand slams off Jeff Samardzija and Roy Halladay.

C    Jeff Mathis (R)    
Started 70 games and had multiple RBIs in five straight (June 26-July 3), tying Hanley Ramirez’s club record.
1B/3B    Greg Dobbs (L)    
Active major-league leader as a pinch-hitter with 95 hits (including 10 in 2013), 21 doubles and 75 RBIs.  
OF    Bryan Bogusevic (L)    
.273 hitter in 143 at-bats with Cubs last season; acquired in trade for Justin Ruggiano.
INF    Donovan Solano (R)    
Supplanted as projected starter at second after Furcal signing; has played four different positions since 2012.
UT    Jeff Baker (R)    
Batted .314 with a 1.073 vs. lefties last season and just .204/,536 against righthanders.

RH    Jose Fernandez    
Garnered 26 of 30 first-place votes in winning National League Rookie of the Year Award at age 20.
RH    Nathan Eovaldi    
According to PITCHf/x, 96.1 mph average fastball would have led all qualifying starters in the majors.
RH    Henderson Alvarez    
Alvarez no-hit Tigers in regular-season finale, and allowed only five hits and no walks to first 24 batters faced in the spring.
RH    Jacob Turner     
Brutal spring led to start in minors, but returned and logged 3.74 ERA in 20 starts.
RH    Tom Koehler    
In five September starts went 2–1 with 3.14 ERA and held opponents to a .225/.307/.333 slash line.

RH    Steve Cishek (Closer)    
After a June 4 blown save in Philadelphia, converted 29 straight opportunities to set franchise mark.
RH    A.J. Ramos    
Totaled 80 innings and struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings as a rookie in 2013.
LH    Mike Dunn    
Fourth pitcher in franchise history to total 60 or more appearances in three or more consecutive seasons.
LH    Dan Jennings    
Logged a reverse split, holding right-handed hitters to a .221 average while lefties hit .282 against him.
RH    Carter Capps    
In first two seasons with Mariners (2012-13), average fastball velocity per PITCHf/x was 96.4 mph.
RH    Arquimedes Caminero    
Back on track after ascent through minors slowed in 2011 due to elbow issues.
RH    Carlos Marmol     
Trying to rediscover some semblance of control and resurrect his once-promising career.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Colin Moran, 3B
With the sixth overall pick, the Marlins selected third baseman Colin Moran out of North Carolina. Considered an advanced college bat, Moran began his pro career with Greensboro of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He hit .299/.354/.442 in 42 games (154 at-bats) with eight doubles, four homers and 23 RBIs. What already was a long season that included a trip to the College World Series with the Tar Heels concluded in the Arizona Fall League. A spent Moran went 20-for-87 (.230) with just three doubles, no homers and 10 RBIs. Moran likely will open 2014 at Double-A Jacksonville and could make his major-league debut by season’s end in preparation for a shot at the everyday third base job in 2015.

Top Prospects
LHP Andrew Heaney (22)
Organization’s top prospect after stellar 2013 between High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. Should make major-league debut in 2014.
OF Jake Marisnick (23)
Center fielder with great range made major-league debut in 2013. Bat developed nicely at Double-A (.294/.358/.502).
LHP Justin Nicolino (22)
Marlins’ second-best starting pitching prospect behind Heaney went combined 8–4, 3.11 for Jupiter and Jacksonville.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani (23)
The Marlins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year split 2013 between Jupiter and Jacksonville and went a combined 9–6 with 2.65 ERA, 23 walks and 115 K’s in 129 IP.
RHP Jose Urena (22)
At Jupiter in 2013, he went 10–7 with a 3.73 ERA and a 3.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
2B Avery Romero (20)
Returned to the short season Class-A New York Penn League, where he hit .297/.357/.411 in 209 at-bats with Batavia.

