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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 10.
• It's the week of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. It's okay to link to, because it's, you know, sports. That's drag racer Ashley Force in the picture.
• They take their bets seriously across the pond (NSFW ugly naked butt alert).
• We all like to think we know what will happen in the SEC this season. In a twist on the old prediction game, here are five things that will happen down south this season, and here are five things that won't.
• The Biebs continues to insert himself into sports-related situations. He must be stopped.
• Scary stuff: Anna Benson was armed for battle when she went to see Kris Benson. Hell hath no fury like a psycho chick scorned.
• The LolMets strike again. They could screw up a one-car funeral.
• Miguel Montero gave rookie hot-shot Yasiel Puig the old "not in my house" treatment, complete with a Mutombo finger wag.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Biebs meets THE CUP!!! pic.twitter.com/oh4AvDbYbT— Peter Hassen (@PJHASSEN) July 10, 2013
Apparently the Stanley Cup will pose with anyone these days. Peter Hassen, Sr. Director of Market Development and Community Affairs for the Chicago Blackhaws, tweeted out this picture of Justin Bieber (aka The Biebs) with the Stanley Cup.
If you listen carefully, you can hear hockey fans sobbing in the background.
Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history, but the program’s sights are set even higher in 2013.
With quarterback Tajh Boyd turning down the NFL for one more year in Death Valley, the Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the ACC title. In addition to Boyd, Clemson returns 12 other starters, including receiver Sammy Watkins and a handful of key defenders.
With a favorable schedule, the Tigers are positioned to make a run at the national title. A Florida State team that’s reloading on both sides of the ball will be Clemson’s toughest ACC opponent, while Georgia and South Carolina are in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
If Clemson can navigate its schedule for a 13-0 mark, this team should be in a good position to play for the national title. With games against potential top-10 teams in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, the Tigers have opportunities for quality wins.
What will be Clemson’s record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Clemson's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|Game||Steven Lassan||Braden Gall||John Cassillo||Mark Ross||David|
|9/7 So. Carolina State|
|9/19 at NC State*|
|9/28 Wake Forest*|
|10/5 at Syracuse*|
|10/12 Boston College*|
|10/19 Florida State*|
|10/26 at Maryland*|
|11/2 at Virginia*|
|11/14 Ga. Tech*|
|11/23 The Citadel|
|11/30 at S. Carolina|
* Indicates ACC game.
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), Atlantic Coast Convos
If you're an ACC team, this is exactly how you need to lay out your schedule in order to compete for a National Championship. The Georgia and South Carolina bookends keep you top-of-mind for the media at both the start and end of the season, making it very likely the Palmetto State will be hosting ESPN's College Gameday multiple times this season, too. Clemson also received a gift with a couple weeks or so in between each of the four real challenges on this slate (Georgia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina). I see Clemson going 1-1 against the two SEC teams, and while I picked them to beat UGA and lose to SC, you could easily flip that around, too. Unsure which is better for the team's title hopes, though: losing in the first or the last game. But with Tajh Boyd at quarterback, they may not have to worry about losing either contest.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The opener against Georgia is a toss-up, but the Bulldogs have a checkered past with some of these high-profile opening games (see: Boise State and Oklahoma State). I like Clemson at home with the Bulldogs missing safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Hard to believe Clemson hasn’t lost back-to-back games to Florida State in more than a decade, but I’ll take FSU coming off the bye week. The big surprise may be a loss to Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets give Clemson fits, handing the Tigers their first loss of 2011. Paul Johnson is 3-2 against Dabo Swinney, and Clemson has won seven of the last 10 overall.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Clemson might boast the best offense in the nation with an elite quarterback-wide receiver combination, a veteran offensive line and innovative play-caller pulling the strings. This team should be playing for an ACC title on Championship Saturday regardless of what happens in the two huge SEC bookends. The Tigers beat two such opponents last year — LSU and Auburn — and will have to do it again if it wants to be in the national title mix in 2013. While that seems unlikely, a one-loss, ACC title, BCS bowl bid campaign would have to be viewed as a major success.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson has to be considered one of the top-10 teams to have a chance to win the national championship this year. Even though Florida State has plenty of time to reload on both sides of the ball by Oct. 19, I don’t see the Tigers losing in conference play. And if Clemson runs the table in the ACC, it essentially sets up a two-game schedule to stay in the national title picture. With Georgia’s defense breaking in a handful of new starters, the Tigers are playing the Bulldogs at the right time in the season opener. However, Clemson has lost four straight to South Carolina, and I think the Gamecocks make it five in a row in 2013.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Nothing too surprising out of my projections for Clemson this season. I don't believe the Tigers will go a perfect 8-0 in league play during the regular season, but I had trouble identifying which game (or games) they will lose. If you are looking for a potential upset, watch out for the trip to Maryland in late October. The opener against Georgia is obviously a huge game for both teams. It's a good time to play Georgia — the Dawgs will be breaking in a bunch of new starters on defense and will be without linebacker/safety Josh Harvey-Clemons — but it will hard for the Clemson defense to slow down the Georgia offense, which can be devastating on the ground and through the air.
I like Clemson a lot this season, especially on offense. The ACC Atlantic Division will most likely come down to the Tigers and Seminoles, and I am giving Clemson the edge based on the game with FSU being at home. Clemson's national title hopes will come down to the two non-conference games against the SEC, which just so happen to bookend its regular season. I think it's too much to ask of this Tigers team to beat both SEC powerhouses, as I have some skepticism of just how improved Brent Venables' defense will be. So I am going to play it safe and give Clemson a split against Georgia and South Carolina with the win coming over the hated, in-state rival Gamecocks. I know that's how Dabo Swinney would want it if he had to choose between the two.
Related College Football Content
ACC Predictions for 2013
ACC 2013 All-Conference Team
ACC's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013
High Expectations Have Returned for Florida State
5 First-Year Starting QBs That Could Win the National Title
College Football's Top 15 Winners From Conference Realignment
College Football's Top 50 Defensive Linemen of the BCS Era
College Football's All-Freshmen Team for 2013
College Football's All-America Team for 2013
How good is this No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team, really?
Do not misconstrue that question. I didn’t ask, ‘How good is Matt Kenseth?’ (Spoiler alert: pretty damn). I asked ‘How good is that team?’
How strong are those JGR-built Camrys? How much fuel can those suckers hold, legally or illegally? Can that Toyota Racing Development engine hold up? And this Jason Ratcliff character who took a big gamble with his still-rising star to secure the win at Kentucky … is he actually a good crew chief?
I ask these questions because I see the sum of the parts succeeding at a high level, with four victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year. How good are they, really? Are they fit to win a championship? Championships are won when a few of the parts can out-value, or carry, some other weaker parts.
Kenseth, a consummate producer and a contending driver independently of his team (he has a 2.722 season-long PEER, which ranks as the fourth-best in the series this season) is atrocious at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Awful. I’ll touch on the gravity of how bad below, but this weekend might be the first true test for the remaining parts of the No. 20 team’s total package. Can the rest of the parts carry Kenseth?
-0.083 Kenseth has a -0.083 PEER in the last 12 races at New Hampshire, ranking him as the 45th-most productive driver in that time frame out of 53 drivers with three or more starts.
