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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Big Ten statistics you need to know about in 2014:
0-0: Big Ten teams in the BCS title game not named Ohio State
Nebraska's 2001 national championship game appearance doesn't count for the Big Ten (although, the Big Ten would probably be fine with the Big 12 keeping that one). So other than Ohio State's BCS win in 2002 and losses in 2006 and '07, no other Big Ten team made a showing in the BCS National Championship Game. Some compare conferences by overall depth, focusing on the top of the standings, be it quantity or quality. But at the end of the year, only one conference can be called a champion and the Big Ten did it one time during the BCS' 16-year run. Five different SEC teams made 11 total national title appearances during the BCS Era. Other teams around Ohio State need to elevate themselves to national contention if the Big Ten wants to keep pace with the nation's best. Hiring coaches like James Franklin at Penn State is a great start.
$44.5 million: Projected new Big Ten payout
Recently, the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier reported that the projected payout to Big Ten schools each year from the conference will be a staggering $44.5 million in 2017-18. That's nearly double the league's current and nation-leading $25.7 million payout. Jim Delany added both Maryland and Rutgers not to improve the play on the field immediately but to grow the Big Ten's footprint into population-rich areas. He knows his league is facing stagnant population growth — by far the worst of the major five leagues — and by expanding east into talent-rich areas of the country, he hopes his league will be able to elevate both the Terps and Knights to a new level of competition.
5.4%: Population growth in the Big Ten footprint
Before moving to Fox Sports recently, Stewart Mandel reported in Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten's biggest obstacle isn't Nick Saban or the SEC but rather slowed regional population growth. The Big Ten footprint is slated to grow by just 5.4 percent in population by 2030, a number well behind the other four major conferences. The Pac-12 is projected to grow the most, projecting a whopping 28.9 percent growth by 2030. The SEC is second at a projected 25.9 percent growth. The Big 12 isn't far behind at 22.4 percent and the ACC is fourth at 18.6 percent growth. As CFBMatrix.com shows, overall population is directly tied to recruiting base as well as TV contracts. Any way the numbers are sliced, the Big Ten is lagging significantly behind the other major leagues in one of the most crucial statistical categories.
42: Wins for Michigan State in the last four years
Among Big 5 schools, only Oregon (47), Stanford (46), Alabama (46), Florida State (45), LSU (44) and Oklahoma (43) have won more games over the last four years than the Spartans. That's more wins than Clemson, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame or Auburn, to name a few, and the same number as Ohio State and South Carolina. Mark Dantonio finally broke through last fall, winning a school-record 13 games and claiming both the Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. Replacing over half of his defensive production will be a tall order, especially with massive road showdowns in Eugene and Happy Valley looming (as well as a visit from OSU), but fans around the country shouldn't expect a significant step back from Sparty in 2014. If anything, Dantonio has proven he can plug holes quickly on both sides of the ball.
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18-8: James Franklin's record the last two years
People are obsessed with James Franklin moving from the SEC to the Big Ten and Athlon Sports might be just as guilty as anyone. Penn State made it into the preseason Top 25 and is picked to win 10 games behind the leadership of its new head coach. The detractors will point to offensive line issues in Happy Valley — a concern that is warranted — and that Franklin has yet to prove himself on the biggest of stages. However, the latter argument holds no water. Franklin led Vanderbilt to unprecedented levels of success. The Commodores had never been to three consecutive bowl games, hadn't won eight games in back-to-back seasons since 1926-27 and hadn't ever beaten Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season. Franklin did all of that in Nashville during his three seasons leading Vanderbilt. Now, he comes home to The Keystone State where his charismatic persona, progressive thinking and verbal sparring matches will transform Penn State from a traditional program with elite history to a forward-thinking national powerhouse. Franklin's is a personality that the Big Ten desperately needs.
48.7%: Wisconsin's opponents winning percentage from 2013
Only two Big Ten teams will play a schedule in 2014 that posted a combined record under .500 a year ago. Wisconsin (48.7%) and Iowa (49.3%) play, statistically, the worst schedules in the Big Ten this fall as both will avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover play. Using last year's win-loss records to determine overall strength of schedule has many flaws, one of which is the volatile nature of college football rosters, but there is a reason why Athlon Sports is projecting the Badgers and Hawkeyes to finish 1-2 in the Big Ten West Division. Both have extremely manageable schedules that set up very well for a run at a Big Ten title game.
6,584 and 64: Braxton Miller total yards and TDs under Urban Meyer
Few players fit into their coach's scheme better than Braxton Miller does with Urban Meyer's spread. In each of the last two seasons under Meyer, Miller has thrown for at least 2,000 yards, rushed for at least 1,000 yards, scored 64 total touchdowns and led his team to a 24-0 record in the regular season. Miller's passer rating, completion percentage and yards per carry has gone up in three consecutive seasons. For his career, Miller has accounted for 84 total touchdowns and has thrown just 17 interceptions. Should he stay healthy and continue his developmental trend, Miller has a shot to land in New York at season's end.
3.3: Yards per carry for Michigan's rushing offense
Rich Rodriguez and Michigan averaged 5.6 yards per carry on offense — good for fifth in the nation — during his final season in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' rushing proficiency has gotten worse every season since he departed. In his first year, Brady Hoke's offense averaged 5.2 yards per carry (16th nationally). That number dropped to 4.8 yards per carry in 2012 (38th nationally) and plummeted to 3.3 yards per carry a year ago. Michigan ranked 115h nationally last year in rushing average, ahead of only Purdue in the Big Ten and only a few other Big 5 teams (Virginia Tech, Washington State, Wake Forest). Hoke's top two returning rushers are Devin Gardner (2.9 ypc) and Derrick Green (3.3 ypc). Needless to say, Doug Nussmeier's first order of business is to fix the Maize and Blue rushing attack.
4: Nebraska's losses every year under Bo Pelini
How could it be any other number? Sure, Ameer Abdullah is the nation's leading returning rusher from a year ago at 130.0 yards per game, but that's boring compared to Bo Pelini's remarkable streak of six consecutive seasons with exactly four losses. To lose exactly four games in each of his six seasons at Nebraska seems borderline impossible in the volatile modern college football landscape. And Pelini has done it every way imaginable. He went 6-1 down the stretch and nearly beat national runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game in 2009. He won the last four and six of seven in his first year in '08 as well. He lost the final two games of the year in '12 in ugly fashion and three out of the last four in '10. He methodically alternated wins and losses down the stretch in both '11 and '13. Most teams in the nation would take nine or 10 wins every season. But expectations in Lincoln have been of the national championship variety for decades, so the relationship between Pelini and his fan base will once again be one of the most fascinating to watch in the nation. Especially, if the Huskers finish third in the division with an 8-4 record this fall.
15.9: Yards per touch for Stefon Diggs
Maryland's receiving corps could be the best in the Big Ten — if it stays healthy. Both Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost to season-ending injuries last fall and both are slated to return this summer to full strength. Long is a solid player who was averaging nearly 70 yards receiving per game through seven contests but getting Diggs back could mean the difference in a bowl game or not for the Terps. On 176 career touches, Diggs is averaging 15.9 yards per play and has totaled 2,808 all-purpose yards in just 18 career games. He catches passes (88 rec.), runs the ball (27 att.) and returns both kickoffs (37 att.) and punts (24 att.). Randy Edsall needs his star playmaker in the lineup for a full season.
527.9: Yards allowed per game by Indiana
Kevin Wilson has led the Big Ten in passing in each of the last two seasons, averaging over 300 yards per game in both seasons. No Big Ten team had topped 300 yards passing per game for a season since Northwestern and Purdue did it in 2007. So offense isn't Wilson's problem entering a critical fourth season in Bloomington. The defense ranked 123rd in the nation last year at over 527.9 yards allowed per game — ahead of only Cal (529.6) and New Mexico State (549.5). Indiana hasn't been to a bowl since 2007 and hasn't won a bowl since '91, so if Wilson expects to end those droughts this season, he and his revamped defensive staff will have to make major strides with a unit that allowed 6.7 yards per play last year (117th nationally).
“Finally, the poo-bahs of major college football have seen the light. Smelled the money. They’ve broken from the past, from almost a century of polls and bowls, and embraced a national playoff.”
Those sentences appeared in Athlon Sports’ 1995 preseason annual as the conferences and the bowls began work on agreements for an updated postseason. The whiff of a college football playoff was in the air as Athlon contributor Steve Wieberg — who is now on the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee — wrote about a hypothetical single-elimination tournament for the 1997 season.
We didn’t get the playoff then. We got the BCS.
After 15 years of confusion and hand-wringing over polls and computer rankings, the BCS has come to an end. The conferences, schools and bowls will join the rest of civilized sporting society and determine a champion through a playoff this season.
The name itself is designed to be a tribute to its simplicity: The College Football Playoff. From the same power structure that brought a Bowl Alliance (that didn’t include the Rose Bowl) and a Bowl Championship Series (that wasn’t a “series” at all) comes a title that says exactly what it is.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock wants the process of selecting teams to be just as simple.
“The term we are using is ‘the best teams,’” Hancock says. “We are not getting into the nuance of the debate of ‘best’ and ‘most deserving.’ We think ‘best’ says it all.”
The name is simple. The goals and execution of the CFP are not. All the Playoff needs to accomplish is to be all things to all people. Yep, that’s it.
The Playoff needs to have the legitimacy of crowning a true, one and only, national champion for the first time in the history of the college football postseason. It needs to preserve the excitement on college campuses during the shortest regular season in major sports.
The Playoff, perhaps to the chagrin of some fans, also needs to preserve the traditional bowl system that has existed since 1902.
Most important, the Playoff is meant to restore teeth to college football’s presence during the New Year’s holiday. Beyond expanding the field of teams that can play for a national championship from two to four, the new format aims to reclaim the New Year’s holiday for college football.
Not that college football was ever absent from Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but the title game the following week and BCS games throughout the week diluted the teams and matchups for what traditionally has been college football’s signature day.
That won’t be the case in the next three seasons, with Jan. 1 hosting the national semifinals this season and New Year’s Eve hosting the semifinals following the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
This is supposed to be a solution to a postseason that’s been unsatisfying for many fans even before the BCS era. Take the four best teams, have them play during a national holiday and have two of them meet for a national championship roughly a week later.
What could go wrong?
Here are some F.A.Q.’s about the new system and some straightforward answers (where they’re available).
What is the least I need to know about this Playoff?
Here’s How the Postseason Might Look With Our Rankings As a Template
Step 1: The selection committee ranks and assigns teams to the semifinals.
Let’s say the top four is: No. 1 Florida State (ACC champion), No. 2 Alabama (SEC champion), No. 3 Ohio State (Big Ten champion) and No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion):
Sugar Bowl semifinal:
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl semifinal:
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Step 2: The contract bowls fill their spots.
The Orange Bowl fulfills its contract with the ACC by selecting No. 21 Clemson, the best available team from the ACC, to replace Florida State, and No. 5 Auburn, the highest-ranked team remaining among the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame. The Orange Bowl is not necessarily obligated to select the highest-ranked remaining team from the ACC, however.
Step 3: The pool of teams for the six remaining bowl slots is determined.
The Pac-12 champion, contracted to play in the Rose Bowl in non-Playoff years, is guaranteed a slot in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach since it is not part of the Playoff. In our rankings, that team is No. 6 Oregon. The committee also determines the highest-ranked team outside of the “Group of Five,” which is guaranteed a bid. In our rankings, that team is No. 40 Marshall. The final four spots — the at-large bids, if you will — go to the highest-ranked remaining teams: No. 7 UCLA, No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Baylor.
Step 4: The selection committee assigns the remaining six spots in the New Year’s Day bowls with the best remaining teams in the rankings, being mindful of geography and avoiding rematches or repeat trips to a bowl. The selection committee may assign bowls as follows:
Fiesta: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 9 South Carolina
Cotton: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Baylor
Peach: No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 40 Marshall
Who hosts the championship game and semifinals?
The championship game will rotate among locations, starting with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for 2014-15, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., in 2015-16 and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., in 2016-17.
The answer for the semifinals is a little more complicated. Six bowl games will rotate between hosting semifinals and premier New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve bowl games. In 2014-15, the Sugar and Rose bowls will host semifinals on Jan. 1 while the Cotton (Jan. 1) and Orange, Peach and Fiesta bowls (Dec. 31) host other top games determined by the Playoff Selection Committee. In 2015-16, the Orange and Cotton bowls will host the semifinals before passing the baton to the Peach and Fiesta bowls in 2016-17. The College Football Playoff brass is calling the semifinals and other four premier bowls the “New Year’s Six.” Think of the non-Playoff bowls as the non-championship “BCS” games under a new name.
What will the selection committee do?
The selection committee will rank the top-25 teams in the country and assign the top four in the semifinals. After that, it will place the next group of at-large teams into the New Year’s Day bowls and identify the top teams from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. In essence, the selection committee is picking the field for the championship (the Playoff) and the consolation prizes (the best non-Playoff bowls).
What criteria will the selection committee use to rank teams?
That’s not clear. In basketball, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has established benchmarks — top-50 wins, bad losses, strength of schedule and the RPI. The football selection committee has no precedent, so it’s not clear what metrics will be used to determine the “best” teams. The Playoff has retained a company called SportSource Analytics to provide statistical data to aid the committee in comparing teams. What that entails is not clear, but it will include opponents’ record, opponents’ opponents’ record and other unspecified data.
“The selection committee’s charge is to use common sense and to consider strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head, results against common opponents,” Hancock says. “Those are the four overarching standards.”
Hancock also says the committee will not dictate how leagues structure their conference schedules. The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 will play nine-game schedules in the Playoff era. The ACC will play eight games plus a five-team deal with Notre Dame. The SEC will play eight league games while requiring teams to play at least one game against a team from the other four major conferences. The Big 12 is the only league among the major conferences without a title game.
Why not include tools like college basketball’s RPI?
Remember how much you hated the BCS computers? The Playoff took note. “We intentionally did not create one single metric because we had that in the BCS,” Hancock says. “We created the selection committee because we wanted the human factor to be involved, for human judgment to be involved. Committee members will be able to say Team X lost in the second week of the season, but let’s remember that their left tackle didn’t play and now he’s back.”
How will the committee handle conflicts of interest?
The first selection committee will include five sitting athletic directors. At some point, a selection committee member likely will be in a position to vote for his or her own program into the semifinals. The Playoff established a policy that will recuse committee members if they or an immediate family member receives compensation from the school or has a professional relationship with the program. Recused committee members may not vote or be present during deliberations involving their schools.
What are the logistics of ranking teams?
The committee will meet in person in Dallas on Mondays and Tuesdays starting in late October. Each committee member will devise a top 25. Through a step-by-step process, the committee will whittle its pool of teams under consideration into groups of six and then groups of three until it arrives at a consensus top 25.
How will this change my weekly football routine?
Remember that Sunday night BCS rankings show? That in essence moves to Tuesdays, when the selection committee will release its top 25 on ESPN.
How is this process an improvement over the last one?
The rankings process appears to be more deliberate and rigorous than the BCS system, if only because the committee has three days to analyze Saturday’s games and two days to deliberate. No more AP voters on deadline or coaches (or athletic department staffers) filing top-25 ballots Saturday night. The committee members’ individual ballots and votes will not be made public.
What are the potential problems?
Releasing a weekly poll every week starting in late October is an admirable attempt at transparency. Selection committee chair Jeff Long also will appear on ESPN to explain the rankings. But transparency will come at price when, inevitably, a team continues to win yet drops in the rankings, perhaps out of a Playoff spot. Coaches and athletic directors will be asked to defend — or stump for — their seasons throughout November until the final rankings after the conference title games. The Playoff may soon learn why the basketball committee doesn’t tip its hand until Selection Sunday.
What kind of turnover will there be on the selection committee?
Who is on this selection committee?
The 13-person selection committee, picked by the FBS conference commissioners, is designed to be a cross section of luminaries from college athletics, higher education and government. The selection committee for 2014 will consist of:
• Jeff Long Arkansas athletic director and chair of the committee
• Barry Alvarez Wisconsin athletic director and former coach
• Mike Gould former superintendent at the Air Force Academy
• Pat Haden USC athletic director
• Tom Jernstedt former NCAA executive vice president
• Oliver Luck West Virginia athletic director
• Archie Manning former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback
• Tom Osborne former coach and athletic director at Nebraska
• Dan Radakovich Clemson athletic director
• Condoleezza Rice former Secretary of State and Stanford provost
• Mike Tranghese former Big East commissioner
• Steve Wieberg retired USA Today college football reporter
• Tyrone Willingham former coach at Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington
Term limits haven’t been set, but committee members generally will serve three seasons. Members of the first committee, though, will have variable terms to achieve a rotation for future years.
What does “assign” the Playoff teams mean?
