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The "modern" recruiting era is tied directly to the online recruiting websites. Rivals and Scout began the explosion around 2001 and ESPN and 247Sports have powerfully entered the market since. The rankings databases only go back 10 or 11 years, so it is difficult to evaluate historic recruiting classes. But since the turn of the millennium, fans and analysts alike have a tremendous amount of data to evaluate recruiting rankings, talent development and scouting evaluations.
Studying recruiting rankings can highlight coaching deficiencies as well as the overachievers. That said, the best recruiting classes of the modern era are more about salesmanship, brand equity, the NFL and big-time athletic department budgets.
Here are the best 10 modern recruiting classes:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 32 signees
Key Players: Mark Barron, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Marcel Dareus, Don’ta Hightower, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Damion Square, Michael Williams, Robert Lester, Brad Smelley
Nowhere is the impact of recruiting rankings more apparent that in Tuscaloosa, Ala. On the verge of signing yet another No. 1 class, Nick Saban began his domination of the recruiting trail back in 2008 when he signed Athlon Sports’ No. 1 class. This group was a huge part of the 2009 national championship and obviously was featured in both the '11 and '12 title runs. This group includes five first-round picks and two second-rounders while Brad Smelley was a seventh-rounder. Barrett Jones, Robert Lester, Damion Square and Michael Williams could all be drafted as well. It is hard to argue that a group that won three BCS titles and features double-digit NFL draft picks isn’t the best modern collection of talent ever assembled.
2. USC Trojans, 2003
Rank: 3rd (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Reggie Bush, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Terrell Thomas, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Fili Moala, John David Booty, Eric Wright, Brandon Ting, Ryan Ting, Drean Rucker, Chauncey Washington
Much like the ’08 Alabama group, this team experienced three national championship runs. Only two ended in victory — it lost to Texas in 2005, but more on that in a second — but this class was the foundation of USC's Pac-10 dynasty. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and is one of four first-round picks from this class. Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, Ryan Kalil and LenDale White were second-round picks while still others went later in the draft. USC dominated recruiting for nearly a decade and it led to seven conference championships from 2002-08.
3. Florida Gators, 2006
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Lawrence Marsh, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
At one point or another, 16 of the 27 recruits in this class went on to start a game for the Gators. But this class was led at the top by elite superstars Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Jermaine Cunningham and Spikes were second-rounders while Maurice Hurt and Riley Cooper went later in the draft. Tebow alone makes this class a gem for Florida and it led directly to two BCS national championships. The depth in the middle and at the bottom are nearly as impressive as the elite-level talent of the top names.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009
Rank: 3rd (Athlon Sports), 28 signees
Key Players: AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Anthony Steen, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick
This group was a big part of three national championships at the Capstone and played a much bigger role in the 2012 title than the '08 haul. This class has already featured three first-round picks and could boast as many as three more come April (Fluker, Warmack, Lacy). AJ McCarron is putting together one of the greatest college careers in history and others like Dial, Johnson, Stinson and Norwood have been contributors for most of their careers at Alabama. An interesting thing to note about this class is the offensive line. It was the best OL in the nation last season and three-fifths of the starters signed in this class.
5. Texas Longhorns, 2002
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Rod Wright, Brian Robison, Aaron Ross, Chase Pittman, Justin Blalock, Aaron Harris, David Thomas, Selvin Young
This group was the core of the 2005 national championship run led by superstar quarterback and five-star recruit Vince Young. He was the gem of the nation’s No. 1 class that eventually featured numerous NFL Draft picks. Ross, Studdard, Wright, Robison, Pittman, Thomas and Blalock were all huge pieces to Mack Brown’s championship puzzle and most of them have gone on to excel in the NFL.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002
Rank: 5th (Rivals), 24 signees
Key Players: AJ Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Troy Smith, Maurice Clarett, Bobby Carpenter, Mike D’Andrea, Doug Datish, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley, Roy Hall
This class was a big part of the 2002 national championship run as just freshman, with Maurice Clarett playing the biggest role. This group features elite offensive firepower and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led his team to the national title game in 2006. This group provided four first-round picks in the 2006 NFL Draft and included six other picks from the 2005-07 drafts as well. Three BCS title appearances and four Big Ten titles over a five-year span indicates that Jim Tressell’s ’02 haul was one the best in memory.
7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2006
Rank: 9th (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams, Demarco Murray, Jeremy Beal, Quinton Carter, Chris Brown, Dominique Franks, Mossis Madu, Tim Johnson, Brandon Caleb, Malcolm Williams, Chase Beeler
All four Sooners first-round picks from the 2010 NFL Draft signed with Bob Stoops in the 2006 class and all four NFL draft picks from Oklahoma in 2011 came from this class. Sam Bradford set all types of record, won the Heisman Trophy and led this team to the 2008 BCS National Championship game. Even a guy who ended up transferring (Beeler) went on to star at his second school (Stanford).
8. LSU Tigers, 2009
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 24 signees
Key Players: Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Kevin Minter, Rueben Randle, Chris Faulk, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport, Bennio Logan, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, Josh Downs, Stavion Lowe, Lamin Barrow, Russell Shepard
This group was the foundation of the 13-0 regular season run to the title game in 2011. And had it finished the job against Alabama, it might be considered the better group. The potential of this class is astounding. It already claims three first-round picks in Brockers, Claiborne and Randle and as many as half-a-dozen players could be drafted this spring. Three-fourths of the 2012 defensive line signed in this group as well as star linebacker Kevin Minter. The star power is obvious but the supporting cast is impressive as well.
9. Oregon Ducks, 2008
Rank: 16th (Athlon Sports), 22 signees
Key Players: LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, Nick Cody, Hamani Stevens, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, DeWitt Stuckey, Jeremiah Masoli
There have only been two NFL picks from this class thus far but a host of players should hear their named called this spring (Jordan, Barner, Alonso) and Blount has proven to be a productive player even though he went undrafted. Darron Thomas was the most productive quarterback in school history over two years and led his team to the BCS National Championship game. Two starting offensive lineman helped pave the way for a trio of running backs any school would covet in one class (Barner, James, Blount). The defense is also well represented with steady leaders (Boyett) as well as athletic freaks of nature (Jordan, Alonso). This class went 40-5 in Pac-12 play over a five-year period of time from 2008-12.
10. LSU Tigers, 2004
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 26 signees
Key Players: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, Chevis Jackson, Herman Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Craig Steltz, Claude Wroten, Tremaine Johnson, Curtis Taylor, Brett Helms, Lavelle Hawkins, Mit Cole
The 2004 class set the foundation for the run at the 2007 BCS national championship. Dorsey and Hester were the primary leaders on both sides of the ball and eventually hoisted the crystal football. Five players were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft and four more were taken in the '09 draft. Three star defensive lineman, including two first-round picks in Dorsey and Tyson Jackson led this defense when it dominated Ohio State in the title game. Hawkins was a big time player but did it for Cal after transferring.
The Best of the Rest:
Florida Gators, 2007
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Ahmad Black, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Chas Henry, Aaron Hernandez, Cam Newton, Chris Rainey, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey, Major Wright, John Brantley
Georgia Bulldogs, 2006
Rank: 4th (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Asher Allen, Geno Atkins, Shaun Chapas, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Akeem Hebron, Reshad Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, Kiante Tripp, Clifton Geathers, Prince Miller
Ohio State Buckeyes, 2008
Rank: 2nd (Athlon Sports), 20 signees
Key Players: Mike Adams, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Howard, DeVier Posey, Michael Brewster, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Etienne Sabino, JB Shurgarts, Andrew Sweat
LSU Tigers, 2003
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: LaRon Landry, Will Arnold, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Matt Flynn, Alley Broussard,, Anthony Hill, JaMarcus Russell, Jonathon Zenon, Justin Vincent
Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2008
Rank: 4th (Athlon Sports), 23 signees
Key Players: Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, Braxton Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Mike Golic, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Steven Filer, Sean Cwynar, Dayne Crist, Ethan Johnson
Texas Longhorns, 2005
Rank: 20th (Rivals), 15 signees
Key Players: Colt McCoy, Roddrick Muckelroy, Henry Melton, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Jamaal Charles, Chris Brown, Aaron Lewis, Roy Miller
USC Trojans, 2005
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 19 signees
Key Players: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Ellison, Charles Brown, Patrick Turner, Kyle Moore, Kaluka Maiava, Will Harris, Cary Harris
Another week, another No. 1 in the Athlon Sports college basketball power rankings.
For the third week in a row, we have a new team in the top spot following Duke two weeks ago, then Michigan. We return to an old friend at No. 1 in Indiana, who defeated the Wolverines 81-73 on Saturday.
Illustrating how closely matched the two Big Ten giants seem to be, Michigan dropped just one spot to No. 2 this week. In the marquee game of the week, the Wolverines fell behind by a wide margin early in Bloomington, but battled back to tie the Hoosiers in the second half before Michigan’s eventual loss.
Indiana may have been the No. 1 team regardless of other movement around the country, but Kansas’ stunning home loss to Oklahoma State made the decision an easy one.
Meanwhile, the Sunshine State is enjoying unparalleled success with both Florida and Miami in our top five this week. The Gators keep steamrolling through the SEC with their 14-point win over Ole Miss qualifying as a squeaker for Billy Donovan these days.
But the bigger story is in Miami, where Jim Larranaga continues to prove his credentials as a miracle worker. The Hurricanes used a late 8-2 run and a Reggie Johnson tip-in against NC State to remain undefeated in the ACC and two games ahead of Duke for the conference lead.
Related: Key stats from Jan. 28-Feb. 3
COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS: FEB. 5
1. Indiana (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 3
Last week’s results: Defeated Purdue 97-60, defeated Michigan 81-73
This week: at Illinois, at Ohio State
Buzz: Indiana’s starters hit 23-of-38 from field vs. Michigan.
2. Michigan (20-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 1
Last week’s results: Defeated Northwestern 68-46, lost to Indiana 81-73
This week: Ohio State, at Wisconsin
Buzz: Trey Burke needed 24 shots to score 25 points vs Indiana.
3. Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC)
Last week’s rank: 6
Last week’s results: Defeated South Carolina 75-36, defeated Ole Miss 78-64
This week: at Arkansas, Mississippi State
Buzz: The Gators are shooting 51.4 percent from the floor in SEC games.
4. Kansas (19-2, 7-1 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 2
Last week’s results: Lost to Oklahoma State 85-80
This week: at TCU, at Oklahoma
Buzz: Oklahoma State ended Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak.
5. Miami (17-3, 8-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 10
Last week’s results: Defeated Virginia Tech 73-64, defeated NC State 79-78
This week: Boston College, North Carolina
Buzz: First-place Hurricanes are 5-0 on the road in the ACC.
6. Duke (19-2, 6-2 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Defeated Wake Forest 75-70, defeated Florida State 79-60
This week: NC State, at Boston College
Buzz: The Blue Devils struggling from line in ACC games (61.9 percent).
7. Syracuse (19-3, 7-2 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 4
Last week’s results: Lost to Pittsburgh 65-55, defeated Notre Dame 63-47
This week: St. John's
Buzz: Orange only had three points from bench in loss to Pitt and seven in win over Notre Dame.
8. Gonzaga (21-2, 8-0 West Coast Conference)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Defeated Loyola Marymount 88-43, defeated San Diego 65-63
This week: Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount
Buzz: Zags play five of final eight games at home.
9. Arizona (19-2, 7-2 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 8
Last week’s results: Defeated Washington 57-53, defeated Washington State 79-65
This week: Stanford, Cal
Buzz: Wildcats back in race after sweep of Washington schools on the road.
10. Louisville (18-4, 6-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 9
Last week’s results: Defeated Marquette 70-51
This week: at Rutgers, at Notre Dame
Buzz: Despite recent struggles, Cardinals only one game back in the loss column in Big East.
11. Michigan State (14-3, 7-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 12
Last week’s results: Defeated Illinois 80-75
This week: Minnesota, at Purdue
Buzz: Michigan State has three players averaging more than six boards.
12. Ohio State (17-4, 7-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 13
Last week’s results: Defeated Wisconsin 58-49, defeated Nebraska 63-56
This week: at Michigan, Indiana
Buzz: The Buckeyes are hanging around in Big Ten title chase. Will they still be after this week?
13. Kansas State (17-4, 6-2 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 18
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas 83-57, defeated Oklahoma 52-50
This week: at Texas Tech, Iowa State
Buzz: The Wildcats’ padded NCAA Tournament resume with win at Oklahoma.
14. New Mexico (19-3, 6-1 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: 20
Last week’s results: Defeated Wyoming 63-59, defeated Nevada 75-62
This week: Air Force, at UNLV
Buzz: The Lobos are emerging as the team to beat in deep MWC.
15. Cincinnati (18-4, 6-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 21
Last week’s results: Defeated Rutgers 62-54, Seton Hall 65-59
This week: at Providence, Pittsburgh
Buzz: The Bearcats' four losses have come by a total of 10 points.
16. Butler (18-4, 5-2 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 11
Last week’s results: Lost to Saint Louis 75-58, defeated Rhode Island 75-68
This week: St. Bonaventure, at George Washington
Buzz: The Road in the A-10 has not been kind to Butler with losses to La Salle and Saint Louis.
17. Minnesota (17-5, 5-4 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 19
Last week’s results: Defeated Nebraska 84-65, defeated Iowa 62-59
This week: at Michigan State, Illinois
Buzz: Hollins and Hollins pulled Gophers out of a four-game losing streak.
18. Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4 Big East)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Syracuse 65-55, defeated Seton Hall 56-46
This week: at Cincinnati
Buzz: Pitt has won seven of eight, with only loss by 3 at Louisville.
19. Georgetown (16-4, 6-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Seton Hall 74-52, defeated St. John's 68-56
This week: at Rutgers
Buzz: Hoyas' opponents are shooting only 41.2 percent from two.
20. Marquette (15-5, 6-2 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 22
Last week’s results: Lost to Louisville 70-51
This week: at Wyoming, Nevada
Buzz: Eagles have already played three overtime games in Big East.
21. Oregon (18-4, 7-2 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 14
Last week’s results: Lost to Stanford 76-52, lost to Cal 58-54
This week: Colorado, Utah
Buzz: Ducks fall down to Earth with Bay Area-sweep
22. Oklahoma State (15-5, 5-3 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Iowa State 78-76, defeated Kansas 85-80
This week: Baylor, at Texas
Buzz: Cowboys were 0-3 on the road in the Big 12 before rare win in Lawrence.
23. Wisconsin (15-7, 6-3 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 23
Last week’s results: Lost to Ohio State 58-49, defeated Illinois 74-68
This week: Iowa, Michigan
Buzz: Wisconsin shot 42 free throws in win at Illinois after shooting none in a loss at Ohio State.
24. Creighton (20-3, 9-2 Missouri Valley)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Missouri State 91-77, defeated Bradley 75-58
This week: at Indiana State, Illinois State
Buzz: Bluejays back on track after two-game slide.
25. Colorado State (18-4, 5-2 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Boise State 77-57, defeated Wyoming 65-46
This week: at Nevada
Buzz: The Rams have won their last three MWC games comfortably in time for stretch against San Diego State, Air Force, UNLV and New Mexico next week.
Out: No. 15 NC State, No. 16 Wichita State, No. 17 Ole Miss, No. 24 Missouri, No. 25 San Diego State
National Signing Day 2013 is here!
It’s college football’s version of Christmas morning when millions of dollars, thousands of man-hours traveling and countless phone calls come to fruition in the form of a single sheet of faxed paper. Nowhere in sports are grown adults held captive by the musings of teenagers like the first Wednesday in February.
Bizarre flip-flops, surprise press conferences, unique props and wacky storylines all make NSD one of the more intriguing days in all of sports. And 2013 should have its fair share of teams, players, coaches and recruits to watch:
All eyes on Oxford, Miss.
The Ole Miss Rebels are the top college football recruiting storyline for the 2013 cycle. Hugh Freeze is coaching a team that has won four SEC games over the last three years but is hotter than any team in the nation on the recruiting trail. With the additions of the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, and Athlon Consensus 100 defensive lineman Elijah Daniel joining the fold in recent weeks and rumors swirling that four-star lineman Austin Golson will switch from Florida State to Ole Miss, Freeze is pushing for a top 10 class nationally. Needless to say, NSD ’13 could be historic for Ole Miss football.
Robert Nkemdiche is the nation’s No. 1 player and his older brother, Denzel, plays in Oxford. Ever since decommitting from Clemson, the Rebels have long been the favorite for the elite defensive end. LSU made a strong push, but it would be an upset if Nkemdiche signed anywhere but with Ole Miss. He is a game-changer who will make an immediate impact, however, the nation’s No. 1 prospect isn’t the only highly-coveted name on Freeze’s recruiting board.
Ole Miss has put the full-court press on the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman, Laremy Tunsil (AC100 No. 4), fast-rising star defensive end and longtime Mississippi State commitment Chris Jones (No. 18) and elite defensive backs Mackensie Alexander (No. 30) and Antonio Conner (No. 32). If the Rebs can land just one of these names in addition to Nkemdiche, National Signing Day 2013 would be considered a massive success and would make Freeze the toast of Oxford.
But Nick Saban still owns college football
The Crimson Tide has three national championships in four years and is the No. 1 name brand on the recruiting trail. Saban has landed five top-five classes in a row after finishing No. 1 in 2012 and '08, No. 3 in '11 and '09 and No. 5 in '10. Entering Wednesday, 247Sports has the Tide at No. 1 in the team rankings, ESPN lists Alabama at No. 2, Rivals has the BCS champs at No. 3. Scout is the lone outlier with “just” a ninth-place ranking nationally.
What is scary, however, is how Saban and Alabama could finish on Wednesday. Rumors are that the Tide have already flipped long-time Texas Longhorns commitment A’Shawn Robinson (No. 34) and the nation's No. 1 linebacker, Reuben Foster (No. 7), announced his intentions to join the Tide on Monday evening. The star AC100 duo could be just the tip of the what might be a devastating iceberg.
Six of the top ten players in the nation are still uncommitted and Alabama is a finalist for five of them. There are 15 players left uncommitted in the AC100 and 10 of them list the Crimson Tide as a finalist. Other national recruits like Kylie Fitts, Jordan Cunningham and Keith Bryant have Bama figured heavily into the mix as well. Certainly, there is no chance that Saban lands all or even a majority of these names. However, if four or five sign with Alabama, the Crimson Tide is all but assured their third recruiting national championship in six seasons. And while Ole Miss might be a bigger story, Alabama would still have the best players.
What happens out West?
Lane Kiffin has watched his consensus No. 1 overall recruiting class take a major step back of late. Losing commitments left and right has hurt the Trojans and Kiffin needs to stop the bleeding immediately. Jalen Ramsey (No. 15) is rumored to be looking around and could be off to the state of Florida while former commitments Eddie Vanderdoes (No. 6) and Kylie Fitts appear to be headed to crosstown rival UCLA. This class isn’t very big in the first place due to sanctions, but still has some room to grow. Four-star prospects Quinton Powell, Nico Flash and Torrodney Prevot might be the Trojans' only hope at a top-ten class this year. With Tosh Lupoi excelling on the trail in Washington, Jim Mora constructing a top-ten class of his own in L.A. and new coaching staffs up and down the west coast gaining steam, the pressure is on the Men of Troy to finish well. This program is accustomed to winning the first Wednesday in February virtually every season so a slow NSD ’13 would only increase the temperature beneath Kiffin’s hind-quarters.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Urban Meyer jumped head-first into Big Ten recruiting last year and made no friends among his coaching brethren. He swiped commitments from Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan State en route to the No. 4 class in the nation. Michigan and Brady Hoke were No. 6 last season and many believe that a new Ten-Year War has begun not only on the field but on the recruiting trail.