So, JGR’s manna from heaven is fallible. What now? His average finish in completed races — which is 11 out of the last 12 events in Loudon, N.H. — is 15.6. Those came in Roush Fenway Racing cars. Roush Fenway — emphasis on the Fenway — puts a premium on running well at New Hampshire, which the usually astute Kenseth hasn’t historically been able to do. He earned zero top-5 finishes in the CoT era. Does the JGR No. 20 bunch have enough to lift its driver? A good day could transpire if the performance of a fellow JGR employee is any indication.
66.7% JGR’s Denny Hamlin passed with a superb 66.7 percent efficiency in two New Hampshire races last season.
Hamlin, who finished second and first in those races, has been horrendous in the passing game this season. He sports a 44.30 percent mark (anything lower than 50 illustrates that a driver is getting passed more than being passed) through the first half of 2013. Perhaps New Hampshire can change that and his overall run of bad finishes?
0.31 Hamlin’s terminal crash frequency, the per-race amount that he is crashing out of events, is a series-high 0.31.
Crashes, for the most part, can be avoided. When crashes do happen, the driver doesn’t have much of a say as to how bad the damage will be. In Hamlin’s case, he has had a bad run of luck with crashes that are irreparable. Not only is that 0.31 mark dangerously high — the series average is 0.12 — it’s historically high. In the last seven years, no other driver has had a terminal crash frequency higher than 0.25 (Ward Burton, 2007). Eventually, that frequency will shrink. Until then, it’s ruining the season for a No. 11 team failing week to week in its attempt to resemble a reliable Cup Series operation.
454 and 452 The two drivers that have led the most laps in the last 12 New Hampshire races are, surprisingly, Tony Stewart (454) and Clint Bowyer (452).
Go ahead and admit that you guessed Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson as the laps-led leaders. It’s okay. Stewart and Bowyer aren’t known for running out front, at least not recently. What this tells us is that Stewart and Bowyer have been able to nail car setups well enough to do such a thing, whereas others haven’t (Johnson is the next highest driver in laps led, but is over 200 laps below Stewart and Bowyer’s level). Bowyer’s 10.3-place average finish this season is backed by a relatively strong 8.9 finish deviation, meaning he’s entrenched near the front of the point standings. Stewart doesn’t have that luxury. With a 16.6-place average finish this year, he’s in need of some more insurance (i.e., a win) to continue his chase for a fourth championship.
100% Jeff Gordon has finished in the top half of the field 100 percent of the time in New Hampshire races dating back to 2007.
In fact, the lowest Gordon has finished in the last 12 races at NHMS is 15th. On eight occasions he finished sixth or better. He didn’t win, though, and for a driver who was bashed in the early part of his Cup Series tenure for “winning all the time and having a vanilla personality” — sound familiar? — not winning at all comes as a shock. This mile track might offer his best opportunity to win a race in 2013.
1.250 Expectations are high for Michael Waltrip Racing’s Brian Vickers, who holds a serviceable 1.250 PEER in nine starts at New Hampshire since 2007.
Why the expectations? Vickers’s Cup Series life is in limbo. It has been stated that MWR is interested in him becoming the full-time driver in the No. 55 following this season, but his on-track effort this season has been unbecoming of a potential free agent. He’s serviceable — barely at a 1.000 — but his 0.86 crash frequency is the worst in the series. With rumors swirling that MWR is giving long looks at other free agents-to-be, a solid New Hampshire effort of which Vickers is capable — he finished ninth there last fall — is almost required.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
• We knew Anna Benson was crazy, but not this crazy. Just as a refresher, here's a picture of Mrs. Benson in happier, saner days (relatively speaking).
• Urban decay: Meyer's rep has taken a hit in the wake of Gonzo's arrest. Of course, some say it's more than fair to question Meyer's methods at Florida.
• Colin Kaepernick wore a Dolphins hat on the Fourth, much to the consternation of Niner Nation. He's responded to Lid-Gate by saying he's gonna wear what he wants.
• Gary Player nude! Need we say more?
• Boy, the SEC's loaded — with coaches. Saturday Down South ranks them 1-14. When Dan Mullen's No. 11 after taking Mississippi State to three bowls in four years, you know it's a CEO's league.
• A young Ohio State fan named his brain tumor "Michigan" then proceeded to kick its ass. I suspect even Michigan fans can get on board with that.
• Horror isn't the only movie genre where they follow rules, Scream-style. Here are seven rules every sports movie follows.
• Not every athlete commands a high price tag on the trade market. Here are some athletes who were traded for a song (or a case of bats, or $1, or 15 kilos of pork…)
• Elvis Andrus loves to screw with Adrian Beltre on pop-ups. Not sure why, but it's GIF gold.
• Now this is a defensive play: Robbing your opponent of a go-ahead home run with two outs in the ninth inning.
• Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime. Teach an old man to fish with his hands, and he's an Essential 11 link.
1 box Crispix cereal
2 sacks dried apples: 1 sack Golden Delicious and 1 sack Granny Smith
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tblsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
Melt butter and add cinnamon & brown sugar. In Dutch oven (roasting) pan put in Crispix, pecans and apples. Pour butter, sugar, cinnamon mixture over cereal and stir well. Bake at 250 degrees uncovered for 1 hour,stirring every 15 minutes. After it is done, I spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry. Then put in a covered container, if it lasts that long. We love it!!
(Recipe submitted by Terry, Ela and Nicholas Tausch (# 40) Julie and Greg Eifert, Tyler Eifert “80”)
INGREDIENTS & DIRECTIONS
1 bag shredded lettuce
1 bag shredded cabbage
1 package slivered almonds
2 packages Ramon noodles
Sauté in butter until slightly brown
Pour on top lettuce
1 can mandarin oranges ( drain)
Pour on top lettuce
1/2 cup veg oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
4 slashes of soy sauce
Bring to a boil .. Take off heat and put over salad right before you serve the salad and toss..
4 large or 8 small apples, cored and diced
12 oz. cool whip
5 oz. box instant vanilla pudding
1 bag of small snickers bars, cut into small pieces
2 cups peanuts
1. Fold pudding mix into cool whip.
2. Add diced apples, cut up candy bars and peanuts.
3. Mix well.
4. Drizzle with caramel topping.
5. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
3 c of crushed and grounded chocolate chip cookies and/or graham crackers crushed
1 c chocolate chip or semi sweet chocolate chips
1c pecan chopped pieces
1/4 c sugar
3/4 c or 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c shredded coconut (sweeten)
Mix together cookie crumbs, sugar and butter
Press mixture in a non stick, square baking pan
Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Bake mixture about 10 mins.
Cool on wire rack for about 20 mins.
Sprinkle cooled crust evenly with pecans and chocolate chips
Pour condense milk over the top and sprinkle with coconut
Bake 10 to 15 min or until coconut is toasted
Cool on rack, and cut into squares.
The steps are quite simple, but it is knowing how the meat looks, feels, etc. so there is a lot of expertise in the cooking. The actual steps are:
bone in Boston butt (best fresh and never frozen)
salt the entire butt
put on smoker with fat side up
smoke with hickory wood
cook at about 275 degrees for 8-10 hours
For the BBQ, you can say it was Boston butts hickory smoked for 8-10 hours. It is award winning BBQ from the Gibson's BBQ restaurant family of Decatur, Al. which has won the World's Championship 5 times. Don Gibson, Cody Gibson's father, has won the state of Florida championship and competed at Memphis in May. When Cody comes home for visits, he sends butts back with him for his roomies and teammates to enjoy. One of his roommates, Marcus Lattimore, even asks Cody if his dad can ship them some, since he loves it so much.