Beyond the Box Score
Revolving door Since Miguel Cabrera manned third base for Marlins in 2007, the club has used five different primary third basemen — Jorge Cantu, Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, Hanley Ramirez and Placido Polanco. Last season alone, five different players started at least one game at third. Casey McGehee in 2014 stands to become the ninth player since 2008 to start at least 20 games in a season at third for the Marlins, joining: Cantu, Wes Helms, Bonifacio, Dobbs, Chad Tracy, Ramirez, Polanco and Ed Lucas.
Love the gloves The Marlins couldn’t hit in 2013, but they caught the ball surprisingly well for a 100-loss team. The 69 teams that have lost 100 or more games since the advent of the 162-game schedule (1961 in the AL and 1962 in the NL) averaged 144 errors. The Marlins committed 88.
Running low If last season wasn’t rock bottom for the Miami offense, the Marlins are in trouble this season. They scored two runs or fewer in 46.9 percent of their 162 games and went 13–63 in those contests. The Marlins will try to avoid becoming the third team ever to play at least 162 games and score 513 runs or fewer in back-to-back seasons; they would join the 1963-64 Houston Colt .45s and the 1967-68 New York Mets.
Strange superlatives The Marlins in 2013 had the tallest player in major league history (6'11" Jon Rauch). In 2014 they’ll field the major-leaguer with the longest last name. Jarrod Saltalamacchia claimed that distinction when he made his debut in 2007. Long surnames don’t faze the Marlins’ equipment staff. Remember, Tim Spooneybarger and Todd Hollandsworth both were members of the 2003 team.
Power shortage Marlins Park in its two years of existence has seen many frustrated hitters jog back to their dugout. According to Baseball Info Solutions, the venue in 2012 had a home run index of 73, meaning the ballpark reduced the number of homers by 27 percent. That was the fourth-lowest in the majors. It got worse in 2013. Marlins Park had a major-league-low home run index of 64. Giancarlo Stanton accounted for 15 of his team’s 36 Marlins Park home runs. Unlike several other teams, the Marlins have not given any indication that they’re inclined to move in the fences.

Taking a wrecking ball to last year’s lineup was a start, but don’t look for the Marlins to contend just yet.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 13:53
Path: /mlb/atlanta-braves-2014-preview

The Braves, who reeled off 14 consecutive division titles starting in 1991, captured their first since 2005 by going 96–66 to outlast the favored Nationals. They did it despite awful seasons from B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Those players can’t be any worse — can they? — so a very young Braves team expects to repeat as division champions, or at least contend with the Nationals, who have bigger-name stars and should get all the hype again. The Braves, who lost their NLDS to the Dodgers, still have not won a playoff series since 2001. And a couple of ill-timed injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have tempered hopes somewhat. But the Braves’ talented core group should keep providing postseason chances in the foreseeable future.

The legacy of the 1990s Braves will be celebrated at the Hall of Fame this summer, as a team built on consistently dominant starting pitching begins to take its place in bronze in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. It’s asking a lot for any team to replicate the era of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz & Co., but the Braves are at least in the ballpark, ranking sixth in the majors last season in starters’ ERA, at 3.51. The Braves were one of only two teams in the majors to have three starters with at least 13 victories and an ERA under 3.30: Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. But Medlen’s 2014 season is already over, before it began. The talented righthander is having his second Tommy John surgery. The news on Beachy is similarly dismal. After receiving the bad injury news in early March, the Braves jumped quickly to sign free agent Ervin Santana, a victim of the rule regarding draft pick compensation. Santana had gone the entire winter without finding any serious suitors. Due to his abbreviated spring training, Santana, who won nine games each of the last two seasons, will likely not be with the team when it breaks camp. The righthander has averaged 187 innings over his nine-year career — all spent in the American League — and had a career-best 3.24 ERA last season with Kansas City. Veteran Freddy Garcia will take one of the available spots in the rotation. Lefty Alex Wood, who made 11 starts among his 31 appearances last season will join the group as well. Minor’s shoulder was balking a bit in spring training and may cost him a start or two. Youngster David Hale will fill the void until Minor is healthy, which shouldn’t be later than mid-April. Veteran Gavin Floyd, formerly of the White Sox, will return from Tommy John surgery at some point around midseason. Expect the Braves to bring him along slowly.

The Braves had the majors’ second-best bullpen ERA in 2012, and when injuries robbed them of some of their best arms last season, it somehow got even better. Atlanta’s relievers posted a 2.46 ERA, the best mark in the majors last season, led again by the indomitable Craig Kimbrel, who had 50 saves, an 0.881 WHIP and fanned 13.2 batters per nine innings. Two of his better setup men, Anthony Varvaro and David Carpenter, came to the Braves off waivers, and another, Luis Avilan, seamlessly replaced the injured Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters as the resident dominant lefty. Venters, a 2011 All-Star, had Tommy John surgery last May; he could be an option, although the procedure was his second, which is always trickier to return from. Jordan Walden, the former Angels closer, made a nice impression in his first season with the Braves. David Hale is another option out of the pen if his services aren’t needed in the injury-riddled rotation.