Scout has Michigan and Ohio State ranked No. 1 and 2 nationally in the team rankings. 247Sports and ESPN have both teams in the top five nationally while Rivals has them both in the top six. These two programs don’t like each other, will do anything to land elite players and should distance themselves from the rest of the conference in terms of talent.
Both classes are fairly stable on the eve of National Signing Day with just a few names left for either team. Vonn Bell (No. 26) is the top prize for the Buckeyes while Ezekiel Elliott, Cornelius Elder, James Clark and Dontre Wilson (No. 71) could still be in the mix as well. Michigan is waiting on word from Henry Poggi and Cameron Hunt. While it is unlikely that either wins the recruiting national championship, both are safely in the top five nationally and either could win the Big Ten recruiting championship on Wednesday.
Channel your inner Bobby Bowden
The Hall of Fame icon in Tallahassee made a living dominating National Signing Day by closing strong each and every season. Now, it’s Jimbo Fisher’s turn. Two of the top ten players in the nation, Tunsil and Matthew Thomas (No. 8), have the Seminoles listed as a finalist while three other AC100 talents, Mackensie Alexander, Alex Collins (No. 41) and Stacy Coley (No. 64) are possibilities as well. Collins is a longshot and Tunsil appears to be down to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss, but landing Thomas, Coley and/or Alexander is well within the realm of possibility.
If Fisher can somehow lure five-star USC commit Jalen Ramsey to Tallahassee and finish strong with names like Denver Kirkland, E.J. Levenberry, Jermaine Grace or Yannick Ngakoue, this class has a chance to work its way up the rankings and into the top ten nationally.
New coaching staffs offer plenty to watch
Major college football powerhouses at Oregon, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn are all installing new coaching staffs and each has to capitalize on the renewed energy that comes with a coaching change. Bret Bielema landed star tailback Alex Collins on Monday night, so what can he do for an encore on Wednesday? Will Gus Malzahn convince Mackensie Alexander Auburn is the right place for him? Can Mark Helfrich keep the Robinson twins (Tyrell, Tyree) in Eugene while appealing to Dontre Wilson? Will Butch Jones convince Vonn Bell that Knoxville is the right place for him? Even Mark Stoops at Kentucky has seen a small recruiting surge of late as his first NSD approaches. All of these staffs and many other new coaches have their first tangible chance to prove they belong as the 2013 cycle comes to a close.
Who needs a strong finish?
Depending on which recruiting service you prefer, Tennessee, Louisville, Stanford and Miami are four programs that stand out as needing to finish strong to salvage the year. All four are ranked outside of the top 20 by every service and many have these teams ranked outside of the top 50 nationally. Each program has plenty of talent left on the board but small miracles will have to be done to get the Cardinal or Cardinals into the top 50. Should the Vols land Vonn Bell, many will be pleased with Butch Jones’ finish to the ’13 cycle. It is the Hurricanes, however, that have most upside of the bunch. Matthew Thomas, Stacy Coley, Alex Collins, Denver Kirkland, Jordan Cunningham and Jermaince Grace all still have Miami very much in the mix and all could land in South Beach. Al Golden has his work cut out for him, but the payoff could be one of the best NSD’s in the nation. Look for at least two or three of above names to sign with The U.
Johnny Heisman’s ripple effect
Ricky Seals-Jean (No. 25), Justin Manning (No. 75) and Sebastian LaRue are all elite prospects who have recently cast their lot with the Texas A&M Aggies. Few programs have as much going for them right now as Kevin Sumlin’s squad. A new home in the SEC, a Heisman Trophy-winning redshirt freshman quarterback and a highly effective, electric offensive scheme that is irresistible to elite prospects have all made TAMU one of the hottest brand names on the trail. This class is one of the biggest in the nation (32 verbals) and doesn’t have a ton of space to grow, but it will be fun to watch what type of NSD drama the Aggies deal with on Wednesday. Kenny Hill and Torrodney Prevot are just two names to keep an eye on in College Station.
The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship. With a new crop of players joining the program on National Signing Day, each coach now has a good idea about how their roster looks for the upcoming season and beyond. While National Signing Day is an important moment in building a national title contender, it also signifies the official start of next year’s recruiting class.
With most college football teams signing over 20 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 2,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2013 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.
2013 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team
Lars Blix, Wahkiakum (Cathlamet, Washington)
Boeing Brown, Brookfield (Brookfield Connecticut)
Quade Coward, Cleburne (Cleburne, Texas)
Bucky Hodges, Salem (Virginia Beach, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Brogan Roback, St. John’s (Toledo, Ohio) – Eastern Michigan
E.J. Speed, North Crowley (Fort Worth, Texas)
Quinterris Toppings, Blount (Eight Mile, Alabama)
Skyler Windmiller, Mill Valley (Shawnee, Kansas)
Shermand Badie, John Curtis (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Tulane
Kamari Cotton-Moya, Ridgeview (Bakersfield, California) – Iowa State
Miguel Hermosillo, Ottawa Township (Ottawa, Illinois) - Illinois
Jabo Lee, Dillon (Dillon, South Carolina) – East Carolina
Manusamoa Luuga, Polytechnic (Long Beach, California)
RJihaad Pretlow, Blair Academy (Blairstown, New Jersey) – Temple
L.A. Ramsby, Colerain (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Superiorr Reid, Mount San Jacinto C.C. (San Jacinto, California)
Dishan Romine, DuPont Manual (Louisville, Kentucky)
Diocemy Saint Juste, Santaluces (Lantana, Florida) - Hawaii
Dreamius Smith, Butler County C.C. (El Dorado, Kansas) – West Virginia
Altee Tenpenny, North Little Rock (North Little Rock, Arkansas) - Alabama
Quanties Armand, West Jefferson (Harvey, Louisiana)
Beau Artist, Logan (Logan, Utah)
Dazz Bush, Austin (Decatur, Alabama)
River Cracraft, Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) – Washington State
Andre Cumberbatch, Oak Harbor (Oak Harbor, Washington)
Christian Cumberlander, Jireh Prep (Matthews, North Carolina)
Corn Elder, Ensworth (Nashville, Tennessee)
Brisly Estime, Atlantic (Delray Beach, Florida)
Dameon Gamblin, Mesquite (Mesquite, Texas)
Pharoah McKever, South Columbus (Tabor City, North Carolina) – NC State
Jazz Peavy, Kenosha Tremper (Kenosha, Wisconsin) - Wisconsin
James Quick, Trinity (Louisville, Kentucky) – Louisville
Ladarious Spearman, West Brook Senior High (Beaumont, Texas)
Hunter Bull, Southhaven (Southhaven, Mississippi)
Jake Butt, Pickerington North (Pickerington, Ohio) – Michigan
Standish Dobard, Edna Karr (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Miami
Durham Smythe, Belton (Belton, Texas) – Notre Dame
Nicholas Bonaparte, Dunbar (Baltimore, Maryland) – Coastal Carolina)
Eric Bonenberger, Pottsgrove (Pottstown, Pennsylvania)
Dane Crane, Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) - Washington
Emerald Faletuipapai, Junipero Serra (Gardena, California) – Houston
Gardner Fish, Pelham (Pelham, Alabama)
Grant Hill, Huntsville (Huntsville, Alabama) – Alabama
Dallas Hinkhouse, Iowa Western C.C. (Council Bluffs, Iowa) - Illinois
Chongo Kondolo, Fresno City C.C. (Fresno, California) - Nebraska
Grant Lingafelter, Chagrin Falls (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) – West Virginia
Karl Malone, Cedar Creek (Ruston, Louisiana) – LSU
Chuddy Nwachukwu, Dighton Rehboth Regional (North Dighton, Massachusetts)
Sunny Odogwu, Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Virginia) - Miami
JonRyheem Peoples, Rigby (Rigby, Idaho) – BYU
Bailey Pepper, Madison (Madison Central)
Buster Posey, Gadsden City (Gadsden, Alabama)
Kenneth Santa Marina, McDonogh 35 (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Tulane
Dan Skipper, Ralston Valley (Arvada, Colorado) - Arkansas
Stone Underwood, Copiah-Lincoln C.C. (Wesson, Mississippi) – West Virginia
Wolfgang Zacheri, Broughton (Raleigh, North Carolina) – UNC Charlotte
Taco Charlton, Central (Pickerington, Ohio) – Michigan
Rashaad Coward, Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn, New York) – Old Dominion
Bear Cummings, East Mississippi C.C. (Scooba, Mississippi) – Florida
Carmine Goldsack, Bergen Catholic (Oradell, New Jersey)
Dee Liner, Muscle Shoals (Muscle Shoals, Alabama)
Finesse Middleton, Gadsden City (Gadsden, Alabama) - Louisville
Naim Mustafaa, Alpharetta (Alpharetta, Georgia) – Oklahoma State
Roc-m Nesbitt, Carver (Atlanta, Georgia)
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Alief Taylor (Houston, Texas) - Oklahoma
Kingsley Opara, Mandarin (Jacksonville, Florida) - Maryland
Jock Petree, West Orange (Winter Garden, Florida)
Stone Sander, Placer (Auburn, California)
Buddy Shutlock, Dallas SHS (Dallas, PA)
Junius Smalls, West Jefferson (Harvey, Louisiana)
Wyatt Teller, Liberty (Bealeton, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Wa’Keem Whipper, Atlantic (Port Orange, Florida)
Buddy Brown, Williamstown (Williamstown, New Jersey) – Temple
Dance Estes, Bay (Panama City, Florida)
Holland Fisher, Manchester (Midlothian, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Pierre Gee-Tucker, Belleville (Belleville, Illinois)
Courtney Love, Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, Ohio) – Nebraska
Ebenezer Ogundeko, Thomas Jefferson (Brooklyn, New York) – Clemson
Money Peterson, Wilmer-Hutchins (Dallas, Texas)
Johnny Ragin III, Wilsonville (Wilsonville, Oregon) - California
Matt Smallbone, St. Joseph’s (South Bend, Indiana) – Miami (Ohio)
Eli Apple, Eastern (Voorhees, New Jersey) – Ohio State
Will Barrow, Skyline (Dallas, Texas) – Tulsa
Stormy Butler, College of the Sequoias (Visalia, California)
Money Hunter, Prosper (Prosper, Texas)
William Likely, Glades Central (Belle Glade, Florida) – Maryland
Montrel Meander, Palo Duro (Amarillo, Texas) - Texas
Atem Ntantang, Woodgrove (Purcellville, Virginia) – Boston College
Montavious Smoke, Stanhope Elmore (Millbrook, Alabama)
Weston Steelhammer, Calvary Academy (Shreveport, Louisiana)
Mason Stone, Mountlake Terrace (Mountlake-Terrace, Washington)
Mike Tyson, Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Virginia) – Cincinnati
Priest Willis, Marcos De Niza (Tempe, Arizona) – UCLA
Chocolate Wilson, Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) – Marshall
Diquon Woodhouse, Altus (Altus, Oklahoma) – Navy
Related Recruiting Content
Baltimore won the Super Bowl, but as it relates to Athlon Sports’ early ranking of NFL teams for next season, not ALL of the spoils go to the victor. San Francisco, who came up short against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday night in New Orleans, comes in at No. 1, while the newly crowned world champions slot in at No. 4.
Note: 2012 Record includes playoffs, if applicable.
1. San Francisco 49ers (13-5-1)
San Francisco’s second-half rally comes up short against Baltimore, but the 49ers are well positioned to make another title run this fall.
2. Denver Broncos (13-4)
Even though Denver’s roster as a whole is relatively young, Peyton Manning (37 in March) is not, so the Broncos’ window may be closing sooner rather than later.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-6)
Greg Jennings may have played his last game in a Packers’ uniform, but the defense will get linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) back. A better running game certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
4. Baltimore Ravens (14-6)
Baltimore’s roster will look quite different for the Ravens’ championship defense this fall. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco will cash in handsomely, but his new contract will only add to team’s cap woes.
Related: Early Super Bowl XLVIII Contenders
5. Houston Texans (13-5)
Houston stumbled at the finish, but this team still has a bright future and the Texans' defense will get a big boost from the healthy return of linebacker Brian Cushing (ACL).
6. Atlanta Falcons (14-4)
Atlanta finally got that long-sought first playoff win for Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and company. First order of business this offseason is convincing Tony Gonzalez to come back for another run.
7. Seattle Seahawks (12-6)
Seattle and San Francisco going head-to-head in the NFC West should be a lot of fun to watch in the coming seasons.
8. New England Patriots (13-5)
Free agent Wes Welker is just one of several key Patriots who could be in a different uniform next season. Is this the end of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s run in the AFC?
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Pittsburgh would like nothing more than to knock defending Super Bowl champion Ravens from their perch atop the AFC North. Steelers will need to do some savvy cap maneuvering and draft picks to increase their chances of doing so, however.
10. New York Giants (9-7)
Focus will be on keeping enough pieces in the fold to make another run in the fall. Several key free agents and contract situations will dominate front office’s attention this offseason.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances, Cincinnati is out to prove it is ready to challenge Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Bengals have lots of cap space (reported $55 million) and an extra second-round pick in April to improve the roster and address areas of need.
12. Washington Redskins (10-7)
Washington’s 2013 season hinges on the healthy return of Robert Griffin III and when he gets back on the field. Next area of concern has to be improving NFL’s 28th-ranked defense.
13. Chicago Bears (10-6)
First-year NFL head coach Marc Trestman’s goal is to keep Chicago in playoff contention. The Bears’ offseason priorities are to fix the offensive line, help Jay Cutler take that next step and keep league’s No. 5 defense intact (Brian Urlacher?) and on the same page with new coordinator Mel Tucker.
14. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
New Orleans is happy to finally put BountyGate behind it. Reinstated and re-signed head coach Sean Payton ready to lead Saints back to Super Bowl contention.
15. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)
Indianapolis is hoping to build on this past season’s remarkable turnaround and has the plenty of cap space ($46 million) to help improve roster. Andrew Luck loses Bruce Arians, but gets to replace him with Pep Hamilton, his offensive coordinator his senior year at Stanford.
16. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)
Minnesota basking in Adrian Peterson’s MVP season, playoff berth, but the jury is still out on Christian Ponder at quarterback and a decision has to be made about Percy Harvin’s future with the Vikings
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Jason Garrett’s seat is only getting hotter in Dallas, as he brings Monte Kiffin back to the NFL to reinvent the Cowboys’ defense. Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” scheme probably means new personnel, but team’s cap situation ($18 million over) will hinder roster changes.
18. San Diego Chargers (7-9)
Mike McCoy may be a first-year head coach, but he’s already made wise decisions in retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano and bringing in Ken Whisenhunt to run the offense. If McCoy can do for Philip Rivers what he did for Peyton Manning, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow in Denver, watch out for these Chargers.
19. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1)
Jeff Fisher changes his mind about hiring Rob Ryan to run the defense. Besides finding a defensive coordinator, the team also must decide on whether free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola will be back in a Rams uniform or not.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Tampa Bay was quite competitive in first season under Greg Schiano. Can Doug Martin and Lavonte David avoid a sophomore slump and will Josh Johnson show that he’s the long-term answer at quarterback are a few key things to watch next season.
21. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Carolina finished the season with four straight wins, but lost offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland. Cam Newton’s continued development with new OC David Shula, sorting out a crowded backfield and getting under the salary cap headline the Panthers’ offseason to do list.
22. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Miami needs to give Ryan Tannehill a bona fide wide receiver and the Dolphins have enough cap room ($35.8 million) to go shopping in fairly deep free agent class. Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Jake Long and Randy Starks are key free agents that either need to re-signed or replaced.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
All eyes will be on Chip Kelly to see if he can make the jump from Oregon to the NFL, as well as how his up-tempo, high-octane offense fares in the pros. Michael Vick may have played his last game in an Eagles uniform, but Kelly has other weapons to work with and the defense was not the team’s biggest problem this past season.
24. Detroit Lions (4-12)
Detroit was unable to build off of its 2011 postseason appearance, as the Lions tumbled into the NFC North basement. This offseason is critical not only for the Lions, but also head coach Jim Schwartz, who could be headed to unemployment if he doesn’t turn things around in the fall.
25. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Ohio native Rob Chudzinksi lands dream job in taking over hometown team. The first-year head coach has some appealing pieces, including a young defense, in place; but he has several question marks (Brandon Weeden? wide receiver depth?) too.
26. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Doug Marrone jumps from Syracuse to Buffalo, as he will try and end the Bills’ 13-season playoff drought, the longest active one in the NFL.
27. New York Jets (6-10)
It’s put up or shut up time for Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez as Tim Tebow won’t be around next season to serve as a “distraction” or take the fall should things go wrong.
28. Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Mike Munchak has already made several coaching changes (Gregg Williams next?) in an attempt to start turning things around. Coaching changes aside, the Titans’ 2013 season, and most likely Munchak’s job, hinges on the development of quarterback Jake Locker and marked improvement on defense.
29. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Arizona replaced Ken Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians, this past season’s NFL Coach of the Year recipient. Unfortunately for Arians, he wasn’t able to bring Andrew Luck, or Indianapolis’ offensive line for that matter, with him. It doesn’t help Arians that he wasn’t able to keep Ray Horton on board as defensive coordinator either.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
Kansas City got its man when the Chiefs hired Andy Reid following his dismissal in Philadelphia. Now Reid will set to work on remaking the roster to his liking, and he has the No. 1 overall pick in April to help him do that.
31. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Not much went right for head coach Dennis Allen in his first season in Oakland. Given that the Raiders are already over the cap, any improvement will have to be fueled by its young impact players and this April’s draft, minus the second-round pick they traded to Cincinnati in the Carson Palmer deal from 2011.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
First-year coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell face league’s toughest task in trying to turnaround the Jacksonville franchise, both on the field and off.
Super Bowl XLVII had it all — a blackout, fireworks, records broken, sex appeal and mass hysteria. The Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34–31, at the Superdome in New Orleans. But there was plenty of action, from Alicia Keys' National Anthem to Beyonce's halftime show to Ray Lewis' postgame speech, and every commercial in between. These are the most memorable moments from Super Bowl XLVII.
Zero Dark 47
The CBS telecast of Super Bowl XLVII became the Will Ferrell “Wake Up and Smile” teleprompter skit on SNL when the lights went out at the Superdome in New Orleans.
National Anthem Remix
Alicia Keys took the over on the Vegas line of 2:10, clocking in at a 2:36 after tickling the ivory and repeating the last line of a record-length “Star Spangled Banner.”
Put a Ring On It
Beyonce’s lip-syncing halftime show included a Destiny’s Child reunion but no Jay-Z. But the Ravens’ best omen came pregame, when Jonathan Ogden showed off his Super Bowl XXXV ring during Class of 2013 Hall of Fame introductions.
Ravens quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco sat out 84 minutes of real time during the Beyonce concert, Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return and the Superdome blackout.
When the game was over, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh refused to be interviewed by CBS — after he had the following exchange with older bro and Ravens coach John Harbaugh: “I love you,” said John. “Congratulations,” replied Jim.