(Recipe submitted by Jean Gibson, mother of South Carolina Gamecocks Cody Gibson.)
The Gibsons also made award-winning BBQ beans. A recipe that makes enough for a big crowd of tailgaters:
3 #10 cans pork n beans
1 1/2 boxes brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup Worchestershire sauce
1 cup sweet BBQ sauce
2 large onions chopped
1 cup water
garlic powder (lightly sprinkled over mixture)
cinnamon powder (sprinkled over mixture)
add chopped BBQ pork to mixture
Thoroughly mix all ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. If there is room, cook on the pit with the pork.
1 1/2 cup butter
3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tbs fresh lemon zest
6 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 dash of salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
Pre-heat oven 325 degrees. Grease and flour 10 inch tube pan. Beat butter in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add sugar creaming well. Stir in extracts and lemon zest. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add flour, baking powder and salt to creamed mixture, add milk. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 80 minutes
Drizzle with your favorite Cream Cheese Icing while still warm.
(Recipe submitted by Yolanda Smith, mother of Marcus Lattimore)
8 1/2 inch Pork Chops
Honey BBQ Kraft Sauce
Weber N'Orleans Cajun Seasoning
• Clean meat lightly sprinkle salt and pepper
• Add bbq sauce
• Cover meat with Cajun seasoning
• Marinate for an hour
Grill until meat is tender.
Quick, easy, finger licking good and sticks to your ribs!
(Recipe submitted by Linda Gilmore, mother of South Carolina Gamecocks’ Stephon Gilmore #5)
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup pepper sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot®)
1 cup Ranch-style salad dressing
2-3 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese and hot pepper sauce until well blended. Mix in the Ranch dressing, chicken and Cheddar cheese. Spread into a medium oval casserole dish.
3. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. If oil collects on the top, dab it off using a paper towel. Make sure it is browned on top before taking out of oven.
4. Serve with Fritos or Tortilla Chips.
(Recipe submitted by Joy Rosner, Mom to former O-Lineman, #65 Michael Rosner )
A tailgate favorite! Can’t make enough. Easy to prepare and easy to eat at a tailgate party before game time. I pre-cook the Horned Frog Eggs on my barbeque smoker before the tailgate. The cooked Horned Frog Eggs can be refrigerated and then warmed on a tailgate grill. You can also prepare the Horned Frog Eggs and cook them directly on the tailgate grill if you don’t have time to pre-cook (smoke) the Horned Frog Eggs.
Jalapeno peppers Cream cheese
Yellow food coloring
Pan Sausage (I like to use Jimmy Dean Sausage) Bacon Strips (optional)
Barbeque rub (I like to use Rudy’s Barbeque rub)
Ranch Style dressing (optional)
Cut stems off jalapenos, cut jalapenos in half (cross cut, not length cut). Core and remove the jalapeno seeds and veins. Place soften cream cheese in a bowl and mix the yellow food coloring into cream cheese (until the cream cheese looks the color of an egg yolk). Stuff each jalapeno half with some yellow cream cheese.
Finely dice a small onion. Mix onion, sausage and garlic powder (to taste). Pat sausage until flat, then wrap each stuffed jalapeno half with the sausage mixture into a ball shaped like an egg, about 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. Don’t make the sausage too thick around the stuff jalapeno, but make sure the jalapeno is sealed so the cream cheese does not leak out during cooking. Sprinkle the ball with your favorite barbeque rub. Optional: Wrap the ball with ½ slice of bacon (can secure with a toothpick).
Smoke the Horned Frog Eggs at 225-250 until done. The cooking time on the smoker will generally be about 1 to 1 ½ hours. You can cook (or reheat) on the tailgate grill until done (or warm). Remove toothpicks before serving.
With the toothpick removed, slice the hot Horned Frog Eggs in half before serving. The sliced halves will resemble eggs! Serve hot off the grill! Some like to dip them in Ranch Style dressing (optional). Post-game, I cook Horned Frog Eggs for the Offensive Line, but the players eat them before I have time to cut them in half! Horned Frog Eggs are true tailgate favorites! Enjoy….GO FROGS!
Recipe submitted by By John T. Wooldridge, Sr. (Dad of TCU Offensive Lineman, John Wooldridge, Jr., #75)
4 Portobello mushrooms
1 cup gorgonzola cheese
Sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat.
Put the portobello mushroom caps on a platter and brush both sides with olive oil.
Grill the caps, top side down, directly over high heat until liquid forms in the gills and the top is grill marked., 2-4 minutes.
Turn over, emptying any liquid into the fire. if flare ups occur, move the mushrooms to a cooler part of the grill.
Grill for 1-2 minutes longer, and turn again.
Spoon 1/8 -1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese into each mushroom (amount varies according to size of mushroom -the bigger the mushroom the more cheese!) and add a few leaves of fresh crushed rosemary and drizzle with more olive oil.
Cook for 1-2 minutes longer.
Transfer to platter and season with salt and pepper.
These can be served just as they are or on a grilled hamburger bun!
Football and food go hand in hand on game day. There’s nothing better than getting to your favorite game early, hanging out with friends and family and celebrating the game ahead while chowing down on an assortment of amazing food.
Champion No-Bean Chili
3 lbs of ground sirloin
2 lbs of lean ground pork
2 to 3 medium onions depending on taste preferences
2 29 oz cans of tomato sauce
3 29 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
3/8 cup of chili powder
1/4 to 1/3 cup of paprika
2 to 3 T of cumin
3 to 4 T of granulated garlic
1 to 2 t of chipotle chili powder
1 to 2 t of ancho chili powder
1 t of cayenne pepper
Heat a small amount of olive oil in pan to keep meat from sticking as the meat browns. Brown ground sirloin and ground pork in batches. Salt with small portions of kosher salt. Add chopped onions as the meat gets close to being done. Finish cooking until all meat is done and onions are clear. Drain meat and onions.
In large dutch oven, add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, chili powders and garlic. Start on the low side of the chipotle, ancho, and cayenne peppers. Add chipotle, ancho, and cayenne pepper powders, granulated garlic, and kosher salt to match the taste of the intended audience. Add drained meat and onions. Simmer on low for several hours, stirring to prevent sticking. Add water to thin if needed. Add instant potatoes to thicken, if needed. (This is easier than flour or corn starch and is gluten free.)
Each week during the baseball season Athlon Sports looks at the best (St. Louis Cardinals) and worst (Houston Astros) baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.
In golf, there’s a nickname for Saturday competition: Moving Day. It’s a point at which either people put themselves in position to win, shoot an ugly round that takes them off the leaderboard or top the charts to start the final 18 holes on Sunday as the one to beat.
In essence, the Chase race took on the same complexion during a night of survival in Daytona. It was a race won by the points leader with those fighting to overtake him in September split into two categories: feast or famine. There were 11 drivers, eighth through 18th in the standings entering the night, who were separated by just 42 points. Six of those men finished outside the top 30, parked inside the garage due to wrecks. Two more, hanging back in a last-lap melee, wound up 17th and 21st respectively, leaving their nights somewhat of a wash. That left a wide opening for three others, each of whom finished 10th or better to capitalize on a rare wide swing in the points.