Middle Infield
How does a player with a .296 on-base percentage rank fourth in the league in overall Wins Above Replacement? He has to play a premium position, shortstop, and field like Andrelton Simmons. His bat had some pop, with 17 homers and 59 runs batted in, but the vast majority of Simmons’ value comes from his glove. Going strictly by fielding performance, credited Simmons with 5.4 defensive wins above replacement — the highest single-season total in baseball history. Simmons tends to play deep to utilize his outstanding arm and has otherworldly range in all directions. His middle infield partner, Uggla, is a below-average fielder who makes a living with his bat. Uggla led the league in walks in 2012, has made three All-Star teams and has also hit as many as 36 homers in a season. Everything fell apart last year, though, as he batted just .179, with a .122 mark in September that kept him off the playoff roster.

This was a major strength for the Braves last season, with Chris Johnson leading the National League batting race for much of the summer and Freddie Freeman putting it all together with a .319 average, 23 homers and 109 RBIs. Freeman, who turned 24 in September, improves at the plate every season and ranked fourth among NL first basemen in range factor per game, after leading the league in the category in 2012. Johnson hit .321 (second in the NL) with 46 extra-base hits and played well defensively at third. He kept on going in the playoffs, batting .438 (7-for-16) against the Dodgers.  

The Upton brothers realized a dream of playing together in the same major-league outfield last season, and while it ended with a playoff appearance — and a joint Sports Illustrated cover with supermodel Kate Upton — neither player had a memorable season. Justin started hot, winning Player of the Month honors in April with a mind-bending .734 slugging percentage. After that, though, he slugged just .409, and wound up with an .818 OPS that was a bit below his career average. B.J., signed to the richest free-agent deal in Braves history (five years, $75.25 million) the winter before, would have gladly taken that season over the one he posted: a .184 average, nine homers, 26 RBIs and 151 strikeouts. Right fielder Jason Heyward endured a beaning against the Mets that cost him a month late in the season. Heyward is only 24 and has power, some speed and a good eye at the plate. He could still develop into a superstar. The Braves seemed to take off last season when manager Fredi Gonzalez inserted Heyward at the top of the batting order.

The Braves lost one of their leaders — and a local favorite — in catcher Brian McCann, who signed with the Yankees without his hometown team putting up much of a fight. His departure clears the way for Evan Gattis, 27, who clubbed 21 homers in 354 at-bats but, like a lot of his teammates, had a meager on-base percentage (.291). Gattis was respectable defensively, but McCann was a master at guiding a staff and framing borderline pitches. The Braves have a top catching prospect in Christian Bethancourt, but he has played only one career game above Class AA and has a career .299 OBP in the minors.

The Braves love the versatility that Ryan Doumit provides as a switch-hitter who can back up at catcher, first base and the corner outfield spots, and he gives them a power threat off the bench. The athletic Jordan Schafer started at all three outfield spots last season and is young enough, at 27, to warrant decent playing time in case of injury or underperformance from a starter. Veteran Gerald Laird, who hit .281 last season, is among the more reliable backup catchers in the game, while Ramiro Pena can play second, short and third. Pena missed more than half the season after surgery to repair a torn labrum, but the Braves liked him enough to quickly re-sign him for another year.

Locked into a bad local cable deal for years, the Braves took a step toward generating greater revenues by securing a deal for a stadium in Cobb County that will open in 2017. For now, general manager Frank Wren has maintained a payroll below $100 million with a young but talented roster that reached the postseason in 2010, ’12 and ’13. That success has been undercut by repeated playoff failures, and manager Gonzalez is unsigned beyond this season. He has provided a smooth transition from his Cooperstown-bound predecessor, Bobby Cox, but sooner or later, the Braves must take the next step.

Final Analysis
Pitching carried the Braves’ boom-or-bust offense, which led the NL in both homers and strikeouts (tied). The front office did little to remedy that in the offseason, but the formula did produce 96 wins. However, given the injuries to Medlen and Beachy, it will take significant improvement from a few hitters to keep the Braves in position to win again. Repeated early playoff exits have grown tiresome for all concerned.