Other Worldly Love
Danica Patrick gave us another wreck to watch, with Israeli ubermodel Bar Refaeli making out with some lucky nerd in a gag reflex GoDaddy.com spot.
Jacoby Jones’ Not-Touched-Down Touchdown
“Smokin’ Joe” Flacco hit Jones on a deep ball which he fielded like a punt, fell down untouched, got back up, juked and sprinted into the end zone to cap a 56-yard score.
Jacoby Jones’ 109-turned-108-yard Kick Return
Jim Nantz credited Jones with a record 109-yard kickoff return to open the second half. The eye in the sky took one yard away for a record-tying 108-yard return.
Ravens safety Ed Reed tied the all-time playoff record with his ninth career INT, which was the first-ever INT thrown by a 49ers quarterback in the Super Bowl. Joe Montana and Steve Young threw 17 TDs and zero INTs before Colin Kaepernick’s miscue.
South Korean psuper pop pstar Psy hit the Super Bowl hard, with a neon-green pistachio dance party that clearly was “Gangnam Style.”
Fake FG, Non-Punt
Former special teams coach John Harbaugh called for both a fake field goal with rookie kicker Justin Tucker and an intentional safety with punter Sam Koch.
The second black referee in Super Bowl history was a controversial choice to work the game, which included several shoving matches but no crazy calls. Unless you think there was a…
Botched Holding Call?
On 4th-and-Goal with the game on the line, 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree and Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith tangled as the ball sailed over their heads and hit the ground. No flag was thrown, causing Jim Harbaugh to lose his mind.
Calvin Klein caused plenty of Super Sunday partygoers to freak out Harbaugh style with its creepy black-and-white ad featuring a half-naked male model.
So God Made a Farmer
Ram brought it all back to Earth with an earnest, honest ode to hard work — brilliantly using Paul Harvey’s famed 1978 speech in a spot that played like a short film.
Ray Lewis' Last Words
Ray tried to wrestle the mic from Jim Nantz in the postgame trophy ceremony. But settled for repeating his familiar message: "When God is for you, who can be against you?"
The Commissioner avoided being beat down on Bourbon Street by watching the big game with nine-year-old phenom Samantha Gordon. Because, win or lose, Ravens or 49ers, everyone loves that girl.
This weekend was vintage Phil Mickelson. In winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale,he played as well as he could possibly play, and yet he left us wanting more.
On Thursday, he saw a putt for a 59 cruelly horseshoe out of the cup even as he was walking it in, putter raised, leaving him a tap-in for a 60.
On Friday, he was cruising toward the PGA Tour's 36-hole scoring record until a double-bogey at 18 left him a shot shy.
On Saturday, he came up just short of the Tour's 54-hole scoring record.
On Sunday, he turned back a Brandt Snedeker charge with one of the greatest putts of his career, a 54-footer through the fringe at No. 7 that was barreling along until the cup got in the way. Three back-nine birdies later, he had a four-shot win over Snedeker and a staggering 28-under finish — and yet, the absence of his career nemesis placed an undeserved asterisk next to his 41st career PGA Tour win.
Yes, as Johnny Miller pointed out during Sunday's broadcast, had Phil not had the misfortune of playing in the Tiger Woods era, he would be the undisputed king of golf. As it is, Mickelson has fashioned a career that would be the envy of all but a handful of players in the game's history. In particular, Lefty has towered over the desert Southwest like a smiling Sphinx, winning six times in the state where he played his collegiate golf. Playing for an adoring crowd, the largest of the PGA Tour season, Mickelson tied the tournament scoring record of 256, 28-under par. Only twice in 72 holes did he post an over-par score on a hole.
Mostly, though, he regained a feel for what it's like to win a golf tournament, which could portend a massive year.
"It's an important one for me, because it's been a while since I won, been a while since I've been in contention," Mickelson said. "I was certainly nervous heading into today's final round.
"I think the thing I'm most excited about was the way I was able to regain control of my thoughts after a few shots early on that I didn't care for and come back and hit a number of good shots on the back nine to do what I needed to do to win."
Next up: it's back to Pebble Beach, where Mickelson is the defending champion and has won four times. Snedeker will be there too, hopeful that Lefty left his best scores in Scottsdale.
• Phil offered a tip of the hat to two key contributors — Butch Harmon, who conducted an emergency session with Lefty prior to the tournament to correct what Mickelson called a "small thing on the takeaway," and his new driver, a Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme that helped him post 29 birdies and an eagle and lead the field in greens in regulation.
• This marked the ninth different time that Tiger Woods and Mickelson have won in back-to-back weeks.
• Of Mickelson's 41 career wins, 19 have come on the Tour's West Coast Swing.
• Snedeker vaulted to the top of the FedExCup standings with his third top-3 finish of the young season. He also moves to a career-high 6th in the World Golf Rankings. A week after finishing second to Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines, he ran into the Mickelson buzzsaw at TPC Scottsdale, although he made Phil work for his win with a final-round 65. "I'm running into Hall of Famers every week," Snedeker said.
• Snedeker's 260 total would have been good enough to win the previous 11 Waste Management Phoenix Opens and has been bested only three times in the tournament's history.
Throughout the final months of the college basketball season, Athlon Sports will take a quick snapshot of key movers in the potential NCAA field. Who's moving up? Who's moving down? Who's on the bubble and who's off? What can we expect in the coming days from these teams?
Our next installment assesses Villanova, a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Jay Wright before a down season in 2011-12. The Wildcats have one of the most difficult resumes among bubble teams. They started the season with lopsided losses to teams that may struggle to reach the NCAA Tournament if they make it at all.
Yet Villanova has started to pull its season together with two wins over top-five wins a week ago, followed by two more losses.
Here’s how Villanova looks with six weeks to Selection Sunday.
|By the numbers|
Record: 13-9, 4-5 Big East
Strength of schedule: 40
Best wins: No. 10 Louisville, No. 11 Syracuse
Worst losses: No. 232 Columbia, No. 107 Providence (twice)
Reasons for optimism
In the numbers game: Villanova put itself into the NCAA Tournament conversation by defeating Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 and Syracuse 75-71 on Jan. 26. Both were ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll at the time, but the Cardinals and Orange have slipped to merely the top 15 in the RPI in the first week in February.
In the real game: JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard attack the basket, leading a team that’s one of the best in the country in getting to the free throw line. When forward Mouphtaou Yarou and guard Ryan Arcidiacoco are both playing well, Villanova can be tough to beat. However, both can be streaky at times, putting more on the shoulders of Pinkston and Hilliard.
Reasons for concern
In the numbers game: Two of Villanova’s early losses don’t look nearly as bad as they did back in November: La Salle and Alabama defeated Villanova early, but now the Explorers are in NCAA contention while Alabama is flirting with the top 60 of the RPI. The 75-57 loss to Columbia, though, is as bad as it was back on Nov. 20. Villanova’s main concern is two losses to Providence, including 55-52 at home Sunday. Villanova’s RPI of 71 and middling conference record will be tough to overcome.
In the real game:
Villanova was torched from three-point range in its two losses following the wins over Louisville and Syracuse. Notre Dame shot 9 of 21 from beyond the arc, while Providence went 10 of 15. A three from Bryce Cotton ended a 9-0 run for Villanova and won the game for the Friars. Meanwhile, Villanova is 5 of 26 from long range during that span.
Villanova does not have much wiggle room after Sunday’s loss to Providence, meaning the Wildcats can’t afford a lapse this week against DePaul and Rutgers. For the Wildcats to recover its NCAA Tournament momentum, they may need to sweep two teams on the road in two weeks when they visit Cincinnati on Feb. 12 and Connecticut on Feb. 16. Villanova’s best road win is over USF on Jan. 9.
The verdict: NIT
Villanova’s road loss to Notre Dame was excusable. The Wildcats may have been playing above their heads in the wins over Louisville and Syracuse, and Notre Dame is tough to defeat in South Bend. Being swept by Providence is a different matter. Villanova is an improved team, but the Wildcats’ margin of error is too slim to afford home losses like Sunday’s to the Friars.
Even though the celebration in Baltimore will go on throughout the week and beyond, it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2013 season, right? With that in mind, here’s Athlon Sports’ early look at which teams could be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium in New York City on Feb. 2, 2014.
By the way, the temperature in the Big Apple as of game time on Sunday night was a brisk 31 degrees. Whichever two teams do make it to next season’s Super Bowl will want to be sure and pack their cold-weather gear.
The Reigning Champions
2102 Record: (10-6 — AFC North, AFC, Super Bowl XLVII champions)
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to dampen the euphoria in Baltimore this week and probably for a little while longer. To the victor go the spoils, which is why the Ravens lead off our list of next season's contenders. That said, Baltimore's title defense in the 2013 season will be handled by a roster that will look quite different. Besides Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens have some serious cap issues that must be addressed. Their work begins with Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco, who is a free agent and reportedly looking for a new contract that will pay him as much as $20 million per year. Needless to say he pretty much earned it with his performance in New Orleans, but that doesn't change the fact that his new deal will only make the Ravens' cap situation worse. And unfortunately, Flacco isn’t the only key free agent the Ravens have to worry about, as Ed Reed, Cary Williams, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger are also in the same category, along with several others. As it stands right now, the Ravens will have to cut some players and/or restructure several contracts before they can even be in a position to talk with any of their free agents not named Flacco. So soak it in Ravens fans, celebrate and enjoy this special, unforgettable season because it’s almost a certainty that Lewis wasn’t the only who has played his last game in a Ravens uniform.
San Francisco 49ers
2012 Record: (11-4-1 — NFC West, NFC champions, lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII)
They say experience is the best teacher and as tough as the coming weeks are going to be for this San Francisco team, the future still looks incredibly bright. With Colin Kaepernick now entrenched as the starting quarterback, the team’s most important pending free agent is All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson. A decision will have to be made about Alex Smith’s future, and should defensive end Justin Smith decide to retire some work will need to be done along the defensive line. Otherwise the 49ers’ core remains intact and is still relatively young. This team is not only in great shape to make it back to the Super Bowl next season, but remain a championship contender for years to come.
2012 Record: (13-3 – NFC South champions, lost to San Francisco in NFC Championship)
No doubt blowing a second-half lead at home to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game is going to sting for a while, but there’s no reason to think that Atlanta won’t at least make it back to the playoffs next season. Matt Ryan appears to be entering his prime and the Falcons have plenty of weapons on offense to help, especially if tight end Tony Gonzalez decides to come back for one more season. The team does have key free agents on both the offensive line (Sam Baker) and in the secondary (Brent Grimes, William Moore), but there should be enough cap space to keep the roster mostly intact.
2012 Record: (13-3 — AFC West champions, lost to Baltimore in AFC Divisional round)
The pieces (MVP-worthy season from Peyton Manning, one of the league’s best defenses, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs) were seemingly in place for Denver, but the Broncos couldn’t make the plays they needed to the most in their double overtime loss to the Ravens in the AFC Divisional round. Manning may not be getting any younger (he’ll turn 37 in March), but he has young weapons around him and the defense should continue to get better. Right now, the Broncos’ most pressing need is to re-sign free agent All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Clady and then use their remaining cap space and the draft to shore up other areas of weakness. The secondary could go through some changes as well, especially based on how poorly it performed in the playoff loss.
Green Bay Packers
2012 Record: (11-5 — NFC North champions, lost to San Francisco in NFC Divisional round)
San Francisco took it to Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round, but as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, this team can’t be counted out. Whether the Packers re-sign wide receiver Greg Jennings or not remains to be seen, but Rodgers still has Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the fold. Also it’s a fairly deep free agent class at receiver, so the Packers should be able to find a replacement for Jennings there or through the draft if need be. Running back has to be another area of concern on offense, but the defense will get an immediate boost with the healthy return of starting linebacker Desmond Bishop. Bishop, who led the team in tackles in 2011, missed all of this past season after tearing his hamstring in a preseason game.
2012 Record: (12-4 — AFC South champions, lost to New England in AFC Divisional round)
After starting the season 11-1, Houston stumbled down the stretch, losing four of its final six games, including getting dispatched by New England, 41-28, in the AFC Divisional round. The future, however, remains bright for the Texans who have Pro Bowl-caliber players on offense in quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson, along with one of the best offensive lines in the entire league. Finding a more reliable and productive second option at wide receiver would only make this offense even more dangerous. On defense, the secondary will probably undergo several changes, but it still has playmaker J.J. Watt up front. The defense also will get linebacker Brian Cushing back next season. Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5, and the Texans’ defense wasn’t quite the same after he was sidelined.
New England Patriots
2012 Record: (12-4 — AFC East champions, lost to Baltimore in AFC Championship)
As good as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been together, the reality is that New England’s window may be starting to close. For one, Tom Brady will be 36 before the start of next season and this roster is sure to look somewhat different this fall. No fewer than nine key players are pending free agents, the biggest being wide receiver Wes Welker. The secondary, which was victimized often last season (NFL-high 74 passing plays of 20 yards or more), will undergo changes as well, and there’s only so much cap space to go around. The Patriots are among the best in the league at working the cap and the draft, but there appear to be a lot of potential holes to fill here. With so many “new” players coming to a relatively veteran team, you can’t help but wonder if the end of an era is upon us.
2012 Record: (8-8, 3rd in AFC North)
Similar to New England, Pittsburgh is facing some difficult decisions related to the future of its franchise as well. The Steelers were decimated by key injuries last year, especially along the offensive line and on defense. On top of that, the team has several core players either getting older or are free agents. One of those free agents is wide receiver Mike Wallace, who will more than likely have to be replaced, and he’s not the only Pittsburgh starter on that list. Complicating the Steelers’ makeover plans is identifying its lead running back (if they even have one on the roster) and the fact that they are going to have to do some work to get under the cap. The pieces are still in place for the Steelers to contend, but it’s critical that they bring in reinforcements and some new blood this offseason if they want to hang around beyond next season.
2012 Record: (11-5 — Wild Card berth, lost to Atlanta in NFC Divisional round)
If not for San Francisco, Seattle could have potentially topped this list of contenders, as the Seahawks were just a last-second field goal away from playing the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. As it is, these two NFC West foes could be on the verge of establishing a divisional rivalry similar to that of the Steelers and Ravens from recent years. The Seahawks are strikingly similar to their NFC West counterparts in that they both are led by former Pac-12 coaches, like to run the ball, have one of the league’s best defenses, and found their franchise quarterbacks this season because of injuries. There really appear to be no glaring weaknesses on Seattle’s roster, so the mission now is to work on getting better, building depth and look for ways to keep its core intact. Sound familiar? That’s also San Francisco’s game plan this offseason.
Teams to Watch
2012 Record: (10-6, 3rd in NFC North)
Of the eight new head coaches, Marc Trestman is the only one taking over a team that finished with a winning record this season. The Bears won 10 games, but still missed the playoffs, mainly due to a lack of offensive production. Trestman’s main job is to fix the offense, starting with the offensive line, along with helping quarterback Jay Cutler make that next step in his development. The defense was one of the league’s best, but it will undergo some changes as well, starting with a new coordinator in Mel Tucker. Still, if this team can adjust to the new coaching staff and system changes, and the front office can make some shrewd moves in free agency and the draft, there are enough pieces already in place for it to remain competitive in the NFC North.
2012 Record: (10-6 — Wild Card berth, lost to Houston in Wild Card round)
For the second year in a row, Cincinnati watched its season come to an end with a Wild Card loss in Houston. Now it’s time to see if the Bengals can take that next step and challenge the Ravens and Steelers for supremacy in the AFC North. The offensive cornerstones are in place with quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. The defense made huge strides this season and only should get better. The Bengals do have several free agents to worry about, especially on defense, but with a reported $55.1 million in cap space, the most of any team, there should be more than enough to keep their core intact as well as address other areas of need (running back? wide receiver?).
New York Giants
2012 Record: (9-7, 2nd in NFC East)
The Giants missed out on a chance to defend their Super Bowl title primarily due to a December road loss to Washington. Whether or not the Giants’ window has closed will be determined somewhat by the decisions made this offseason. The Giants have key players entering free agency, namely Victor Cruz, Osi Umenyiora, Martellus Bennett and Will Beatty, and are already up against the cap as it is. That said, unless the front office decides to blow it all up, the Giants should be able to put the pieces together for one more run next season. Their margin of error, however, will be razor-thin.
Potential Dark Horses
2012 Record: (11-5 – AFC Wild Card berth, lost to Baltimore in AFC Wild Card round)
Yes, Indianapolis improved from 2-14 in 2011 to a remarkable 11-5 this season and made the playoffs, and did so with a rookie quarterback and an interim head coach for most of the season. However, this also is a team that walked a fine line between winning and losing. The Colts finished with a point differential of -30 and won eight games by seven or fewer points. This is a young team that should get better and one that has nearly $50 million in projected cap space to help with that. Development and improvement will be necessary to maintain this momentum, however, because it’s too much to ask for the Colts to get all of the breaks on the field again.
New Orleans Saints
2012 Record: (7-9, 2nd in NFC South)
No team will be happier to see the beginning of the new league year come in March than New Orleans, as the Saints will finally be able to put BountyGate and the rest of the distractions behind them. Regardless of the moves the Saints make in free agency or the draft, they have already brought in their biggest “new” acquisition with the reinstatement and re-signing of head coach Sean Payton. The team has some work to do in regards to the cap and one key player to re-sign in offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, but more than anything the Saints are just looking forward to a return to normalcy. Don’t forget, the last time Payton coached this team the Saints went 13-3 in the 2011 regular season and lost at San Francisco by just four points in the NFC Divisional round.
San Diego Chargers
2012 Record: (7-9, 2nd in AFC West)
San Diego won just seven games, had the second-to-worst offense in the NFL and fired its head coach. So what’s to like, you ask? For starters, how about the fact that the Chargers scored as many points as they allowed, lost five games by seven or fewer points and finished as the league’s ninth-ranked defense? Injuries were certainly not this team’s friend either as they wrecked the offensive line as well as running back Ryan Mathews’ season. There’s no question this team has work to do this offseason, but new coach Mike McCoy has already got things started in the right direction by retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano and bringing in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator to help turn quarterback Philip Rivers around. The cupboard is far from bare in San Diego and with the right moves, some good health and a few breaks; the Chargers could be one of next season's turnaround teams.
The Wild Cards
Fittingly, the three “wild cards” all reside in the same division, the NFC East. Right now, there is no division in the NFL that is harder to put a finger on than the one the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins call home. Consider that for all of the questions facing the Giants and decisions that will have to be made (see above); they still appear to the most “stable” team in the East.
2012 Record: (8-8, 3rd in NFC East)
Jason Garrett’s seat continues to get warm as the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Expectations in Big D always remain high, at least as long as Jerry Jones is calling the shots, and Garrett’s job may very well be decided by how well the Cowboys adjust to a new defensive system and philosophy that will be installed by new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. New scheme or not, the Cowboys’ roster will look different next year if not for the simple fact the team is already projected to be nearly $20 million over the cap. So new defense, new personnel and a need to win and quickly. Buckle up Cowboys fans, because it may be a bumpy ride.
2012 Record: (4-12, 4th in NFC East)
Pretty much everything is “new” in Philadelphia starting with head coach Chip Kelly. Besides replacing Andy Reid, who led the Eagles for 14 seasons, Kelly will be the latest college coach trying to prove he can be successful on the next level. The Eagles don’t have many key free agents to worry about re-signing (other than cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), but in many ways this team is basically starting over from scratch. Remember, quarterback Nick Foles took over as the starter late last season, and now he has to learn a new system with a new head coach and offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur). At this point, the defense doesn’t even now who will be calling the shots as Kelly has yet to name a coordinator. At least Kelly is coaching in a city known for patient fans, right?