Hancock says the Playoff will match the selection committee’s No. 1 vs. No. 4 team and the No. 2 vs. No. 3 team. At the same time, he says the No. 1 team will be protected. It seems those goals might not always coincide, right? What if LSU is a No. 4 seed in a potential semifinal at the Sugar Bowl? Or USC or UCLA at the Rose Bowl? Or Georgia in the Peach Bowl? Could the selection committee negate a regional advantage for the No. 1 seed by placing them into the backyard of the No. 4 seed? Or will the selection committee slyly shift a team up a seed line to give a No. 1 seed a more pronounced home-field advantage? We may find out.
Is there a limit to how many teams from a particular conference can go to the Playoff?
No. Conceivably, one conference could send four teams to the playoff, though that seems unlikely. No conference is guaranteed a bid in the semifinal, and no conference is barred. Although conference championships are mentioned as a factor for the selection committee, the Playoff doesn’t require a team to win its league or even its division to be selected for a spot in the semifinal.
What about those other big-time bowl games that aren’t part of the Playoff? Are there automatic bids to these bowl games?
Yes and no. There are no automatic berths to the Playoff for conference champions. However, the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls (aka, the “contract bowls”) have their traditional conference tie-ins during years they are not hosting the semifinals. In years major conference champions aren’t in the Playoff, those teams will head to their traditional destinations: the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the Rose, the SEC and Big 12 to the Sugar and the ACC to the Orange. The only change is the Big 12’s contract with the Sugar rather than the Fiesta.
When a “contract bowl” loses a conference champion, the selection committee assigns the next highest-ranked team from that league to the bowl game. So, if Florida State wins the ACC and earns a bid to the Playoff this season, the Orange Bowl will take the next highest-ranked ACC team as an automatic bid.
The Playoff means that the traditional bowl pairings will occur on an inconsistent basis. Meetings of conference champions will be even more rare. When the Rose Bowl hosts a semifinal, for example, it will only have a matchup of Big Ten/Pac-12 champions if those teams happen to be in the Rose Bowl’s portion of the bracket. When the Rose Bowl isn’t hosting a semifinal, the game still will have a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, but a matchup of Big Ten/Pac-12 champions seems unlikely, as one or the other (or both) would likely be in the playoff.
The selection committee then will fill the remaining three New Year’s Six bowls — the Cotton, the Fiesta and the Peach — with the highest-ranked teams remaining once the semifinals and contract spots in the Rose, Orange and Sugar are filled.
There are other stipulations: The highest-ranked champion from the so-called “Group of Five” — the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — is guaranteed a bid to one of these three bowls. The Orange Bowl’s second spot opposite the ACC team will be the highest-ranked remaining team from the Big Ten or SEC or Notre Dame.
When assigning these games, the selection committee will tend to favor geographic fit while attempting to avoid rematches or sending the same teams to the same bowl game.
How has the Rose Bowl managed to be stubborn in all of this?
The Rose Bowl is losing some its traditional role in the college football world but not all of it. The Rose Bowl will still be played at 5 p.m. Eastern on New Year’s Day, whether it is hosting a playoff or not. That means when the Rose Bowl hosts a semifinal, the semis will be on New Year’s Day. When the Rose Bowl does not host a Playoff game, the semifinals will be on New Year’s Eve.
What about Notre Dame?
Notre Dame is in the mix for the Orange Bowl spot opposite an ACC opponent. The Orange Bowl will select the highest-ranked team available among Notre Dame, a team from the Big Ten or a team from the SEC. The Orange Bowl is obligated to take three teams each from the Big Ten and SEC during the next 12 years.
What happens to the rest of the bowl games?
The rest of the bowl structure — the Capital One, the Holiday, the Outback and so on — will continue independent of the Playoff structure other than the provision that they won’t be played at the same time as a semifinal. So the Capital One Bowl can still feature an SEC/Big Ten matchup on New Year’s Day, just not at the same time as a Playoff game in the Sugar or Rose bowls.
What about the money?
The 10 conferences and Notre Dame will split an average of $470 million over the course of the rights deal with ESPN, according to a report from USA Today. The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will split roughly 71.5 percent of the revenue after expenses, while the “Group of Five” will split 27 percent. Notre Dame receives less than one percent.
The Playoff contract between the conferences and the bowls lasts for 12 years, so at minimum this four-team playoff will last until 2024-25.
Where can I watch this thing?
The College Football Playoff will be aired on ESPN.
On Sunday night, July 6, MLB will announce the All-Star teams for the big game at Minneapolis on July 15. As always, fan voting will determine the starting position players for each league. Players vote for reserves and pitchers with managers filling out the teams. Rosters consist of 34 players — that’s right, 34 — and each club must be represented. In advance of the big announcement, here are my selections for the two rosters.
2B Dee Gordon, Los Angeles
Proving to be a demon on the basepaths, Gordon already has 40 steals and 11 triples.
RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
You never really know what to expect from Mr. Excitement.
CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
The reigning NL MVP is having another MVP-type season.
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
If his body holds up, Tulo could be a runaway choice for MVP honors.
LF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
No one hits more tape-measure shots than Stanton, which makes him a fun participant in the Home Run Derby.
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
Goldschmidt is seventh in OPS, third in RBIs, second in runs and first in doubles.
DH Anthony Rizzo, Chicago
There is no overwhelming choice at DH for the NL, and Rizzo is having a fine season.
C Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
With his .334 batting average and 28 doubles, Lucroy is finally able to unseat Yadier Molina.
3B Todd Frazier, Cincinnati
Frazier has been the big producer in Cincinnati.
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Kershaw has no peers.
C Evan Gattis, Atlanta
The Atlanta catcher recently went on the DL, but he leads NL catchers with 16 bombs and is hitting .345 against NL East rival Washington and hit .353 in June.
C Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Offensively, Molina has slipped of late, but no catcher controls the running game or guides pitchers any better.
1B Matt Adams, St. Louis
Very little has gone right for the Redbirds’ offense this season, but Big City leads NL first basemen with a .318 average. But with only nine homers and eight walks, he’s sixth in OPS.
1B Adam LaRoche, Washington
His .906 OPS is second to Goldschmidt among first basemen.
2B Daniel Murphy, New York
The Mets must be represented and Murphy is their lone .300 hitter. The decision is either Scooter Gennett of Milwaukee at second and Bartolo Colon as the Mets’ rep. I think Murph makes more sense.
2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Utley is the lone Phillie, but is deserving in his own right with a .287 average the best WAR at the position.
3B Anthony Rendon, Washington
With Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman both healthy now, Rendon may see more time at second base in the second half, but he’s been solid both offensively and defensively for the Nats at the hot corner.
3B Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee
Ramirez, who has spent some time on the DL, has the third-best OPS behind Frazier and Rendon.
SS Starlin Castro, Chicago
This may be the easiest position to call. Tulo is clearly the starter and there’s little competition for the backup.
OF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
Gomez is without a doubt the fourth-best outfielder in the NL so far this season.
OF Corey Dickerson, Colorado
Teammate Charlie Blackmon appeared to have a spot nailed down earlier, but Dickerson is among the top six in average, RBIs and runs among NL OFs.
PR Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati
His overall stats may not be worthy, but he turned a corner offensively with a .327 average in June. And there isn’t a better choice for a late-inning pinch-runner.
SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
One of the league’s two 11-game winners leads the senior circuit with a 1.89 ERA.
SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati
The Reds’ ace has led the NL in ERA up until his last start this week. His current 1.99 ERA is the highest it has been since April 11.
SP Josh Beckett, Los Angeles
The author of the Dodgers’ first no-hitter this season is fifth in the league with a 2.37 ERA.
SP Tim Hudson, San Francisco
The veteran has been a huge lift for the Giants this season.
SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta
Quickly and quietly, Teheran has become the Braves’ latest ace.
SP Jason Hammel, Chicago
He may be wearing a different uniform by the time the All-Stars congregate in Minneapolis.
SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles
The righthander is tied with Wainwright with 11 wins and is seventh in ERA.
RP Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee
K-Rod was looking for a job just before spring training, and now he leads the league with 27 saves. His 0.897 WHIP is the best of his career.
RP Huston Street, San Diego
The only full-time closer without a blown save, Street owns a 0.77 WHIP and 0.90 ERA.
RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Kimbrel has 59 Ks and just 33 hits and walks combined.
RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
He’s whiffed more than half of the batters he’s faced this season.
RP Tony Watson, Pittsburgh
Every bullpen needs an extra lefty and left-handed hitters are slugging just .263 against Watson.
2B Jose Altuve, Houston
Robinson Cano is having a solid season for the Mariners, but Altuve leads the league in batting, hits and steals.
CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles
His stats are as eye-popping as his talent would suggest, but he’s still outperformed AL outfielders.
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
Miggy is on pace for an eight-year low in homers, but a career best in doubles. Could be a sign of a decline in power.
DH Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto
The Jays’ first baseman is really a DH and makes perfect sense to start against the left-handed Kershaw.
RF Nelson Cruz, Baltimore
A critical signing for Baltimore, Cruz is among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs.
3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland
The AL leader among third basemen in homers, runs and RBIs narrowly edges Adrian Beltre, who had a short DL stint early in the season.
LF Michael Brantley, Cleveland
The leftfielder is second among AL outfielders with a .312 average and is perfect in nine stolen base attempts.
C Sal Perez, Kansas City
Adept behind the plate as well as at the plate, Perez leads AL backstops with 26 extra-base hits.
SS Erick Aybar, Los Angeles
A close call between Aybar and Alexei Ramirez, but Aybar has batted .313 over the past month and a half, while Ramirez has slumped to .230 in June.
SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle
We’ll give King Felix the nod slightly over Masahiro Tanaka.
C Derek Norris, Oakland
He has fewer at-bats than most AL catchers, but his average is better than .300, his OBP tops .400 and his SLG is higher than .500.
1B Jose Abreu, Chicago
Prior to his injury, Abreu was in line for serious MVP consideration.
2B Robinson Cano, Seattle
His .323/.382/.447 slash line looks very good — until it is compared to Altuve’s.
2B Ian Kinsler, Detroit
laying with a chip on his shoulder after his trade from Texas over the winter, Kinsler is fourth in the league in hits and second in runs.
2B Brian Dozier Minnesota
The relatively unknown second baseman leads the AL with 61 runs. He should receive the loudest ovation during player introductions.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland
He’s a little shy of the necessary plate appearances to qualify, but his .344 average and .960 OPS are easily best among AL third basemen.
3B Adrian Beltre, Texas
He leads his position with 90 hits and is slugging better than .500.
3B Kyle Seager, Seattle
Four third basemen seems like overkill, but we couldn’t leave Seager off the team.
SS Alexei Ramirez, Chicago
A month ago, Ramirez would have been my guy at short, but a recent slump relegates him to the bench.
OF Jose Bautista, Toronto
The Blue Jays’ slugger narrowly missed the starting assignment over Cruz.
OF Adam Jones, Baltimore
Jones leads AL outfielders with 107 hits.
OF Melky Cabrera, Toronto
The former All-Star Game MVP is second to Jones with 106 knocks.
SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York
Likely to be the favorite of most fans to start, I think Hernandez is more deserving.
SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto
The wily vet is having the best first half of his stellar career.
SP Scott Kazmir, Oakland
The one-time ace of the Rays made five dismal minor league starts in 2011 and one in the majors before settling for an Independent league in 2012. It’s an amazing story that he’s back in the majors, let alone performing at an All-Star level.
SP Yu Darvish, Texas
He’s third in the league with a 2.42 ERA.
SP Chris Sale, Chicago
He missed a month earlier this season, but is 7-1 with a sparkling 2.30 ERA.
SP David Price, Tampa Bay
Likely to be traded at any moment, Price leads the AL with 131 innings and 153 strikeouts. Amazingly, he’s walked just 17 batters.
RP Koji Uehara, Boston
The Boston closer hasn’t been as lights out as he was in the second half last season, but he’s still performed at an All-Star level.
RP Greg Holland, Kansas City
The Royals’ closer has blown just one of his 24 save opportunities.
RP Dellin Betances, New York
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has made Betances an integral part of the club’s bullpen. He’s given up 21 hits, walked 16 and struck out 78 — more than twice as many Ks and hits and walks combined.
RP Sean Doolittle, Oakland
He was drafted out of Virginia as a first baseman, made it to the majors as a lefty specialist out of the pen and is now one of the best closers in the league with 0.67 WHIP.
RP Wade Davis, Kansas City
A reliable setup man in front of Holland, Davis has 16 holds and more Ks than baserunners allowed.
RP Zach Britton, Baltimore
The Orioles’ third-round draft pick in 2006 was considered a high-level prospect as a starter. But he’s found a home in the Baltimore bullpen where he’s held opponents to a .181 batting average, and lefties have a .386 OPS.
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the added SAFER Barriers, Denny Hamlin’s 2014 plate-racing success, Jeff Gordon’s consistency and a needed tweak to the qualifying format highlight the storylines leading up to the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Daytona SAFER Barrier addition nice, but where’s the rest?
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said in February that he felt his facility was “on the right path” when it came to fan and driver safety a year after a violent crash injured scores of fans in the grandstands. That path has now included an additional 2,400 feet of SAFER Barrier on the competitive side of the fence.
The crash energy-reducing barrier already lined the corners of NASCAR’s most famous track, in addition to the outside of the front stretch tri-oval and several interior walls. Now, it runs continuous along the outside wall from the entrance of Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 1 — lessening the risk of routine impacts in each of the track’s short chutes.
It’s a great, smart move. But it’s also a change that leaves questions as to why the entirety of the track’s wall surface hasn’t been plastered with the stuff.
Consider this: A report from USA Today indicated that the SAFER Barrier system costs around $500 per foot these days. To finish the job — including Daytona’s backstretch outside wall (around 3,000 feet) and numerous interior walls (a rough guess of 5,000 feet) still uncovered — would presumably seem to cost around $4 million.
Meanwhile, right on the other side of the fence, the track is pouring $400 million in a grandstand renovation.
With 2014 success, Denny Hamlin a Daytona favorite
For reasons likely held very, very close to the vest of the No. 11 team, Denny Hamlin’s Toyota Camrys have been lightning quick on restrictor plate tracks in 2014. The results are telling: Hamlin has finished first in three races (the Sprint Unlimited, a Budweiser Duel and the spring race at Talladega) and second in the fourth (February’s Daytona 500).
It may have been a clean sweep had Hamlin’s car radio not failed during The Great American Race.
Why has Hamlin — easily a favorite this weekend — been so good? First, he credited the car. But a close second on his list is a smarter strategy.
“I think I have learned a lot about that style of racing over the years,” Hamlin says. “I was always the guy that tried to start a new line and make something happen, and it didn’t always work out for me. I think this year I have been a little more patient and let the race come to me a bit more.”
It’s a good thing that Hamlin has learned the new trick. Without the Talladega win, Hamlin is closer to 20th in points than 10th and facing a lot more heat over his Chase chances.
Restrictor plate group qualifying already in need of revision
I don’t even have to watch Friday’s sure-to-be-wild Sprint Cup group qualifying session to know that a system I was initially so excited for already needs a change. It was all laid bare at Talladega in the spring when Brian Scott won the pole from the back of a drafting pack.
Without a doubt, multiple cars on track at once for restrictor-plate track qualifying is the right move. It’s great, too, to force the drivers who want to be up front to essentially “qualify” three times. But the process of getting there — only turning a fastest lap within a time slot — just doesn’t past the sniff test of competition in pack racing. The driver eighth to the line after the clock hits zero just should never be the one taking the honors.
Instead, restrictor-plate track qualifying should be reorganized to a heat race format. I propose three races: two 25-lap dashes with half of the prospective field in each and a third with the top-8 finishers from each heat race. This process puts focus on drivers scrambling to make the race during the first two heats and then forces the drivers up front to jockey for position in the “pole race.” Plus, taking eight cars from each heat likely prevents drivers from settling for an easy finish in the heats.
Better solutions likely exist. Anything, save for solo qualifying of power-sapped race cars, would be better than where we’ve arrived.
Where is Jeff Gordon’s 2014 heading?
Seven years ago, Jeff Gordon put together a season that set a NASCAR modern-era record for top-10 finishes. Twenty-one of those 30 top 10s were top-5 showings, and six of them converted to wins. Yet when the Chase for the Sprint Cup came, Gordon was simply outmatched down the stretch by teammate and eventual champion Jimmie Johnson.
Is that the ultimate destiny of Gordon’s 2014 campaign?
As the season turns over to its second half following Saturday night’s race, Gordon is on a similar pace of consistency. He has 13 top-10 finishes in 17 starts, six top-5 finishes and nabbed a win at Kansas Speedway. He also leads the regular season point standings.
But Gordon has shown at several points this season that he often can’t match the speed of his competitors when it comes to winning time. His restarts have remained a liability and he has led 1,001 fewer laps than second-place Johnson.
The new Chase format means winning races — and by default, coming through on inevitable late restarts — will determine the sport’s champion. Gordon is a master of near-front consistency, but not so much a master of late-race heroics. Together, it all seems to make Gordon’s point lead look like a misnomer of what is to come.