Is it a be-all, end-all for Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, who all surged up the ladder after strong runs? Not yet. But looking at the eight races left on the regular season schedule there’s maybe one or two other opportunities, max, to collect this much on their rivals in one shot. The cookie-cutter racetracks just don’t lend themselves to wild finishes, while places like New Hampshire don’t have races long enough for mechanical problems to materialize. That means when Richmond comes and names like Kurt Busch are in contention to grab a coveted Chase spot, we’ll look back on this night as the one in which they “moved” into proper position to make it happen.
In “Through the Gears” we find out what else Daytona dealt us to talk about…
FIRST GEAR: A Sweep … Which Sweeps “Cracks in the Armor” Under the Rug
Last year, Jimmie Johnson had just eight finishes outside the top 15 — an outstanding record. Four of those occurred in plate races, a 100 percent disaster rate that included three DNFs and just one lap completed in the sport’s signature event, the Daytona 500. Rest assured the No. 48 team took that failure to heart, spending the offseason perfecting the plate-race version of the Gen-6 car so lightning wouldn’t strike twice.
Now, we’ve seen Johnson thunder through the field in a different way, leading a dominating 94 laps this Independence Day weekend in completing the first sweep of Cup Series Daytona races since Bobby Allison in 1982. How surprising was Johnson’s feat? He had only led 77 laps in his career at Daytona leading into the night — and that includes two victories at the sport’s Great American Race (2006, 2013).
For Johnson to flex his muscles in such fashion makes him the odds-on favorite to collect title No. 6 in November. But even in victory, just like several times the last six weeks, this five-time champ showcased some vulnerability. There was a perplexing late-race move, leaving teammate Kasey Kahne stranded when he was working as a virtual blocker. Moving to the top line, it eventually created an accident between Marcos Ambrose and Kahne once Johnson went to block on the backstretch. If the No. 9 car doesn’t wreck there and completes the pass, the No. 48 is sliding back through the field. (P.S. It could be the nail in the coffin for Ambrose, still winless on ovals and who has struggled on the Cup level to the point he could wind his way back to Australia in the offseason).
So there’s hope … just not much. Johnson’s four victories tie him with Matt Kenseth for most on tour, but that total could easily be seven were it not for three self-inflicted mistakes. It’s the No. 48 team’s racetrack right now. Everyone else is just playing on it.
SECOND GEAR: Kurt Busch’s Big-Time Comeback
Furniture Row Racing has done everything possible this season to shoot itself in the foot. There have been mechanical failures, poor pit calls, driver-induced penalties for speeding on pit road … and that’s without the assorted bad luck that finds its way into every team’s season. Employing a driver in Kurt Busch legendary for his ugly temper, there were plenty of times where a blowup, while never justified, would at least be understandable given the circumstances.
The catch, though, is that he hasn’t lost his cool — and finds himself on the brink of Chase qualification. If anything, he’s kept the team cool through a series of incidents, driving the car back into the top 5 and top 10 after digging a deep hole throughout the course of the season. Now ninth in points after a third straight top 10, it’s not a lock this team will get into the Chase. But the man behind the wheel is setting himself up for it, which is a miraculous effort considering the organization has never finished in the top 20 in points. Other drivers have received more recognition throughout the season, but Busch may be the big winner in the end, as he’s giving the best chance for a sponsor outside of FRR to take a flyer on him were he to end up in the seat of the No. 29 at Richard Childress Racing next season.
THIRD GEAR: Who’s the Big Loser?
I mentioned at the top that of 11 teams eighth through 18th in points, six finished outside the top 30 in Daytona. Certainly, wrecks were not what the doctor ordered for drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne (among others). But I’m not so worried about any of those three. Logano has momentum on his side, having posted six straight top-11 finishes before Saturday night while the other two have wins to fall back on. Chances are, Kahne will grab a second and I think Truex has put himself in position to make the postseason no matter what.
Instead, the guy I’m watching wasn’t even in that group of six. For Brad Keselowski, Daytona offered an opportunity to make a move. The team finished in the top 5 there in February with a front end that looked like a giant trash bag. Proving that strength, he was in the front row on Saturday night during a restart with less than 30 laps to go. But a series of bad-luck decisions in the draft left the No. 2 car 21st at the checkered flag, still sitting on the outside of the top 10 looking in. Now, the series heads to Loudon, Indianapolis and Pocono, all tracks where I don’t expect this team to contend for the win. And who knows what NASCAR’s penalties will be for those illegal roof flap spacers that the team — along with 15 others — was busted for in Daytona. If Keselowski hasn’t entered crisis mode behind the scenes at this point, I don’t know what it’s going to take.
FOURTH GEAR: Pondering the Future of Plate Racing
Saturday marked the third straight plate event where pack racing has returned to Cup competition, courtesy of the sport’s new Gen-6 bodies. But at times, the slow-moving lines made it feel like fans were watching two giant snarls of traffic on the highway. The sensation of “feeling the speed” wasn’t there; neither was the ability to make up three, five, even eight spots in just one lap. (Remember Dale Earnhardt’s epic charge at Talladega 13 years ago?)
That’s because the new Gen-6 car does not produce a closing rate that “pack racing” used to offer. Steve Letarte said on Monday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost 22 spots in one lap during one of the final restarts that pretty much eliminated him from competing for the win. In the past, with 10-20 laps to go, a driver would be able to come back from that and work his or her way back to the front. Not anymore; it’s been replaced by a game of high-speed, traffic-maneuver chess that takes all the mental strength available to get the push by one car.
I’d be shocked if we didn’t see a rule change following the 2013 season where there’s a different spoiler and air package, making it easier for drivers to pass — whether they like it or not.
Clint Bowyer was the latest to admit after the race that he was simply riding around Daytona for the first 130 laps. If the sport has drivers staying in place for the first two-plus hours, how is it going to advertise the product effectively? That’s not going to win over many new fans. … Danica Patrick, who wound up 14th, actually deserved better than her last-lap melee. The car was a top-10 contender for most of the night. And Patrick coincidentally tangled with David Gilliland, the latest in a series of on-track incidents between the two. … J.J. Yeley has an average finish of 11.5 at Daytona this season. Everywhere else? He has yet to post a result better than 24th. Just another way in which the gap between lower- and upper-class teams has never been larger — outside of Daytona and Talladega, of course. … Thirty-one teams in Nationwide and Cup were found with improper roof flap spacer modifications at Daytona. The competitive advantage, though, is so minimal you have to wonder if NASCAR will hit that many teams with a serious point deduction. Teams shouldn’t mess with safety, of course, but when they’re working within thousandths of a second, at what point does it become nitpicking?
by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
A few highlights of an interesting holiday weekend in golf:
• Has anyone had a stranger season than Graeme McDowell? His last eight appearances on the PGA and European Tours go something like this: missed cut, win, missed cut, win, missed cut, missed cut, missed cut, win. He's the walking personification of feast or famine. McDowell won the French Open by four shots for his ninth European Tour victory, a win that moved him to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking. We would put him at the top of British Open favorites, but two of those missed cuts we mentioned came at The Masters and U.S. Open. "Thankfully I've managed to learn how to calm my emotions and learn how to respond under pressure, sometimes,'' McDowell said. Key word: sometimes. Here are the highlights:
• Meanwhile, Jonas Blixt rocketed up 100 spots — from 139th to 39th — in the FedExCup points standings with a two-shot win at the rain-interrupted Greenbrier Classic. Blixt earned a green jacket for his efforts, but the win gets him a shot at the Green Jacket that truly matters, as he's now in the 2014 Masters field. The win was his first top-10 finish of 2013 and moves him to 51st in the World Golf Ranking, giving him a shot at a spot in next week's British Open field as a top alternate. "This is what I play for," Blixt said. "I play to win. It just confirms that if you do the right things, that you work hard, dreams can come true." Here are the highlights:
Tom Watson spent time with the youngsters at the Greenbrier and more than held his own, finishing T38 after rounds of 68, 69, 72 and 67 to finish one stroke behind Bubba for low Watson. The ageless 63-year-old Watson is approaching shoot-your-age territory.