2012 Record: (10-6 – NFC East champions, lost to Seattle in NFC Wild Card round)
Wait a minute, Washington, the defending division champions, should have nowhere to go but up, right? Perhaps, but that seemed much more likely up until the point in the Wild Card game against Seattle when quarterback Robert Griffin III’s right knee buckled trying to field a bad shotgun snap. Griffin left the game, the Redskins lost to the Seahawks, and everyone’s attention shifted to the severity of the No. 2 overall pick’s injury.
A few days later those fears were realized when Griffin underwent surgery to repair the LCL and ACL in his right knee, the same knee in which he tore the ACL during his sophomore year at Baylor. Griffin was reportedly walking without a noticeable limp on Saturday when he accepted the 2012 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but he will more than likely open training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to give him more time to heal and get ready.
There is no mistaking Griffin’s value to this team, so now the Redskins go into what should have been an offseason brimming with optimism with plenty of questions surrounding the immediate and long-term future of the man who is supposed to be their franchise quarterback. Even with Griffin, this is still a team that has room for improvement, especially on defense, but since the Redskins gave up so much in the first place to draft Griffin, they can’t expect a lot of help to come in this April’s draft. Washington probably won’t be able to do much in free agency either, even though that’s been owner Daniel Snyder’s preferred method of improving the roster, since they are already projected to be over the cap.
Barring a serious setback, Griffin should return at some point next season. Backup and fellow 2012 draft pick Kirk Cousins showed that he’s capable of holding the fort down, but that one game he started this season also is the only game he has started. Washington should be fine once it gets Griffin back. When that is exactly and where will the Redskins be in the divisional chase and playoff hunt when he returns are anyone’s guess right now.
Preseason prognosticators like Athlon Sports — the most accurate college football preview magazine on newsstands — use many things to predict what the coming football season will look like. Returning starters, scheduling, historic trends, coaching, pending off-the-field issues and, of course, recruiting rankings all help Athlon editors predict the future of college football.
Recruiting rankings have their detractors. Yes, evaluating 16- and 17-year-old kids is an inexact science. No, star rankings aren’t the only thing that matters. Yes, leadership (e.g., Nick Saban) is more important than national recruiting rankings (See Auburn).
But using national team recruiting rankings to attempt to pinpoint how “talented” any given roster is an interesting and illuminating practice.
For the sake of this discussion, the 2013 conference alignment was used to calculate, rank and organize teams and leagues. Rivals.com national team rankings over a five-year span (2008-12) were used for the sake of consistency. And the 72 “BCS” conference teams as well as Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU were used to form the 75-team ranking.
So what did we learn about under- and over-achieving?
Shockingly, the SEC dominates
Alabama has the best roster in America and has won three of the last four national titles. Additionally, four of the top seven, five of the top 10 and eight of the top 19 rosters in the nation reside in the SEC. Within the SEC, the rankings go chalk. Bama has the best players and has won the most games. Florida ranks No. 2 in talent and is No. 2 in wins. LSU is third in both and Georgia is fourth in both. But after that is where things get interesting…
Bigger they are, heavier they fall
Despite the SEC dominance on the field, the SEC also features some of the largest disappointments as well. Tennessee is ranked ahead of Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Virginia Tech in terms of talent, but is the first team in the rankings with a losing overall record (28-34). Auburn is the first team in the rankings with a losing conference record (17-23) and claims a top 10 roster nationally. There is a reason these two programs have combined for seven head coaches in the last four seasons. Ole Miss also features top 25 talent but has a hideous 13-27 SEC record in the last five years. National Championship or not, expectations are high in Knoxville and Auburn for a reason.
Concerning struggles for major powers
USC, the second-most talented roster, has lost an average of three Pac-12 games per year over the last five seasons. Texas (No. 3) has averaged more than three losses per season over that span — and that includes a 15-1 mark in 2008-09. The ACC’s two most talented teams, Florida State (No. 5) and Miami (No. 13), have a combined 31 conference losses and one ACC title between them over the last five seasons. And Georgia’s (No. 7) record isn’t all that pretty either (27-13), although it is skewed by one really bad season in 2009 (6-7, 3-5). Lane Kiffin, Mack Brown and Jimbo Fisher need to show improvement, growth and stability and do so quickly.
The little guy has some growing up to do
UCF, Memphis and Houston should all be able to recruit and subsequently compete at a comparable level in the Big East rather quickly. Pitt (ACC), Maryland and Rutgers (Big Ten) are all making semi-parallel moves and should be fine. But TCU, Utah and Boise State will all have to prove they can increase their ability to recruit in order to win with the big boys. The Broncos have the best record of any of the 75 teams in this study but are 68th in talent. TCU and Utah have impressive win-loss records — prior to entering the Big 12 and Pac-12. All three will have to take the next step on the recruiting trail to continue long-term big-time success.
Bill Snyder, Pat Fitzgerald, Bret Bielema and Butch Jones have done the most with the least of any coaches in the nation. Each of their rosters rank outside of the top 50 nationally in terms of talent and the group has a combined seven conference championships and their four teams have made 17 bowl appearances (in 20 potential tries). There is a reason that the Badgers and Bearcats had to find new coaches when the SEC came calling in Madison and Cincinnati. Mike Riley, Paul Johnson, Jim Grobe and James Franklin have all proven that their teams win more than their talent indicates as well.
Who has the biggest upside?
Oklahoma State, Washington and Penn State are three extremely intriguing programs. All are unique programs with unique histories and unique hurdles to overcome, but all are poised to enter the upper echelon of college football. Mike Gundy and the Pokes have an elite record and are increasing their ability to recruit with Texas and Oklahoma. Penn State has an equally impressive win-loss record and appears to have locked-up a good one in Bill O’Brien. Washington’s rebuild has been slow but with near-top 25 talent, an excellent set of assistant coaches and a new stadium, the Huskies' upward mobility should have fans in Seattle excited about the near future. Others with new and intriguing upside are Maryland, Rutgers and West Virginia.
|School||Avg. Nat'l Rank||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||Record||Conf.|
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
The only stat that really matters is 34-31. The Baltimore Ravens scored three more points than the San Francisco 49ers to win the organization's second Super Bowl. However, there are so many other numbers to crunch. Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Super Bowl XLVII weekend:
34: Number of minutes delay due to a power outage in the Superdome
Officials are saying that too much electricity was being pumped into the Superdome Sunday night, leading to the power outage that stole headlines in Super Bowl XLVII. For more than half an hour fans all over the world sat waiting for football to return. Conspiracy theorists will point to Roger Goodell and/or CBS as the culprit though. Is it really that far-fetched to believe that, right after the Ravens took a commanding 28-6 lead on the opening kickoff of the second half, that pulling the plug on the power was the only way to keep viewers tuned-in to an otherwise boring showcase? Yes, probably. But the game completely changed following the delay and the stoppage will be the lede of the story.
49ers 25, Ravens 6: The score following the delay
The entire game changed following the delay. The Niners took control of the tempo and went on a scoring spree for the ages. In four minutes and 10 seconds, San Francisco rattled off 17 unanswered points to cut the lead from 22 to five with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter. Of course, this all took place immediately following the electrical issues. The 49ers outscored the Ravens 25-6 and outgained the Baltimore birds 260-126 after play was halted.
11-to-0: Joe Flacco's TD:INT ratio in the playoffs
Only five other quarterbacks have thrown at least eight touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason. All five — Joe Montana, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Phil Simms and Drew Brees — won the Super Bowl and claimed game MVP honors. Just like Flacco. After 287 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, the fifth-year quarterback finished the postseason with 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He is now 9-4 all-time in the playoffs — the same number of postseason wins (and Super Bowls) as Peyton Manning — and is the only quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons.
0: Colin Kaepernick's completion rate inside the Ravens' 10 yard line
The 49ers ran 11 offensive plays inside the Ravens 10 yard line, including a two-point conversion. Seven times San Francisco attempted a pass and not once did Kaepernick connect. He took two sacks and threw five incompletions, including three straight misses on their final possession of the game at the five yard line. It's fitting that Ray Lewis' final series as an NFL defender was a Super Bowl-winning goalline stand with less than two minutes to play.
15 yards: The longest TD run by a QB in Super Bowl history
No one was open and the pocket was collapsing around him, but Colin Kaepernick rolled left and found daylight. He sprinted past Ravens defenders down the sideline and into the endzone with just under 10 minutes to play, cutting the Baltimore lead to two points. The 15-yard scramble was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Super Bowl history — and CK-7 made it look effortless.
35-3: Super Bowl record for the team with fewer turnovers
Scoring more points than the other team is still the most important statistic in the boxscore, but turnovers might be No. 2. The 49ers had two uncharacteristic first-half turnovers that pushed the Ravens to a commanding 28-6 lead early in the second half. Baltimore turned the ball over just once, and although Ray Rice's fumble was costly, it won the turnover battle 2-1. This gives the team with fewer turnovers a commanding 35-3 record in Super Bowls.
9: NFL record career postseason INTs for Ed Reed
Ed Reed is one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game and he proved why on Sunday with a clutch interception in the biggest game of his storied career. It was his ninth postseason interception and it tied the all-time NFL record. Charlie Waters (Dallas), Bill Simpson (LA Rams, Buffalo) and Ronnie Lott (San Francisco, LA Raiders) each have a piece of the record. What makes this one special for Reed and the Ravens, however, is that it was the first interception thrown by a 49ers quarterback in six Super Bowl appearances.
Leave it to the state of Indiana to remind us how much fun regular season college basketball can be.
The top two games of the year have been played in the Hoosier State with a wildly different cast of characters, different pressures and different outcomes. In January, Butler upset Gonzaga at Hinkle Fieldhouse on a buzzer-beater. Then came Saturday night when two of the nation’s best took each team’s best shot before Indiana emerged with the 81-73 win over top-ranked Michigan.
Indiana started perfect (6 of 6 from the field, 2 for 2 from the free throw line), but Michigan clawed back to a tie at 40 apiece early in the second half. The Hoosiers, however, used their trademark efficiency to finish the game with 13 consecutive free throws. But along the way, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo made a case for National Player of the Year, Cody Zeller showed he’s not out of it, and Michigan’s Trey Burke remains in the conversation despite the loss.
Indiana’s win marked a wild weekend in college basketball where homecourt advantages were extended (Pittsburgh) or ended (Kansas), and where lanky forwards stole the spotlight from an emerging and divisive sharpshooter.
Here’s a look at the key numbers from the week of Jan. 28-Feb. 3:
4: Times Indiana has shot 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line in the same game
One of these is not like the other: Bryant, Coppin State, Florida Atlantic and Michigan. All four were the victims of Indiana’s relentlessly efficient offense in which the Hoosiers made half their shots from the field and 80 percent of their shots from the free throw line in the same game. On Saturday, Indiana shot 52 percent from the field (26 of 50) and 88 percent from the free throw line (22 of 25) in the 81-73 win over No. 1 Michigan. Entering the game, Indiana ranked second in the country in points per possession (1.2) behind Michigan. The Hoosiers topped that against the Wolverines with 1.5 points per possession.
4: Pittsburgh wins over top-10 Syracuse teams at home teams since 2002-03
The Panthers are 13-1 at home against top-10 teams since the Peterson Event Center opened in 2002-03, and no one has been a more common victim of Pitt’s homecourt magic than Syracuse. The Panthers’ 65-55 win over No. 6 Syracuse on Saturday moved Pitt to 4-0 against top-10 Orange teams in the Peterson Event Center. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 10-3 overall against Syracuse.
24.1, 6-to-8: Michael Carter-Williams’ shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio in Syracuse’s losses last week
Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams is one of the nation’s best point guards, but he struggled mightily last week in two losses for the Orange. Carter-Williams shot 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) from the field and had six assists and eight turnovers in losses to Villanova and Pittsburgh last week. Carter-Williams wasn’t alone in his problems with Pitt. The Orange had five assists and 14 turnovers against the Panthers.
2: Home losses for Kansas since 2006-07
Oklahoma State ended Kansas’ 33-game win streak at the Phog Allen Fieldhouse with an 85-80 win Saturday. That may not be the most impressive part of the Cowboys’ win in Lawrence. Oklahoma State is only the second team to win at the Phog since the 2006-07 season. Kansas’ last home loss was Jan. 22, 2011 to then-No. 11 Texas, which ended a 69-game win streak. The Jayhawks last lost to an unranked opponent in Lawrence on Nov. 15, 2006 to Oral Roberts.
11: Three-pointers by 6-foot-10 forwards against Ole Miss last week
The key perimeter shooters in Ole Miss games this week turned out not to be guard Marshall Henderson but 6-10 forwards Kyle Wiltjer of Kentucky and Erik Murphy of Florida. In an 87-74 win Wednesday, Wiltjer scored 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including 5 of 12 from three-point range. Murphy followed suit with 19 points, including 7 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.
7: Combined margin of defeat in NC State’s four ACC losses
Only seven points separate NC State from a perfect ACC record. Saturday added to the Wolfpack’s bad luck as Miami used a late 8-2 run and a Reggie Johnson tip-in to defeat NC State 79-78. The loss was NC State’s second one-point loss in ACC play joining a 51-50 loss to Maryland on Jan. 16. NC State also lost to Wake Forest by 2 and to Virginia by 3 for its 5-4 start in the ACC.
37-23: Amount Florida State’s bench outscored its starters against Duke
Every team needs a little spark off the bench. Florida State took this a little too far against Duke. The Seminoles bench outscored its starters 37-25 in their 79-60 loss to the Blue Devils on Saturday. Two guards alone matched FSU’s starting five -- Aaron Thomas (14 points against Duke, averages 6.5 points per game) and Devon Bookart (9 points, averages 5.1). The main culprits in the futility of the Seminoles’ starters were Michael Snaer and Okaro White. Both average better than 12 points per game but scored seven each against Duke.
23-0: Mike Montgomery’s record against Oregon as coach of Stanford and Cal
With a 58-54 win over Pac-12 leader Oregon, Cal coach Mike Montgomery extended his dominance over the Ducks. Montgomery is 23-0 against Oregon as coach at Stanford (18-0) and Cal (5-0), as noted by Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group.
10: 3-pointers by Georgia State freshman R.J. Hunter against Old Dominion
Georgia State freshman R.J. Hunter, the son of coach Ron Hunter, had one of the standout performances of the weekend with 38 points, converting 10-of-15 shots from three-point range in an 83-63 win over Old Dominion. The 10 threes was a Colonial Athletic Association record but a long way from the Division I record of 15 three-pointers set by Marshall’s Keith Veney against Morehead State in 1996.
Players who make it to the Super Bowl in 2013 can expect a super-sized bonus. The winning players—from either the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens—in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013, will each receive a massive paycheck to the tune of $88,000, while each member of the losing team will earn $44,000. How does that compare to Super Bowls of the past? Here's a look at the winners' and losers' share from every Super Bowl in the past 46 years.
Super Bowl Date Winner (Share) Loser (Share)
XLVI 2-5-12 New York Giants ($88,000) New England ($44,000)
XLV 2-6-11 Green Bay ($83,000) Pittsburgh ($42,000)
XLIV 2-7-10 New Orleans ($83,000) Indianapolis ($42,000)
XLIII 2-1-09 Pittsburgh ($78,000) Arizona ($40,000)
XLII 2-3-08 N.Y. Giants ($78,000) New England ($40,000)
XLI 2-4-07 Indianapolis ($73,000) Chicago ($38,000)
XL 2-5-06 Pittsburgh ($73,000) Seattle ($38,000)
XXXIX 2-6-05 New England ($68,000) Philadelphia ($36,500)
XXXVIII 2-1-04 New England ($68,000) Carolina (36,500)
XXXVII 1-26-03 Tampa Bay ($63,000) Oakland ($35,000)
XXXVI 2-3-02 New England ($63,000) St. Louis ($34,500)
XXXV 1-28-01 Baltimore ($58,000) N.Y. Giants ($34,500)
XXXIV 1-30-00 St. Louis ($58,000) Tennessee ($33,000)
XXXIII 1-31-99 Denver ($53,000) Atlanta ($32,500)
XXXII 1-25-98 Denver ($48,000) Green Bay ($29,000)
XXXI 1-26-97 Green Bay ($48,000) New England ($29,000)
XXX 1-28-96 Dallas ($42,000) Pittsburgh ($27,000)
XXIX 1-29-95 San Francisco ($42,000) San Diego ($26,000)
XXVIII 1-30-94 Dallas ($38,000) Buffalo ($23,500)
XXVII 1-31-93 Dallas ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXVI 1-26-92 Washington ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXV 1-27-91 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXIV 1-28-90 San Francisco ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXIII 1-22-89 San Francisco ($36,000) Cincinnati ($18,000)
XXII 1-31-88 Washington ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXI 1-25-87 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XX 1-26-86 Chicago ($36,000) New England ($18,000)
XIX 1-20-85 San Francisco ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVIII 1-22-84 L.A. Raiders ($36,000) Washington ($18,000)
XVII 1-30-83 Washington ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVI 1-24-82 San Francisco ($18,000) Cincinnati ($9,000)
XV 1-25-81 Oakland ($18,000) Philadelphia ($9,000)
XIV 1-20-80 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Los Angeles ($9,000)
XIII 1-21-79 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Dallas ($9,000)
XII 1-15-78 Dallas ($18,000) Denver ($9,000)
XI 1-9-77 Oakland ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
X 1-18-76 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IX 1-12-75 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VIII 1-13-74 Miami ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VII 1-14-73 Miami ($15,000) Washington ($7,500)
VI 1-16-72 Dallas ($15,000) Miami ($7,500)
V 1-17-71 Baltimore ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IV 1-11-70 Kansas City ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
III 1-12-69 N.Y. Jets ($15,000) Baltimore ($7,500)
II 1-14-68 Green Bay ($15,000) Oakland ($7,500)
I 1-15-67 Green Bay ($15,000) Kansas City ($7,500)
Beyonce will take the stage at halftime for a reunion with Destiny's Child and possibly even a duet with her husband, Jay-Z. This isn't Beyonce's first Super Bowl, however; she sang the national anthem prior to kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII in her hometown of Houston.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
It's nearly time for Super Bowl XLVII—aka Super Bowl 2013, Super Bowl 47, and the big game—between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. So what time does the Super Bowl start? Well, we have that and more for you:
While the head-coaching bloodlines may have been the focus entering Super Bowl XLVII, the attention will finally shift to the teams on Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers face off in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. As tantalizing as the Harbaugh brothers coaching matchup may be, there are plenty of storylines on both teams to go around. The one that will matter most come late Sunday night, however, is which team will be on the podium when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presents the Lombardi Trophy to the newest world champions.
San Francisco is looking for a record-tying sixth Super Bowl victory in as many tries, while Baltimore would like to pair its Super Bowl XXXV trophy with another. This will be the 10th Super Bowl played in New Orleans and the seventh in what used to be called the Louisiana Superdome. The NFC champion currently holds a 4-2 edge in Super Bowls played in the Superdome, including San Francisco’s 55-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV on Jan. 28, 1990. That game remains as the largest rout in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl XLVII Breakdown
When the Baltimore Ravens run:
Even though Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game have been instrumental in the Ravens’ playoff run, this offense is at its best when it can run the ball. The Ravens averaged less than 119 yards rushing per game during the regular season, but have picked up the production in the postseason. In wins over Indianapolis, Denver and New England, Baltimore is averaging nearly 150 yards on the ground.