Daytona winner likely to be leading at white flag
In five competitive races with Sprint Cup cars on restrictor-plate tracks this season, a trend has become clear: the driver leading at the white flag has a substantial advantage over those trying to overtake.
In the Sprint Unlimited, Hamlin jumped to the lead coming to the white flag and drove away from the scrambling pack behind him. Hamlin held the field at bay again in winning his Daytona qualifying race, and then teammate Matt Kenseth was able to hold off a late charge from Kevin Harvick to win the second one — a move largely made possibly by Kenseth running the high lane on the last lap. In the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. held a two car-length lead at the white flag and Hamlin was only able to get to his bumper at the checkered flag.
The outlier in the five events was the finish at Talladega. Hamlin, leading comfortably again, was halfway down the backstretch when a caution flag waved on the final lap to end the race. Regardless, that chance of an immediate end to a race still rewards the driver up front.
“In the Daytona 500, we were just a little too far back on the last lap and made it up to second,” Hamlin says. “I knew at Talladega that I wanted to be the one out front holding people off. I think that has been the preferred position in the last few plate races.”
With that chance of an unexpected end combined with a realized advantage of leading at the white flag, Saturday night’s race winner will likely be making the most aggressive moves before the flagman gets busy.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Former Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has officially landed at Oklahoma. Green-Beckham was dismissed at Missouri after an off-the-field incident in April and will have to sit out the 2014 season as a result of NCAA transfer rules.
Green-Beckham was regarded as one of the top receivers in the nation in 2013, catching 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 scores. As a junior entering 2014, Green-Beckham was expected to be a first-team All-American and the top target for new Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
There’s no question Green-Beckham comes with baggage. His dismissal at Missouri stemmed from an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down the stairs. He also had two marijuana arrests during his time with the Tigers, but charges from the first arrest were never filed.
Bringing Green-Beckham to Oklahoma is a big risk for coach Bob Stoops. But considering Green-Beckham’s talent level and upside, it’s a risk that could pay off.
The Sooners are a young team in 2014 and could have only five or six senior starters this year.
Barring a surprise win on his waiver for eligibility, Green-Beckham will have to sit out the 2014 season. Add Green-Beckham to an offense that features quarterback Trevor Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard and it’s easy to think Oklahoma could be picked near the top of most preseason polls in 2015.
Of course, this move could backfire for Oklahoma. If Green-Beckham lands in trouble again, this move will be a hit in public relations for Stoops. But there’s also a solid support system in place in Norman, including Stoops and receivers coach Jay Norvell.
If Green-Beckham manages to stay out of trouble in 2014 and has a huge season, it will go a long way to improving his draft stock that took a hit after the dismissal in April.
Oklahoma announces Dorial Green-Beckham has been added to the Sooners roster.— CollegeFootballTalk (@CFTalk) July 3, 2014
DGB in release: "The university has made the expectations clear and I want to live up to them and be a positive part of the campus and team"— Guerin Emig (@GuerinEmig) July 3, 2014
After last week's league-by-league look at quarterbacks, the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Team did the same examination of coaches through each of the five major conferences. We picked coaches on the hot seat for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC and pinpointed the assistants you need to watch and the impact coordinators in each league.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 3:
• Robin Lopez took a selfie next to Sideshow Bob. Yes, Robin, we see the resemblance.
• Mark Mulder live-tweeted his initial viewing of the movie "Moneyball." Interesting stuff.
• Serena Williams blamed her bizarre Wimbledon exit on a virus. Martina Navratilova ain't buying it.
• An American hero died today at age 97. RIP, Louis Zamperini.
• A heroic beer vendor caught a foul ball in his bucket and thwarted a couple of obnoxious ladies' attempts to grab it from him, giving it instead to a little girl. Can we all agree that adults who go after foul balls are just the worst?
• An exception to that last rule: This woman who caught a foul ball and put it in her bra for safe keeping. Solid move.
• The perils of live television: Jerry Remy lost a tooth while on the air.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Big Ten is well-stocked with talent at running back for 2014. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is a projected first-team All-American, while Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah isn’t far behind. Gordon and Abdullah each averaged over six yards per carry in Big Ten games last year.
The depth at running back extends beyond Gordon and Abdullah with Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, Northwestern’s Venric Mark and a rising star in Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, Athlon Sports has ranked the top 20 running backs in the Big Ten.
How were the rankings compiled? Glad you asked.
Something important to remember: This is not a career ranking heading into the 2014 season. Instead, several factors were considered. How the player projects in 2014, value to the team, overall talent level and production so far in his career. Past performance is critical, but a large portion of the rankings was based on what we think these running backs will do in 2014. And a slight bump in ranking was handed to the projected starter of a team.
Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2014
|1||Melvin Gordon||Gordon will assume the No. 1 role in the Wisconsin backfield after sharing time with James White last year. In 125 carries during conference play, Gordon rushed for 903 yards and eight scores. He finished No. 2 in the Big Ten with a 7.8 yards per carry and recorded six runs of 40 yards or more.|
|2||Ameer Abdullah||If Melvin Gordon is No. 1, then Abdullah is No. 1A. In eight Big Ten games last season, Abdullah finished No. 2 in the conference with 1,103 yards. Abdullah scored only five times in conference play but showcased his versatility by finishing 2013 with 26 catches.|
|3||Jeremy Langford||The emergence of Langford and quarterback Connor Cook were a big reason why Michigan State claimed the Big Ten title. Langford rushed for 1,070 yards in nine Big Ten contests and led all backs within the conference with 292 carries in 14 games.|
|4||Venric Mark||Mark was expected to be one of the top running backs in the Big Ten last season, but his 2013 campaign never got on track due to injury. Mark finished with just 97 rushing yards and earned a medical hardship after missing nine games. When healthy, Mark is one of the Big Ten's most explosive runners and is a valuable asset on returns.|
|5||Tevin Coleman||Coleman was on his way to a 1,000-yard season when an ankle injury forced him to miss the final three games. In 131 carries, Coleman averaged a healthy 7.3 yards per carry and led the Big Ten with eight runs of 40 yards or more.|
|6||Ezekiel Elliott||Since we are all about projecting what will happen in 2014, it's safe to say Elliott is in for a breakout year. As a backup to Carlos Hyde last season, Elliott rushed for 262 yards and two scores. Elliott was a top-100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and has the skill-set to thrive in Urban Meyer's offense. Yes, Elliott needs to prove he can handle 220-250 carries in a season, but the potential is there for a huge year.|
|7||David Cobb||With Abdullah, Hyde, Gordon, Langford and James White stealing the headlines in the Big Ten last year, Cobb's numbers were overlooked. The Minnesota back rushed for 1,202 yards, seven scores and posted six 100-yard performances.|
|8||Mark Weisman||Weisman started 2013 with three consecutive 100-yard efforts and rushed for 147 yards on 24 attempts against Minnesota in late September. However, Weisman did not record a 100-yard performance the rest of the way and fell just short of a 1,000-yard season. Weisman leads a deep Iowa backfield that includes Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock.|
|9||Corey Clement||Clement impressed in limited action last season, averaging 8.2 yards per carry on 67 attempts. With James White departing, Clement is set to be the top backup to Melvin Gordon in 2014. Clement will likely see at least 150 carries in this role, and all signs point to this sophomore becoming a star in Madison over the next two years.|
|10||Zach Zwinak||It's a tossup for the No. 1 spot in the Penn State backfield. Zwinak, Belton and Akeel Lynch are all in the mix. Zwinak rushed for 692 yards and four scores in Big Ten play and finished the year by recording four consecutive 100-yard efforts. If new coach James Franklin settles on one running back, the leading rusher could finish higher on this list.|
|11||Bill Belton||Belton finished just 186 yards behind Zach Zwinak in last year's rushing totals and should push for a split in carries in 2014. Belton recorded only 20 carries through his first three games in 2013 but rushed for 201 yards against Illinois and 98 against Ohio State. The senior had a good spring and appears poised to build off his best statistical season.|
|12||Josh Ferguson||Considering Illinois won only six games over the last two years, Ferguson has been overlooked at times among the stable of Big Ten running backs. But after finishing with back-to-back 100-yard efforts in 2013, the junior is primed for a breakout year in 2014. In addition to his solid 5.5 yards per carry, Ferguson is one of the team's top receivers (50 catches in 2013).|
|13||Imani Cross||Cross is one of the top backup running backs in the Big Ten. The 230-pound I-back scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 447 yards on 85 attempts last season. Cross will work as the backup to Ameer Abdullah once again but should see his share of carries (85-100) in 2014.|
|14||Derrick Green||If Michigan's offense wants to take a step forward in 2014, improving the rushing attack is a priority. The Wolverines averaged only 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play and had only one run of 40 yards or more the entire season. Green was a huge recruit for coach Brady Hoke and managed only 270 yards in his debut. Even though Green has the talent to be a 1,000-yard rusher, he needs more help from the offensive line to reach that potential in 2014.|
|15||Wes Brown||Upside is the keyword to remember here. Brown rushed for 382 yards on 90 attempts as a freshman in 2012 but was suspended for all of 2013. The Baltimore native was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and showed plenty of promise by recording a 100-yard effort against NC State and a 74-yard effort against UConn as a freshman. Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Vei will also factor in the mix with Brown.|
|16||Paul James||James has an interesting backstory, starting at Rutgers as a walk-on and eventually moving into the starting lineup last season. Despite missing three games, he rushed for 881 yards and nine scores on 156 attempts. If James can stay healthy, and regains the form that led him to three 100-yard efforts to start 2013, he will rank higher on this list in December.|
|17||Jordan Canzeri||Canzeri will team with Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock to form one of the Big Ten's top backfields in 2014. The New York native missed 2012 due to a torn ACL but quickly rebounded in 2013 by recording 481 yards and two touchdowns. Canzeri averaged 6.5 yards per carry and gashed Purdue for 165 yards.|
|18||Rod Smith||Smith was regarded as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, but he's yet to rush for more than 215 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? With Carlos Hyde departing, the Buckeyes will turn to Ezekiel Elliott and another running back to carry the workload. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Smith has the talent and size to produce when called upon in 2014.|
|19||Damon Bullock||Bullock is the third Iowa back to make this list. He's rushed for at least 460 yards in each of the last two years and recorded 85 yards on 10 carries against Purdue in 2013. Bullock is also a solid receiver out of the backfield (39 catches in three years).|
|20||Akeem Hunt||Considering Purdue was often playing from behind last year, the Boilermakers never had a chance to establish the run. However, coach Darrell Hazell has two intriguing options in Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Hunt averaged at least eight yards per carry in 2011 and 2012 but managed only 3.8 yards per rush in 2013.|
|Others to Watch: Raheem Mostert, Purdue; Nick Hill, Michigan State; Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State; Warren Ball, Ohio State; Akeel Lynch, Penn State; Brandon Ross, Maryland; Trevyon Green, Northwestern; De'Veon Smith, Michigan; Delton Williams, Michigan State|
Note: Dontre Wilson, Ohio State was considered a wide receiver for this article
The 2013 Auburn Tigers storybook season was one for the ages.
Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, went from worst to first in the SEC, played in a thrilling and heartbreaking BCS National Championship Game and most believe the offense could be even better in 2014.
Just don’t use the word “lucky” around War Eagle fans. But that is what Auburn was last year en route to two rivalry wins and an SEC championship. In fact, almost every championship team in every sport needed some factor of luck to win its title.
So the offense could be just as good and the defense — which gave up over 420 yards per game last year and over 35 points per game in November — could show improvement. But will the bounces go the Tigers’ way again?
With a dramatically improved schedule, a repeat as SEC champs will be extremely difficult but isn’t out of the question.
2014 Auburn Schedule Analysis
2014 Auburn Schedule
The Auburn Tigers should be 2-0 heading into the first off weekend of the year on Sept. 13. The developing rivalry between Malzahn and Arkansas' Bret Bielema is fun to watch off of the field but likely won’t be very competitive on it. So Auburn figures to be 2-0 with extra time to prepare for a brutal road trip to Big 12 outpost Kansas State. The Xs and Os coaching chess match between Malzahn and Bill Snyder figures to be fascinating to watch on a Thursday night in primetime. This game will teach fans of both teams a lot about their team very early on.
In the heart of the schedule, Auburn will get three marquee SEC showdowns at home. LSU (Week 6), South Carolina (Week 9) and Texas A&M (Week 11) will all have to visit The Plains in a span of five games. The Tigers are looking for revenge of their own against LSU and will get an extra week to prepare for South Carolina with a bye weekend in Week 8. Both will be physical bouts where the last guy standing will win. And getting the Aggies late in the year isn’t an enviable position to be in for any SEC team, as Texas A&M should be one of the more improved teams over the course of the season.
Magnolia State Swing
There may not be a team in the nation that plays a tougher road schedule in the country than the Auburn Tigers. The tricky test in Manhattan is one of the tougher non-conference games the SEC will play all season. But package that with four tremendously difficult road games in the SEC and the Tigers will be lucky to stay in playoff contention. Two road trips to the Magnolia State to face both Mississippi State (Week 7) and Ole Miss (Week 10) come on the heels of physically taxing games against LSU and South Carolina. A 3-0 record in the first three road trips of the year would be a huge success for Malzahn.
After three already tough road games, Auburn will have to face Georgia and Alabama on the road over the final three weeks of the season. Malzahn will be very aware of the revenge that will be at stake in both games and both will come away from the friendly and fortunate confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. There is no telling what the standings will look like when these two games roll around, but fans can bet these rematches will carry significant weight in both the SEC and potential national championship races.
Related: 2014 Auburn Tigers Team Preview
Auburn could be better in 2014 and still not win the SEC title. The road slate is one of (if not the) toughest slate in the nation with five potential top 25 games taking place away from The Loveliest Village. The offense should be as good, if not better, and the defense should take small steps forward. But to repeat as SEC champs and earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Tigers will likely need a few more lucky bounces. It may not be reasonable to expect more fortuitous breaks like Auburn got last year, but they may need them to repeat as SEC champs this fall.
There are some who believe the Bruins will be playing for the national championship come January.
Should UCLA earn a playoff berth in the debut edition of the College Football Playoff, there will have been no doubt about its merit. The Bruins are poised to play at least six preseason Top 25 teams with a shot at playing possibly three top 10 teams by season’s end.
The offense is still led by all-everything quarterback Brett Hundley and should some playmakers develop around him, the Bruins should once again be one of the top offensive units in the nation. The defense is incredibly talented and maturing every month.
With coaching stability and a talented returning corps, UCLA should be ready to face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall.
2014 UCLA Schedule Analysis
2014 UCLA Schedule
Leaving the West Coast
Virginia was bad last year. Like, really bad. But they also upset BYU in Week 1 at home in bad conditions. UCLA should roll through the Cavaliers (and Memphis in Week 2) but Mora is likely looking for crisp performances in both games before a Texas-sized showdown in the Lone Star State in Week 3. The Bruins should expect a heavy Burnt Orange crowd in Arlington when UCLA faces Texas. The Horns will have already faced BYU and will be battle-tested under new coach Charlie Strong. A win for either could vault that program into the national spotlight very quickly while a loss could end all playoff hopes for the other. No pressure.
Early Pac-12 tests
Before UCLA gets doormats Cal and Colorado at the end of October, the Bruins will have to face a three-game stretch against the defending South Division champs on the road and the preseason Pac-12 favorite at home. The road team has won the first two meetings between Mora and Arizona State and a visit to Tempe won’t be an easy way to break into conference play. Should the Bruins return victorious — and beat Utah at home — then a potential top-5 matchup with Oregon in the Rose Bowl could steal national headlines. Once again, UCLA could be facing a playoff elimination game.
Not an easy November
After facing Texas, Arizona State and Oregon in the first two months, UCLA gets no breaks in the month of November. Arizona at home is manageable but the other three tests will be especially difficult. A road trip to Washington has “letdown alert” or “looking ahead” written all over it, as crosstown rival and South Division contender USC comes to town the next game. To top it off, UCLA will have to face two-time defending Pac-12 champ Stanford at home in the season finale. The only comfort for Mora over the final month is that three of the four games come at home and that there is an off weekend before the brutal two-game stretch to end the season.
Related: 2014 UCLA Bruins Team Preview
The Bruins could be sitting at 10-0 with four or five marquee Top 25 wins entering the final two weeks of the season. And it all could be for naught. The margin for error in the Pac-12 this year is going to be razor thin and a two-loss team may not reach the playoffs. UCLA has the talent, the leadership and the coaching to be one of the best teams in the nation, but surviving this incredibly perilous slate unscathed seems rather impossible. However, an 11-win regular season and Pac-12 title is well within reach.
The 2014 World Cup abruptly ended for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday in Brazil. With a 2-1 OT loss to Belgium in the knockout round, the Americans will return home with the knowledge that one or two more capitalized opportunities could have changed everything. Although many players are understandably disappointed with the outcome, there are many positives to take away from the United States’ unlikely run.