It's the week before the All-Star break and Athlon Sports has everything you need to catch up on what took place on the fantasy diamond during the past seven days. Our fantasy junkies break down last week's top hitters and identify the waiver wire pick ups and spot starters you need to keep an eye on for this week.
Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (July 1-7):
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Weekly Waiver Wire:
Adam LaRoche, 1B, WAS (64% owned in Yahoo! Leagues)
LaRoche got off to a terrible start (.136-3-8 in April), but since then has been more consistent and reliable. He's hit 10 home runs and driven in 32 in his last 59 games, and with Bryce Harper's and Jayson Werth's (see below) return to the lineup, he should continue to produce. Even with these early struggles, LaRoche has a track record of providing power and run production, while not hurting that much in the batting average category either, as evidenced by last season's .271-33-100 line.
Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, MIA (18%)
Morrison has been known for more than what he does off the field than on it, although injuries have been somewhat to blame. What is worth noting, however, is that the opinionated Marlin has gotten the job done (.314-4-10 in 20 G) since making his season debut in late June. He's just 25, so he figures to get plenty of at-bats moving forward, and his multiple-position eligibility (1B, CI, OF) only makes it easier to find a spot for him. He would make an ideal platoon partner given his success against righties (.370-4-10) early on.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, ATL (43%)
His glove and defense alone will keep him in the lineup, and Simmons is showing signs of becoming more of a presence at the plate too. While his spot in the batting order changes quite a bit, his presence in the lineup doesn't, which makes Simmons valuable in the runs department because of the Braves' other big bats. The 23-year-old is currently a top-10 fantasy producer at his position, ahead of the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Martin Prado and Jimmy Rollins.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC (35%)
It's summer, which means Soriano is starting to heat up. The veteran slugger's bat seems to follow the weather, so now may be a good time to invest. He will never hit for a high average and his value is limited somewhat as long as he stays with the Cubs, but he's one of the streakiest hitters around and when he gets hot, he can pile up some numbers. Don't forget that after the All-Star break last season Soriano produced a .258-17-60 line.
Jayson Werth, OF, WAS (57%)
Werth may finally be healthy as he's hitting .400 with seven RBIs and six runs scored through his first seven games of July. The high-priced outfielder has been replaced by Bryce Harper and others as the marquee names in the Nationals' lineup, but the added firepower also will help him put up better numbers if he continues to swing the bat well. In 24 fewer games compared to last season, Werth has already hit more home runs (8 so far, 5 in 2012) and has just about matched his RBI (28 to 31) and runs scored (36 to 42) totals. The key for Werth moving forward is staying healthy so he can stay in a lineup that's finally starting to produce like most expected entering the season.
Last week's picks:
Erick Aybar, SS, LAA: .350/.800, 4 R, 2 RBI
Rajai Davis, OF, TOR: .192/.661, 6 R, HR, 3 RBI, 3 SB
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC: .360/.970, 6 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS, BOS: .300/.741, R, 3 RBI
Mike Moustakas, 3B, KC: .176/.712, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:
* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues
Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):
1. Ryan Dempster (Thurs.) at Seattle (57%)
To be honest, I am a little stunned by Dempster's sub-60-percent ownership rate. His ERA (4.04) may be a little high, but he's allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his last eight starts and is maintaining a nice 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (100:49 in 107 IP). The Mariners are 28th in the majors in runs scored and Dempster's offense is No. 1. What's not to like?
2. Jake Westbrook, STL (Thurs.) at Chicago Cubs (24%)
Westbrook rebounded nicely (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, W) against Miami following a disastrous outing (4 IP, 10 H, 6 ER) in Oakland. Next up are the Cubs, a team he has already beaten twice this season (12 1/3 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 3 ER). He won't strike out many, but his offense should score more than enough runs to put him a position to earn the victory.
3. Kyle Lohse, MIL (Mon.) vs. Cincinnati (58%)
Following a horrendous May (0-4, 6.51 ERA), Lohse has turned things around. Even though he's just 3-0 in his last seven starts, he has posted a tidy 2.11 ERA and 29:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch (42 2/3 IP). Also in Lohse's favor is the fact that the Reds are not near as potent offensively on the road compared to their home numbers.
4. Jeremy Hefner, NYM (Fri.) at Pittsburgh (16%)
Hefner will never be mistaken for Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler, but the 27-year-old has been just as effective over the last two months. Hefner has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last seven starts and has posted a 37:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over those 44 innings. For all of their success this season, the Pirates are anything but an offensive juggernaut (24th in MLB in runs scored).
5. John Lackey, BOS (Fri.) at Oakland (62%)
Since the middle of May, Lackey has produced a quality start every time out with the exception of his June 10 performance in Tampa Bay (4 ER in 5 2/3 IP). The veteran is throwing as hard as he ever has, which is a big reason why he has 27 strikeouts in his last three starts (22 IP). He has held the Orioles, Tigers and Angels to exactly two runs in their own parks over the past month, so there's really no reason to not throw him out there against the A's this week.
Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 8.
• Country songbird and Eric Decker better half Jessie James might be our new favorite WAG. Here are a few reasons why.
• Here's how Andy Murray spent his post-Wimbledon morning. I'd say Britain is pleased — as were Bradley Cooper and Gerard Butler at their bro-tastic best.
• Here are 21 ways not to celebrate a championship. My only quibble with the list: Nothing wrong with hitting up Denny's. A grand slam breakfast is a perfectly good way to celebrate.
• Sometimes, ESPN does things well. This is one of those times. A moving story of a producer and two special athletes.
• The Seahawks got together with Fail Mary replacement ref Lance Easley for a charity softball game, where Easley posed for a photo with Golden Tate that will be like picking a scab for Packers fans.
• Pro hoops has a new power couple: Kevin Durant is engaged to Minnesota Lynx player Monica Wright.
• Saturday Down South picked East-West SEC All-Star Teams a la MLB. That's a game I'd pay to see.
• More Roger Goodell moralizing: The NFL reportedly is considering not inviting academically ineligible players to the NFL Combine.
• Interesting historical footnote: Kid Rock was present for the Malice at the Palace.
• Manny Machado went all Brooks Robinson on the Yankees yesterday.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Statistical production, raw talent, supporting cast, level of competition, individual awards and records are help to define hierarchies in sports debates. However, in the NFL, greatness is defined most about winning and losing. Sure, coaching, scheduling, injuries and many other factors influence the ability for any given NFL team to succeed on Sundays.