Running back Ray Rice is the key to the Ravens’ running game and he leads all players this postseason in both attempts (64) and rushing yards (247). Bernard Pierce has averaged more than six yards per carry in the playoffs, and the extended break between the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl should have allowed his knee (bone bruise) to fully heal. Another key cog of the Ravens’ running game is All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, who will be called on to open up holes and clear lanes for his backfield mates.
San Francisco’s defense was one of the stingiest against the run in the regular season and the unit has maintained its production thus far. The 49ers finished fourth in the NFL in rushing defense during the regular season, allowing less than 95 yards rushing per game, and they have given up a total of 185 yards (92.5 ypg) in their wins over Green Bay and Atlanta. The key to success for San Francisco’s base 3-4 alignment is the depth of its talent, especially at linebacker, and the personnel’s ability to get the job done against the run and in pass coverage.
Up front, starting ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith take care of their assignments, which allows linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis to hit the gaps and either make plays in the backfield or drop the running back for a loss. All four 49er starting linebackers were named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro team this season with Bowman, Smith and Willis making first team and Brooks named to the second team.
One thing to watch on Sunday is the effectiveness of Justin Smith, who said earlier in the week that he thinks his left triceps tendon is at least 50 percent torn. Smith, who earned second-team All-Pro honors, sustained the injury in Week 15 against New England. The good news is he has been able to play through the injury during the playoffs after missing the final two regular-season games. It’s worth noting, however, that four of the 49ers’ worst defensive performances of the season, in terms of yards allowed, have been over their past five games, or back to when Smith was injured against the Patriots.
When the Ravens pass:
No one has come up bigger in the postseason for Baltimore than Joe Flacco, who leads all quarterbacks with 853 yards passing, eight touchdowns and a 114.7 passer rating. The only quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of the first five seasons of his career, Flacco has yet to throw an interception this postseason either.
Flacco’s main targets in the passing game are wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta. Boldin is the reliable veteran leads all receivers with 276 yards and three touchdown catches. Smith is the Ravens’ main vertical threat (22 ypc in playoffs), while fellow wideout Jacoby Jones also is capable of making the big play, as he did when he caught the game-tying 70-yard touchdown against Denver late in the fourth quarter.
Rice is another reliable receiving option out of the backfield, but the key for the Ravens’ passing game will be attacking the 49ers’ secondary. The wide receivers in particular are the ones to watch as Boldin, Smith and Jones would like nothing more than to duplicate the success that Atlanta’s Julio Jones (11 rec., 182 yds., 2 TDs) and Roddy White (7, 100) had against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Statistically speaking, San Francisco’s defense has fared very well against the pass, but that doesn’t mean plays can’t be made on the 49ers through the air. The 49ers ended the regular season ranked fourth in passing defense (200 ypg), but both (Aaron Rodgers (248 yards passing) and Matt Ryan (396) put up solid numbers against them in their respective playoff matchups.
The 49ers’ don’t have the most productive pass rush in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Aldon Smith is the team’s sack specialist, a role he excels in (19.5 sacks in regular season), as the 49ers primarily rely on their front three and Smith to generate the pressure. They don’t blitz that much, which allows linebackers Bowman, Brooks and Willis the freedom to make plays and support the secondary in pass coverage.
Baltimore’s offensive line went through a bit of an overhaul late in the regular season and to this point, the changes up front have worked. Flacco is playing the best football of his career this postseason and a big reason for that is his “new” offensive line has allowed just four sacks in the Ravens’ three playoff wins.
When the San Francisco 49ers run:
Following head coach Jim Harbaugh’s “old school” approach, San Francisco’s offense is built around its ability to run the football, something the 49ers do quite well. Fourth in the regular season with 155.7 yards rushing per game, the 49ers have increased that t0 a total of 472 yards on the ground in its two playoff wins.
As a team, the 49ers are averaging 6.6 yards per carry and have scored seven rushing touchdowns already. And while a big chunk of the damage has been done by quarterback Colin Kaepernick (NFL quarterback record 181 vs. Green Bay), it has not been a one-man show.
For one, running back Frank Gore has rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns in two games, while backups LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon have also scored. Kaepernick’s ability to pick up big gains with his legs (11.2 ypc in the playoffs) certainly makes the 49ers’ rushing attack that much more dangerous, but as he showed in the NFC Championship game, he doesn’t have to run the ball to be effective either.
Even though Kaepernick had just 21 yards rushing against the Falcons, the 49ers as a team piled up 149 yards. Kaepernick had just two of the team’s 29 carries, even though the 49ers used the read option 13 times. On the plays when Kaepernick handed off rather than keeping it himself, the running backs averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns.
Regardless of whether it’s Kaepernick getting loose for a big gain or Gore busting it up the middle, the real key to the success of the 49ers’ running game is the offensive line. One of the best in the entire NFL, the starting five of Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati (first team All-Pro) and Joe Staley (second team) excel in run-blocking as they function as a disciplined, physical cohesive unit.
Baltimore’s rush defense has been fairly consistent throughout the season. The Ravens gave up less than 123 yards rushing per game during the regular season and are allowing a little more than 128 on the ground during the playoffs.
Like San Francisco, Baltimore’s base defensive package is a 3-4. One of the keys to Baltimore’s run defense is end Haloti Ngata, who was named second team All-Pro. Ngata is the best run defender the Ravens have up front and he will he need to be effective in some fashion against San Francisco’s staunch offensive line if the Ravens want to slow down the 49ers’ ground game.
Ray Lewis may be leading all players in the postseason in tackles, but he won’t be able to stop the 49ers by himself. He will need younger linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dannell Ellerbe to continue their strong play against the run. Safety Bernard Pollard is a big hitter who is not afraid to come up to the line and play the run, but the Ravens miss the presence of cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was lost early in the season due to injury.
When the 49ers pass:
San Francisco may not throw the ball as much as some other teams do, but that doesn’t mean the 49ers aren’t productive when they do. Colin Kaepernick has posted a 105.9 passer rating in his first two career playoffs games, having completed 33 of 52 passes for 496 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has emerged as Kaepernick’s go-to target and he should be able to find some space working against the Ravens’ secondary. Remember, the Ravens are without the services of Webb, their top coverage guy. As good as safety Ed Reed has been over the years, his effectiveness has slipped some this season.
Another potential matchup San Francisco may be able to exploit is tight end Vernon Davis. After not getting many looks when Kaepernick first took over the starting quarterback job, Davis (5 rec., 106 yds., TD) played a pivotal role in the 49ers’ second-half comeback in the NFC Championship game.
While not nearly as productive as Crabtree or Davis, veteran wide receiver Randy Moss always seems to thrive playing on the big stage and tight end Delanie Walker has made some key plays when called on.
Baltimore’s pass defense may be allowing nearly 290 yards passing during the playoffs, but the Ravens have made teams work for every yard gained through the air. The Ravens’ road to New Orleans has been anything but easy, especially when you look at the quarterbacks they have defeated.
Not only have they already defeated Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the latter two victories coming on the road, the Ravens have held the trio to a combined 56.2 completion percentage and four touchdown passes, while forcing seven (5 INTs, 2 fumbles) turnovers. Luck’s Colts were unable to find the end zone in their Wild Card loss, while the Ravens completely shut out Brady and the Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship game.
The pass rush has helped with this effort, as the Ravens sacked Luck and Manning three times each, and as good as the 49ers’ offensive line is, it also allowed 41 sacks during the regular season. Kaepernick has gone down just twice so far this postseason, so the Ravens will have their work cut out for them if they want to pressure him and, more importantly, bring him down before he can escape the pocket.
Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones could be a huge factor on Sunday. Jones was named first-team All-Pro this season after averaging 30.7 yards per kickoff return and scoring three (two kickoffs, one punt) return touchdowns. Not only did the Ravens lead the NFL in kickoff return average (27.3 ypr), San Francisco allowed the second-most (26.9) yards per kickoff return. That could be a recipe for trouble for the 49ers’ kick coverage unit.
That does not mean, however, that the 49ers don’t have their own special teams weapon. A first-team All-Pro in his own right, punter Andy Lee tied for the league lead in net punting (43.2 ypg) and placed more than half (36 of 67) of his punts inside the 20-yard line during the regular season. Opponents averaged less than seven yards per return on Lee’s punts, and he had just four touchbacks.
It’s a good thing the 49ers have Lee since they seem to have very little, if any, confidence in kicker David Akers right now. Akers, a 14-year veteran, finished with the second-lowest success rate (69 percent) on field goals during the regular season and missed his only attempt in the NFC Championship game.
Contrast Akers’ issues with that of his counterpart, rookie Justin Tucker. The Ravens’ kicker is a perfect 14-of-14 in the postseason (12 PATs, 2 FGs) and he missed only three of his 33 field goal attempts during the regular season. It’s no reach to say that Tucker truly does have a leg up on Akers entering the big game.
Much has been made about Jim and John Harbaugh becoming the first brothers to ever coach against one other in a championship game. Familial ties aside for one moment, what really should be lauded is the key coaching decision each made that had direct ramifications on their teams’ respective paths to this Super Bowl.
For Jim, it was his decision to stick with Colin Kaepernick as his starting quarterback even after Alex Smith was cleared to return to the field following his concussion. Kaepernick has started the past nine games under center and in those games the 49ers have averaged 28.6 points per game, which is 4.9 more points than they averaged in the previous nine games that Smith started.
Kaepernick also has some history on his side, as he will become the fifth first- or second-year quarterback to start the Super Bowl. Of the previous four, three (Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXIV, Tom Brady in XXXVI , Ben Roethlisberger in XL) led their team to victory and two (Warner, Brady) were named the game’s MVP. The only quarterback that lost was Dan Marino in Super Bowl XIX.
For the Ravens, older brother John’s pivotal decision wasn’t related to a player change, it was a change on his coaching staff. With three games left in the regular season, Harbaugh decided to relieve offensive coordinator Cam Cameron of his duties and turn the play-calling over to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.
Even though Baltimore lost two of those final three games, the impact Caldwell has had on the offense, particularly the passing game, is indisputable. Since Caldwell has been running the offense, Flacco has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions in six total games, including the playoffs, while posting a 111.5 passer rating.
While there’s little doubt the quarterbacks will play a big part in deciding the winner on Sunday, I think another key aspect to watch will be which team is able to run the ball with more success. The 49ers rely heavily on the run to fuel their offense and control the clock, while the Ravens use the ground game to open things up for their aerial attack. If either offense is forced to be more one-dimensional in its game plan, it very likely could sway things in the respective defense’s favor.
Can San Francisco make it a perfect six-for-six in the Super Bowl and tie Pittsburgh for the most Lombardi Trophies? Or will Baltimore write the perfect ending to its fairy tale season?
Athlon’s editors make their pick for Super Bowl XLVII:
|Rob Doster||BAL 20, SF 17||Ray Rice|
|David Fox||SF 28, BAL 21||Colin Kaepernick|
|Braden Gall||SF 20, BAL 17||Vernon Davis|
|Steven Lassan||SF 27, BAL 24||Colin Kaepernick|
|Mitch Light||SF 24, BAL 17||Vernon Davis|
|Rich McVey||SF 24, BAL 17||Colin Kaepernick|
|Charlie Miller||SF 35, BAL 31||Vernon Davis|
|Mark Ross||SF 27, BAL 23||Frank Gore|
|Nathan Rush||BAL 23, SF 17||Joe Flacco|
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
Super Bowl betting — and prop bets, in particular — attract sharks and suckers alike who can’t afford a $3.8-million, 30-second commercial spot on CBS’s telecast or a $2,500 nosebleed seat at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, but do have some lunch money to wager on Super Sunday.
Here’s a quick look at this year’s popular Super Bowl bets, along with advice on where the smart money should play. For consistency’s sake, all odds and lines are courtesy of Bovada.lv — the online gambling website formerly known as Bodog.com.
(For the average Joe who doesn’t speak in Vegas tongues, when the odds are –150, you must wager $150 in order to win $100; when the odds are +150, your $100 bet nets $150. Just FYI.)
How long will it take Alicia Keys to sing the National Anthem?
Over 2:10 (+120)
Under 2:10 (–160)
The all-time record is Whitney Houston’s 1:55 effort — which included an 11-second — “brave” finale before Super Bowl XXV. Last year, Kelly Clarkson clocked in at an economical 1:34. The year before, Christina Aguilera went 1:54 without even knowing the lyrics. Alicia Keys would have to add another verse to over 2:10, right?
Heads or tails?
Heads has a 24–22 all-time lead over Tails in this head-to-tail showdown. Expect Tails to make a comeback in the Big Easy.
Which team will win coin toss?
Baltimore Ravens (–105)
San Francisco 49ers (–105)
The NFC has a 31–15 all-time lead, but its streak of 14 straight coin toss victories was snapped last year. Still, the NFC has had the hot hand for 15 years or so, let it ride. Historically, the coin toss hasn’t mattered much; the winner has a 22–24 record.
Will Beyonce be joined by Jay-Z on stage during the halftime show?
A Destiny’s Child reunion won’t be enough. Blue Ivy’s dad has to make an appearance. Expect Shawn Carter to stomp on stage and steal the show in the N-to-the-izz-O.
Total touchdowns scored in game
Over 5.5 (–125)
Under 5.5 (–105)
The Ravens and 49ers have combined to allow 20 second-half points over five games. If there aren’t fireworks on the scoreboard early, there probably won’t be much scoring late.
How many times will Harbaugh be said during the game?
Over 22.5 (–150)
Under 22.5 (+110)
Jim and John are tremendous storylines leading up to kickoff. But neither is playing in the game. There should be long stretches where neither Harbaugh is mentioned at all.
Will the team that scores last win the game?
Let’s hope it’s that kind of Super Bowl.
Will the game go to overtime?
There has never been an overtime game in Super Bowl history. Ofer-46. Go ahead and bet $1,000 to make a sweet $100 profit that there will be no free football. Seriously, don’t do that. Put all your money on the coin toss.
What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the winning coach?
Four of the last 10 Gatorade baths have been clear, with orange, yellow and purple each coming in at twice apiece over that same time. Jim Harbaugh was dumped with yellow Gatorade after clinching the NFC West title last season.
Who will be named Super Bowl MVP?
Colin Kaepernick (8/5)
Joe Flacco (11/4)
Frank Gore (7/1)
Ray Lewis (7/1)
Ray Rice (12/1)
Michael Crabtree (14/1)
Anquan Boldin (16/1)
Vernon Davis (18/1)
Torrey Smith (20/1)
Ed Reed (33/1)
Patrick Willis (40/1)
Seven of the last 12 Super Bowl MVPs were the quarterback of the winning team. Ray Lewis is one of the five that wasn’t and he will look to become just the sixth player — and first non-quarterback — to win the award multiple times.
Baltimore Ravens (+4) (+140)
San Francisco 49ers (–4) (–160)
Deer antler spray aside, Ray Lewis will ride off into the sunset as a two-time Super Bowl champ. “Smokin’ Joe” Flacco will hit a deep ball at some point and Ed Reed might just make a splash play in front of his hometown NOLA crowd. Win or lose, the Ravens should keep it close enough to pay out.
Over 47.5 (–110)
Under 47.5 (–110)
The teams combined to score 22 points in the first Har-Bowl on Thanksgiving last year. There will be more points than that this time around, but don’t expect a shootout. Go low.
On Saturday the Associated Press will reveal the winners for its Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards for the 2012 NFL season. Unlike, last year when Cam Newton and Von Miller took home the offensive and defensive awards by sizeable margins, this year’s rookie class is rather deep on both sides of the ball.
The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honor looks to be at least a three-man race between quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, and that doesn’t include running backs Doug Martin or Alfred Morris. Defensively, the two main contenders appear to be linebackers Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, but that doesn’t mean someone else, like a Casey Hayward or Lavonte David perhaps, won’t get their fair share of votes either. Who knows? Kicker Blair Walsh could even possibly get a vote or two, especially considering the fact he’s already received one honor from the AP – first-team All-Pro.
Whoever ends up picking up the AP’s hardware one thing is clear: This year’s rookie class did not lack for productive, impact players. Here are Athlon Sports' top rookies of the 2012 NFL season.
1. Russell Wilson, QB
2012 Draft: Third Round (No. 75 overall) by Seattle
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 252-of-393, 3,118 yards passing, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 100.0 passer rating, 94 att., 489 yards rushing, 4 TDs, 3 lost fumbles
While the gap between first and second on this list is fairly small, Wilson gets the nod because he went from a questionable third-round pick who was not expected to start to a record-breaking quarterback who got better as the season went on. Matt Flynn, who Seattle signed as a free agent before they took Wilson in the third round, was projected to be the team’s starter but a preseason elbow injury opened the door for Wilson, and he promptly took full advantage of the opportunity.
Although he did have the support of one of the league’s best defenses, Wilson more than did his job on offense. Besides tying Peyton Manning’s single-season record for touchdown passes by a rookie, Wilson finished fourth in the NFL in passer rating. Not a prolific passer (tied for 25th in attempts), Wilson made the most of the chances he got, as his 26 touchdown passes tied him for 9th and he was eighth in completion percentage at 64.1 percent.
The most important statistic, however, is wins and not only did Wilson help lead the Seahawks to four more wins (11) in 2012 compared to 2011, he also won his first career playoff start on the road against Washington. He nearly pulled it off again the following week in Atlanta when he set a franchise postseason record for passing yards (385) in leading a furious second-half comeback that came up just short in the Divisional loss to the Falcons. Over his last 10 games of the season, including the two playoff games, Wilson accounted for 24 total touchdowns (19 pass, 5 rush) and only four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble).
2. Robert Griffin III, QB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 2 overall) by Washington
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 258-of-393, 3,200 yards passing, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 102.4 passer rating, 120 att., 815 yards rushing, 7 TDs, 2 lost fumbles (15 games)
If the early returns are any indication, there’s little doubt that Washington made the right decision in trading with St. Louis for the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. In fact, after helping orchestrate a five-win turnaround that resulted in the Redskins’ first division title since 1999, the only question surrounding Griffin is will he be able to stay healthy enough to take them even farther in the future?
How quickly Griffin will be able to bounce back from the ACL and LCL damage he sustained in the Redskins’ Wild Card loss to Seattle remains to be seen. What we already know, however, is what he is capable of doing when he is on the field and healthy. The first NFL starting quarterback born in the 1990s, Griffin set the rookie record for passer rating at 102.4, while also finishing 20th in the league in rushing.
Griffin showed plenty of poise in the pocket, as he threw the fewest interceptions (five) among quarterbacks with more than 350 attempts. He was fourth in completion percentage (65.6), while also averaging nearly seven yards a carry. Griffin still has a lot to learn when it comes to protecting himself once he gets out of the pocket, but there’s no questioning his athleticism, playmaking ability or toughness for that matter.
Just a week after sustaining a concussion, Griffin ran for a season-high 138 yards in a win against Minnesota. His work on the ground that game included a 76-yard touchdown run, the longest by a quarterback since 1996. A little more than a month later Griffin posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a win over the Eagles, making him the youngest player in NFL history (22 years, 284 days old) to do so. With production like this, it’s little surprise that Griffin was the only rookie position player (not special teams) named to the initial Pro Bowl roster.