A short list of accomplishments from 2014: Defying expectations, escaping the “group of death”, and most importantly increasing the popularity of soccer in the U.S.
The 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, far-removed from 2014’s Brazil. Sochi, the highly scrutinized host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a site for many games. In addition, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, and other large Russian cities will serve as temporary homes for teams of 32 nations from around the world. The 2018 tournament will start on June 8th and end July 8th, lasting exactly one month. Only two stadiums have been fully constructed thus far, but competing countries are more worried about the building of their own rosters than the building of the venues.
After qualifying for the last seven tournaments and drawing worldwide attention, it’s almost a sure thing that there will be a U.S. presence in Russia in 2018. The real question now becomes, how far can the United States advance, and can we win it all? We’ve analyzed the probable roster, the coach, and America’s new attitude in search for answers. Here’s your primer for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Scared you will have to educate yourself about U.S. soccer all over again in June of 2018? No worries, there should be plenty of members of the cast returning to chase another world championship.
In late 2013, coach Jurgen Klinsmann signed a contract extension with the United States through the 2018 World Cup. Somehow, this doesn’t bind him to coach the American team in the future. After a stunning loss to Belgium in the round of 16, Klinsmann was asked whether he would stay with the U.S. in Russia. The coach’s response was, “I think so. Yes, I think so.” Not the most confident of statements, but remember, this is the same guy who declared his own team “cannot win” the World Cup before the tournament even began. Klinsmann did a remarkable job of keeping the Americans in every game and has become a household name in the states. Unless he’s offered a deal that he can’t refuse, expect to see the coach back on America’s sidelines in 2018.
At 35 years old, star goalie Tim Howard is quickly approaching the conclusion of his illustrious career. In what was likely his last game at the World Cup, Howard recorded 16 saves breaking the record for saves in a match in the tournament’s history. Other long-time contributors, including DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan will probably be excluded from the 2018 roster. The egos of these long-time veterans will obviously stir up controversy when the final cuts are made, but Klinsmann has proven that his way works. For the good of the nation, hopefully these aging stars will be able to sacrifice their pride.
It will be a sad day when these men are no longer able to represent their country at the highest level. However, there is no reason to fret. These players lit the torch to start the USMNT’s journey on the international stage, now it’s time for their heirs to finish the job. In 2018, Jozy Altidore will be right in the thick of his prime and hopefully won’t have to deal with any more injury problems. Other players like Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler will certainly return to the roster, hoping to make major improvements in their international play.
As you can see, the future of soccer in the United States is bright. Four years away is a long time to be making predictions for. However, if there’s one factor to consider when thinking about the U.S. chances in the 2018 World Cup, it’s the development of youngsters Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin.
Just a little while ago, it was still an uncertainty whether or not the 19-year-old teenager Julian Green would play for the United States in the 2014 World Cup. After a first-touch goal in extra time against a stacked Belgium team, Green has become the USMNT’s most interesting asset moving forward to 2018. With said goal, Green became the youngest player to score a World Cup goal since a pretty decent player named Lionel Messi in 2006. Great score, even better company.
At 20 years old, DeAndre Yedlin provides another bright spot for the United States. Replacing the German-American Fabian Johnson in the 32nd minute due to a hamstring injury, Yedlin showed his eye-popping athleticism and aggressive tendencies on the field. He didn’t do anything too special when he had the ball. But after strong relieving performances against Portugal, Germany, and Belgium, it’s safe to say that in four years, Yedlin will be a hard man to contain if he progresses at a reasonable rate.
Criticism was abundant after Jurgen Klinsmann denied Landon Donovan a spot on the roster this year, instead opting for a younger team featuring a handful of players who were not supposed to even see the field. But the same young men that so many fans were uncertain about proved their worth in the 2014 World Cup. The future stars of the USMNT have shown ability, and now they’re experienced too.
If not for the performance of Belgium’s incredible Kevin De Bruyne, America may still be in contention for the cup. But this just wasn’t our year; the stars and stripes didn’t align quite right. Nonetheless, in just four years another opportunity will present itself. Under coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lead, this time the United States will have the skill-set, the confidence, and the experience to compete with the world’s best.
2014 and 2010 were the first consecutive tournaments in which the United States reached the knockout round. Before then, the team had only reached that point three times in 80 years. At the same time, the end result in 2014 was the same as 2010. On paper, it would seem that no progress has been made. In 2018, a second-round appearance will be expected, while fans will cross their fingers in hopes of a longer lasting run to further rounds.
In Russia, we won’t be underdogs anymore. While this speaks to the growth of the USMNT in recent years, the Americans must be cautious in their approach. No longer will countries overlook the USA in the World Cup. Instead, we will more than likely be ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the world by FIFA. This means that soccer experts across the globe will be picking America to advance past the group stage. But learning lessons from 2014’s Italy and Spain will prove valuable. Anything can happen in 90 minutes between two high-level squads. 2018 will present the United States with better odds of winning the tournament. But odds are not good enough. The Americans must sustain their underdog mind-set in the 2018 World Cup, which means fighting for positioning and every loose ball there is.
The State of American Soccer
The 2014 World Cup brought new life to what is becoming one of America’s trendiest sports. The United States showcased the world’s biggest foreign fan base in Brazil cheering on the USMNT. Soccer is now officially the second most popular sport for Americans under the age of 25. The national team’s performance this year will only amplify these sentiments amongst the citizenry.
There goes another American appearance in the World Cup without a trophy coming home. But there’s a difference between returning empty-handed and failing. The United States lost, but at the same time inspired millions. In 2018, America will field an improved team, this time not with a dream, but with a belief that we can win it all.
Even though the Denver Broncos lost Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks, they still set the single-season record for points scored (606). This, of course, was fueled in large part by Peyton Manning’s record 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns.
Manning and the Broncos weren’t the only player or team that made history last season. And even in the AFC champions’ case, when it comes to record-setting moments during the 2013 season, some “firsts” are better left forgotten. As in what happened just 12 seconds in to Super Bowl XLVIII.
In 2013, for the first time in NFL history a team…
Featured a 450-yard passing game (Aaron Rodgers) and 125-yard rushing performance (James Starks) in the same game (Packers).
Allowed 25 points and committed at least three turnovers in each of its first six games (Giants).
Was pick-6’d in five consecutive contests (Texans).
Was favored by as many as 27 points in the Vegas line (Denver — which failed to cover — against Jacksonville).
Scored 17 touchdowns in its first eight games of a season, but none of them was rushing (Rams).
Scored on three rushes from 30 or more yards out in the same quarter (Eagles).
That won at least 12 games the previous season endured a 12-game losing streak in the next (Texans).
Gained 400 or more yards in 14 games (Broncos).
Rallied from as many as 28 points down to win a non-overtime playoff off game (Colts over Chiefs)
Won a postseason affair despite allowing 40 points and turning the ball over four times (Colts).
Scored on six consecutive drives of a conference championship game (Broncos).
Scored as quickly as 12 seconds into a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
Whose offense ranked more than 20 places higher in rushing than passing won a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
Threw 20 TD passes in a season before being intercepted (Peyton Manning).
Had an INT returned for a TD in four straight games (Matt Schaub).
Completed at least 25 passes in more than 10 consecutive games (Drew Brees).
Fired 16 TD passes in the first month of a season (Manning).
Scored on a run of longer than 80 yards (Terrelle Pryor).
Had a streak of more than 600 aerial attempts without completing one for a TD of longer than 20 yards (Christian Ponder).
Threw for multiple TDs in 21 consecutive home games (Brees).
Fired 359 TD passes for the same coach (Tom Brady for Bill Belichick).
Had 20 games with both a passing and rushing TD in the first three seasons of his career (Cam Newton).
Had a string of 16 TD passes in a single season that all came only in road games (Nick Foles).
Ran his career total of 300-yard/four-TD games to 23 (Brees).
Reached 50,000 aerial yards in fewer than 190 games (Brees).
Threw four or more TD passes in nine different games of a single season (Manning).
Flung 30 or more scoring passes in six straight campaigns (Brees).
Accounted for 8,000 total yards in his first two seasons (Andrew Luck).
Amassed more than 1,700 passing yards in a calendar month (Manning in December).
Started a postseason game for the 26th time (Brady).
Caught 100 yards worth of his passes in his first game with a third different team (Anquan Boldin).
Caught four TD passes in one game on plays that started in the red zone (Marvin Jones).
With at least 50 career TD receptions nabbed as many as 84 balls in a row without scoring (Andre Johnson).
Caught 774 yards worth of passes in a four-game span (Josh Gordon).
Caught 861 yards worth of passes in a five-game span (Calvin Johnson).
Recorded back-to-back 200-yard performances (Gordon).
Averaged 5.5 yards on his first 1,000 NFL carries (Jamaal Charles).
Ran for at least 125 yards and four TDs in a playoff contest (LaGarrette Blount).
Needed fewer than three carries to lead both teams in rushing in a Super Bowl (Percy Harvin).
— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in Athlon Sports' 2014 NFL Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 2:
• We lost to Belgium, but we're still 'Murica, and we still have the 4th of July and photos of Brittney Palmer and Arianny Celeste in American flag bikinis.
• A Belgium player puked on the field. I don't remember any Americans puking on the field.
• Hump Day buzzkill: Re-live Chris Wondolowski air-mailing his potential game-winner against Belgium.
• Jimmy Kimmel does the ambush comedy thing pretty well. Here, he gets idiots to share their favorite Landon Donovan World Cup moment.
• Claude Giroux of the Flyers spent the night in jail after grabbing a cop's butt. The most shocking detail: Alcohol was believed to have been involved.
• Big Papi did his part to shorten a Red Sox game, taking off for first before ball four had hit the catcher's mitt.
• The Indians turned a nifty review-aided 7-4-2 triple play.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The SEC is home to four of Athlon Sports’ national top-five offensive lines for 2014. The top spot belongs to Florida State, but Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina rank among the best offensive lines in the nation.
As cliché as it sounds, elite offensive line play is common in the SEC and critical to a national championship. Auburn’s featured one of the best groups in the nation last year and guided the Tigers to an appearance in the BCS Championship.
Six offensive linemen on Athlon Sports’ 2014 All-America team hail from the SEC, including guard A.J. Cann and tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Line play should be a strength in the SEC this year, especially if groups like Ole Miss, Missouri and Mississippi State replace some key losses from 2013. And the conference’s overall depth extends to teams like Arkansas and Vanderbilt, as both teams should be better in the trenches in 2014.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, we will take a look at the 14 teams in the SEC and rank the offensive lines for the upcoming year. An important note: This is not a preseason ranking of accomplishments so far. This is a projection of what will happen in 2014.
Ranking the SEC’s Offensive Lines for 2014
(Note: This is a projection of how these lines will perform in 2014 – not a preseason ranking of where they stand.)
First-round pick Greg Robinson is a huge loss at left tackle, but the Tigers return four starters from a unit that paved the way for rushers to average 5.9 yards per carry in SEC play last season. Center Reese Dismukes is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2014, while sophomore guard Alex Kozan is one of the SEC’s rising stars. According to Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly, Auburn’s line ranked No. 3 nationally in 2013 in stuff rate and No. 2 in adjusted line yards.
2. Texas A&M
Another year, another first-round tackle departs. But just like 2013, there’s little concern in College Station about the offensive line. With Jake Matthews taking snaps for the Atlanta Falcons, the Aggies will turn to senior Cedric Ogbuehi to anchor the left tackle position. Ogbuehi is expected to be one of the top linemen selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Three other starters return, including senior Jarvis Harrison at guard and right tackle Germain Ifedi. Center Mike Matthews should be in the mix for All-SEC honors after starting all 13 games in 2013.
Considering the inexperience at quarterback, expect to see coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron lean on the ground game and offensive line in 2014. This group is plenty capable and should rank among the best in the nation. Four starters are back from a unit that helped LSU rushers average 4.5 yards per touch in SEC play last season. Left tackle La’el Collins is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014, guard Vadal Alexander is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors, while right tackle Jerald Hawkins returns after starting all 13 games as a redshirt freshman. Hoko Fanaika is expected to replace Trai Turner at right guard. Improving the pass protection is a priority after allowing a sack every 11 pass attempts in SEC play last year.
This unit has made considerable progress for coach Steve Spurrier in recent years. The Gamecocks are expected to take another step forward up front in 2014, as four starters return from a unit that helped running back Mike Davis rush for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. A.J. Cann is one of the top guards in the nation, and tackle Corey Robinson is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors. The return of guard Mike Matulis should help to stabilize the right side of the line.
The Crimson Tide enter 2014 with just two returning starters in the trenches, but there’s no doubt this unit will emerge as a strength. Center Ryan Kelly is the anchor after starting nine games in 2013, while right tackle Austin Shepherd is expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. The other three spots on the line are up for grabs, but there’s no shortage of talent. Freshman Cam Robinson – the No. 4 incoming freshman in the 247Sports Composite – could start at left tackle. Alabama’s line allowed the fewest sacks in SEC play last year (four), while paving the way for rushers to average 6.4 yards per carry.
6. Ole Miss
Health will be critical to Ole Miss’ offensive line this season, as there’s little in the way of proven depth. However, if the starting five stays healthy, the Rebels should have one of the top groups in the SEC. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil started nine games as a true freshman last year and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Expect Tunsil to only get better as a sophomore. Guard Aaron Morris was lost for the season due to a knee injury in the opener against Vanderbilt, but he should return at full strength for 2014. When healthy, Morris is an All-SEC performer. Junior Justin Bell is expected to start at right guard and could slide to center if Ben Still struggles. Coach Hugh Freeze needs incoming recruits Fahn Cooper (JC) and Rod Taylor (freshman) to provide depth.
What a difference a year makes. After injuries took its toll on Missouri’s offensive line in 2012, the Tigers had better luck in the health department and performed as one of the better groups in the SEC. Left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are huge losses, but three starters are back for coach Gary Pinkel. Center Evan Boehm has started all 26 games in his career and is expected to be one of the top centers in the league this year. Mitch Morse and Conner McGovern are proven options at the tackle spots, with Anthony Gatti and Mitch L. Hall leading the way at guard. The Tigers averaged 5.5 yards per carry in SEC play and allowed a sack every 16.6 pass attempts in 2013.
The No. 7-9 spots in this ranking are very close, so we could easily switch Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi State around in a different order. The Bulldogs need more help from their line, especially with a new quarterback (Hutson Mason) taking over. Center David Andrews is one of the best in the SEC, and junior John Theus is ready for a breakout year at left tackle. The other three spots are up for grabs this fall, but there are experienced options (Mark Beard and Kolton Houston) vying for spots on the line. The Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in Football Study Hall’s power success rate last season.
Coach Dan Mullen has some work to do upfront this fall, but the Bulldogs should be solid in the trenches. Guard Gabe Jackson (first-team All-SEC in 2013) is a huge loss, and Justin Malone, Jamaal Clayborn and Ben Beckwith are likely vying for the right to replace Jackson, as well as start on the other side. Malone missed nearly all of last season due to injury, and his health is crucial to this unit performing at a high level post-Jackson. Seniors Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day are back as Mississippi State’s top linemen and both should push for all-conference honors.
Line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the nation, and the Razorbacks have some promising young talent on the way. There’s a good bit of potential with this group, especially if tackle Dan Skipper and guard Denver Kirkland build off promising freshman campaigns. Senior Brey Cook is expected to start at right tackle and could push for all-conference honors. UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson joins the competition for time at left guard, while Mitch Smothers and Luke Charpentier will battle to replace Travis Swanson at center.
Wesley Johnson will be tough to replace, but the Commodores return four starters from a group that has made significant strides over the last few seasons. Sophomore Andrew Jelks is expected to replace Johnson at left tackle, while Spencer Pulley and Jake Bernstein anchor the guard spots. Senior Joe Townsend is back at center after starting all 13 games in the middle last season. Vanderbilt has room to improve on the stat sheet, allowing 3.6 sacks per game and averaging only 3.1 yards per carry in SEC play.
In addition to Jeff Driskel’s injury and inconsistency at wide receiver, the struggles of the offensive line factored prominently into Florida’s 4-8 record in 2013. The Gators ranked No. 102 in adjusted line yards and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in SEC games. This unit also allowed 22 sacks in conference play. Even with just one returning starter, there’s hope for improvement in 2014. Left tackle D.J. Humphries was a key pickup on the recruiting trail in 2012 and missed most of last season due to a knee injury. With Humphries and right tackle Chaz Green back to full strength, Max Garcia is expected to slide to center. This unit is also under the direction of a new coach in former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers.
Butch Jones has some work to do this fall. All five starters from Tennessee’s offensive line are gone, leaving little in the way of proven options. Guard Marcus Jackson redshirted last season after playing in 24 games from 2011-12, and the Florida native is expected to be one of the leaders for this unit in 2014. Junior college transfer Dontavius Blair was a key pickup on the recruiting trail and is penciled in at left tackle. With a tough schedule, this unit will have little time to jell.