But who is under center playing quarterback is still the most important piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. With that in mind, who is the best quarterback in the NFL today? Who is the worst? Who gives your team the best possible chance to win the Lombardi Trophy in 2013? Don't worry, Athlon Sports has the answer.
The NFL's Best Quarterbacks in 2013 (age as of Sept. 1 and win-loss records):
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (29)
W/L: 52-26 (5-3) YPG: 254.8 QBR: 104.9 TD-INT: 171-46 Rush: 1,442 yds TD: 18
There is little doubt that Rodgers isn't the best player at his position right now. He is only 29 years old, already has one Super Bowl Championship, has posted the most efficient single season by any quarterback in history (122.5, 2011) and has won 46 games in the last four seasons (46-16). His uncanny ability to extend plays with his legs and fire accurately on the run makes him the perfect athlete to play the modern role of dual-threat quarterback. He wins, doesn't turn the ball over, is an elite athlete and is the consummate professional off the field. He is the best in the game today.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans (34)
W/L: 99-70 (5-4) YPG: 270.1 QBR: 94.3 TD-INT: 324-86 Rush: 570 yds TD: 9
Brees gets the slight nod over Tom Brady and Peyton Manning based somewhat on his age. At 34, Brees still has a few more seasons of elite-level play than either Brady or Manning. And elite level of play means back-to-back 5,000-yard passing seasons and three in the last five years. He has never been the most talented or physically gifted but the intangibles are off the charts, the leadership is second to none and he has been a winner every step of his career — a state champion in Texas at Austin (Texas) Westlake, a Big Ten champ at Purdue and Super Bowl champ in 2009 for the Saints.
3. Tom Brady, New England (36)
W/L: 136-39 (17-7) YPG: 253.1 QBR: 96.6 TD-INT: 334-123 Rush: 748 yds TD: 14
The big edge for Brady in the statistical category comes in the win-loss column. He has won nearly twice as many playoff games as any other active NFL quarterback and has won more than 77 percent of his career starts. He is second only to Rodgers in quarterback efficiency for his career among quarterbacks with more than one year of starting experience. With three Super Bowl titles and five Super Bowl appearances on his resume there is nothing else to prove. That said, he is 36 years old and probably has just a couple more seasons left of elite play.
4. Peyton Manning, Denver (37)
W/L: 154-70 (9-11) YPG: 265.6 QBR: 95.7 TD-INT: 436-209 Rush: 728 yds TD: 17
Manning could easily lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship in 2013 and should he accomplish the ultimate goal for a second time in his career, it is likely he would walk away from the game like another famous Denver signal-caller. At 37 and having been forced to sit out all of 2011, Manning doesn't have much time left in this league. Yet, from a preparation and football IQ level, he has few peers ever in the history of the game and that won't change anytime soon. His age is the only thing that keeps him from the top spot.
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants (32)
W/L: 78-57 (8-3) YPG: 230.1 QBR: 82.7 TD-INT: 211-144 Rush: 395 yds TD: 4
The numbers aren't nearly as impressive as compared to Rodgers, Brees, Brady or Manning and, in fact, the younger Manning's stats pale in comparison to those quarterbacking juggernauts. He doesn't throw for as many touchdowns or yards. He turns the ball over more. And he doesn't win regular-season games at an elite rate. But he has more Super Bowl championships (2) than each of the aforementioned quarterbacks with the exception of Brady. Manning has proven he has what it takes to perform in clutch situations and his calm, quiet demeanor helps him succeed in the world's largest media market.
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (23)
W/L: 11-5 (0-1) YPG: 273.4 QBR: 76.5 TD-INT: 23-18 Rush: 255 yds TD: 5
This is optimistic, certainly, but Luck is the best NFL pro prospect since John Elway entered the league in the mid '80s and Luck just posted the single greatest rookie season by an NFL quarterback... ever. He is a special talent who is cut from the Rodgers mold of athletic ability, leadership, intelligence, toughness and accuracy. Few can throw on the run like Luck, and, since he is bigger than Rodgers, may end up being better than the Packers' signal-caller. There is no weakness to Luck's game.
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (28)
W/L: 56-22 (1-4) YPG: 243.0 QBR: 90.9 TD-INT: 127-60 Rush: 500 yds TD: 5
Calm under pressure is the name of the game for Ryan. Few have ever won games right out of the gate like Ryan — he has five winning seasons in five years — but he simply needs to finish games when it counts the most. He posted a career best in completion percentage (68.6) and QB Rating (99.1) a year ago while increasing his touchdown total for a fifth consecutive season. He overcame a big hurdle by getting his first career postseason win last year, but the Falcons crumbled around him against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Take one or two more steps for Atlanta and Ryan will be in the Rodgers class of talent and success.
8. Joe Flacco, Baltimore (28)
W/L: 54-26 (9-4) YPG: 220.4 QBR: 86.3 TD-INT: 102-56 Rush: 430 yds TD: 7
He isn't the fastest, smartest, strongest, most successful or most efficient. But few players in the history of the sport have ever posted a postseason run like Flacco did in the 2012 playoffs. He threw 11 touchdowns against no interceptions and carried his team to a Super Bowl championship with pristine quarterbacking play. At nine playoff wins, Flacco has as many as Peyton Manning and one more than Eli. Like Ryan, he's never had a losing season as an NFL quarterback.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (31)
W/L: 87-39 (10-4) YPG: 235.0 QBR: 92.7 TD-INT: 191-108 Rush: 1,036 yds TD: 14
The Steelers won one Super Bowl because of Big Ben and won another one in spite of Big Ben. He has an uncanny ability to prolong the action and make brutally tough plays in the face of certain disaster. There is no doubt that Roethlisberger is a big winner for a franchise that is one of the most demanding in the league. He is just 31 years old, but he has taken a beating and it is beginning to cost him. Big Ben hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2008 and has missed eight games over the last three seasons.
10. Tony Romo, Dallas (33)
W/L: 55-38 (1-3) YPG: 212.7 QBR: 95.6 TD-INT: 177-91 Rush: 508 yds TD: 5
From a statistical standpoint, Romo is one of the most underrated signal-callers in the game today. For an organization that is poorly managed from the top, Romo's career QB rating trails only Rodgers, Brady and Peyton Manning among quarterbacks with more than one year of starting experience. He has produced big numbers with little to no support from a running game and/or offensive line and it has led to multiple injuries. That being said, winning once in four postseason tries — including a memorable fumbled snap — and losing each of the last two regular-season finales with postseason berths hanging in the balance will always keep him being considered as one of the NFL's elite.
11. Robert Griffin III, Washington (23)
W/L: 9-6 (0-1) YPG: 213.3 QBR: 102.4 TD-INT: 20-5 Rush: 815 yds TD: 7
The former Heisman Trophy winner has all of the physical tools to become one of the game's greatest players. He has electric speed, a huge arm, great size, high football IQ, great work ethic and tremendous toughness. However, fans in D.C. have already seen how fragile his style of play can be on the NFL level. To that end, a second major knee injury in three years last fall doesn't bode well for a long career in the NFL unless RG3 can modify his style of play to protect himself.