3. Andrew Luck, QB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 1 overall) by Indianapolis
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 339-of-627, 4,374 yards passing, 23 TDs, 18 INTs, 76.5 passer rating, 62 att., 255 yards rushing, 5 TDs, 5 lost fumbles
Even though he ends up third on this list, Indianapolis fans have to be thrilled about what they saw in Year One of the Andrew Luck era. Whether or not Luck will be able to replicate the sort of success Peyton Manning had remains to be seen, but he certainly got things started on the right foot. Even with all of the roster turnover the Colts went through prior to the season, Luck was the biggest and most important on-field factor behind the team’s nine-win improvement and playoff appearance in 2012.
Luck broke Cam Newton’s single-season record for passing yards by a rookie quarterback (4,374) as he posted six 300-yard games, including a season-high 433 against Miami. Luck also proved he was capable of carrying a team on his back, as he engineered four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives.
The downside to all of the passes he threw (fifth in the NFL in attempts) were the interceptions (18, tied for third) and the accuracy. His 54.1 completion percentage was second-lowest in the league among quarterbacks with 300 attempts. But it doesn’t mean he won’t get better in those two areas either. Luck didn’t throw a single pick in his final three regular-season games.
4. Alfred Morris, RB
2012 Draft: Sixth Round (No. 173 overall) by Washington
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 335 att., 1,613 yards rushing, 13 TDs, 11 rec., 77 yards receiving, 3 lost fumbles
If not for Russell Wilson’s performance, Morris would win the award for most surprising 2012 rookie campaign. An unheralded sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, Morris came out of nowhere to not only earn the Redskins' starting running back job, which is no small feat in and of itself considering Mike Shanahan is his head coach, but to thrive in it.
Morris finished second only to Adrian Peterson in rushing yards, setting a new Redskins’ franchise single-season record in the process. Together he and Griffin helped this team set a new franchise single-season mark for rushing yards (2,709) as well. Morris also was second in the NFL in both rushing touchdowns and first downs, and proved himself to be a durable and reliable back. He was third in the league in attempts and turned all those carries into seven 100-yard games, including a season-high 200 against Dallas in the final game of the regular season, a win that also earned Washington the NFC East title.
Although he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl, Morris was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He was only one of three rookies (Blair Walsh first team, David Wilson second) to receive this honor.
5. Doug Martin, RB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 31 overall) by Tampa Bay
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 319 att., 1,454 yards rushing, 11 TDs, 49 rec., 472 yards receiving, 1 TD, 1 lost fumble
Tampa Bay traded back into the first round to draft Martin, and the Buccaneers were rewarded handsomely for their faith in the diminutive running back out of Boise State. The man known as the “Muscle Hamster” did some mighty fine work with his legs, finishing fifth in the NFL in rushing, third in yards from scrimmage and tied for sixth in total touchdowns. His 1,926 yards from scrimmage placed him second all-time in Tampa Bay franchise history, while he set a new single-season rushing mark for Buccaneer rookies.
Besides re-writing the Tampa Bay record books, Martin also carved out some space for him in the NFL history books when he piled up 251 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns against Oakland in Week 9. The third-most rushing yards by a rookie in a game, Martin joined Mike Anderson as the only backs in NFL history with at least 250 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a single contest. Martin’s four touchdowns came on runs of 70 yards, 67, 45 and 1, making him the first back since 1940 to score on three runs of at least 45 yards in one game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Martin capped off his fine rookie campaign by being named to the Pro Bowl as Frank Gore’s replacement. In Hawaii, Martin picked up eight yards rushing on three carries and also caught three passes for 40 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from fellow rookie Russell Wilson.
6. Trent Richardson, RB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 3 overall) by Cleveland
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 267 att., 950 yards rushing, 11 TDs, 51 rec., 367 yards receiving, 1 TD, 0 lost fumbles (15 games)
While his statistical production may not have matched the likes of Alfred Morris or Doug Martin, Richardson gave Cleveland fans plenty of reasons to be excited about the future. Showing the power, vision and toughness that made him a star at Alabama, Richardson finished just 50 yards shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark, as a rib injury caused him to miss one game and limited him in a few others.
Still, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft was top 20 in the league in rushing, tied for fifth with 11 rushing touchdowns and finished second on the Browns and seventh among all NFL running backs with 51 receptions. It also should be pointed out that for the season Richardson averaged less than 18 carries per game. He only got 20 or more attempts five times, and in those games he averaged nearly 96 yards rushing per game. Don’t be surprised if new Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski leans on Richardson a lot this coming season.
7. Matt Kalil, OL
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 4 overall) by Minnesota
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 16 starts at left tackle, 2 sacks allowed, 2 QB hits allowed, 2 QB hurries allowed, six penalties called on (stats courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com)
Although it’s somewhat difficult to quantify the production of an offensive lineman, there is no mistaking the impact Kalil had for Minnesota in his first season. The first offensive lineman taken and the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Vikings plugged Kalil in at the critical left tackle position and never looked back.
The starter at left tackle the entire season, Kalil played a big role in Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard season, while also getting the job done in pass protection. According to ProFootballFocus.com’s position rankings, Kalil finished the season tied at No. 22 overall among offensive tackles and 15th among left tackles. Kalil allowed just two sacks during the regular season and was rewarded for his efforts with a trip to Hawaii when he was named as a Pro Bowl injury replacement for Washington’s Trent Williams.
8. Luke Kuechly, LB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 9 overall) by Carolina
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 164 total tackles (103 solo), 1 sack, 8 passes defended, 2 INTs, 22 yards, 3 fumble recoveries
Kuechly, a tackling machine at Boston College, was the first linebacker selected in the 2012 NFL Draft and he wasted no time in making an impression in the NFL. Plugged into the middle of Carolina’s linebacking corps from Week 1, Kuechly finished his rookie campaign with an NFL-leading 164 total tackles, 103 of them being solo stops. He posted 10 or more total tackles in 10 games, while also holding his own in pass coverage, collecting two interceptions along with his three fumble recoveries.
9. Bobby Wagner, LB
2012 Draft: Second Round (No. 47 overall) by Seattle
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 140 total tackles (86 solo), 2 sacks, 4 passes defended, 3 INTs, 55 yards
Right behind Kuechly on this list is Wagner, whom Seattle drafted a round later out of Utah State and ended up being a fixture of a talented, athletic Seahawks linebacking corps. Wagner started all but one game at middle linebacker, leading the team and ranking seventh in the NFL in total tackles with 140 (86 solo). His three interceptions were tied for the second-most on the team and he had six games with 10 or more tackles. Wagner continued his strong play in the postseason, picking up 17 more tackles (12 solo) and an interception in the Seahawks’ two playoff contests.
10. Blair Walsh, K
2012 Draft: Sixth Round (No. 175 overall) by Minnesota
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 35-of-38 FGs, 36-of-36 PATs, 141 points
Say what you want about kickers, but when a rookie gets voted to the Pro Bowl and is named first-team All-Pro, you have to give credit where credit is due. Especially when the rookie in question led the league in field goals made, including 10-of-10 from 50 yards and beyond.
Walsh, who tied the NFL single-season record for field goals made a by a rookie kicker, finished fourth in the league in points and field goal accuracy (92.1 percent). He had seven games with three or more made field goals, including one where he kicked five, three of which were longer than 50 yards. Walsh’s part in Minnesota’s turnaround from 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6 and a Wild Card berth this season can’t be overlooked.
11. Casey Hayward, CB
2012 Draft: Second Round (No. 62 overall) by Green Bay
2012 Regular-Season Draft: 53 total tackles (40 solo), 21 passes defended, 6 INTs, 81 yards, 1 forced fumble
Although he was a second-round pick, I’m not even sure Green Bay expected this type of season out of the former Vanderbilt cornerback. Hayward excelled in pass coverage, tying for fifth in the league in interceptions with six and tied for third with 21 passes defended. A contributor all season long, Hayward worked his way into the starting lineup and figures to remain there for the long haul as ProFootballFocus.com rated him as the third-best cornerback in the entire NFL for the 2012 season.
12. David Wilson, KR/RB
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 32 overall) by New York Giants
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 71 att., 358 yards rushing, 4 TDs, 4 rec., 34 yards receiving, TD, 57 kickoff returns, 1,533 return yards, TD, 1 lost fumble
If not for a fumble in the season opener and the coaching staff’s decision to “ground” him for an extended period following that, there’s no telling where Wilson could have finished on this list. There is no doubting his production, as the last pick of the first round out of Virginia Tech averaged 14.6 yards per touch. All he needed was more opportunities.
Still, Wilson more than made an impact when he did get his hands on the ball, as evidenced by his league-leading kickoff return yards and fifth-place finish in all-purpose yards. His biggest game of the season by far came in Week 14 against New Orleans when he set a new Giants’ franchise record for all-purpose yards. Wilson piled up 327 yards against the Saints, 100 of them rushing on just 13 carries, including a 52-yard touchdown run, and the rest coming on four kickoff returns for 227 yards, highlighted by a 97-yard return for a touchdown.
Wilson was named to the AP’s All-Pro second team as the kick returner, joining fellow rookies Blair Walsh (first) and Alfred Morris (second) in this distinction.
13. Lavonte David, LB
2012 Draft: Second Round (No. 58 overall) by Tampa Bay
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 139 total tackles (112 solo), 2 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 INT, 27 yards
Although he lasted until late in the second round, David played like the first-round talent many thought he could be coming out of Nebraska. A starter from Week 1 for Tampa Bay, David tied for eighth in the NFL in total tackles (139) and was second in solo stops with 112. David proved his worth in both stopping the run and pass coverage, as he rarely left the field and finished his rookie season rated No. 5 among 4-3 outside linebackers by ProFootballFocus.com.
14. Harrison Smith, S
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 29 overall) by Minnesota
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 103 total tackles (73 solo), 11 passes defended, 3 INTs, 87 yards, 2 TDs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Some draft analysts were surprised when Minnesota traded back into the first round to select the former Notre Dame safety, but Smith provided an instant upgrade to the Vikings’ secondary. Excelling in pass coverage, Smith turned two of his three interceptions into touchdowns and finished as a top-20 safety, according to ProFootballFocus.com’s ratings. Between Smith and left tackle Matt Kalil (No. 7), Minnesota picked up two, solid building blocks for its future in the first round of the 2012 draft.
15. T.Y. Hilton, WR
2012 Draft: Third Round (No. 92 overall) by Indianapolis
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 50 rec., 861 yards receiving, 7 TDs, 5 att., 29 yards rushing, 7 kickoff returns, 118 kickoff return yards, 26 punt returns, 300 return yards, TD, 0 fumbles lost
Even though Indianapolis’ 2012 draft haul included the likes of Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Vick Ballard, it could be argued that other than Luck no selection was more valuable than Hilton. A slight, but electric playmaker at FIU, Hilton was much more than just a return specialist in his first season with the Colts. A favorite deep target for Luck in the passing game, Hilton led all rookies with seven touchdown catches, was second in receiving yards and third in receptions. Hilton’s versatility and ability to make a difference on offense and special teams is why he gets the nod over his fellow rookie wide receivers.
Best of the rest:
(In alphabetical order)
Vick Ballard, RB
2012 Draft: Fifth Round (No. 170 overall) by Indianapolis
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 211 att., 814 yards rushing, 2 TDs, 17 rec., 152 yards receiving, TD, 0 lost fumbles
Justin Blackmon, WR
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 5 overall) by Jacksonville
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 64 rec., 865 yards receiving, 5 TDs, 2 att., 23 yards rushing, 0 lost fumbles
Vontaze Burfict, LB
2012 Draft: Signed with Cincinnati as undrafted free agent
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 127 total tackles (73 solo), 1 sack, 2 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries
Josh Gordon, WR
2012 Draft: Taken by Cleveland in the Second Round of the Supplemental Draft (Browns will forfeit their pick in the Second Round of 2013 NFL Draft as a result)
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 50 rec., 805 yards receiving, 5 TDs, 1 lost fumble
Janoris Jenkins, CB
2012 Draft: Second Round (No. 39 overall) by St. Louis
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 73 total tackles (64 solo), 14 passes defended, 4 INTs, 150 yards, 3 TDs, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD, 1 blocked kick
Bernard Pierce, RB
2012 Draft: Third Round (No. 84 overall) by Baltimore
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 108 att., 532 yards rushing, 3 TDs, 7 rec., 47 yards receiving
Kendall Wright, WR
2012 Draft: First Round (No. 20 overall) by Tennessee
2012 Regular-Season Stats: 64 rec., 626 yards receiving, 4 TDs, 1 att., 4 yards rushing, 1 lost fumble
Wednesday night turned out to be only a formality for the top two teams in the Big Ten.
If anything, two easy victories against overmatched conference opponents for Michigan and Indiana showed neither teams are having jitters for one of the biggest games of the regular season. Michigan dispatched Northwestern 68-46, and Indiana followed in the nightcap with a 97-60 win over Purdue.
Neither had the look of two programs days away from a showdown between teams hungry to end Big Ten title droughts.
And that’s not the only way the Hoosiers and Wolverines are enjoying parallel seasons:
• Both are 7-1 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday’s game in Bloomington with the conference lead on the line. The winner would have an edge to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
• Both are balanced offensive teams, who can drive to the basket, score down low and shoot the three-pointer. Indiana is second in the nation in scoring (83.3 points per game), while Michigan is 12th (78.5).
• Both jump start that offense as two of the best teams in transition in the country.
Altogether, not a bad setup for the Super Bowl.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan at Indiana
When: Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Michigan probable starters
G Trey Burke (6-0/190, So.)
G Tim Hardaway Jr. (6-6/206, Jr.)
G Nik Stauskas (6-6/190, Fr.)
F Glenn Robinsion III (6-6/210, Fr.)
F Jon Horford (6-10/250, So.)
Indiana probable starters
G Yogi Ferrell (6-0/178, Fr.)
G Jordan Hulls (6-0/182, Sr.)
G Victor Oladipo (6-5/214, Jr.)
F Christian Watford (6-9/232, Sr.)
C Cody Zeller (7-0/240, So.)
Game-defining matchup: Michigan’s Trey Burke vs. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo
In Michigan’s only loss this season, Ohio State’s Arron Craft gave the Wolverines point guard trouble. Burke scored 15 points in the loss to the Buckeyes, but he was 4-of-13 from the field. Granted, Burke was playing in his hometown, and nerves may have been a factor. Oladipo is a National Defensive Player of the Year candidate who could be matched up with Burke to disrupt the explosive Michigan offense.
Players we’re watching: Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell
The headline matchups will be between the stars, but one interesting subplot may be the play of key freshmen for both teams. The Hoosiers’ point guard Ferrell is playing some of his best basketball of the season. He’s averaged 12.3 points in the last three games, including 11 points in 19 minutes against Purdue. Stauskas is one of the most efficient guards in the country, converting 49.7 percent of his field goals, 49.5 percent of this three-pointers and 81.8 percent of his free throws.
Stat that matters: Offensive efficiency
Tempo-free stats are coming into more regular use in college basketball, so let’s highlight one here: Michigan and Indiana rank first and second nationally in points per possession: The Wolverines at 1.22 points per possession, followed by Indiana at 1.2.
How Michigan can win: Defend
Anonymous coaches have suggested Michigan’s Achilles’ heel is in the defensive end of the court -- the Wolverines are tied for fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed per possession (0.92). Between Indiana’s ability to score on the fast break and to score from inside and out, Michigan will have a chance to prove or disprove that assessment.
Related: Michigan new No. 1 in our weekly power rankings
How Indiana can win: Cody Zeller plays like top player in the game.
The Hoosiers center hasn’t always played like the national player of the year this season. At times, he hasn’t even been the best player on his own team. In two games against Penn State and Michigan State, Zeller was a combined 2 of 11 from the field with 11 points and rebounds. He broke out of that funk Wednesday against Purdue with 19 points and 11 rebounds. But that was in a 37-point win against an overmatched Boilermakers team. Will Zeller start playing at his top level down the stretch for the Hoosiers? He’ll face another center who can run the floor in Michigan freshman Mitch McGary, who may continued to see an increased role as Jordan Morgan nurses an ankle injury.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Michigan 73
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Syracuse had the week off after its surprising overtime loss at Villanova. The Orange have not shot the ball well in Big East action (31.4 percent from three, 45.7 percent from two), but have done a great job on the glass and have defended well. Pittsburgh is only 2–2 at home in the Big East, with wins over UConn and DePaul and losses to Cincinnati and Marquette.
Related: NCAA Tournament Report: Kentucky
Miami at NC State (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The Hurricanes are the first team other than Duke or North Carolina since 1981 to start 7-0 in the ACC, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jim Larranaga’s club has been outstanding on defense and has the size to match up with NC State’s formidable frontcourt. The Wolfpack have the talent to reach the Final Four, but not the focus. NC State has defeated Duke and North Carolina but lost to Wake Forest and Virginia.
Kansas State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
This is a key game between two teams jockeying for position in the middle of the Big 12 standings. Kansas State won its first four league games but lost to Kansas at home and at Iowa State over the weekend. After feasting on a relatively soft early slate in the Big 12, Oklahoma is in the midst of a grueling stretch that features two games with Kansas, trips to Baylor and Iowa State and this home date vs. Kansas State.
Related: College basketball's villains: Where does Henderson stand?
Ole Miss at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Marshall Henderson takes his traveling road show to Gainesville in what might be the game of the year in the SEC. Ole Miss has been one of the nation’s biggest surprises, but Florida might be the best team in the country. The Gators won their first seven SEC games by an average of 28.3 points, after a 75-36 rout of South Carolina on Wednesday. Florida’s focus will be to slow down Henderson, who is averaging a league-best 21.3 points in SEC games.
Baylor at Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2)
This is an important game for Baylor after a loss to Oklahoma earlier this week. The Bears are 5–2 in the Big 12, but none of the five wins came against a team with a winning record in the league. Iowa State needs to protect its homecourt to remain in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The Cyclones still have to play at Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
Marquette at Louisville (Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Despite its 6–1 record in the Big East, not many people truly believe Marquette is a threat to win the regular-season title The Golden Eagles can change some minds with a win at Louisville on Sunday. The Cards have struggled of late, but they are still arguably the most talented team in the league. This is huge game for both teams.
Wisconsin at Illinois (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
No one expects Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title, but Bo Ryan’s club will be a factor in the final six weeks. The Badgers have an efficient offense and a stout defense, but they’re coming off an odd game against Ohio State in which they didn’t attempt a free throw shot
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Feb. 1.
• It's finally Super Bowl weekend. Here's everything that you, the fan, needs to know about the Big Game.
• If you just can't wait until Sunday, here's a sneak peek at supermodel Bar Refaeli's GoDaddy commercial. The screen grab alone is priceless.
• Ravens cheerleader claims she was fired for gaining a pound and a half. Who knew that cheerleaders had weigh-ins like they were Vegas showgirls?
• Some tasty Super Bowl morsels from our friends at Mandatory: Infamous Super Bowl moments, and even cooler, the biggest plays in Super Bowl history at all 100 yard-lines.
• Randy Moss is an all-time great receiver. He's not an all-time great judge of personnel. Moss ruled himself out of any future GM jobs yesterday by including Terrell Owens (and himself) on his list of the five greatest players of all time.