The Wildcats rank last on this list, but there’s plenty of optimism. Four starters are back, and guard Zach West (21 career starts) is a candidate for all-conference honors. Senior Darrian Miller and junior Jordan Swindle should form a solid duo at tackle. Kentucky tied Vanderbilt for the most sacks allowed in SEC play last year (29), and its rushers averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.
The importance of scheduling in college football cannot be overstated. Sure, coaching, rosters and even a little bit of luck play bigger roles in determining championships in the NCAA ranks. But scheduling in college football plays as big a role as any of those other factors.
Non-conference play varies greatly from team to team. So, too, do home and road slates — especially for the championship-deciding, rivalry-bragging, marquee showdowns. And the important bye weekends also play a large role in ironing out win-loss records in any given season.
So taking all of the above into account, which team has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 in 2014 and how has that impacted our 2014 Big 12 Predictions.
* - indicates neutral site game
1. West Virginia Mountaineers
Non-Conference: Alabama*, Towson, at Maryland
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-59 (62.1%, 12th)
Things aren’t going to be easy in Morgantown for embattled coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers play one of the toughest non-conference slates with Alabama in Atlanta to start and a trip to Maryland in Week 3. Wrapping up September is a home date with Oklahoma, all but assuring a 1-3 start to the season. The slate alternates home and road dates over the final two months but features few winnable games with the exception of Kansas at home and Iowa State on the road. Even with five home Big 12 games, West Virginia boasts the toughest schedule in the league in 2014.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Non-Conference: Florida State*, Missouri State, UTSA
Big 12 Road: Kansas, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-65 (56.9%, 32nd)
Starting the season with the defending national champions is literally as hard as it gets, but the rest of the early schedule is manageable. The two other non-conference games are sure-fire wins and the month of October should provide at least three wins. Texas Tech at home (Week 5) and at TCU (Week 8) are two massive swing games in the first half of the season. The importance of an early run for the Pokes cannot be overstated because the second half of the schedule is as tough as it gets in the Big 12. Ok-State will face the top four teams in the league in succession to end the year, including road trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Non-Conference: Stephen F. Austin, Auburn, UTEP
Big 12 Road: Iowa St, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Baylor
Opponents ’13 Record: 79-72 (52.3%, 65th)
Facing the BCS runner-up at home is a brutal battle in the non-conference but both KSU and Auburn will have two weeks to prepare for the Thursday night showdown. An early road trip to the always pesky Cyclones in the previous game needs to be a win for Bill Snyder’s bunch. Following what should be an easy win over UTEP in Week 5, Kansas State gets no breaks until deep into November. The Wildcats will face Texas Tech, Oklahoma (away), Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU (away) over a six-week span before finally getting a “breather” in Morgantown. A home game with rival Kansas should be merely a tune-up for a road trip to Baylor. In all, Kansas State could face three top 10 teams, including the top two in the Big 12 on the road, and could face four more potential Top 25 teams as well.
4. Texas Longhorns
Non-Conference: North Texas, BYU, UCLA*
Big 12 Road: Kansas, Oklahoma*, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Opponents ’13 Record: 89-63 (58.6%, 26th)
The Longhorns and new coach Charlie Strong play the toughest non-conference slate of any team in the league but both will be in the state of Texas, as BYU comes to Austin and the UCLA game is in Arlington. Texas also has to face Big 12 bowl teams (and Achilles heels) Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the road. This, of course, doesn’t include the annual showdown with archrival and Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma. There is one solid home game with TCU and one huge home game with Baylor, otherwise, the majority of the Horns' Big 12 showdowns will come away from the 40 Acres. This schedule has plenty of chances for marquee wins and plenty of chances for major disappointments.
5. Iowa State Cyclones
Non-Conference: North Dakota State, at Iowa, Toledo
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, TCU
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-57 (62.9%, 7th)
According to last year’s records, Iowa State will play the toughest schedule in the league. However, everyone knows last year doesn’t count. The non-conference schedule has three very tricky games against North Dakota State (who beat Kansas State in Manhattan last year), archrival Iowa (on the road) and MAC West Division front-runner Toledo. Additionally, TCU and Texas both figure to be improved and both of those will come on the road. Lastly, season ticket holders in Ames should be either very excited or very worried about ’14 as Kansas State (Week 2), Baylor (Week 5), Oklahoma (Week 10), Texas Tech (Week 13) and West Virginia (Week 14) all visit Jack Trice Stadium this fall.
6. Kansas Jayhawks
Non-Conference: SE Missouri State, at Duke, Central Michigan
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-66 (56.6%, 38th)
First, not getting to face Kansas in Big 12 play makes it hard to find wins for the Jayhawks. Second, Kansas is very unlucky in that Duke is playing the best football of its entire existence, making a perfect 3-for-3 in non-conference play unlikely. Third, beleaguered coach Charlie Weis will face three of the best four teams in the league — Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State — on the road. This could be construed as a positive as the ‘Hawks aren’t likely to be competitive in those games and maybe getting more winnable games at home is the right recipe. TCU, Iowa State or Oklahoma State are spots for upsets at home. No matter where the games are being played, however, wins are going to be extremely tough to come by for a team picked to finish last in the Big 12.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
Non-Conference: Samford, Minnesota, at SMU
Big 12 Road: Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas
Opponents ’13 Record: 87-65 (57.2%, 30th)
The non-conference schedule is very manageable with a rivalry game against SMU looking easier by the day and a sneaky good bout with Minnesota coming at home. TCU should start 3-0 and then things heat up in a big way. TCU hosts both Oklahoma schools packaged around a road trip to Baylor to start October in brutal fashion. The second half of the schedule, however, provides plenty of chances for important wins in key swing games, like Texas Tech and Kansas State at home. The Horned Frogs will face four teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in the final six weeks. Minus a Thanksgiving road trip to Austin, TCU faces a very workable second half schedule in ’14.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Non-Conference: Central Arkansas, at UTEP, Arkansas
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor*
Opponents ’13 Record: 74-75 (49.7%, 81st)
Two teams in the Big 12 will face a schedule whose opponents combined for a sub-.500 record last year and the Red Raiders are one of them (Oklahoma is the other). Arkansas could be a tricky clash of offensive tempos but Texas Tech should be perfect in non-conference play before Big 12 play begins with two tough road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan. Otherwise, Texas Tech won’t face any of the top three Big 12 teams on the road. Both Texas and Oklahoma come to Lubbock and the battle with Baylor is being played again in Arlington. The only problem is that all three of those games will take place in the final four weeks of the year, making another second half slump a concern for Kliff Kingsbury. This is a very manageable slate overall and Tech could be soaring into the final month with some marquee showdowns coming at home late in the year.
9. Baylor Bears
Non-Conference: SMU, Northwestern State, at Buffalo
Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech*
Opponents ’13 Record: 78-72 (52.0%, 67th)
Baylor really faces a two-game schedule in 2014 and both will come on the road. Texas and Oklahoma both host the Bears, but Baylor has handled both programs with ease of late (especially, last year). Revenge against Oklahoma State and a tough game with Kansas State will be served in the friendly confines of brand-new McLane Stadium and a tricky game with Texas Tech comes in Arlington. Outposts in Ames and Morgantown should have Art Briles worried as well, however, Baylor dropped 144 points on Iowa State and West Virginia combined last year. With an easy non-conference slate and just two Top 25 games in the league, Baylor is poised to roll through another schedule.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Non-Conference: Louisiana Tech, at Tulsa, Tennessee
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, TCU, Texas*, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Opponents ’13 Record: 71-78 (47.6%, 93rd)
As the team predicted to win the league, Oklahoma has one distinct advantage over every other team: It doesn’t have to face Oklahoma. It also gets Texas on a neutral site — one Bob Stoops has dominated — hosts the Baylor Bears (who have never won in Norman) and plays a very simple non-conference schedule. There is a lot to like about the Sooners' slate as the toughest road test of the year will take place in either Fort Worth or Lubbock. Of the top four teams picked to finish in the top half of the league, Oklahoma will play three of them at home (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) and gets Texas in the Cotton Bowl. There is a reason Oklahoma was picked to win the league and land in the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma’s uniforms and helmets haven’t changed much in recent years, but that’s about to change. Somewhat.
On Tuesday, the Sooners unveiled new alternate uniforms, which are a slightly different look at the usual appearance for the program.
The alternate uniforms feature two different helmets (red and white), along with small tweaks to the jersey and pants. Oklahoma’s usual uniforms read “Sooners” across the front of the jersey, but the alternate jersey will feature “Oklahoma” in that space.
The new red helmet for the alternate uniform also features a wood-grained pattern.
Below are a few photos of the new uniforms. Be sure to visit Oklahoma’s official site for more background on the new release for the Sooners.
New Oklahoma Sooner Alt Helmets pic.twitter.com/4lqzjnYtbq— Phil Hecken (@PhilHecken) July 1, 2014
Since 1996, college football teams have only been adding to national championship trophy cases.
If certain programs ever seem like they have a ceiling, that’s the fact to watch. Florida is the most recent team to win its first national title when the Gators won the 1996 title. Every other national champion since has only been adding to its trophy tally.
That’s not for lack of trying, though. Oregon, Oklahoma State, Missouri and more have been on the verge of picking up their first national titles during the final years of the BCS era.
No doubt, those programs hope the College Football Playoff era will bring them a long-awaited national championship.
These are the teams still seeking their national title, ranked by their likelihood of ending their drought in the coming years.
*For sake of consistency, we are counting only national championships selected by major services (AP, UPI, coaches' poll, etc.) since the first AP poll in 1936.
Record since 1936: 436-380-18 (.536)
Closest call: Lost to Auburn in the 2010 BCS Championship Game
Outlook: Oregon continues to be the top program in the country both without either a national title or a Heisman trophy. Could both change this season? The Ducks have finished each of the last four seasons in the top 10 and haven’t ranked lower than 11th since 2007. Oregon, the No. 6 team in our countdown, remains our favorite in the Pac-12, but last season the Ducks also failed to reach a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. Second-year coach Mark Helfrich will look to show this team hasn’t missed its window.
2. South Carolina
Record since 1936: 417-401-26 (.509)
Closest call: Started 9-0 and ranked as high as No. 2 in 1984, finished 10-2
Outlook: The idea of South Carolina as a legitimate national title threat would have been foreign to anyone who watched the Gamecocks go 1-21 in 1998-99. Steve Spurrier has led South Carolina to four consecutive top-10 finishes. The Gamecocks have succeeded in recruiting major prospects (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney) but not necessarily classes on par with the rest of the SEC. That could change in the class of 2015.
Record since 1936: 412-383-22 (.518)
Closest call: No. 4 in the final BCS standings in 2010 and 2011
Outlook: If only the Playoff came a few years earlier. Stanford finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in 2010 and 2011 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily mean those Stanford teams would be No. 4 under a theoretical selection committee, but it’s still an interesting note. With back-to-back Pac-12 titles and standout recruiting classes, Stanford shows little sign of slowing down as long as David Shaw is the coach.
Record since 1936: 396-419-17 (.486)
Closest call: No. 6 in the final BCS standings in 2013
Outlook: Baylor’s 9-0 start prompted thoughts of the Bears in the BCS championship game. Those hopes were dashed after Oklahoma State’s 49-17 win on Nov. 23. Baylor may never have been as good as that start suggested, losing 52-42 to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Bears are built to contend in the Big 12 for years to come with the opening of McLane Stadium in 2015.
5. Oklahoma State
Record since 1936: 422-407-22 (.509)
Closest call: Reached No. 2 in the BCS standings in 2011 before a mid-November loss to Iowa State
Outlook: The Cowboys have more or less returned to the mean after flirting with the national championship game in 2011. The Cowboys have gone 12-6 in the Big 12 the last two seasons (they went 12-4 in 2009-10). Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors, so the Pokes may need a year or two to gear up for another conference title run.
Record since 1936: 439-363-14 (.544)
Closest call: A 12-1 season in 2006, the only loss by a field goal to Rutgers
Outlook: Louisville might not be a top-15 team early in its run in the ACC, especially in a division with Florida State and Clemson. Bobby Petrino has been here before, coaching Arkansas against Alabama and LSU. Granted, that didn’t yield Arkansas’ first national championship, either. But Petrino has finished in the top six three times at Louisville and Arkansas. He’ll have the backing at Louisville to push the Cardinals in contention.
Record since 1936: 428-379-27 (.529)
Closest call: Finished the 1962 season ranked No. 2 before a Rose Bowl loss
Outlook: Winning in the postseason hasn’t been a strong suit for Wisconsin since Barry Alvarez retired. The Badgers have lost six of their last seven bowl games. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Gary Andersen, though, was a strong hire who can keep the Badgers in contention in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Nebraska may be the only realistic national title contenders out of the Big Ten West.
8. Arizona State
Record since 1936: 514-304-15 (.626)
Closest call: Finished the 1996 regular season ranked No. 2 before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl; Went 12-0 and finished No. 2 in 1975.
Outlook: Arizona State is coming off a 10-win season and a Pac-12 South title and is showing signs of shaking its sleeping giant status. The Sun Devils haven’t finished in the AP top 15 since 1996, but there’s little reason why Arizona State couldn’t become a perennial contender in the Pac-12.
9. Ole Miss
Record since 1936: 487-343-20 (.585)
Closest call: Ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and finished 10-0-1 in 1960
Outlook: Whether Ole Miss can stack the recruiting classes it would need to in order to compete with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M remains to be seen. The Rebels had a top-10 class in 2012 and top-15 in 2013. That’s a long way from the top SEC contenders, especially for a program that hasn’t finished in the AP top 10 since 1969.
Record since 1936: 455-382-24 (.542)
Closest call: Missouri has twice lost while ranked No. 1 before the final game of the regular season (1960 and 2007).
Outlook: Missouri came within a game of playing for the national title last season before the Tigers lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri has its formula down with consistently solid quarterback play and developing talent from their competition’s backyard, whether it’s in Texas or the Southeast. Missouri has been on the precipice several times, but let’s face it: This is not a charmed football program.
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 attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.
Once the checkered flag falls on this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the second half of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is officially in full swing. Based on one rookie’s first-half performance, we may already have the Rookie of the Year decided.
That outstanding newbie is our number one again in this week’s Rookie Report rankings:
1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)
My pick, if it were up to a vote, for Rookie of the Year at the season’s halfway point is an easy one: It’s Larson. He is the third-most efficient passer in the series — he trails only Jeff Gordon (56.55 percent) and Kevin Harvick (53.96) with his 53.23 percent adjusted pass efficiency — and his three top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes has a team that finished a lowly 22nd in the 2013 owner standings in legitimate Chase contention. His Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) is a healthy 2.044, which currently ranks ninth among all drivers.
Perhaps the ROTY award is too small of a reach for a driver aiming to become the best Cup rookie since Tony Stewart? The Chase — which now takes the winningest 16 drivers — is no longer a pipe dream for this rookie. The simple way for him to qualify in is to win a race. Between now and the Chase opener, he gets another whack at Pocono, where he finished fifth last month in the Cup race and won in ARCA Series competition, and Bristol, where he finished second in two of his last three Nationwide Series starts. If he wants to get into the playoffs the hard way, a reduction in crashing is in order. Counting his blown-tire wall slam at Kentucky, he crashed seven times in the first 17 races, for a per-race crash frequency of 0.41, one of the five worst frequencies in all of Cup.
Regardless of whether he makes it into this year’s free-for-all Chase, he has provided a spectacularly entertaining first season in NASCAR’s premier series.
2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)
Following the Dover race, Dillon’s average running position was 19.6 and his car ranked 24th in NASCAR’s average green-flag speed rankings. In the four-race span since, his average speed rank remained the same but he chipped over one spot — to 18.3 — off of his average running position. That’s a positive sign.
Improvement in running whereabouts is just the first step, though. The steeper competition is wreaking havoc on Dillon; his adjusted pass efficiency in the last four races is 46.08 percent (an average of 5.2 percent worse than his running position’s expected efficiency), down from 49.07 percent (only 1.75 percent worse than expected) prior to Pocono. On 11 restarts from within the first seven rows in the last four races, he retained his restart position 63.5 percent of the time and attained a net loss of three positions.
3. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 4)
Annett is one of two rookie drivers (Dillon is the other) to have finished inside the top half of the field in three of his last four races. In that span, he has been a mover in traffic, sporting a 50.99 percent adjusted pass efficiency (he passed more than he was passed) that sits 2.2 percent above what was expected from a car in his running position. That’s a big gain over the 47.25 percent efficiency and minus-1.88 percent surplus he acquired through Dover. He continues to be the most pleasant surprise of the 2014 rookie class.
4. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)
Allgaier’s PEER is a hair above replacement level (0.029), but there is evident room for growth as he is leaving so much on the table at the end of races. His No. 51 is running in the top 15 just under 9 percent more often that he’s actually finishing in the top 15 and, to date, he and crew chief Steve Addington have lost a robust 50 positions in the red zone (final 10 percent) of races. The numbers suggest that better finishes are attainable, but he still has to go out and get them.
5. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 6)
Whitt has speed and results over his BK Racing stable mates, but he has yet to do much with them. He ranks higher than fellow rookie Michael Annett in average green-flag speed, but Annett has managed to finish in the top half of fields over 17 percent more often. What’s eating Whitt? It might be his blah closing numbers or inexperience navigating through heavy traffic. He has dropped 14 positions in the red zone and is seeing his raw speed become neutralized without clean air; his 34th-place speed in traffic ranking is lumped in with other BK drivers Alex Bowman (35th) and Ryan Truex (36th), despite holding a four-car separation between them in the average green-flag speed rankings.
6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 5)
Recall when I mentioned that Bowman had the lowest crash frequency among rookies? Since I wrote that in early May, the youngest driver in the Cup Series has poured on the crashing, doing so five times in the last six races. He is now the most frequent crasher among active rookies (0.47 per-race frequency). On the bright side, Bowman and crew chief Dave Winston are still closing about as well as can be expected; they’ve gained 17 red zone positions thanks to a 100 percent retention rate in races in which they were running at the finish.
KENTUCKY | Techical issues mar TNT broadcast ... again
7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)
A driver not ready for the Cup Series is driving for a team not fit for the Cup Series. We still haven’t seen much from Truex, who is largely finishing where he runs and is now on his third crew chief of the season in Joe Williams. Their goal for the second half of this season should be to do one thing well — Passing? Closing? Avoiding crashes? — as something to build on in the off chance this team remains intact for 2015.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
The NFL is like any other sport in that not everything goes according to plan. And while mix ups on play calls, botched handoffs, dropped passes and special teams breakdowns are just part of the game, there are often other things that occur, both on and off the field, that are a little harder to explain.
Here’s a rundown of the most bizarre things that took place during the 2013 NFL season, also known as Athlon Sports’ “Calendar of the Weird.”
Aug. 21 The league fines Bears linebacker Jon Bostic $21,000 for an “illegal” hit that, for the past several days, had been featured on the video module of the NFL.com website.
Sept. 8 The first scores of three different games on Kickoff Weekend are safeties.
Sept. 9 For the 19th straight season, the Eagles’ initial offensive play of a season is something other than a handoff to a running back.
Sept. 12 The Patriots win a game for the first time in the 14-year Bill Belichick era in which they have more punts (11) than first downs (nine).
Sept. 15 Packers receivers gain 283 yards after the catch in a rout of Washington.
Sept. 15 The Texans open their campaign with two victories on the final play of the game, making them the first team to do that since the merger. (They then fail to win again all season.)
Sept. 16 Fewer than 20 people — about the same number that actually enjoy watching the Jaguars — attend the Sign Tebow Rally in Jacksonville.
Sept. 22 The Jets beat the Bills despite 20 penalties — most by a victorious team in 62 years.
Sept. 22 Spencer Lanning of the Browns punts five times, lines up for a fake punt that results in a first down run, throws a TD pass as the holder on a fake field goal and kicks an extra point.
Sept. 22 Jordan Cameron and Cameron Jordan finish the week among the league’s top 10 in receptions and sacks, respectively.
Sept. 23 Peyton Manning puts 37 balls in the air against Oakland — 32 complete, four that hit his receivers’ hands but are not caught, and one that is batted away.
Sept. 24 Nate Burleson breaks his arm in a car wreck, losing control when he reaches to keep pizza boxes from sliding off the passenger seat.
Oct. 6 6:47 after the Seahawks score on a blocked punt, their opponents — the Colts — score on a blocked field goal.
Oct. 6 With 1:55 left to play, opposing second-year stars Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck each have completed 15 passes in 27 attempts for two TDs and no INTs. Wilson has thrown for 210 yards, Luck for 209.
Oct. 13 291 defensive plays into their season, the Steelers register their first takeaway.
Oct. 13 The Raiders commit 11 penalties, take 10 sacks and don’t snap the ball a single time in the red zone during a loss to the Chiefs.
Oct. 13 The Red Sox pull out an AL Championship Series contest in which their chances at one point (according to ESPN) were 3.8 percent. A few
hours later, their state-mate Patriots score with five seconds left to stun the Saints in a game in which their chances were once 5.3 percent.
Oct. 13 Oakland runs a play on a third-and-48.
Oct. 14 The week ends with 71 percent of games to date having been within seven points during the fourth quarter — an all-time high at this juncture.
Oct. 20 The first-ever implementation of Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 — which makes it a penalty to push a teammate into the formation — gives Jets kicker Nick Folk a second chance at a game-winning field goal, which he nails to beat the Patriots in overtime. Controversy over its interpretation ensues immediately and, within two hours after the game, the wording of the rule on NFL.com is changed.
Oct. 27 Fantasy enthusiasts revel in Calvin Johnson’s regulation-game-record 329 yards, but cringe as he gets tackled inside the Dallas 5-yard line four times.
Oct. 31 The league’s three Florida teams go 0-for-October. Technically. The Dolphins’ overtime victory occurs after midnight.
Nov. 3 Of the 38 teams since 1968 to rush fewer than 10 times in a game, the Cowboys (who beat the Vikings) are just the second to win. Meanwhile, the Raiders endure the largest margin of defeat (49–20 to the Eagles) in 35 years by a team that rushes for 200 yards.
Nov. 3 For the second time this season, three of one team’s receivers catch at least 120 yards worth of passes and score a TD, doubling the number of previous times it had happened in NFL history.
Nov. 7 By hanging a goose egg on Washington in the fourth quarter, the Vikings end their streak of having allowed points in 24 consecutive quarters.
Nov. 10 A trio of former 1,000-yard rushers (Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene and Maurice Jones-Drew) combine to gain 93 yards on 42 carries.
Nov. 11 Miami, which had rushed for its season highs (120, 156 and 157 yards) in three straight weeks, is held to a franchise record-low two yards on the ground in a loss to the previously winless Bucs.
Nov. 17 Matthew Stafford eclipses Bobby Layne — quarterbacks who both attended Highland Park High School in Dallas — for most passing yards in Lions history.Nov. 17 Ten games into the season, Jacksonville scores its first TD in the state of Florida.
Nov. 17 The Jets, who have been outscored by 85 points to date, move to 5–5.
Nov. 17 Jacksonville’s Jason Babin proudly brandishes a handful of Andre Ellington’s five-year-old dreadlocks that he yanked out while tackling the Cardinals rookie.
Nov. 24 The Packers and Vikings battle to the seventh NFL tie since 1989 — all in the month of November, but the first to end in a score of 26–26. They also become the only opponents since overtime was adopted to play each other to a draw twice.
Nov. 25 For the first time in either college or the pros, a Robert Griffin III-led offense fails to score a touchdown.
Nov. 28 The Ravens and Steelers play a ninth game in their last 10 regular-season meetings that is decided by three or fewer points.
Nov. 28 Detroit wins by 30 points despite four turnovers, and Baltimore prevails despite allowing two more TDs than it scores.
Dec. 1 Toronto mayor Rob Ford — he of the crack-smoking in a “drunken stupor” — arrives at the Rogers Centre with six minutes left in the Falcons-Bills game wearing a Fred Jackson jersey just as the Buffalo back scores, then steals the seat of Canadian rocker Matt Mays, who appeals to security to get him relocated.
Dec. 1 The Giants’ Justin Tuck begins the game with 2.5 sacks, then plants Robert Griffin III four times in the span of seven Washington snaps.
Dec. 1 Geno Smith becomes the first QB since 1977 to neither complete 10 passes nor throw for a TD in four consecutive starts.
Dec. 8 The Patriots are the first team since 1993 to win three straight games in which they trail by double digits in the second half.
Dec. 8 As per the Elias Sports Bureau, Eli Manning suffers his NFL-high 41st tipped interception of the decade.
Dec. 8 Tavon Austin carries the ball just once in a Rams-Cardinals game that includes 50 other totes, yet he leads both teams with 56 rushing yards.
Dec. 9 The Cowboys become the first team in 73 years that fails to force its opponent to punt in two games of a season.
Dec. 12 Philip Rivers beats the Manning brothers in back-to-back weeks — something only Vince Young had ever done.
Dec. 15 The Chiefs, who score 56 points despite just 51 snaps from scrimmage, are the second team ever to notch at least 35 points in the first half of back-to-back games. (The first was the 2002 Chiefs.)
Dec. 15 Buoyed by five losing teams that tallied at least 30 points, the league scores a one-day-record 763 points.
Dec. 22 For the fifth time in six games, the Lions are vanquished despite holding a fourth-quarter lead.
Dec. 29 Michael Floyd’s string of 25 straight receptions that moved the chains ends on the first snap of the game.
Jan. 19 Colin Kaepernick is intercepted twice by Seattle in the NFC title game, giving the Seahawks seven of the 16 picks he has thrown in his career (including the postseason).
Feb. 2 Elias reports that, in the more than 10,000 regular-season and playoff games since the merger, the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks are just the third team to score in the first minute of each half.
— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in Athlon Sports' 2014 NFL Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.
You want to know why the United States never has a shot at winning the World Cup?
It has nothing to do with our love of capitalism or that many believe the sport is boring. It has nothing to do with our country lacking athletic ability or other nations simply being superior humans.
The answer is simple. With no disrespect to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Claudio Reyna, the best athletes in the country grow up dunking basketballs, hitting fastballs and tackling running backs.
So imagine what our Men’s National World Cup team would look like if this country’s greatest athletes had grown up kicking a soccer ball for hours everyday instead?
Assuming that no current men’s soccer players are eligible — because Howard would probably still make the starting line-up — Athlon Sports took a shot at projecting our starting line-up if everybody in the US played soccer and only soccer.
Men's National Team Starting Line-Up:
Full 23-man roster:
Starting Forward: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Starting Forward: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Back-up: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Back-up: Justin Gatlin, Track & Field
Offensive Midfielder: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Midfielder: Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels
Offensive Midfielder: Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Back-up: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Back-up: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Back-up: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Defensive Midfielder: John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
Defensive Midfielder: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Back-up: Patrick Peterson, DB, Arizona Cardinals
Back-up: Jon Jones, MMA
Back-up: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Defender: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Defender: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
Defender: Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
Back-up: Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Back-up: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs
Back-up: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Quick, G, LA Kings
Back-up: Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 1:
• It was a solid month in sports-related ladies, thanks largely to the World Cup.
• While you pretend to work prior to today's knockout match with Belgium, read a primer on today's opponent.
• Another time-waster: Gaze on this photo of what one commenter calls "Mount Douchemore."
• Here's the story of that "I believe" chant, which came from the Naval Academy.
• Aaron Hernandez is Mr. July in this Florida Gators calendar. Available at Target.
• If it's July 1, that means that Bobby Bonilla just got another $1,193,248.20 from the Mets.
• One last piece of World Cup prep: this tasty hype video.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
NFL training camps don't open until later this month, but it's never too early to look ahead to the upcoming season of fantasy football. Twelve Athlon editors and fantasy contributors did just that in early May.
Keep in mind that since this was done more than a month ago, that the picks reflect rosters and teams as they stood then. For example, even though he was not drafted, Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ruptured Achilles) was healthy when this mock draft took place.
Below is a complete breakdown of the 12-team, 20-round IDP mock draft we conducted, along with some analysis of my own. This mock draft also can be found in this year's Fantasy Football Magazine, which also features 419 in-depth player reports including projected stats, a 280-player big board and team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers. Other content in this year's edition includes a "Who's No. 1?" and Johnny Manziel-centric debate, along with the introduction of a new advanced statistic, Opportunity-adjusted Touchdowns (OTD), courtesy of Pro Football Focus' Mike Clay, who also participated in this mock draft. And if that's not enough, there's also a rundown of potential breakout candidates, injury concerns and fantasy busts from 2013 who may or may not bounce back in '14.
12-team, 20-round serpentine-style mock draft based on Athlon Sports standard scoring (see below):
Starting lineup: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR), 1 K, 1 DEF/ST, 1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB, 1 Flex IDP (DL/LB/DB), 6 bench spots
|1||1||Jamaal Charles||RB||KC||David Gonos||SI.com/FantasySports.about.com|
|2||2||Adrian Peterson||RB||MIN||Brandon Funston||Yahoo! Sports|
|3||3||LeSean McCoy||RB||PHI||Jamey Eisenberg||CBSSports.com|
|4||4||Matt Forte||RB||CHI||Matt Schauf||DraftSharks.com|
|5||5||Marshawn Lynch||RB||SEA||Nathan Rush||Athlon Sports|
|6||6||Eddie Lacy||RB||GB||Mark Ross||Athlon Sports|
|7||7||Calvin Johnson||WR||DET||Corby Yarbrough||Athlon Sports|
|8||8||Doug Martin||RB||TB||Steven Lassan||Athlon Sports|
|9||9||DeMarco Murray||RB||DAL||Eric Mack||Bleacher Report|
|10||10||Peyton Manning||QB||DEN||Braden Gall||Athlon Sports|
|11||11||Demaryius Thomas||WR||DEN||John Hansen||FantasyGuru.com|
|12||12||Jimmy Graham||TE||NO||Mike Clay||Pro Football Focus|
Round 1 Analysis: No real surprises here. If I was picking second, I would have gone LeSean McCoy over Adrian Peterson, but that’s just a matter of preference (think McCoy’s upside as a pass-catcher puts him ahead of Peterson). I thought about taking Megatron with the sixth pick, but figured Lacy would be the safer choice as I consider him a true workhorse RB, provided he stays healthy. I also have no issue with Braden being the only one to take a QB, although I certainly didn’t think at the time we wouldn’t see another come off of the board until Round 5.
|1||13||Dez Bryant||WR||DAL||Mike Clay|
|2||14||Le'Veon Bell||RB||PIT||John Hansen|
|3||15||Zac Stacy||RB||STL||Braden Gall|
|4||16||Alfred Morris||RB||WAS||Eric Mack|
|5||17||Giovani Bernard||RB||CIN||Steven Lassan|
|6||18||A.J. Green||WR||CIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||19||Julio Jones||WR||ATL||Mark Ross|
|8||20||Brandon Marshall||WR||CHI||Nathan Rush|
|9||21||Jordy Nelson||WR||GB||Matt Schauf|
|10||22||Montee Ball||RB||DEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||23||Alshon Jeffery||WR||CHI||Brandon Funston|
|12||24||Arian Foster||RB||HOU||David Gonos|
Round 2 Analysis: I prefer Giovani Bernard and Montee Ball over Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris, but the real wild card at RB in this round is Arian Foster. Everyone knows what Foster is capable of, when healthy, but he’s coming off of back surgery and will now operate in a different offense under new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Combine those factors with the uncertainty at quarterback and it wouldn’t surprise me if Foster continued to slip in the rankings in the coming months.
|1||25||Antonio Brown||WR||PIT||David Gonos|
|2||26||Randall Cobb||WR||GB||Brandon Funston|
|3||27||Larry Fitzgerald||WR||ARI||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||28||C.J. Spiller||RB||BUF||Matt Schauf|
|5||29||Chris Johnson||RB||NYJ||Nathan Rush|
|6||30||Keenan Allen||WR||SD||Mark Ross|
|7||31||Rob Gronkowski||TE||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||32||Andre Johnson||WR||HOU||Steven Lassan|
|9||33||Pierre Garcon||WR||WAS||Eric Mack|
|10||34||Reggie Bush||RB||DET||Braden Gall|
|11||35||Shane Vereen||RB||NE||John Hansen|
|12||36||Andre Ellington||RB||ARI||Mike Clay|
Round 3 Analysis: The RBs and WRs continue to fly off the board with Rob Gronkowski the only outlier. As tantalizing and tempting a fantasy asset Gronk may be, I most likely won’t end up with him on any of my teams this season. Fourteen missed games over the last two seasons and the severity of his injuries are hard for me to overlook, especially when it comes to using a high draft pick on a TE not named Jimmy Graham. I’m also not expecting big things from Chris Johnson in a Jets uniform. For starters, he’s no lock for an RB1-worthy workload.
|1||37||Vincent Jackson||WR||TB||Mike Clay|
|2||38||Julius Thomas||TE||DEN||John Hansen|
|3||39||Vernon Davis||TE||SF||Braden Gall|
|4||40||Victor Cruz||WR||NYG||Eric Mack|
|5||41||Roddy White||WR||ATL||Steven Lassan|
|6||42||Ryan Mathews||RB||SD||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||43||Percy Harvin||WR||SEA||Mark Ross|
|8||44||Wes Welker||WR||DEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||45||Joique Bell||RB||DET||Matt Schauf|
|10||46||Bishop Sankey||RB||TEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||47||Cordarrelle Patterson||WR||MIN||Brandon Funston|
|12||48||Michael Crabtree||WR||SF||David Gonos|
Round 4 Analysis: Four rounds in and Corby finally takes a RB. He could certainly do worse than Ryan Mathews as his RB1, but I would encourage other fantasy GMs to think twice before employing a similar strategy. The top five RBs last season averaged 293.6 fantasy points (Athlon scoring). For nos. 5-10 that average plummets to 221.3. Mathews finished as the No. 12 fantasy RB in 2013 with 197.4 fantasy points. That said, Mathews is certainly safer than Bishop Sankey, who was the first rookie at any position to be taken. Sankey appears to have a great opportunity in Tennessee, but it’s not like highly touted rookies haven’t panned out before, right? Remember Tavon Austin or even Montee Ball last season?