RF    Jason Heyward (L)     
Unconventional leadoff man, but the Braves like giving him extra turns at bat.
3B    Chris Johnson (R)     
Unlikely to repeat near-batting crown, but a verystrong hitter with pop.
LF    Justin Upton (R)     
Braves saw his impact early, but need more consistency throughout season.
1B    Freddie Freeman (L)     
Knocked in a career-high 109 runs; no other Brave topped 70 RBIs.
C    Evan Gattis (R)     
One of four in this order with OBP below .310; that’s a huge risk for the Braves.
CF    B.J. Upton (R)     
After signing biggest contract in Braves history, must avoid becoming biggest bust.
2B    Dan Uggla (R)     
Led team with 77 walks; opposing pitchers’ fear of him was a mystery (.179 average).
SS    Andrelton Simmons (R)     
Surprising power, disappointing OBP, superlative glove work.

C    Gerald Laird (R)     
Has been backup for three different playoff teams in three years (’11 Cardinals, ’12 Tigers, ’13 Braves).
OF    Jordan Schafer (L)     
Led the Braves in stolen bases (22) while playing only 94 games.
INF    Ramiro Pena (S)     
Earned a return trip to roster as solid utility man despite injury-shortened season.
C/OF    Ryan Doumit (S)     
Has hit 81 of his 99 career homers as a left-handed hitter, including 12 of 14 last year.
OF    Jose Canstanza (L)    
Offers both speed and a handy lefty bat off the bench.

LH    Mike Minor     
Quietly establishing himself as one of the premier starters in the NL. May begin this season on the DL with shoulder issues.
RH    Julio Teheran     
Would have won Rookie of the Year Award in a runaway if he pitched in AL.
RH    Ervin Santana        
Royals won two of Santana’s three starts against the Braves’ NL East rivals last season.
LH    Alex Wood     
Delivery evokes White Sox ace Chris Sale; 3.13 ERA gives Braves hope for future.
RH    Freddy Garcia    
Yep, he’s still in the league and going strong. In three starts in late September for the Braves last season, he allowed just four runs in 19.2 innings.

RH    Craig Kimbrel (Closer)    
With Mariano Rivera retired, there’s no doubt: He’s the game’s best closer.
LH    Luis Avilan     
Flummoxed lefty hitters as he took over for Eric O’Flaherty.
RH    David Carpenter     
One of three regular Braves relievers to have ERA under 2.00 and WHIP under 1.00.
RH    Jordan Walden     
Defies all convention while literally jumping, both feet in air, as he delivers a pitch.
RH    Anthony Varvaro     
Pitches to contact, with good results (2.82 ERA last season).
LH    Jonny Venters     
Former All-Star eases back in after Tommy John surgery. He should be available by the All-Star break.
RH    David Hale     
First two starts were good enough to earn a place on playoff roster.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Jason Hursh, RHP
The Braves lost their draft position in the first round last season by signing free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton, but chose Hursh with the 31st overall pick as compensation for the departure of Michael Bourn. They liked Hursh in high school and stayed on him through his tenure at Oklahoma State, where he missed the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A strong performance as a redshirt sophomore earned him a $1.7 million bonus from the Braves. With good action on a fastball that has touched 98 mph, Hursh reliably generates ground balls. He posted an 0.67 ERA in nine starts for Low-A Rome, although he was limited to 27 innings. The Braves want to keep Hursh as a starter and are hopeful he can advance quickly if he masters his changeup and slider, but don’t expect to see him in Atlanta this season.

Top Prospects
RHP Lucas Sims (19)
The 21st pick in the ’12 draft, Sims went 8–0, 1.59 in his last eight starts, with 57 strikeouts in 45.1 innings for Low-A Rome.
C Christian Bethancourt (22)
Outstanding defensive catcher who could soon challenge Evan Gattis for starting role.
RHP J.R. Graham (24)
Shoulder trouble slowed his path last season, but he has shown promise since converting to pitching in the pros.
2B Tommy La Stella (25)
Dark horse to unseat Dan Uggla at second after .422 OBP at Class AA Mississippi.
RHP Mauricio Cabrera (20)
Fastball touches 100, but had control issues in Low-A (71 walks in 131 innings).