• JJ Watt "proposes" to an adorable six-year-old fan. Supremely cute, or strangely creepy? You be the judge.
• As recruiting season reaches a crescendo, here are the top 10 SEC recruiting classes of the last 10 years. Those classes have gone on to win quite a few national titles.
• The New York Post has a hold of this Dan Marino story like a dog with a chew toy. Not good for Dan.
• Now that "30 Rock" is in the dustbin of television history, here's a rundown of great sports moments on the dearly departed sitcom.
• In today's video, a D-II player throws down a between-the-legs slam. As a reminder that this is D-II, the dude at the beginning totally clanks it off the bottom of the backboard, WNBA-style.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for January 30.
• Look who was reporting from Super Bowl Media Day. Yep, the object of Brent Musberger's affection.
• $114 million is a lot to pay a disgraced steroid user, even for the Yankees, who are exploring their options to void A-Fraud's remaining contract.
• From Mars and Michael to Li'l Penny to Grandmama, the guys at Mandatory present the best athlete ad campaigns of all time.
• Apparently, the deer spray craze has poked its antlers into the college game. Three Alabama players reportedly met with the guys at SWATS prior to the BCS title game with LSU.
• Jeff Saturday wants a one-day contract to retire as a Colt. Let's hope that day is a Saturday.
• College hoops' newest villain, Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson, struggled last night in a loss to Kentucky. This GIF offers a delicious morsel of said struggles.
• Bama's facilities (and players) looked a little different in 1965. Thank God Nick Saban doesn't have to recruit under these conditions.
• Apparently, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to Dr. Phil that he fell in love with Manti Te'o, later copping to being "confused." Join the club, Ronaiah.
• Lest we forget, there's an NBA season going on, and the Blazers and Mavericks put on a show last night.
• Talk about under the radar: Ohio Bobcats guard D.J. Cooper is on pace to become the only player in the history of Division I college basketball to have 2,000 points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals. Let's make this kid famous before it's too late.
• Now this is good parenting at work. A 2-year-old unveils a masterful array of WWE impersonations.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Competing for eyeballs this Sunday in the Mercedes Benz Superdome: the lovely Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders. I think they'll hold their own.
• In anticipation of today's Super Bowl Media Day circus, here's an amusing roundup of Jim Harbaugh press conference non-answers. My favorite: "I know what you just asked, but I was so mesmerized and dazzled by your voice right there. You have got a great voice. I lost my train of thought."
• Ray Lewis has forgiven Wes Welker's wife for disparaging him on Facebook. Our long national nightmare is over.
• JaMarcus to the Jets? What could possibly go wrong?
• A clinic in Miami was apparently providing PEDs to athletes. Maybe you'll recognize some of the names in their little black book: A-Rod, Melky Cabrera, people like that.
• Tiger Woods played this weekend exactly how the game of golf needs him to play: He was both dominant and vulnerable.
• This was as inevitable as Taiwanese animation: Somebody auto-tuned the Katie Couric-Manti Te'o interview. Speaking of Te'o, the folks at PETA found an animal-rights angle to exploit.
• This should be a conversation-starter: Columnist says that college basketball stinks now.
• Terrifying photo of the day: Some lunatic surfed a 100-foot wave.
• Ray Lewis enjoyed the way that SNL spoofed him. He enjoyed it so much that he laughed until he cried. Why does everything always end with Ray Lewis crying?
• Former Yankee great Bernie Williams is known for his guitar chops, and he got to bust them out with Paul Simon for charity.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Jennifer Lawrence had a wardrobe malfunction at the SAG Awards last night. Now that I have your attention, here's the sports news:
• The prop bet: Adding a whole new layer of Super Bowl enjoyment for the degenerate gambler in your life.
• If you're going to New Orleans for the big game, here's a guide to the new and improved New Orleans. They've come a long way.
• Yesterday's Pro Bowl score was 62-35, but the best highlight came from a kicker. That says it all about this annual affront to the game of football.
• Aussie Open, Rondo, Real Madrid, POTUS and more: A handy weekend wrapup from Grantland.
• The little snarky sports website that could: An oral history of Deadspin. When you break some big news amid all the pee-pee jokes, people start paying attention.
• Attention, recruiting coordinators: What you do today could impact the Super Bowl 10 years from now. Patrick Willis is still pissed that he got snubbed by his home-state Tennessee Vols.
• Charles Barkley delivers weather news about as well as he swings a golf club. Hint: His golf swing is an abomination.
• Evidence that there are way too many "celebrity" reality shows: Ndamukong Suh had to save obese comedian Louis Anderson from potentially drowning on some stupid diving show.
• A CM Punk fan watched The Rock take away his guy's belt last night. He did not take it well. Strong language warning.
• Ray Lewis was the subject of some gentle ribbing from SNL over the weekend. Well played, Kenan.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
An in-depth look at Super Bowl XLVII through statistics, numbers, records and trends:
9: Career starts for Colin Kaepernick
Jeff Hostetler had started just four regular season games and six total before defeating the Buffalo Bills in thrilling fashion in Super Bowl XXV. Vince Ferragamo had started just five career regular season games and seven total before taking the field as the leader of the Rams' offense in Super Bowl XIV against Pittsburgh. Colin Kaepernick will rank third all-time with just seven regular season and nine total starts under his belt when he takes the field Sunday night. He is just the fourth QB to start in the Super Bowl in the same season in which he made his regular season staring debut (Ferragamo, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady). Ironically, nine also is the number of times Alex Smith was sacked by Baltimore in the only previous meeting between John and Jim Harbaugh in 2011’s 16-6 Thanksgiving win for the Ravens.
0: Interceptions thrown by 49ers QBs in five Super Bowls
Everyone knows the 49ers are 5-0 all-time in Super Bowls — the best record in NFL history. But a huge reason why that number stands where it does has been elite quarterback play. Joe Montana (122 att.), Steve Young (36 att.), Bill Musgrave (1 att.) and Elvis Grbac (1 att.) have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions in five Super Bowl appearances.
8: Joe Flacco playoff victories
Flacco is currently 8-4 as a starter in the playoffs for the Ravens. A win in the Super Bowl would give him a ninth playoff win and an NFL Championship ring. Why is a ninth playoff win worth noting for Mr. Flacco? Well, he is up for a new contract and is looking to sign a contract worth “Peyton Manning money.” As it turns out, with the win, Flacco would tie Manning with nine career playoff wins and one Super Bowl title. Manning is 9-11 in the playoffs. Another reason the number eight is special to Flacco? Only five QBs have finished a postseason with at least eight touchdown passes and no interceptions and all five won the Super Bowl and were named MVP (Montana, Young, Phil Simms, Troy Aikman, Drew Brees). Flacco enters Sunday with eight touchdowns and no interceptions thus far in three playoff wins.
416: Postseason rushing yards for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
Ray Rice has 247 yards in three playoff wins and two touchdowns. Bernard Pierce has 169 rushing and a 100-yard effort against the Colts on Wild Card Weekend. In fact, Pierce has been the leading rusher since Week 15 — when Jim Caldwell took over the play-calling duties. He has 401 yards while Rice has 397 over that span.
23-1-1: Jim Harbaugh’s record when his team scores at least 20 points
Jim Harbaugh is 27-8-1 as an NFL head coach and only once in his career has his team lost when scoring at least 20 points. That one loss came in his second career NFL game in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys. His teams are 4-7 when failing to score at least 20 points in a game including the NFC Championship game loss to the New York Giants a year ago.
75: Combined Ray Lewis tackles in 2000 and 2012 postseasons
Lewis led the 2000 playoffs with 31 tackles en route to his Super Bowl ring and game MVP trophy. Entering this Sunday, Lewis once again is leading the playoffs with 44 tackles.
110.5: Vernon Davis career postseason receiving yards per game
Davis has been dominant in the playoffs. In four career postseason games, he has scored five times, topped 100 yards three times and is averaging nearly 30 yards per catch (27.6 ypc). He is a freakish athlete who is a sneaky good pick to win the MVP and will be a matchup nightmare for anyone wearing purple and black.
$3.8 million: Average cost of a 30-second commercial in Super Bowl XLVII
The cost of a television ad in Super Bowl I was $42,000 per 30-second spot. That number reached seven figures for the first time in 1995 ($1.15 million) and has more than tripled since. This year, CBS is anticipating more than $225 million in ad revenue alone at a 30-second per unit cost of $3.8 million.
22: Sets of brothers who have reached the Super Bowl
It has happened for players and coaches, for different teams and in different years. But brothers Jim and John Harbaugh have taken the sibling rivalry to a new level coaching against each other in the same game. It is unprecedented on all levels.
$432 million: Projected economic impact on New Orleans
Home college football games in the football crazy SEC, say in Baton Rouge, are worth roughly $10 million in revenue to the college, surrounding city and local businesses. Super Bowl XLVII, according to a study conducted by the University of New Orleans, will be worth roughly $432 million to the economy of New Orleans, La.
1.23 billion: Projected chicken wings consumed during the game
The National Chicken Council — yes, there is such a thing — is projecting that Americans will eat 1.23 billion chicken wings during Super Bowl XLVII this weekend. That is a one-percent decline from last season.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
Eight NFL teams, or a quarter of the league, have hired new head coaches since the first of the year. The seemingly flush job market was initially created on Dec. 31, the day after the regular season ended, when Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Philadelphia and San Diego all fired their head coaches.
Those seven firings, on what is referred to as “Black Monday” around the league, alone were more than the total number of head coaches fired on the same day in the last three seasons combined. And that wasn’t the end of the openings either, as Jacksonville made the decision to part ways with its head coach earlier this month following the hiring of a new general manager.
The end result is that 25 percent of the league has a new head coach, as all but one of the eight divisions have been impacted by this hiring frenzy. That division is the NFC South, and even then you could make the argument that New Orleans will have a “new” head coach next season with Sean Payton’s return from his year-long BountyGate suspension.
Here are the eight teams that are truly under “new” management and our grade for each franchise’s new hire. Please keep in mind that grading these new hires is an inexact science, but previous experience, state of the roster/franchise, makeup of the coaching staff, and how well we think they fit their team factored heavily in the rankings and letter grade. That is why, for example, just because Philadelphia made the most headlines by luring Chip Kelly away from Oregon, that doesn’t mean that’s the hire that received our top marks.
Grading and Ranking the NFL's Head Coach Hires for 2013
1. Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Predecessor: Norv Turner (7-9 this season, 56-40 overall in 6 seasons w/ SD)
What’s to Like: Plenty. McCoy was one of the most sought-after candidates during this hiring frenzy, so he had the luxury of choosing the job that seemed to be the best fit. An offensive mind with 12 years of coaching experience in the NFL, McCoy had spent the past four seasons in Denver as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. Starting out with Jay Cutler, McCoy was then able to adapt the Broncos’ offense to get the most out of Kyle Orton and then Tim Tebow, before helping Peyton Manning resurrect his career this season. Now he gets the opportunity to do something similar with Philip Rivers, who despite his declining production is only 31 years old and just three seasons removed from a 4,700-yard, 30-touchdown campaign. Bringing in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator should only help Rivers even more, while retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano will provide continuity for a young defense that should only continue to develop and improve.
What’s Not to Like: Call us optimistic, but we really think San Diego nailed this one on the head. The only real reason for concern that we can see is that this is McCoy’s first head-coaching gig. That’s not to say he won’t thrive in his new role along the lines of a Jim or John Harbaugh for example, but there are also plenty of examples of those so-called “hot shot” new head coaches who had trouble adjusting to the added responsibilities and pressure. There also have to be some concerns about Rivers’ steady decline in production and whether or not his problems can be “fixed,” along with the nagging health issues that seem to plague two of Rivers’ most important weapons – running back Ryan Mathews and tight end Antonio Gates.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Predecessor: Romeo Crennel (2-14 this season, 4-15 overall in 1+ seasons w/ KC)
What’s to Like: Once Reid and the Eagles parted ways, it was widely believed that he would land on his feet as long as he didn’t want to take a year or two off. And that indeed was the case as the Chiefs snatched Reid up before any other team, notably Arizona, could, making him the first new head coach to be hired. Even though Reid was fired by his previous employer, who can really argue with the Chiefs’ decision considering he won 130 games in his 14 seasons in Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to six NFC East titles and one Super Bowl appearance. Kansas City is by far an easier place to coach in than Philadelphia (weaker division, less media scrutiny, more gracious fan base), and this change of scenery may be just what Reid needs to re-energize him and re-ignite his love and passion for the game. If anything, Chiefs fans and supporters alike have to agree that Reid is a significant upgrade from the previous two holders of the job – Crennel and Todd Haley. That’s a start, right?
What’s Not to Like: Tell us who Kansas City’s quarterback will be in Week 1 next season and it’s entirely possible the “minus” above could go away or the “A” could be replaced by a “B.” Our guess is that the Chiefs’ 2013 starting quarterback isn’t currently on the roster, as there will probably be other options available on the market (Alex Smith? Matt Flynn? Michael Vick?), and it’s likely the team drafts one in the early rounds. We don’t expect them to take one with the No. 1 overall pick, however, nor do we like their chances of fully maximizing the pick’s value in a trade, like what St. Louis did last year trading the No. 2 overall pick to Washington for a bevy of picks.
3. Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns
Predecessor: Pat Shurmur (5-11 this season, 9-23 overall in 2 seasons with CLE)
What’s to Like: The 44-year-old Toledo, Ohio, native said the Cleveland gig was his “dream job.” Chudzinski previously served as the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2007-08, so he should be well aware of what he is taking on. He helped develop Cam Newton into AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011. He made great hires with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator and Ray Horton as defensive coordinator. Browns have pieces to build around, including running back Trent Richardson and a young, improving defense. Chudzinksi also was the Browns’ offensive coordinator when Derek Anderson put together his lone Pro Bowl season in 2007.
What’s Not to Like: Faces a tough uphill climb being in the same division as the AFC Champion Ravens, Cincinnati, who has earned Wild Card berths in consecutive seasons, and Pittsburgh, who has played in two of the past six Super Bowls. Jury is still out whether or not quarterback Brandon Weeden is the long-term solution, and the Browns still need more offensive weapons to complement Richardson.
4. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Predecessor: Lovie Smith (10-6 this season, 81-63 overall in 9 seasons w/ CHI)
What’s to Like: Brings more than 30 years worth of coaching experience on both the collegiate and professional levels, including five seasons as a head coach in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Led the Montreal Alouettes to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and ’10. Offensive-minded coach who has served as offensive coordinator for several NFL teams and tutored numerous quarterbacks, including Bernie Kosar, Steve Young and Rich Gannon. Has several offensive pieces already in place on the roster starting with quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Brought in Aaron Kromer, who was with New Orleans, to serve as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, which was one of the Bears’ biggest weaknesses last season.
What’s Not to Like: Once considered a hot coaching prospect in the NFL, Trestman had to go north to the CFL to get his first head-coaching gig. There probably will be some adjustment for Trestman as he comes back to the NFL after his tenure (2008-12) in the CFL. He is the only new head coach taking over a team that finished with a winning record last season. Trestman was unable to convince defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to stick around, so new DC Mel Tucker is now tasked with maintaining unit’s production, while dealing with some tough personnel decisions related to having a mostly veteran unit.
5. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Predecessor: Andy Reid (4-12 this season, 130-93-1 overall in 14 seasons with PHI)
What’s to Like: A 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon that included three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl appearances. The architect of one of college football’s most explosive and prolific offenses during his Oregon tenure, one that put up ridiculous numbers and was a lot of fun to watch. A bright mind known for his creativity, it seems like an ideal time to see if he can be successful at the next level. Appears to have some players (Bryce Brown, Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy) who should fit his offensive scheme well. Brought in Pat Shurmur, who was Browns’ head coach previously and offensive coordinator for the Rams before that, to help adapt his offensive style for the NFL. Kelly seems to be comfortable with Nick Foles, who he coached against in college, as his quarterback moving forward.
What’s Not to Like: Collegiate success doesn’t necessarily translate to the pros, and this is especially a concern considering Kelly is an offensive-minded coach. Has yet to hire a defensive coordinator, which could cause this grade to go up a tick or two, or go down. His Oregon offenses seemed to struggle with some of the more pro-oriented defenses, such as Auburn’s in the national title game in the 2010 season and Stanford’s this season. Can’t “recruit” to find the personnel to fit his system, so the key for him will be finding what elements will work in the NFL. Could be a longer than usual adjustment period as Kelly will have to adapt to the NFL, and his team will have to adapt to the new offense. He also has some tough decisions to make, namely at quarterback and whether to stick with Foles, who finished the season as a starter, or to retain Michael Vick and have the two compete for the job during training camp.
6. Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
Predecessor: Chan Gailey (6-10 this season, 16-32 overall in 3 seasons with BUF)
What’s to Like: An under-the-radar hire, Marrone has seven years of previous NFL coaching experience. After starting his coaching career with numerous stops in the collegiate ranks, Marrone served as the Jets’ offensive line coach from 2002-05 before heading to New Orleans as offensive coordinator/line coach. Marrone’s first season in New Orleans was also quarterback Drew Brees’ first with the Saints and together, along with head coach Sean Payton, the three laid the offensive foundation for the eventual 2009 championship team. Marrone wasn’t around to enjoy the fruits of his labor, however, as he left the Saints near the end of the 2008 season to become the head coach at Syracuse, his alma mater. Taking over a team that had won just three games the season prior, Marrone led the Orange to a 25-25 mark and two Pinstripe Bowl wins (2010, ’12) in his four seasons. No stranger to taking on challenges and orchestrating turnarounds, Marrone seems to be a good fit to try and reverse the fortunes of a franchise that has posted eight straight losing seasons and has the longest current playoff drought in the NFL (13 seasons).
What’s Not to Like: An under-the-radar hire, many were left scratching their heads when Marrone was named the Bills’ sixth head coach since 2000. His college head coaching resume pales in comparison to some of his recent peers who have made the jump to the pros, such as a Greg Schiano or Chip Kelly. Marrone’s offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, was with him at Syracuse but doesn’t have significant NFL experience. The Bills also have to decide whether Ryan Fitzpatrick, who still has more than $40 million left on his contract that runs through the 2016 season, is the long-term answer at quarterback or not.
7. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Predecessor: Ken Whisenhunt (5-11 this season, 45-51 in 6 seasons w/ ARI)
What’s to Like: Long-time coach with more than 30 years of experience paid his dues and earned his shot after leading Indianapolis to the playoffs as the interim head coach for an ailing Chuck Pagano. Offensive-minded coach who helped Ben Roethlisberger win a Super Bowl and Andrew Luck break the record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback. Arians has experience in helping teams turn things around, as Colts went 2-14 in 2011, improving to 10-6 this season.
What’s Not to Like: For starters, how about Arizona’s quarterback situation? Do they even have a viable option on the roster right now? The Cardinals do have a solid defense that should continue to get better, but they lost the man largely responsible for developing it, former coordinator Ray Horton. The job now falls to Todd Bowles, who got his first taste as a defensive coordinator for Philadelphia last season, but only following the dismissal of Juan Castillo in October. Arizona’s offensive line was a disaster last season and there are far more questions compared to answers when it comes to that side of the ball. Arians has a first-year offensive coordinator in Harold Goodwin and a 74-year-old offensive line coach in Tom Moore to help him overhaul the offense. Overall, Arians’ staff to this point appears to be one of the weakest of the new head coaches.
8. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Predecessor: Mike Mularkey (2-14 this season, only season w/ JAC)
What’s to Like: He’s relatively young (46) and helped build and develop one of the league’s best, young defenses as Seattle’s coordinator from 2009-12. Has some young talent (Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts) to build around and will more than likely add some more with the help of early draft picks. He also has an owner in Shahid Khan that has the money to spend to improve the team, if he so chooses.
What’s Not to Like: This grade is more a reflection of the state of the Jacksonville franchise than Bradley himself. Well respected in the business among his peers, Bradley has the toughest task of any of the new head coaches ahead of them. As it stands now, the Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill throughout their roster, starting at quarterback. The team’s best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, is looking to get paid like a franchise cornerstone, but doesn’t have the best of relationships with the team itself and is coming off of an injury-plagued season. No fault of Bradley’s, but the Jaguars probably should have focused more on hiring a “bigger” name, like an Andy Reid or Chip Kelly for example, which would have given a dwindling fan base something to get excited about. Fan involvement is tepid at best and the franchise itself faces somewhat of an uncertain future in Jacksonville. Honestly, if we were grading just the franchise, the grade would be no higher than a D right now.
The competition for the signatures of unproven 18-year-olds often includes more twists and turns than a spy novel. Here, insiders present a few slices of life out on the recruiting trail.
From J.C. Shurburtt (@JCShurburtt), 247Sports.com:
One evening during the 2011 recruiting cycle, I received a well-written e-mail from a James Wilder Jr. claiming he had committed to Florida. Wilder Jr., of course, was the highly regarded running back/linebacker from H.B. Plant High in Tampa who everybody in the country wanted and we had heard the Gators, then coached by Urban Meyer, were in good shape for his services. So naturally, without thinking, I sent out a Tweet ‘Just got an e-mail from James Wilder saying he has committed to Florida.’ The thing went viral in a matter of minutes as other writers ‘re-tweeted’ the blurb.
I quickly thought after sending it that it may be a hoax. I wasn’t particularly close to Wilder during the process and though it’s common for prospects to send out mass e-mails and texts to media members when they make a decision, something didn’t feel right about this one. Come to find out, it was a hoax. Some clown had created a fake Facebook page, e-mail address, etc., for Wilder and wanted to take the media for a little ride. Unfortunately, I was the victim. Several newspapers picked up on the story and I had a little egg on my face for a while, but it’s something I will never forget. It also goes to show you that even with the coverage of college football recruiting – which hit its prime during the advancement of technology and the Internet – that it is indeed a brave new world we live in with regards to social media and the flow of information.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Athlon Sports:
Back in the late 1990s, I was covering Vanderbilt, and the staff was really after Jimmy Williams, a running back (at the time) from Baton Rouge. He final five schools were Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. This was the type of kid Vanderbilt never gets. About a week before Signing Day he committed to Northwestern. Perry Fewell, the current defensive coordinator of the Giants, was the defensive backs coach at Vanderbilt, and he was recruiting Williams. Perry was absolutely crushed. Well, the Sunday before Signing Day, I got a call from someone who told me to get in touch with Jimmy Williams. So I called Jimmy, and he told me that he had just committed to Vanderbilt. He was a very religious kid. The night before he prayed about his decision and went to bed as a Northwestern commitment but woke up and decided to go to Vanderbilt. He said ‘the man upstairs’ directed him to Vanderbilt. He played running back as a true freshman and Vanderbilt before switching to cornerback. He played six years in the NFL as corner and kick returner.
Chris Level (@ChrisLevel), RedRaiderSports.com:
I had a running back a few years ago — who ended up signing with a school on the west coast — text message me on the Saturday night of his official visit, ‘Yo man, where are the girls at?’ ... not sure if he had me mixed up with someone else or why he thought I'd know but we found it amusing.
Tom Kakert (@HawkeyeReport), HawkeyeReport.com:
There was a kid named Ka’Lial Glaud from New Jersey who had interesting idea about how to decide which college program he would chose, flipping a coin. That's right, flipping a coin. Iowa was in the final three and finished third, very late deciding to eliminate them. With little time to decide, Glaud decided between Rutgers and West Virginia by flipping a coin on Signing Day. Heads means West Virginia, tails and he is headed to Rutgers. He ended up with the Scarlet Knights.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports:
Nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman at Fernley (Nev.) High wanted so badly to play college football that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On February 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement.
There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken to, visited or contacted Mr. Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer), Pac-12 Digital:
I heard from a coach about a juco safety that had received several Pac-10 offers, so I decided to give him a call and do a story on him. Called him and talked with him for maybe 30 minutes and had a great conversation with him about several schools he was interested in. I hang up and write up the story that was going to run the next morning. A few hours later I got a text from one of our regional recruiting guys telling me the kid had committed to Utah this morning — before our conversation. I talked with the kid for 30 minutes about five schools, and he didn't once bring up the fact that he had already committed. I even asked when he was planning on committing and he said not for several months. Needless to say, the story never ran.
Barry Every, National Underclassmen:
When I worked at Georgia we had this top OL prospect with offers from all over the country coming in for a visit. His dad drove him down and dropped him off. After 48 hours the dad had not come back to pick him up. The coaches called (the father) and said it was a violation for him to be on campus for more than 48 hours. The compliance office stepped in and made the kid sit on the curb outside the football building (Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall) and said we could have no contact with him. Who knows when his dad came back to get him. But he ended up signing with NC State and later was drafted in the NFL.
Barton Simmons (@BartonSimmons), 247Sports.com:
A few years ago I was keeping close tabs on one wide receiver recruit that was trying to decide between a west coast program with a wide open offense and his hometown school in the southeast. I was texting with this prospect into the night and past midnight and he was completely torn up about the decision. He wanted more than anything to head out west but his family wanted him to stay home. When he went to bed that night, he had decided that he would head to the west coast. The next morning he signed with the hometown school. The lesson from my perspective is that any time a prospect is having a hard time with a decision, the smart bet is on Mom and the local program. As a side note, that prospect has yet to see significant playing time or make any kind of any impact.
Scott Kennedy, Scout.com/FoxSports:
A few years ago there was a player I didn’t particularly think much of. I asked a well-respected offensive line coach what he thought of him. ‘Nah, I didn’t like him. I mean we offered him because everyone else had, but we weren’t going to take him.’ I asked the coach if they really offered him. He said ‘Does he think we have?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said ‘That’s what we want him to think.’
Tom Lemming, CBS Sports:
In the 1980s, there was a really good ball player in Illinois, being nationally recruited. Back then, head coaches were the ones going out and signing the top players. They had to be there at 8 o’clock in the morning (on Signing Day). Everybody was coming after this kid, so at 8 o’clock there were several head coaches waiting by the front door ready to sign this player. The door opens at 8 a.m. promptly and out walks a very famous Big Eight head coach who had spent the night on the kid’s couch, outsmarting all the other coaches. He signed him before any of the other schools had a shot to get him.
Barton Simmons (@BartonSimmons), 247Sports.com:
Just this year (2011) one of the more bizarre recruiting situations played out that I’ve seen since doing this. Floyd Raven was an unknown prospect heading into the summer before his senior year. He blew up at Ole Miss’ summer camp and eventually committed to Ole Miss. However leading up to signing day, he showed a lot of uncertainty. He decommitted from Ole Miss, committed to Texas A&M, decommitted again only to re-commit to Ole Miss.
Heading into National Signing Day it was assumed that he would sign with Ole Miss without any kind of issues. The Letter of Intent did arrive in Oxford that day but as Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt informed the media later that day, Raven’s signature wasn’t his own but his mother’s. She had forged his signature and so Ole Miss didn’t accept the LOI and asked for another one. Raven instead signed an LOI and sent it to Texas A&M. Added to the situation is the fact that Ole Miss was in desperate need of cornerbacks and assumed that two great ones were coming in with Raven and 4-star Jermaine Whitehead. Not only did Raven shock the Ole Miss staff ,but Auburn was able to make a Signing Day steal with Whitehead as well, issuing a major hit in an area of need for the Ole Miss class.
Scott Kennedy, Scout.com/FoxSports:
One of my favorite misnomers in this business is the perception that college coaches spend hours upon hours poring over high school game film, doing exhaustive research on players. There was one player who from Florida who had all the offers anyone could imagine, but anyone I knew who had seen him in person said the kid couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie. So, I’m at a college prospect camp and one of the coaches is justifiably excited about the players who have shown up to his camp, and as he’s going over the list with me, he mentions the player with all of the offers, and I said ‘Coach, what do you like about him, I’ve heard some mixed reviews.’ He proudly answered, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what, Miami brought him right into their office and offered him.’ Gee, thanks for the scouting report.
The emergence of Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson has brought back a vestige of an older age in college basketball.
He’s brash. He’s super-confident. He seems to relish his role of going into a opposing arenas and being the target of boos.
And most important, he’s good.
The villain in college sports is a complex label. And we don’t mean villain necessarily is a bad guy. After all, some of us rooted for the players on this list. As villains, they break from the norm: Ignoring the taunts from fans isn’t for them. Clashing with opponents is common. Humility is optional.
But they have to be good first. They’re villains because they’re probably better than the players they’re facing.
Marshall Henderson’s sharp-shooting, jersey-popping emergence this season baited us into asking who are college basketball’s best villains in the last few decades.
And, yes, it’s more than just guys who played for Duke.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL'S GREATEST VILLAINS
1. Christian Laettner, Duke
Basketball credentials: Naismith and Wooden Award winner and All-American in 1992, the most famous shot in college basketball history in the 1992 Final Four
Villain credentials: Intentionally stepping on a Kentucky player in the same Final Four game has his miracle shot, highlighting his nasty player cred. And he still relishes being UK’s nemesis by coaching a Villain team in a charity game against Kentucky basketball alums.
2. J.J. Redick, Duke
Basketball credentials: Two-time first-team All-America, Naismith and Wooden award winner in 2006
Villain credentials: He didn’t lack for confidence in his ability as a shooter (which was legit) or a poet (which was not). He had heaps of praise poured on him from the media, even from non-Dukies. Profanities rained upon Redick in opposing gyms, which only seemed to make him more unstoppable.
Quote to The New York Times: “There's just something wrong with the culture of playing on the road in college basketball. If you say those things on the street, you can probably press criminal charges. But for some reason, in the arena of sport, it's OK."
3. Joakim Noah, Florida
Basketball credentials: Second-team All-American in 2007, Final Four MVP in 2006
Villain credentials: The long-haired forward let his freak flag fly during two national title runs with the Gators. Outspoken and goofy, Noah also played with enough energy on the court to draw the ire of opposing SEC fans.
Quote to CBSSports.com: "[Bill Walton] was an unbelievable college player. But off the court, I share his views ... I'm against the war. I don't understand it. When I hear Bill Walton I think, 'Oh yeah, he was a hippie.' It's so much more than that. He spoke his mind. ... I respect that, players who don't mind speaking their minds."
4. Eric Devendorf, Syracuse
Basketball credentials: All-Big East honorable mention in 2008-09, 14.5 career points per game
Villain credentials: Defendorf was a foul-mouthed sharp-shooter who had an altercation with a woman that was taken to the student judicial board. His personal appearance was compared to Kevin Federline. At the end of regulation in the 2009 Big East Tournament quarterfinal against Connecticut, Devendorf hit a game-winning shot and jumped on the scorer’s table, screaming at fans. The shot was waved off, and the game went to six overtimes.
5. Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
Basketball credentials: 19.3 points per game in 2012-13
Villain credentials: Henderson’s taunting of Auburn fans on Saturday was the tipping point of his all-time villain cred. Here’s what he did a few weeks before:
Quote: Upon transferring from Utah, Henderson said this to the student newspaper about former coach Jim Boylen: "Coach Boylen's program also has certain rules and restrictions that I respect, but I don't feel they fit with my individualism. This is not about the coaches, the system or the players."
6. The Fab Five, Michigan
Basketball credentials: Heralded as best recruiting class ever, reached national championship game in 1992 and ’93.
Villain credentials: Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson weren’t greeted with warmth when they arrived in Ann Arbor in 1991. Things we take for granted now -- hip hop in the locker room, baggy shorts, shaved heads, black socks -- were new when the Fab Five took the court. NCAA violations stemming from the Fab Five era landed Michigan on probation.
7. 1990 UNLV
Basketball credentials: Went 35-5, won national championship
Villain credentials: The counterbalance to Duke villainy in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Like the Fab Five, UNLV brought a style that made the Rebels villains by shaking up the establishment with an up-and-down style that turned a no-name program into a title contender. UNLV’s coach, Jerry Tarkanian, thumbed his nose at the NCAA, and the media portrayed his team in a negative light, especially when facing clean-cut Duke in the 1990 title game. UNLV won 103-73.
8. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Basketball credentials: Three-time All-American, consensus national player of the year in 2008.
Villain credentials: Don’t think Duke players get all the villain love. The Cameron Crazies despised Hansbrough. Psycho T played with relentless abandon, even if he flopped or took a flagrant foul from Duke’s Gerald Henderson.
9. Steve Wojchiechowski, Duke
Basketball credentials: National Defensive Player of the Year in 1998
Villain credentials: Duke’s godfather of floor-slapping guards.
10. Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
Basketball credentials: First-team All-American and national scoring champion in 2006
Villain credentials: Perhaps the sign that Gonzaga had finally made it as a major program, the Bulldogs had a player worthy of villain-hood. Morrison was an emotional player who trash talked opponents. He also had trouble filling out his mustache, which made him an easy target. His competition with J.J. Redick for the scoring title and player of the year honors made him a villain-by-association.
Preseason prognosticators like Athlon Sports — the most accurate college football preview magazine on newsstands — use many things to predict what the coming football season will look like. Returning starters, scheduling, historic trends, coaching, pending off-the-field issues and, of course, recruiting rankings all help Athlon editors predict the future of college football.
Recruiting rankings have their detractors. Yes, evaluating 16- and 17-year-old kids is an inexact science. No, star rankings aren’t the only thing that matters. Yes, leadership (e.g., Nick Saban) is more important than national recruiting rankings (See Auburn).
But using national team recruiting rankings to attempt to pinpoint how “talented” any given roster is an interesting and illuminating practice.
For the sake of this discussion, the 2013 conference alignment was used to calculate, rank and organize teams and leagues. Rivals.com national team rankings over a five-year span (2008-12) were used for the sake of consistency. And the 72 “BCS” conference teams as well as Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU were used to form the 75-team ranking.
Rutgers and Maryland are not included in the rankings, however, tune in Monday for the national rankings to see how they compare to the Big Ten.
So what do the team recruiting rankings teach us about the Big Ten:
Ohio State is a cut above
This isn’t some newsflash or top secret recruiting bulletin, but the numbers are clear. Ohio State has the best roster in the Big Ten and is five losses better than any other team in the league. The OSU football budget is significantly larger than any other program in the Big Ten, they reinvest in football more than any other school and it shows on the field with at least a share of seven Big Ten championships since 2002. If the unblemished 12-0 mark of 2012 counts, Ohio State has four outright Big Ten titles since 2006. With Urban Meyer instantly returning the Bucknuts to prominence both on the field and on the recruiting trail, fans better get used to hearing Hang On Sloopy.
Big Ten-Year War on the horizon
Ohio State's exploits are well-documented but Michigan is no slouch either. Despite three poor seasons (2008-10), the Maize and Blue still recruited at a near top-ten level nationally and is clearly the second-most talented team in the league. With Brady Hoke at the helm, however, the team has had success on the field as well. Michigan is tied with Nebraska and Penn State for the best conference record in the Big Ten (12-4) over the last two seasons. With OSU coming off of sanctions and the Wolverines returning to national relevance, the second coming of the 10-Year War is upon the Big Ten. And fans in every other city in the league should be concerned.
The curious case of Bo Pelini
If Bo Pelini had left Lincoln for the Tennessee job, let’s just say, would Big Red Nation have been devastated? Pelini has recruited well with the No. 3-rated roster in the Big Ten, the No. 21st-rated roster in the nation and a top 25 average ranking (24.0). He also has led his team to 29 conference wins in his five-year tenure at Nebraska, including three championship game appearances and four division titles. He’s also lost four games in each of the last five seasons. Pelini’s antagonistic demeanor and boiling temper likely give him a short leash with some, but his win-loss record matches his recruiting and the Cornhuskers are competing for league championships nearly every year.
Bill O’Brien was smart to stay
If Coach O’Brien wants to win the Lombardi Trophy, he will have to go to the NFL to do it. If winning the Crystal Ball is what he wants, then Penn State is the place to do it. Not only is he coaching and recruiting extremely well in the face of the worst NCAA scandal in history, but the Penn State brand has tons of upside. Joe Paterno recruited the 4th-best roster in the Big Ten and just the 30th-best roster over the last five seasons. However, the Nittany Lions have the No. 2 Big Ten record (29-11) over that span and is No. 3 overall at 48-20. Coach BoB will have to face tough sanctions including a bowl ban the next three seasons, but if he sticks it out, Penn State could easily be the next national super power. Something Jim Delany is likely rooting for as well.
Northwestern can’t overpay Pat Fitzgerald
According to the recruiting rankings, Northwestern has the least talented roster in the Big Ten and is better than only Syracuse, SMU, Washington State, UConn and Temple among BCS conference teams. Yet, the Wildcats are 40-25 over that span and are sixth in the conference with 21 Big Ten wins. Coach Fitz also has led his alma mater to five straight bowl games at a school with 11 total bowl appearances in program history, not to mention its first postseason win since 1949. All while doing it with the worst roster in the league.
Who gets the credit in Madison?
Many thought Bret Bielema’s move to Fayetteville, Ark., was curious but one look at the recruiting rankings might shed some light on the situation. Wisconsin is a unique job with elite fan support and a powerful athletic department. However, it also is nestled in a terrible recruiting territory and rarely can win battles with the big boys of the Big Ten much less the SEC. This team owns the ninth-most talented roster in the league and the 55th-rated roster in the nation — well behind teams like Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, Colorado or Boston College. Yet, the Badgers have been to three straight Rose Bowls and are competing for Big Ten titles nearly every season. So why did Bielema leave? Did he feel like he topped out? Or that the Big Red has reached its peak as a program? Does it even matter who coaches as long as Barry Alvarez is still in the building? Many believe Gary Andersen was a great hire, but make no mistake, Wisconsin will always have to overachieve to find success on the field.
In terms of recruiting, it appears that the true pecking order (after Ohio State and Michigan) is more volatile in the Big Ten than any other league. Minnesota has had a class rank of 17th nationally and then 72nd a few years later. Penn State posted the No. 12-rated class in 2010 and then the 51st-rated group two years later. Illinois went from 23rd nationally in 2008 to 70th in 2010. Michigan State was ranked 47th in 2008 and then 17th in 2009. Balance and parity is a good thing for the league as a whole as it indicates potential across the board, but it can’t be good for the individual coach’s indigestion.
Big Ten's National Team Recruiting Rankings Breakdown:
|School||Avg Nat'l Rank||"BCS" Rank||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||Record (Conf.)|
|1.||Ohio State||9.4||8th||4th||3rd||25th||11th||4th||51-13 (32-8)|
|4.||Penn State||33.0||30th||43rd||24th||12th||35th||51st||46-18 (29-11)|
|5.||Michigan State||33.2||32nd||47th||17th||30th||31st||41st||44-22 (27-13)|