|1||49||Aaron Rodgers||QB||GB||David Gonos|
|2||50||Rashad Jennings||RB||NYG||Brandon Funston|
|3||51||Julian Edelman||WR||NE||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||52||Michael Floyd||WR||ARI||Matt Schauf|
|5||53||Frank Gore||RB||SF||Nathan Rush|
|6||54||Drew Brees||QB||NO||Mark Ross|
|7||55||Ray Rice||RB||BAL||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||56||Ben Tate||RB||CLE||Steven Lassan|
|9||57||Andrew Luck||QB||IND||Eric Mack|
|10||58||T.Y. Hilton||WR||IND||Braden Gall|
|11||59||Jeremy Maclin||WR||PHI||John Hansen|
|12||60||DeSean Jackson||WR||WAS||Mike Clay|
Round 5 Analysis: Forty-nine picks in and we finally have a second quarterback taken! Credit to David for pouncing on Aaron Rodgers with the first pick here. I jumped next with Drew Brees, but Eric was the only other to follow suit (Andrew Luck). Has the general perception on QB value changed? Perhaps, but I still think there’s a clear distinction between the elite and next tier. Although Peyton Manning lapped the field with his record-breaking season, Brees still posted 435.7 fantasy points, which was 81.6 points more than the No. 3 scorer (Andy Dalton). And while 14 QBs averaged 20 or more fantasy points per game, only 10 of those played more than 13 games. Not saying you can’t wait on a QB, just don’t wait too long especially if Rodgers or Brees is still out there.
|1||61||Steven Jackson||RB||ATL||Mike Clay|
|2||62||Trent Richardson||RB||IND||John Hansen|
|3||63||Torrey Smith||WR||BAL||Braden Gall|
|4||64||Josh Gordon||WR||CLE||Eric Mack|
|5||65||Kendall Wright||WR||TEN||Steven Lassan|
|6||66||Matthew Stafford||QB||DET||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||67||Knowshon Moreno||RB||MIA||Mark Ross|
|8||68||Cam Newton||QB||CAR||Nathan Rush|
|9||69||Terrance Williams||WR||DAL||Matt Schauf|
|10||70||Golden Tate||WR||DET||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||71||Toby Gerhart||RB||JAC||Brandon Funston|
|12||72||Maurice Jones-Drew||RB||OAK||David Gonos|
Round 6 Analysis: A couple of more QBs go, but the proceedings continue to be dominated by RBs and WRs. RBs in particular have really thinned out by this point. I know Knowshon Moreno isn’t in Denver any more, but it’s not like he’s joining a crowded backfield in Miami and the Dolphins invested heavily in overhauling their offensive line. I’m also curious to see what Toby Gerhart does in Jacksonville with his first opportunity to be the top ball-carrier. Probably goes without saying, but Josh Gordon’s draft value will be tied directly to how many games he gets suspended. I for one will be very surprised if it’s no fewer than eight. After that it’s simply a matter of risk tolerance. Depending on how you used your previous picks, I have no issue with someone taking a chance on half a season of Gordon in Round 6.
|1||73||Jason Witten||TE||DAL||David Gonos|
|2||74||Jordan Cameron||TE||CLE||Brandon Funston|
|3||75||Stevan Ridley||RB||NE||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||76||Robert Griffin III||QB||WAS||Matt Schauf|
|5||77||Sammy Watkins||WR||BUF||Nathan Rush|
|6||78||Darren Sproles||RB||PHI||Mark Ross|
|7||79||Emmanuel Sanders||WR||DEN||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||80||DeAngelo Williams||RB||CAR||Steven Lassan|
|9||81||Eric Decker||WR||NYJ||Eric Mack|
|10||82||Carlos Hyde||RB||SF||Braden Gall|
|11||83||Pierre Thomas||RB||NO||John Hansen|
|12||84||Marques Colston||WR||NO||Mike Clay|
Round 7 Analysis: Two more rookies get their names called in this round. Sammy Watkins looks a lot like this year’s Tavon Austin – a dynamic, all-purpose threat who is expected to become a focal point of the offense right away. However, as has already been mentioned, that didn’t happen with Austin in 2013. Whether history will repeat itself with Watkins remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see his draft value fluctuate dramatically as we get closer to the start of the season. I am more bullish on Watkins as a rookie than Carlos Hyde. Frank Gore’s age and wear and tear notwithstanding, San Francisco doesn’t lack for options in its backfield. Don’t completely ignore Hyde, but don’t forget about Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James or even Marcus Lattimore either.
|1||85||Darren McFadden||RB||OAK||Mike Clay|
|2||86||Colin Kaepernick||QB||SF||John Hansen|
|3||87||Brandin Cooks||WR||NO||Braden Gall|
|4||88||Mike Wallace||WR||MIA||Eric Mack|
|5||89||Reggie Wayne||WR||IND||Steven Lassan|
|6||90||Mike Evans||WR||TB||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||91||Tavon Austin||WR||STL||Mark Ross|
|8||92||Anquan Boldin||WR||SF||Nathan Rush|
|9||93||J.J. Watt||DL||HOU||Matt Schauf|
|10||94||Matt Ryan||QB||ATL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||95||Robert Quinn||DL||STL||Brandon Funston|
|12||96||Danny Woodhead||RB||SD||David Gonos|
Round 8 Analysis: The QBs continue to trickle out, but we also see the first IDPs taken. Not surprised that J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn are first two to go, but it’s usually pretty difficult for any IDP, but especially a DL, to perform well enough to justify such a lofty draft status. Just be willing to accept potentially less ROI should you consider being one of the first to pull the trigger. Also, count me in the camp that thinks Brandin Cooks could end up with the best fantasy numbers of any rookie wide receiver this season. The Biletnikoff winner appears to be an ideal fit for Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing attack.
|1||97||Luke Kuechly||LB||CAR||David Gonos|
|2||98||Cecil Shorts||WR||JAC||Brandon Funston|
|3||99||Dennis Pitta||TE||BAL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||100||Greg Olsen||TE||CAR||Matt Schauf|
|5||101||Antonio Gates||TE||SD||Nathan Rush|
|6||102||Jordan Reed||TE||WAS||Mark Ross|
|7||103||Chandler Jones||DL||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||104||Kyle Rudolph||TE||MIN||Steven Lassan|
|9||105||Lavonte David||LB||TB||Eric Mack|
|10||106||Khiry Robinson||RB||NO||Braden Gall|
|11||107||Kenny Stills||WR||NO||John Hansen|
|12||108||Dwayne Bowe||WR||KC||Mike Clay|
Round 9 Analysis: Luke Kuechly is the first LB to be drafted, which makes sense considering the Panthers’ tackling machine is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. However, similar to Patrick Willis, reputation and accolades don’t necessarily translate to fantasy success. Kuechly’s production is driven primarily by his tackle totals, but that I mean he’s not a lock to generate other plays (sacks, forced fumbles, INTs, etc.). This is just another factor to keep in mind when you put together your draft board. I also really like Saints RB Khiry Robinson as a sleeper this year, as the opportunity is certainly there with Darren Sproles now in Philadelphia.
|1||109||Nick Foles||QB||PHI||Mike Clay|
|2||110||Marvin Jones||WR||CIN||John Hansen|
|4||112||Tre Mason||RB||STL||Eric Mack|
|5||113||Vontaze Burfict||LB||CIN||Steven Lassan|
|6||114||Jeremy Hill||RB||CIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||115||Kiko Alonso||LB||BUF||Mark Ross|
|8||116||Tom Brady||QB||NE||Nathan Rush|
|9||117||Fred Jackson||RB||BUF||Matt Schauf|
|10||118||Greg Hardy||DL||CAR||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||119||Russell Wilson||QB||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|12||120||DeAndre Hopkins||WR||HOU||David Gonos|
Round 10 Analysis: Raise your hand if you pegged Tom Brady for a 10th-round pick. Yeah me neither. Tom Terrific’s numbers have certainly gone in the wrong direction, but track record has to count for something right? Well it’s just a matter of if you think the Patriots’ offense can get back to its past levels of success. Considering the only help Brady got in free agency was the addition of former Carolina WR Brandon LaFell and the uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski, the concerns of this occurring are well warranted. At the least, I would definitely lean Russell Wilson over Brady if both were still on the board. And while hindsight is certainly 20/20, I have some drafter’s remorse over making Kiko Alonso my first IDP taken. While I like Alonso just fine, I think I became smitten too much with his numbers and probably would have been better off taking someone more established like a Paul Poslusnzy or Karlos Dansby instead.
|1||121||Jason Pierre-Paul||DL||NYG||David Gonos|
|2||122||Bobby Wagner||LB||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|3||123||Devonta Freeman||RB||ATL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||124||Paul Posluszny||LB||JAC||Matt Schauf|
|5||125||Patrick Peterson||DB||ARI||Nathan Rush|
|6||126||Alec Ogletree||LB||STL||Mark Ross|
|7||127||Hakeem Nicks||WR||IND||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||128||Tony Romo||QB||DAL||Steven Lassan|
|9||129||Terrance West||RB||CLE||Eric Mack|
|10||130||Jordan Matthews||WR||PHI||Braden Gall|
|11||131||Karlos Dansby||LB||CLE||John Hansen|
|12||132||Derrick Johnson||LB||KC||Mike Clay|
Round 11 Analysis: IDPs really coming into focus by this point, including the first DB off the board in Patrick Peterson. While I would not have made the same decision as Nathan, there’s no disputing Peterson’s talent, ability and upside. However, Peterson is a little too reliant on the big plays (turnovers in particular) for my tastes. I prefer a little more consistency when it comes to tackle numbers and across the board production. Also credit to Steven Lassan who was the last one to take a QB and still ended up with Tony Romo. Questions about his back aside, there’s nothing wrong with landing a potential top-10 QB in the 11th round.
|1||133||Riley Cooper||WR||PHI||Mike Clay|
|2||134||Justin Hunter||WR||TEN||John Hansen|
|3||135||Cameron Jordan||DL||NO||Braden Gall|
|4||136||Earl Thomas||DB||SEA||Eric Mack|
|5||137||Jay Cutler||QB||CHI||Steven Lassan|
|6||138||DeMeco Ryans||LB||PHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||139||Philip Rivers||QB||SD||Mark Ross|
|8||140||Patrick Willis||LB||SF||Nathan Rush|
|9||141||Kelvin Benjamin||WR||CAR||Matt Schauf|
|10||142||Brian Cushing||LB||HOU||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||143||Eric Berry||DB||KC||Brandon Funston|
|12||144||Markus Wheaton||WR||PIT||David Gonos|
Round 12 Analysis: Steven backs up his Tony Romo selection with Jay Cutler, another solid move, and I follow suit by taking Philip Rivers as my Drew Brees insurance. As important as RB and WR depth can be, if something happens to your No. 1 QB and you don’t have an adequate Plan B, your fantasy season could be ruined right then and there. Aaron Rodgers owners last season can certainly relate to this strategy.
|1||145||San Francisco||DST||SF||David Gonos|
|2||146||Ladarius Green||TE||SD||Brandon Funston|
|3||147||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||148||Danny Amendola||WR||NE||Matt Schauf|
|5||149||Martellus Bennett||TE||CHI||Nathan Rush|
|6||150||Eric Ebron||TE||DET||Mark Ross|
|7||151||Lamar Miller||RB||MIA||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||152||Muhammad Wilkerson||DL||NYJ||Steven Lassan|
|9||153||Coby Fleener||TE||IND||Eric Mack|
|10||154||Mark Ingram||RB||NO||Braden Gall|
|11||155||Harrison Smith||DB||MIN||John Hansen|
|12||156||James Laurinaitis||LB||STL||Mike Clay|
|1||157||Cameron Wake||DL||MIA||Mike Clay|
|2||158||Rob Ninkovich||DL||NE||John Hansen|
|3||159||Eric Reid||DB||SF||Braden Gall|
|4||160||Mario Williams||DL||BUF||Eric Mack|
|5||161||T.J. Ward||DB||DEN||Steven Lassan|
|6||162||Christine Michael||RB||SEA||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||163||Eric Weddle||DB||SD||Mark Ross|
|8||164||Bernard Pierce||RB||BAL||Nathan Rush|
|9||165||Dexter McCluster||WR||TEN||Matt Schauf|
|10||166||DeMarcus Ware||DL||DEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||167||Andre Brown||RB||HOU||Brandon Funston|
|12||168||David Wilson||RB||NYG||David Gonos|
Rounds 13 and 14 Analysis: Nearly half of the picks in these two rounds are used on IDPs, as the GMs work towards filling out their starting lineups. I particularly liked the Rob Ninkovich pick by John, as the Patriot is an underappreciated fantasy stud. Capable of playing both LB and DL, Ninkovich was one of five DL-eligible players to finish with more than 100 fantasy points last season. Once again, name recognition carries little, if any, value when it comes to putting together a championship-caliber fantasy team. I also particularly liked the selections of Harrison Smith (13th) and T.J. Ward (14th) from the DB ranks.
|1||169||Mark Barron||DB||TB||David Gonos|
|3||171||Bernard Pollard||DB||TEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||172||Jerod Mayo||LB||NE||Matt Schauf|
|6||174||Chris Ivory||RB||NYJ||Mark Ross|
|7||175||Zach Ertz||TE||PHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||176||Lawrence Timmons||LB||PIT||Steven Lassan|
|9||177||NaVorro Bowman||LB||SF||Eric Mack|
|10||178||Johnny Manziel||QB||CLE||Braden Gall|
|11||179||Tyler Eifert||TE||CIN||John Hansen|
|12||180||Morgan Burnett||DB||GB||Mike Clay|
|2||182||LeGarrette Blount||RB||PIT||John Hansen|
|3||183||Davante Adams||WR||GB||Braden Gall|
|4||184||Andy Dalton||QB||CIN||Eric Mack|
|6||186||St. Louis||DST||STL||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||187||Marqise Lee||WR||JAC||Mark Ross|
|8||188||Jadeveon Clowney||LB||HOU||Nathan Rush|
|9||189||Carson Palmer||QB||ARI||Matt Schauf|
|10||190||Ben Roethlisberger||QB||PIT||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||191||Eli Manning||QB||NYG||Brandon Funston|
|12||192||Stevie Johnson||WR||SF||David Gonos|
Rounds 15 and 16 Analysis: If he’s able to come back 100 percent from his torn pectoral, Matt has an absolute steal in getting Jerod Mayo in the 15th round. When he’s played 16 games, Mayo has been a fantasy stud. Plenty of risk associated with the NaVorro Bowman selection, as he’s a fairly safe bet to start the season on the PUP list, meaning he will miss the first six games at minimum. And even though he was drafted as a QB2, I wouldn’t have been the one to take Johnny Manziel. Not with Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Andy Dalton or Carson Palmer still on the board. For every Andrew Luck and Robert Griffn III that has come along there’s been just as many EJ Manuels and Geno Smiths when it comes to rookie quarterbacks.
|1||193||Knile Davis||RB||KC||David Gonos|
|2||194||Jarrett Boykin||WR||GB||Brandon Funston|
|3||195||Daryl Smith||LB||BAL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||196||Rueben Randle||WR||NYG||Matt Schauf|
|5||197||Steve Smith||WR||BAL||Nathan Rush|
|6||198||Calais Campbell||DL||ARI||Mark Ross|
|7||199||Aaron Dobson||WR||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||200||Roy Helu||RB||WAS||Steven Lassan|
|9||201||Isaiah Crowell||RB||CLE||Eric Mack|
|10||202||Mychal Kendricks||LB||PHI||Braden Gall|
|11||203||Ryan Tannehill||QB||MIA||John Hansen|
|12||204||Alex Smith||QB||KC||Mike Clay|
|1||205||Donald Brown||RB||SD||Mike Clay|
|2||206||Tampa Bay||DST||TB||John Hansen|
|3||207||Danny Trevathan||LB||DEN||Braden Gall|
|4||208||Kansas City||DST||KC||Eric Mack|
|5||209||Robert Woods||WR||BUF||Steven Lassan|
|6||210||Chad Greenway||LB||MIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||212||Shonn Greene||RB||TEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||213||New England||DST||NE||Matt Schauf|
|10||214||Rod Streater||WR||OAK||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||215||Jerrell Freeman||LB||IND||Brandon Funston|
|12||216||Charles Johnson||DL||CAR||David Gonos|
Rounds 17 and 18 Analysis: At this point in the draft, you are either filling out your starting lineup (except for kicker) or mining for diamonds in the rough. David wisely secured Kansas City’s backfield by grabbing Knile Davis after taking Jamaal Charles No. 1 overall. Jarrett Boykin fared well after Randall Cobb went down with an injury last season and now the No. 3 WR job in Green Bay is his for the taking with James Jones in Oakland. Roy Helu is more of pass-catching threat than Alfred Morris so he could carve out a nice role for himself in Jay Gruden’s offense in Washington. Isaiah Crowell, the undrafted rookie who started his college career at Georgia, seems to be a rather significant reach, but new lead back Ben Tate hasn’t exactly been durable in his career and the only other competition for carries in Cleveland seems to be fellow rookie Terrance West. Stranger things have happened. Among the IDP selections, I really like Danny Trevathan’s chances of breaking out this season with Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips no longer on the Broncos.