Beyond the Box Score
On the move The Braves, who have played in downtown Atlanta since moving from Milwaukee for the 1966 season, are headed 10 miles northwest of the city, to Cobb County, for the 2017 season. The team announced plans in November for a 42,000-seat stadium that will cost $672 million and replace Turner Field, which was built for the 1996 Olympics and remodeled for baseball in 1997. The Braves cited improved transportation options and the migration of their fans as a reason for the move, and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said Turner Field would be razed. Reed said Cobb County was contributing $450 million to the stadium project and that the city would not match.
Uggly Average Dan Uggla came to bat 537 times for the Braves last season and batted .179. Historically, that’s really tough to do. Only one other player in the division-play era (since 1969, that is) has qualified for the batting title with an average that low: Rob Deer of the Detroit Tigers in 1991. Both Deer and Uggla had exactly 80 hits in 448 at-bats and stayed in the lineup for their power; Deer hit 25 homers, Uggla 22. Good news for Uggla: Deer bounced back the next season and hit 32 homers while batting a respectable .247.
Not just a throw-in It was easy to overlook infielder Chris Johnson in last year’s blockbuster deal for Justin Upton, but the Braves knew what they were getting. The Braves and Astros are spring-training neighbors, and they had seen a lot of Johnson when he played for Houst von. Johnson also had a champion in Chipper Jones, whose godfather, Pete Dunn, had coached Johnson at Stetson. Johnson led the NL in hitting for much of the season and finished at .321.
Detour to Atlanta Reliever David Carpenter finished the 2012 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, then migrated to Atlanta with a peculiar stopover in Boston. The Red Sox needed to compensate the Blue Jays for hiring manager John Farrell, so they sent infielder Mike Aviles. But because managers cannot be directly traded for managers, the Blue Jays had to send a player to the Red Sox. That player was Carpenter, who was designated for assignment by Boston, claimed by Atlanta and in the Braves’ bullpen for good by the end of April. He posted a 1.78 ERA in 56 games but took the loss in the playoff finale in Los Angeles.
Feeling the breeze Of the 14 players in the majors last season who fanned at least 150 times, three played for Atlanta: Dan Uggla (171), Justin Upton (161) and B.J. Upton (151). The only others on the list who spent the full season in the NL were Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh and Jay Bruce of Cincinnati.


Top Craig Kimbrell photo from Wikipedia

The Braves, who lost their 2013 NLDS to the Dodgers, still have not won a playoff series since 2001. And a couple of ill-timed injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have tempered their 2014 hopes somewhat. But the Braves’ talented core group should keep providing postseason chances in the foreseeable future.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 13:37
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Ian Poulter, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-21-ian-poulter

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 21: Ian Poulter

Born: Jan. 10, 1976, Stevenage, England | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (12 on European Tour) | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,723,463 (49th) World Ranking: 18

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Ian Poulter has been as high as fifth in the world rankings, although he's never reached the height he predicted in 2008 when he said, if he played to his potential, it would be just Tiger and him. As I write this he is 18th in the world, so while his peers may have snarled at the comment, the fact is that he is not far off from his boast. It is said that belief matters more than anything in sport, and that is certainly evidenced by the success of Ian. Year after year, he is one of the worst ball-strikers in the game, and yet he plays at a high level and especially so in match play, where his brusque manner and hot putter drive opponents to distraction. This being a Ryder Cup year, Ian will make a lot of noise, I have no doubt.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 44
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T21
British Open - T3
PGA Championship - T61

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 7 (2012)
U.S. Open - T12 (2006)
British Open - 2 (2008)
PGA Championship - T3 (2012)
Top-10 Finishes: 7
Top-25 Finishes: 17
Missed Cuts: 7

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.


Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 11:33
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2014-march-madness-bracket-cheat-sheets

Now that Selection Sunday is over, it's time for March Madness to kick into high gear. It's that time of year when everyone—even the guy in the cubicle next to you who still plays Dungeons & Dragons—starts caring about college basketball. Most of the excitement comes from NCAA Tournament bracket games, where anyone can fill out a March Madness bracket in hopes winning cash — even Warren Buffett wants to give away a billion dollars — and bragging rights among friends and co-workers. Of course, the majority of people have no clue which teams to pick. 

Athlon Sports is here to help you. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humiliation of picking Milwaukee to win it all. 
March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheet
March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheet
March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheet


<p> NCAA Tournament 2014: March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheets</p>
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-17-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 17.

• Reese Witherspoon is launching her own Southern lifestyle company, providing an excuse to look at old Reese Witherspoon photos.

• The best story of championship weekend: Ed Cooley and Providence win the Big East.

• The weekend's other big winner: Phil Martelli's adorable grandson.

Five teams that got screwed by the tournament committee.