12. Russell Wilson, Seattle (24)
W/L: 11-5 (1-1) YPG: 194.9 QBR: 100.0 TD-INT: 26-10 Rush: 489 yds TD: 4
Wilson has a lot of Drew Brees to his game. Undersized, savvy, hard-working, underrated athletically and a lightning-quick right arm. Cut from the Rodgers-Luck dual-threat cloth, Wilson is constantly looking to extend the play and make a big throw. He can run around and pick up first downs with his legs if need be, but he's also adept at throwing on the run. This, and his compact frame, gives him a better chance at staying healthy over other true dual-threats. His statistical and win-loss records as a starter both in college and his first year in the pros speak for themselves.
13. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (25)
W/L: 19-13 (0-2) YPG: 220.8 QBR: 83.9 TD-INT: 47-29 Rush: 272 yds TD: 5
He won't ever be confused with the most talented in the league and his long-term upside may still be in question. But Dalton simply wins games. He has two winning records and two playoff appearances in as many years for a team not normally accustomed to playing in the postseason. He is efficient, more athletic than expected and plays to his strengths.
14. Matthew Stafford, Detroit (25)
W/L: 17-28 (0-1) YPG: 284.6 QBR: 82.8 TD-INT: 80-54 Rush: 323 yds TD: 7
Stafford is the exact opposite of Dalton. He is dripping with elite athletic talent from his burly frame to supercharged right arm but seems to be lacking in the intangibles section. He returned the Lions to the postseason, which is no easy feat, but he also has missed extended time due to injuries and regressed last fall. His 2013 might be one of the most important in the NFL.
15. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco (25)
W/L: 5-2 (2-1) YPG: 115.6 QBR: 97.9 TD-INT: 10-3 Rush: 413 yds TD: 5
College football fans were not surprised in the least by the Niners' postseason sensation a year ago. One of the most dynamic college quarterbacks to ever play the game is forcing NFL defenses to find ways to slow him down. He has a cannon for a right arm, a huge frame and tremendous feet and speed. Time will tell if he can protect himself from the big hits.
16. Cam Newton, Carolina (24)
W/L: 13-19 (0-0) YPG: 247.5 QBR: 85.3 TD-INT: 40-29 Rush: 1,447 yds TD: 22
Newton has certainly outperformed expectations in his first two seasons. Many doubted his accuracy, attitude and ability to run a pro offense. He still turns the ball over too much and needs to be more efficient but his production in two short years have proven many of those doubters wrong. The next step for Newton will be proving he can consistently win games on this level.
17. Jay Cutler, Chicago (30)
W/L: 51-42 (1-1) YPG: 229.2 QBR: 84.0 TD-INT: 136-100 Rush: 1,116 yds TD: 6
That "1-1" postseason mark is a pretty glaring number for a player as accomplished as Cutler. He has over 21,000 yards passing and nearly 150 touchdowns, but has been to the playoffs just one time in seven years. He has just two winning seasons over that time and is on his second team. He is turnover prone and has had plenty of attitude issues. Time is running out for Cutler to prove he is a legitimate franchise quarterback.
18. Sam Bradford, St. Louis (25)
W/L: 15-26-1 (0-0) YPG: 223.3 QBR: 77.3 TD-INT: 45-34 Rush: 216 yds TD: 2
There is some Andy Dalton to his game in that he doesn't appear to be the most gifted of athletes and his fragility is a huge concern. But in the right situation with an actual offensive line, Bradford has a chance to make a big statement this year. He topped 3,500 yards in each of his 16-game seasons and has a surprisingly solid 14-17-1 record during those two years for a team that has been long considered a doormat.
19. Matt Schaub, Houston (32)
W/L: 44-38 (1-1) YPG: 186.0 QBR: 91.9 TD-INT: 120-70 Rush: 328 yds TD: 4
There isn't much else to learn about the former Virginia Cavaliers quarterback. When healthy, he is a solid player who is capable of winning games and producing big numbers. He also played just 11 games in 2007 and '08 and just 10 in '11. One has to be on the field to win games and time is running out for the 32-year-old.
20. Philip Rivers, San Diego (31)
W/L: 70-42 (3-4) YPG: 240.4 QBR: 94.5 TD-INT: 189-93 Rush: 338 yds TD: 3
Consider Rivers a more volatile version of Jay Cutler. The mouthy signal caller has had a fall from grace unlike anything this league has ever seen. There is no doubting his physical talent, but Rivers has gone from leading the NFL in yards (4,710 in 2010) to becoming a walking turnover and .500 quarterback. Rivers is 15-17 with 35 interceptions and 24 lost fumbles in the last two seasons.
21. Carson Palmer, Arizona (33)
W/L: 54-67 (0-2) YPG: 241.5 QBR: 86.2 TD-INT: 189-130 Rush: 372 yds TD: 7
Palmer will likely never be given his due as a solid NFL quarterback. He helped rebuild a perennial doormat when he led the Bengals back to the postseason and, frankly, Joe Montana at his best couldn't win in Oakland these days. He just posted his best yardage total in six seasons, topping 4,000 yards for just the third time, and now has Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd at his disposal. Expect a rejuvenation.
22. Michael Vick, Philadelphia (33)
W/L: 56-44-1 (2-3) YPG: 167.6 QBR: 80.6 TD-INT: 123-82 Rush: 5,551 yds TD: 34
The issue has been and will always be health with the player who takes more hits than anyone else in the NFL. Since coming back from prison, Vick has played in 12, 12, 13 and 10 games in four seasons and doesn't seem to be capable of changing his style of play. Until that happens, he is much more of liability than a champion.
23. Alex Smith, Kansas City (29)
W/L: 38-36-1 (1-1) YPG: 178.5 QBR: 79.1 TD-INT: 81-63 Rush: 761 yds TD: 4
Has anyone noticed that Alex Smith has played eight years in the NFL? He has a winning career record and is 19-5-1 over his last two seasons as a starter with just 10 total interceptions during that span. He also isn't playing for Jim Harbaugh any longer and is dealing with concussion issues. But still, eight years?
24. Jake Locker, Tennessee (25)
W/L: 4-7 (0-0) YPG: 169.9 QBR: 78.4 TD-INT: 14-11 Rush: 347 yds TD: 2
The Titans quarterback has awesome athletic ability but some glaring question marks. First, he simply isn't that accurate of a passer and, generally, that cannot be corrected. A 55.5 percent career completion rate won't win games in the NFL. Additionally, he has a long track record of injuries that have already impacted his pro career.
25. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (26)
W/L: 33-29 (4-2) YPG: 195.0 QBR: 71.7 TD-INT: 68-69 Rush: 342 yds TD: 12
Where to begin? The facts are that Sanchez is a winning quarterback for his career who has played in two AFC Championship games — out-performing Tom Brady in the process — and progressed statistically in his first three years. However, he regressed massively a year ago and has never become a play-maker. The leash is awfully short.
26. Ryan Tannehill, Miami (25)
W/L: 7-9 (0-0) YPG: 205.9 QBR: 76.1 TD-INT: 12-13 Rush: 211 yds TD: 2
The athletic ability is incredibly impressive and the first-year numbers are more than adequate. That said, there are still major doubts about his ability to be a pro quarterback. A year of small developmental steps and another 7-9 record would set him up for much bigger expectations in 2014.
27. Matt Flynn, Oakland (28)
W/L: 1-1 (0-0) YPG: 29.3 QBR: 92.0 TD-INT: 9-5 Rush: 14 yds TD: 1
The numbers tell the picture of what is known about Flynn. He has two career starts, one major contract and one major trade. On his third team in as many years, Flynn will finally get a chance to prove himself on the NFL level after winning a national title at LSU.
28. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland (29)
W/L: 5-10 (0-0) YPG: 225.7 QBR: 72.6 TD-INT: 14-17 Rush: 111 yds TD: 0
Entering his second season at 29 years old isn't ideal and he did little a year ago to prove he was deserving of his first-round status. However, he also proved he belonged in the NFL year last year and should grow in Year 2. The upside is limited but he is serviceable for the time being.
29. Christian Ponder, Minnesota (25)
W/L: 12-14 (0-0) YPG: 177.3 QBR: 77.1 TD-INT: 31-25 Rush: 472 yds TD: 2
Ponder helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs last year but questions still remain about his ability to make plays in key spots against tough competition. He did win his final four starts last season and played big against the Lions, Texans and Packers, but he still has much to prove.
30. EJ Manuel, Buffalo (23)
W/L: N/A YPG: N/A QBR: N/A TD-INT: N/A Rush: N/A TD: N/A
There is a ton to like about the young first-round pick from Florida State. He has excellent mental make-up and will be a tremendous leader in the huddle. He is big, fast, physical, was one of the most efficient passers to play for the Seminoles, and is one of only two players in college football history to start and win four bowl games. There should be doubts but there is a lot more upside with Manuel than most acknowledge.
31. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (25)
W/L: 24-32 (0-0) YPG: 227.4 QBR: 79.8 TD-INT: 78-63 Rush: 902 yds TD: 4
Since his days at Kansas State, Freeman has been a turnover machine. He has 63 interceptions and 36 fumbles in four NFL seasons after 34 interceptions in three college seasons. That is 97 interceptions in seven seasons of football. There is a reason Mike Glennon was drafted.
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville (23)
W/L: 5-19 (0-0) YPG: 155.0 QBR: 70.2 TD-INT: 21-17 Rush: 154 yds TD: 0
Many times in the NFL a player falls into a horrible situation and is given very little chance to succeed. That is certainly the case with Gabbert, however, he has shown little in the way of true NFL upside.
There are many reasons a sports fan can come to the realization that the college game is a better product than the professional version. Some of that has to do with charming, sleepy college towns and the scenic tailgating. The college game has bigger stadiums filled with more dedicated fans, historic bands and student sections. The offenses are more innovative and the rivalries are drenched in decades of bitterness.
Last but certainly not least, are the college games' traditions. Important locations, songs, items and activities give a deeper meaning and create a deeper connection among fans and the teams they love. And to each other as well. The sense of community at a great college game is stronger than in any other major American sport. The ACC has its fair share of historic practices and strange behaviors. From a legendary rock in South Carolina to a beat-up old lunch pail in Virginia, the ACC can match up with any other league in the nation when it comes to traditions. Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites:
Howard's Rock and The Hill
Legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard was given a massive rock from Death Valley, Calif., back in the early 1960s. It sat in Howard's office for years until IPTAY executive director Gene Willimon placed it atop a pedestal in 1966 at the top of the east end zone on the "hill" that the team runs down before entering Memorial Stadium each home game — the legend says Howard actually asked Willimon to throw the rock away. The next year, the team started rubbing the rock for good luck in the season opener and have been doing it ever since. The crowd comes to a rolling boil before each game while the Tigers players gather atop the hill waiting for the word to charge the gridiron. Many have called it the most exciting 25 seconds in sports.
Chief Osceola and Renegade
The planting of the spear at Doak Campbell Stadium is one of college football's finest traditions. Chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse Renegade are the official symbols of the Florida State Seminoles, and they both ride out to midfield before each home game to slam a burning spear into the 50-yard line logo. With the support of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Osceola has been making this pre-game journey since 1978.
The Hokie Slab and "Enter Sandman"
There is little history or tradition with the "Enter Sandman" entrance theme for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In 2000 after playing the BCS title game the year before, Virginia Tech put up a massive new video screen and outsourced the pre-game video production. However, the powers that be in Blacksburg had to pick the song and, clearly, they chose wisely. Besides the signature entrance music, the players also gather in a long tunnel from the lockers to the field and slap a slab of signature Hokie Stone before emerging into a frenzied Lane Stadium.
Georgia Tech's Ramblin' Wreck
When that 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe comes peeling across Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field, the Yellow Jackets faithful go berserk. Bearing the same name as the student body population, The Ramblin' Wreck has been leading the football team into home games since 1961. With cheerleaders draped all over the sides and crisp, whitewall tires, the car is not only an amazing college football tradition but also a work of art.
Miami's Smoke Tunnel
Using plumes of billowing smoke isn't some new or unique tradition reserved for Miami alone. However, the U is one of the originals, as the Hurricanes have been charging the field before home games through a cloud of smoke since the 1950s. Led by Sebastian the Ibis, powerhouse teams in South Florida have been demoralizing opponents by simply running out onto the field.
The Sod Cemetery
A professor issued a challenge in 1962 that Florida State team captain Gene McDowell was happy to meet. He was asked to return to FSU with "some sod" from Between the Hedges at Georgia. Ever since, before leaving for road games in which Florida State is the underdog, facing Florida or any championship game, FSU captains explain the significance of the Cemetery to their teammates. Captains continue to return home with a piece of the opponents' turf to be buried just outside the gates of the practice field.
Florida State's War Chant
There are various historical takes on when, where and how this Florida State tradition began, but many point to a big game against Auburn in 1984. The band played the traditional cheer but the student section continued chanting after the band finished and it stuck. By the next season, it was a stadium-wide phenomenon that birthed the now-historic tomahawk chop.
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Purchased in 1933 by University of Maryland students, the statue of Testudo (formerly Gorham) is a 300-pound bronze statue of a Chesapeake Bay Diamondback Turtle. The members of the football team touch the statue before taking the field of play at each home game.
Virginia Tech's Lunch Pail
Then co-defensive coordinators Rod Sharpless and Bud Foster brought a beat-up, old coal miner's lunch pail from New Jersey in 1995 to use as a motivational ploy. Now a well-known and established tradition of the Hokies' program, each week, the pail contains goals, hurdles and mission statements.
Pitt's Cathedral of Learning
At 535 feet, Pitt's tower is the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere. And the "victory lights" on the top floors are lit after every Pitt win.
Syracuse's No. 44
Retired in 2005, only the best Orange Men have ever been worthy of wearing the prestigious No. 44, including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little.
NC State's Fury The Wolf
Former NC State head coach Tom O'Brien created Fury the Wolf to bolster the Wolfpack's entrance to Carter-Finley Stadium. The 400-pound bronze wolf was installed in 2008. Packaged with Tuffy the live Finish Tamaskan Dog, there is no mistaking the canine pride at NC State.
Rolling the Quad at Wake Forest
When Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem in 1956, students needed to replace the ringing of the Wait Hall bell. So they began rolling Hearn Plaza, better known as the Quad.
NC State's re-entry policy
This is much less tradition as much as it is just awesome. Very few stadiums and arenas allow re-entry and Carter-Finley Stadium is one of them. I wonder what the students do out there in the parking lot?
Duke's Cameron Crazies
No, this one doesn't count but it does deserve mention as few hoops traditions compare to the football versions. This one most definitely does.