|1||217||Josh McCown||QB||TB||David Gonos|
|2||218||Matt Prater||K||DEN||Brandon Funston|
|4||220||Johnathan Cyprien||DB||JAC||Matt Schauf|
|5||221||Stephen Gostkowski||K||NE||Nathan Rush|
|6||222||Justin Tucker||K||BAL||Mark Ross|
|7||223||Antrel Rolle||DB||NYG||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||224||Andre Williams||RB||NYG||Steven Lassan|
|9||225||Jonathan Stewart||RB||CAR||Eric Mack|
|10||226||Steven Hauschka||K||SEA||Braden Gall|
|11||227||Phil Dawson||K||SF||John Hansen|
|12||228||Delanie Walker||TE||TEN||Mike Clay|
|1||229||Mason Crosby||K||GB||Mike Clay|
|2||230||Nick Roach||LB||OAK||John Hansen|
|3||231||Green Bay||DST||GB||Braden Gall|
|4||232||Blair Walsh||K||MIN||Eric Mack|
|5||233||Dan Bailey||K||DAL||Steven Lassan|
|6||234||Robbie Gould||K||CHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||235||Ka'Deem Carey||RB||CHI||Mark Ross|
|8||236||Jurrell Casey||DL||TEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||237||Shayne Graham||K||NO||Matt Schauf|
|10||238||Adam Vinatieri||K||IND||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||239||Doug Baldwin||WR||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|12||240||Matt Bryant||K||ATL||David Gonos|
Rounds 19 and 20 Analysis: Finally the kickers come off the board, but we know no one cares about them. The last two rookies taken in this mock draft – Andre Williams (19th) and Ka’Deem Carey (20th) – are certainly worth keeping an eye on once training camps open. Williams could see significant carries sooner rather than later because of David Wilson’s uncertainty regarding his neck injury while Carey has a pretty clear path to serving as Matt Forté’s backup, especially considering he has a similar skill set. Believe it or not, but Delanie Walker was a borderline top-10 fantasy TE last season, while Doug Baldwin probably enters the season as the Seahawks’ No. 2 WR with Golden Tate now in Detroit. Both are very solid picks in the final two rounds of this mock draft.
Nothing encapsulates the big-money posturing of conference expansion more than two middling East Coast football programs joining a historically celebrated conference thanks to branding and TV viewership.
Commissioner Jim Delany sent ripples through college football when plucking the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights out of the ACC and Big East, respectively, in November 2012, creating instability for those two conferences while strengthening the Big Ten’s strategic ground.
Never mind that Maryland and Rutgers are a combined 61–65 in football since 2009, or that the campuses are 11-plus-hour drives from the Big Ten’s home office in Chicago, or that more long-standing rivalries will likely be severed as a result.
Conference realignment was never about all that. It’s about the projected $270 million for the Big Ten Network in 2013. It’s about commercial markets, where Maryland and Rutgers happen to be well positioned. Yes, it’s about tradition — Maryland and Rutgers were playing football in the 1800s.
But it’s also about something happening four hours north of Maryland’s campus — the Big Ten office that Delany is building in Manhattan.
Not only did the moves partner Penn State with two East Coast schools, but they also accentuate the notion that the conference can get away with this because of its deep alumni base coast-to-coast.
SEC fans are unmatched, particularly in the South, but the Big Ten’s list of donors from California to New York is impressive.
So when cash-strapped Maryland needed a financial boost and Rutgers saw a bleak future in the depleted Big East, they showcased their meticulous resource/facility investments to offset any lagging football results.
Maryland and Rutgers were willing to jump when others — such as North Carolina and Georgia Tech — apparently were not.
Their reward: Entering a conference that’s expected to distribute $25.7 million to each of its schools next year, mostly from a contract with ESPN/ABC and the joint BTN venture with FOX, which also has the East Coast-based YES Network.
With both sides consummating the marriage in July, what will this long-distance relationship look like? And what do the football programs of Maryland and Rutgers really offer?
Maryland and Rutgers On the Field
While the Big Ten gets Maryland at a relatively good time in the Terps’ transitional arc, Rutgers has work to do to avoid the bottom of the seven-team East division.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall survived a shaky two-year start and produced seven wins last year despite several key injuries offensively. When healthy, receiver Stefon Diggs is one of the country’s best playmakers. Diggs will return as a top target for C.J. Brown, a quarterback who won’t overwhelm but has impressed many ACC coaches with his football acumen.
Having two solid coordinators — Mike Locksley on offense and Brian Stewart on defense — eases the transition. Maryland has been stout at linebacker and defensive back under Stewart, who loses top corners Dexter McDougle and Isaac Goins.
Inexperience is an issue on the offensive line, but that’s why Maryland brought in former LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, one of three new Terrapins coaches.
Maryland won’t dominate in Year 1 but comes in as a respectable ACC team with program improvements looming.
Rutgers seems to have the steeper climb of the two. That can change if the Knights prove they have a reasonable quarterback option. Gary Nova flashed brilliance but hampered the offense with 14 interceptions. Nova is one of several quarterbacks competing for the starting spot.
The firing of defensive coordinator Dave Cohen amid bullying accusations from a former player cost Rutgers several highly ranked recruits. Rutgers’ 2014 class dipped to a No. 60 ranking on Signing Day. With the problems of basketball coach Mike Rice, the school couldn’t tolerate similar allegations. Recruits noticed.
Rutgers enters Big Ten play with two new coordinators, most notably Ralph Friedgen, a well-respected play-caller who enters the Big Ten at the same time as a Terps team he used to coach. Rutgers is counting on Friedgen to stabilize a rhythm-less offense. He’ll start by finding someone to get the ball to talented receiver Leonte Carroo.
One American Athletic Conference coach believes Rutgers will have a tough time competing in the Big Ten. “I think they will struggle to be .500 in that league, especially in the East,” he says.
How Much of an Upgrade is the Big Ten for These Two Teams?
The Big Ten is probably the country’s third- to fifth-best league, depending whom you ask.
The SEC still has the strongest profile. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have serious depth, and FSU’s national title lifts the ACC’s profile.
You could argue that Maryland is downgrading in football competition, though both leagues are probably equal top to bottom. Rutgers is upgrading, but this isn’t Division II to FBS. It’s a manageable move.
The Big Ten East should be a beast, though. It features Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana. The first four on that list range from national title contenders to potential conference winners. Maryland and Rutgers must play all six divisional opponents plus two crossovers.
But the bottom third of the league still plays uninspired football. Purdue, Indiana and Illinois have been bad for a while, and Northwestern is coming off a 1–7 conference season.
“The Big Ten is getting better,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says. “Michigan State, Penn State coming off the sanctions, Wisconsin is a helluva football team. We were right there on the 35-yard line to beat Clemson. Traditionally there’s an Iowa, that’s a helluva team. I think it’s coming.”
A fully loaded Big East/American was known in coaching circles for its physical teams. Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College — current ACC schools with roots in the Big East — each won seven games last season with power-run principles.
The best move for Rutgers might be to mirror those programs.
For Maryland, improving in College Park will help its league debut. The Terps are 3–9 in conference home games since 2011. The games won’t get easier with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State visiting Byrd Stadium this year.
The Big Ten East
Coaches and athletic directors use the word all the time — branding.
In the big picture, the branding presence of Maryland and Rutgers will be less about the schools and more about Big Ten sprawl. Not many New Yorkers will watch Rutgers sports over the Yankees, nor will D.C. fans watch Maryland over the Redskins. But these schools are in huge markets where the Big Ten will capitalize.
If the Big Ten ever goes to 16 teams, it will undoubtedly add East Coast schools to create a five-team division for travel purposes and commonality.
The question is, will Rutgers and Maryland lose their identities in the process? Maryland was a founding member of the ACC. When people talked about the ACC, Maryland was probably among the first seven teams the common fan would list.
Rutgers was in a league it was capable of winning. Greg Schiano had resurrected the program.
Of course, Rutgers would make about 10 times less in the American, which makes a few more potential losses on the field easier to bear.
Joining the Big Ten was never a 12-month decision for either school. It was a move made for the long term, with financial stability the primary motivation. And as strange as it feels — and it feels awfully strange — it just might work out for everyone involved.
Written by Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) of CBSSports.com for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.
Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.
The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.
The Big Ten was created in 1896, is the oldest Division I collegiate conference in the NCAA and is adding two new teams this July in Maryland and Rutgers. Did you know the University of Chicago was a founding member? Or that Michigan was kicked out of the league for a decade?
The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Want some proof? Here is a complete look at the history of the Big Ten conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.
John Griffith, 1922-44 (died in office)
Kenneth “Tug” Wilson, 1945-61
William Reed, 1961-71 (died in office)
Wayne Duke, 1971-89
Jim Delany, 1989-present
1896: The Big Ten is formed as the first major collegiate conference of universities. Purdue president James Smart is credited with spearheading the decision to regulate and control intercollegiate athletics. The seven founding members were the University of Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Lake Forest College attended the 1895 meeting that eventually spawned what was then referred to as the Western Conference, but it did not join the league.
1899: Iowa and Indiana both join the Big Ten Conference three years after its inception. It was then commonly called the Big Nine. Both Iowa and Indiana would begin athletic competition the following year. Interestingly enough, Nebraska petitioned to join the league the same year (and would again request an invitation in 1911 to no avail).
1908: Michigan was voted out of the conference due to rules issues. The Wolverines failed to adhere to league-wide regulations and were subsequently ruled inactive.
1912: Ohio State joins the league.
1917: After Michigan was finally allowed back into the conference after its decade-long hiatus, the term Big Ten became an instantly popular way to refer to the conference.
1946: Due to the on-going World War in Europe, the University of Chicago had de-emphasized athletics in 1939 by discontinuing its football program. By 1946, Chicago withdrew from the league. The Big Ten went back to being referred to as the Big Nine.
1950: Michigan State is invited to join the Big Nine and does so to return the total number of league institutions to ten. The term Big Ten was re-adopted at this point. It would begin athletic competition in 1953.
1987: Technically, the league had been named the “Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.” But since ICFR doesn’t roll off the tongue, the league officially changed its name to The Big Ten when it was incorporated as a non-profit business entity.
1990: After remaining unchanged for four decades of success, the Big Ten voted to expand to 11 schools and asked Penn State to join. The Nittany Lions, who were denied entrance into the Big East in 1982, were happy to oblige. It would begin Big Ten athletic competition in 1993.
2010-11: Nebraska applies for Big Ten membership and is unanimously approved as the league’s 12th institution. Nebraska played its first Big Ten conference schedule the following year and the league splits into two divisions to accommodate the Cornhuskers. Additionally, the Big Ten plays its first league championship game in Indianapolis.
2014: As the College Football Playoff Era begins, so too, does a new edition of the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers join the conference in all sports, pushing the league to a record 14 members. The divisions have been renamed the West and the East and will feature seven teams each. Both the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will play in the East Division and both extend the B1G footprint into the coveted, population-rich Northeast. Lastly, Johns Hopkins University is actually joining the Big Ten as a men’s lacrosse member only. Officially, JHU has won 44 lacrosse national championships since being founded in 1883.
Big Ten's BCS Bowl Record: 13-15*
Big Ten's BCS National Championships: 1-2
* - including any vacated appearances
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After Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana, the USMNT sneaks into the knockout round with a 1-1-1 record in the group stage. Belgium, America’s newest foe, is a dark horse to win it all this year. Can the USA earn a decisive trip to the round of 8?
When and Where to Watch
Tuesday, July 1st, 4:00 pm (eastern time) Live on ESPN. This match is being played at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. You can also find the game online at ESPN.com by supplying your cable provider’s information. If that won’t work, you can find it online here.
Why You Should Watch
Here’s where things get really interesting. The previous three matches were breathtaking battles that proved the USA's worth amongst the big names in the soccer world. Now we start the actual tournament. No more point-differentials and tiebreaker scenarios. From here on out, it’s a single elimination bracket. One minor slip-up and your championship dreams are dashed in the blink of an eye. The remaining 16 teams have just four games to win in order to be crowned world champions.
Even if you’re just a patriotic denizen of the United States who’s interested in the World Cup, you should really be watching all of the World Cup games from here on out. Heavy favorite and host-nation Brazil narrowly escaped Chile during penalties on Sunday, one sample from a gluttony of premium-quality soccer matches. The teams weren't wearing red, white, and blue, but that doesn't mean their 90 minutes were any less entertaining than ours. Though you might not feel any emotional connection to other teams, you had better start educating yourself on the rest of the field in case the U.S. drops out of the tournament Tuesday.
Who to Watch for the United States
There is a wide variety of players to focus on, depending on the final roster that Klinsmann selects. If Jozy Altidore returns, Clint Dempsey will move back into a more supplementary striking role. Current reports signal that Altidore will not be available in his full form, so it’s almost a guarantee that Dempsey will be expected to carry the load once again this match. Jermaine Jones was one of the lone bright spots in a pathetic offensive performance against Germany. Stay alert when Jones touches the ball against Belgium.
On defense, Omar Gonzalez will likely start again after a stellar performance last week; the Belgians will test him early and often. The first step in the Americans' winning gameplan is for Gonzalez and counterpart Matt Besler to hold up. Elsewhere, Alejandro Bedoya will attempt to shake off his concussion scare from last week after a rough collision with Jermaine Jones. The USA will continue to play through Michael Bradley, whose game will hopefully return to normal at some point this tournament. In an elimination game, every player will be doing all he can to walk away with a victory. Jones, Dempsey, and Bradley are the most obvious calls to deliver against Belgium.
Why the U.S. Will Walk Away Victorious
Belgium won Group H by recording victories in each of its three games. Though the European country finished on top of its grouping, it certainly didn’t look unconquerable through 270+ minutes of observation. The team may have been looking past its early, unevenly balanced matches with its eyes on a greater goal – a championship. In its first World Cup appearance since 2002, Belgium entered the tournament as the fifth favorite to win the finals. The Red Devils set a record against South Korea, remaining unbeaten for 13 games for the first time in Belgium's football history – good reason for its players to be oozing confidence as they take the field to face the United States. So confident, in fact, that midfielder Marouane Fellaini has vowed to part ways with his iconic afro if Belgium wins the 2014 World Cup. But before Fellaini reaches for his clippers, Belgium will need to go through this scrappy U.S. squad first.
It’s a mighty challenge, but the Americans gain a slight advantage with an extra day of rest. That’s a huge gift in this situation, with Jozy Altidore recuperating from injury and multiple players needing acclimation time to the hot and humid Brazilian weather. In addition, stadium at Salvador will be the shortest trip that the USMNT has made to play a match during 2014 World Cup play. Still, because of its easy opening draw, Belgium was able to cruise through the group stage, being afforded the luxury of resting some of its featured players in the third game against South Korea.
The match should play out with a narrative that’s similar to the Germany game. Intensity, defense, and physicality are some buzzwords you’ll be hearing a lot on Tuesday. In a recent friendly, Belgium defeated the USA 4-2. But Ghana had America’s number before the tournament started, and now they watch from the sidelines. Health is once again going to be a major factor in this match's outcome. Belgian captain Vincent Kompany is dealing with a groin strain while Thomas Vermaelen’s hamstring problems make him doubtful to participate in the match. The Red Devils clearly have some injury issues, but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem considering the team’s seemingly endless depth. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the United States, but with a bit of luck and determination, Belgium’s championship ambitions could be cut short.
Belgium: 2, USA: 1
I’d love to pick the USMNT to take home the W and advance through the tournament, but even Klinsmann acknowledged that this isn’t our year. Belgium will win its fourth consecutive game by a one-goal margin, barely staying afloat in the 2014 World Cup. A small glimmer of hope will be provided by Graham Zusi with an accurate and deft cross over the middle, finished by Dempsey for the 74th minute goal. Sadly, Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini will score before the Americans do.
If not for a horrific draw in the 2014 World Cup, things could have been different for the USA. Now, the Americans look ahead to 2018, a year that should elevate soccer’s place in the hierarchy of American sports.