Get some expert advice on filling out your bracket. Or, be like me and humiliate yourself with your own hunches.

The 10 worst people in your office NCAA pool. I'm always the "My bracket is dead" guy.

The 10 best dunks of this college basketball season so far.

• Speaking of idiots, here are nine buffoons you'll bump into on St. Patrick's Day. I particularly hate the pinching bandit.

The action in the stands at UFC 171 was better than the action in the ring.

Is there a thug culture in NFL front offices too?

World Top 10 golfer Justin Rose hit one of the worst shots a pro has ever hit. Or, as I call it, a typical wedge.

• This morning's LA earthquake produced this priceless live reaction from a couple of newscasters.


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

Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/missouri-tigers-2014-spring-football-preview

Texas A&M was supposed to be the team that could step into the SEC and compete right away. And after a Heisman Trophy for the Aggies and seven losses for Missouri in their first trip through the league, it appeared that basic sentiment was correct.

That all changed last season, however, as Mizzou won the SEC East and 12 games in impressive fashion in just their second year in the SEC. Many will point to a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that permeated Tigers camp last spring as the foundation for the run at an SEC championship.

Now, Gary Pinkel, Missouri's all-time winningest coach, must rebuild without his star quarterback, his cult hero tailback, a host of veteran leaders on defense and a load of lofty new expectations. There is a ton of talent left on this roster and Pinkel has proven his ability to quickly reload, so Missouri won't take too big of a step back this fall and should be right in the thick of the SEC East race again. But it all starts in spring camp.

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30South Dakota State
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4Bye Week
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

Missouri Tigers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 11

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 4

Three Things to Watch in Missouri's 2014 Spring Practice

Find leadership on defense
Andrew Wilson, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and E.J. Gaines will go down in Mizzou history as one of the great defensive classes to ever come through Columbia. Replacing their statistical production, especially in the front seven, will be nearly impossible but so too will be replacing their veteran leadership. Guys like nose guard Lucas Vincent and end Markus Golden will need to step up their play this spring to replace the massive voids left by SEC Defensive Player of the Year Sam and potential first round pick Ealy. Others like rising juniors Kentrell Brothers (70 tackles) and Shane Ray have a chance to step into playmaking roles at linebacker and defensive end, respectively. How Pinkel and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel fill these leadership gaps on defense will be a huge focus this spring for the Tigers.

Plug holes on the left side of the offensive line
First-team All-SEC left tackle Justin Britt and left guard Max Copeland have expired their eligibility, and Pinkel is left with a large void on the left side of his offensive line. Evan Boehm and Conner McGovern are talented players who have experience and will have to be leaders for this group because replacing Britt at the most important offensive line position won't be easy. That said, Mizzou has plenty of options and this unit shouldn't take a huge step back. Mitch Morse figures to be one of the better blockers at left tackle while others like Anthony Gatti, Ole Miss transfer Mitch Hall and a host of quality newcomers will compete for starting time up front for the Tigers. The running backs have talent despite the loss of Henry Josey, and the quarterback position is in good hands despite the loss of James Franklin, so if the offensive line comes together quickly this spring like many expect, then this offense could be as good if not better in 2014.

Get Maty Mauk ready to shine
In a league where Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, James Franklin and Connor Shaw departed, there are some (me included) who think Mauk has a chance to be the best signal caller in the SEC in 2014. And with his collection of elite wide receivers and his track record of elite success — both in the prep ranks and last year in spot duty for Mizzou — there is no reason to think Mauk won't press for All-SEC honors in just his first season. But getting comfortable as the leader of the program and face of the franchise isn't something that just happens. Big-time college football is loaded with tales of elite recruits and heir apparents falling well short of expectations — See John Brantley or Garrett Gilbert — so making sure Mauk is grounded, focused and maybe not speeding through campus on a scooter is just as important as getting him comfortable with his route progressions and new-look running game.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Despite losing a ton on both sides of the ball, Pinkel has Mizzou pointed in the right direction. This program won't win 12 games again but will be back in the thick of the SEC East title race. The crossover schedule is excellent as Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss (the likely top four picks in the West) are absent from the schedule. The key will be surviving critical road tests within the division against South Carolina in the other Columbia, Tennessee in Knoxville and Florida in The Swamp. Should the Tigers navigate an interesting non-conference slate that includes the reigning Fiesta Bowl champs and improving Indiana squad, Missouri should be in position to compete at a high level once again.

Missouri Tigers 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 10:30